Recent happenings

Almost a month ago I popped along to the Rugby Tavern in London to see and hear the inaugural Rogue Strands reading, an event organised by Matthew Stewart and named after his long-running poetry blog of the same name. Before Matthew himself read some of the trademark short but excellent poems in his terrific collection The Knives of Villalejo, the audience was treated to some open mic readings and then longer stints by Eliot Prize nominated Fiona Moore, Mat Riches, Kathryn Gray and Jessica Mookherjee. It was an eclectic, exciting and very enjoyable line-up, and all the poets had distinctive poetic voices. If I had to choose a highlight from such a lovely evening, it would be Jessica Mookherjee’s highly polished and entertaining reading of some quirky poems from her collection Flood . I hope it will be the first of a regular series of events.

The following week I went to see Vani Capildeo perform what had been billed as the entirety of her agreeably diverse second collection, Venus as a Bear, which I’d enjoyed reading, at the Parasol Unit, my favourite art gallery in London. Though Vahni is an engaging and warm reader, I was slightly aggrieved that she skipped quite a few poems and missed out chunks of others. It was the novelty that she was due to read the whole book which attracted me to the idea of trekking over there after work in the first place. I shouldn’t really complain, though, especially as the book is over 100 pages long, and because Vahni’s performance did include several of the stand-out poems from the book, particularly the wonderfully entitled and equally well-written ‘The Magnificent Pigs of Thetford’, replete with oinking. I was a tad disappointed that Vahni didn’t read my favourite poem in the collection, ‘Björk / Birch Tree’. (Before I originally opened it, I had assumed that the title of the book was more than a little nod to Björk’s song ‘Venus as a Boy’.) In all, it was a mixed experience. But then it could have been like the hideous anti-climax of seeing Broken Bells play the whole of their first album at the RFH a few years ago: they played it in order, note for note, as per the record, with barely a hello, no soul whatsoever and no warmth towards their sell-out crowd. That’s showbiz for yer.

Last weekend, I attended the November Poetry Business writing day in Sheffield and was inspired, as ever, by Ann and Peter Sansom’s exercises and prompts in the morning and then the workshopping, alongside some truly wonderful poets, in the afternoon. I could never recommend them highly enough.

This Monday just gone, I was at the prize-giving for the annual Troubadour Poetry competition, judged this time by Daljit Nagra and Jo Shapcott. There were some fine winning poems, read by their writers in most cases though some were read by Mona Arshi, Tim Dooley and Karen McCarthy Woolf. My favourite was the second-prize winning poem, on a difficult theme, by Doreen Gurrey, who I met on the Poetry Business residential in Whitby in October. As a bonus, both judges read, beautifully.

I’ll be back at the Troubadour on the 10th, for the end-of-season readings. I’ll be one of the many readers invited to read a poem on the subject of ‘snow’.

Of all the many books I’ve read in the last few months, I must make a special mention of Green Noise, the latest collection by Jean Sprackland. I’ve enjoyed all Jean’s collections, as well as her prose book Strands, so it’s no surprise that I liked it, but I was very pleasantly surprised to find how much I loved it – a book rich with a vividly evoked sense of place and memories, reminiscent of Jacob Polley, who has mined similar territory in recent years. I would go so far as to say it’s the best new collection I’ve read all year.

It’s good to see a first review for Ruin, the second, splendid collection by my friend and fellow Poetry Biz Writing School-er, Tom Weir, and even better to see that it was penned by Carla Scarano, a regular at the Write Out Loud Woking poetry nights co-hosted, brilliantly, by Greg Freeman and Rodney Wood, and where I was honoured to be the featured reader in October. Lovely also to see Greg pen a review of Poems for the NHS. Great stuff.

Last and decidedly not least, the final issue of Presence with me as co-editor has been published. I’m very sad to cease my involvement, but I’ll have more time for my own writing and the journal is in the most capable of hands: Ian Storr, Alison Williams and – replacing me – Judy Kendall.

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