Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A whole week lost to the flu nightmare and now it's a mad catch-up till Christmas. So no poetry read or written, just wishing you all a Very Merry Christmas and giving you a song instead of a poem -

written by Rich Mullins, sung by Amy Grant:

'Sometimes my life just don't make sense at all
And the mountains look so big, and my faith just seems so small
So hold me, Jesus, I'm shakin' like a leaf
You have been king of my glory, won't you be my prince of peace?

And I wake up in the night, and feel the dark
It's so hot inside my soul, there must be blisters on my heart
So hold me, Jesus, I'm shakin' like a leaf
You have been king of my glory, won't you be my prince of peace?

Surrender don't come natural to me
I'd rather fight you for somethin' I don't really want than take what you've
given me
And I've beat my head against so many walls, I'm fallin' down, I'm fallin' on
my knees

And the Salvation Army band is playing this hymn
And your grace rings out so deep, it makes my resistence seem so thin
Oh, hold me, Jesus, I'm shakin' like a leaf
You have been king of my glory, won't you be my prince of peace?

Oh, hold me, Jesus, I'm shakin' like a leaf
You have been king of my glory, won't you be my prince of peace?'

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The St. Andrews based yearly poetry festival will soon be upon us!
The programme for StAnza 2011 is now online. I'm really excited about going especially since I missed it this year. My plan is to head up on the Friday and stay until the Sunday.
After a quick look at the events, the one's I'll be hoping to get tickets for will be the intimate reading with John Burnside, the Marilyn Hacker / Paul Farley reading, a workshop with Claire Crowther on The Fatrasie (whatever that is, but a workshop with Claire Crowther on anything poetry-wise will be fantastic!), lunch and poetry with Hugh McMillan (Shug!) event, the Selima Hill and Philip Gross reading, and the Ciaran Carson Masterclass. Does this not sound like a fantastic weekend?!

I'm in literary heaven reading these two books at the moment. The Lorca plays are simply amazing, gorgeous language and imagery with a gripping storyline. Blood Wedding epecially, my copy here is translated by Langston Hughes. I'll definitely read it in different translations to compare but I think Hughes has done a great job with this, I really love it.
Ariel, The Restored Edition, far exceeded my expectations. Not only to have the right poems in the order Plath intended but also to be able to read a fascimile of the typed manuscript of the poems as she left them is breath-takingly different to reading the softly-softly Ted Hughes version of Ariel. I'll be reading the collection through several times to really take in this new experience of her poems.
First draft -

Cutting Loose

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Friday, December 03, 2010

The Scotsman Haiku hogmany poetry competition - for those of you not on facebook in case you didn't see this. Entries to be in before the 10th of December so get haikuing!! Link to the competition article here.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Another pic, just because it's his birthday today. My now four year old son who insists he is a crocodile, has been dinosaur-mad for the last two years, whose favourite food is nan bread with humous, and bread and butter with slices of pepperoni and who sleeps with Stripes the zebra every night!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

I can't remember the last time we saw snow here in November but as I type it's a veritable blizzard outside!

The new issue of Northwords Now is available to read online (as are the previous issues) and I'm so pleased to have some poems in it along with Colin Will, Elisabeth Rimmer, Jim Carruth and Norman MacCaig no less!! I haven't had a chance yet to read through it properly but it looks like a really great issue with an interesting selection of poems, prose, essays and reviews.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pictures, for a change!

For once, I grapped the camera while heading out for a walk yesterday. Rubbish day for taking pictures - dull mid-afternoon with a bitterly cold breeze!

But I wanted to show you my beloved Firth of Clyde which features in so many of my poems and which I love looking at regardless of the weather. These two pictures are looking down the Clyde; the islands of Cumbrae and Bute are faint lines on the horizon.

This is our Victorian pier, the photo is looking up the Firth where the water slips to the left to become the Holy Loch and slips around to the right, curving past Greenock and making its way all the way up to Glasgow.
This picture looks directly across the Firth to Inverkip, and these are the Gantocks, the infamous rocks that have been the cause of many a shipwreck and which you can hear the seals howl from at night. I wrote a poem about the Gantocks which can be read here.

and here are my travelling companions, Ruby all wrapped up in her pram and Sorley begging for a shot of the camera, but I didn't fancy fishing it out of the water!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Currently reading The Silver Bough and loving it!

Most of you will have heard of James George Frazer's hugely influential book The Golden Bough, acknowledged by Yeats, Eliot, WCW, Pound, Lawrence and many others as deeply important to their work.

Well The Silver Bough is also written by a Scot. First published in 1956 and authored by F. Marian (no less!) McNeill, it explores Scottish folklore and folk belief and is packed with treasures, local stories, etymology of place-names, history, history of religion and religious and Druidic practices. Also full of gorgeous words like 'skeely' and 'gowpens' as in from this short extract:

"In Orkney, sea-water was used in a rite to bring butter. The skeely woman, or charmer, went to the shore with a pail and waited until nine waves had rolled in. At the reflux of the last, she took three gowpens of water (a gowpen is as much as can be held in cupped hands) and carried them home in her pail. The water was put into the churn with the milk and ensured a good supply of butter."
I love all the folklore from Lewis, the stories are link to my ancestors. I remember when I was a child there used to be a 'fairy well' on the beach near my grandparents house in Lewis. I used to search it out on my holidays, a little circle of stones on a huge Atlantic beach where fresh water bubbled up from under the ground.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Books, books, books...

I'm a slow poetry book reader, it takes me months and longer to digest a collection, re-reading it, thinking on the poems, letting them work on me consciously and unconsciously.
As well as many other books, I've been thinking on Robin Robertson's collection The Wrecking Light and Phillis Levin's May Day over the last while. I've also been reading Songs the Lightning Sang, a pamphlet by Geoff Cooper. Pages of online poetry that I have on my favourites bar at the moment are Plath (saves digging the book out all the time!), D H Lawrence, and Baudelaire.

Next month is birthday month and these are the books on my hit list: -
Identity Parade the controversial new anthology from Bloodaxe of new British and Irish poets
Plath's Ariel - the one with the poems in the order Plath intended, I've been meaning to get it for ages.
A Les Murray collection, there are so many that I haven't decided which one to go for.
The Wild Iris by American poet Louise Gluck
Blood Wedding and Yerma, two plays by Lorca
Horse Latitudes by Paul Muldoon
The Return by Eleanor Cooke
The gorgeous looking Venti, a poetry pamphlet by JoAnne MacKay
The also gorgeous looking collection The Lost Garden by Hugh MacMillan
And some more pamphlet poetry which I haven't picked out yet.
That's all, I think...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Saturday, November 06, 2010

First draft -

You come to me, Burnie MacKinnon,

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Monday, November 01, 2010

Sunday, October 31, 2010

I've been reading over the last while Jim Murdoch's poetry collection This is Not About What You Think. It's refreshingly different to my normal poetry reading and written in a style entirely different to my own. I've been following Jim's blog for a couple of years now. He writes lengthy, essay-style informative and thought-provoking posts about authors, poets, books and writing. Many of his poems can be found scattered amongst his posts, mostly there to illustrate a point in his discourse.

Jim's poems are, by and large, rather short and aphoristic in style, there are several poems devoted to giving advice to children for example. Many of the poems come across almost like a series of proverbs in verse. The poems move between providing the reader with glimpses into the narrator's life and relationships on the one hand and poems providing us with universal 'truths' gained from the narrator's experience on the other.

One of my favourite poems in the book is 'Failing'. In many ways such a simple poem and yet the pathos really strikes home.


My mother taught me
how to be old.
I watched her falter
then fail and fall.

At least she tried to
teach me but what
did I care to know
about such things?

Now I'm old myself
I wish I'd paid
attention; I'm not
sure I ache right.

I am sure she'd have
something to say
about my limp, how
I hold my hip

and her “stupid cough”
I can't get right.
I must be such a

Another one of my favourites from the book -


My dad used to give me marks out of ten:
homework – seven out of ten,
the dishes – eight out of ten.

Anything less than a five
came with a clip on the ear.

Marks is merely another word for scars.
I have those too, the ones you
can see and the ones you can't.

I'd give my childhood a three.
That's me being generous.

Dad's no longer here and so I have to
mark myself. Is that what you
were waiting to hear, doctor?

What do you think this poem
might be worth? Maybe an eight?

In these two poems, as with most of Jim's poems, just as much of the poems exists between the lines as in the lines on the page. There is subtle insinuation at work, hints, question-begging. The poems can be funny too -


"Just because you have a hammer
it doesn't make you a joiner."
My father had his way with words.

So I took a handful of nails
and boarded up my heart
against him and against the world.

And safe on the inside I yelled:
"Screw you!"
but he was never one for puns.

You could say of many of the poems  that they verge on psychoanalysis, philosophical questioning and a hint of the absurdity of life when examined. These can be seen in statements such as "The first lies we tell / are generally to ourselves". "I never understood / what they meant by "in" / as if love could somehow / change into a place / to crawl inside and hide".

It is also evident in this poem -

Advice to Children III

It's supposed to feel good
when you do the right thing.
And sometimes you do.

But mostly you feel
like you had no real choice,
that somehow they made you.

And that can't be right.

The power of understatment is a quality that runs right through this collection and at its best carries the full weight of emotion with great impact.
Overall an enjoyable read, and it bears re-reading well. I'm very glad to have this collection to mull over and go back to.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A blog I gladly stumbled across recently is Poems Found in Translation. It's a wonderful blog, not only does the blog author/linguist translate poems from literally dozens of languages including Persian, Arabic, Hebrew and Chinese, for most of the translations he uploads a recording of himself reading the poem in its original language. I love this! I love reading poetry outwith the anglo/american traditions but I always feel I'm missing out by reading translations and not being able to hear the poem's original cadence, rhyme scheme, rhythm etc. I'm also really enjoying the translations themselves, they are translated as poems rather than literal word for word texts.

I've had some poems accepted by Northwords Now for publication in their next issue, which I'm really happy about! The editor of the mag was at the Callander poetry weekend and he emailed me after my reading to say he really enjoyed it, which pleased me no end! Plus they pay!!!!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

(second draft)

I’m searching for signs, heart sounds

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Monday, October 11, 2010

The releasing of the previously unpublished poem 'Last Letter' by Ted Hughes has caused a fair bit of interest in the news over the last week. Anything that can shed light on those final days before Plath's death is of great interest to Plath fans though it may seem a little voyeuristic to some. Anyhow I thought I'd give some of my thoughts on the poem as a biographical document rather than as a poem.

The main surprise is that on the Friday before her death, Plath had posted a letter of goodbye to Hughes which he had received earlier than she'd expected -

"Your note reached me too soon—-that same day,
Friday afternoon, posted in the morning"

..."That was one more straw of ill-luck
Drawn against you by the Post-Office"
So she posted the letter in the morning possibly assuming he would receive it the following day. Instead he got it that afternoon and rushed around to her flat fearing the worst. She was getting ready to spend the weekend with friends. The insinuation is that her plan was to let him stew in panic over the weekend not knowing  whether she was dead or alive and if alive no idea where she was -

..."Had I bungled your plan?
Had it surprised me sooner than you purposed?
Had I rushed it back to you too promptly?
One hour later—-you would have been gone
Where I could not have traced you."

"How I would have got through that weekend.
I cannot imagine. Had you plotted it all?"
Yet Hughes arrives at her flat, Plath burns the letter and Hughes is seemingly reassured enough after seeing her to leave her alone with their children and go off for the weekend with no further contact with her.

"My last sight of you alive.
Burning your letter to me, in the ashtray,
With that strange smile."

..."But what did you say
Over the smoking shards of that letter
So carefully annihilated, so calmly,
That let me release you, and leave you"
The poem tells us that he spent the Sunday night with Susan, who turns out to be Susan Alliston, a poet who died in 1969 of Hodgkin's disease. Hughes wrote the introduction to her book of poems. Another surprise - Assia wasn't the only other woman he was having an affair with. The strangest part is that they spent the night in the same room / flat on Rugby street where Hughes and Plath had spent their wedding night, the very bed even -

"Susan and I spent that night
In our wedding bed. I had not seen it
Since we lay there on our wedding day."
There is also the suggestion that Plath phoned Hughes several times during that last Sunday night and early dawn on Monday. Hughes being the only one privy to her last diary entries, she may have recorded such fruitless attempts to get in touch with him -

..."How often
Did the phone ring there in my empty room,
You hearing the ring in your receiver"
"Towards the phone booth that can never be reached.
Before midnight. After midnight. Again.
Again. Again. And, near dawn, again."
The poem is another bizarre addition to the mystery of events. Clearly, to my mind, Hughes wanted this poem published posthumously otherwise he would have destroyed it instead he entrusted a typed copy of it to his wife, Carol.

I've got to say, I like our present poet laureate but her response to the poem as "a bit like looking into the sun as it's dying" is surely the most hyperbolic twee I've ever read!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Thursday, October 07, 2010

A few more favourites, just because!

by Meg Bateman

It was your lightness that drew me,
the lightness of your talk and your laughter,
the lightness of your cheek in my hands,
your sweet gentle modest lightness;
and it is the lightness of your kiss
that is starving my mouth,
and the lightness of your embrace
that will let me go adrift.

A Tired Man
by Attila Jozsef

Solemn peasants in the field
straggle homeward without a word.
Side by side we lie, the river and I,
fresh grasses slumber under my heart.

A deep calm is rolling in the river.
My heavy cares are now as light as dew.
I'm not man, or child, "Hungarian" or "brother" -
lying here is just a tired man, like you.

Evening ladles out the quiet,
I'm a warm slice from its loaf of bread.
In the peaceful sky the stars come out
to sit on the river and shine on my head.

by Anna Akhmatova

The door is half open,
The lindens smell sweet...
On the table, forgotten,
A riding crop and a glove.

The yellow circle of the lamp...
I'm listening to rustlings.
Why did you go?
I don't understand...

Tomorrow morning will be
Joyful and bright.
This life is beautiful,
Heart, just be wise.

You are completely exhausted.
Your beating is fainter, more muffled...
You know, I read somewhere
That souls are immortal.
It's National Poetry Day!
On Facebook everyone's posting a few of their favourite lines of poetry, my lines are from Plath (unsurprisingly!), but here I can post the poem in full.

Nick and the Candlestick
 by Sylvia Plath

I am a miner. The light burns blue.
Waxy stalactites
Drip and thicken, tears

The earthen womb
Exudes from its dead boredom.
Black bat airs

Wrap me, raggy shawls,
Cold homicides.
They weld to me like plums.

Old cave of calcium
Icicles, old echoer.
Even the newts are white,

Those holy Joes.
And the fish, the fish -
Christ! they are panes of ice,

A vice of knives,
A piranha
Religion, drinking

Its first communion out of my live toes.
The candle
Gulps and recovers its small altitude,

Its yellows hearten.
O love, how did you get here?
O embryo

Remembering, even in sleep,
Your crossed position.
The blood blooms clean

In you, ruby.
The pain
You wake to is not yours.

Love, love,
I have hung our cave with roses,
With soft rugs -

The last of Victoriana.
Let the stars
Plummet to their dark address,

Let the mercuric
Atoms that cripple drip
Into the terrible well,

You are the one
Solid the spaces lean on, envious.
You are the baby in the barn.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Bavarian Gentians
by D.H. Lawrence

Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torchlike with the smoking blueness of Pluto's
ribbed and torchlike, with their blaze of darkness spread blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto's dark-blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter's pale lamps give off
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of this flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on blueness.
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted September
to the sightless realm where darkness was awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense gloom,
among the splendor of torches of darkness, shedding darkness on the
lost bride and groom.

I think I'm in love with Lawrence...

Monday, September 20, 2010

I'm so happy that Michelle McGrane is showcasing four of my poems on her wonderful poetry blog Peony Moon. Michelle's blog is a goldmine of contemporary poetry, if you take some time to read through her posts you'll not be disappointed, I'm so pleased to have some of mine in amongst all that gorgeous poetry!

Sunday, September 19, 2010

I came across a wonderful interview/essay with Phillis Levin on Anthony Hecht's startling poem 'The Transparent Man'. Her explication and personal response to the poem is beautifully and thought-provokingly done. The poem is written in blank verse and so there is much discussion and insight on how the form not only adds substance to the poem through its stylistic tricks but also how it fundamentally contributes to the 'message' of the poem as an extended metaphor. A very interesting read, can be found here.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

On the subject of Hughes' letters, Olwyn Hughes has just sold a bunch more of Hughes' letters to the British library.
The letters apparently include add-on's by Plath and provide further insight into both of their respective creative developments!
See here for the British Library statement and thanks to Peter at Sylvia Plath Info blog for the heads up.
practice, practice, practice...a group of short exercises I worked on this morning

Meditations on the Clouds

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Advice from Ted

I've spent the morning immersed in the Letters of Ted Hughes trying to soak up any writing advice.

"If you write whatever attracts you, and you write it as hard as you can, and as rich, then you can't miss...[j]ust write it off, in your own way, and make it stand up off the page and jump about the room" (p66)

"Insofar as poetry is convincingly the real speech of a real person, it seems to happen "off" the page. I think that's fairly true" (p373)

"poetry is simply the name we give to a certain kind of writing...inner concentration, inner listening, dependance on the spontaneous mind rather than on cultivating & remembering mind... So rather than saying 'study writing', I was saying 'practice writing', as diving to depths has to be practised.
The whole business closer to athletics than to aesthetics, perhaps. hence my no words about 'technique'" (p483)
"My definition of 'poetry', almost, excludes anything coming from the ego under the ego's control" (p628)
"The deadliest thing is for a writer to develop too fixed a 'style'. The ultimate, to my mind, must be the naked voice of that inner being" (p636)
 "A feeling is always looking for a metaphor of itself in which it can reveal itself unrecognised" (p678)
I'll add more as I finish the book, but these quotes speak immensely to me, especially the 'practice writing' as opposed to 'study writing'. I think too much about how to write and simply don't 'practice' enough, fairly obvious advice really...
I've been a rubbish blogger lately...but I think I needed a wee break from it.
Life has pretty much normalized again: the children, the pup and myself  have fallen back into a routine after a summer of chaos. I've not been writing much but I have been reading, reading, reading prose, poetry, history, poetry.
Trying to work out where to take my poetry next. I want to deepen it, encompass more with it, when I read Phillis Levin's gorgeous May Day collection I feel my own poems have too much description and zero philosophy or ideas whereas Levin's are packed with beautiful detail and description but also full of ideas and musings. I'd like to develop a more defined 'voice' (the dreaded 'voice'!!!) in my poems, I love the casual tone of Anne Sexton's poems in All My Pretty Ones yet they still manage to be weighty poems. I think I really need to loosen up in my own writing.
I survived the Callender reading, in fact I really enjoyed it. The more readings I do the more I really, really enjoy them, amazing considering I'm such an introvert! I managed to get there for the morning and afternoon sessions, it's great just getting to a poetry event but I really enjoyed the variety of the readings which included a series of poems accompanied by a man playing songs on a ukulele in-between each poem! Of course I bought more books, it amazes me the quantity of quality poetry out there.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

"Writer's block is a fancy term made up by whiners so they can have an excuse to drink alcohol" - Steve Martin

Unfortunately the business of life has taken over poetry and blogging recently, plus zero inspiration hasn't helped. Hopefully things will settle down soon.
I'm doing a poetry reading a week on Saturday at the Callender poetry weekend along side Chris Powici, Tom Murray, Kona McPhee, Bridget Khursheed and Andrew P Pullan. So very much looking forward to it, the full programme for the weekend can be found here.
I received my contributor's copy of Gutter Magazine and even got a wee mention in the forward which was nice.
This is the lovely cover of the Cinnamon Press anthology due out next month and which I have three poems in, plus I have a poem in one of the weird and wonderful Sidekick Books micro-anthologies(produced by Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving, editors of Fuselit Magazine which is due out next month also.
So hope to get back to blogging better soon! I hope even more that I'll manage to write even one poem, soon!!!!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The great Scottish Makar, Edwin Morgan, has died, aged ninety. A sad day for Scotland, poetry lovers and all those who knew him. I was lucky enough to meet him a number of years ago when I won a poetry competition organised by the RSAMD in honour of him.
An amazingly eclectic poet with a huge output of works. Despite his age and battle with cancer, Morgan published his last collection just three years ago.
Tributes by Carol Ann Duffy amongst others can be found here.

**edit** oops Morgan amazingly published his last collection, Dreams and Other Nightmares, on his 90th birthday!

Sunday, August 08, 2010

Exciting news for Plath fans: the academic and literary journal,
Plath Profiles issue 3  is now on-line!

Packed with numerous interesting essays such as 'Plath's Legacy for a Male Poet' and 'Sylvia Plath and Edvard Munch: Mindscape of Chagrin', it includes a range of (some excellent) Plath-inspired poetry and artwork.
Essential reading for any Plath and Hughes fans.

(Right - detail from bedroom wallpaper from 3 Chalcot Square, London, 1960)
Getting back to writing a little about some of the poetry books I've purchased over the last year, here are some thoughts on Colin Will's latest poetry collection, The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Cafe. It's a collection of forty-one poems which range in setting from the Scottish mountains to, as the title suggests, Tibet. The last eight poems in the book are a sequence of Tibet poems.

What I enjoy most about Colin's poetry is his sonic awareness. As readers of this blog will know by now, I love explosions of words, repetitions of sounds, tightly compact syntax. So I love to read a couple of lines such as: "...Felled for fires, / fodder, frames for shelters, sod-clad" in Colin's poem 'The Long Walk In', it makes my tongue tingle! I think this is a lovely poem, it's about the walk in to the base of a mountain before the climb. It ends: "...A bare glen, deserted, / yet full of things that bustle, whistle, rustle, wrestle / with thoughts of getting up, never coming down". 
Another example of the density of language in Colin's poems comes from 'Old Campaigner': "Seasonal fogs drift inland, / tock-tocky beetles genuflect / to tip condensing drops mouthward".
I like the vein of humour in Colin's poems too, the last few lines of his poem 'Hide and Find' made me smile: "Below a grizzled crag I'm checked out / by a falcon, who can see / my inner pigeon".

Colin's background is in science which, I believe, contributes to the sense of precision in his use of language and imagery. My favourite poem in the collection is 'The To-Do List'. Each verse begins with  "I must...", following an interesting sequence of things on the narrator's to-do list from purchasing a supply of Post-It notes, beginning a history of the rice cake, arranging the flowers in an alphabet of colour to "I must start to cut you / out of my life". I love the sequence of the poem from the beautiful imagery in the first verse of the walls covered in post-it notes being likened to tree trunks in Mexico "smothered in a million motionless / Monarch butterflies", the intriguing second and third verses of the narrator beginning his history of the rice cake and flower arranging by letters to the slightly diorientating introduction of  'you' in the fourth stanza which then goes on to state "I'll begin with forgetfulness, those little acts of careless negligence" and ends beautifully with - "sooner or later / I'll introduce the closed door, / the unanswered knock, / the separate wing".
Relationships, landscapes and tightly knit language in abundance, an enjoyable collection.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

I was hoping to fit in a lot of writing time this summer with Jamie being on his 6/7 week holidays (teachers eh!). But instead not only do we have a very active and excitable three year old, a fully weaned ten month old but now also a new puppy. So while he's keeping the mutt in a strict routine, my days are filled with endless hoovering, cooking, amusing, feeding!

However I have been reading, and been pleasantly surprised by, Roddy Lumsden's New and Selected book of poems Mischief Night. Having not been particularly excited by poems of his that I've read on-line, I just happened to see it in the local library and picked it up. I've thoroughly enjoyed it, particularly his love poems, of which there are many. Plus last month I purchased Eleanor Ree's brilliant latest collection Eliza and the Bear, I wrote about her previous collection, Andraste's Hair, here.

I've also been re-reading Kate Chopin's short novel The Awakening, which I absolutely love, with its wonderfully exotic (to me!) 19th Century New Orleans setting and Creole culture. The novel is rich with gorgeous description, here's an extract:
"How still it was, with only the voice of the sea whispering through the reed that grew in the salt-water pools! The long line of little gray, weather-beaten houses nestled peacefully among the orange trees. It must always have been God's day on that low, drowsy island, Edna thought. They stopped leaning over a jagged fence made of sea-drift to ask for water. A youth, a mild-faced Acadian, was drawing water from the cistern, which was nothing more than a rusty buoy, with an opening on one side, sunk in the ground. The water which the youth handed to them in a tin pail was not cold to taste, but it was cool to her heated face, and it greatly revived and refreshed her."
I've also got a desire to re-read Virginia Woolf's To the Lighthouse, all that sea imagery... Keep meaning to pick up a copy of her diaries to read as well.
Being a big Sherlock Holmes fan I've been loving the new series on BBC1, not to everyone's taste - Sherlock in 21st Century London - but I'm loving it, quite Jeremy Brett, I think. And Jeremy Brett is Sherlock Holmes!
Reading opportunity at The Fringe!

Anyone living near Edinburgh and looking for an opportunity to read their poems: - The Captain's Bar, snuggled between Old College and Bristo Square, is running a daily spoken word event from now until 21st August, check out the webpage here.

I'm pleased to be reading at the Callander Poetry Weekend which runs from Friday 3rd to Sunday 5th of September. It's a yearly festival hosted and organised by Sally Evans, editor of Poetry Scotland. Packed with poetry readings, book launch parties and interesting events such as book collating, sewing and bookbinding demonstrations, a talk on Byron in Albania by Morelle Smith and a presentation of Red Squirrel Press poets. Sounds like it's going to be a great weekend! Checkout the link to Sally's website from Poetry Scotland for more info.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

my attempt at a poem in Scots!

Come Awa fir a Daunder

(post removed)

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

first draft

We meet by a charm of crossbills,
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Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sadly I couldn't make it through to Edinburgh for the launch of Anon 7 last night, but my voice did! Contributors to the magazine were asked to email recordings of our poems and apparently they were played in the "poet's chamber" at the launch.
You can listen to the recordings here. There are roughly 35 mins worth of poetry and you can hear me read my 'Eyewitnesses' poem at around 21 mins 30 secs against a background of bird calls and the like!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Holiday time!
I'm off to the Isle of Lewis for a week. Traveling up through Skye, getting the ferry over to Harris then driving up and across the island to Barvas to stay with my aunt and uncle. I haven't been back 'home' for ten years, since both of my grandparents died.
I spent every summer there as a kid on my gran and seanair's croft, I'm looking forward to reliving this part of my childhood and taking my own children there to experience the long white sandy beaches, the machair, the huge Atlantic waves, the sprawling moors. The photo below is of my seanair and his parents, his mother is my namesake. It's the peat gathering time of year so no doubt we'll all be out chucking the peats onto the back of the tractor just like when I was a child. I'm going to buy a nice, new A5 notepad to take with me to gather plenty poetry material.

Monday, June 28, 2010

The poetry submission headache saga continues.
Remember when idiot me submitted a selection of poems for a poetry pamphlet competition which turned out to be a full-length collection competition instead? And remember how, when realising this, I emailed to withdraw my submission and submitted three of the poems elsewhere?
And then, bizarrely, how I got word that three of the poems that I had submitted to the full-length collection competition are going to be published in the up-coming Autumn anthology so I then had to write to all three editors whom I had submitted my poems to to with drawthem.
And despite this one of the editors emailed some time after to accept my poem for publication so I had to tell them again that I had withdrawn it.

Well today I flicked through facebook to discover that one of the other mags that I had submitted one of the three poems to has published it in their latest issue.
I give up.
If the anthology folk see it I'm sure they'll be well pee'd off.
The only thing that can happen now is for the third editor, whom I still haven't heard back from, to print my third poem in their mag!
Never thought I'd be complaining about getting poems published!

Anyway, I'm excited and super-pleased to have poems in this month's lovely issues of Poetry Scotland, Anon and Gutter Magazine!!!!

Friday, June 25, 2010

I've been reading Jane Holland's excellent series of workshops on redrafting poems at the Mslexia website. She quotes a suggestion from poet Sophie Mayer - "Feed work through Google Translation or Babelfish (sometimes multiple times) and rewrite from the new meanings that arise".
I thought it would be fun to translate and translate back my poem in the previous post through various languages on Babelfish -

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I think I like the Korean version best, or maybe the Russian 'I intrasonic oscillations along sea surface'!
A bit of fun but I think it could certainly be a useful way to get perhaps a slightly different perspective on a poem.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Monday, June 21, 2010

I've bought quite a few poetry books / pamphlets over the last couple of years so I thought it was about time I started reading them through systematically and blogging a little about them. So I'm going to start with Jon Stone's Scarecrow's pamphlet which is published by Happenstance.
Jon was one of the poets I was lucky enough to read with in Edinburgh the other week and I've really enjoyed reading his pamphlet.

Language-wise his poems are sheer pleasure. The first thing I enjoy about reading a poem is the words, regardless of meaning. Just the sound, the syllables, the rhymes, the visual explosions of letters. And, to be honest, I don't really know what half of his poems are about but they are laced with and energised by words and phrases that I wish that I'd thought of.
Some examples:

"Nuggets of Zingiber, fire-packed rhizomes"

"banish hag-rodeo! Bring that curio"

"get me that jake root,
that stick of mouth gelignite, brute tongue number"

"that woodknuckle jump-lead, that sting in a knock"

"the furious ting, with the jaggery,
crystals of dust and the bunch of nodules"

"splinter and splice in my trinket teeth"

Now I tell you that all of these phrases come from just One poem. It's no wonder that it was commended in last year's National Poetry Competition. It's called 'Jake Root' and you can read it here (fourth poem down).

The intensity and playfulness of language makes these poems exciting to read, this is what the blurb at the back of the pamplet says:

"This is a poet who knows precisely what he's doing, even when half-intoxicated by language and illusion: Doctor Who meets Jenny Greenteeth; Perkin Warbeck visits the same pub as Nick Drake. Prophecies, spells and lies begin to take on the nature of truth, as the Scarecrow looks up and walks...".

I admit most of the contemporary culture references of a twenty-something Londoner are lost on me, but the fact that I enjoyed these surreal, word-wild poems so much despite not 'getting' them just shows how good they are. Don't be misled by the weird and out-there subject matter and wordage, these poems are very technically aware and many of them are written in traditional form. I'll be interested to watch how Stone develops his writing in his future collection/s.

Here are some more of my favourite phrases/lines from various poems in the pamphlet:

"Pulse a bird's blink"
"A man whose head's been Morris-danced into bandages"
"His mouth / is a forge and his laugh is ironmongery"
"the night is hot and hot with the breath of Boy"
"beauty that would make a shambles of you!
"how I prefer to be a night operator, / clot of shadow"
"the stony clank of my strides"
"My mother's smile is a set of rubber kitchen knives"
"Egon is 'wolf-handsome', 'young', 'a talent'"
"who is this wastral, hook-spined, puppet-limbed"

I could go on and on  but I might get done for copyright!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

I want my old template back!!!!
So the night has come and gone and it feels good to have conquered my first proper poetry reading!
I was sick all day Saturday and really thought I might not make it through to Edinburgh after all my preparation and planning  but thankfully I stopped throwing up by Sunday morning.

I was first up to read which meant I could relax and enjoy all of the other readings. All that practice of reading my poems to the kitchen walls paid off. Once I started the nerves disappeared, I looked out over everybody's heads and read my poems as if I was in my own wee house. I actually really enjoyed it!!

Phillis Levin is a lovely, dainty woman, she and her husband had been staying at St. Andrew's and they kindly said that they enjoyed my St. Andrew's poems. Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving were up from London and they both read very well, plus there was David Kinloch, a very tall and prominant Scottish poet. It was a great variety of readings and lovely just to be there and get a chance to meet and chat to folk. Everyone was very friendly, especially the other poets which was nice because I was slightly afraid of them at first!! I came away with signed copies of Levin's latest collection May Day, Kinloch's Un-Tour-dEcosse and Stone's recently published Happenstance pamphlet Scarecrows. I also won a book of selected poems of Blake Morrison in the raffle! So plenty of reading to enjoy.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Some great and funny advice on writing by the UK-born, Australian-bred and now living in Scotland poet, Kona MacPhee. I need to seriously apply nearly all of these points to myself!

Sunday, June 06, 2010

That's my poem and a short bio up at the Poetry At The... blog for the poetry reading next week, can't quite believe we're into June already!
I'm really looking forward to hearing Phillis Levin, I very much like what I've read of her work on-line and she's a wonderful reader of her poems (you can hear her read some of her poems here). Also reading will be David Kinloch who lectures in Creative Writing at Strathclyde uni, and Jon Stone and Kirsten Irving who are both editors of Fuselit magazine. So feeling a little nervous about reading in such good company!
I've read quite a few tips on-line on preparing for readings but I'd like to know your number one tip that you always keep in mind when doing a reading or what especially bugs you about poetry readings.

It'll also be nice just getting to Edinburgh for a change. Might get a chance to pop into the Scottish Poetry Library or a wander around the National Galleries. There's no chance of getting home because of the ferries which means a whole night in Edinburgh, child-free!!

Saturday, June 05, 2010

I picked up a copy of Palgrave's famous poetry anthology The Golden Treasury the other week from a local charity shop. It's in brilliant condition too, well it was before I started dog-earing the poems I like! So I'm reading my way through it and pleasantly enjoying Shakespeare's poems in particular, whom I never read enough of. I love this song from The Tempest which is of course an important reference point for Plath -

Full fathom five thy father lies:
of his bones are coral made;
those are pearls that were his eyes:
nothing of him that doth fade,
but doth suffer a sea-change
into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell:
hark! now I hear them, -
ding, dong, bell.

But even better than reading it is hearing it sung, so gorgeously -

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Thanks to a link from Todd Swift's Eyewear blog I've just watched a wonderful interview with W.S. Merwin. I bought Merwin's latest collection The Shadow of Sirius the other year after reading this most gorgeous poem of his in the New Yorker.  In the programme Merwin says that Pound advised him to write 75 lines of poetry everyday and went on to say that Merwin, being so young at the time, wouldn't have anything to write about therefore he should learn a language and translate!

Some quotes from Merwin:
"poetry rises out of what we don't know"
"a theme that runs through all poetry and language is a feeling of loss"
"grief...is the beginning of language"
"poetry begins by hearing, listening"
"the background of words...is the nourishing dark...that is always with us"

I heartily recommend the programme,  it's 52 minutes long and available to watch here.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Writing Methods

Why is it so hard to write poems? I love reading about how poets come to write their poems, their thought-processes, what triggers them etc. I think I think too much about the process, I'm too self-conscious, too aware when I start writing. I've got this mad idea in my head that I want every poem I write to count, to be really meaningful to me, to tell me something. And because of this I struggle to write a poem just for the fun of it. It's counter-productive, this self-imposed pressure is immensely inconducive to writing. So I gather my images, page after page of groups of scenes that I try to find meaningful homes for. The images are the easy part, a walk by the river or in the gardens and the images come but not just nature description, images with real emotional weight. But finding the right narrative home, the story that these images come from is the real struggle. I'd love to know how everyone else writes, some people don't like to talk about their processes but the analytical part of me is greedy for detail about such things.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Goodbye Sorlil, Hello Marion!

Yes, I've finally decided to come out of the closet.
In some ways I'll be sad to see the back of sorlil. I coined the name when I created my first blog which recorded my first full pregnancy and the first couple of scary years of parenthood. We had agreed on the name Sorley for a boy and Lily for a girl hence sorlil!

I met up with Colin the other day to talk over the pamphlet, he thinks possibly early next year for its publication. It was a funny feeling handing over my poems, almost like a purging of my poetic self. I certainly feel 'lighter' for it somehow.

Issue 4 of Horizon Review is running a bit late but hopefully it'll be online sometime this week and with my St Andrew's poem, Cathedral Ruins at Night, in it!

The poetry magazine Anon has recently introduced a new online admissions system where you can create an account and log-in at any time to monitor the status of your poems. I think this is a fantastic idea! Like most people I'm pretty fed up with the merry-go-round of submitting, waiting, waiting, wondering whether to email and chase them up, wondering if they bother to reply if they don't want your work etc etc. Where as here I can have an obsessive day and check the 'status' of my poems ten million times or forget about it for a few day knowing I can check up on them anytime!

*** edit***
Horizon 4 is now online and here's my poem! A really enjoyable issue with poems, art, fiction, reviews, essays and an interesting collaborative poem by two Calder Wood Press poets!
Also, Anon has accepted one of my poems for publication in their next issue!!
I apologise for the excess use of exclamation marks in this post!

Thursday, April 29, 2010

I've never been able to write on demand, well I could but the result wouldn't be pretty or worth much. Unlike swiss, who seems to have little problem turning his daily life into poetic epiphanies, I sit on my reams of imagery waiting for the 'thing' that's going to give it substance and meaning. So that, probably laziness, and the endlessness of household chores are my excuses for not having any new poems to post at the moment.

I'm not much of a short story reader but lately I've been devouring Robin Jenkins' book of short stories -Lunderston Tales. It has to be an excellent writer who makes you look at people differently and even value them more than you did previous to reading their work. I love Robin Jenkins' stories, they make me laugh, give me insights into the life and thinking of people around me. They are literally about the people around me. Jenkins spent the last thirty years of his life living just outside of Dunoon, where I live. His fictional stories are based on real people and people I recognise. These people exist everywhere of course but luckily for me Jenkins' stories are very much based locally which means when I walk down town I imagine I could be living in one of his stories.

Incidentally, Brown's latest gaffe reads like it's straight out of a Robin Jenkins story! - 'The Pensioner and the Prime Minister'.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Very exciting news for Plath and Hughes fans - the British Library has recently published a cd of all Plath's recordings including interviews with Plath and Hughes not publicly available since the original broadcasts, a live recording of Plath reading 'Tulips', Plath describing her experiences of being an American woman in England as well as Plath and Hughes talking about how they met.

The Spoken Word CD is 73 minutes long and includes a booklet containing an introduction by the Plath scholar Peter Steinberg of the excellent Sylvia Plath info blog where you can read a review of the cd here. The cd can be purchased here.

A nearly eight minute podcast taster from the cd can be heard here.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

With it being the holidays I've not had much of a chance to get into writing but I have been thinking a lot about poetry book covers and I'm curious to know how people decide on the cover picture or design for their book - whether they go for a nice picture that ties in with the theme of the book or maybe a striking picture that's more specific to the title of the collection, and what kind of covers people prefer when buying a book.

I really like the cover of Robin Robertson's The Wrecking Light. According to the inside cover it's a painting by Sam Morrow. It doesn't bear direct resemblance to the title and I don't think the apples are a reference to any particular poem but it is a beautiful picture. To me the black background conveys the darkness at the heart of many of the poems with the apples representing the fragile beauty and sensuality of nature which at times blends with human nature. And of course apples are a potent symbol of innocence, knowledge and sinfulness. I was planning on buying the book because I'd just heard Robertson read from it and really liked his poems but if I hadn't heard of the author or the poems and just saw the book in a bookshop I would definitely have picked it up for a look because of its cover and title.

I also really like the cover of Anne Sexton's All my Pretty Ones (notice a theme here of black backgrounds!!). The purple flower against the black seems darkly feminine which is one way you could characterise the poems, I'm afraid I don't know what the flower is so I can't really speculate on its significance.

I guess my preference is nature as a symbol against a dark background!

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Have you ever started writing a poem for it to turn into an exercise in mental torture? This is what I've been doing today.
I came across a poetry competition last night, deadline is midnight tomorrow but I thought I'd give it a bash. It's in memory of the Glasgow artist and sculpture Hannah Frank. When I checked out the link I really liked her black and white drawings. So the competition is to write a poem inspired by one of Hannah Frank's drawings. I picked this wonderful drawing:

It's called Moon Ballet.
I've written a good chunk of the poem but just can't seem to bring it together and it's now hurting my head. But there's still tomorrow...

Monday, March 22, 2010

Thursday, March 18, 2010

books, books, books

I recently ordered some poetry pamphlets from Calder Wood Press and now that they've arrived I'm even more excited about my pamphlet next year.
They are beautiful, colourful, sturdy pamphlets printed on gorgeous silky paper.

I've only flicked through them and can't wait for some proper quiet time to read them:
Sky Blue Notebook from the Pyrenees by Jayne Wilding
Local Colour by Judith Taylor
A Hesitant Opening of Parasols by Lilias Scott Forbes

You can read sample poems by them on the Calder Wood Press website.

I also ordered Colin Wills' Sushi & Chips collection (published by Diehard Books but also available through Calder Wood Press) which I'm looking forward to reading.

Finally, swiss has just had his first full-length collection published by Calder Wood Press, I am the happy owner of a copy.

stone and sea is a gorgeous collection of 44 poems which I'll be blogging about in more detail in the future but right now I'm just enjoying.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I don't feel so jealous about those of you who are heading up to St. Andrews for StAnza 2010 now that I can snuggle up with my lovely signed copy of Robin Robertson's latest collection, The Wrecking Light.

I went to the Don Paterson / Robin Robertson reading on Saturday and it was great. I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Paterson's work, it just doesn't really do it for me. Which is odd because he's one of the foremost influential and accoladed poets of our times, and he's Scottish! So I feel I'm really missing out on something.

Robertson, on the other hand, with his dark, surreal but exact, open-ended poems laden with myths, symbols and landscapes, I find inspiring.
I did enjoy Paterson's reading and he came across as a really nice person. But the poem I enjoyed of his the most he attributed Robertson as a major influence in the writing of it!

The reading was in the beautiful Mitchell Library, the same room where, on Thursday night, I read two of my poems as part of the open mic event. I wasn't nervous about reading but I did forget to breathe properly so that by the middle of the first poem I was running out of breath! During the second poem I had to deliberately concentrate on breathing and the reading of it was much easier. I think it takes the first couple of poems to get into the flow of reading your work, I noticed that Robertson didn't look at the audience once while reading his first poem but after that he seemed to relax into a rhythm of reading.

At the book signing when I asked Robertson who his influences are, he mentioned Geoffrey Hill whom I've come across here and there but never really read properly. Now I'm curious to read more to see what way he has influenced Robertson.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A poem in memory of the three Russian asylum seekers who jumped to their death from a Glasgow high-rise flat on Sunday morning.

Citizens of the Sky

The morning scent of spring

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Friday, March 05, 2010

Apparently in 1992, the UN General Assembly designated the 22nd of March each year as World Water Day!

The Unesco Centre for Water Law, Policy and Science at the University of Dundee are, this year, hosting an online interactive event and other events on that day throughout Dundee. They are looking for links to poems about water. So if you post a water poem on your blog and link to their page they will link to you also (you have to send your link to this email. Thanks to Rachel for the heads-up, check out her three water poems here, plus Colin has one up on his blog here.

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that water features very prominantly in my poems, well that's because I live next to the beautiful Firth of Clyde (pictured above)!.

Here's a watery poem of mine which I wrote almost exactly a year ago when I was pregnant with my daughter.


Waves rise from nowhere
like the water pearl

wrapping its layer
upon layer within
my mantle folds.

A lochan is gathering
its cushiony hold
under my skin,

a sea swelling
in my bones.

The air is fresh with snow
and the faint halo
of a daylight moon.

I’m walking into the light
and wondering,
if like a sunflower,

you’re turning,
in my womb.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

So in-between the usual daily house/children busyness, today I've been battling with finalizing the line-breaks on a poem to be published in the next Horizon Review. It's finding that balance between how I read the poem, how it looks on the page (screen), and imagining how other folk are going to read it.

I mainly break my lines according to natural pauses when I read it aloud and what I particularly want to emphasize. For a long time (so it seemed to me) I was stuck writing in three-line verses, I found it hard to shake that off. Now I've found a freedom in not keeping to the same number of lines in every stanza but this introduces the problem of when to have a stanza break and how does it look on the page if, for instance, I have a three-liner followed by a two-liner followed by a one-liner!
Anyway, I think (I hope) I got there in the end.

Very much stuck on a poem at the moment, I have plenty imagery and theme but it's not working, I think I'm trying too hard to force it together. So often I feel when starting a poem, from the very first line, that I'm working toward reaching the end of it as quickly as possible so as not to mess it up!

I had the wonderful experience last night of discovering poems by a poet I had not come across before that have completely blown me away. I was randomly listening to poets reading their poems at the Poetry Archive website (a fantastic resource) when I clicked on the name Jean Valentine. The rich imagery, the dream imagery and the tautness of her language appeal to me hugely. I can't wait for a chance to order a book of her poetry.

Monday, March 01, 2010

For any Hughes or Plath fans - Interview with Frieda Hughes on Radio 3's Private Passions, it's available for the next six days. Includes her choice of music from Classical to AC/DC!

I'm listening to it as I write this and it's giving me the shivers, she sounds so like Plath - the same smooth, deep, very articulate voice despite the fact that her accent is quite different.
An artist and poet in her own right, Frieda (isn't that just a lovely name?) Hughes has published three collections of poetry, several children's books and held numerous exhibitions of her art work.

Thanks to Peter at Sylvia Plath Info blog for the link.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010


A couple of months ago I entered poems for the Cinnamon Press Poetry Award competition. I thought the prize was pamphlet publication but then later realised it was for full-length book publication so embarrassingly I had to withdraw my submission. The publisher was very nice about it and wished me well in my poetry so I went ahead and submitted my poems elsewhere.

Well this morning I received a letter saying that I had made the top ten short-list for the competition which means they are going to print three of my poems in their stories and poems anthology to be published later on this year. The problem is that the three poems they've picked I've now submitted to three different poetry magazines. So this morning was spent writing embarrassing emails and probably hacking off editors of magazines I would like to publish poems in, in the future.

Normally I'm super-careful about such things and read submission guidelines very thoroughly but I don't know what's happened to me this month, I've been such a prize twit (I messed up with another sub also). Please someone tell me they've done something similar to make me feel better!

I do have exciting news which I don't know much more about but can't keep to myself any longer...Calder Wood Press are going to be publishing a pamphlet of my poems sometime next year!!!
I was delighted when Colin emailed me about it the other week. Calder Wood Press has published many Scottish poets I admire including Kevin Cadwallender, Morgan Downie, Jayne Wilding and Juliet Wilson. I met Colin at StAnza last year and he is such a lovely man, I'm really looking forward to working with him on putting together a pamphlet collection.

On the poetry readings front, I'm able to make it to the open mic night next month at the Aye Write Glasgow Book Festival. So I shall go armed with my poems and hopefully get a reading slot.

Monday, February 15, 2010

So it's been a rough couple of weeks - we all caught a nasty head cold, both kids included. But thankfully we're over it now so hopefully I'll get back to some writing.

Quite some time ago Rob MacKenzie asked me if I would give a poetry reading at one of his monthly 'Poetry At The...' events in Edinburgh, so I've been booked up for the June event for ages. Well I nearly fainted the other day when I saw whom Rob had managed to book for the other two reading slots on the night: the renowned Scottish poet, David Kinloch and the also renowned American poet Phillis Levin. I hadn't heard of Levin but I've been reading up on her work since and I very much like what I've read, to say the least.

I'm really excited about the reading. I'm trying to organise a local get-together of writers to see if there's much interest in putting on a local poetry event here in Dunoon, something I've been thinking about for ages but the thought of my first poetry reading being in such esteemed company has given me the kick-up-the-backside to get on and do something locally and hopefully at least get in a practice run. I know it's only February but I've already organised the poems I'll be reading and the order of them. In fact I practice reciting the one's I've memorised when I'm out walking, under my breath of course!!

I've also got some other exciting poetry news which I'll reveal when I know more about it!

Saturday, February 06, 2010

I'm sad to be missing out on StAnza this year, it had become a bit of a yearly escape away for a few days and especially since none other than the Seamus Heaney is going to be doing readings and some lucky people are even getting to a round table reading with him!

Ruby, as you can see, is just too young to be abandoned for a couple of days so StAnza will have to wait till next year.

However...I have booked a ticked to hear none other than the Don Paterson reading with Robin Robertson during the Aye Write Glasgow book festival!!

It seems a bit silly to have Aye Write and StAnza on at roughly the same time, I'm never normally able to make Aye Write events because the budget won't allow day trips up to Glasgow in the same week as a weekend up in St. Andrews.

Anyhow I'm excited to be able to make it to this reading. There are plenty more exciting events at Aye Write with a great line up of poets and authors but being bound by ferry times I can only make afternoon events.

I've never been a huge fan of Paterson so perhaps this reading will change that. I'm really looking forward to hearing Robertson, since googling his work I know I'm really going to enjoy it.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Rob facebooked an interesting submission request from Succour.
So for all you clever people out there who do weekly poetry challenges, how about giving this a shot -

Succour: The New Fiction, Poetry and Art Magazine

Submission Details

For Succour 11, our Spring/Summer 2010 issue, we would like to invite submissions which pertain not to a theme, as has hitherto been the case, but which adhere to a pair of conditions.

Condition 1: All submissions should be written on Saturday February 6th, 2010.
Condition 2: What you write should not be an attempt to execute an idea – for a story, for a poem, etc – that has previously occurred to you. Rather, we would prefer you to write whatever happens to come into your head at that particular time.

The idea for this issue was inspired by 20 Lines a Day by Harry Mathews, in which the author sets out to follow a rule Stendhal once set himself, to write ‘Twenty lines a day, genius or not’. Mathews undertakes this project in an attempt to overcome ‘the anxiety of the blank page’; it becomes part of his writing practice, his way of starting off, getting in the zone, before going on to whatever his main writing project may be. We would like submissions to February 6th, 2010 to be written in the same spirit.

We will be accepting submissions to February 6th, 2010 from Saturday February 6th 2010 until Monday February 8th 2010 – thereby allowing a couple of days for typing up etc.

Tuesday, February 02, 2010

I blogged about the Carry a Poem campaign a while back here. Well these lovely free books were distributed throughout Edinburgh yesterday, here's the link to my story in the book about William Carlos Williams's To a Poor Old Woman.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Some thoughts on Jim Murdoch’s Living With the Truth

If you approach the novel with the idea that it’s going to be some kind of serious psycho-philosophical study into existence and the human mind then you could be forgiven for being disappointed when you begin to read the book though by the end of it that’s exactly what the novel has become.

The basic plot is that the protagonist, a lonely oldish man called Jonathan, gets a visit from Truth personified who resides with him for a couple of days and the novel is about this visit.
I’m not going to review the storyline as such as there are already several reviews of this book here. Instead I’m going to pick out some strands of thought I’d like to explore.

In all honesty, I found Truth to be super-annoying much of the time. What did I find annoying? Well his inability to be serious for any real length of time is the main culprit. What can be more serious than the truth – the truth about life, existence, knowledge, morality, afterlife etc. It’s all a big game to him. But it turns out that truth personified is not alone, there’s a whole pantheon of personified abstracts which are, to me, indicative of the Homeric Gods. Though Murdoch goes to lengths in the novel to insure that they are not quite the same thoughtless puppeteers, their essence is the same – existence is a big joke to them because they’re not weighed down with the worries / burdens of life and death.
With this characterisation of Truth, Murdoch immediately subverts the expectations of the reader and yet, as it turns out, manages to explore deep philosophical issues in an accessible manner through the use of comedy.

The parts of the book I enjoyed the most were the interactions between Jonathan and the women in his life. I really loved the scene in Jonathan’s flat when his sister, Mary, comes to visit. Truth convinces Mary to act out a scene from Shakespeare’s Hamlet. The ridiculousness, the absurdity of the scene and the ambivalence of the characters towards one another reminded me of Harold Pinter-style scenarios. Murdoch’s excellent characterisation made this one of the best parts of the book for me.

Jonathan is alienated from life around him, he watches from the outside looking in. This is exemplified in his profession as the owner of second-hand bookshop. Life is to be experienced second-hand, not directly; the role of a book is to mediate life to its reader. Which brings us to Jonathan's curious attitude towards others, particularly women.
He had never married and, despite being lonely, had no desire to. Women are reduced to their physical being yet Jonathan is not misogynistic in the usual sense. Even when listing his sexual encounters, he never really enjoyed the actual act of sex in itself, seeming to prefer self-love. What he does desire is the physical closeness which, we are led to believe, is due to the lack of overt parental physical affection throughout his childhood. In particular the Freudian memory of eight-year-old Jonathan being harshly told off when, watching his mother breastfeed his baby sister, he also expressed a wish to be breastfed. This is then the explanation of his particular obsession with breasts throughout his adulthood, yet it is no ordinary sexual desire. Rather, the sense of not being allowed to simply touch another woman’s breasts is viewed as an injustice harking back to the unfairness that his sister should have been the recipient of the tender affection he was denied.

I genuinely enjoyed this novel. Murdoch’s strengths are in characterisation, humour and the complex interaction between strained relationships.
I’ve only scratched the surface of a couple of the themes running through the book. I haven’t even mentioned the many, many humorous exchanges or the existentialism integral to Jonathan’s perception of life.
And, of course, this is only my reading of the book which may or may not be accurate as close reading of novels are not possible in my household at the moment!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Oops looks like I'm in blog post overdrive at the moment!

Re-write of a poem I wrote couple of years ago on Monet's Haystacks: Snow Effect.

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Philip Gross. Heard of him? He's just won the T.S. Eliot Prize, how shameful of me, never read any of his work!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Trying to write some poems to enter into the Scotland National Galleries competition, here's one I wrote today based on a painting by Alan Davie - 'Woman bewitched by the moon'

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I've been such a rubbish blogger.
So I decided to write a random update post!

I'm not allowed to tap my feet in my house because my three year-old son shouts "mummy, don't sing with your feet"!

I normally read Plath's diaries over Christmastime every year but haven't managed to this year, I aim to read them this month though. Talking of Plath I read an interesting article in the Guardian the other day linked from Peter Steinberg's Sylvia Plath info blog: Nick Laird's Poems for a Baby. Laird states -
"I've been struck by how often, for male poets, having children roots itself in linear imagery, bloodlines, inheritance; whereas for female poets, the process is a form of replacement, of disappearing."

I was surprised to read this in relation to my recent baby poem which has the line about the trees and I becoming white shadows of ourselves. My primary thought was about post-pregnancy body shape, of me becoming a shadow of my former pregnant self. Now I wonder if there is an unconscious replacement thing going on here. One example Laird uses to support his theory (?) is from Plath's Morning Song -

"I'm no more your mother
Than the cloud that distils a mirror to reflect its own slow
Effacement at the wind's hand"

Laird picks out Plath's use of the word effacement, "the act of one thing erasing another" as the key thing. But what he doesn't mention is that effacement is exactly the word every full-term pregnant woman wants to hear as it refers to the thinning of the cervix, one of the indications of the body preparing itself for labour.
But I loved Laird's comment at the end in reference to his newborn baby: "I find myself holding the wee dote on my knee thinking, now surely to God I can get a poem out of you . . ."!

On another note, I've been reading in various blogs and things about the lack of lit crit written by women, one of the usual explanations is that we are too caring and nurturous by nature to step easily into the big bad world of literary criticism. Personally I think this is nonsense, women in academia are able to scrutinise just as thoroughly and mercilessly (if need be) as the next bloke.

I got my Edinburgh Review in last week, really enjoyed reading it - it was a Czech themed issue and I did Slavonic studies for a year at uni and loved it, in fact one of my old lecturers has an article in it! Anyway there was an interesting essay by the poet John Hartely Williams titled 'Speaking of You' in which he certainly doesn't set out to pull any punches. He writes -

"Nowadays those who consider themselves to be poets think they should write poetry, but this is quite wrong. The last thing one should want to do while writing a poem is write poetry. The whole project of writing a poem ought to be to dodge the image of itself that confronts it in the mirror. (not sure what he means here) Writing poetry...involves you in questions of vocabularly. One might give up on vocabulary altogether and stop thinking. That way you might arrive at a poem".

Williams describes himself as a warty poet who has eschewed vocabularly and stopped thinking and this enables him to write poems as opposed to poetry.

Although I get the point about poetry as opposed to poems, I love language, I love words. I love playing around with images, sounds and language but I also know that that amounts to very little if there isn't a poem in amongst those words, sounds and images, if there isn't that unknown thing that makes itself know to me (at least partially) by the end of the poem, of what the poem is actually about. I'm strongly in favour of the stop thinking part (not easy to do) but giving up on vocabularly and sticking with plain language, I don't think so.