Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Happy Hogmanay!

It'll be a quiet one for us tonight, the wee boy's had too many late nights recently to drag him out anywhere tonight. So it'll be a little whiskey and shortbread by an imaginary fire!

Some things to look forward to in 2009, well over the next couple of months anyhow: Celtic Connections which starts next month, haven't yet decided which event we're going to but whatever we decide it'll be a great night out. StAnza 2009, tickets now available on-line so I'll be booking up pretty soon. And last but not least Tommy Sheridan going into the Big Brother house - I'm so looking forward to this!!

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 28, 2008

First Draft

Eyewitness Accounts

Hoarfrost trembles

(post removed)

Sunday, December 21, 2008

I can't resist lists so when I read Colin's end of the year list of categories I decided to nick a bunch of them!

1)Best poetry collection - I've read many outstanding poetry collections this year but the one that really stood out for me is Douglas Dunn's Elegies. Obviously the collection was published long before 2008 but somehow I'd never got around to reading Dunn before. The subject matter, the understated grief and the technical skill makes these some of the most moving and beautiful sequence of poems I've ever read, they reduce me to tears every time.

2) Best single poem - This is a difficult one, it depends on how you interpret 'best'. The poem I'm going to pick for this category is one that has produced the strangest response in me to a poem yet: it made me want to throw up. I can't really explain this response, when I tell you the poem I'm sure you won't understand it either. Something about those last few lines turns my stomach every time I read it. The poem is Vicki Feaver's 'The Camellia House' from her collection The Book of Blood. Last night I had to stop reading the poem, I was that close to running to the bathroom! You might wonder why I would want to choose a poem that has such an unpleasant effect on me for this category - well I think any poem that can produce such a strong emotional or physical reaction (without using tricks of gory details) then it's doing what surely all writers dream of - affecting people.

3) Best poem I've written this year (for a given value of 'best') - I'm going to cheat slightly and mention a poem that I wrote in December last year. My poem 'Mother Nature House Hunting' was a real break-through for me. I'm not saying I think it's a spectacular poem or the best one I've written because it's neither of those two things. But it was the first poem I wrote which thoroughly surprised me and pretty much, in the last stanza, wrote itself. All of my previous poems were suffocated by my internal editor, in this poem I had found my muse (nature) and a freedom to write by ear, I discovered things about myself that I didn't know were there. I'll put a link up to the poem in February when it'll be published on-line.

4) Favourite non-poetry book - A few candidates for this and they are all Scottish (!!) what can I say - I've had a rather patriotic reading year! Scotland's Books by Robert Crawford and I have swiss to thank for pointing me towards that. Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon and probably also The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins - a very strange shortish book that has left my head full of weird images that I can't seem to shake which makes me want to go back and read it again.
5) Favourite place of the year - St Andrew's, last March at StAnza. It was my first visit to St. Andrews and I absolutely fell in love with the place.

6) Best events I've attended - The Kenneth White and the Janice Galloway events at StAnza. I loved listening to Kenneth White read his poetry, I can still hear his voice in my head when I read his poems. I've never heard anyone read prose the way Janice Galloway read it, she really came across as a fascinating and down-to-earth writer.

7) Best TV series - Spooks, for sure!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

I like to write a little about poetry collections I've really enjoyed reading because I want to share my pleasure with you poetry people out there but also because writing about the poems makes me think more deeply about them and most of the time I uncover many further treasures I wasn't aware of on a leisurely read. It also makes me think about collections as a whole and the themes or the 'arc' of a collection.

Camper Van Blues

The final collection I've recently sunk my teeth into is Jane Holland's Camper Van Blues. This book is what I call value for money; it is split into three parts and each part is like a mini-collection in and of itself. Part one is a sequence of twenty-seven poems which gives rise to the title of the book. Part two is Holland's modern translation of an Anglo-Saxon poem called 'The Lament of the Wanderer' and part three consists of a further thirty-three poems.

I've been reading Jane's poetry for a while now. I came across her blog quite randomly a couple of years ago and I blogged about her last poetry collection Boudicca & Co here.

The first thing I notice about Jane's work is that she is superb at sequences. The excellent sequence of poems that make up the 'Boudicca' section of her last book wasn't a one off.
The poems in the first part of Camper Van Blues couldn't be more different in subject matter from the Boudicca poems. The blurb on the sleeve says "The title sequence is a British road movie told through poems, one woman and her dog alone in a camper van".
The first poem, 'Day Tripping', sets the tone of the sequence with "Wasted again, I'm slumped / over a fold-up table". It's this kind of informal, talky tone that takes the reader through the sequence revealing, at times, the gritty details of life on the road for a single woman.
The first two poems reveal the impetus for life on the road. In 'Day Tripping' the reader is informed that the narrator is:

"...three months now
unable to pray, or pay rent
or put pen to paper.

Slumped, unseen
behind the stained blind
of a flyscreen"

The second poem, 'Troika', narrates a betrayal of love where the narrator in her camper van watches as the man, to whom the poem is addressed, enters into his house with another woman where "Moments later, light streams / from an upstairs window". This warm, homely image is then contrasted with the image of the narrator:

"The wind's only a thin hiss
across darkening fields
but my camper rocks gently,
ringing its tiny bells"

The wind and the bells here really heighten the sense of loneliness, the contrast of the lovers in the warm, bright bedroom with that of the woman alone at dusk in a camper van which rocks only with the wind. The use of language in the last verse of this poem demonstrates what I really love about Jane's work so I'm going to quote it in full:

"Outside is like the last dark,
familiar as the first hurt.
I'm used to its velvet lagoons
and swim of wet tarmac,
its absence of love,
my road ahead the white trick
of a travelling moon."

I love the many layers of sound repetition - like/dark/hurt/tarmac/trick and first/used, lagoon/swim/moon. The slow pleasure in sounding out 'velvet lagoon' and 'swim of wet tarmac' where the hurt and loss is made all the more poignant because of the use of sensual language. The unusual word usage in the imagery of "the white trick / of the travelling moon". All these factors work together to create an emotional impact in which the poem becomes as much the reader's experience as the narrator's.

There are so many lovely bits to pick out from these poems. Some of my favorites are: "Cornish rain understands loss" ('Tintagel in November', "...lost in the thimblerig / that is England" ('Wend'). From 'Truck Stop:

"...for those
wraithlike countries of the night
where you can dream yourself awake
and the radio speaks to no one
because it's broken".

And from 'Metamorphosis':

"I hawk stile and scree

to the river-bank...

...Fresh channels have
cut cords here

through pitched grass,

sweat-strings of water, sun-

As you can gather, these are hugely visual poems however they are also packed with the nitty gritty details of daily life which make the poems real. 'Recharging the Battery' begins with:

"I bring out the ancient generator. Dense, compact,
oily to the touch, it rests on the tarmac:
a thin coil of wire, steel clips, Golden Virginia beside it."

In 'Dover Cliff': "Haddock and chips, 3a.m. / Smoke a thin roll-up". In 'Flash Bang' the narrator describes her camper van as a "travelling show" packed with "broken clocks / and souvenir postcards...bottom drawers / groaning with porn; forged notes".

I could really go on about these poems but I better say a quick word about the rest of the book. The translation of the Anglo-Saxon poem The 'Lament of the Wanderer' demonstrates Jane's wide range of capability and interests. It is very much a modern take on an ancient poem where Jane even changes the narrator's gender to female! It is beautifully translated and has interested me enough that I'd like to get around to at some point reading a more traditional translation to compare it with. Here's the first few lines as a taster:

"Far out, a solitary drifter falters; falls
to her knees, feels one arm plunge
up to the elbow in water, left numb
by frozen wastes and endless ice."

The last section of poems are of a wide variety, some returning to themes of English mythology prominant in her earlier collection such as in 'The Man who Became a Tree':

"He lay down at midsummer
and woke up green,

his legs rough bark,
branches where his arms had been."

There are also some very startling poems also such as 'Love like Forensics':

"You stooped to push aside the white
mud-stained flap
of the forensic tent of my heart"

You can read more about and purchase a copy of Camper Van Blues here.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

December's been as hectic as usual, not much time for writing poems though I've got a good collection of odds and ends waiting to be turned into poems.

I flicked through the latest Poetry Scotland which came in the post this morning only to find a wee poem of mine in it which I had submitted around three months ago and had never heard anything back about! So that was a surprise, a very nice one! It was my Gantocks poem which I retitled 'Who Am I' as suggested by honest man.

I have all my lovely new books in front of me. The W.S Graham collected is one I've been waiting to get my hands on for a long time. He was brought up in Greenock which is just across the Clyde from me, where some of my relatives live and where I spent many a weekend staying with my grandparents. So I'm particularly interested in his Greenock poems and delighted to find a poem which mentions Dunoon, the town I live in!

I want to write some thoughts on Hugh McMillan's latest poetry collection, Postcards from the Hedge, which I've been recently enjoying. It's a gorgeously produced book containing fifteen poems, each poem is accompanied by a full page black and white illustratory drawing by the artist Hugh Bryden.

This collection of poems illustrates the breadth of style in McMillan's work that I've really come to admire. He writes, with apparent ease, some very funny, and very 'Scottish' poetry. He also writes beautiful, tender poems. His use of imagery in 'Romantic Break in the Rainy Season' is surprising yet so deliciously accurate: "we are slow as salamanders. / We leave wet lip marks, / and footprints sunk on the stairs.", and the playful "Our children gurgle like little reeds in rapids".
McMillan's skilled use of imagery fills his work with really lovely lines. In 'Beech Loch February 2008' he writes "the treetops laid like matting / thick enough to walk across the sky" - again, so fresh yet so exact. This poem ends with a surprisingly evocative yet unsettling tone that becomes a familiar feature in some of his, particularly landscape, poems:

the breeze rattles leaves like tin,
and we shiver, shake our heads,
as if we'd been dreaming
that a God has left the wood."

The unsettling tone is particularly strong in 'Lochinver'. The narrator is in a phonebox at night by the sea, in the middle of a storm which "howls like a dog", and where "in orange fog, / a ship spews out whiskery fish". The use of end-rhymes and half-rhymes in this poem (I particularly like 'fish/Dumfries' and 'schooner/sailor') intensifies the tone and creates a sense of inevitability about the poem which ends with the understated yet extremely effective:

"and the rain sounds like drums
in this bubble of yellow light,
emptiness everywhere like the tide."

Out of the funny poems, my favorite has to be 'My Feet':

"My feet think my head's had it easy,
up there in the fresh air all these years,
talking crap."

And the ending, which makes me laugh everytime I read it:

"I think if my feet ever met my head again
they'd give it a good kicking."

I haven't even mentioned the fact that McMillan is a history teacher and many of his funny poems take the rip out of Scottish history, in a gentle teasing way of course!

Unfortunately, from what I can gather, all 300 of Postcards from the Hedge have been sold out - this tells you how good he is, it was only printed a few months back. However you can get a hold of some of his earlier collections, see details on his blog, plus you can read some of his poems on his blog also. I've recently ordered McMillan's Aphrodite's Anorak and looking forward to getting into it.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

The other chapbook I've been reading is Gregory Leadbetter's The Body in the Well. This is a 28 page, 25 poem collection available for three pounds.

For the most part, these are striking and unexpected poems. One poem, which I think is a stunner, is 'The Astronaut's Return'. The narrator in the poem is an astronaut who has returned home to his pregnant wife after, one presumes, a considerable amount of time in space, and who is having trouble adjusting to his return as his wife is also. At the end of the poem it says:

"I'm learning to come back. But my eyes,
still wide open, sparkle like topaz when I sleep"

These last couple of lines make the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, in fact I think I may end up dreaming of astronauts with sparkling jewel-stars for eyes!

'Who Put Bella in the Wich Elm' is another unsettling poem:

"she was found in the yew, folded up
like a foetus put back in the womb,
her knickers soaked with the last
of her voice, a clot in her mouth."

These are strange stories yet they resonate somehow.
Leadbetter also writes tender poetry with attention to beautiful language and imagery. In the birth poem, 'Naming Day', the child is addressed by the narrator - "You were born / with the waves before morning, lifted out / on the human tide". And in the second stanza: "The sweet spice of your head carries the warmth / of fledging thoughts".

But it's the unsettling stuff I like best. 'Night Owl' begins with - "Then one night I didn't come to bed". I'm not quite sure what the poem is about, it seems to be about an insomaniac but also the metamorphoses of the narrator into an owl which, of course, could be a metaphor for becoming an 'other' in the night, reaching out into the dark and being irrevocably changed by the experience; it's a theme similarly found in 'The Astronaut's Return'. From 'Night Owl' -

"Branches grown through constellations lift me
free of the dreaming streets, nearer
to the creature they hold".

These are poems that ask for several readings and have perhaps many interpretations but their reach is beyond the comprehending mind to somewhere far deeper.
Last month I ordered two HappenStance chapbooks, both of which I have thoroughly enjoyed reading. I'm always amazed at the value for money that chapbooks provide.

Frances Corkey Thompson's chapbook, The Long Acre, offers 28 pages of poetry consisting of 22 poems all for a measly four quid. These poems are right up my street - largely set in nature, these poems are rhythmic, musical and otherworldly.

"air was glass. Trees
hardly dared to breathe. The buzzard hung high,
the hare and the shrew
hid." ('Beeches at Pickwell')

Thompson has a gift of stimulating many senses with a single image. In 'Snow-Melt':

"...I saw above me
all the crowds of pine yielding steam like horses"

I can not only see this but feel it and smell it also. At the end of the poem the narrator heads towards a river -

"...I kicked off my shoes and my plain
bare warm animal feet took me down into
what I could not have imagined"

This reminds me of Hughes in its tactile and earthy evocation. I like that the poem is left open at the end with its rather clever "what I could not have imagined", yet that is exactly what I am doing: imagining the scene and feeling it.

According to the bio on the back: Thompson is Irish, brought up in rural Ulster and 'a child of the manse'.
This provides an interesting background to the poem 'Fiat Deus':

"Surely there was a god for the frog that day
and for the way we laughed. Surely

there is a god for the rain...
...let there at least be a god for this god-awful

hammering of rain"

The repetition of "surely there is a god", like the hammering of the rain, and the proximity in the poem and in the sound of 'frog' and 'god' makes this a very interesting poem. In the last stanza the frog is invisible in contrast to the narrator's "visible / breath on the window". Deep and searching theological and philosophical issues are explored in a fresh and playful manner with hints of a darker side. The title, obviously the name of a well known car, means literally, from what I can work out, 'God's Law'.
These are clever poems without the appearance of being in an over-arching sense.

A strange other-worldliness comes into Thompson's poems through 'The Boy who Understands Light': about a boy who has a moon-face, who listens 'for the music of dust' and is a 'crow flapping on a black sky'; and 'Lough Neagh' where the Lough people, with their blackened faces, can read water and know when to die. The 'Lough People' is a sequence of three poems, the second of which the narrator is haunted by a white-bodied woman from the Lough:

"Like some forgotten foundling ghost
the white-bodied woman stoops and creeps
stirring my settled waters"

The poems ends with:

"I turn from her - we have no common talk.
When I look, she has slipped
back to the water."

Needless to say my favorite poems in the collection are the strongly nature-based ones though there are a variety of other poems such as 'Looking for My Mother in Marks & Spencers and Finding Her', which are no less admirable but not really to my taste.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Remember the Cockle Picker's Wife? It's been accepted for publication by the literary webzine Horizon Review - I'm totally over-the-moon about it!
It'll be published in February, the same month I'll have a poem up at Nthposition.

I've just posted off my first chapbook submission. It sure is hard finding a chapbook publisher who's not already booked up for publications for the next two years. Anyway it's off so now a matter of wait and see!
A new way to read the olds!

Thanks to Frances who made the funny error of rifling through a pile of small poetry magazines with which Eliot's The Wasteland and other Poems had got mixed up in and read his 'Gerontion' thinking it was in a current poetry magazine, I decided to have a read at 'Gerontion' pretending I was reading it in a current magazine. What a different perspective I gained in the reading of the poem!

The biggest bone of contention is certainly the Jew squatting on the windowsill, I can't imagine any poetry magazines today (quite rightly so) being willing to publish that.
But what stikes me most is the prophetic voice in the poem side by side with the everyday.
We get the rather endearing domestic details of the woman who 'keeps the kitchen, makes tea, / sneezes at evening ' to the powerful image of 'Christ the tiger'.
I'm not going to analyse the poem, just pointing out what really strikes me if I imagine the poem as written today.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

My name is sorlil and I'm addicted to poetry!

The poetry books I ordered for my birthday came in today. I had a quick peek at them but I'm not allowed to read them until my birthday next week.

Four of the books are by Scots, three by English poets - two of which currently reside in Scotland - and one by an American poet. appears that my current poetic tastes are (unintentionally) a little on the ethnocentric side!

Here's the books I ordered:

The Shadow of Sirius - W.S. Merwin
Wolf Tongue - Barry MacSweeney
Nigh-No-Place - Jen Hadfield
The Book of Blood - Vickie Feaver
Elegies - Douglas Dunn
Aphrodite's Anorak - Hugh McMillan
New Collected Poems - W.S. Graham
Public Dream - Frances Leviston

Can't wait to get stuck into them but firstly, over the next week, I intend to say a little about some excellent poetry books I've been reading recently.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

I rewrote the Baby P poem, less detailed than my original version. Found I couldn't start any other poems until I got this one out of my system.

First draft


The field has drowned and turned

(post removed)

Friday, November 21, 2008

For fun, my very first Fib!

A 6 line, 20 syllable poem. The number of syllables in each line follow the Fibonacchi sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8). Check them out here.

beached weed;
of high tide highlights
the otherwise white pebble shore.

Good fun to write, I could see this becoming quite addictive.
Go on, give it a go, you know you want to!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

I've been tagged to provide seven unusual facts about myself. I can't promise they'll be unusual or even interesting so you can blame Dave for this post!

1) I play the guitar, admittedly not much over the last couple of years but I will drag it out of its case one of these days.

2) I have a nearly-two-year-old son called Sorley. Actually his name on the birth certificate is Somerled after the great Norse/Celtic warrior, but Sorley is the pet name for Somerled so we call him Sorley. It means my husband got his warrior name and I got my poet name (I just wasn't going to agree to Spartacus or Conan!).

3) I once met Edwin Morgan and could think of nothing to say to him. I had won a poetry competition of which he was the judge, it was announced during a show at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Dance. I was so stunned when they read out my name that I just sat in my seat wondering what I was supposed to do. Eventually I found my way onto the stage, shook Morgan's hand and just kind of looked at him. I'd barely even read any of his poetry at that time. Now that I'm a big fan of his work I feel a bit of an idiot when I think back.

4) I have a masters in philosophy. I loved spending a year around mad-cap philosophers but it's no use for getting a job!

5) Before I went to uni I spent two years working in a smoked salmon factory in the middle of nowhere (at the head of a loch, surrounded by hills). From quarter-to-eight to quarter-to-five standing in a chilled room slicing and bagging smoked salmon, with two half hour breaks spent in a porta-cabin. At one point I thought I'd never get out of that place, it was full of witchy fish-wives. There was a lot of camaraderie as well though - planting fish-heads in peoples lockers and wellies etc oh and plenty of food fights!!

6) I met my husband when I was 15, we secretly got engaged on my 16th birthday and married a week after my 18th, this December will be our 13th wedding anniversary.

7) I believed that seahorses were fictional animals until I was sixteen. It was amazing to find out they really exist, they still seem to me like something out of a fairytale!

I'm supposed to tag seven more people but instead I'm going to leave it open for everyone or anyone who wants to take up the challenge.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

I spent the best of last night working on a poem about Baby P - the gorgeous wee toddler who was horrifically abused and murdered by his mum, boyfriend and the boyfriend's friend.
What a nightmare, it gave me nightmares most of last night.
I completed a first draft of the poem which I was happy with but in the end I couldn't post it and have completely wiped the poem. I couldn't bare to read it. I'm never again going to write a poem about something so horrific.

I never realised how fully involved I am in my poems, I know that sounds like a daft thing to say. I think part of it is my love of sound repetition in poems, be it rhyming, internal rhyming, assonance, alliteration etc. This means I find it relatively easy to memorise a number of or chunks of my own poems - the sounds get stuck in my head and, like an annoying song, parts of my latest poem can clog up my brain for days. I couldn't deal with having that poem on my mind for days, spent hours in bed last night trying to block it out so I could fall asleep. So the poem got deleted. I think its the only poem I've ever deleted, still have all my early poems which I can't bare to look at because they're so badly written but I wouldn't ever get rid of them (just keep them well hidden!!).

Talking about sound repetition in poems, here's one of my very favorite classic poems by T.S. Eliot:


Red river, red river,
Slow flow heat is silence
No will is still as a river
Still. Will heat move
Only through the mocking-bird
Heard once? Still hills
Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,
White trees, wait, wait,
Delay, decay. Living, living,
Never moving. Ever moving
Iron thoughts came with me
And go with me:
Red river, river, river.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The St. Andrews University run poetry magazine, The Red Wheelbarrow, have accepted my poem 'Becoming Spring' for publication!!
This is my longest outstanding poetry submission (seven months) so it's a relief to get a reply at all but wonderful to have a poem accepted!
It's a great wee magazine, produced biannually, each issue is thick with poems by a good mix of well known and unknown names plus interviews, reviews and poetry-related essays so you really feel you're getting your money's worth out of it.
Off to celebrate by taking the dog and pram for a walk in the rain along the promenade to a nice wee coffeeshop where I shall pick up a large takeaway coffee mocha!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thanks to Dave for the four lovely blog awards he has kindly bestowed upon me. I hereby likewise nominate three further blogs with which you may do with as you like: ignore this, take one or two awards, or take them all!
If you do take them then the only request is that you pass them on to further blogs that you read and enjoy regularly. I read and enjoy many blogs regularly so I'm limiting myself to three blogs which I've been following and enjoying for quite some time now.

Eine Klage-Welt
The Swiss Lounge
the Floating Bridge of Dreams

Monday, November 10, 2008

First Draft

The Cockle Picker’s Wife

A woman hangs her blacks

(post removed)

Monday, November 03, 2008

The programme of Scotland's main poetry festival StAnza is now available on-line here. Check it out, looks like a good line-up of readings and workshops including readings by Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage and a masterclass by Douglas Dunn and, believe me, St. Andrews is a perfect setting for a poetry festival. The festival's not until the middle of March so plenty time to think about going!

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Tonight I finally got around to finishing Les Miserables. I feel like I've lived a dozen lives through the reading of its 1000+ pages. At the heart of the book is probably the most beautifully written love story I have ever read - at times extremely sentimental and well over the top but always very beautiful.

Anyone who's interested in landscape in art and literature should check out this goldmine of a blog I recently came across - Some Landscapes - be warned, you may be lost in the archives for some time!

Some brief thoughts on Andraste's Hair -

A while back I picked up a copy of Eleanor Rees' first full-length poetry collection Andraste's Hair.

The blurb on the sleeve says -

"The poems in Andraste's Hair draw on myth, memory, folksong, and murder ballad. Often set in a mythical Liverpool, a city of metamorphosis and magic, grotesque and beautiful".

To me, these poems are irresistable. The landscapes of the poems become, largely, the vehicle for the emotion of the poems (something I try to do in my own writing). In most of these poems the emotion is a kind of terror to greater and lesser degrees.
The first poem in the book, Night Vision, exhibits some factors consistently found in the majority, if not all, of the poems in the book.

There is a focus on landscape -

"An open moon; burr of grass.
Last reaches of the spilt day
ending, the last
quiet pitch heard
in deep woods. Wet sod of dirt"

The language here is fairly traditional for a nature poem but further into the poem it begins to break down into something rather more sinister and nightmarish in its imagery and language -

"A cold touch in a bleeding house.
An open door. Sores.

And I dream you are the rising sun:

where are your bones, baby? Where are your bones?"

There is a sense of invocation in the reading of the poem; attention is paid to assonance, alliteration, repetition and internal rhyming.

These are extremely visual poems jumping, within the same poem (Roadworks), between the nightmarishly hallucinatory:

"the street opens up to tumble
me into an underground
of corpses and snowdrift
and horses with gold faces"

and the rather beautiful image of -

"My city is wearing costume jewellery tonight -
glittering and unreal."

The book's title poem can be read here on Rees' website.

My only criticisms would be:
(1) A large number of the poems are written sprawling down the page as opposed to in stanzas which means I can barely stop myself from racing through the reading of the book.
(2) The sinister element, particularly of the landscape, is present in the majority of the poems which do make them start to feel a bit samey on a superficial level.

These criticisms are nothing compared to my enjoyment of the poems. I think I would like to see a larger collection of her poems where the ones in this book are interspersed with poems of a wider variety of themes.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

My current poetry wishlist:

New Collected Poems: W.S. Graham
Wolf Tongue: Poems 1975-2000 - Barry MacSweeney
The Divine Comedy
Public Dream - Frances Leviston
Nigh-no-place - Jen Hadfield
Tilt - Jean Sprackland
The Harbour Beyond the Movie - Luke Kennard
Camper Van Blues - Jane Holland
Postcards from the Hedge - Hugh McMillan
Elegies - Douglas Dunn
The Book of Blood - Vicki Feaver

Between my birthday in December and Christmas I hope to make a sizable dent into this list of desirables, as to where I'm going to put them...

Monday, October 20, 2008

First draft

The Man Who Gave Eyes to the Sea

The sea photographs

(post removed)

Friday, October 17, 2008

To the delight of Plath and Hughes scholars and enthusiasts, a few days ago a large number of Hughes' papers were acquired by the British Library. Peter Steinberg, who runs the Sylvia Plath Info blog, has an excellent post here on why having access to these papers is not just a form of voyeurism, though no doubt it will be to some, but of real interest and value to academics and fans of the work of the greatest literary couple of the twentieth century.

Jane Holland, editor of Horizon Review , will be on the BBC Radio 4 programme 'Start the Week' this Monday at 9am where she will be talking about the literary webzine.

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's not been a good few days, I've been stuffed up with the cold though getting over it now, just suffering from earache which is hellish at night and, for the first time, I've genuinely lost my purse. Know anyone else daft enough to carry around in their purse a bankcard, credit card, husband's bankcard, council tax card and national insurance card? Though perhaps I needn't be so worried about the bankcards (I'm with HBOS).

Which brings me to the financial crisis, where does poetry fit into all this? I've a feeling my writing ought to reflect the zeitgeist of the age but I'm just not inspired to write about the world's impending financial collapse. Is this not what gives poetry a bad name - its apparent pointlessness. Certainly a lot of writers do respond to climatic events. I've been thinking about how I can respond, maybe it just has to be in a less direct way.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

This is the first draft of the second poem that was hiding in the first draft of my last poem - did that make sense?!

Last Ferry

The pier lights glow like gas lamps

(post removed)

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Yippee! I've had my poem 'Mother Nature House Hunting' accepted for publication by the webzine Nthposition run by Canadian poet Todd Swift. It'll be in the February '09 issue. This is a great webzine, I'm really happy they've accepted one of my poems.

Other than this there's not much news, we're all loaded with the cold here. I'm currently reading Eleanor Rees' poetry collection Andraste's Hair. I knew after reading one of her poems on-line that I would love the collection. It a beautiful hardback from Salt Publishing and the poems are electric, I'll say more about it later.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thanks for all your helpful comments, most pointed out that there seemed to be two poems in the first draft and it wasn't blending well.

Here's draft two, hope this is an improvement.

The Greenock Blitz

[post removed]
First draft

The Greenock Hills

[post removed]

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Books, Books, Books

As usual I'm reading my way through a variety of books at once. I've taken a break from Les Miserables after finishing the first volume but I'll be starting volume two pretty soon.

I've been mulling over Douglas Dunn's Selected book of poetry and thoroughly enjoying it. I don't know why I've not paid much, or even any, attention to his writing until now. There is a series of poems in the Selected from Dunn's Elegies collection written about his first wife who died of cancer at the age of thirty-seven. I literally wept while reading these which is a first for me. Here's a section from one of the poems, it's called 'Sandra's Mobile':

So Sandra brought her this and taped it up -
Three seagulls from a white and indoor sky -
A gift of old artistic comradeship.
'Blow on them, Love'. Those silent birds winged round
On thermals of my breath. On her last night,
Trying to stay awake, I saw love crowned
In tears and wooden birds and candlelight.
She did not wake again. To prove our love
Each gull, each gull, each gull, turned into dove.

I've been thinking a lot over this last year about the style poetry I've kind of fallen into writing. It is without a doubt that nature, by and large, is my key inspiration for writing a poem and the clothing I use for writing about other things. It's good to know this, this time last year I had no idea.

I've also discovered that I'm drawn to the themes and style of writing related to Romanticism with a Gothic tinge which helps me understand why I'm such a fan of Plath's poetry and yet no where near as fond of the other Confessionals.
This has brought me to the writings of Carl Jung whose work on psychological archetypes was influenced by some of the ideas and motifs found in the works of German Romanticism. I see that this is going to lead me onto reading Thomas Mann, Poe and Nietzsche and who knows where I'll end up after that!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

The first issue of Horizon Review is now available, an exciting new literary webzine from Salt Publishing edited by Jane Holland. It features poems by a top class list of poets as well as fiction, articles, interviews and reviews. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

Friday, September 12, 2008

This evening I attended the Words 2008 panel discussion. It was chaired by a bloke from The Herald and had on its panel: author and poet Tom Leonard, poets Alan Riach and Kei Miller, poet and editor Michael Schmidt and a couple of authors I hadn't heard of.

When I stepped out of the elevator onto the fifth floor of the Mitchell Library I walked into the overpowering stench of Isle of Jura whisky. There had been a whisky tasting session scheduled just before the panel discussion; possibly not a good idea and may have been responsible for the irate member of the audience who became overly vocal during the discussion and had to be chucked out!

Tom Leonard was a scream. He blethered away just as if he was standing at the end of a bar talking over a pint. Alan Riach was also delightfully down to earth. The discussion was on the craft of writing but I managed to get in a question on what the panel thought were the pros and cons of chapbook publishing. Riach and Leonard were enthusiastically in support of chapbook publishing but I was surprised by Michael Schmidt's rather negative response. He said that chapbooks are not widely reviewed and have quite a limited market.
I love chapbooks, they're great value for money. I'm hoping to collect some more magazine publications and then submit a bunch of poems to a chapbook publisher. Talking to other poets there seems to be a lot of pros with publishing a chapbook - it builds experience, confidence and hopefully an audience before tackling a first full-length collection.

There was also an interesting discussion on the homogenisation of poetry being produced by the many creative writing courses available at universities these days. I imagine that's a difficult one to get round though it's a problem experienced by online workshops also.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

I was wondering what folk thought about poems on blogs and whether they consider it to be 'publication'. As readers of this blog know when I write a poem I put it on the blog for a few days and then take it down. For me it acts as a kind of workshop, it helps me see my work more objectively when it's been put out to public view. As far as I'm aware most poetry editors accept this and don't consider it to be publication. In fact there are certain on-line workshops that still have in their archives the early drafts of many poems that are now published in some very good collections and chapbooks. I was just wondering what others thought about this.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

1st draft

Atlantic Shore

My pramless arms

(post removed)
1st draft

The Captayannis

The Firth has birthed a sugar ship.

(post removed)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

At last there is a poetry event I can make it to! Words 2008 is an interactive exhibition taking place in Glasgow next week. I'm going to head up to the city for a panel discussion hosted by Keith Bruce, Arts Editor of The Herald, with Tom Leonard, Anne Donovan, Cynthia Rogerson, Michael Schmidt, Kei Miller and Alan Riach. It should be really good, as well as renowned poets and prose authors Riach, Miller and Leonard; Schmidt is the current professor of poetry at Glasgow Uni as well as the director of Carcanet Press and editor of Poetry Nation Review.

Since April I've sent out six separate poetry submissions and have yet to hear back from any of them. I'm beginning to think there is a poetry submission thief stealing my envelopes just after I post them! Around a month ago I emailed about one of the submissions and was told by the editor that no news is good news, so here's hoping! They are all to print journals as opposed to web zines so I did expect the reply to take longer, but not to hear back from any of them is a bit disconcerting!
Life has been rather busy with little boy, highland games and general family business. So not much writing going on here, I've got plenty fragments that don't yet know how to come together. Plus I've recently become addicted to ebay!

Some thoughts on Rachel Fox!

I recently ordered Rachel Fox's first book of poems 'More about the Song'. Rachel has had plenty of in-depth reviews of the book so here are just a few thoughts of my own. Having read the collection right through I'm convinced that Rachel Fox doesn't live on the east coast of Scotland but has smuggled herself into my house through her book. So strong is the personality and voice in these poems that reading them is like having her recite them to you in person.
These poems are a change from my usual poetry reading and are especially welcome because it is nice to read outwith the usual. Quite often while reading the poems I imagined that they were written by Emily Dickinson had she lived in the 21st century: musically they are very simiar and also in their quirkiness, humour and use of puns.

These are poems of and for our times, there are plenty of pop culture references and surprising poems culture specific to our times. I have sometimes wondered what would happen to my internet profile if I died and lo and behold there's a poem in here about exactly that! Reading these poems constantly made me smile amd on the back of the book instead of a blurb there is a short poem entitled 'Exposing', with the first line "Does a blurb ever lie"!
There is a breadth of themes in this collection mostly disguised as light-humour with an uncomfortableness breaking through. In a poem about a homeless girl (City Girl), the girl sticks her fingers into exhaust-pipes and licks them clean.
My favorite poem in the collection is 'Let me be your Fridge Magnet'. A love poem, and as the author says, as much about the author's relationship with writing. With permission from the author here is the poem.

Let me be your Fridge Magnet

Let me slip into your home
Like a leaflet for a loan
Hidden in a free newspaper
Or supermarket circular
I'm not proud

Oh how I'd love to be your Baby on Board
Suckered on to your smoothness
I'd feel every bump in your road
Know exactly how much air was in your tyres
If you let me

I could stick faster still
If you'd let me be your fridge magnet
I'd hang on to your cool place
So perky, so keen
I wouldn't let you down

I'd be superficial for you, gladly
Cling to any surface - as long as it was yours
Then I'd ask softly 'do you understand now?
Do you get the message?
Do you read me at all?'

Monday, August 25, 2008

Come and Cycle With Me

let us turn spheres with our feet,
(post removed)

Thanks to Dave I'm now officially a kick ass blogger

Though I don't see myself in the same league as the entertaining and thoroughly informing blogs of Dave and Jim, thankyou. I don't know what a kick ass blogger is Dave, but as you said it's who it comes from that makes it meaningful and I'm pleased that you thought of me!

Friday, August 22, 2008

I'm reading a lot of prose at the moment, it's nice to put poetry on the back burner for a bit.
I had picked up both volumes of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables a good number of years ago. I probably got them for a pound each as they are Wordsworth Classics and the print is unbelievably small.
At the time I couldn't get into them despite adoring the musical (I saw it on my 21st birthday) and I had loved the music long before I'd seen the musical. I've also been to Hugo's well preserved house when I was in Paris seven years back. His endless strange and nightmarish paintings always stuck in my mind. A couple of years ago I read his Hunchback of Notre Dame, what a great story. Now I'm halfway through the first volume of Les Miserables and loving it. Every character is suberbly crafted and reading the book is like having a vision of old France. There is a detailed description of the Battle of Waterloo and I can't wait to get to scenes of the Paris revolution.
Apparently Les Miserables part inspired Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, my favorite book of all time. It really is a gripping story balancing personal tragedy and love with wider world-significant events; covering major themes of justice, punishment, love, rebellion, God, poverty, childhood - the list goes on. It really is a fantastic story and here and now is the right time for me to be reading it.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Failed Poems

Sometimes a newly written poem can feel just right but when returned to a few hours later the problems and holes in it stare you in the face yet they can usually be fixed through redrafting.

It's not often (I don't think!) I write a completely failed poem where it's just not working on any level and no amount of redrafting will salvage it. Today was one of those days. I tried something different, posted the result briefly and now it's gone.

To spend hours working on a poem that turns out to be terminally problematic or frankly a pile of mince is annoying to say the least, yet I think it's important to try out different styles / themes, to challenge my writing comfort zone so I don't end up in a poetic rut.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

So I've finished reading The Dante Club which was very enjoyable, a bit long-winded at times but it made me dig out some Longfellow poetry to read and Dante's The Divine Comedy is on my definite must read list. Plus it's whetted my appetite for visiting Boston and the New England states in general.

Now I'm onto Robin Jenkins' The Cone-Gatherers, it's a quick read - I'm flying through it. Quite psychological in its exploration of the main characters, pretty depressing in a dark human nature kind of way, but I'm really enjoying it. The funny thing is I noted in the intro that the author was a school teacher in my very own home town. On googling him I discovered that he spend the last 32 years of his life living within five miles from where I was growing up and ten miles from where I live presently, he died in 2005.

Friday, August 08, 2008

The Gantocks

I was born of the river, a quine of the shore.
(post removed)

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Thanks to Peter Steinberg via the Sylvia Plath Info blog I've come across an excellent site which has 13 documentaries available to watch on major American poets including Plath, Bishop, Crane, Eliot, Pound, Stevens, Whitman. You have to register to watch them but it's free and well worth it.
Now I just need 13 free hours to watch them all, who needs sleep anyway!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Went to a country fair today and picked up some good books for a pittance at the bric-a-brac stall, all in great condition:

The Savage Garden by Mark Mills
The Cone-Gatherers by Robin jenkins
Labyrinth by Kate Mosse
The Dante Club by Matthew Pearl
and a lovely fabric hardback copy of The Book of Kells

You may have noticed from the side-bar that I've been trying to get into Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose for a while but finding it a bit dry. Has anyone else read it, is it worth persevering?

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

first draft -

Riensberger Cemetery Sculpture

The waterlilies flower yellow;

(post removed)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

I've been tagged!

My most recent purchases of a book, a film, and a sound recording (with accompanying information)

1) Book - my last purchase was a chapbook, Lament of the Wanderer (an Anglo-Saxon elegiac poem) translated by Jane Holland (Heaventree Press, 2008). Not sure if chapbooks count so my last actual book purchase was my holiday reading Windabgeworfenes Licht by Dylan Thomas (Fischer Taschenbuch Press, 1992).

2) Film - Beowulf & Grendel (Starz Home Entertainment, 2007)

3) CD - not sure I can remember the last cd I bought! I think it was Yvonne Lyon's A Thousand Questions Why (2007)

I tag rachel, dave and swiss (because he gives nothing away, lol) - only if you want to, and anyone else who wants to also!

I apologise for being a boring blogger over the summer, I've got lots of notes for poems but the heart of them hasn't come to me yet. Sometimes I think too much and carry the weight of existence on my shoulders, it makes it impossible to write poems.
Looks like I didn't win the five grand Vital Synz poetry competition, that'll be the Baltic cruise out the window, lol! The poem I had entered into the competition I 'translated' into scots and entered it into The Herald McCash competition for scots verse! It's judged by scots Makar Edwin Morgan, I had a funny dream about him the other night!

I'm waiting on several probable rejections but the wait is driving me mad, how long should one wait before writing a 'hurry up' letter, three months, four months, longer?

Friday, July 11, 2008

Before I went on holiday I spent some time reading through James Owens' two fine poetry collections An Hour is the Doorway and Frost Lights a Thin Flame.

I don't know enough about the development of American poetry (as opposed to British, though I'm trying to read up on it) but I do know that in the broad spectrum of poetry I'm more attracted towards the strongly imagistic and that takes priority, for me, over straightforward narrative.

I don't feel the need to comprehend a poem to enjoy it, was it Pound that said a poem should be an event in itself not just the recording of an event. I look for a poem I can experience rather than read and empathise. I loved Plath's poetry long before I knew anything about her life or understood what a good number of her poems were about, for me they were an experience of words on the level of the senses.

I'm not at all saying Owens' poems don't employ narrative or are incomprehensible but that his poems are an experience on the level of the senses and that is what first and foremost attracts me to them. This kind of writing seems, to me, to be more prevalent in American poetry than UK poetry though the pamphlet I read recently by Andrew Philips was very much an experience of the senses in a similar way.

In Owens' collection An Hour is the Doorway there is a kind of Romanticist sense of the beauty of things which is always juxtaposed with the brutality of reality. In 'Movies about Anonymous Women' the scene is set of a woman in an 'ideal meadow' who swims in a stream with 'pearls of cool water clinging to her shoulders'. However, in a very anti-Romanticist ending her imagined lover does not come for her, she gets out of the water and 'bored, / she starts kicking the heads from flowers'. This ending image takes on a brutality beyond itself because of its juxtaposition with the setting up of the poem. The collection is full of startling images such as 'as if in the womb / you ate a match' (World) .

One of my favorite poems 'All-Night laundromat' performs the reverse of 'Movies about Anonymous Women' where the very unromantic, gritty setting of the laundromat is transformed into an Eden. I really love this poem where the whole world becomes the laundromat and the only people that exist are the narrator who is writing and a 'tired, middle-aged woman' who is 'loading her clothes'. I feel a kind of epic sadness for the writer and the middle-aged woman both alone in this laundromat at night, who do not speak, yet the writer states with almost Plathian pathos 'I am free', while the woman 'stares out the window / into herself'. There are so many levels in this poem one could spend hours over it. I love the image 'I could stay as calm and complete / as the monotonous machines'.
Overall these poems are generally very nature-orientated, observant of small detail, yet so much is happening beyond the scene they describe that each poem feels like a little life all of its own.

In Frost Lights a Thin Flame what strikes me from the first reading is the awareness the poems have about themselves as language, words, syntax manipulated into a poem. The very first poem titled 'Elegy for Speech' sets the tone of the poems to come where words become gnats swarming around the wounds of our mouths. Language, conscious of itself, becomes as real and concrete as nature. In 'Your Name in Early Autumn', words again become external, concrete objects where 'your name flutters / from the twigs of your fingers'. I found this approach to language in poetry rather fascinating having not come across it before apart from Plath's 'Words', or if I had I never really noticed.

There is so much more to these two collections than I have mentioned, in fact I'm not kidding when I say that an essay could be easily written on each individual poem. I thoroughly recommend both collections and know I'll be frequently dipping in and out of them

Thursday, July 10, 2008

I'm back and had a great time - the beer was good, the cakes were even better, the people were friendly, spent a lot of time in gorgeous big parks with loads of giant oaks. In the last minute packing rush would you believe I forgot to pack my French poets, the only poetry book in english I could find was a bi-lingual german/english Dylan Thomas (Windabgeworfenes Licht) so instead of reading the French in Germany I was reading the Welsh! I always meant to pick up a Dylan Thomas at some point anyway.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

I'm off to Bremen (North Germany) for a wee holiday next week with my husband, son and six French poets! My holiday reading arrived today from Amazon - Six French Poets of the Nighteenth-Century and the Collected Poems of Stephane Mallarme. Okay so maybe it would make more sense to read the Germans but I hope to pick up a couple of bi-lingual poetry books while I'm out there! Good rest, good food, good beer - hope to come back with good material for poems.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

First draft of a bit of an experimental piece!

Voices from the Land

Hawthorns form a palisade,

(post removed)

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Thursday, June 12, 2008

I recently ordered another Happenstance publication this time by the Scottish poet Andrew Philip. His chapbook Tonguefire is actually sold out on the website but Happenstance have brought out a sampler pamphlet of his poems which I ordered from the poet himself. The pamphlet contains nine pages worth of poems, five of which are devoted to his long poem, and title of his chapbook, Tonguefire.

Tonguefire is a rather strange and image-rich poem with a prophetic, almost visionary, feel to it. The poem takes us into the world of a guy named MacAdam, which I guess is a kind of universal man i.e son of Adam. He’s the kind of man who ‘buys firelighters and matches / cheap beer and lifestyle magazines’, who ‘…sits alone / in the dark with a single malt’ but who mysteriously finds in his compost heap ‘a baby made of glass’ and on his door step ‘a small, delicate book of songs / bound in white heather’, ‘MacAdam swallows the book of songs’. I enjoy the interchange of the odd scots word which appears throughout, for example where MacAdam holds the ‘bairn / in his guddle of arms’. I’m not entirely sure of the meaning of the poem, I’m guessing it has several meanings. The achievement here, for me, is the successful bringing together of the very ordinary with something very extraordinary, other-worldly.

The rest of the pamphlet consists of six further poems, heart-breakingly, about the loss of the poet's first-born son which, in all honesty, I find hard to read because of their subject-matter. In saying that, I’m very impressed with the level of control with which they are written and which makes them the powerful and hard-hitting poems that they are - ‘this is the hand that cradled your cold feet’ (Lullaby), ‘one was gone from us / and one had not yet come to us’ (Dream Family Holiday).
These poems are unlike most of the poems I read these days, there is something very different and at times uncomfortable about them which certainly makes them stand out and difficult to forget. All-in-all these are beautifully written, down-to-earth yet evocative of something supernatural.

Friday, June 06, 2008

I've been mulling over Ruth Pitter's 800 line poem Persephone in Hades recently.
Despite having studied Classics at uni I don't feel that Greek and Roman myths and legends are part of my personal cultural heritage (I preferred the history, architecture and philosophy side), maybe it's because I never got to study it at school where we did the Vikings instead and I feel more of an affinity with Viking mythology.

Anyway, I'm not particularly predisposed to modern poems about Greek mythology but something grabbed me in the section of Pitter's poem available on the Happenstance website where I purchased it.

This poem was first published for private circulation in 1931 (only 100 copies printed) and until now, has never been reprinted. It is prefaced by Helena Nelson ( editor of Happenstance) who doesn't shy from pointing out the archaic language employed by Pitter throughout the poem. Yet despite the subject-matter and, at times, archaic language, this is a beautiful and engaging piece of work.
This is no flowery retelling of an old myth but beautiful, dark and powerful writing.

Here's some of my favorite lines in the poem:

'What is love's counterpart? Answer, Love only'

'The chilly mist that drifted in from the sea / hung in her hair'

'The pale urns of the autumn crocuses / admired her feet'

'upon the sable air
a powdered silver hung, as when the moon
before she rises, sends a herald light
to gild the naked shoulder of the hill.'

'the trees / naked from winter, shining like golden wire'

'and the fire of love
confessed in spangles; then became a sea
carnation-crested, with a myriad waves
each moment in vermilion deeper dyed'

Thursday, June 05, 2008

Silly Poem

So I'm struggling to write anything at the moment and that's always a good time to take up a challenge!

This blog challenges anyone to write a poem or short story based on the following statement: 'She was just frying an egg, when she expired!'

This is it in context from the blog -

"Many years ago I overheard an elderly and very genteel lady say, ‘She was just frying an egg, when she expired!’ She uttered these words in an accent which Scottish readers will know as either Kelvinside or Morningside and vous autres, just think ‘elderly genteel posh’."

Here's my effort:

Heart Failure

her last breath
drawn above this shining hub

of marigold in a silver pan.
That she had cracked her last
was unknown to her

or the egg.
Yet the distance between
her heart and head,

in that moment,
was wider than all the eggs
in the known world.

And she had seen them all,
in this one yolk
forever flowering beneath her hand.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Gorbals Highrise explosion

Sorry nothing to do with poetry but there's something immensely therapeutic about watching these two Gorbals flats explode into dust!

Monday, May 26, 2008

I love browsing Poetry Archive - an archive of recordings of major poets reading their own work.

It's fascinating listening and I really like listening to Kathleen Jamie read - she's got a lovely voice and it's nice to have the affirmation of hearing a Scottish voice. Here she reads a beautiful poem called 'The Wishing Tree', it's really worth listening to.
I also love hearing Edwin Morgan read, his voice is very distinctive and once I've heard him read a poem I hear his voice in my head everytime I read that poem.
Unfortunately they don't have Kenneth White whom I heard at StAnza and whose voice sometimes pops into my head at any random point during the day!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The on-line literary magazine Qarrtsiluni (no I don't know how to pronounce it!) have accepted my poem Looking Beyond! Also they requested a sound file of me reading it so I read it into the microphone on my MP3 player and transferred it onto the computer. An interesting experience, I tried reading it a dozen times before I finally decided which one to send in! So keep an eye out on the website for my poem.

Black Tulips

The waxy strap leaves supplicate

(post removed)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

I've just finished reading Janice Galloway's acclaimed novel The Trick is to Keep Breathing and I'm in two minds about it.

To give you an idea of what it's about here's a snippet from an Amazon review: "Galloway is writing in a long-established tradition of confessional fiction with mentally disturbed women at its centre". It's been compared with Plath's The Bell Jar which, surprisingly enough, I've yet to read.

'The Trick...' certainly was a good read, in fact I read it in a day. But the ending seemed a bit staid for me. Perhaps I was looking for a suicide or an otherwise dramatic turnabout. The lack of visual imagery didn't lend itself to me either, I think it was on Galloway's website that I read she just doesn't find the Scottish landscape inspiring.
The biggest problem for me was that I didn't warm to the protagonist which begs the question of whether it is necessary to like the main character in order to enjoy a novel.

I don't think it's necessary to like every part of the protagonist, I'm currently re-reading The Awakening and there's certainly a lot to point the finger at about the main character, Edna, but overall I have a fondness for her an a certain level empathy. With Galloway's protagonist, 'Joy', I had no sense of empathy and thus no sympathy for her either, I just didn't connect with her on any level.
As a side note, I'm also reading Virginia Woolf's
To The Lighthouse and pleasantly surprised to come across a character called 'Sorley' which is a novelty!

The Graveyard of the Sea

Through centuries of salt earth
the North Sea seeps

(post removed)

Monday, May 05, 2008


Grateful thanks to Rachel for spotting my poem in the Glasgow Herald's poem of the day today. What a nice surprise - sending husband out for a paper right now!!!!!!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Thursday, May 01, 2008

I've been walking around all day today feeling pretty pleased with myself as the latest Poetry Scotland, which had been overdue, finally came in today with my two poems in it - what a nice feeling! Then tonight I get an email to say I've had a poem (When I Became a Wave) accepted for the poetry webzine Snakeskin which you'll find here! I don't think I'll sleep tonight!

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

With one day left to go, well done to all those who napowrimo'd all through April!

Two weeks of it was more than enough for me! I did think about joining in for the last week or so but I'd lost the momentum with the circumstantial interruption and when I tried writing again I was boring myself senseless with what I was coming up with and didn't see the point in inflicting it on you.

However I'm more than pleased with the 14 poems I've now got to work on and the whole thing made me realise how much more I can squeeze out of a temporary muse if I force myself to.

Though I live in a beautiful place it's practically impossible for me to make it to any poetry readings. Living on a peninsula and not being able to drive means I'm dependant on ferries.
I'd love to go to The Great Grog poetry readings run by Rob MacKenzie which always has a good line up of poets but being held in Edinburgh in the evenings makes it impossible for me.
Also, even though I'm not really that far from Glasgow I can't even make it to the vitalsynz poetry readings because they are always held on a week night and there are no late ferries during the week. Tonight they have Andrew Greig speaking 'the unofficial Poet Laureate of the mountaineering community' whom I would have loved to have heard.

Going to StAnza 2008 really made me realise how important it is for my own writing to be part of the poetry scene beyond the computer screen. Unless they start holding poetry reading during daytime it looks like I'll need to learn to drive!

Monday, April 14, 2008

No More NaPoWriMo

With a sick baby, a house that won't clean itself and visitors due to arrive I'm afraid NaPoWriMo is done with for this year.

Thanks to all those who followed my posts and encouraged me to keep going over the last fortnight.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

NaPoWriMo 13


A fishing boat and a yacht
share the open sea

(post removed)

Saturday, April 12, 2008


Only nearly halfway through the month and I feel like my ears are bleeding with poetry.
NaPoWriMo 12

Looking Beyond

A rook flies
over sand banks,
over us

(post removed)

Friday, April 11, 2008

NaPoWriMo 11


Clouds nestle
in the Kilcreggan hills.

(post removed)

Thursday, April 10, 2008

NaPoWriMo 10

Areopagus at Sundown

At my back in neon purple
floats the Parthenon temple

(post removed)

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

NaPoWriMo 9
A pitiful offering today but it's all I had time for.

Haiku (supposed to be anyway!)

Damp city streets

(post removed)

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Oh no not another poem about the sea...yes I'm afraid so!

NaPoWriMo 8

Let us Walk the Highway to the Sea

Let us walk the highway to the sea.
Do not stop, there is no turning back.

(post removed)

Monday, April 07, 2008

NaPoWriMo 7


Above my head a tower
of sandstone ashlar leans

(post removed)

Sunday, April 06, 2008

NaPoWriMo 6

Mourning in Spring

Wenn's regnet und die Sonne scheint,
so schlägt der Teufel seine Großmutter:
er lacht und sie weint*

( German Proverb)

The Clyde is alive with light.
Blue-grey waves ride into sun-glazed white.

(post removed)

Saturday, April 05, 2008

NaPoWriMo 5

A found poem from here.

Living off the Wreck
MV AKKA, 1956

Come, swim along her corridors
with cabins leading off.

(post removed)

Friday, April 04, 2008

NaPoWriMo 4

Today was a struggle to come up with anything and it's only day 4...not so certain I'm going to last the course.

Walking you to the train station

The grass is clean with dew.
A pool of green surrounds

(post removed)

Thursday, April 03, 2008

NaPoWriMo 3

Spring Snow

The hills are deep in snow.
My upturned hands have memorised

(post removed)

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Phew...this was tough, had a really busy day today. However I've made it to day two of NaPoWriMo!

Becoming a Rhododendron

The buds are fattening
on the blossom trees.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

April is known as National Poetry Writing Month (NaPoWriMo), where mad people the world over take on the challenge to write a poem for every day of the month of April -April being the cruelest month of course!
I've never participated but thinking of giving it a go this year, if I do then I apologise in advance for the quality of work and if I don't then just be happy you've not been subjected to my efforts. Anyway here's tonight's effort -

Castle Sands

All I see is daffodils
in the dying light of day

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Saturday, March 29, 2008

I've been reading my way through Robert Alan Jamieson's Nort Atlantik Drift which is a beautiful hardback book of poems written in Shetlandic dialect with English translations accompanied by a collection of black and white photographs of everyday life in Shetland.

I met Alan Jamieson years ago when he was the writer-in-residence at Glasgow uni and thought he was a lovely wee man and I was interested in his Shetlandic background. When I saw he was reading at StAnza I made sure I got a ticket to hear him.
I loved hearing him read in Shetlandic and despite the vast differences between the dialect and English I was able to get the gist of most of what he read.

Reading the book is another matter! I can barely make head nor tail of the Shetlandic versions of the poems, they seem to be written in code rather than a language, which, with a bit of time and effort I should be able to crack. I guess it's one of the many strange features of a dialect - of being a language but not being a language.
Aesthetically-speaking I love the book, the shape, the size, the feel of it, the black and white photos, the poems of mariners and island life, part autobiographical and part fiction according to Jamieson. I feel quite connected to it with my island connection and the fact my father was a mariner.

The poems are nostalgic yet sharp with Shetlandic detail with the 'dark peaty water' and men in 'yellow oilskins'. He writes of island practices such as the 'sharing of a boat's catch' with the elderly in the village who in turn fills the fisherman 'full of bannocks'.

Here's a taste of the Shetlandic dialect from the poem 'The Boatbuilder's Nephew' -

Da Boat Biggir's Nefjoo

Quhan da baerns chap da windoo
he hadds up da sjip ati'da bottil,
sjaaks his hed - awa!

An da aald fokk sae -
'Tink naethin o'it.'
'Tym'll tell'. 'du'll fin dy nitch.'

He tinks - Foo daes'it kum t'gjing insyd?
No a trikk, bit maachikk.
Donna shaa me, I waant it ta happin.

An da aald fokk sae -
'Quhar dir's a will, dir's a wy.
Aniddir skurtfoo fae da skroo.'

Translation -

When the children tap the window, he holds up the ship in the bottle,
shakes his head - away!

And the old folk say - 'Think nothing of it.' 'Time will tell.' 'You'll
find your niche.'

He thinks - How does it come to go inside? Not a trick, but magic.
Don't show me, I want it to happen.

And the old folk say - 'Where there's a will there's a way. Another
armful from the haystack.'

The old folk here remind me of the chorus in a Greek tragedy! It's really lovely book and I'd recommend it to anyone.

Monday, March 24, 2008

I've barely had time and mind-space to breathe never mind write poetry since StAnza however I had some time today wrote this first draft. You may have noticed I've got a thing for repetitions at the moment, this started out as an attempt at a pantoum but the form became too constricting so I abandoned it.

Cathedral Ruins at Night

The black spires rise out from the sea.
Through dark wynds I wander under stones, eyes, stars.

(post removed)
...a bit of a silly one really.

Waiting in a Bookshop

Pick a book, lick a book, seek, steal,
reach, flick or like me watch
and take notes. I sit above
with a bird’s eye and a nose stuck
in everyone’s business.
The flat cap looking for a bargain,
the floppy fringe playing with the pop-ups.

There’s a hint of you
in the back of every man’s head.
And me, I’m in a look, a coat, a flick of the hair.
In the vault of this one-time bank the walls are clothed
in books. I wait long enough to fall in love
and drink a gallon of coffee.
I wait an hour, perhaps
I wait a hundred years.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Snippet of StAnza 2008

What a whirlwind of a weekend! Having had around 2 hours sleep on Friday night I got up at 5.30 to catch the first ferry then train to Glasgow followed by a train to Edinburgh then a train to St. Andrews. My day was pretty packed with poetry events, evetually got to bed at the youth hostel around 1am, back up a 6.30 for Sunday's events then made it home after 9pm last night.
It was my first time going to a poetry festival and my first time going to St. Andrews - both were in some ways quite disconcerting experiences.

The highlight for me was the Kenneth White event and the Janice Galloway in conversation. I'd not read any of Janice Galloway's poetry or prose previously but when she read from some of her books at the event I was gobsmacked. She came across as quite manic, earthy and a really interesting woman and writer.
Kenneth White was just fantastic, he read his poetry for 45 mins and it passed like the click of a finger. I loved how his accent switched so naturally beween Scottish and French in his reading and conversation. He seemed to be genuinely thoroughly enjoying himself and full of passion about his strange geopoetic theories which to me sound like a bit of a mash of Buddhism, Spinoza and Celtic mysticism.
Listening to White read was what I imagine it is to listen to a bard.
My friend's highlight of the weekend was getting Kenneth White to sign his copy of his book to someone from Kenneth Whyte (my friend's name!)signed by the author Kenneth White!!! Kenneth White seemed fairly amused by it after the initial confusion.

Other events I attended included the Glasgow poet Andy Jackson who was running late because he couldn't find the toilet and when he finally appeared intimated to the audience that a sink had done the job! He was very good with a memorable poem about getting a bus to correction. Also heard Michael Schmidt and Alison Brackenbury but didn't get the best out of that event which was when I was desperately needing food and caffeine so I must go hear them again sometime.
The StAnza Slam was excellent, I was weeping with tears of laughter at some of the performances.
Sunday morning was the masterclass translation which was an interesting experience and raised a lot of questions for me. And later on I went to the voices of Scotland and really enjoyed hearing Robert Alan Jamieson reading in his Shetlandic language/dialect - I think of it as a dialect.
Over the two days it was great putting faces to names and also meeting Rob MacKenzie and swiss.
Of course I came home with a tonne of books which was the last thing I needed!
I couldn't help popping into a secondhand bookshop and came out with -

The School Bag ed by Heaney and Hughes which I've been meaning to pick up for years
Time Passes and other poems by Walter De La Mare
an early faber edition of Robert Lowell's Selected poems
an early faber Selected Cantos of Pound
Robert Graves Selected by Himself
The Common Pursuit essays by F.R. Leavis

all in mint condition!

At StAnza I bought -

Janice Galloway's The Trick is to Keep Breathing
Nort Atlantik Drift by Robert Alan Jamieson
Open World collected poems 1960 - 2000 of Kenneth White

I also came away with a number of Scottish poetry magazines/journals which I've been meaning to find out more about.

For the most part I did feel a little bit like a fish out of water, my experience of poetry feels fairly private - between me and a page or a computer screen, and conversing with poets is generally limited to the computer screen. So it was more than a little strange to be amongst the people at StAnza and realise how public poetry is - it sounds a bit silly I know but it's given me a bit of a different perspective on it all and now I know what to expect next time, of which I'm sure there will be many!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


After 4 rejections from various poetry magazines I've finally had 2 poems accepted for publication!!!!!!!!!!

Poetry Scotland have accepted An Aberlady Sunset (thanks honest man!) and Rest and be Thankful both to be published in their next issue.
The only poem I've ever had published to date was years ago in the Glasgow Herald when I won an Edwin Morgan competition, so I'm so excited about this!

Also got StAnza to look forward to this weekend where I'll be hearing readings from Michael Schmidt, Alison Brackenbury, Kenneth White, Robert Alan Jamieson and Ken Cockburn, and Janice Galloway in conversation with Helena Nelson and if I get there early enough I'll hear A B Jackson and Alexander Hutchison talking on the Glasgow poetry scene.

And thanks to swiss I entered my own translation of a German poem into the masterclass translation workshop led by Ken Cockburn with Helmut Haberkamm, Fitzgerald Kusz, Robert Alan Jamieson and Alexander Hutchison. It turns out they will be discussing my poem among many others so it looks like I get to read it out!

What a week !

Sunday, March 02, 2008

rewrite again!

I should probably leave this piece alone for a while...but instead I've put it through another draft!

Becoming Spring

The clouds cover, hover, peter
out to blue

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Monday, February 25, 2008

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

I've just had the strange experience of rifling through Sylvia Plath's library!

Her library has been catalogued in librarything here, if you're a member of librarything you can see how many books you have in common. Fascinating stuff, isn't the internet wonderful.

Giggled when I saw Spock's Baby and Childcare in her library, is there anyone in the '50's who didn't have this book?!

A bit of nonsense...

...inspired by honest man's pic here

The second photograph is of me
taking a photograph
of me taking a photograph.
The second photograph
is a photograph of me,
I’m taking the photograph
and the photograph is taking
a photograph of me.
I'm not quite sure what this is supposed to be, just playing around with some thoughts and things here!


The fog furnishes bare branches
with droplets like glass berries. Static
they do not tremble since
there is no breeze, no not even
a whisper from your lips.


A tree wrenched from the earth
is spilling across the walkway.
I gather sticks like thoughts
of you and toss them
into the nearest river.


The moon slides in then out of view.
A stutter of milk light soaks
the pavement for a moment
then eclipses, like hands clasped
in front my eyes.


A barge drifts up the Firth.
The pram to my left bears its sleeping cargo.
I’ve memorised your breathing:
a steady lilt, rising with dreams
of cups, cars, and the word ‘no’.


Through railing shadows I step.
Under a crescent moon
crossing the arc of night
a plane heads for the continent,
in my sleep I speak your tongue.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Poetry Reading Habits!

Reading rob's post at surroundings about his poetry reading habits made me think about my own. Similar to rob, I also have my poetry books seperated into three piles:
the first pile is my essential book reading that I read to death on a regular basis and are what I call my 'muse' books. They are and always will hold prime place for me -

Sylvia Plath's Collected poems
Miroslav Holub's Poems Before and After
Anna Akhmatova The Complete Poems tr. by Judith Hemschemeyer

My second pile of books are a mixture between current reading that I know I want to, and will go back to on a regular basis and some dearly loved older books that I pick up fairly regularly to read the odd poem from -

Kathleen Jamie's Jizzen
Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife
Edwin Morgan's Selected (1952-1983)
Rob A MacKenzie's The Clown of Natural Sorrow
Jane Holland's Boudicca & Co
Meg Bateman's Soirbheas
James Sheard's Scattering Eva
Attila Jozsef's Winter Night (selected poems)
Ted Hughes' Selected Poems by Simon Armitage and Selected Poems (1957-1981)
T.S. Eliot's Collected (1909-1962) and The Wasteland and other poems
Hopkins' The Mystic Poets
Paul Celan's Selected tr. Michael Hamburger

So this list is still fairly exclusive but open to expansion as I widen my (particularly current) poetry reading horizons.
The third pile make up the highest and lower shelves of my poetry bookcase and I generally have to take a specific notion to drag out any of the books. I should say there is an inbetween pile that haven't been relegated to the heights or depths of my bookcase and neither have I mentioned them in the above lists though they may at times sneak in and out of pile number two, however the ones listed above as pile number two I don't think will ever sneak out of it!

Another pile of books I keep alongside my main poetry books are a few prose books about poetry and poets that are immensely important to me, these are -

Strong Words, Modern Poets on Modern Poetry ed. W.N. Herbert and Matthew Hollis
The Government of the Tongue, Selected prose by Seamus heaney
The Epic Poise, A Celebration of Ted Hughes ed. Nick Gammage
Winter Pollen, Occasional Prose by Ted Hughes
Poetry in the Making by Ted Hughes
Ted Hughes, The Life of a Poet by Elaine Feinstein
Letters Home and Journals of Sylvia Plath

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Monday, February 11, 2008

Poem reworked into this: -


The land beyond the Firth is gone
waves wane into white smirr instead

(post removed)

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Under Beech Trees

James Sheard mentions in his blog his two-line problem of whether the following lines that he came up with sound like the opening, close or otherwise of a poem -

When next you pass through beeches, think:
These are old lovers; this how I left them.

So swiss suggested using Sheard's lines to come up with our own poems. Though I feel that the lines definitely constitute a poem's ending I found it really hard getting into the 'voice' of Sheard's lines so I decided to use them as an epigraph to my poem instead (hope you don't think this is cheating, swiss!).

Friday, January 18, 2008

A taste of 'Scattering Eva'

I seem to be experiencing a windfall in great poetry books at the moment. I recently ordered James Sheard's Scattering Eva which is a breath-taking collection of poems.
The blurb on the sleeve says -

"...James Sheard takes on the subject of the individual in European history...the speakers of his poems brag, explain, confess, resign, but are always human in their concerns. What emerges is a series of poems like skeletal mechanisms, set ticking at those moments when his characters connect, however briefly or tangentially, with the forces that surround them".

This is poetry as I love it best: thick with imagery, and every line pared down to the minimum so every word used is necessary and intensly loaded.
European history becomes richly exotic where 'Old money smells of civet' and 'Its women oil pearls at nut-meg throats'. The astonishing impact Sheard attains in a single line reminds me of Plath. In his poem At Konstanz Sheard writes 'In the lock of land and heat / my thoughts drone slow as Zeppelins'.
It's taking me a while to read through the collection simply because each line of a poem sets my mind adrift into unfamiliar, rich landscapes.
Some more tasters from the poems - from Heading for Port Bou, 1939 'Behind us, Barcelona had broken open / like an egg, leaking poisons and rumour'. From The No-Sayer "the ward's flowerbruised brightness, / the slow blossoms /of hurt'. From Writing History 'Old towns laid with herringbone / drag our feet onwards, back'.
And finally from the poem Duet which is part of the Scattering Eva sequence which takes up the second half of the collection -

'Sometimes you would weave me
in crossing spotlight.
I would crawl in webbing,
in uptorn shrubs.

Later, I'd watch your ribs
rise and fall - sandbars
in a sloping tide.'

I thoroughly recommend this book to anyone and so would Sean O'Brien, recent winner of the T.S. Eliot prize, who wrote a raving review of it on the back cover.