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. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

So I'm working on a four-part poem based on Scots Border Ballad 'Mill O' Tifty's Annie', also known as 'Andrew Lammie'.

This is my third reworking of an old Scottish ballad. It looks like the ballads will be an ongoing slow project!

It's a murder ballad and it is about a young woman, Annie, who falls in love with a laird's servant (trumpeter) Andrew Lammie. Her parents, who want her to marry a man of high birth, complain to the laird and he sends Andrew away. Before he goes, Andrew promises Annie he will come back for her and marry her. Annie has a premonition that she will die before he returns. She is then beaten by her father and mother, her brother breaks her back and she dies. When Andrew returns and finds her dead, he commits suicide.

Change a few details and you could read this story, sadly many times over, in contemporary news.
For now, at quite an early stage in my working of the poem, my parts are crudely split into:
Annie falling in love; her experience of love-sickness; locked-up and beaten by her parents; murder by her brother. All of this will be set against the backdrop of Loch Eck (a loch I travel past regularly on my way to work).

Here is a version of the ballad sung beautifully by Jean Redpath. Kate Rusby also does a version which I'd love to hear.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

It is torturous when a poetry submission gets to the 6 months stage with no reply, especially when the website indicates a much quicker reply time!
I'm trying to be more systematic about sending out poems for submission especially now, when more than ever, many mags are happy with simultaneous submissions. Better to have the same poems out at two places even if they both take more than half a year to respond! 

I've been writing steadily occasional poems, short poems. However I'm ready for a bigger project to throw myself into and I have a few seeds of ideas. I'm reading the work of an old favourite at the moment - Hilda Doolittle (H.D.). I bought her book 'Tribute to Freud', a memoir about her time in therapy. It's just arrived so I'm excited to start reading it. The bringing together of two major interests of mine - poetry and therapy. I'm also excited to have been accepted onto a postgraduate course in person-centred counselling which will start in September and take two years part-time, the end of which I will be a fully qualified and accredited counsellor.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019






My contributor copy of Scotia Extremis arrived this week. Beautifully put together by Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone, it is a great selection of poems. A wide-ranging anthology exploring the many aspects, extremes and icons of contemporary Scotland.


The collection is being show-cased at Glasgow's Aye Write Festival. I will be reading my poem, alongside readings from many other poets who contributed to the collection, on Sunday 24th March, 3pm at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.



I've had a good writing week - been working on a three-part sequence on Glasgow Central Station, another Glasgow poem and a playful primrose poem. It's been cathartic getting back to writing after three months of no poems!


Friday, March 08, 2019

I spend a lot of time in Glasgow Central Station these days. With my new job I'm either hanging about waiting for a train or killing time until my shift starts. I've been gathering Central Station notes / images over the last couple of months and I'm now ready to start working on a sequence of poems.

I've been thinking over why I like writing sequences so much and feel it's very much to do with the fact that sequences give me the sense of freedom and space to explore my subject in a variety of ways that are all interconnected but coming from different angles.

My current ambition is to bring together the symbolism and otherworldliness of Brigit Pegeen Kelly, the control and candor of Durs Grunbein, the playfulness of Theodore Roethke and the clarity and insight of Tomas Transtromer, all clothed in my own voice. A tall order to say the least... but what's the point if you don't aim high?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Life has been busy over the last month. I've started a new job working in a homelessness unit in Glasgow so I've not being doing much in the way of writing whilst adjusting to my new routine. However I have been given pretty much free rein to do creative writing in the unit with any of the guys who are interested.
A few years ago I did creative writing on a weekly basis with some guys who were going through drug rehab. It was such a pleasure to be able to give them the space and encouragement to write about their experiences and surprise themselves with the stories and poems they produced.

Likewise, at the unit, it's an honour to share in the stories of those who feel able to take part and create a space for them to express themselves in writing. I give the guys a few options of what to write about. One exercise I particularly enjoyed was using Mirolav Holub's poem 'The Door' to imagine a door, write about that door and who / what might be on the other side of it. It produced some really thoughtful and interesting work. At the end of each writing session I type up the work produced and pin it to the pin board so that all the residents at the unit can have a read.

It's also been fun exploring parts of Glasgow, south of the River Clyde, that I've never really spent much time in before. I've been reading up on some of the rich history of the area and I've a feeling there will be at least a few Glasgow poems to come!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Photo credit: fourthandfifteen / Flickr
A few weeks ago I was commissioned to write a essay on Burns Night for Stranger's Guide - a new American-based travel magazine. 

Dunoon has a particular connection to Robert Burns so I enjoyed writing this short, reflective piece which you can read here - 'Burns Night: Raising a Toast to Scotland's Bard'.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

It's been a very Merry Christmas with Joseph Brodsky and Durs Grunbein! I have been immersing myself in Brodsky's 'A Part of Speech' sequence and Grunbein's 'Variations on No Theme' sequence. I'm trying out new parts of my 'voice', experimenting in pushing my writing style in ways that have occasionally made an appearance in my work but now focusing on taking it much further. 

It's fun experimenting and every experiment inevitably doesn't exceed. But it's a joy to be so mentally stimulated in the writing process!
I've pieced together a sequence on Inveraray Castle and I've just written a three-part sequence on the festive season using Grunbein's form of thirteen-lined poems.

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/Time
Date(s) - 17/11/2018
7:30 pm
Location
GALLERY SUITE
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
























https://worditout.com/


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.