Friday, 14 January 2022

2 poetry podcasts

Both these podcasts tackle a poem or 2 per episode, but in different ways.

Frank Skinner is a well-known UK comedian with hidden depths. He does a good solo job with a range of poems old and new, some of them rather challenging. His target audience includes people who don't usually read modern poetry - he's aware of which aspects they may disapprove of. He's enthusiastic, not pretentious, and doesn't hesitate to reveal aspects of his personal life if it helps illuminate the piece. In his most recent episode he talks about 2 poems from Caroline Bird's "The Air Year", making me realise I'd missed some points - e.g in the title poem "the mime scene" alludes to "the crime scene".

In "Poem Talk" an avant-garde poem is discussed by 3 or 4 American academics who help each other try to understand the piece. A recording by the poet is played. They often come to no firm conclusions. I learn much from their comments, which at times seem very generous. They're fairly honest about their puzzlement though they never go as far as blaming the poet.

Monday, 3 January 2022


You've seen the plot before. The local police have been told not to apprehend a criminal but keep him under surveillance because Interpol want to catch the whole network. But an ambitious, impetuous young cop who's unaware of the big picture arrests the criminal because he thinks the criminal's getting away.

Apprehending a poem can have the same plot. Committing yourself to the first interpretation ensures that you get the bird in the hand, but you might miss out on many more that two other possibilities in the bush.

So follow at a distance. Wait for it to make contact with more significant agents. Try to picture the whole network. The first idea you have may be the easiest to find because it's the most superficial. Don't think that the title says it all. Don't think that the rhymes are what it's all about. Remember that even low-level operatives are cunning enough to lead you down blind alleys.

Sunday, 12 December 2021

The vocabulary of poetry appreciation

Wine-tasting has its vocabulary. So does poetry appreciation. Orbis magazine has many pages of reader feedback which provide a useful sample. In the recent issue 198 I noticed that the most popular phrases are about

  • how well the poet collected the data/experience: "precisely observed", "beautifully observed", "precise observation"
  • the conversion into words: "captures" was popular (of "a moment", "the past", "the essence", "the intensity"). There's "compressed energy"
  • the artifice/craft of the words: "constructed" appears twice ("beautifully constructed", "well constructed") and there's "exquisitely crafted", "well made" and "clever". "precision of language" appears too - see my Poetry and Precision article.
  • the effect on the reader (getting the original data/experiences back): "evocative" appears more than once. There's "immersive" and "relatable". Also "amusing"

These phrases suit the idea of poets having experiences that they try to communicate to readers using expertise which ideally can be measured. I think the poems in Orbis have a wider aesthetic range than this, but only certain types of poems attract comment, it seems to me.

I'd imagine that if Shearsman magazine had a correspondence page, the vocabulary would emphasise other features.

The phrase "skilfully written with the rhymes barely noticeable" caught my eye. It's common to think that the artfulness is best hidden - it's the effect that matters. When rhyming words are chosen at the expense of meaning, the rhymes will stand out. But it's ok when the rhymes in "Do not go gently" stand out, because nothing is sacrificed, I guess.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Rejection records

On 25th April, 1917 Freud wrote in his journal "No Nobel Prize". Of course, few people have disappointments on that scale. At this time of year I expect to get some acceptances to balance the many rejections of earlier months. Surely some editor or other can make an error of judgement in my favour for once. But the rejections keep piling in. Here are my top 5 sources of poetic woe

Poetry Review240

I'm most disappointed by my North failures. They say they accept 10% of submissions. I'm not even reaching that level.

Here are my short story records

Stinging Fly60
Into the void50

I've never expected my poetry to be in the Forward Anthologies. I've sometimes had hopes of being in a Best British Short Stories anthology. It's quite possible that the anthologist didn't even read my more promising candidate stories - it's rather difficult for him to get hold of all the publications. I'll keep plugging away, sending stories to the outlets that I know are read.

Saturday, 20 November 2021

Literary Quiz - Places

Answers are at the end

Which city is this in?

On which bridge is this sign?

Where are these two towers?

Who is represented here, and where?

Where is this pub and why is it famous?

Where is this sign?

Where is this?

Joyce in Dublin. Bunyan in Bedford. Two Towers in Birmingham (where Tolkien grew up). They're near a watermill where he used to play. They're models of 2 nearby towers which might have inspired him. George Bernard Shaw in Wheathampstead (waiting for a train at a no longer used station). The Oxford pub is where Tolkien and CS Lewis drank. Samuel Beckett bridge is in Dublin. Dante's bones are in Ravenna I think.

Wednesday, 17 November 2021

Old Toys

An ancient board game (actually just a piece of cardboard. I suspect it was free in a magazine) from the early days of Dr Who. Note that Daleks are flying even then! My first visit to the cinema was to see Dr Who - in colour.

I liked Stingray too. Not long ago I visited the Toy Museum at Stansted Mountfichet. This jigsaw was one of several toys on display that I still own.

"Thunderbirds" was my favorite TV program. Many of my notions about plot derive from the program. Before the series began I recall entering a competition to invent a name for its villian. The prize was a Dalek. I think I suggested "The Cobra". He became "The Hood". This card is from a cooperative board game that's rather like Pandemic

I played serious games too. I learnt chess in junior school. This old pocket board of mine has been through the wars. Some squares have clearly seen more use than others.

Monday, 18 October 2021

Save the UK plant-based, story-only mags

Paper magazines are expensive to produce and distribute. They need many buyers/subscribers. Issues of Poetry and Flash magazines can include the work of dozens of potential buyers. Not so for short story magazines - many buyers have no hope of seeing themselves in print. Several magazines have fallen by the wayside or gone online-only. Here I'll list the UK paper ones that I know about. Buy an issue and see what you think -

  • Postbox - 5 issues so far. See their webpage
  • Riptide - 13 issues so far. See their webpage
  • Unthology - 11 issues so far. See their webpage. They're on hold at the moment, but back issues are available.