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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