Friday, May 30, 2008

Interview on Radio Wildire - coming up on Monday 2nd June

Radio Wildfire - this Monday, June 2nd

A Message from Radio Wildfire:

It's the middle of the year, midsummer is on the doorstep, and the UK so wet that only a digital Wildfire can rage across the land. And that is just what will happen on Monday 2nd June when Radio Wildfire's live June transmission takes place. This month we're pleased to welcome into the studio the current Warwick Poet Laureate, the irrepressible Jane Holland; bringing summer warmth to the frets will be Wolverhampton based guitarist and singer songwriter Chris Rowley; and, carrying his sunny demeanour to the mike, spoken word DJ Derrick D. Plus, we've got some spoken word and music from cd that we'll guarantee that you've never heard before.

Jane Holland has been a professional snooker player, a literary magazine editor, a novelist and is now Warwick Poet Laureate. Her first novel, Kissing the Pink, was published by Sceptre in 1999, her poetry collection, 'Boudicca & Co.', was published by Salt in 2006, and her next book of poems, Camper Van Blues, is due out in October 2008. With interests which include astrology and American pool, Jane is always bursting with life and good humour – and excellent poetry.

Guitarist and songwriter Chris Rowley's latest cd features collaborations with those well known lyricists Shakespeare and Tennyson, but with them both being otherwise engaged he'll be alone in the studio talking about his songwriting and playing live.

And finally, needing little introduction to Radio Wildfire audiences is, Derrick D. A DJ with a weekly FM programme concentrating on spoken word which he presents alongside a genre-defying musical selection he'll be joining us in the studio with a few select words of his own.

Plus, as always, there'll be an eclectic mix of spoken word and music, comedy, storytelling, poetry, song and aural art, taken from cd and from our own expanding archive. So start celebrating midsummer early by taking your laptop into the garden and getting into festival mood by listening to us in the rain, or just turn on your computer and listen in comfort. Whichever you choose -

Join us: Monday 2nd June 8.00-10.00 pm UK time at

Light Verse, Hot Gossip and Tongues of Flame … at And to keep your interest smouldering between live shows there's the constant transmission we call The Loop. Listen in 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at – here to wildfire your imagination.

Radio Wildfire is an independent online radio station which blends spoken word, poetry, performance literature, comedy, storytelling, short stories and more with a novel selection of word/music fusion and an eclectic mix of musical styles. broadcasts live 8.00-10.00pm on the first Monday of every month.

Monday, May 26, 2008

In Memoriam Roly Drower

I had some bad news last week. An old friend of mine, Roly Drower, passed away suddenly on May 12th. He was only 54.

I'm still feeling a bit bruised by the news, but it's important for me to mark his passing in some way, even if only here on Raw Light.

We were friends when I was still living on the Isle of Man. Roly was a poet, satirical writer and musician who was living on the Island in order to be close to his parents, who had retired there. We first met early in 2000 through a mutual friend in the Isle of Man Poetry Society (he edited their newsletter - cum - poetry magazine Under the Hill, in which several of my poems appeared around that time). I was made homeless a few months after we met and he suggested I move in with him at Ballacreggan Farm, a sort of commune he had been running for a few years by then, albeit in a highly unofficial capacity, out in the wilds along the Santon coastline.

Ballacreggan was really an odd jumble of people living together in a casual, unorthodox manner rather than a commune with any sense of shared ethos. The main idea was to pay your rent on time each month and share in a few joint meals and activities every now and then, which most people seemed happy to do.

Roly was a website designer and logistics guy for a local haulage company; there were two other computer experts, Karl and Matty, the latter also a talented musician who often worked overseas; there was Abby, a charming student who worked part-time at a vegetarian restaurant; also Rob, a travelling ... well, I'm not sure what he did officially, but it seemed to be mainly painting and decorating on an ad hoc basis; and then there was me. There was another young man, whose name I've forgotten, but he worked somewhere that required a suit and never seemed quite at home on the farm.

A few others swam in and out occasionally, including past lodgers there, but that was the main crew at Ballacreggan during 2000. Roly would cook everyone a curry or something similar in the evenings, then make electronic music in his computer room upstairs - his 'band' was The Sulby Phantom Band, a name under which he released a number of records over the years - while Karl and Matty would play computer games together, each in his own bedroom with the doors wide open so they could yell abuse at each other. I would lie downstairs reading or watching a film on my little portable telly and drinking whisky. Rob spent most evenings at the pub or outside in his camper van - which he later sold to me - and Abby was usually out partying somewhere with her student friends.

Ballacreggan was a sociable place, a sort of open door to the world, where strange cars would pull up at all hours and discharge stoned musicians or other friends of friends who liked to visit the farm. Students would appear and make hash cakes in abundance at weekends, and large bonfire parties or more spontanous gatherings were organised to celebrate various Sabbats or for birthdays. Over all this activity, Roly would preside with an authority and panache born of supreme indifference to social norms. He loved to see people enjoying themselves and would only step in if things got out of hand. Which almost never happened, the charm of the place ensuring that everyone there looked after everyone else.

My favourite times at Ballacreggan were not the parties though, but the quieter evenings when most people were out. Watching a film with Roly, or messing about on the computers, or taking some homemade curry down to our elderly Indian neighbour, a retired surgeon. There was an open log fire at the farm and it was lovely to sit there with Roly long into the night, the two of us drinking whisky together and discussing poetry or local politics, our two favourite topics, and waiting for the others to come home, one by one.

I had to go back to Oxford at the end of that summer, however, which marked the end of my delightful idyll at Ballacreggan. Later that year, shortly after my mother died in October, I returned to the island to discover that Roly was planning to leave the farm. Several people had already left that year and the rent was too high for him to continue. A few weeks later, the remaining members of the commune had begun to pack up, and by Christmas the place was empty.

I went back one day in December to pick up a few things and wandered about the echoing rooms with a real sense of loss, remembering the months I'd spent there, the people I had met, the incredible feeling of community.

And now dear Roly is dead. Such a shock, especially since he was still so young, only 54. Too many roll-ups, too much whisky, not enough exercise perhaps - though he was always tall and wiry, the sort who could charge up the stairs two or three steps at a time. Charming, talented, intelligent - got a First in Astrophysics from UCL - and with a strongly caustic sense of humour. I consider myself lucky to have known the man.

I can still see him at his computer keyboard at Ballacreggan, sitting there into the early hours, smoking nervously, completely absorbed in his music, once even composing something to accompany one of my own Boudicca poems. I wonder what happened to that piece? Lost forever now, I imagine.

I'll miss you, Roly. It was a year - and an experience - I'll never forget.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Commissioned poem for Leamington Spa Railway Station: official reading Friday 23rd May

Tomorrow lunchtime I'll be reading a new poem, specially commissioned last month by Chiltern Railways, at the unveiling of a plaque to commemorate refurbishments at Leamington Spa Railway Station's Art Deco interior.

For anyone in the area, the event starts at 12pm in the beautiful main entrance area to the station, where original Art Deco tiles and granite plinth from the station's 1939 rebuilding by GWR were revealed and renovated during the refurbishments.

More information on the various guests, and on the station itself, are on my Warwick Poet Laureate blog.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Circus Elephants in Leamington Spa: this Saturday, May 24th 2008

A few months back, you may recall that I was commissioned to write a poem on the history of circus elephants in Leamington Spa.

Not as random as you might think - two circus-owning brothers in the Victorian era kept a number of elephants from Ceylon in the town, and walked them up and down the famous Parade to bathe in the river each day!

So, in my capacity as this year's Warwick Laureate, I wrote a poem about elephants in Leamington, and the big day for its first public reading is this Saturday:

"On Saturday 24 May at 12noon the seat sculpture, ‘Elephant Circle’ by Nicholas Dimbleby will be officially unveiled by Councillor Chris White at its new location in Jephson Gardens. The sculpture has been relocated from its former position outside the northern entrance to the Royal Priors shopping complex in Leamington Spa where it was first installed in 1988 and will include a newly recast bronze elephant made by the artist.

The unveiling will be celebrated with a series of events and activities for all ages:

* At 12noon in Jephson Gardens Councillor Chris White will officially unveil ‘Elephant Circle’.

* From 12noon to 2pm events in Jephson Gardens will include a poetry reading by the Warwick Poet Laureate, Jane Holland, readings from a written anthology by local writers which celebrates Leamington Spa’s connection with circus elephants and photography workshops lead by Anand Chhabra, Spencer Yard Artist in Residence."

I'll be posting up the poem online at some point in the future. Meanwhile, you can read more about this commission at my Warwick Laureate blog.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Poetry from Amarjit Chandan and Daljit Nagra

Last night, at the Herbert Gallery in central Coventry, I had the great pleasure of hearing poets Daljit Nagra and Amarjit Chandan read their work to a large and appreciative audience. The £2 entry fee - far too low, I'm sure - covered both the poetry and a delicious Indian buffet of assorted samosas, dips and authentic Indian sweets of milk and sugar. There goes the diet again!

It was a truly enjoyable evening, and I walked away with a signed copy of Amarjit's pamphlet 'Being Here' from The Many Press, already having Daljit's excellent Faber debut, 'Look We Have Coming to Dover!' at home.

I can highly recommend Amarjit Chandan's poetry to anyone not familiar with it. He performed his poems in Punjabi first; very melodically, almost singing them at times, with his skilled repetitions inviting responses from Punjabi-speaking members of the audience. His own English translations were then read by the Coventry-based actress Manjinder Virk (Bend It Like Beckham, Brits, etc.).

Daljit Nagra now has his own home page, for bookings and information.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

David Morley on Value, Poetry, and Krill

"If I hold up a ten pound note and a poem and I burn one then the other, how do we feel? Do we feel more about one of them because we recognise its value?"

This quotation is from poet David Morley's blog entry dated April 29th, which is an account of his recent reading with Fiona Sampson, Alan Brownjohn and Naomi Jaffa at the ever-marvellous Troubadour in London, accompanied by some lengthy and fascinating thoughts on the current British poetry scene.

"Outside is now becoming the new inside. One example: the gently whale-like appetite of Salt Publications – whose work and enterprise I think is totally welcome and good fun – has torn the nets between what we used to call the avant-garde, what we used to call the middle of the road, and what we used to call the mainstream. I think this blending of species is probably a good thing. Now we are different types of krill mixing about in the same space. Now we are all inside the whale, as Orwell would have it."

I can't top that kind of insight at the moment, so here's the link to David's blog and happy reading!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Gigging Weekend

Apologies for not posting for a few days; it's been utterly mad here this week. I've been finishing one review for Poetry Review and starting another for Tower Poetry; making more notes on my long essay for PNR; trying to crack on with my next Tutor Marked Assignment for my Open University course; plus reading a brand-new Brendan Cleary pamphlet entitled 'Trees on Bear Road'.

And then there's been the gigging. First, I read at ye olde Lord Leycester Hospital in Warwick on Friday 9th, where I received a very fine fish and chip supper, and then down at Essex University on Saturday 10th, alongside former XTC-star Martin Newell, who was tremendously funny and eccentric; he kept grabbing the mic stand to give us a Mick Jagger impersonation, or leaping across the stage to bang out a few chords on the piano.

On Sunday, I took myself over to PencilFest at Warwick University where many excellent student-organised events were going on all weekend, and heard a number of poets read their work at the Trespass magazine launch, including Annie Freud, Martyn Crucefix, Tim Wells, Agnes Meadows, and some short story writers too, such as Anthony Howcroft. For those wondering, Trespass is on about its fourth issue and is a sister publication to London Magazine.

I had been planning to take a spot in the open mic session but it was so hot by the time the Trespass readings were over, I just wanted to go home and lie down in the garden. Which is what I did. Roll on, heatwave!

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Slam Finals? I'd rather be dead!

It's far too hot to post up anything exciting or intelligent - or both - on Raw Light today but earlier I did manage to blog up a review of a live poetry event in Oxford last night:

Poet-performer Jem Rolls headlines at the Hammer & Tongue Slam Finals.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Excerpts from 'Canzoni' (1997)


Your image blurs
in a fingerprint of rain,

shark's-eye twitching the lens
like a landed fish
as you gather yourself.

This is your funeral.
You cannot afford to be absent.


Where the world was, there is a hole.
At the bottom, a rotten box
opens, unhinges.

The church stiffens
into the future, beckoning.

The goddess bends over the pram
in a wave of bright light and eucalyptus.
Her skin has the look of scouring pads.
She is angry, then diffident.

When she goes
she leaves something with me -
so tiny I could tuck it under my fingernail
and not notice -
but it shines, it sparkles!

It turns in the wind like a seed
hungry for soil, then sits all summer
under the red bell of the rhubarb.

I hear it pressing
cool dark clay
with its arm stumps.


The coal bunker is so drab
it is almost innocuous:

inhabiting the air like a virus
its unseen spores drift inwards.

This photograph
must have been taken in '68 -

he came out with a sledgehammer
not long after

and reduced it to rubble -
but I remember the smell, the gritty feel of it.

Coal dust is like pollen -
I carried it around in my lungs

summer after summer,
a black hive.


It was always raining
and the bookcase was always full.

After the rug ended,
before the skirting board began,

your dark spine shone like skin
under my fingers.

You were a shadow
on an x-ray,
growing and deforming.

They should have had you removed
but you were part of me -
a sucker, coming out of the soil
where the graft root was accidentally buried.

Your words hatch
white clutch-eggs in my larynx
twenty years on

where the dull sheen of pearls
first gleamed under my palate.


The car ticks over.

A soft green pit pit pit of rain
on the windscreen.

It is three minutes to twelve.

When the lightning comes
it is a steel pin
in the throat of the morning,

holding noon from midnight
and one swift breath
from the other.

Afterwards, I shudder down the lane
like an old woman,

thirty seconds closer
to whatever took you.


This is not The Purple Rose of Cairo
where you will walk out of the screen,
a dea ex machina,

but the echo of an echo,
repeating myself
as I try to unwrangle

future from present,
present from past historic,

finding them all on the same skein of wool
like runners from a strawberry,
budding intermittently.

There will be no
ice cream at the interval.

Down, down, the house lights
have all gone down,

leaving nothing but the waiting,
as I step outside my own skin

into the silver skin of history.


This room breathes
the dark stench of the Inquisition.

A star swivels
above the one glinting eye
of the brickwork,
aching to be opened
and examined.

Milk-white it tenses and folds.
She is not a cat. She will not drink it.
It stands for insanity, knowledge.

Your questions beat about her head
like sisters, their blood is on her fingers.


Tell me, old man, what was it like
to sleep with the goddess,

to taste her death,
the retreat of it?

Your mind is a morgue.

Images lie tagged on the tables,
smiling postmortem.

For this sad pilgrimage to end,
the beast herself

must rise and walk,
bearing her slab
like a standard before her.


The sea walks tall
on the horizon,
a whisper of silver
past high grasses.

The moon hangs
like a crude symbol
over a rough cot.

There is no way
to ward off this evil.

You will lie face-down
for centuries,
picking out her features:
stones from mud.


Worm wriggles
inside his fur pouch, stretching.

The animal died last month.

His mouth is squeaking
the tin whistle
of its teeth, relentlessly.

Then the wind shifts.

His damp striations rise
and coil.

Someone has hung someone else
out to dry.


I step back
to where the ripples found me,

the still drop of a stone
into dark water,
the endless concentric circles.

After the stone's entry,
these waters heal themselves
like lips
closing on silence.

From the depths
the world comes back
as a blue shadow

seen through the shallow eye
of a stone.


She imagined herself violent,
failing to see how the line breaks
at the meridian,

leaving her stranded, unalterable,

too far inland for the sea,
crashing between houses, gleaming
like the blunt edge of a sickle -

where a boat might cross and recross,
telling its history -

but still now as the centre,
silent, irreproachable.

"Canzoni' was first published in The Brief History of a Disreputable Woman, Bloodaxe Books, 1997.

Friday, May 02, 2008

My Mood Today

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark: Walking on the Milky Way

Fire burst through the ceiling - a new poem on on Nthposition

There's a new poem of mine - I actually wrote it about ten years, it's just never been published until now - on Todd Swift's online magazine, Nthposition.

It's called "Fire burst through the ceiling" and is about the bombing (during the Blitz) of Thurstons, a long-established firm which made billiard tables and, as I believe, also hosted international billiards matches.

In the poem, I refer to 'nursery canons': this is a shot in billiards in which, having manoeuvred the two object balls together, with the lightest of clicks you can rack up an impressive amount of points by simply flicking the cue ball back and forth across them. In the old days of the game, there was no limit on the number of strokes allowed once in that position. These days, points from nursery canons are limited - not sure what to - to prevent the game descending into stalemate and having to be played over a number of days.

"May poems (12 poets) are now online, including new work
by Kevin Higgins, Jessica Slentz, Jane Holland, and Sudeep Sen at Nthposition."