Sunday, April 26, 2009

Matter magazine & Armitage reading


Matter, the annual magazine showcasing work from the Sheffield Hallam MA Writing, is now approaching its ninth edition; beginning to take shape and due to be published in October '09.

As well as new poetry and fiction, it'll also contain guest contributions, including new poems from Maurice Riordan, Tim Turnbull and - recently confirmed - Julia Copus.

For those interested in the editing and development of the magazine as it takes shape, the editors have also set up a Twitter page, giving occasional updates on the project. You can read it here.

I've been told that a website will shortly follow, and I'll no doubt post about the mag here again on the Wasteland sometime.

In a piece of loosely related news, Simon Armitage is reading in Sheffield on the 6th May, along with a short set from myself, Sheffield-based poet Chris Jones, and others, at a poetry event as part of a series to celebrate the completion of Jessop West, the new building which houses the Arts and Humanities departments of the University of Sheffield (pictured above). Tickets for the event are free - held at St George's Church, near Mappin St - but you need to register your interest here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Sparks

I'm chuffed that my first poetry pamphlet, The Sparks, is selling well thanks to the support of those who attended both the London launch of it alongside Emily Berry's excellent Stingray Fevers; the Sheffield launch with Matthew Clegg, Helen Mort and others; and those who've bought a copy through the tall-lighthouse website. The warm reception that myself and other Pilot poets received at this year's StAnza festival was also great; people chatting and buying copies of pamphlets in the series after the Pilot reading. Cheers.

If any readers of the Wasteland are yet to get a copy however, and are interested, I've some of my own which I'm more than happy to scribble in and send out, UK postage free (£4). Just drop me an email (on my profile page). They're also available from the tall-lighthouse website, along with new pamphlets in the Pilot series by Amy Key and Sarah Lowe, and the just-published Shiver, Alan Buckley's first pamphlet, awarded the Poetry Book Society's Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2009.

Battles and Bat for Lashes

I sometimes think that there isn't much worth discovering where new music's concerned: the wave of schmindie, bland acoustic wielders and post-Britpop guitar music that remains so popular little more than dull variances on old sounds. But then I realise that it's usually because I'm not looking hard enough, and beyond the blander end of the most heavily advertised and marketed music released each year (which, admittedly, isn't all bad), there's still some great stuff being made.

Two bands I'd recommend at the moment are Bat for Lashes and Battles. I've mentioned the former here before, the work of singer-songwriter and visual artist, Natasha Khan, and whose first album, Fur and Gold, narrowly missed out on winning the 2007 Mercury Prize. That album was a glittering, brooding and dreamlike-voyage into the unknown; a slice of glittering and gorgeous art-rock that bears partial comparison to Bjork, Kate Bush, and to Khan's talented contemporary, Patrick Wolf. To my mind, her latest album, Two Suns, continues with similar soundscapes, but hangs together as a work in its own right, telling haunting tales of lost loves whilst, in certain parts, adopting an alter-ego to add another dimension to Khan's lyrics. I'd recommend giving it a listen, with single 'Daniel' and a few other tracks on her MySpace page, here.

Battles possess a different sound all together. There debut album Mirrored, released a few years back, is a 21st century prog-album in the best sense: a sprawling mixture of epic drums, solo-driven, spidery guitars, electronica and bizarre vocals which holds together surprisingly well, and manages, for the most part, to avoid sounding self-indulgent or pretentious. I first saw single 'Atlas' performed a year or so ago, on Jools Holland's Later..., and was halfway to dismissing them, but the song grows on you after a few listens and before long, you're hooked. Check it out here if you're interested. You don't have to be a Yes fan, honest.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

New Poetry @ Poetry Matters


Just wandered across to the Tower Poetry site (a poetry venture run by poet-critic Peter McDonald at Christ Church College, Oxford) to find that the latest issue of Poetry Matters is up. And it's good to see more poetry than prose there for a change - its reviews, though always engaging and worth reading, are something of a regular feature compared to new writing. But in this issue, no less than four poets grace its webpages, including Stephen Romer, Emily Middleton, and Paul Abbott, whose Flood I reviewed for PM last year. There're also a couple of my own new(ish) poems. If you're not about to head out and enjoy the good weather, then, do head across and have a read. There's also a review of Peter Porter's cheekily named Better Than God, by Vidyan Ravinthiran, which, at least for me, provided an interesting window on a well-established poet whom I'm criminally unfamiliar with.

Charlie Brooker's Newswipe



A bit late catching up with this, but flicking through BBC iPlayer in a brief fit of boredom last week I noticed that Charlie Brooker is back on our screens with Newswipe - a series following on from the brilliant Screenwipe. Except instead of taking satirical and pessimistic swipes at the crap on TV, Newswipe takes a Day Today-esque look at - you guessed it - the news, or rather, the way news is covered by the likes of BBC, ITV and Channel 4 these days.

The clip above is from the first part of the first episode, and for those who like the look of it, the third installment is on BBC4 tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10.30pm.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Nick Laird wins Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize


Good to see that Northern Irish poet and novelist Nick Laird has won the 2008 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize for his second collection of poems, On Purpose, published by Faber in 2007.

The award - given alternately each year to a work of prose or verse - was judged by poets Jo Shapcott and Michael Longley, and Sam Leith, literary editor of the Daily Telegraph.

It puts Laird on a distinguished list of previous winners, including Seamus Heaney, Hugo Williams, Geoffrey Hill, Tony Harrison, Don Paterson and Michael Hofmann.

Having enjoyed and reviewed the collection for the Winter 2007/08 edition of Irish literary journal The Stinging Fly, I recommend it to readers unfamiliar with Laird's work, as well as his first collection, To a Fault. Here's an excerpt from my review of On Purpose:

What is most impressive about On Purpose, however, is Laird’s charting of the loose and difficult territory of the existential crisis between our desire to control our lives and act with certainty and conviction, as set against the possibilities and inherent unpredictability of the world we actually encounter. As Don Paterson rightly urged in his T.S. Eliot lecture in 2003: ‘It’s important that poets remember that our first perception of the world is already a misinterpretation’ (though one, it must be noted, that is no less valuable than every other). Laird often succeeds within these poems, then, in exploring that which is – both personally and universally – so often beyond our grasp and understanding, be it in the narrator’s failure to describe a beautiful vista in ‘Use of Spies’, the attempt to break habits of a lifetime and escape blinkered perspectives in ‘Variation in Tactics’, or the dedicated hunter’s speculation and failing faith in some higher power in the sombre tones of ‘Hunting is a Holy Occupation’. Laird’s poetic voice has gained an added maturity and distinctiveness since his first collection, too; gone is the unconvincing ‘newladspeak’ that knocked the shine off some of his earlier work, honed into a style that allows for poems of greater brevity, rhythmical execution, and despite a deliberate variance in seriousness of tone, real feeling. Like Armitage, he is an impressive and distinctly male writer of love poems: the expression of masculine emotion and its awkwardness measured and balanced with an economy of sentiment, as in the narrator’s stating ‘Love, I’d turn for you clean-living, / relinquish drinking, fighting, singing’ in ‘The Present Writer’. And the more I read those poems of Laird’s that explore the rural and urban landscapes of Ireland, Britain, and beyond, the more I think it not an overstatement to compare his rich descriptive powers, during their finer moments, to Heaney’s. Take the following glittering stanzas from ‘On Leaving the Scene of an Accident’:

In the eastern suburbs deer appear.
Brushed by waist-high silver steppe grass
and the lighter strokes of barley stalks,

elegant as one might half-expect
the grazing self to be, except her grace
is one complicit in departure.


For those interested, the Guardian coverage is here.