IT Revisited


theda bara

The other poem I placed with IT is my commissioned piece for the News Agents show about Angola. Much as I enjoyed having my reading of the poem recorded for radio, it was good to find a place for the text as well. The poem’s called ‘Newsworthy’, and is accompanied by a terrific montage designed by Claire Palmer.


theda bara

Last year I placed a couple of poems with International Times (IT). This legendary newspaper of resistance, launched at a Pink Floyd gig at The Roundhouse in 1966, was revived as an online journal in 2008, featuring a rich and eclectic mix of journalism, new writing, features, art and polemic. This poem uses Pastor Martin Niemoller’s famous refrain ‘First they came for …’, but transposed to the issue of climate change denial. Click on the famous Theda Bara masthead to read the poem, and explore the magazine.

Writing Process Blog Tour

The very fine poet, and person, Julia Bird, tagged me as part of this writing process blog tour: four questions, to which I’ve responded as honestly as I know how. You can read Julia’s own responses here: and Hanna Silva’s (also tagged by Julia) here: mine follow below:

1. What am I working on?

My second collection, Rain Rider, was published by Salt in November 2013; it slipped through a paper-thin chink in their submissions window, before said window closed for good. So, I’ve mostly been reading from and trying to promote this new book. I figure I can take about eight to nine months to blether on about a collection before I drive everyone to distraction and need to stop. I enjoy reading the work to an audience because of the immediacy of the response, the palpable reaction. Most of the time you don’t get that. The poems go out into the world and you don’t really hear back from them very often.

I started writing new material immediately after my first book was accepted for publication, much of that work being a development of themes in the earlier poems. But I’ve taken a bit longer to get back on the horse following the final edit of Rain Rider, only beginning to compose new pieces that I’ve submitted to magazines in the last month or so.

I’ve had a couple of interesting commissions in recent months: a poem about Angola for a radio show called The News Agents, on Resonance FM, and a poem about climate change for the Bristol Festival of Nature. I think there are plenty of banana skins to watch out for when writing political poetry, but I’ve quite enjoyed the challenge of examining a given idea while trying to keep all the things I value in poetry – sound, nuance and subtlety, inventive form and structure. I’ve also been asked to write five short essays on various aspects of contemporary British poetry for a putative academic book, something intended for first-year undergraduates. That’s been fun too. I’ve also got a novel to the point of completion, so I may think about sending that out this summer.

2. How does my work differ from others in its genre?

That’s really for the reader to determine, I guess. I’ve been an English teacher for twenty years, so it’s inevitable that literary references and allusions find their way into my idiolect, even when I consciously try to avoid them. The density of literary allusions in my work is probably somewhat infra dig in the present climate. But it is as it is.

I’m also drawn to religious and philosophical ideas, neo-Platonism and British history. I’m essentially a secular person – although I’ve probably got more in common with a non-realist Christian like Don Cupitt than I have with the rabid atheism of someone like Richard Dawkins – but I’m fascinated by the religious imagination, and the extent to which it lingers on in our culture and our consciousness, like the interminable half-life of some long ago discarded uranium. The new book has poems that owe a debt to, or feature cameo appearances by, Rabelais, Boethius, Foucault, John Donne, Mullah Nasreddin, Erasmus and characters from Shakespeare, the Bible and the Marquis de Sade. There is some autobiographical stuff, a wide variety of forms, and much that sits in a contemporary setting too – but it is a bit of an echo chamber. With jokes. And I work hard on the sequencing of a collection, so that something from one poem ripples into, or creates an echo in, a subsequent poem. We wrote “literary, ludic and lyrical” on the dust-jacket of my first collection. I still think that sums it up best.

3. Why do I write what I do?

I couldn’t write anything else. I’m a particular poem-making creature, with certain influences, foraging in a very specific climate, consuming an idiosyncratic diet; so, what comes out in my pelletty nest could not be other than what it is. I feel proud and privileged to have had opportunities to publish and to promote some of this work, and I’ll always be drawn to the buzz of seeing my writing in print.

But if the question is why do I write at all, I guess I’d say that the act of making things, of making work – whether you’re an artist in a studio, a musician on the road, a writer at a desk, etc. etc. – it’s more important, more meaningful, to be a maker than a consumer. We’re the meaning-making species. We’re all a bit of both, of course, but you know what I mean.

On another tack, for me, reading and writing’s more a way of finding out what I think than expressing a pre-formulated thought. And being part of a community of readers and writers is also an excellent way of finding out the extent to which what’s happening in my mind is anything like what’s happening in your mind. Only connect! Set against the backdrop of our existential isolation and the madness of space, that seems to me to be a pretty valuable way of spending my time.

4. How does my writing process work?

Walking. Reading. Longhand on foolscap paper. Notebooks, notebooks, notebooks. Lying on the sofa listening to records. Poetry readings. A deckchair in the sun on my balcony. Reading. Walking. Free writing, a bucket dropped into my subconscious. More reading. Long periods during which nothing but mental composting. Sudden frenzy of ink and foolscap paper. Walking. More reading. Eventually, the Word machine to edit and whittle into shape.

Bristol Festival of Nature 2014

Lorna-Goodison-Bristol-pic-675x385I’ll be reading a commissioned poem for the Bristol Festival of Nature’s Biosphere event at The Watershed, on Bristol’s harbour front, on Friday 13 June, from 7.45pm. Lorna Goodison (pictured) is headlining the show, and I’m excited to be reading with her. If you click on the picture of Lorna, you’ll find the festival website, where there are audio interviews with the featured poets, including a reading of my climate change poem.

Sabotage Review

TRain-Rider-coverhere’s a review by Angelina Ayers of my second collection, Rain Rider (Salt, 2013) at Sabotage Reviews. Click on the front cover of my book (left) to read it.

All About Angola

PawsonI’m reading a commissioned poem about Angola on this Resonance FM show, The News Agents. There’s an interview and reading from about 7.29, but there’s some good music before that, and a fascinating interview with Lara Pawson about her new book on recent political history in Angola afterwards. If you’ve got an hour, it’s a fine show.

Click on the front cover of Lara’s book (left) for a link to the show.


Bristol Calling

Bristol CallingI’ll be reading from Rain Rider at The Poetry Place in Covent Garden, on Thursday 6 February, with Bristol-based poets Rachael Boast and Patrick Brandon. Rachael will also be reading from her second collection, Pilgrim’s Flower (Picador, 2013), and Patrick will be reading the excellent new work he’s been placing recently with publications such as MagmaPoetry London and Best British Poetry 2013.

There’s a fair amount of poetry in Bristol at the moment. It’d be daft to talk about a Bristol school, but it’s probably fair to call it a gesture.

This a free, public event, so if you’re in the area please do come. You’ll be very welcome. Readings start at 7.30pm. Click on the flier for more details about how to find the venue.


Topping & Company

topping I’m delighted to be reading from Rain Rider at Topping & Company in Bath early in the New Year. It’s one of the very best bookshops around, and they run a fantastic selection of author events. I hope you can come on Thursday 23 January. The reading will start at 8.00pm.

Click on the image for more information and/or to book tickets.

The Echoing Gallery Echoes On

The-Echoing-GalleryIn late November we reconvened for a second launch of the ekphrastic anthology The Echoing Gallery (Redcliffe Press, 2013). This provided an opportunity to read for some contributors who hadn’t been able to make the first launch and, so, this time we were able to hear Jane Griffiths’s response to Ben Nicholson’s St Ives – Oval and Steeple, Edson Burton’s poem about Valda Jackson’s relief in brick, situated in Bristol’s St Paul’s district, and Ralph Hoyte’s distinctive delivery of ‘Snarked’, a prose-poem response to Stephen Joyce’s statue of John Cabot that looks out on the Floating Harbour from the cobblestones fronting the Arnolfini.

Rachael Boast has done excellent work editing this anthology, including the organisation of these launch events. She also commissioned musicians Hat in Hand to produce music in response to the poems, and film to accompany the music, thereby developing the ekphrastic idea in ever more intriguing directions. A recording of the event – featuring readings of the poems cut with images of the artworks that inspired them, and the music and film inspired by the poems – is currently in post-production.

Pop-up Shop

their shopRight at the tail-end of November I read from Rain Rider in Bath with my colleague and friend Andrew Jamison. A select audience, admittedly, but a stunning venue: it was a vain but delightful pleasure to hear our voices echoing about the vaulted spaces of the Walcot Chapel Gallery. It’s a great space, and on this occasion it was being used by RCA graduate Chloe Regan, and friends, as a festive pop-up shop.