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THE QUALITY OF MERSEY – NEW ANTHOLOGY (14-11-18)

I was chuffed to have my single poem submission accepted for publication in this new poetry anthology which focuses on the River Mersey and the land and the people around it.


My contribution is ‘Beached’ – a poem about finding love, and all sorts of other things (don’t ask!), in New Brighton, a resort right at the end of the estuary.


For those not in the know, New Brighton used to be the North of England’s best seaside resort. It once had a tower taller than Blackpool’s, and a lido that was, in its day, the biggest in Europe.


Here is the final stanza of my poem …

They found each other at first sight.

Their ships collided eloquently

in the mouth of the Mersey

and the currents of their lives

ran free, intermingling.


Thanks to Barry Wood, editor of The Quality of Mersey, for including my poem.


There are three very good poems by Barry in the anthology – including ‘Bidston Hill to Mersey’. Barry evokes the hill’s magic for kids playing there, and its history as a home for both technology and a Viking goddess! Yes, that side of the Mersey, was once very much Viking territory.


A brilliant rhyming poem by Ali Harwood, ‘The Dun Gush’, brings to life the emotion that the Mersey, and Liverpool, seems to stir in many people.


Don’t miss the excellent poems by Michelle Wright, Paul Waring, John Oldershaw, David Subacchi, Aaron Murdoch, Lucy Pickavance and Sue Bordley.


This is a difficult book to review in detail, because so many of my Merseyside poet friends are published in it. Hurrah for them, and apologies if I’ve failed to mention any of you. I just don’t want this write-up to look like a shopping list, that’s all. 


The poetry scene - writing and performance-wise - is a huge cultural force in Merseyside, and particularly in Liverpool and across the river on the Wirral. It’s good that this new Mersey anthology celebrates that art, that soul, and of course, we have been here several times before, not least with the HUGELY successful anthology The Mersey Sound featuring the work of Liverpool poets Roger McGough, Brian Patten and Adrian Henri in the 1960s. That book has now sold more than half a million copies!


The new anthology, The Quality of Mersey, came about when John Gorman (who knew the previous generation of Liverpool poets very well) had the idea of gathering together a series of poems by the region’s new generation of writers – from different areas of the River Mersey from source to mouth.


Many of the poems were given a public reading in Liverpool last month (October) at an event which, sadly, I couldn’t attend because I was on holiday in Corralejo on the island of Fuerteventura at the time.


Interestingly, Corralejo seems to be where I get most of my poetic inspiration these days!


But thanks, anyway, to Ali Harwood for reading out my poem (and his own, obviously) at the anthology’s public launch.


The book is a great read, and is dedicated to the memory of Tonia Bevins of the Vale Royal Writers' Group. Tonia was a regular at the Dead Good Poets in Liverpool. 


The Quality of Mersey, £3.99, is a not-for-profit venture. To order a copy, email the editor, Barry Woods on barrywoods211@hotmail.com and he  will sort that for you.


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HOW 'LOSING THE RAG' WON ME OVER (05-09-18)

This was a play close to my heart; it’s about the painful decline of local newspapers.

It’s by a writer who is fast gaining a reputation in his native Scotland – for stating profound things about the human condition while being VERY funny.

Take a bow, Alan Muir – a former newsroom colleague of mine from a regional paper office in Central Scotland in the 1990s.

Since that era, local newspapers – which once resolutely recorded people’s lives and local culture and held to account local politicians – have been in steady decline, mainly due to the deprofessionalisation of reportage in the digital era.

This play – a lunchtime special which has finished its current run at the excellent Oran Mor in Glasgow – made the audience laugh and (more importantly) think.

A posh, remote editorial manager is piling on the pressure for local newspaper offices to maximise their hits on social media – rather than concentrate on serious reporting by craft-trained journalists who know how to properly stand up a news story, get the facts right, spell properly, and be grammatical.

Derek, the Editor of the Avondale Advertiser, is a grumpy but likeable man in his 50s, played by Gerry Mulgrew. He is an ‘old school’ journalist, and so is the fortysomething senior reporter Susan (Louise Ludgate). The young reporter Barry (Martin Donaghy) is a geeky social media nerd, but also likeable.

That’s the thing. Journalists ARE generally likeable in my experience; they’re not the amoral schemers you so often see portrayed in mainstream screen drama.

This play doesn’t portray the journalists badly – though it does showcase the howlers that often make it onto local newspaper websites and then into their print formats with increased regularity in this dumbed-down era.

In the local newspaper group at the centre of Muir’s drama some daft mistakes – such as a picture of dog appearing in a traditional bonny baby contest – happen quite a lot, though paradoxically, this helps the Avondale Advertiser get ‘hits’ at a time when it needs those in order to save its local office from closure as part of ever-present cutbacks.

Senior hack Susan sums up the feeling by saying: “Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad things are changing. I caught the tail end of typewriters, cigarettes and sexism. It was grim. But things are changing so quickly now … it feels like it’s out of control.”

I do empathise with her. When I first started in journalism on the Colchester Evening Gazette, ALL the hacks’ desks had metal-sprung typewriters and ashtrays on them. I don’t remember sexism much, but (hey!) I was a lad!

Although this play is, rightfully, an eloquent lament for something VERY valuable being lost to our society, the dialogue is packed with humour. The writer is a very funny guy – he’s done stand up, and his previous play at Oran Mor, ‘The Greatest’, was also hilarious, as well as being serious about what it means (what it REALLY means) to be human.

And as the end of ‘Losing the Rag’ approaches there is a morally uplifting turn of events. The Editor makes a personal sacrifice to give his two members of staff a chance to continue earning a living in the not-so-brave world of contemporary journalism.

Well done, everyone involved in this play. It’s made me feel like having a go at writing another play myself. I have had one of my works performed in 2014, but that was a rather sombre monodrama. I want to try something funny AND serious next time.