Tuesday, October 06, 2020

I was delighted to read a very kind review of Madame Ecosse in the latest issue of The North magazine. The reviewer, John Killick, very kindly sent me a copy of the magazine via my local bookshop as it turned out he had bought my book actually here in Dunoon during a visit to the area! Anyway it was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise since Madame Ecosse has been out for over three years now. 

I was also very happy to have a poem commended in the Buzzwords Poetry Competition judged by Penelope Shuttle. I've always been an admirer of Shuttle's poems and to have a poem of mine read and commented on by her in the judges report is such a pleasure to me. My poem 'The Telephone Box' can be read here alongside the winning poems. I particularly love Penny Boxall's beautiful runner-up poem. 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

I recorded another video poem for Hugh McMillan's fab #plagueopoems series which are now being showcased weekly by Dumfries & Galloway and Renfrew libraries.
A poem I wrote for my daughter, 'Her Hair is a Landscape of its Own', is in the recent issue of the London Grip and can be read here.

It's been a slow return to writing after effectively a five-month summer holiday for the kids. And summer holidays have never been a productive writing time for me. I've been reading Wendell Berry's The Peace of Wild Things and I'm enjoying the quiet simplicity of the poems, the drawing back to silence as I get to experience silence at home again. I've also been re-reading Michael Hamburger's excellent book The Truth of Poetry which I've written about before. It's helping me come back to writing and thinking about what kind of poems I want to write, for what purpose, and how I conceive of my writing in terms of the tradition of poetry and how that translates into poetry of the present. I wrote a poem about cobwebs this week - my first completed poem since April!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

I'm very happy to have two poems in the latest issue of The Manchester Review.
My poem 'Glasgow Nights' was written about my journey to work last year when I was working night-shifts in a homelessness unit. My other poem 'Written on Board MV Coruisk' is another commute poem - the short ferry ride from Dunoon to Gourock is usually part of my travels several times a week. Though I can hardly believe I've not been on the ferry for nearly five months now!
You can read my poems online here.

For anyone interested in acceptance / rejection stats - both of these poems were rejected three times by other mags/journals.

I've kept a record of every poetry submission, acceptance, rejection I've ever sent - my records date back to 2006! I've had 117 rejections - not individual poems but full submission rejections which often contain several poems.
My first acceptance came in 2008 - so two years after I started submitting. I've had 67 acceptances, again, not individual poems but often more than one in a submission.

I'm also starting to record rough reply times by mags/journals so I can better gauge how long I want a poem/poems potentially unavailable for.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Back to work this week which represents the official end of lockdown for me. It's life out there but not as we know it!

Over the last few weeks I've been playing around with the draft of my third poetry collection. I'm really not that many poems off a full and complete collection.

I've split the collection into three sections that they seemed to fall into quite naturally. My first book was split into four sections and, in hindsight, I think that was too many! I didn't have any sections in Madame Ecosse and I think I prefer to have a book in sections. Plus each section has its own title page and the option of adding a quotation which I quite like to have. 
Again, 'nature' is the major theme, backdrop and also active ingredient running through my poems regardless of what else they are about.

So far I'm thinking of using this quote from Thoreau for the first section: "As a man studies the details of nature he discovers himself". A quote from Francis James Child for my ballad section: "True popular ballads are the spontaneous products of nature". And a verse from Wordsworth for my third section that links to a poem I have in that section.

Anyway this is all very much at the thinking and early days planning stage but I'm excited to see the manuscript coming together in what feels like a satisfyingly cohesive manner.

I have a couple of poems coming out in the next issue of The Manchester Review and one in the next issue of The London Grip. I'll be working on trying to get as many poems from my manuscript published as possible.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

I've lost count how many weeks into lockdown we are. And in some ways that's a good thing, I've finally adapted to and accepted the way life has changed. I know we'll be on our way out of lockdown soon and the changes will stay with us for the foreseeable future.

What I've badly missed is my commuting / travelling time - as a non-driver who lives in little town out of the way; on a weekly basis I'm used to a lot of travelling via boat, train and bus. And I enjoy it! It's my reflective time, my reading time, my jotting down images and thoughts time. I've also missed coffee-shop writing time! The business and bustle around me helps me write at the early stage of working on poems and then when I'm in the pit of the poem I need the peace & quiet and my own space to write it.

I'm delighted to have my poems 'Look to the Crocus' and 'The Complicated Sex Life of Primula...' in this month's issue of Poetry Magazine which you can read here!
I also have a lockdown poem, 'The Solitude Stone' on Andy Jackson's and Bill Herbert's brilliant Postcards from Malthusia series of poems written in response to the pandemic.
And...I have a poem about Spanish orange trees -  'The Orange Trees of Altea' on Atrium Poetry!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Eight weeks of lockdown now here in Scotland. I've avoided working on poems over the last two to three weeks. I had fallen into overthinking mode and badly needed to get out and stay out of my head for a while in order to cope with and make it through this time. So I've cooked (and eaten!) a lot, watched tv a lot, and generally otherwise stuck to the practical - walking, knitting, homework and general activities with the kids etc. And it's paid off. I feel much more myself, have a healthier perspective on things and have let go of what I cannot change.

However, poetry never entirely escapes my life! I've been enjoying reading a biography of Robert Lowell by Ian Hamilton. It's been a fascinating, at times hilarious, read! It's good to get a background to the poems and the biography quotes large chunks of Lowell's letters so I'll probably re-read his poems soon and when I do have more of a sense of his 'voice' and the character behind the poems. I've also been reading a book on the Black Mountain poets. Olson, Creeley and Duncan have never been high in my awareness and I've never really been drawn to the later Language poets so it was good to be reminded of the poetics behind it all.

I'm very excited to have two flower poems coming out in next month's issue of Poetry Magazine. It's always an utter surprise and more than a tiny bit miraculous to me to have poems accepted for this amazing magazine (for the fourth time!!!) . And my flower poems are generally my favourite to write, there really is no where else in the world I would rather have them 'homed'!

So I feel ready to go back to working on poems and have notes for a bat poem beckoning...!

Monday, April 20, 2020

Into week 4 of lockdown...and surviving! Glad to be past the first few weeks which is now a strange memory-river of denial, shock, despair. I spent the first week of lockdown in quarantine as I had been in close contact with someone later confirmed with the virus. A weird, unpleasant experience not being able to be close to or touch my family. I never developed any symptoms anyway. I am one of the lucky ones. I did lose my job at the castle but I'm lucky enough to be able to survive financially this year without it. My counselling course is still managing to go ahead online and I'm still able to do telephone counselling from home.

And I've been doing some writing! Not a huge amount but I've written a few poems and have been enjoying using this time to leisurely read in the garden - weirdly, since the lockdown, the longest stretch of sunny days without a single day of rain in the west coast of Scotland I can remember!!

Anyway I'm delighted to have my long poem 'Horse Loch' published in the latest bumper edition of Northwords Now. Based on Child Ballad 233 which is an old Scottish ballad also know as Andrew Lammie or Mill O' Tifty's Annie. You can read my poem online on pages 8 &9 here! 

Sunday, March 29, 2020

How much the world has changed in a month. I've been through, and watched others go through, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief  - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance - which is applicable to significant loss of any kind. And we've all been through significant loss in the last month, in the very least any sense of normality and trust in the world as we know it.

However we are amazingly adaptable creatures and poetry is thankfully a stable and safe place to return to in these unstable times. I was happy to contribute a video poem recorded from self-isolation in my bedroom to be showcased as part of a 'Plague of Poetry' series blog run by the ever cheerful Scottish poet Hugh McMillan. I've been enjoying the daily dose of the plague and you can see my contribution here. Stay safe out there, this time will pass.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

One of the pleasures of being a student again is online access to academic journals. I'm having a blissful time researching my old favourite subjects - nature, animism and transcendence in poetry - and having access to endless papers on it which allows me to follow rabbit trails on Roethke, Lawrence, Bly and others. I think writers and poets should have access in their own right to academic journals!

Yesterday I came across a poetic form invented by Robert Bly called 'Ramage'. It's an eight-line poem where each line is built around the repetition of a specific 'union of consonant and vowel' such as 'ur', 'in' or 'ar' for example. It allows the sounds of the poem to lead the meaning, imagery and metaphors of the poem. Since I naturally allow sonics to direct, to an extent, my writing this seemed like a fun exercise to try. So I've written one so far and it was incredibly fun, throwing up unexpected and fresh imagery and reaching into the recesses in a different way. I think I'll be writing more!

I consciously decided to devote a week entirely (as much as possible) to poetry because my writing has been neglected with so much else going on. It's been so enjoyable spending hours following up my old favourite subjects and coming across poems I otherwise would have missed. I've been working hard at a poem I've sat on the bones of for over six months now - I've managed to add a few lines to it but still nowhere close to getting to the heart of the poem. However, I wrote a surprise poem yesterday about my daughter's hair which I would never have written if I hadn't been in the place mentally to 'receive it' (from the ether?) that all my reading had prepared me for.

Friday, February 07, 2020

I write best when I have a theme to work on, a project bigger than individual poems. For me, poems happen in that tension when two or more separate strands are brought together and in their coming together create a movement, an energy towards something new.

Part of my process is gathering notes, images, observations over many months until the theme, idea, the other strand reveals itself and then the 'gatherings' can be brought together and the poems can be finally written. 

Yet, there are also occasional poems that spring out of nowhere, appear with their own internal dialectic, and therefore can be written / drafted immediately. 

In reading the introduction by Robin Fulton to his translation of Tomas Transtromer's Collected Poems I noted some quotes about Transtromer's poems that particularly interest me:
"And this fascination with the borders between sleep and waking, with the strange areas of access between an everyday world we seem to know and another world we can't know in the same way but whose presence is undeniable - such a fascination has over the decades been one of Transtromer's predominant themes."
"imagery from and about dreams, speculations about how both past and future can impinge upon the present, investigations into memory, and a fascination with the many ways in which borders, open and closed, may be experienced." 
And this quote from Transtromer himself:
"but you could at least say that I respond to reality in such a way that I look on existence as a great mystery and that at times, at certain moments, this mystery carries a strong charge, so that it does have a religious character, and it is often in such a context, that I write." 
I feel like I am forever looking for the next project, next theme which will unlock the writing process and make use of all my 'gatherings'. I feel a constant pull back to folklore and folktales hence my ballad poems. I also like to write in the voice of historical / mythical women and find a real freedom in adopting personas. However, I  think my real fascination in reading and writing poetry is, and always has been, in the meeting place of the natural and the psychological worlds; the internal and the external and how each colours each. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Time for another word-cloud created on here!

So I've written twelve poems this year - not a huge amount, three of which I wrote last week which saved the end of the year for me!! I hate writing less than twelve in a year.
My word-cloud is made up of this year's poems so lots of water (as usual!) making an appearance, flowers and body parts!

My favorite reading this year has been by Anne Carson. I've been sadly disappointed by Sharon Olds' latest collection, Arias - the poems are so hit and miss. Not the spectacular collection that Stag's Leap was at all. Of course I'm still a huge fan of her work but wonder if she felt under pressure to bring out this collection or if she lost some objectivity over the editing process!!
I absolutely loved Kathleen Jamie's Surfacing - so beautifully written, I'll be re-reading these essays several times over.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

It's been a slow few months poetry-wise with so many other commitments going on. However I did write a poinsettia poem yesterday (which was also my birthday!) and without fail it's flower poems that are the most enjoyable for me to write - the mix of bags of room for playfulness in terms of metaphors and similes and bucket loads of symbolism make flowers the perfect objective correlative (for me anyway).

My current reading includes Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie - her most recent gorgeous collection of lyrical essays exploring different landscapes and lives. And Sharon Olds' new collection Arias which I'm slowly savouring.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

I made an attempt, a few months ago, to write a poem based on the plans for a building made out of shipping containers to be built in Edinburgh, designed by Scottish artist David Mach. The Scottish Poetry Library offered a commission to a poet to write a poem about it. Sadly I didn't win the commission but since I only entered the competition after feeling I could be inspired to write about the building I now have a purposeless poem with no where for it to go so I thought I would post it up here!

Mach 1

In the year of the Painted Lady you grew, 
body sprawling like red buddleia

When you think you know me
     look again. 
          I have magician hands,
I aim to surprise. 

I hold up the sky with my many facets. 

You need no passport, need not climb border walls
to enter me. I am open and welcoming you
     to explore my nooks, my crannies.

          I am alive
building and rebuilding myself 
in your imagination. 
I am a new kind of Edinburgh rock
     made from steel rubble.

I am a coastline without water,
a Giant's Causeway on land.

I have travelled all over, 
journeyed the Straights of Dover, 
Los Angeles, Yokohama, 
                                   Hong Kong.

When the materials of the earth fall apart
and remake themselves, this is my rebirth.

The bricks of the world converge on Edinburgh Park
born out of bloomeries and crucibles,
                                         pig iron.
Mach 1 was not formed by hand but strode into the city.
Mach 1 is a whirlwind, a freestyle dance, shape-shifting body.
Mach 1 is a fallen metropolis, a steel jigsaw. It cuts the skyline
     with its ragged edges.

Can you taste the ocean? The haulage of whisky,
cat food, bottles, cups, combs, pens, spades, spoons.
golf balls, flip-flops, bubble wands.

We are all caught in the flux of Mach 1.
          It is a metal river.
The thrust of containers leap midair.
Every container has a door, so many red doors opening and opening.
Mach 1 is a series of fingers twining and untwining together.

Mach 1 is the enigma of a Celtic knot. Moving 
in the night, it breaks and rejoins daily.
Mach 1 composes its own song. It is a red mantra.

Mach 1 is the cape of a matador waiting for a charging bull.
It is the falling sun turning to blood. Now it is still. Now soundless.
If you tune in you'll hear its song humming between your ears growing louder.

Mach 1 is a flock of red corbies nesting together.
The beauty of Mach 1 is that which was invisible, servant of the seas
               has now been made visible.

You are home, who have come from all over.
You have been transported,  shipped, landed.

You chant the names of the seas you have traversed, 
the oceans, the waves hunting you 
     from port to port.
What does it mean to contain the meaning
of the lives of so many?

You are a sea anemone, your tentacles draw us into you.

The sky sleeping behind you falls away
into every sky above town and city
where dreaming we all lie,

part earth, part rock, iron blood
               running through our veins

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

I've had a busy time of it over the last couple of months with work and starting my counselling training, so unfortunately poetry hasn't featured much in my life. However I'm seeing a slowing down of the busyness in sight and my poetry senses are clawing to get reading and writing.

I have, however, been writing occasional poem notes / imagery to go back to when I have the mental space to write. I especially gathered material when I was on a recent family holiday to Skye and the Western Isles and hope to create something meaningful out of it.

Poems that have caught my eye over the last while have been a series by Victoria Chang of 'Obit' poems. They are a fascinating and imaginative range of poem-obituaries that Chang wrote after the death of her mother. The full collection of them is due to be published early next year by Copper Canyon Press. A book I'm very much looking forward to reading.

Monday, October 21, 2019

Detail from Blaven and Loch Slapin by Jenny McLaren

I'm happy to have my poem, Freud's Couch in February, published in the latest issue of Northword's Now.
It's a visual exploration of that fascinating object which is on display in London.

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Happy National Poetry Day!

I have a poem - Apple of my Tree - showcased today on the Mary Evans Pictures and Poetry which you can read here!

Thursday, September 19, 2019

Nice to have a couple of my poems in the summer edition of Poetry Salzburg Review with its characteristically beautiful cover. It's really packed full of poems and very good read! I have a three-part poem about Inveraray Castle in it. I've added the first part below.

I have a few more castle poems submitted out into the world, hopefully I'll find homes for them soon!

My other poem in the mag is a good example of a line that pops into my head but refuses to go anywhere. I liked the rhythm of it but it just wouldn't lead to anything. Luckily I was able to sneak it into the title of this poem, here's the first stanza -

Thursday, August 22, 2019

The summer holidays are never a great time for writing and this year is no different. I have barely written a thing over the last six weeks, also not helped by health issues. But the kids are now back at school and I have the peace and quiet to work myself back into the writing zone.

I started by looking over the poems I've written over the last year or so, casting a fresh eye over them and editing where needed. I have also managed to finally fix my printer and have printed out all my post Madame Ecosse poems to start thinking about the direction of my writing and get a sense of what my next collection will look like.

It's an exciting thought, thinking about a next collection. I remember when I put my first pamphlet together and how a full collection then seemed to be an insurmountable challenge, and now I'm thinking about my third full collection!

It's funny how the germ of a poem can suddenly spring out of nowhere. The other day I was on the bus to work and happened to pass by an old telephone box with a spray of oak leaves lying on the shelf inside. I knew immediately it would lead to a poem and quickly jotted down some notes. So today, in blissful peace, I'm working on that poem whilst reading bits and pieces of Anne Carson. What I have grown to love about Carson's work is that she reminds me to stay true to myself in my writing no matter how weird it may be!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Highs and Lows

I complained recently about the length of reply time from magazines concerning poetry submissions especially when they in no way match the claim on their website. For instance I recently received a rejection from a magazine after holding onto my poems for eight months, they claim on their website that they aim to reply within three months.

They caveat that the reply may take longer especially if your poems are being considered for publication, which sounds reasonable. But five months longer? Seriously? I would have no problem if they had stated up front that the reply time may be around six to eight months. Then it's up to me whether I want those particular poems to be tied up for that length of time.

However, I was pleasantly gobsmacked to be on the receiving end at other end of the spectrum today. I submitted poems to a magazine which does claim a reading time of around eight months. Thirteen minutes later I received a delightful acceptance of two of my poems!! I'm still in shock!

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

So I wrote my ballad poem and I'm pleased with how it turned out! I found Anne Carson's voice in her long poem The Glass Essay to be a useful sound in the back of my mind whilst writing it. Sometimes it seems so bizarre how the writing process / inspiration happens. My poem is nothing like Anne Carson's in any way but somehow hearing her 'voice' in the form of this poem stimulated my voice and helped unlock my poem for me.  

A couple of years ago on retreat at Moniack Mhor I read Anne Carson's translation of Antigone and thoroughly enjoyed it but apart from that I had never been drawn to her work. Yet recently when I started reading The Glass Essay I was completely absorbed by it, the voice in it caught me and drew me into its multiple parts. The voice is refreshing and yet familiar, her diction straightforward. A few years back I would have struggled to be engaged by this poem with its 'talky' rhythm and image-lite stanzas compared to my preferences then. 

The last month or so I've been plagued by physical ailments, and I can't concentrate on poems when I'm in pain, so I've done no writing since my ballad. Thankfully I'm feeling much better. 
I'm currently reading through a book of Scottish ballads and seeing which ones I'm drawn to and will perhaps become part of my project.