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.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

At last, a reply to one of my submissions.

It's a rejection, but rather than being miffed or upset I'm actually quite delighted! It's a letter from Chapman, Scotland's quality literary magazine. I knew I was being extremely optimistic when I sent my poems in to Chapman, but where's the harm in aiming high! I got a lovely letter back from the editor, Joy Hendry, saying that my poems had reached the 'final selection'.
The letter says: "I very much like these poems, and enjoyed reading them. You have real poetic talent. There's a lovely sense of the music of words, of rhythm and a sense of form and focus. Descriptively, these are first rate".

So what's the problem? The letter goes on to say "I'm looking for that extra 'something', a 'third dimension' of meaning, reference and relevance, which is largely missing here".

I can't disagree, what she points out has always been my weakness in writing. The question now is how to work on those areas in my poems, suggestions anyone? She also says that if I do any work on the poems I submitted she'd be happy to look at them again.

Of course I am disappointed not to get them published, but such a lovely rejection letter certainly softens the blow.

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?'