Poets of Christmas Past

Candlestick Press, producer of the delightfully illustrated ‘instead of a card’ series of poetry pamphlets,  are holding a free online festive event in partnership with the equally wonderful Five Leaves Bookshop, 7-9 pm on Saturday, December 5th.

Over 35 contemporary poets, including Fleur Adcock, Moniza Alvi, Alison Brackenbury, Nancy Campbell, Joolz Denby, Ian Duhig, Martin Figura, W.N. Herbert, Paula Meehan, Kim Moore, Helen Mort, Jacob Polley, George Szirtes and many others will be reading poems they have written specially for Candlestick’s Christmas collections in recent years. My own offering, ‘The Mizzletow’, refers to an old Northumbrian tradition and uses some local dialect. It appeared in last year’s pamphlet, Christmas Spirit’, available HERE for £4.95 + P&P.

The event is free, and promises to be ‘an enticing smorgasbord of poetry offering comfort and joy…and the occasional surprise!’

If you feel in need of some good cheer to brighten your Saturday night on December 5th, please join us and register:

You may have read recently about the acquisition by Pembroke College, Cambridge, of a ‘unique archive’ of unseen manuscripts by Ted Hughes, Seamus Heaney, and their friend, the expressionist painter Barrie Cooke, with whom they shared fishing expeditions.

I was incredibly fortunate to know Seamus Heaney in the early 1980s. I met him, first, at a poetry conference in California, where he stayed up late teaching his students to sing Irish folk ballads; then I studied with him one-to-one for a year at Harvard. I knew about his friendship with Hughes, but I didn’t know about the fishing connection. On returning from America to Northumberland I immersed myself in my own local village world of shellfish and salmon, unaware that, decades later, this current would carry me back to my poetic heroes.

This time last year I was lucky enough to take part in ‘Owned by Everyone’, a two-day international conference about ‘the plight, poetry and science of the salmon’, hosted by Pembroke College in partnership with Cambridge Conservation Initiative. My paper at that conference, entitled ‘Naen Skyells’, explored the salmon netting tradition on the Northumberland coast. It is about to be published online in a new magazine, ‘Wild Fish’, produced by the Owned by Everyone team in partnership with Salmon and Trout Conservation. When ‘Wild Fish’ magazine is published, a link will appear HERE.

There will be no human handling of wild fish in that publication, but here is an image from an earlier time:

John Percy Douglas with a mighty Beadnell salmon, 1930s

Some other good things hover on the horizon for the New Year. ‘Under the Ice’, my Antarctic ice science collaboration with composer Peter Zinovieff for NUSTEM, is due for an online premier in the first half of the year – details to be announced. Keep an eye on this blog and on the NUSTEM pages.

The Amble ‘Bord Waalk’ (Bird Walk) is also due to be launched in the spring, and will include an App with a series of six short podcasts of new poetry (by me) and soundscape (by Geoff Sample). You can hear more about it in this recent edition of BBC Radio 4’s Open Country. Listen HERE.

In April, the excellent Guillemot Press are publishing a collection of the poems which Phoebe Power and I wrote for the National Trust’s People’s Landscape project on the Durham Coast. The book is themed around regeneration and will include a new conversation between Phoebe and me, discussing our separate approaches to the project and to wider considerations of the environment. I have a particular attachment to the Durham coast, as my grandfather on my mother’s side was an East Durham pitman. With artwork by the fabulous Rose Ferraby, exploring the local geology and strange oxide and sulphate residues of mining, it will be a thing of beauty. Look out for it HERE.

How many Guillemot Press poets can you name?

Meanwhile, for anyone interested in the poetry of science, you can hear me discuss my latest Bloodaxe collection Edge with Robin Houghton in a new interview on the Planet Poetry Podcast, episode 3: ‘Close-Up’, also featuring Sarah Salway. Listen HERE.

I was delighted to have the chance to talk with Robin. She asked me about exploring things much too small and too large to see, and to read several poems from the book. Our discussion lasts 20 minutes or so.

An earlier interview about Edge was broadcast on Radio 4’s Front Row in November last year. That programme is still available on BBC Sounds, with a performance excerpt at the beginning and the interview from 18.08. You can listen to it HERE.

A wonderful new review of Edge by applied mathematician and poet Marian Christie appeared in November’s Amethyst Review. You can read that HERE.

Other reviews may be found by clicking on the following links:

The High Window

READ (Research in English at Durham)

The North

The Guardian

Finally, if you’re thinking of adding a science poetry book to your Christmas shopping list — thank you! Edge is available HERE.

Thank you for reading. Please stay safe, and keep others safe too, in the run-up to Christmas and beyond.