Thursday, 28 August 2014

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


For those of you who missed my deathless review of Martin Amis's new book, it is here:


So, to the RAH for two Brahms symphonies - 3 and 4.  RAH looking extremely cool and groovy.  Circumstances allowed me three seats in which to splurge, right at the very top - final row before the gods.  Bang centre.  Symphony 3 delicate little thing.  gorgeous third movement (must admit to being a bit Classic FM about this).

Interval.  Strawberry cheesecake ice cream.

4th Symphony - I know this well.  Choc full of big tunes.  Top timpani.  Apparently Brahms felt it had been influenced by a) bad weather in (deep breath if you're trying to read this out loud for some reason) Murzzuschlag, in Austria, and b) the unsweet cherries of that very same place.

Anyway, the two pieces were played with what seemed to me a good deal of vim not to say gusto by the Budapest Festival Orchestra, conducted by their founder Ivan Fischer.

Lots of clapping.  Fischer was on and of and on and off... an encore.  Milling about.  Brahms' 'Evening Sereneade'.  SUNG BY THE ORCHESTRA!  I won't see anything like that again.  It was unspeakably lovely and I wept. Yep.

Monday, 18 August 2014


Here are the words, taken from Goethe's Harzreise im Winter:

German original
English translation
Aber abseits wer ist's?
Im Gebüsch verliert sich sein Pfad;
hinter ihm schlagen die Sträuche zusammen,
das Gras steht wieder auf,
die Öde verschlingt ihn.
But who is that apart?
His path disappears in the bushes;
behind him the branches spring together;
the grass stands up again;
the wasteland engulfs him.
Ach, wer heilet die Schmerzen
dess, dem Balsam zu Gift ward?
Der sich Menschenhaß
aus der Fülle der Liebe trank!
Erst verachtet, nun ein Verächter,
zehrt er heimlich auf
seinen eigenen Wert
In ungenügender Selbstsucht.
Ah, who heals the pains
of him for whom balsam turned to poison?
Who drank hatred of man
from the abundance of love?
First scorned, now a scorner,
he secretly feeds on
his own merit,
in unsatisfying egotism.
Ist auf deinem Psalter,
Vater der Liebe, ein Ton
seinem Ohre vernehmlich,
so erquicke sein Herz!
Öffne den umwölkten Blick
über die tausend Quellen
neben dem Durstenden
in der Wüste!
If there is on your psaltery[3]
Father of love, one note
his ear can hear
then refresh his heart!
Open his clouded gaze
to the thousand springs
next to him who thirsts
in the wilderness!

Thursday, 14 August 2014


Poet George Szirtes posted the following on his Facebook page this morning.  I didn't listen to Today today, but i've no reason to doubt George's judgement.
Evan Davies on Today begins an item on the steep rise in anti-Semitic attacks in UK but goes on aggressively to pressurise rabbi to condemn Israel, clearly suggesting that unless he does the anti-Semitism is understandable. Never mentions Hamas.
Is this where the BBC stands now? That unless Jews clearly say what is wanted they have only themselves to blame if they are attacked.
One big jump into an out rightly anti-Semitic society.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014


The last time I wept watching a sporting moment was in 2012 when Jessica Ennis decided that simply finishing the 800 metres was not enough.  She was going to bloody well win it.

Bloody hell.  Just wept all over again.


Monday, 11 August 2014

The clue lies in the lady's toe by Alwyn Marriage

On visiting Henry Moore’s sculpture in Dumfries and Galloway

On a Scottish hillside the bronze statue 
of an archetypal king and queen 
braves the elements,

observing, perhaps, a thread
of slit-eyed sheep winding up the hill, 
with careful, delicate tread,

yellow marks like lichen
on their rumps, their gaze
full of vague unanswered questions.

My mind, also, struggles to explain 
the different texture of the metal on 
the king’s right knee. While all the rest

is stippled, rippled, riven
in a pattern to catch the varying 
shades of light, his knee is smooth.

What point was the sculptor making 
as he carefully fashioned this
one unblemished surface?

Only as I descend the hill
does a clear-cut memory emerge 
from long ago, as I recall

a constant stream of pilgrims 
filing past a marble statue of 
the queen of heaven,

the slight roughness of the stone 
contrasting sharply with the smooth 
and shining toe

which generations of the piou
have knelt to fondle and to kiss, 
wearing away the awkward corners

and bringing out a deeper shine. The line 
of sheep has reached the sculpture now, 
and as I watch

each sidles up to the impassive king 
and meditatively rubs her rump 
against his knee.

© Alwyn Marriage 
first published in The Interpreter’s House, 2012 

This was another poem I heard at the launch of Lunar Poetry t'other night, and is reproduced with the permission of the author.

Fatherhood / Motherhood / Grandfatherhood

Monday, 4 August 2014


You think you have caught her with her guard down,
But you will only see what she allows.
Her sister upstairs has, no doubt, passed on
Her own wisdom in dealing with the crowds,
And she has let herself be captured so
As to show it.  Stood in the frisking flare
Of all these camera bulbs, you know she knows
Exactly how to carry herself there;
The shoulders almost hunched, not quite careless,
One thigh lifted as if to move, the span
of her unshowy breast in the caress
Of years, eye-kissed, earning her name, more than
The crowd packed into this museum wing
Can understand, but concealing nothing.

This sonnet is taken from Tim Kiely's debut collection Footprints, which is available on Amazon kindle, here.  It was originally published in Ariadne's Thread. It is reproduced with the poet's permission. 

Note: The Venus de Milo, by the Greek sculptor Alexandros of Antioch, is in the Louvre.

Sunday, 3 August 2014

Review of Museum Pieces by Wendy Pratt

This review appeared originally on the excellent Ink Sweat and Tears site.
Museum Pieces is published by the equally excellent Prolebooks

It is difficult to write about big subjects without recourse to the abstract, and so Wendy Pratt’s first full collection is especially impressive given that its overwhelming interest is death.  Pratt eschews abstraction first by rejecting mere ideas or notions as germs for poems, and secondly by refusing to remove – to abstract – differing modes of experience from the whole. All is of a piece.  The mind, for example – distinctly abstract – gives way to the skull, as in “the skulls of students” (‘After the Digging is Done’) being filled with books and lectures about the mesolithic lake people of Starr Car.
Had I been the editor of this book I may well have insisted on calling it ‘Bones’, for the bone is a recurring symbol that seems to unite these poems.  There are cheek bones, vole skulls, thigh bones, horse bones, vertebrae, deer skulls, bones of trees, little bones, bones of this and bones of that, even a whalebone corset – suggesting linkage, permanence, connection, strength, timelessness.  The past inhabits the present in Wendy Pratt’s world – it “smoulders” (‘A64’) as peat smoulders.
The poet populates the quotidian with the mythic, conflates the inside with the outside –there is no Cartesian distinction as between body and mind: they are one.  Words too inhabit the same intensely physical world: they “tangle / in the strawberries and weeds” (‘First Words’).  Pratt promotes a kind of modern pantheism, in which everything is connected.  In ‘Jesus of Nazareth Walks on Water’ the god “walks / to the boat, rests a human hand upon the wood”; in ‘Horse Singing’ “a universe can exist / in the dull thump / of a hoof”.
Nor is it only the human that is given personhood: wine “scampered / up and down my veins” (‘Driving Dangerously’), there is an ode to a polythene bag – “we’ve shared / our half-truths, bag” (‘Bag’), the poet’s mother’s bicycle is “No longer plagued by the intense futility / of age” (‘Black Beauty’); the landscape has “vertebrae” (‘Over Saddleworth Moor’). It isn’t a one way process: people are given planthood. They “intertwine / like tree roots” (‘It is Only Lunch’), wrists link like vines (‘The First Mrs Rochester’), the poet herself becomes “driftwood” (‘Raven Hall’).
Wendy Pratt gives life to everything, even as death undoes everything, including the poet’s child.  The most moving poems in this collection are in a section entitled ‘The Unused Room’, and I hesitate to write about them, except to say that sad as they are, Wendy Pratt has succeeded in giving meaning to a life hardly lived. And even in these poems the felt is more important than the thought. In ‘The Blessing’ the childless mother feels “despair / balling up like a piece of stale bread / in my throat”.  The mundanity of the image is shocking, but what it achieves is immediate connection.  The reader is forced into the scene.  I think this is very good poetry.
Museum Pieces is full of ghosts and hauntings (and a witch, the poems about which I have reviewed elsewhere – see Nan Hardwicke <>  ), and, as poetry is perhaps haunted to some degree by Ted Hughes, another poet for whom the sacred and the mundane inhabited the same space, for whom the imagination was a tool not a toy.
Much of contemporary poetry is mere reflection, gobbets of prose in effect.  Wendy Pratt does something only proper poetry can do: to make associations and connections across acres of symbol and image and idea, to address the most common of all subjects, death, provoking not only thought but also feeling. Fiction lures us into another world, but Pratt’s poetry invites us to explore our own, not factually, in the way of prose, but by way of the imagination. She is, in this sense, a kind of Coleridgean romantic.  These ‘museum pieces’ are anything but. Death may be Wendy Pratt’s great subject, but her poetry throbs with “the rhythm of blood”, turning lived experience into vivid art.
In order for this not to sound like the rantings of a Prattitioner, I would add that I think the collection might have done with a little editing, and I am not sure it needed to be divided into sections (there are seven in all). Two of these sections, namely ‘A Box of Teeth and Claws’ and ‘The Cabinet of Hearts’ might have been excised completely, not because their poems are inadequate but because they are not quite so thematically coherent.  Having said that, there is one poem, about love and death, which elicited from this reader a gulping sob at its last phrase, and deserves anthologizing by whomsoever compiles the next book of love poems.  It is called ‘Shoe Trap’, and it is loving, as all Wendy Pratt’s poems seem to be, in a very particular, robust and inimitable way.

Saturday, 2 August 2014


Tomorrow sees the launch of a new poetry magazine, Lunar Poetry, an ambitious monthly. First issue features my review of Norbert Hirschhorn's 'To Sing Away the Darkest Days: Poems Re-imagined from Yiddish Folksongs'. If that doesn't whet your appetite what on earth could? Oh, all right, poems by Martyn Crucefix, David Grubb, Carolyn Oulton and many others.