Thursday, August 21, 2014

"Concave mirror of dreams": Rogue Strands verdict on For Real

‘This is poetry that bares its heart, not for the sake of confession or self-gratification, but for transforming qualities that are capable of moving its reader ... sorrow and struggle are laced with passion and optimism. The verse in For Real is brave, and hugely authentic.’

The rest of the review can be read here, and the pamphlet can be purchased for £6 (inc. p&p) here.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Offside Stories

The results are in!

Delighted to announce that my poem 'John Barnes', from my sequence of Kopite Sonnets on Liverpool FC Legends, has won The Pride and the Passion: Offside Stories, a competition celebrating the best poetry and prose about the beautiful game.

The poem centres on Barnes' incredible flair and ability as a player, but also the racist abuse and intolerance he suffered and - to his great credit - rose above, during his incredible career for Liverpool and England.

Especially chuffed since the competition was judged by poet, broadcaster and all-round good guy Ian McMillan, alongside Derby County FC captain, Shaun Barker. Here's their verdict on the poem:

"a truly accomplished piece; packed with craft and hard work and revealing the way that football can be a prism of history and, yes, a conduit of passion and pride."

Carol Farrelly was overall winner in the prose category, for a fascinating and gripping-sounding story that brings to life the tragic events of the Hillsborough disaster. I'm really looking forward to reading it when the anthology of shortlisted and winning entries is published later this year. 


Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Pride and the Passion

'John Barnes', a poem from my sequence of Kopite Sonnets on Liverpool FC Legends, has been shortlisted in The Pride and the Passion: Offside Stories, a competition celebrating the best poetry and prose about the beautiful game.

The poem centres on Barnes' incredible flair and ability as a player, but also the racist abuse and intolerance he suffered and - to his great credit - rose above, during his incredible career for Liverpool and England.

Judged by poet, broadcaster and all-round good guy Ian McMillan, and Derby County FC's current captain, Shaun Barker, the overall winners will be announced next week.

Get in there my son!

Friday, July 11, 2014

For Real (Smith|Doorstop, 2014)

'No. The catch was what you could never
let go. It's what you carried, and still do.'
                                   from 'The Catch'

Technically adroit, Ben Wilkinson’s poems are also willing to wear their heart on their sleeve. Lyrical and sometimes wistful, the best poems have a spoken contemporary quality. There is a great deal of promise in this striking collection.  

For Real, published by Smith|Doorstop, £5.

Buy For Real by secure PayPal / debit card payment for £6 (UK p&p) or £8 (overseas p&p).

Ben Wilkinson is one to watch. A fine poet with a deft ear and a nice sense of how the external world presses on the inner one.

Filmic, phantasmagoric, super-realist – in For Real, Ben Wilkinson shoots the rapids of the emerging twenty-first century’s infra- and extraordinary, in a stylish, poised lyric voice that looks built to last.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review: Fiona Benson's Bright Travellers

Never mind movements, schools and styles: fundamentally, there are two types of poet – those who see spirits, and those who just drink them. As Sean O'Brien noted when reviewing her Faber New Poets pamphlet in these pages in 2009, Fiona Benson is a sober, contemplative sort. But as her first full collection Bright Travellers reveals, she is as much drawn to the metaphysical as to the mystical, treating the poem as a kind of secular prayer.

The opener, "Caveat", may be a terse appraisal of the cactus, its "moist heart" and "store of water / held beneath its spines" a working model of life's resilience in the face of inevitable hurt. But, elsewhere, a poem such as "Lares" is a full-blown hymn to the "small ghost" of a bird, conjuring this "noosed spirit of the eaves" as gatekeeper of a hidden world beyond our everyday outlook. Benson often draws on personal experience in her writing – wading "thigh-deep in pollen" with her husband in summer's "glaze of heat"; the love for her baby daughter that will "ride on" – but she rarely trades in simple anecdotes. Instead, her poems make a bid for what Michael Donaghy called the "alchemical payoff", mixing solemn scrutiny, intoxicating lyricism and a dark imagination in pursuit of the strangeness beneath the habitual.

One stylistic habit is her musing on a pivotal subject – a pine cone, say, or a "feral" rose – in the hope that, like a horse's skull placed in the corner of a room by guitarists, it might offer wider resonance through the poem's music. That rose, for instance, becomes no less than "its own lantern / hung above the garden", "ventricles and channels / charged with light, // its scarlet bell streaming, / as if it were Christ's sacred heart / radiating flames". As a concentrated, image-driven expression, this feels Romantic in origin, but in both theme and style it more clearly recalls Sylvia Plath, who emerges as a guiding hand in the dark. Comparisons between Plath and modern-day female poets are frequently dubious, of course – the work of lazy critics – but where Benson is concerned, the affinity is plain to see. Her obsession with animals, the wild and corporeal, with ghosts and with history's chasms; the handling of painful human emotion through naturalistic conceit; the searing imagery and singularly heightened register: all bear the hallmark of that most nihilistic and paradoxically tender of poets. When she muses on the vulnerability of a pine cone's needles, blown on the wind, it is hard to hear anyone else in the lines "one day / my daughter also / will travel far from here".

To dismiss Benson as a fine imitator and acolyte of Plath, however, would be to give her poetry short shrift. For one thing, there is a tranquil, Zen-like quality to some of her writing, measured lines and diction unspooling with an ease removed from the edgy, angular style employed elsewhere, acknowledging "our place // beneath this infinite sky / in a wind that knows we are mortal, porous, / a beautiful trick of the light".

A sequence of poems on parenthood and the pain and grief of miscarriage demonstrate Benson's ability to handle emotionally difficult and evidently personal subject matter with poise, grit and feeling. Here, avowedly maternal poems such as "Childbed" and "Cradle Cap" are full of praise and wonder for the newborn, but in its clinical yet candid tones, "Breastfeeding" is the most powerful piece. "Lost / to the manifold / stations of milk, / the breast siphoned off // then filling", the poet tells of how "you get down on your knees / at the foot of the change-mat", to clean off the "yellow curd / of the baby's shit". "It was always like this", the poem declaims, "a long line of women / sitting and kneeling, / out of their skins / with love and exhaustion." When Benson crafts her poems out of blood and muscle, memory and music, they stay with you. The pared-back tercets of "Sheep" develop a haunting parallel, in which the creature is seen "bedded in mud and afterbirth, / her three dead lambs // knotted in a plastic bag". "I can't not watch", implores the speaker, before telling of her own hurt and anguish, "afraid to look down / for what I might see". It is a brave and determined poem, one that bites and stings as the best poems can, and sometimes must.

"Love-Letter to Vincent", though, is the book's most sustained achievement. In these dramatic monologues Benson ventriloquises the prostitute-lover of the tortured Van Gogh, taking the titles of his canvases as a stepping-off point and framing device to paint portraits as intelligent and touching as they are visceral and grim. Though occasionally overblown – Benson has a tendency to reach for the intensifying adverb when a quieter, less cluttered phrasing would serve better – there is a good deal to admire: the smart riposte to masculine ignorance of female suffering that is "Still Life with Red Herrings"; the sun-lit sanctuary of "Yellow Room at Arles", where art becomes a means of preserving the past as a talisman against the future; love pitched against life's vicissitudes in "Self-portrait with a Bandaged Ear". "Here, whatever sorrow waits for us, is hope", ventures one poem, while another, written in the blaze of those famous sunflowers, declares: "Most of us are not this brave / our whole damn lives; / teach me to admit / a touch more light". Bright Travellers is a book of poems that balances its florid excesses with toughness, perspicacity and, above all, heart.

first published in The Guardian

Saturday, July 05, 2014

"For you, the catch wasn't something caught..." - 'The Catch', The Saturday Poem in the Guardian

More than a little chuffed to announce that The Saturday Poem in today's Guardian is 'The Catch', from my new prize-winning pamphlet of poems, For Real.

You can read it here.

For Real is available to buy through this website, the Poetry Business shop, the Guardian bookshop, or Amazon.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

For Real wins Northern Promise Poetry Award

BW, collecting the award from poetry judge Jean Sprackland. (photo credit: Simon Veit-Wilson)

Delighted to announce that my new pamphlet of poems, For Real, has picked up the Northern Promise Award from New Writing North, as part of the 2014 Northern Writers' Awards.

The prize is a cash fund to buy time to develop my work, writing new poems that will make up my first full-length collection of poetry.

A brilliant ceremony, and an honour to be in the company of many talented new poets and prose writers alike.

Check out the press release here for more info.

The 2014 Northern Writers' Awards poetry winners. (photo credit: Simon Veit-Wilson)