Sunday 22 December 2019

Jessica Mayhew, "Longship"

Jessica Mayhew’s first pamphlet, Someone Else’s Photograph, was published by Crystal Clear Creators in 2012. After graduating from UCL with a Masters in English Literature, she spent a year working in south-east Asia, and during this time, wrote a pamphlet titled Amok, which was published by Eyewear in 2015. Her poetry, fiction and essays have been published in magazines and journals including Ambit, Stand, Staple, Brittle Star, Magma, and The Interdisciplinary Studies Journal. Jessica currently lives in Northampton with her partner, and her former street dog, Bracken. Instagram: @jesslmayhew

Below, Jessica talks about her new book, Longship, which has just been published by Eyewear. See:

By Jessica Mayhew

When I was little, my Gran used to tell us grandchildren to remember that we, like her, were Vikings. She came from the Shetland Isles, and told us stories about islands of rock with no trees, the North Sea which drowned the sailors in our family, the old Gods. When she died, my uncle commended her to Valhalla, and her gravestone was carved with a longship.

These stories have always enthralled me. In fact, my tattoos are all inspired by stories from the Eddas. In my poetry, I wanted to capture moments in Norse mythology that would speak to our own experiences of life. Njord and Skadhi's ill-fated marriage, how Freyja got her necklace, what Odin whispers to the body of his son - these are all stories of imperfect, very human beings who still fascinate me.

Longship breaks the boundaries between Norse mythology and the modern world. It assumes the voices of the gods and goddesses, and weaves them through stories of love, death and nature today. Poems act as a communication between our modern selves and deeper, older impulses and ways of living in nature, ‘feeling the night / come on like a bruise, a gentle harm.’ I was thrilled when Longship was selected as the winner of the 2018 Melita Hume Poetry Prize.

Colette Sensier, the judge of the 2018 Melita Hume Prize says, 'Longship blurs myth and modern life, moving between ventriloquism of the gods of the Norse myths, and the griefs of present day bereavement, love and – portrayed in fabulous language on the brink between surrealist metaphor and natural wonder – climate apocalypse.'

Here is a poem from the book.


Dusty quartz and ore
bolted through with gold,

raw wood, oak and apple, sap-wet,
speared, all swore me no mar.

I’d kiss flames from flint,
Dredge water for dousing 

from the hooves of the waves 
and the ships that saddled them.

I let the bear nuzzle my neck,
mouth foaming and fanged – 

bolder, I leapt from cliffs, woundless.
I winged up the high pines,

swung from rookeries. 
From there, I could watch in secret

my blind brother, face turned
to the sunset, feeling the night 

come on like a bruise, a gentle harm.

Notes on the myth: 
After Baldr’s nightmares about his coming death, his mother Frigg makes everything in all the worlds swear an oath not to harm him. She only leaves out the mistletoe, believing it too small to cause any hurt. Loki learns this, and tricks Baldr’s blind brother Hod into killing Baldr with a shaft of mistletoe.    

Friday 6 December 2019

Everybody's Reviewing Passes 100,000 views

Everybody's Reviewing, the review blog run by the Centre for New Writing at the University of Leicester, has just passed 100,000 views! Its huge readership includes people from the East Midlands region, the UK and internationally. 

The site was set up in 2014, in conjunction with Everybody's Reading Festival in Leicester, aiming to provide a space for readers to share their enthusiasms. It's a democratic review website, where readers of all ages and experience can share positive reviews of books or events they have enjoyed. 

Since 2014, it has gone from strength to strength. It has published 100s of reviews.  It has provided a forum for 100s of new and experienced reviewers to publish their reviews. It has helped showcase commercially-published, independently-published and self-published books, as well as exhibitions and performances, by new, up-and-coming and established writers. There have been numerous guest editors, gaining work experience in editing and website curation.  

If you'd like to get involved with Everybody's Reviewing, you can read more about it, and find contact details here

Congratulations to all - readers, reviewers, authors, editors alike - on reaching this major landmark! 

Monday 25 November 2019

Invitation to New Walk Editions Launch

Free and All Welcome!

Please join us 6.00-7.30pm on Friday 29 November in the Courtyard Room of the Leicester Creative Business Depot, 31 Rutland St, Leicester LE1 1RE, for the launch of two provocative new collections of poetry from New Walk Editions

Steve Ely will be reading from I Beheld Satan as Lightning Fall from Heaven, a sequence about love and betrayal; and John Greening from Europa’s Flight, a crown of sonnets about Cretan myth, borders, the refugee crisis and yes, Brexit …

And congratulations are due to New Walk Editions, which has recently been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Publisher's Award 2019. One of the pamphlets published by New Walk Editions, Declan Ryan's Fighters, Losers, has also been shortlisted for an award. You can see further details here

Hope to see you at the launch event. Admission is free, and there is street food and a bar!

Saturday 23 November 2019

Lydia Towsey, "The English Disease"

Lydia Towsey is a poet, performer, cat keeper, mother and ukulele strummer – with an MA in Creative Writing and a primary school certificate in "tap dancing." Previously shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize, she’s spoken and performed everywhere from London’s 100 Club, Roundhouse and the House of Lords, to "On the Buses," with Literary Leicester and Arriva (bus company).

Commissioned by the Guardian, Royal Albert Hall, Kew Gardens, Apples and Snakes, Poet in the City and more, Lydia has UK toured three shows, funded by Arts Council England. In 2018 she was one of the artists listed for the Outspoken London Prize for Poetry in Film and in the UK Saboteur Awards for Best Show (The Venus Papers) and for Best Spoken Word Performer.

In addition to her practice as a writer and performer, Lydia works for Leicestershire Partnership NHS Trust and is the Artistic Director of WORD! – a poetry organisation delivering one of the longest running poetry nights in the UK.

Widely published in journals and anthologies (with Bloodaxe Books, Candlestick Press, Five Leaves and others) her debut collection, The Venus Papers, was published by Burning Eye Books in 2015. The English Disease is her second collection. 

The English Disease (Burning Eye, 2019)

"The English Disease" has been coined as a term to describe everything from missed penalties and vitamin D deficiency, to no sex please, tea and rickets. Exploring contemporary world events, including the international migration crisis and the British EU Referendum, alongside the lived experience of becoming a mother in a year of celebrity death and continental fracture, this collection examines the condition afresh.

With zombies, cats, Bowie, break-ups and the weather; eating disorders, buses, Beatrix Potter, queueing, nature, war and nursery rhymes, The English Disease draws upon class, colonialism and other undead matters to explore identity at a time of now … apocalypse?

“This book is a new national anthem. Visual, vivid, curious and kind” (Joelle Taylor).

You can see a trailer about the book here

And below is a poem from the collection: 

Love Poem to a Zombie Government

You – are my sugar lump,
my spark in the dark, prairie flower,
swamp duck, blue cheese,
break-in-the-clouds, apocalypse breeze. 

You’re my Sunday, Monday, Tuesday week
at the knees and in the feet.
Last night I dreamt you tried to kill me.

You’re my chickadee,
sweet pea, sweetheart, honey,
baby, darling, kick 
the bucket.

My sun, my moon, my stars, my rain,
baby; last night I dreamt you tried to kill me, again.

Tuesday 19 November 2019

Martin Stannard, "The Moon is About 238,855 Miles Away"

Martin Stannard is a poet and critic, and lives in Nottingham. He was the founding editor of joe soap’s canoe (1978-1993), a poetry magazine some people regard as legendary. It can be found archived here. He was also poetry editor of the online art and poetry magazine Decals of Desire. His most recent full-length collection is Poems for the Young at Heart (Leafe Press, 2016). A chapbook, Items, was published by The Red Ceilings Press in 2018. Forthcoming in 2020 are a pamphlet, The Review, from Knives Forks and Spoons, and a full-length collection from Leafe Press that currently has a working title of Reading Moby-Dick and Various Other Matters

In 2007-8 he was the Royal Literary Fund Writing Fellow at Nottingham Trent University but, that year aside, he taught English, Literature and Culture at a university in China from 2005 until 2018. In spite of having failed to learn to speak Chinese apart from some very basic everyday stuff, such as talking about the weather with cab drivers, translating classic poetry from the Tang dynasty period has occupied him alongside his own poetry for the last five or six years. Shoestring Press have just published The Moon is About 238,855 Miles Away, a collection of these translations / versions. You can see more details about it on the publisher's website here.  

The following is the book’s introductory note that explains the versions / translations:  

From The Moon is About 238,855 Miles Away, by Martin Stannard
The originals of the poems here are from the Tang dynasty (618-907), a time generally regarded as the great period of classical Chinese poetry. The versions here are just that: versions, and not direct translations, hence the “after….” at the beginning of their attributions.

My process has been to create a direct translation, and then rework the poem to some degree, a degree that varies depending upon the individual poem. In some cases I have removed names and/or places, or Chinese idioms or cultural references that either do not usefully translate or that would be meaningless to a reader without the necessary knowledge of Chinese culture. In some cases I have moved things around quite a lot, and in most cases I have also slipped in a phrase or line of my own. Sometimes titles have been changed. In every case I have attempted to create a poem that is able to stand alone, rendered in the English I use in my everyday life and in my own poetry, but which stays as faithful as I know how to the meaning, tone and mood of the original. I am no Sinologist, and purists may object, but so it goes. 

It is worth noting too, I think, that from living and working in China for twelve years I came to learn that many (if not most) of today’s Chinese readers do not fully understand all the subtle references and allusions in China’s classical poems, a fact that has given me the confidence to leave some things out. My ultimate aim has been to make poems that give pleasure and food for thought. One can only try. 

Reading at Sunrise

after 辰诣超师院读禅经 by Liǔ Zōngyuán 

At sunrise the pines are bathed in fog and drip with dew
Bamboo in the courtyard has taken on the colour of moss 

I draw water from the well
Clean my teeth and dust myself down 
I read from scripture as I walk

I’ve been too long in darkness and want to rewrite what I think I am
But it’s all I can do to read quietly to myself

Looking at the Moon

after月夜 by Dù Fǔ 

I imagine you shivering alone in your room
Looking out the window at the moon

You are far away in the capital 
But distance does not separate us

I imagine the fragrance of your hair
And remember the jade bracelet upon your arm

You know I will look at the same moon 
Until I come to clear your tears away with my kisses

Thursday 14 November 2019

Cathy Galvin, "Walking the Coventry Ring Road with Lady Godiva"

Walking the Coventry Ring Road with Lady Godiva is Cathy Galvin’s third sequence of poetry, following Black & Blue (2014) and Rough Translation (2016). Her poetry has appeared in anthologies and journals including Agenda, Visual Verse, Morning Star and the  Leicester magazine, New Walk. She is the recipient of a Hawthornden Fellowship and residency at the Heinrich Boll Cottage, Achill Island. She is currently completing a collection and poetry practice PhD at Goldsmiths, University of London. She is also a journalist and editor, founder of the Sunday Times Short Story Award and of the short story organisation, Word Factory. Her website is

Below, Cathy talks about her new collection, and you can also read a sample from it. 

Walking the Coventry Ring Road with Lady Godiva
By Cathy Galvin 

Walking the Coventry Ring Road With Lady Godiva has been a long, colourful journey. I used to walk under the ring road from home into the city centre; as a teenager to catch buses to and from school, or to sneak into pubs underage or to the Locarno to watch ska and punk bands including The Specials and Sex Pistols; for nights out with first boyfriends or for geeky moments in the library a short walk away from where Philip Larkin also drank as a teenager. 

The road is modernist, brutal and mysterious: it follows the outline of the ruined walls of this former great medieval city; it was built by postwar workers like my parents who had come to live in a city that represented progress, economic stability and an egalitarian education for their children. Research at the city's Herbert Gallery revealed the road had been built the year I was born by George Wimpey And Co for the Coventry Corporation for the grand sum of £73,000. Today, sadly, my walks in the shadow of the ring road often take me to the London Road Cemetery where my parents are buried a short distance from the mass grave for those Coventry residents killed in the Blitz. 

The place is in my soul. This sequence attempts to reach into the spirit of the place and its psycho-geography. The inspiration for this sequence came from Dante's circular walks through purgatory with the poet Virgil: what better companion than the legendary Lady Godiva? She was a thoughtful guide and offered a wisdom relevant to today. 

Luke Thompson, the inspirational editor and founder of the Guillemot Press, who published this poem, writes: "In this sequence Godgifu (Lady Godiva) guides the poet and reader along the titular road, circling the medieval city boundaries through demolition and bomb sites, past graveyards and Epstein’s angel, over rivers and monasteries, in a personal, poetic, spiritual and psychogeographic exploration of the city in which the poet was born."

David Morley writes: "Ring Road is a wonderful realisation of the poetry that is Coventry's past, present, and future: an archaeology and rediscovering of what it means to be a citizen of this fabled city."

Walking the Coventry Ring Road with Lady Godiva has been beautifully illustrated by 
Kristy Campbell, and printed on Mohawk Superfine papers and section sewn, with end papers from Fedrigoni. It is dedicated to the workers of Coventry. You can find more details about the collection here.

The sequence is divided into cantos - here's a flavour of the first: 

Beside me in the Cheylesmore underpass, 
she took my hand and said: Abandon fear
Sky Blues in red Doc Martens threw their cans

and punks in two-tone sang their ghost town near. 
We walked ahead to where an island framed 
walls friars had rescued from a king. 

Looking within to workhouse grounds 
Godgifu bent to lift a plate, broken in the dust, 
that once touched lips made Holy by the flesh 

and blood of Christ. Told me, 
beside a cloister door, to taste the food 
of lives that went before on Pancheon Blue, 

Chinoiserie Porcelain, English Stone, 
Cistercian Underglaze, Staffordshire Slip; 
liturgy of clinker, glassy tap slag, bottles. Brick. 

Tuesday 12 November 2019

The Dream I Held in My Hands

By Karen Argent

In October 2017 The Letterpress Project, a not-for-profit initiative that promotes the importance of the printed book, lost one of its founder members, the wonderful Jane Slowey. She died from a disease that she had fought off once but couldn’t keep at bay a second time, and she died far too young. 

As she had always brought her keen enthusiasm and skills to the project, we wanted to publish a tribute to Jane’s ability to inspire those she met. We asked people to honour her memory by thinking about which books had inspired their imaginations – and the response was exceptional. The result was an anthology of short pieces about reading called The Dream I Held in My Hands: Dedicated to the Memory of Jane Slowey.

The beautifully illustrated book is available as a free pdf from The Letterpress Project website here, and is also available as a limited printed publication by request. Please contact karen [dot] argent [at] btinternet [dot] com for further details.

Below you can read one of the essays from the book. 

An Enchantment: The Book That Made Me a Reader
By Leila Rasheed

I still have the book. I hold it in my forty-year-old hand, and the ghost of my seven-year-old hand holds it too: an enchantment, like those padlocks on bridges that mean two lovers clasp each other, hand in hand, forever. In 1980s Benghazi, where I grew up, there were no shops, or very few – a baker, a butcher, the souk, and one vast, concrete department store that had nothing inside it but a sack of flour, leaking and weevil-ridden on a pallet. Libya had its own enchantments, curses and hauntings, but for books we had to migrate. I would guess we bought this particular book at Galt or Early Learning, during one of our summer journeys back to England.

I’ll put it down here, so you can see it properly. The first thing you’ll note is the fragility. The pages are weathered yellow, and it comes in chunks, this book; sections splitting off from an osteoporotic spine from which the glue has long ago perished. The spine has been Sellotaped and re-Sellotaped until the tape shatters at the touch. Love spells sometimes look like this: like a padlock on a bridge, or an unskilled repair. Spells to keep things, like people, from coming apart. 

With a title like The Puffin Book of Magic Verse, you would expect a dark cover. But the cover is nothing as obvious as black. It’s deep purple, the colour of a Libyan-grown aubergine, burnished by a diet of sun. And now the other magic flickers into life, the magic fire of illustrations. This book may have made me a reader, but it was never just the words that did that. Look at the head on the cover. It must belong to a child, but what a child! The offspring of the Medusa and the Green Man - hair bristling thick with leaves, owls, cats, witches. Genderless, the face doesn’t look directly at the reader, but off to one side. The child’s eyes and mouth are a little open, not in glee or rage, but in wonder. As if it has just seen something astonishing - and this, mark you, when it, itself, is the strangest thing that any reader could ever have seen. From the very cover, the book isn’t inviting you to read it. It isn’t daring you to read it. Like the master magician’s spell book, it is just there, and you reading it or not is a matter of indifference to it. What child wouldn’t open a book on these tempting terms? What are you looking at? Can I come with you? 

Open the book, then, and step in. Immediately you are falling into poems, like Alice down the rabbit hole, woozy, twisting, slow and dreamlike. When you find your feet, the floor staggers, tilts you forward. The whole book is on the slant. It leads you onwards, draws you in, down long galleries of verse, past images that shine like stained glass windows. Through section after section; doors in a house haunted by poetry: Charms, Ghosts and Hauntings, Curses, and Changelings. Poem after poem enchants, provokes, intrigues, just like the shy, uncanny creatures on the cover that crept for protection into the accepting, warm and non-judgemental wild mind of a child.

Poetry, like lightning, isn’t meant to be grounded, but an anthology like this can act as a conductor. A stroll through the index of first lines demonstrates the range of poems included, from rattling, runaway comic verse - The Resident Djinn" and Colonel Fazackerly Butterworth Toast are two characters that will stay with me forever - to this tiny, unforgettable gem (translated from a Native American language, and presented, as was sadly common at the time of publication, without context) in the voice of a ghost:

          My friend
          this is a wide world we are travelling over
          walking on the moonlight

What all these poems, regardless of form or origin, have in common is that they describe, evoke or embody the mysterious and wonderful. This is a collection that honours the strange, that is wide and unwavering of gaze. Perhaps it could only have been produced in the 1970s, and by a poet of genius – Charles Causley - who was unafraid of childhood.

When we finally closed the wardrobe door on Libya, we gave away most of our toys and packed all our favourite books in our two suitcases. At that time, due to the political situation, there were no direct flights from Libya to the UK. We landed in Malta and changed to another airline. When we took off from Malta, most of our suitcases stayed where they were, with the books inside them. I arrived in Birmingham scattered; trailing words, like feathers, across the wide blue Mediterranean. My books, gone: my world, gone. I would spend a lifetime trying to find that lost world again, seeking pieces of my childhood like Isis looking for her love, through second-hand bookshops and later, online. The Puffin Book of Magic Verse was in the one suitcase that survived the journey.

It’s hard to know, if the rest of my books had made it through, whether The Puffin Book of Magic Verse would have been so important to me. Perhaps I would have taken the presence of books for granted. As it stands, it is one of the very few things – books or otherwise - I have from my childhood. It haunts me.

When I was young, I used to like to imagine that I would be buried with my books, so we’d biodegrade together, and archaeologists of the future wouldn’t be able to tell the ink from the flesh. Now I’m older, I think that’s a bit morbid, and I know how much burial plots cost. All the same, those pages are yellow with my handling. I have put myself into that book just as it has put itself into me. Bridges and love spells may rust and crumble, but a book can go all the way with you, holding your hand. 

Friday 8 November 2019

Congratulations to Talia Hibbert!

Massive congratulations to Talia Hibbert, whose novel, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, has just been published by major publishers Little Brown. Talia took a degree in English with Creative Writing at the University of Leicester, and graduated in 2018. We are, of course, hugely proud of her amazing success!

Below is some information about her book, which has already received great reviews from critics and readers. You can see more information here, and you can read more about Talia's work on her website here

About Get a Life, Chloe Brown

Talia Hibbert delivers a witty, hilarious romantic comedy about a woman who's tired of being 'boring' and recruits her mysterious, sexy neighbour to help her get a life!

Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan and a list. After almost - but not quite - dying, she's come up with a list of directives to help her 'Get a Life':

- Enjoy a drunken night out
- Ride a motorbike
- Go camping
- Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex
- Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage
- And ... do something bad

But it's not easy being bad, even when you've written out step-by-step guidelines. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job: Redford 'Red' Morgan.

With tattoos and a motorbike, Red is the perfect helper in her mission to rebel, but as they spend more time together, Chloe realises there's much more to him than his tough exterior implies. Soon she's left wanting more from him than she ever expected ... maybe there's more to life than her list ever imagined?

Thursday 17 October 2019

About "An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicester," edited by Jon Wilkins

By Jon Wilkins

I love writing crime fiction. I also love reading crime fiction and this is the story of how reading about a Parisian private eye led to an anthology about Leicester.

Cara Black is an American Francophile who introduced detective Aimée Leduc to the world seventeen or so novels ago. Aimée has developed from a chic woman about town beating men off her to a chic one-parent mother beating off her baby’s sick and changing nappies. Her best friend Rene was relaxing and reading a book in the sixteenth novel, written about Paris by Georges Perec. Rene was intrigued by the book and so I investigated his An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris further. What a wonderful work.

I sat at the local Deli in Kirby Muxloe, trying out Perec's technique, writing about everything I saw, and found it strangely compelling - and then I too began to wonder: how can you wring everything out of a city in a creative writing sense? Is it possible to write about a place and exhaust every avenue so that there is nothing left to write? Can you fill a book about Leicester and then be left with nothing, a void?

This was what I wanted when I asked writers to offer me a piece showing me their love of Leicester, to be produced in an anthology of creative writing: An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Leicester.

I was overwhelmed by submissions, well over a hundred, and so the answer was clear: you can never write everything there is to know about a place, as you will always find something new to write. What was exhausting was the selection process - to whittle it down to a manageable project, the best of the work offered, and the end result of 68 contributors.

Among the contributors, there is a wide age range, from 12 to 72, a fairly balanced gender range, as well as contributions from all over the world - including the USA by a Leicester ex-pat, Poland, and Finland from someone who was over here for a university semester. There are poetry and prose poems, non-fiction and fiction, ghost stories, dystopian tales, memoir, futuristic dreams, as well as lots of nostalgia for a well-loved and well-remembered city. And it wouldn’t be about Leicester if King Richard didn’t pop his head up in various guises. We meet the Vikings and Oscar Wilde, both visiting Leicester for the first time, and take a trip down the Golden Mile and the River Soar. There is an amazing street art piece journeying through the city landscape as well as poems all about places we know and love in Leicester. Charnwood and Bradgate Park are explored by an intrepid young reporter as well as some well-known Leicester poets and we have an acclaimed writer honouring The Curve in a poetic piece. Among the highlights are the pieces by unknown writers, young and old, as well as schoolchildren working on the Colonial Countryside project, who wrote about Calke Abbey, which has been claimed by Leicester for this anthology.

Illustrating the book is the work of that wonderful local artist Sarah Kirby, who shows the beauty of Leicestershire alongside the words.

Here is an extract from my own piece:

Yellow hatted man
Black Merc parks on Market Street
Black Ford SUV blast horn at him
                                                   Pink haired woman wandering
Diet conversation continuing
Stop drinking seems to be the message
Beggar back
As is sleeping bag
Silver Toyota passes
                                Asian women chatting
                                Sikh man in yellow turban
                                Woman in Blue 60s mod cap
Asian couple, one bald
Purple VW
Girl with “Fight Animal Testing” bag
Older couple pass, then they split up walk in different directions

Black Merc now flashing warning lights
               Deliveroo down Horsefair Street
               Cyclist down Gallowtree Gate
               Cyclist towards Market Place
Yellow bin lorry into Market Place
                                                                                So many pigeons
White Enviropest van
Woman on bike passes me by
Pipe Centre lorry on Granby Street
White Uber taxi
                                                                                                88 bus
Older couple in pink and grey puffer jackets
Young Asian girl walks towards Gallowtree Gate
Man with vape
First vape of the day
Road sweeper slowly cleans the gutters of Granby Street
Boy with subway
Silver VW
                                2 Asian chaps in conversation
Painter in spattered dungarees passes down Horsefair Street
Asian couple chatting
I get up and stretch to the sky
Sun shining
I pack away my notebook
                                           My pens
                                                           Finish my cold coffee
                                                                                              Make my way home

There is something in the anthology for everyone. The book is available at Visit Leicester, to order from local bookshops, on Amazon or and it will be formally launched at the end of this month.

Events are being held all over Leicestershire to celebrate publication, look at our Facebook page or the Eventbrite ticket site. All events are free and you will have the chance to purchase the book at a discounted price as well as books written by the many contributors.
The wonderful thing is that there will always be something else to write and hopefully this anthology will encourage you to do just that. Why not write a poem or a story, a blog or a script about a place you love? Write it and keep it. You never know when I might be asking for contributions to volume 2!

About the author and editor
Jon Wilkins is 64 later this month. He has a gorgeous wife Annie and two beautiful sons. He is a retired teacher, lapsed Waterstone's bookseller and former Basketball Coach. He taught PE and English for 20 years and coached women’s basketball for over 30 years. He regularly teaches at creative writing workshops in and around Leicester. Latterly Jon has been taking notes for students with special needs at his two local universities.

Jon has always loved books and reading. He has had a few pieces published and exhibited and has his writing on various blogs. He enjoys presenting papers at crime fiction conferences - it keeps his mind active and is a great way to meet new people and gain fresh ideas for writing. He also loves writing poetry. 

For his MA from DMU, he wrote a crime novel set in Utrecht. It is part of a series of murder mysteries planned based in the Dutch city. It’s great to wander the streets of Utrecht or drink coffee next to the canal, watching and listening to people for his book. Jon is also writing a crime series set in the Great War and the early 1920s. The first part, Poppy Flowers at the Front, will be published by Brigand Press in February 2020. He feels it is a pity that he can’t retreat back to the Roaring Twenties! 

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Jonathan Davidson, "On Poetry"

Jonathan Davidson was born in 1964 and grew up in the Didcot, South Oxfordshire. He has lived for many years in Coventry and now lives in Birmingham. He won an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 1990 and his first collection of poetry, The Living Room, was published by Arc Publications in 1994. This was followed, seventeen years later, by Early Train (Smith|Doorstop, 2011). He has also published three poetry pamphlets, Moving the Stereo (Jackson’s Arm, 1993), A Horse Called House (Smith|Doorstop, 1997) and Humfrey Coningsby: Poems, Complaints, Explanations and Demands for Satisfaction (Valley Press, 2015), and an e-book Selected Poems (Smith|Doorstop, 2014). His combination of memoir and criticism, On Poetry, was published by Smith|Doorstop in 2018. He has had eight radio plays broadcast on BBC Radio Three and Radio Four, along with radio adaptations of Geoffrey Hill’s Mercian Hymns and W.S.Graham’s The Nightfishing on BBC Radio Three. His stage adaptation of Mary Webb’s novel Precious Bane was produced by Interplay Theatre and toured extensively in 2008 and 2009. He has produced six poetry-theatre works, his most recent touring shows were The Hundred Years’ War (touring in 2014/15) and Towards the Water’s Edge (touring in 2016/17), both co-productions with Bloodaxe Books and the Belgrade Theatre Coventry. He is director of the project management company Midland Creative Projects Limited, Joint-Founder of the Birmingham Literature Festival and Chief Executive of Writing West Midlands. He is Chair of the National Association of Writers in Education.

Featured below is an extract from Jonathan's wonderful book On Poetry (Smith|Doorstop, 2018). Further details about the book can be found on the publisher's website here

From On Poetry 

In the mid-1980s the Yugoslavian poet Ivan V. Lalić came to the city of Leicester to give a poetry reading.[1] It was arranged by the poet Catherine Byron and by her then partner, the poet Michael Farley.[2] Ivan V. Lalić died in 1996. I haven’t heard of Catherine for a while and I long ago lost contact with Michael.[3] Wherever they are this little event that they engineered still resonates with me. It was unusual. It was typical. Poets and others gathering in a city in the English Midlands to listen to poetry in its original Serbian and in English translation was unusual. That there were only about a dozen of us there to listen was typical. I was in my early twenties and it was my first experience of poetry in translation and the first time I had met a poet from an alien poetic culture. Had I known more about poetry I would have known that there are no alien poetic cultures but my diet had up until then been exclusively the poetry of the English language, and mostly the poetry of English poets. And mostly dead English poets. Lalić was a poet working beyond the range of my experience. Despite this, I remember watching him take off his belted fawn overcoat at the start of the reading and turning to look at us as if we were already his part of his world, as if we were citizens and contributors to a Poetry Commonwealth. And we were. Both. 

Lalić was a gentle, quietly spoken man. He was the object of our intense attention but he presented himself modestly, aware that he was a dignified curiosity. If he was concerned about whether his poetry would mean much to us in its English translation he didn’t let on. Carefully he read the translations and carefully we listened. Each poem was let loose into the room as if at its moment of creation. And for those of us who hardly knew this poet existed, it was as good as hearing the poems at their making. The translations may have been particularly fine, his introduction to each poem may have given us just what we needed, or the background hum of the Leicester inner ring-road may have been the perfect incongruous detail. Or perhaps it was that Lalić’s poems had something that carried them easily across the disputed kilometres and through the dangerous century. They went from the past into the future. None of us knew then what a broken future it was to be. 

I have comes across his poems now and then over the decades that followed, most recently “The Spaces of Hope,” translated from the Serbian by Francis R Jones.[4] This was published in the UK a few years after Lalić’s reading in Leicester, but he may have read it in manuscript form. It is a deceptively direct and simple poem. It does not, in translation anyway, rely on poetic sleights of hand or obtuse references – although the details are not entirely universal. It is not a work of imagination so much as a work of reflection. The title, despite being rather abstract, echoes through the poem and gathers meaning. There are some agile phrases. “A starless night lit only / By a book on the table” is a lovely idea and a lovely image. The poem is a perfect meshing of the facts of the matter with precise analysis of their potential implications. 

The Spaces of Hope 
by Ivan V. Lalić 

I have experienced the spaces of hope,
The spaces of a moderate mercy. Experienced
The places which suddenly set
Into a random form: a lilac garden,
A street in Florence, a morning room,
A sea smeared with silver before the storm,
Or a starless night lit only
By a book on the table. The spaces of hope
Are in time, not linked into
A system of miracles, nor into a unity;
They merely exist. As in Kanfanar,
At the station; wind in a wild vine
A quarter-century ago: one space of hope.
Another, set somewhere in the future,
Is already destroying the void around it,
Unclear but real. Probable.

In the spaces of hope light grows,
Free of charge, and voices are clearer,
Death has a beautiful shadow, the lilac blooms later,
But for that it looks like its first-ever flower.

Lalić was never a familiar name, despite his reading in Leicester, and since his death it is all too easy to assume that his poetry has stopped emitting light. This poem proves this is not the case, it is so powerful still. Sometimes, I think, it is important to read the poems that are furthest from us – in age or geography or cultural background – because what manages to be transmitted across time and space and from language to language, that will be poetry. This is what I want as a reader and listener, from out of the static and white noise, to suddenly receive poetry. However distant the galaxy – a poem can take hundreds of years for its light to reach us – reach us it may. It demands some work. It can be terribly inconvenient to have to have our receiving dishes constantly turning day and night and to pick out the verse from the interference and static. 

It is an exaggeration to say that as a reader I have preferred to travel on foot and across open country with nothing but the stars for guidance but I do like to take the back roads. Which is in itself somehow fitting as poetry can be at its most powerful when, having offered us the ambiguity of metaphor and simile, and the formlessness of abstraction, and the beguiling clatter of consonance, and all the many other doors and chambers through which a poem passes, the road rises and the mist suddenly clears and we find ourselves on a hill top staring at a star we didn’t know existed.[5] Re-reading “The Spaces of Hope” I imagine how Lalić must have set out to discover what this almost gauche abstraction might mean for one who had lived through the Second World War, who had grown up in a country within a country, who knew the bloody uncertainty of history. He might have written a memoir or a history book, but he chose to write poems. And in this instance, he focussed on a street in Florence and the railway station at Kanfanar.[6] And, most tellingly, on little lilac flowers.[7] Things both particular and universal. The poem, created so many years ago, is received. Still. Like light. 

Although it was Anvil Press Poetry in the 1980s who were making the work of Lalić available to readers in the UK, it was Bloodaxe Books who did most in my 20s to introduce me to poetry in translation. I was slightly too young to register the impact of the Penguin Modern Poets in Translation Series but Bloodaxe continued the work of this series by intercepting and making public the poetry of poets from a politically volatile Eastern Europe. They published, for instance, the Czechoslovakian poet Miroslav Holub and the Romanian poet Marin Sorescu, both of whom wrote from within political systems that seemed to simultaneously celebrate and frustrate poets and poetry. While at Leicester Polytechnic I helped make a performance of the poetry of Russian dissident poet Irina Ratushinskaya, drawn from the collection No, I’m not afraid, published by Bloodaxe in 1986. Her story, we reasoned, would be more powerful if her poems were performed. The audience, the performers, the poems and the poet, would all have made a connection. Even if she were imprisoned – as she had been – her poetry could be released. Poetry can make its own moments. It can at least help to change the world.[8]

In the early 1990s I was in the position to invite poets to give readings.[9] The details are hazy, but somehow I arranged for Miroslav Holub to visit the steel making town of Scunthorpe in North Lincolnshire. He read the English translations of his poems and they seemed at the time to be perceptive and wise. Perhaps he wrote with the knowledge that for his work to have an audience beyond that of his small country he would have to be translated, and there is a sense in his best work that nothing has been lost in translation. Here is his poem “The Door,” translated by Ian Milner:[10]

The Door 
by Miroslav Holub

Go and open the door.
         Maybe outside there’s
         a tree, or a wood,
         a garden,
         or a magic city.

Go and open the door.
         Maybe a dog’s rummaging.
         Maybe you’ll see a face,
         or an eye,
         or the picture
                  of a picture.

Go and open the door.
         If there’s a fog
         it will clear.

Go and open the door.
         Even if there’s only
         the darkness ticking,
         even if there’s only
         the hollow wind,
         even if
                           is there,
go and open the door.

At least
there’ll be
a draught.

As with so many poems by Holub, it speaks with a clarity which makes the ambiguity of his intent more powerful. We can assume that for much of his writing life Holub was having to say one thing and mean another.[11] And perhaps his career as a scientist ensured that he wrote with a certain detachment, the better able to present his observations. Certainly this poem is a long way from the personal introspection that marked so much poetry written in the same period in Western Europe. His personality is absent. With good reason. The poet, perhaps, had been asked to step into a side room to have a word with some gentlemen from the Ministry. So we are alone with the poem. Just us and the words. We hear footsteps in the corridor outside and doors opening and closing, but there is just enough time to appreciate the suggestion that the poem offers, that other ways of living are possible and that a country – that individuals – should have the nerve to find out what they might be. 

Not long after that reading by Miroslav Holub I went to see the film Manon des Sources, screened at the Scunthorpe Film Theatre, then run by my friend Tony Whitehead.[12] This was still the days of films arriving from wherever they had been last shown in a series of shallow tins, each numbered so that the projectionist knew in which order to screen them. Shortly after the opening credits and a bit of Gallic action, we witnessed one of the lead characters, Ugolin, committing suicide by hanging himself from a tree.[13] But that can’t be right, we thought, surely that’s part of the grim denouement? And then what must have been the next reel was screened and we were somewhere in the middle of the story. We did our best but couldn’t make head nor tail of it. Then the screen went dark. Tony came on the address system to say that the reels had been mixed up by the clots at the Grimsby Film Theatre so he was just going to have to screen them one by one and could we give him a shout when it all made sense. It took four hours but it was an oddly profound experience. Which is what writing poetry may be about, just giving a shout if we think, even momentarily, that it all makes sense. Which was what Ivan V. Lalić was doing, that evening in Leicester. And what I still listen out for. 

[1] This was before the Yugoslavian wars of succession in the 1990s. 
[2] Catherine Byron was the first published poet I met, at the age of 21. She was also the first person to refer to me as ‘the poet…’ Michael Farley was the second published poet I met. They ran a poetry workshop for the Workers Educational Association in Leicester. I went when I was a student at Leicester Polytechnic. I told none of my friends. Poetry begins in secret. 
[3] When I last spoke to Catherine, a few years ago, she had given up writing poetry and left England. She sent me a book, Salmon: A Journey in Poetry, 1981-2007, as part of a dispersement of her library. So poetry is passed around. Michael Farley I lost track of many years ago – this was before social media – but occasionally I meet people who knew him. He was beautifully serious.
[4] From The Passionate Measure, Ivan V Lalić, translated by Francis R Jones, Anvil Press Poetry, 1989, and included in Centres of Cataclysm, edited by Sasha Dugdale, David Constantine & Helen Constantine, Modern Poetry in Translation/Bloodaxe Books, 2016.
[5] Or, “Silent, upon a peak in Darien,” as Keats suggested in his poem “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer.”
[6] Kanfanar is a small village in Croatia and lies at the interchange of the Istrian Y expressway/motorway B8 and A9, as well as on the Divača to Pula railway, and was formerly the junction of a branch-line to Rovinj, so I believe.
[7] Oh, and odd that “lilac” should be an anagram (minus the accent on the ‘c’) of Lalić. Odd, irrelevant, but apt.
[8] Irina Ratushinskaya was released from a Soviet labour camp in late 1986 and the poetry she had written while in prison added to the mounting pressure on Mikhail Gorbachev to introduce Glasnost which led eventually to the end of the Soviet system.  
[9] I was Literature Development Worker for South Humberside based in Scunthorpe, with Grimsby as the other jewel in my crown. I had a small budget and a telephone on a desk in Scunthorpe Central Library opposite Brigid, the Dance Development Worker, and with the Music Development Worker, Dan always off somewhere banging cans and singing, and the Film Theatre just downstairs run by my dear, late friend Tony Whitehead, who loved Carry on Films and Avant Garde French Cinema, and could tell the difference between the two. 
[10] Poems Before & After: Collected English Translations, Bloodaxe Books, 2006. 
[11] Although he was not overtly political, after the Prague Spring of 1968 Holub became a non-person in Czechoslovakia. 
[12] A film released in 1986, directed by Claude Berri and adapted from the novel by Marcel Pagnol. 
[13] And so apparently ending the long line of the Soubeyran family.