Getting a grip on the Near Future

Oh hello,  a blog in September, one in October, another in November and now one in December..Crikey, anyone would think I was getting to grips with this blogging lark. Whatever next? One a week? Maybe!!

This year has been an interesting year as I’ve found myself being drawn to writing reviews of other folks’ work. I always thought that it wouldn’t be for me —largely because I didn’t think I had anything interesting to say. I worried I’d show myself up as lacking in insight or the ability to close read a poem.

I can’t guarantee that any of that isn’t true, but I think getting a chance to learn my craft with the lovely Nell at Happenstance with the OPOI reviews was a veritable godsend, largely because

  1. They’re relatively short pieces.
    This has the bonus pop forcing you to consider what you’re saying much more than a longer piece – not that you don’t think about it, but you really have to hone your thought when you only have a few hundred words. Is that carefully crafted point that hinges on a pun worth it? Usually not.
  2. The focus is on the positive
    Even if you don’t like the book (and I’ve been lucky to have really enjoyed almost all of the ones I’ve reviewed so far) it feels easier to say something better than something negative. Even if you’re forced to comment on structure, metrics, etc, instead of the content, it helps to have that one thing to work with.
  3. NELL!!!
    Nell has been brilliant at taking my ramblings and, with some judicious pruning, turning them into something she’s happy to publish.
    I raise both my hat and my glass to Nell. And also to Matthew Stewart for his advice on some of the earlier ones.

I look forward to continuing to write these reviews – in fact I have two pamphlets to be getting on with over Xmas.

However, working on the above gave me a bit of confidence and the taste to go on and do more, so when Matthew suggested approaching London Grip to write reviews of full collections I thought I’d give it a go. I cautiously approached Michael and he seemed happy to let me try.

It’s been a busy month with work and life in general, but I think I also put off starting the review because of nerves. I tried to make notes and a start while on a flight to Bratislava for a work conference, but having been up since 4am and having had three pints before the flight at 9.30 I wasn’t up to much, so the book went back in my bag for a couple of weeks.

However, there wasn’t a total lack of work in the interim, I was dipping in and out of the book while I travelled backwards and forwards on my daily commute; slowly letting the poems seep in until I was able to see what my over-arching story was going to be. Keeping some of the ideas from the OPOI with me helped…find what you like, ask yourself why. Focus on big ideas and themes and you’re half way there..

I was vey nervous when I sent the first draft off to a friend for their advice – and they made some very strong and wise suggestions which made the second draft much better. The final draft is something I didn’t think I could write, but I’m quite proud of it. I can already see how it could be better and I’ll work on that for the next one, whatever that may be, but for now…

The book I reviewed was the excellent Near Future by Suzannah Evans. I’ve been waiting a long while for this after reading her brilliant pamphlet, Confusion Species, about five years ago.

Here’s a link to the excellent London Grip and the review. I hope you’re moved enough to buy the book and also to spend some time with London Grip’s wonderful poetry section. And the other reviews, of course.

I have no idea where any of this reviewing will lead, although I hope it means that I can learn from closer readings of collections and feed this back into my own writing. I hope I can learn to be better at explaining why I don’t like things – I’ve yet to have to do it, but I’m sure it will come up soon. And I, selfishly, want to get my name out there a bit more. It can’t hurt – unless I’m writing utter tripe.

That’s enough from me, so here’s a song that pays a sneaky tribute (in a very distant way) to the blurb on the back of Near Future



2 thoughts on “Getting a grip on the Near Future”

  1. Enjoyed reading this Mat and congrats on the excellent London Grip review. I found this particularly interesting as one of my goals for next year is to start to write reviews (literally, practice attempts that only I’ll see!) perhaps just a few paragraphs long then slowly build up to writing longer ones. Hopefully I’ll learn a lot from doing it too. You’ve definitely developed the knack though, well done!

    1. Thanks, Paul. Thank you very much.

      I think it’s a great thing to do. I resisted it for so long, but it’s given me a much wider respect for the craft of it all. I think I’m still just scratching the surface, but my next move is to get out of my comfort zone and try to review something I’ve not engaged with before – I don’t know what that will be, but it’s a great way to find new poets, and y’know, free books. Good luck with it all. Definitely don’t be afraid to share them with people. Everyone needs an editor/

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