Saturday, December 01, 2018

I'm halfway through reading Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land by Robert Crawford and it's easily the best literary biography I've read in years, well, since Richard Holmes' wonderful two volumes on Coleridge anyway! Extremely detailed and readable it is a fascinating piecing together of Eliot's early years. I was interested to read there are a vault of letters Eliot wrote to a female friend which will be opened in 2020 - I wonder what they will add to our knowledge of Eliot. It's been so enjoyable to sink into the world and thoughts of that great poet, I want to eek the book out as long as possible though there is a volume two to look forward to which Crawford is currently working on.

At the WS Graham event in Greenock I picked up a copy of Kathleen Jamie's Selected Poems, a beautiful book and just published. It was really great to hear Kathleen Jamie read at last, I particularly enjoyed hearing her read Graham's 'Loch Thom' poem and also reading an early poem of hers called 'Crossing the Loch'.

It was a good turnout - moving to see Graham celebrated in Greenock, thanks to the hard work and organisation of Rachael Boast and Andy Ching. Very enjoyable to hear Crawford read and Bill Herbert delivered a fascinating talk on Graham's work.

Well I'm definitely on a roll of Inveraray themed poems at the moment. I have a series of individual poems which I think may be turning into a playful sequence. I'm fascinated by Durs Grunbein's sequences and the influence on him by Joseph Brodsky. So that's my poetry reading at the moment!

Friday, November 09, 2018

I've had a busy time of it over the last few months and poetry has been put very much on the back-burner. But thankfully my busy time has come to an end and much needed poetry-time is on the cards. I've been reading a bit of Ted Hughes over the last week and pleasantly rediscovering the genius of his early collections.

Now that I've finished this season's work at Inveraray Castle, I may do a series of Inveraray themed poems - I've just finished drafting a poem about Inveraray Bridge.

Also just checked my proofs for a poem coming out in an anthology of Scottish poems - Scotia Extremis - edited by Brian Johnstone and Andy Jackson, it will be published next month by Luath Press. It really is a great collection of poems in the anthology, I'm delighted to be a part of it.

I've put together my reading set for the celebration of W.S Graham event in Greenock next weekend which I'm so looking forward to. I plan on reading a mix of some of my poems about the local landscape and the Clyde, and Graham's poems and a couple of selections from his ever-brilliant letters.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Language Is Where The People Are

Beacon Arts Centre, Greenock
Date(s) - 17/11/2018
7:30 pm
The Estate of W.S. Graham presents Language is Where the People Are

A journey through the life and work of Greenock-born poet W.S. Graham, featuring readings from some of Scotland’s 
most acclaimed poets, recently discovered audio and video, and soundscapes by composer Gerry Diver.

MC Jim Carruth will be joined by Rachael Boast, Robert Crawford, Kathleen Jamie and Marion McCready. W.N. Herbert 
will present a talk, ‘Seven Words for Sydney Graham’, and the winners of the Scottish Youth Poetry Slam 2018 and the Inverclyde 

Schools Poetry Competition will showcase their poems.Part of the centenary project ‘Language is Where the People Are’, 
supported by the National Lottery through Creative Scotland

I'm very much looking forward to participating in this event next month, wonderful to be able to celebrate W.S. Graham in his home town!

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

It seems I'm in love with the Russians at the moment! I've moved on from Tsvetaeva's poems to Boris Pasternak's. I recently ordered his selected poems and I am loving them. The vitality of his voice and attention to nature makes his poems a big hit with me. I've also been reading all the poems I can find of Jules Laforgue online which is not that many, so that'll be the next book for ordering.

I've recently read two excellent books about poetry which I highly recommend - Eavan Boland's A Journey of Two Maps: Becoming a Woman Poet, and Art in the Light of Conscience: Eight Essays on Poetry by Marina Tsvetaeva. I'm sure I'll re-read both of these books many times.

Well we're definitely into my favorite autumnal season - usually a very creative time for me. I've just finished a poem about rowan trees - my favourite trees! I seem to have written a fair number of tree poems over the last year.

I still keep Transtromer's poems permanently next to me - will I be able to write without his inspiration ever again??!! And I've been reading from my Collected Works of Lorine Niedecker and spent this evening playfully working on a condensery style history of Dunoon - a series of verses written in a sort of collage of quotations and factual information with lots of white space around. It was fun working a little differently.

I've had two poems accepted for publication by Poetry Salzburg Review - very happy that one of the poems is a longish one about Inveraray Castle!

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Waffling about poetry...

I never start a poem with the title - the title usually becomes clear to me in the middle of writing or sometimes only after I've finished the poem. However recently, over a few days, several poem titles popped into my head including what seems to me quite possibly the title of my next collection! So far I've written one of the poems but have yet to have a feel for where the other titles will take me.

I think Tomas Transtromer is most definitely my favourite poet - I just so love his perfect and surprising metaphors and similes, and his ability to bring together the internal and external - the union of the psychological and natural world in the most fluid way. If only he was still around to produce more work. I find his poems spark off new writing for me when I am in the right place to 'hear' the words. His poems encourage me to see things differently, think more creatively. I'm grateful for poets who do that for me.
I've been enjoying Marina Tsvetaeva's poems recently - such a powerful and direct voice - I prefer Elaine Feinstein's translations of her work.

These days I try to write regularly whether the inspiration is there or not just to keep my hand in. I find myself following up and researching great concepts for new work which may and may not lead to anything. But I have to force myself to remember that it is the act of writing itself, exercising the writing muscle, that will in the end lead to something. So I end up with reams of notes and images some of which become useful at some point or another. What I have noticed is that on a rare occasion I achieve an absolute clarity and I am able to turn pages of seemingly disparate notes into several poems. It always surprises me when that happens.

Friday, July 27, 2018

It's been a while since I've made a word-cloud so I fed my poems from this year and last year into a word cloud-maker and it seems that the moon is presiding over my current poems!

Taking stock of my recent poems - I've written thirty-five poems over the last eighteen months, twelve of which are for the scrapheap which leaves twenty-three poems towards my eventual next collection.

I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a 'Scottish' writer. Much of my poetry is strongly connected to place so I guess I've always felt like a particularly Scottish writer in that sense. But I've been thinking a lot more recently about Scottish history and how history has formed us. Working as a tour guide in a castle means that I spend a lot of time talking about the Highland clans, clan wars and the eventual crushing of the clan system. Some of this has been ebbing into my writing as I ponder what all this history means to me personally in the here and now. I finished a poem this week about the muskets on display at Inveraray castle which were last used at the battle of Culloden - I never thought I'd write a poem about guns!

Friday, June 29, 2018

I just can't keep away from Brigit Pegeen Kelly's The Orchard. I've been reading widely over the last few months but always find myself coming back to Kelly's work. The experience of reading her poems aloud is incredible - such wondrous, otherworldly and yet dark and gritty poems. And always something new in every read - her work is so dense! I will definitely need to order her other collections.

I've been enjoying working on tree and flower poems over the last while but starting to feel the stirrings of a bigger project on the horizon - no idea what yet! Today I slaved over a rhododendron poem, I wrestled with it all day but think now I have a good first draft!

I was interested to hear Carol Ann Duffy read in Dunoon last week. When I heard her read at StAnza a number of years ago I assumed she was having a bad day i.e. she read morosely and looked miserable. But now having heard her read in exactly the same manner here in Dunoon I see that's just the way she is as a reader!

Saturday, June 02, 2018

It's a real pleasure when a poem written in the solitude of me and my laptop travels so much further than I could have expected.
I was happy to receive my contributor copy of Poetry Ireland Review with my Moniack Mhor poem - it was the poem I had stuck in at the end of my submission to bolster it and the one, I assumed, would be least likely to be taken.

Last week I received a lovely email to ask if the poem could be featured on Poetry Daily and of course I said yes so today it's up on the website - here.
Also I'm happy to have my March Snow poem in now up on the London Grip which can be read here.

It's been beautiful weather here in Argyll over the last month, I'm sure we haven't had such a warm spell for at least three years! I've been working on some orange tree poems from my notes from Spain. And thinking about counselling / therapy as I come towards the end of my counselling skills course - it's been a transformative year for me and I now know without a doubt that I want to continue training to become a counsellor. I'm interested to see how it will impact my writing in terms of themes and focus.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

I've been writing steadily over the last few months so it's been a pleasantly productive period. Two poems I've written that I am particularly happy about - one about Freud's couch and a recent one about crocuses - they were pure joy to write!
I'm not long back from a nice family holiday in Spain (sun!!) and have plenty of notes for Spanish-themed poems.
I've had a poem accepted by the London Grip - a March snow poem and I will have a poem on display this weekend on a shop window in the Galloway town of Gatehouse of Fleet as part of the Big Lit Stewartry Book Festival. 

I guess I'm feeling the lack of a challenge in developing my writing at the moment, I don't want to get too comfortable in just writing poem after poem. I like to challenge myself and feel that I am growing as a writer in one way or another. I think perhaps I need to move away from reading my favourite writers for a while and challenge myself in the poetry I am reading. 

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

It's been a productive month for me! I had a rare period of clarity which enabled me to finish the ballad poem that's been bothering me for months and I've written several smaller poems too.

We now have a puppy which is a constant source of distraction and I've been very much absorbed in reading for, and thinking about, my counselling skills course. However, I've been good at sending out submissions and now have a fair number of poems currently at the mercy of  magazine editors.

Poetry-wise I've been returning to some old favourites such as Durs Grunbein - his work never fails to make me smile and think deeply. I am still occasionally chewing on Brigit Pegeen Kelly's The Orchard and find her work is potentially opening up a new small door in my own writing.
I'm not really feeling anchored to a theme / concept to write around at the moment though I get the sense that something is bubbling just below the surface...

Saturday, February 24, 2018

I was delighted to receive my contributor copy of The Caught Habits of Language - an anthology of poems in celebration of W.S. Graham edited by Rachael Boast, Andy Ching and Nathan Hamilton. It is such a beautifully produced book with many great poems inside plus many previously unpublished poems by W.S. Graham. A real privilege to be part of this. The book will be launched at StAnza on Saturday 10th March, but you can pre-order a copy of the book at a discounted price from Donut Press here.

I've been battling over the last couple of months with a poem based on an old Gaelic song - The Jealous Wife - you can hear it sung here - . The song itself originates from a traditional ballad theme based on Child Ballad 10. For some reason I can't get into the heart of the poem yet, so I've had to accept that and sit it aside.

I've written a four-part poem about Freud's couch which was wonderfully fun to write - I watched a short programme about Freud's couch for my course and immediately felt the stirrings of a poem which I repressed because I wanted to work on my ballad. But after a few days the urge to write about Freud's couch overtook me so I gave in and had a ball with it.

I've been moving between reading Brigit Pegeen Kelly and Transtromer, I feel I'm subconsciously inhabiting Kelly's poems - she creates such all enclosed, tangible worlds - they are wonderful places to be.
As I've sat my ballad project aside for now I'm moving between writing and working on smaller nature poems, not sure there is a bigger theme there which bothers me a little. I love nothing more than to be in the middle of a bigger theme that I can really explore and draw out many poems from.

Perhaps I'll find my way back into my ballads through these smaller poems.

Sunday, February 04, 2018

I've been reading a lot lately, mixing poetry related books and counselling texts which has made for some interesting crossover thoughts. This week I pulled out of my bookcase the rather large collected letters of Tomas Transtromer and Robert Bly. I bought the book a few years ago hoping that the letters would illuminate Transtromer's writing processes, they didn't. So it sat on the shelf, I being slightly resentful that it took up so much space.

Being more confident in my own writing processes than I was back then I took it off the shelf this time interested in feeding my craving for anything Transtromer. What a wonderful collection of letters. Much of the letters are taken up with translation issues - a fascinating and complex process - and the wonderful relationship between the two poets. What I loved especially was the self-deprecating humour, a true joy to read poets who took their art seriously but most certainly didn't take themselves too seriously. I became fond of Bly throughout the book, whom I've not read in any depth but will get around to.

I've finally 'discovered' the work of Brigit Pegeen Kelly, how did it take me so long? I'm floating through her collection The Orchard at the moment.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Thoughts on Acceptance & Rejection

So far this month I have received two rejections and one acceptance.
I began to think about the position that writers, poets in particular, put themselves in - to be accepted or rejected.

No one forces us to write and submit ourselves to the mercy of editors. Most of us believe something inside of us forces us to write and subsequently submit ourselves to the mercy of editors.
Rather than considering the drive to write and where that comes from, which is where this line of thought usually goes, I've been thinking about the drive to put ourselves in a position of acceptance or rejection.

For me, and after many years of hardening myself or conditioning myself not to associate the rejection of a poem as a rejection of myself as a person, although I do believe this to be true I think still on an unconscious level the two are inseparable. So why do I do it?
The other side of the coin is that every acceptance of a poem is an affirmation of my worth, of my being, my existence even.

I wonder if by submitting poems and inviting the inevitability of rejection I am playing out my fears, or past experiences, of rejection in 'real' life.  And maybe if I can experience rejection in the confines and under the control of my writing life it will somehow magically save me from rejection in my interpersonal relationships. Also if my universal human need for acceptance is also met through my writing then I am not quite so dependent on having that need met in my personal life.

In this sense writing becomes an emotional buffer zone where the feelings of acceptance and rejection are experienced in a safer and more controllable space than in real life.

On a different note...
I think there is something mythical about writing poetry - admired poets past and present become absorbed in the greater project and historical continuum of 'poetry'. When I am reading poems, the authors of them, whether dead or alive all exist together in the otherworldly arena of poetry. So when I received an email from Eavan Boland taking a poem for Poetry Ireland Review it was as jolting as receiving an email from Seamus Heaney would be - someone who lives and exists in the great realm of poetry. That's my way of saying I'm very happy not just to have a poem in PIR, but to have one accepted by Eavan Boland is very special to me.

Also this finally arrived through the door the other day!

Saturday, January 13, 2018

So I finished reading the biography of Lorca last night - raced through the final hundred or so pages to get to his inevitable death and cried to read about it. I was thoroughly miserable all night. How utterly sad that his life should end that way.

Ironic the fact that he was barely a political person to have been shot by fascist militia on supposed political grounds. He didn't try to be a hero - he was terrified of death. When told he would die he attempted to recite a prayer his mother had taught him but in his terror and anguish couldn't remember the words. So terribly human and so terribly sad.

Some more quotes from the book that struck me -

“the tragic, the real, is what speaks to people’s hearts, and that’s why artists who seek popular success always create Christ figures full of purple sores.” 
"The artist, and particularly the poet, is always an anarchist in the best sense of the word. He must heed only the call that arises within him from three strong voices: the voice of death, with all its foreboding, the voice of love, and the voice of art." 
"In art, you must never let yourself remain quiet or complacent … You must have the courage to hammer your head against things and against life … and then we’ll see what happens.… Another thing that’s essential is to respect your instincts. The day you stop fighting your instincts—that’s the day you’ve learned to live." 
"Success never satisfies me. Success is almost always a momentary stroke of luck that has nothing to do with a given work’s intrinsic value." 
“I don’t believe a poet should produce too much,” he had said in 1935. “One should be demanding. Scrutinize what you’ve written, take a close look at a book before hurling it out into the market.”

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Always fascinating to learn about the journey of a poet. As writers we are always evolving, every new book / new poem must push beyond what we have previously written.

I've been writing in this blog for over a decade, intermittently over the last number of years but still keeping record of my progress and development as a writer. I've kept this blog for that purpose - it's why I started it.

In my early days of writing and publishing poems I was obsessed with trying to understand the mysteries of how poets find their 'voice', and desperate to deepen my own poems and understanding of how poetry 'works' beyond the observable mechanics and tools of writing a poem.

It's something every writer has to work out for themselves with a kind of dedication and perseverance in the face of constant rejection and failure that seems idiotic from an outside perspective.  It has always been a help to me when I caught a glimpse into someone else's struggle and at times shone light on how I myself might move forward. I have always been grateful when writers have been open about the mysteries of their progress.

Right now I'm absorbed in Lorca's struggle through a wonderful in-depth biography about him by Leslie Stainton. Lucky for us Lorca was a prolific letter writer and many of his friends kept detailed diaries of their lives with him so the biography is incredibly informative. Despite being a huge fan of his work, I knew very little about Lorca beforehand and it is wonderful for me to read how each of his collections - poems that I so love - were brought into being - his struggles, his obsessions, his influences, his evolving philosophy of poetry.

Here are some quotes from the book so far that I have found particularly interesting -

"As a poet he remained committed to the ideal of “pure” poetry...Poetry must free itself from the “puzzle of the image and from the planes of reality.” It must ascend to an “ultimate plane of purity and simplicity”—the plane of “escape,” poetry’s last and purest realm." 
"To Lorca, the world of the child embodied the same type of “escape” he sought to achieve as a poet. Filled with gentle descriptions of mother and child, and wistful portraits of childhood itself" 
"The child, he said, inhabits an “inaccessible poetic world that neither rhetoric nor the pandering imagination nor fantasy can penetrate.” The child, like the poet or painter who courts pure inspiration, is capable of discovering mysterious and indecipherable relations between things."
"The lullaby, he told his audience, is the bridge that links the child’s magical world to the adult’s more rational one." 
“When I correct proofs, I experience the inevitable sensation of death,” 
"Lorca hoped to effect a radical new synthesis of the traditional and the avant-garde. Stylization, not imitation, was the key to his approach. In his lecture on cante jondo he had argued that artists should never seek to copy the ineffable modulations of traditional material, for “we can do nothing but blur them. Simply because of education.”"

Tuesday, January 02, 2018

Happy New Year!

2018 has gotten off to a perfect start with my Ballad of the Clyde's Water in January's Poetry Magazine which you can read here. Such a privilege having a poem not only in Poetry but also in the same issue as Greenock poet W.S. Graham!

After eight months of working without any time off I'm grateful not to be working over the next few months where I can focus on writing some more Scottish ballad poems.

I've just started reading Lorca: A Dream of Life by Leslie Stainton and I'm looking forward to being fully immersed in the life of Lorca over the next few weeks.

I did manage to get the wonderful Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed: Psychoanalytic Writings for Christmas and absolutely love it. It's a beautiful two-volume hard-back box set. One book contains her writings interspersed with photos and the other has reproductions of her best known work.

Monday, November 20, 2017

Autumn 2017 - you have been good to me! I've written a dozen poems in the last month - I'm not entirely sure where I've found the time! But I've been in the 'zone' and I'm milking it for all it's worth because, of course, it won't last. 

So I've written 21 poems so far this year, last year was miserable - I only wrote 3. In 2015 I wrote 11 poems, 2014 - 31. And my highest number of poems in a year was in 2013 when I wrote 45. 
The last couple years I've been writing much longer poems and sequences which accounts for some of the number disparity.

Anyway this last month has been a sheer pleasure poetry-wise and Transtromer has been my go-to poet everyday. Through Transtromer I've allowed myself to write mostly lyrical nature poems, it's been nice not trying to force a bigger theme onto them. However I feel that I'm ready to go back to my ballad poems soon.

I'm thinking of a book wish-list for Christmas and so far have:

Louise Bourgeois: The Return of the Repressed: Psychoanalytic Writings  - quite pricey but sounds amazing and I do so love her work.

Antigonick by Anne Carson - not only is it brilliantly written but it is absolutely gorgeous book illustrated by Bianca Stone (I read a copy of it at Moniack Mhor earlier this year). 

Lorca: A Life by Ian Gibson - haven't read a biography for ages and I like a winter escape into another life.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I'm officially addicted to writing sequences - I just can't seem to help it!
Autumn has always been a good writing time for me and autumnal poems have been spilling out of me over the last few weeks. So I guess I'm back to writing shorter, imagistic (but in sequences!) poems for now.

I've made Tomas Transtromer my current mentor poet - trying to work out how he comes up with those absolutely perfect metaphors, and how the inner and outer worlds come together so fluidly in his poems.

Transtromer was a psychologist and I've always been drawn to his dream-like poems, I occasionally use dream images / events in my own poems and have started recording a dream diary again. I particularly like how he zones in on the narrator's experience of the here and now - the eternal present. I'm doing a counselling skills course at the moment and it's challenging me very much to think about my feelings in the present - and of course this is all seeping into my poems.

I have a few poems out in submission, it feels good to have a growing number available - though I'm impatient to hear back!

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

"Scottish nationalist and feminist perspectives are refracted through a singular imagination drawn to the elemental... McCready is interested in the mysteries of birth and death, the mutability of matter, nature, myth, female experience and history as narrative of women's lives."
Delighted to read a review of Madame Ecosse in the latest issue of Poetry Review. It was reviewed by Ellen Cranitch and paired with her review of Dalgit Nagra's latest collection, which was an honour.

I'm also super-pleased to have a poem accepted for an anthology of poetry commemorating the centenary of W.S Graham - I'm so pleased to see W.S Graham and his work remembered, he is my favourite Scottish poet and I would love to see his work better known and his talent recognised.

A busy season of work and study has left little time for poetry so I'm sitting on the bare bones of at least four poems waiting on serious attention. Thankfully the busy season is coming to an end so I'm hoping to get stuck back into writing soon!

Sunday, August 27, 2017

I've made it past the post-collection doldrums, thank goodness. I've been absorbed in reading Hart Crane's The Bridge and the work of a wonderful Slovenian poet called Ales Steger. I've been reading a collection of his called The Book of Things. It's a collection of brilliantly written object poems. He is often compared to Francis Ponge and is obviously influenced by him but definitely has his own voice and slant. 

I've had a busy summer working as a tour guide at Inveraray Castle since May. It's been an enjoyable experience - I've learned so much 17th and 18th century Scottish history and I've just finished writing a three-part poem sequence about the castle. 

The poem I wrote for the Scotia Extremis project will be published in a collection based on that project. And I'm delighted that a three-part ballad - my version of an old Scottish ballad about lovers who drown in the Clyde has been accepted by Poetry Magazine!!