New Book

A box containing copies of my new collection ‘The Great Animator’ arrived today. Officially launching with readings in March, it’s not yet available from my publisher Shoestring Press, Amazon or other outlets at present, but you can buy a copy directly from me if you go to this page and click the Paypal link. I had some trouble setting up the button, but a twelve year old friend of my son assisted me. The cover price is £10, but I’m offering it for £9.50 including postage and packing.  I’ll be reading from the book in London, Leicester and Manchester next month. Please see Readings page for details. Thank you.


The great Animator


The proof copy of my second full poetry collection dropped through the letterbox earlier this week.


I’m very pleased with the way it looks and feels. The cover image, which was made for me by art student Ayo Byron, is just what I wanted. I had sent Ayo a few ideas – images of trees and their roots- and asked him to produce something with movement to reflect the title. The title itself comes from a poem of that name, a poem ostensibly about the wind and the fact it knows no borders.
I’m also pleased to say I am happy with the poems and their order. This book is more varied in subject and style and feels more substantial than my last one and I am  delighted with the paper quality and overall look and feel of it. But then this high quality is to be expected from my publisher, Shoestring Press. The book will be available to buy in March, and I’ll be launching it and reading with other poets in London, Manchester and Leicester and posting details here nearer to publication.

Over on poet Clare Pollard’s blog this morning Clare has highlighted a number of sources for free poetry including the online magazines Prac Crit and Poetry and Poems in Which . These are great developments, making quality poetry and interviews and articles available to those without the means to obtain it otherwise.   I also received a copy of the hefty 188 page print magazine The North this week. I’m pleased to have three poems from my new book in this edition.  Now in its thirtieth year, The North continues to prove that high quality print magazines can co-exist and thrive alongside new online formats. Clare also mentions a project called ‘All That’s Ever Happened’  an e-book anthology of New North Poets she was involved in mentoring for the Poetry School.  One of the poets included in the anthology  is my friend James Giddings, who I met when I studied in Sheffield some years ago and whose poems have featured here before.

Clare writes
‘Free poetry! There’s almost too much of it these days. How am I going to convince people to pay £9.95 when my book comes out in two weeks..’

The cover price of my book is £10, so I too have been wondering about this.  But then I’ll certainly be buying Clare’s book. And I would even if it were available free online.
There are several reasons for this.  Firstly, while I’m grateful that online magazines and e-books enable me to read a wide variety of poetry for no expense, it is still from the pages of the book in my hand that I most enjoy absorbing poetry.

I appreciate the aesthetic qualities of a physical book, and through my own involvement I am aware of the many hours it takes to produce one. In the case of my own book, there was the time invested by my editor, John Lucas, who carefully read and made notes on the typescript. The typescript was then set by a skilful typesetter who, from the times on the e-mail correspondence I received, seems to be working very late at night and very early in the morning as he fits his company’s work in around other (I imagine more lucrative) employment. Many e-mails were exchanged before the final layout was achieved. Similarly, the young art student I asked to design the cover dedicated many hours to producing and honing the image I wanted. Then I had to write and re-write the poems, which took several years, although not without a break, you understand!

I love poetry books. Volumes are generally slim and unlike novels, several hundred can sit on the bookshelves of a small office. I can take a book down and weight my pocket with it when I go for a walk across the fields, a habit I developed many years ago. If I have an appointment that might involve a wait or train journey, I can slip a poetry collection or two into my bag and know I have this insurance against waiting-room or platform dullness. While on-line poems, magazines and books are a marvellous and convenient development, I still love turning pages, still love the feel of a physical book.   Like Brian Patten’s ‘stolen Orange’ , a poetry book, un-reliant on technology or anything other than my eyesight,  has always been for me ‘ a safeguard against imagining/ there was nothing bright or special in the world.’


New book

I have a book coming out in March 2017. So I’m going to toot my own trumpet for a moment.

Where did this book come from? Well, I’m not entirely sure! Apart from one poem I had left over from the last book, all the poems in this one were written and rewritten over the three years since ‘The Sun Bathers’ was published. Only one poem was generated in a writing workshop.  

As with the last collection, I’ve kept poems circulating to magazines. As I write this, forty-five of fifty-seven poems in this collection have been published. Since the last collection in 2013, magazines that taken my work for the first time included Ambit, Poetry Wales, Stand and The Manchester Review. Poems were also taken by new magazines that appeared during this period including The High window, The Compass, Clear Poetry, and Nottingham’s Lucifer magazine, due to be launched next week. I was also pleased to have poems in favourites of mine like The Rialto, The North, New Walk, Magma and The Interpreter’s House. Several poems have appeared in anthologies. Seven or eight of these published poems have been left out of the book, for various reasons.  Other poems in the collection have received competition prizes from judges including the poets Liz Berry, Clare Pollard, Don Patterson, Pascale Petit, Helen Ivory, Ruth Fainlight and Dalgit Nagra.  Once again, several poet friends have cast an eye over individual poems and one or two offered to look at  the manuscript and their names will be in the acknowledgments. All that remains is to finalize the title and artwork with my publisher.  As I found out with the last book, none of this seems real until you hold a copy in your hand. Writing this helps. Thank you for reading.


John Lucas and Shoestring Press

There’s a brief interview with writer and publisher John Lucas, in Nottingham’s Leftlion  here . It’s a good read, conveying  John’s passion for writing, publishing, cricket and music, in no particular order, and capturing a little of his direct and down to earth manner, his forthright, informed and uncompromising views, his quickness of mind, joyful independence and wicked sense of humor.  It’s a brief article so doesn’t touch on John’s vast knowledge of literature; mention any writer to him in any genre and John will have an opinion on the merits or otherwise of their works.

I met John Lucas in 2012 at a poetry reading in Nottingham. It was the first time we had ever spoken and John said he had enjoyed my pamphlet, ‘Gopagilla’,  and asked if he could have my home address.
I thought this was unusual in the age of e-mail, but duly wrote my name, street and post code in John’s well thumbed notebook. A week or so later I received a handwritten note on hand-stamped paper asking if I had any more poems as John would like to bring out a collection with his publishing company, Shoestring Press.
The resulting collection of poems came out in November 2013, and was launched in London, at the Lumen in Camden Town, and in Nottingham. I’ve still got some copies- please see the link at the top of the page if you would like one. And you can read one of John’s poems in the Guardian newspaper, here.

Shoestring make beautiful books, and have a very busy publishing schedule. Because of his reputation and the reputation of the press, John manages to sell lots of books without using the internet.
I once accused John of being a twentieth-century publisher to which he swiftly replied ‘oh, eighteenth century, please.’
Despite his suspicion that the internet is no place to sell poetry,  I understand that John has recently been persuaded to try out a paypal button on the website for one of Shoestring’s new titles-a collection of short stories by David Belbin. It remains to be seen if he will be convinced of its value!

I’m delighted to know and work with John, and to be in the company of so many fine writers.  My new collection of poems is scheduled for publication by Shoestring press in 2017.


Good news

I’m very pleased to have received news that my book, The Sun Bathers has been shortlisted for the Michael Murphy prize. You can read the full shortlist on the Poetry Society webpage here.

As you will see if you follow the link, it is an illustrious list containing some brilliant poets and so I’m surprised and delighted to have made the shortlist.  I’m grateful to my publisher, John Lucas of Shoestring Press for entering the book for the bi-annual prize which is for a ‘distinctive first collection’. The prize was instigated by colleagues of the late Michael Murphy, who tragically died at the age of 43 of a brain tumour in 2009.
There’s more a little more information about Michael and the prize that bears his name here.

It has been a joy of receive congratulations from many poets through social media. In addition to this, any writers reading this will know how important it is to receive the occasional affirmation to help offset the nagging doubts and insecurities about their work.  Yesterday, I was fretting over the latest drafts of the next book . Today I’ll just let myself count my blessings and remember all the hard work that went into the last one. Thanks.


Interview with Martin Malone, poet and editor.

I’m pleased to be able to publish the first in a series of interviews with poets who are also editors. I thought it would be doubly interesting to ask people who wear two hats about their experience of editing and how it might impact upon their writing.


Martin Malone is a UK based poet whose work has won prizes including the Wivenhoe  Prize, the Straid Poetry Award and the Mirehouse Poetry Prize. His second collection, Cur, is due from Shoestring Press in October. Martin is currently undertaking practice-led research for a Ph.D in Poetry at Sheffield University and is editor of The Interpreter’s House poetry journal.

Hi Martin. thank you very much for taking the time to answer these questions. I’d like to ask you about your editorship of the Interpreter’s House. You’ve done a great job of modernising the magazine in terms of its appearance and the giving it a stronger internet presence. Your acceptance and even rejection letters are mentioned in glowing terms on social media due to their often encouraging nature.   Of course the old Interpreter’s House had an established reputation for quality of design and content, but I’d like to congratulate you on keeping these qualities while moving things forward.

Ta very much Roy. Truthfully, we were passed on a fine magazine with a sound infrastructure but no digital footprint. Much of the headway we’ve made, then, was merely capitalising upon a bit of an open goal in this respect.  I can’t praise enough the founding editor, Merryn Williams, and my predecessor, Simon Curtis, for handing on to us such a lovely magazine in the first place. Maybe we’ve just reaped a generational benefit somewhat. However, I’m delighted to hear that people have ‘got’ where it is we’re coming from with regard to the way we hope to conduct ourselves. You can’t always get it right and mistakes are made but, overall, we simply try to treat people with respect and sensitivity. It’s not complicated. And we’re only temporary custodians of the magazine, after all. We ignore the fact, but humanity is a commonwealth and we do well to remember that.

I wonder if you’ve found the editorship to be beneficial to your own poetry and if so in what way.

Hm. I’m struggling to think of many tangible benefits to my own writing, if I’m honest. That’s not being grumpy it’s just the way it is. The editorship benefits me indirectly in other ways, I suppose. With over a thousand poems per issue to read, editing benefits your reading whilst stealing time from your writing. No complaints: the gig was a genuine attempt to give something back to the poetry community. I cite the great poet Jazzy B at this point: “Be objective, be selective, be an asset to the collective”: a perfect mantra for editors everywhere. Ultimately, I try to keep my editorship of TIH and my poetorship of Martin Malone as separate as possible, for ethical reasons more than anything else.

I know that you are studying for a PHD and have other commitments. How do you manage to keep all these balls in the air?

I’m not sure I do. Not sure at all, Roy. For much of the time I wander round in a state of mild to extreme panic  that I’ve set myself an impossible equation of time and space. However, I am someone who may function more productively as a busy man.  I guess there’ll be a reckoning when I graduate on time or not. I do know that putting together and locking down a new issue is absolutely compulsive and has taken precious time away from my Ph.D. But there are always subsidiary benefits to these things and nothing is wasted in the grand scheme of things. I know I am grateful to my Deputy Editor, Charles Lauder, for taking some of the weight from my shoulders; particularly of late, when we’ve become victims of our own success to some extent. The thought of doing everything on my own these days is inconceivable and, anyway, I like working as part of a team.

Do you time aside for the different tasks?

I guess I do, though I’m not particularly methodical on a day-to-day basis. Because of wee Fionn, I‘ve re-orientated my working week to mean Thursday through Sunday, with other days being the hold-steady ones. If I can attend to stuff whilst being mauled and snottered on, I do it: things like magazine record-keeping and admin (which is surprisingly time-consuming), online MOOCs that are relevant to my research, snatches of reading and editing etc. You’ll notice I’ve not put ‘writing’ there. I do have my very first Arvon week coming up, however. There I shall sup the tears of angels and glut my heart on ichor.

Any advice for would be editors?

Advice for would-be editors would be to not do it. And, if after deciding that, you still do it then you’ve got yourself an editorship. I took on the gig for 5 years – sometimes wish I’d said three – and I think that’s about right at one journal. Otherwise, it becomes too much a part of you, as an individual, and the publication struggles to grow as a result. I’m actually looking forward to handing TIH on to the next custodian(s) to see where they’ll take it (NOTE: the privately-educated and Oxbridge graduates need not apply, UK culture suffers from an overabundance of you already). Also I’m looking forward to having the chance to simply look back over my 15 issues, as a punter rather than someone fretting over it all.

My niece is studying at Oxford but she wasn’t privately educated so maybe you could make an exception if she was interested.  Where do you find the beautiful covers?

TIH cover

The beautiful covers are entirely the work of Jenn Shaw who has a great eye and knows where to look for good artists. It is she who should get the credit for this. We started off with the punchy print graphic approach and after a few issues decided that this would be the overall design aesthetic.

TIH cover 2

I’ve always wanted to produce something that is beautiful and objectively desirable in itself; something collectible and an artwork when assembled together. We’re hoping to hold an exhibition of all the cover artists at the end of my tenure: find a gallery somewhere and celebrate their very great contribution to the project. I confess, after reading my way through everything and assembling each issue’s writing, my big thrill is when the printer proof arrives and I get to see the artwork.

Could you tell me a little about your new collection?

‘Cur’ is what American college bands would call my ‘sophomore’ effort. In some ways, it is Part 2 of ‘The Waiting Hillside’ but hopefully more sharply-written. I’m a great believer in being true to the arc of time which produced a particular phase of writing, and not being afraid to stand by that. I like to encounter artists who are uneven and follow their own blues; rather than sitting and sitting on stuff with one eye on the career-defining statement or prize-winning tome. I’ve nothing against folks who do, mind. Good luck to them. But there’s something a bit sterile about the exercise. As the long-forgotten post-Augustan satirist Charles Churchill said of Pope: “E’en excellence unvaried, tedious grows.” It’s why my brain acknowledges the superiority of Echo & The Bunnymen’s recorded output but my heart loves Pete Wylie’s flawed genius more. I’ve gotten off the point haven’t I?

I think you may have honed it a little. The point that is.  Where was I-  oh yes, what are the main themes of your collection ? Sex and death?  

Love and loss, love and loss, love and loss. With lots of sex, art and landscapes, then an unexpected child to close. Fairly standard stuff.

How does it differ from your first book?

Better sex, bigger losses, bigger gains. I guess it’s more out in the world than the first book. I’d not been writing poetry for long when ‘The Waiting Hillside’ came out, so whatever good energies flow through that book are less tutored than those I hope are being channelled through ‘Cur’. As I say, it’s a sort of Part 2 in that there’s still a lot of ‘I’ in it. The wonderful thing about my current work-in-progress, however, is that there is very little me in it, which is very liberating. But ‘Cur’ is a point on a growth curve that I stand by and know will remain a personal favourite.

It’s good to hear that you are moving on but seem happy with what you have captured. It seems to me that might possibly the best way for any artist to feel.

What attracted you to Shoestring Press as a publisher?

I trust John Lucas implicitly. He is one of the genuine forces of light and a deep but un-showy intellect on a British poetry scene which surprises me, at times, with its lack of those qualities. John’s sort of what I hope to represent in the long-term. It helps that Shoestring is a rightfully respected imprint and does its business on the shake of a hand. I like that a lot. Also, Roy, when I saw the lovely artefact that is your own first collection, I knew that I’d have another beautifully-produced book. That too, is important.

I think you’ve just articulated exactly how I feel about John Lucas and Shoestring.  How have you found the editorial process?

Good moment to ask, since I got home from a hard week yesterday to find John’s unflinching (and, frankly, illegible) pencilization* of my manuscript. From what I’ve so far managed to decipher, I’ve been utterly shocked by just how random and sloppy one can be over a body of work with which one has become, perhaps, over-familiar. John suggestions are sharp-eyed, shrewd and carry the heft of his knowledge and experience. This is no place for an over-abundance of personal ego at this stage, not if you’re serious about your writing. Every writer should love being edited and I’m no exception.

In general, the editorial stage is one of my favourite moments; since a new pair of eyes can utterly revivify your own take on a manuscript: poems you’d thought grown cold can be suddenly brought back to life in strange and fascinating ways by the lightest of editorial touches. A single new, dropped or changed word can virtually create a whole new poem. As a rule I’ve always cut it 80:20 in favour of adopting whatever changes a good editor suggests. And it never results in anything less than a better poem or manuscript. I was lucky enough to have Paul Batchelor edit my first collection and I saw then how important the process is. So, I’m already enjoying working my way through John’s suggested ch-ch-ch-changes as I turn and face the strain.

*A sort of constructive assassination by fault-finding and suggestion.

I’m a big fan of Paul Batchelor’s work. I have to agree with your comments on John’s style and your attitude to the process is close to my own.  It’s good to hear such a  positive take on being edited. When is the collection due?   

I learn that it’s to come out in October. Get in!

Thank you Martin. May your time run wild in a million streets and may none of them be dead ends.



A few thoughts on a Thursday evening

I’ve just dispatched some poems for consideration by the editors of a poetry magazine. After six years of doing this, I still find the process of submitting poems exciting.  I’m not a gambling man, but I think the buzz of putting one’s poems ‘out there’ might be similar to the experience of laying down a bet. Unlike gambling, there is really nothing to lose. Indeed, I’m sometimes quite glad when poems are returned- I get another go!

A friend of mine has just had some work accepted by a really good poetry magazine. After an initial (and ridiculous) pang of envy I was able to be genuinely pleased for him. This is because a) he is a lovely bloke and b) because his work is startlingly individualistic and as fresh as wet paint. James Giddings work was featured on this blog a while ago, and I’m pleased that he is sending work out and that editors are beginning to notice his obvious talent.

I’m also delighted to announce a new series of interviews that will be posted on here soon. The last batch was a year or so ago, and included Ian Parks, Matt Merritt,  Jodie Hollander, Maria Taylor and Kim Moore. The new series will begin with Martin Malone, editor of The Interpreter’s House. Martin’s second collection will soon be published by the excellent Shoestring Press.

You may have noticed that Leicester is in the news. Robin Houghton recently featured the city in the first of a series of articles about regional poetry scenes, continuing with Cumbria. Robin’s articles are well researched and definitely worth a look.

Finally, one of my own poems was recently published by The Morning Star. If you go to their webpage you can also read work by Leicester poet and reviewer, Emma Lee.         


The TS Eliot prize and twenty-five years of Shoestring Press

One of the great showcases for poetry, the TS Eliot Prize is over for another year.  I’m lucky enough to have met and spent a little time with three of the nominated poets in the last couple of years, and I found all of them to be witty, generous, brilliant and fun.

I have never met Danie Abse, shortlisted for his ‘Speak, Old Parrot,’ but  I have loved his work for some time, not least because Abse, a Doctor by profession and now 91 years of age, has written about medical matters from an insider’s point of view in his ‘Pathology of Colours’.  Reading this poem and others by Abse I realised I could write about my own experiences as a nurse.
You can hear the funny and very moving Danie Abse and all the other brilliant poets reading at the awards ceremony by clicking here.  


Away from the bright lights poetry continues to thrive in the small presses and magazines. My review of Matt Merrit’s ‘The Elephant Tests’ (Nine Arches) is on the impressive new online magazine Hinterland along with some excellent poems.

Elsewhere you can find a review of Helen Mort’s TS Eliot Prize nominated ‘Division Street’ as well as a well-balanced and written review of my book ‘The Sun Bathers’ on Antiphon.

In other news Nick Laird’s new collection ‘Go Giants’ (Faber) arrived today and looks to be as good as I had hoped. I’m catching up on Laird’s work, and his superb poem ‘Grace and the Chilcot Inquiry’ inhabited my head for most of the day.

Finally, I was thinking about my wonderful publisher today. I can write this safe in the knowledge that the notoriously modest John Lucas will not be reading it as he stays away from electronic media as much as possible.

John Lucas set up Shoestring Press  twenty five years ago this year. Small press publishing is a precarious business and John has continued to quietly produce a wide range of poets in beautiful editions, including the brilliant John Hartley Williams. His selection of writers is varied and includes translated work, and John will often concentrate on publishing poets who he feels have been overlooked or undervalued. One example might be the wonderful Matt Simpson. Another is Brian Jones, not the ill-fated Rolling Stone, but a poet published at various times by Chatto and Windus and Carcanet.  Much of Jones work had been out of print until Shoestring’s recent New and Selected.

John also publishes a lot of first collections, including, I’m extremely happy to say, mine. As everyone reading this will no-doubt know, small press poetry books are highly unlikely to be stocked in high street bookshops or to be nominated for the large poetry prizes (see Fiona Moore’ s interesting post on this here.)  Forgive me. I am about to relate an anecdote which involves quoting a complementary introduction given by John Lucas and thereby blowing my own trumpet a little. But I do so for a purpose.

Two months ago, on the night of a joint launch reading with Rory Waterman, John suggested that my poems, rather than having a highlight or two, were the highlight,  rather like Duke Ellington’s music.  I should mention that John is a cornet player with his own jazz band and I imagine he thinks rather highly of Ellington.  I felt as if I’d won the biggest prize in poetry. If my work never receives further recognition or praise I’ll be happy with that.

Here’s to John Lucas and Shoestring Press and to all its supporters and readers. And to Shoestring poets both alive and living on through their words.  Cheers.