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Back to school, current reading & looking forward

Back. After twelve days or so away I’m feeling positively autumnal and a bit ‘back to school’ (garden looking blousy, woollies coming out the wardrobe, wondering when Masterchef starts, etc).

I haven’t got back into any new writing but that will come. Sometimes I get the feeling I’m waiting  – for inspiration maybe – for a collection of poems, rather than a poem here, a poem there – and I’m a bit annoyed with myself. I really enjoyed hearing Kei Miller read at Hastings LitFest a few weeks ago, and he surprised some us by saying that he only wrote poems when he had a book in mind, and when there’s no book in mind, there are no poems. This was refreshing in a way – I’ve never been one of those people who are disciplined to write every day (not poetry, anyway). I’ve also never been very good at using exercises or ‘free writing’ as a means of churning out (or up?) ideas into proto-poems. Thinking in ‘book’ terms appeals to me and I do it a lot – trouble is, it seems to be in parallel to writing poems; I haven’t yet tied the two together. And I need to remember that Kei Miller also writes novels, so he’s quite possibly knocking out several books in those poetry dry-times. Ha!

Current reading

The September edition of Poetry, which seems to be breaking the boundaries this month with the inclusion of graphic prose poetry, a computer program, pictures of fans and a couple of essays… intriguing.

Madeleine Wurzburger‘s pamphlet Sleeve Catching Fire at Dawn (Smith/Doorstop), a gift from Marion Tracy. The poems are written in a kind of pseudo-historical style, in that they seem to be (on the face of it) well-researched historic portraits, commentary, testimonies. But they’re witty, funny in places, and certainly interesting.

Stephen Sexton‘s first collection If All the World and Love were Young (Penguin) – what a gem of a title for starters. You’ll be reading plenty of reviews of this, watch as it comes up for various awards. I was at the prize giving ceremony for the National Poetry Competition in 2017 when this poet won it, still in his early twenties. Oh my. This book was a slow burner for me, but I’ve read nothing like it. Very subtle and original and all the more moving for it. If you get a quarter of the way through and you’ve still no idea what’s going on, trust me and stick with it! Nice piece here by Stephen in the Irish Times, on the background to the book.

Coming up, in brief

Next week two lovely poet friends, Clare Best and Robert Hamberger, are launching their new collections in Brighton and I’m hoping to go, but if not then I’ll definitely hear them read at Needlewriters in Lewes next month, for which I’ll be MC-ing which is always fun. Also next month I’ll be running a workshop for some lovely High Weald Stanza writers. Some time in November I’ll have a new pamphlet ready to launch, alongside three fine Live Canon pamphleteers. And I’ll be reading in London in November at a special night being organised by Mat Riches and Matthew Stewart.

Meanwhile I’m still deciding whether to renew my membership of the Poetry Book Society. I tend to buy poetry books at readings, or second-hand. I’m not sure how useful I find the PBS Bulletin which basically includes brief review/blurbs, long poet blogs, huge poet photos and a sample poem for each of the ‘recommendations’. Pamphlets only get a very small amount of space. Buying through the PBS doesn’t save any money (once you factor in the postage cost and cost of membership). Or should I not be looking at it in those terms?  I’d be interested to know people’s thoughts on this.


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  1. Grainne Tobin Grainne Tobin

    1. Yes, in Northern Ireland we’re all very proud of Stephen Sexton and looking forward to saying that we knew him before he was famous.

    2 I quite like the PBS mailings because I live in a small town with no bookshop, and though I do find out a bit about what’s going on across my own island, the PBS sends current stuff from east of me. I wouldn’t know about Raymond Antrobus for a while without it, for instance.

  2. My reply is late, but I’m clearing the inbox. I’ve had a few reminders, but I won’t be renewing. I don’t get much from the new format and, on a few occasions, had already bought the recommended book. So, I ended up giving the second copy to a friend!

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Robin Houghton 2021