Tuesday, 31 March 2015


Delighted to say that I have two poems in the new Lunar Poetry, and no less than four poems in South Bank Poetry.  One of the pomes in Lunar is the subject of 'A Poem in Detail', a discussion involving three other poets of a single poem that is a regular feature of the magazine.  I was rather dreading it, but I have been dealt with tenderly and fairly, to the extent that I think the poem actually worked in the way it was supposed to.  Launch of Lunar was this evening in Lambeth.  South Bank Poetry, Issue 20, launches at the Poetry Cafe on April 17th.

Paul Johnson on Nye Bevan

Terrific paragraph taken from Paul Johnson's review of a new biography of Nye Bevan.

"Bevan was a big man, with a miner’s build: strong thighs, powerful upper back and neck muscles, and thick biceps. His head was noble, and he flourished it, when roused, with angry thrusts of his neck muscles. His silver hair was thick and floppy, like the plumage of an angry cockerel, and that too was part of his oratorical display. He was in every way an aristocrat of the mining valleys, a regal figure who challenged the world to commit lèse-majesté at its peril. He wove around himself an atmosphere of noli me tangere, and he drew intellectual men and women to him like a magnet." 

Find the rest here

Jennie Lee (Mrs Nye Bevan) with another impressive Welshman, my Dad.
The hand on the left belongs to Henry Moore.

Thursday, 26 March 2015


On Wednesday evening several hundred people turned up to King's College Grand Hall - a very elegant space - to hear friends, family and poets remember Dannie Abse.  There was a good deal about Cardiff City FC. There was the news (to me) that Dannie loved playing games - I mean actual games, like Monopoly and chess. That seemed somehow right, though, because games, to be enjoyable, have to be played properly.  You must be serious about them.  This was like Dannie - serious and enjoyable.  As Elaine Feinstein (I think) said: Dannie, despite the tragedy of his wife Joan's death, was lucky, because he loved life.  I think that's why he and my father, another life-celebrating Welshman, got on so well. "Abse, you Welsh Jew, come and have lunch with me", were the first words Dad directed at Dannie, and went on to introduce the poet to his first avocado pear (Dannie told me this story at least twice).  A consequence of that friendship was that I joined that select band at whose wedding Dannie read his surely ageless Epithalamium.   Owen Sheers read another poem that will last, In the Theatre, with its haunting refrain, "leave my soul alone".

Most moving was Dannie's daughter Susanna's euology and particular her memory of her father's taps on his children's hands, the day before he died.  baffled, ti was only when they were hom that they remembered the lines from Last Words:
And how would I wish to go? 
Not as in opera - that would offend 
-nor like a blue-eyed cowboy shot and short of words, 
but finger-tapping still our private morse,'...love you,' 
before the last flowers and flies descend. 

Please go to Dannie's Home Page to hear him read the whole poem.

Jeremy Robson, one of Dannie's oldest friends, read his own poem, Poet in the Park, a really quite lovely and loving thing. Daughter Keren read Last Words and then we heard Dannie speaking from The Presence, and we were left with his own, which was wry and melancholic in contemplation of man's idiocy, but overwhelmingly companionable,and somehow sweet. He probably wouldn't have liked that, though it is meant not in any saccharine way; I mean rather the sweetness of the celebrator, of gladioli.

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Hamlets I've seen

I've seen the following Hamlets in the thetare:

David Tennant
Rory Kinnear
Albert Finney
Simon Russell Beale
Ben Whishaw
Michael Sheen
Kenneth Branagh

Paul Rhys

Paul Rhys was the nearest to my own understanding.

I very much regret not having seen Jacobi, Kingsley or Pryce when i really ought to have done.  I also rather wish I'd seen Jude Law, because Michael Grandage is a terrific director.

Monday, 23 March 2015


Everyman Cinema
Filmed production of the Manchester Royal Exchange Hamlet
Directed by Sarah Frankcom

Hamlet - Maxine Peake
Claudius - John Shrapnel

Really excellent production with absolute minimum of props and set.  Clarity of delivery was exemplary: heard almost every single word. No Fortinbras, as is the fashion these days (a vital ingredient missed, while at the same time an understandable exclusion), and for some reason To be or not to be was shifted to Act IV.

 Peake was a convincing if not particularly attractive Hamlet - hardly a sweet prince with his sardonic scowls and easy superiority. But she was wholly Hamlet, thoroughly inside the part. Occasionally a passing resemblance to the young Leonardo di Caprio scittered into my mind's eye, but soon passed out again.  The supporting cast was very good indeed.  Shrapnel may have given the best Claudius I've ever seen, and turning Polonius into Polonia (Gillian Bevan) made that character less stock, rather fresh and very funny.  Laertes (Ashley Zhanghaza) was tremendously Laertes-like - honest and upset and loving.

But as always with Hamlet, whatever it is that surrounds the character is dominated by the part.  There have been great Hamlets in so-so productions.  I don't know if Peake is a great Hamlet - it is a performance that has to mature in the memory  (Paul Rhys's remains my first choice), but the production was first class.

Sunday, 22 March 2015


I have just been informed that Barry John has not been inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame.  What madness is this?  Hamlet without the Prince.  Australia without Bradman.  The selection committee must be made up exclusively of forwards.


OK, here are some dates at which I will get to read poems for five minutes or so.

30 March - Brioche (Locally Sourced), 238 West End Ln, London NW6 1LG.  An open mic session will follow Chrys Salt reading from her new collection, Dancing on a Rock.

31 March - i'klectik, in Lambeth, launch of Lunar Poetry 6/7, in which I have a couple of poems

10 April - Just the one poem, probably, at Ruth Callaghan's Indigo Dream poets evening in Camden (Trinity United Reform Church, 1 Buck Street)

17 April - South Bank Poetry launch of new issue (in which I have, I think, four poems) at the Poetry Society, Betterton Street in Covent Garden.

Photo by Anne Philpott.
Self probably reading my own biog in 'Meet the Brondesbury Poets'
shortly before launch
at North London Tavern


Sensational day, that wouldn't have been had Wales not planted that huge score on Italy. It meant that Ireland and England had to play at the top of their game, with attack rather than defence the order of the day.  And so although it seemed incredible that Wales did not do enough to win the Championship, what they did do was make it memorable.  Ireland thoroughly deserved the win.  They are the best team in the Northern hemisphere, and I wouldn't put it past them to win the World Cup.  My favourite try of the day - not necessarily the best - was Warburton's.  Love seeing him in full flight.


Not sure you can get much uncooler than The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and a new Mark Knopfler album, but there it is. Two intelligent. enjoyable offerings to set against the harum-scarum of the rugby this weekend.  The first is of course not quite up to its predecessor, but Dev Patel is as irresistible as Richard Gere is to the elderly hotel residents.  There are perhaps too many threads; it seems to me that the important relationship is that between Dev Patel and Maggie Smith.  I'd have happily dropped Gere (not that he was bad, just his story superfluous) for more Smith and Patel.  Funny and touching, and utterly gorgeous to look at.

Mark Knopfler keeps making albums that last.  They are almost as rich lyrically as musically. They are modest, understated, and almost all MK's songs are about the world rather than himself - extremely rare in a form that loves its egos and fan-worship. When was the last time that Beryl Bainbridge and Basil Bunting had songs written for them on a pop album?

Saturday, 21 March 2015

Launch of SPRING by Jenni

Jenny Gould - or 'Jenni' - has released a first EP, entitled 'Spring'. I think really it is an EEP, being 31 mins, only just short of the acknowledged 40 min album length.  It was launched last night at the Poetry Cafe, following some first class poetry from Amy Neilson Smith, among others, and a couple of wry reflections on kale and barbecues by Chris Sav.

Jenny's music is a melodious fusion of jazz, folk, blues and singer-songwriter, and though obviously the work of an exceptionally musically accomplished artist (which goes also for her guitarist, Richard Carter), has immediate appeal.  I smiled from the first note, not having known quite what to expect.  A bonus encore was a faultless cover of the Chillies' 'Under the Bridge'.


Thursday, 19 March 2015


Launched tonight at the North London Tavern in Kilburn, this handsome anthology of poetry, by members of the Brondesbury Group, owes much of its existence to our member, Steph Harvey.

Tuesday, 17 March 2015


I shall be reading for, ooh, at least 5 mins at the launch of the new issue of Lunar Poetry (in which I have a couple of things, plus a review of Alwyn Marriage's latest) -  at the iklekticartlab, on March 31st.  Purty darn groovesome, I'm sure you'll agree.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Barber Violin Concerto First Movement

First movement of one of my desert island selections.  Violin played by Hilary Hahn, St Paul Chamber Orchestra conducted by Hugh Wolff.

Monday, 9 March 2015


Spurs website currently running a vote for the ultimate Spurs team.  Of course it will be wrong.  Here is mine. 4-3-3.  No room for White or Perryman or Mackay.  I suppose the three strikers would get in each other's way.  At high speed.  Could be painful.

1 Jennings
2 Knowles
3 Bale
4 Blanchflower
5 England
6 King
7 Greaves
8 Gascoigne
9 Lineker
10 Hoddle
11 Klinsman

Wednesday, 4 March 2015


'Public Service Broadcasting: A House of Cards?'

Delivered by Michael Dobbs, onely begetter of House of Cards.

Full text here: http://www.rts.org.uk/public-service-broadcasting-house-cards

To be broadcast on Sunday March 8th, 8.00 pm , BBC4


from 'J' by Howard Jacobson

‘[Blues records were not] banned – nothing was banned exactly – simply not played. Encouraged to fall into desuetude, like the word desuetude. Popular taste did what edict and proscription could never have done, and just as, when it came to books, the people chose rags-to-riches memoirs, cookbooks and romances, so, when it came to music, they chose ballads.’ 

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

FUERU by Tony Lewis Jones

by Tony Lewis Jones
edited by Rachel Bentham
Available from Amazon here.

I think you have to have a bit of nerve to write haiku, so close do they often veer to the bleedin’ obvious. I’ve no doubt many more get thrown away as get  published.  So it is a kind of tightrope the poet walks.  Luckily for Tony Lewis Jones he has both nerve and balance, and in many ways it is a perfect form for his particular ability to rescue sensation from sentiment.
         Lewis Jones is, as a result, recognised as a master of the form in Europe.  I don’t know whether he reads Japanese, and I don’t much care.  These are British perceptions, written with a British sensibility, tiny blinks of irony relieving what might otherwise seem a little po-faced.

Easter, you arrived early
in utter cold -
we clutched our coffee
in the restaurant
and hung on.

This little collection describes the year (admittedly following traditional Japanese requirements) with delicate little word pictures, commencing with its rebirth in Spring.  Easter is recognized and Rosh Hashanah, a cathedral is described. These are religious way posts that point to the ability of the form (which is concerned with the juxtaposition of contrary ideas) to marry the sacred and, if not the profane, then the sensuous. 

Cathedral -
icons, incense,

Here “cathedral” carries enormous weight, abstract, historical. It is mellowed to the moment by reference to sight and smell, and the ‘on-en-an’ around which the poem weaves its sound.

Irony again inflects another, longer (relatively speaking), poem:

At the bus-station, a pretty girl
rolls herself a cigarette.
I reflect on the church's
square steep tower rather
than her rather beautiful legs.

You can’t keep the church out, but then it is hard to ignore the legs. 

Tony Lewis Jones has always had an eye for beauty.  Even in his war poems, he evokes not the brutality but the pity of war.  Here, then, we find a spider’s web hung with dew, yellow roses, a dappled forest glade, apple blossom, a cat stretched our, a songthrush.  These are the delicacies of nature, small and often underheard or overlooked.  In this age of the shrinking attention span Lewis Jones is doing a job that needs doing.

Sunday, 1 March 2015


Poem by me at Three Drops from a Cauldron yet another bit of poetry action from the indefatigable Kate Garrett.  The poem was originally published in Acumen.