treats for the ears

Good music lasts…. fashion not so much

The Four Tops and “Reach Out” is a classic song.  But those big jackets and too short trousers?  To 21st century eyes, slightly odd and hilarious, although obviously sharp styling at the time, 50 years ago.


W B Yeats, W H Auden, memorial, poetry

Poetry lives on

W H Auden reads his poem about the death of W B Yeats (anniversary today) – not only the passing of the man, but the way poetry lives on in the world after the death of its writer.

Interesting to bear in mind that we are listening to the spoken words of a poet who has been dead for over 40 years (died September 1973). Powerful to hear them read by the writer.

This poem is in fact one of 3 parts.  In the 2nd, he memorably sums up W B Yeats as “Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry” and in the 3rd it winds up the set by a simple four line verse:

“In the deserts of the heart

Let the healing fountain start

In the prison of his days

Teach the free man how to praise.”

The full poem is found in Auden’s writings 1939-1947.

Listening in on the Oscars for Poetry, T S Eliot Prize

Without even the pressure to dress up, you can listen with the leaders in UK poetry to the annual prestigious award ceremony for the T S Eliot prize – audio recordings now available here.

Thanks to the time machinery of your internet device, you are present to hear a master class in reading and presenting your own poetry.  Each poet has 8 minutes to read their work.  This is poets under pressure, reading to a roomful of experts in writing and performing poetry – with a leading prize of £25,000 at stake.

  1.  Ian MacMillan introduces the shortlisted readings.  (2 minutes 29 secs)
  2. (Second track, although this clearly happened before Ian spoke) Bill Herbert, Chair of this year’s judges, reads one of T S Eliot’s own poems – this year a particularly political one “The Difficulties of a Statesman” (5.16)
  3. Leontia Flynn (originally from Northern Ireland)
  4. James Sheard (good at explaining the personal starting point for the poems and engaging with the audience)
  5. Tara Bergin (originally from Ireland) reads from her collection based on the death of Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, who committed suicide after her lover married someone else
  6. Robert Minhinnick (Wales) reads from “Diary of the Last Man”.  He edits “Poetry Wales” and writes with passion about the environment
  7. Roddy Lumsden reads from “So glad to be me”
  8. Jacqueline Saphra “All my mad mothers” – reads short poems with humour and insight about family and art and motherhood (her grownup kids in the audience)
  9. Ocean Vuong (Vietnam/America) reads with intenseness and drama of the fall of Saigon (his mother is Vietnamese/American) and a poem speaking to himself
  10. Douglas Dunn (Scotland) reads from his collection “The sound of a fly”
  11. Caroline Bird reads from her collection “In these days of Prohibition” – which Ian MacMillan describes as being about the surreallness of real life.  7 minutes into the reading, she reads a fantastic poem – which I’ve heard her perform, live – and it’s so vivid and funny, it’s like you join her in the scene
  12. Michael Symmons Roberts reads from his collection “Mancunia” – things to do with Manchester (an English city) are described as “Mancunian”


All in one place, we hear ten poets, current, contemporary, performing – selected by the poetry community as important at this moment in time.  We hear different accents and varieties of ages and styles of poetry.  It will forever be on these poets’ c.v.s that they were shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize.  One will win.  (The result is out now, but I’ll let you find it out for yourself.  Can you guess who it is?)

The Poets talk about their work

If some of these readings made you interested to hear more of these poets and how they work at poetry, the T S Eliot Society has made brief video interviews with them on that theme.  (Thank you, T S Eliot Society!)

Leontia Flynn talks about her work

James Sheard

Tara Bergin

Robert Minhinnick

Roddy Lumsden

Jacqueline Saphra

Ocean Vuong

Douglas Dunn

Caroline Bird

Michael Symmons Roberts


Dobby Gibson: A poet, a press, an editor

Having met Dobby Gibson in yesterday’s blog post, we get more of a sense of a practicing poet’s world with today’s video, including an interview with his editor (Jeff Shotts), his publisher (Graywolf Press) and Dobby reading at the book launch.  (This is his third book of poetry).

*CommandCo Exclusive Tomorrow* We’ve been in touch with Dobby, and found out his favourite poetry book of 2017 – the one which makes him want to write more poetry.  Also, the latest progress on his next book….  All this coming on tomorrow’s blog post!


More about the poet

If you’d like to find out more about the poet, his website will give a good indication of what books he has read, poems of his on the internet, and audio and video recordings and interviews.  In fact, it’s a good example of a poet’s website, for those of us in at the beginning of life as a published poet, or working towards that.


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Booklaunch Reading: Dobby Gibson reads “it becomes you”, his third book

Writing a Poetry Book

In today’s video, Dobby is honest about the time taken to write this third book – even though it was a book with his usual publisher, he began by sending the editor about 8 poems, and then taking 3 years to accumulate enough other poems to make this book.

Useful to hear that kind of realism, to budget for the time it will take.

Writing Time Travel – beginnings and endings

Opening our eyes on day one of a New Year (in the UK), we find ourselves in the oddity of having to write dates on paper differently – having to remember to write the year as 2018 instead of 2017.

But what about Time Travel?  When did it start?  A few musings on this by Nerdwriter.

Nerdwriter’s discussion is punctuated with excellent video clips – a rather good reminder of many good science fiction films which are worth seeing again.

Creative Takeaways

If you like writing science fiction, involving time travel, then this is a good reminder of some of the most powerful stories told – so far – in the genre.  It’s interesting to see that society now concentrates on dystopian (negative) visions of the future, whereas about a hundred years ago, there were so many books about a positive future, a utopia.

If you’re going to seriously write story pondering cause and effect, then a deeper look at timelines in fiction would be this one, by MinutePhysics.


Shakespeare inspires public transport poetry

Have you ever wondered “what if….?”  Judith Cherniak was in a group reading Shakespeare and came to a line about a love-smitten man wanting to put love poetry up on every tree.  She wondered what it would be like to put poetry in spaces on the walls on the London Underground.  Thankfully, she wrote a letter to the Managing Director of the Underground – who, to her surprise, responded positively.  Beginning with just 6 poems, Faber & Faber printing the posters for free, and a small grant from Arts Council – and 25 years later, in 2011, gave this interview about how it all began, and how the idea spread to Dublin, New York and Paris.

Almost unbelievably, the project began with just 3 people (Judith and two friends) who have continued throughout.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/margaret_mead_100502

Island Writing Poetry – Jen Hadfield

This video is like a lovely visit to an island, as poet Jen Hadfield talks about how she writes, closely linked with her life on the remote Shetland Islands, off the coast of Scotland.

Listening to her slow rhythms of speaking, in her cottage is like visiting an interesting friend, and seeing her in the landscape is like going on a beach holiday.  This is poetry writing from a deep involvement in a particular geographical location.  If you are interested in biology of plants and sea, then you will find little treats throughout.

Creative Takeaways

Where do you feel most at home?  Write/draw/paint that place.

Jen says that some poems come to you easily – but explains that she has to do regular writing of poems so that when the outright gift comes, she is able to write it.  Let that encourage you to keep practicing your craft/art, even when it seems fairly mechanical – it makes you ready to express the flush of outright inspiration, in its occasional visit.  You are ready and able to put it down on paper, canvas or whichever medium you work in.

Although Jen has benefitted from awards for her poetry – the Scottish Poetry Library notes: “Just in case that all sounds swimmingly easy, it should be pointed out that residencies, prizes and bursaries have been supplemented with work ranging from framing pictures to gutting fish.”  Each creative finds their own path to continue their art and yet earn a living.  As you look at the range of these paths in the lives of artists you may see if there is a path which could help your own life balance.