Thursday, December 29, 2011


Ahh it's all over!!!

I've had a lovely Christmas, played lots of lego - highly addictive you should know! Barely been on the computer, not even facebook though I did finally join twitter but I've yet to get into tweeting.

First book on the list is The Etymologicon by Mark Forsyth. Reading this book has been pure joy and I thoroughly recommend it to everyone! 
Did you know that the term SPAM, in reference to unwanted emails, originates from a Monty Python sketch? Now you see why you must get this book!!!

I also bought a couple of Calderwood press titles - The Heavy Bag by Ross Wilson and Out of the Cave by Alistair Noon, both of which I know I'm really going to enjoy. I also finally ordered By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept by Elizabeth Smart and Jim was lovely enough to send me a copy of his third novel, Milligan and Murphy. I wrote a little about his first novel, Living with the Truth, way back here.  I'm still waiting on African Folktales by Paul Radin to come in. I'm really looking forward to reading it, it's a book that very much influenced Plath's poetry for a period.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

For a child will be born to us, a son will be given to us; And the government will rest on His shoulders; And His name will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Eternal Father, Prince of Peace.

Birthdays, anniversaries, shopping, wrapping, baking, nativity plays, parties... it sure is a busy time!

So here's a wee Merry Christmas to you all and a seasonal excerpt from my favourite poetry collection purchase of 2011, Ashes for Breakfast by Durs Grünbein.

From 'Greetings From Oblivion City' -

"My friends, it is winter here, a pleasant 70 in the shade.
A wind blows off the coastal hills, ruffling
The hair dryer that sits atop the city like a yellow smog.
Sometimes you can see miles into the distance, which

Diminishes the belief in an otherworld. If the hereafter is here,
Then everyone can melt away into thin air.
You encounter the one season spread over four quarters.
Scanning the horizon, you are surprised to see no rainbow.

By January, at the latest, the least observant of observers
Will have noticed that the trees are evergreen here in Eden. Turn
Show your best side, among all these hot grilles.
You won't escape it, life in a solarium."

Friday, December 09, 2011

Thanks to Andrew McCallum Crawford for showcasing my poem 'The Rest and Be Thankful' on his Wee Fictions blog here. It was one of the first poems I ever had published so even though it's not in my pamphlet it has a special place in my heart!

The Rest, as it's known locally, was originally an old Drover road and an old military road through the Arrochar Alps. When the ferries are off it's our long route round to Glasgow. On a nice day it's a beautiful drive, on a day like yesterday you can see what it's like here, sixth picture down.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

'So we found the end of our journey, So we stood alive in the river of light, Among the creatures of light, creatures of light.' - Ted Hughes

The ceremony to memorialise Ted Hughes in Poets Corner in Westminster Abbey took place on Tuesday. His plaque lies below T.S. Eliot's and alongsideTennyson's. In celebration I've started re-reading 'Epic Poise: A Celebration of Ted Hughes', edited by Nick Gammage, a wonderful collection of essays on the life and work of Hughes by a variety of contributors including Seamus Heaney, Blake Morrison, Andrew Motion, W.S. Mervin, Peter Redgrove and Kathleen Raine. You can see some news coverage of the ceremony here.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

I guess reviews are like buses...! Yes! Another Vintage Sea review!

"Marion can write simple lines very well...on the other hand she has a kind of mystical side that stops the work being too mundane"
"Marion has the voice that some poets look for and never find or hear"
Thanks to Rachel for the lovely review on her blog alongside reviews of the very talented JoAnne McKay's Grave with Lights and fellow Calder Wood Press poet, Ross Wilson's, recently published collection The Heavy Bag. Rachel's market research reviewing style is a little bit different to the usual which makes it all the more interesting to read, which you can do - here!

Other good news this week - six poems accepted for the next issue of Shadowtrain!

Saturday, November 26, 2011

"McCready has the uncanny ability to imbue even the most mundane, common place things with mystical properties"

"This is nature turned mythical and extraordinary, there is an acute awareness of life-cycles, weather patterns and things coming to some kind of fruition or ending. And through it all there is a deep running smouldering sensuality, a delight in the beauty and unpredictability of nature and a sense of place and of rootedness"

"McCready brings a heightened awareness to her subjects that make her poems a joy to read"

Thanks to Julia Webb and Ink, Sweat & Tears for this wonderful review of Vintage Sea which you can read here. I'm over the moon with it!!!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The influence of Roethke on Plath's poetry is no secret, however in an essay by Roger Elkin, 'Hidden Influences in the Poetry of Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath', Elkin explores the idea that Roethke's poetry and creative theories greatly influenced Hughes also.
It's a fascinating essay detailing not only the similar themes and techniques such as animism and minimism and use of Jungian symbolism in the poetry of all three but also the role/purpose of poetry to tap into and explore the primitive, pre-conscious thus universal self. He obviously analyses Plath's 'Poem for a Birthday' but also thoroughly analyses Hughes' 'Wodwo' in the light of Roethke. You can find the essay here.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Another Brenhilda / Sula Sgeir poem

second draft

(poem removed)
Thanks to those who reminded me about this - The Baker Prize 2011 - a new annual writing competition organised by The Skye Literary Salon and The Isle of Skye Baking Company. There are categories for Gaelic poetry, Gaelic short story/script/prose, English short story/ script/ prose and English poetry. And it's free to enter!
The closing date is Nov 24th so get your entries in quick, I had better get my thinking cap on!

Calder Wood Press are having an end of year party combined with the launch of Ross Wilson's first collection, The Heavy Bag.Unfortunately I can't make it due to travel problems and childcare but it looks like it'll be a great night so if you're in the area it will be held at the Canon's Gait Cellar Bar, High Street, Edinburgh, Monday 5th December, 8pm. Free buffet included!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

A few short poems I've been working on this morning

(poems removed)

Sunday, November 13, 2011

I've just noticed that Kathleen Jamie is reading at StAnza 2012! I'm really excited about this, she's one of my favourite Scottish poets and she reads her poems wonderfully. You can hear her read some of her poems on the Poetry Archive website here.  The full list of participants is available here and looks like it'll be a great festival one again. Just from scanning the list I'm interested in hearing Niall Campbell and Richie McCaffery, a couple of young Scotland-based poets whose poems I've been impressed by when I've come across them in mags. I'd also like to get a chance to hear Michael Symmons Roberts, Robert Crawford and Simon Barraclough. I see Alistair Cook, an Edinburgh-based photographer who also creates wonderful short films to accompany poems, will be there. I can't wait!

The other day I was delighted to receive through the post a gorgeous new collection of poems by Morgan Downie interlaced with just as gorgeous photographs by the very talented Roxana Gita who also provides Romanian translations of Downie's poems. I'll be reviewing it on the blog sometime soon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

A short poem

First draft

The Fire-leaves of Autumn

(post removed)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

There's a nice wee write-up about my poem 'The Kitten and the Brick-layers Cap' which appears in the pamphlet anthology of poems ‘Starry Rhymes: 85 Years of Allen Ginsberg’ (edited by Claire Askew and Stephen Welsh) on the Sabotage Reviews website here.

Thanks to Rachel for  this link to the Guardian for tips for writing by a great range of  authors, one I like so far:
"You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine." Margaret Atwood

Nothing to do with poetry but... husband is playing a starring role in the manhunt for James May across Dartmoor which will be shown tonight (Tuesday) on BBC2 at 8pm as the first episode of the new series of Man Lab! So if you happen so catch it, my better half is the one sporting the combats!!

Saturday, October 22, 2011

out in the cold

For some unbeknown reason Facebook has currently suspended my account! So until it's been sorted out I might even get a few poems written!

I've been on a bit of a non-poetry reading frenzy lately which began with the following three Plath books I was sent: Bitter Fame by Anne Stevenson, The Haunting of Sylvia Plath by Jacqueline Rose and The Silent Woman by Janet Malcolm. The most interesting, for me, was the Rose book. There was much more of a focus on Plath's poems in it including some stuff I hadn't previously read much about such as the possible influence of cinema films on Plath's work, more on the influence of African folklore, and a rather extensive almost Freudian-like emphasis on sexuality in the interpretation of many Plath's poems. The infamous Bitter Fame was a pretty dull read and the Malcolm book offered an interesting perspective on the history and difficulties facing Plath biographiers.

After the Plath triad, I then became thoroughly engrossed in reading a biography of the Scottish psychiatrist R.D. Laing. R.D. Laing: A Divided Self by John Clay is an absolutely fascinating read. Laing was a forward thinker in his time and helped lead the way to modern thinking about mental illness, schizophrenia in particular, and therefore how it should be treated. Laing's psychiatry and writings were heavily influenced by existentiallism, at the height of his career he was a great success but on a personal level he was unpredictable and completely off-the-wall to put it mildly. A quote from wiki: "Many former colleagues regarded him as a brilliant mind gone wrong but there were some who thought Laing was somewhat psychotic".
You can read more about him on Jim's blog here.

Now I'm onto Freud's The Interpretation of Dreams. I'm only a few chapters in but it's fascinating reading Freud's hypothesis that all dreams are a form of wish-fulfillment which is backed up by detailed analysis of several of his own dreams, dreams of some of his patients and even dreams by some of his children. Even from a sociological perspective alone it is deeply interesting to see what people were dreaming about over a century ago!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

draft poem

I'm not sure why writing poetry should be such a cathartic experience but sometimes just the effort of having cobbled some words together on-screen can be an amazing pick-me-up!

What a happy coincidence: to be reading Tomas Transtromer the week it is announced that he has won the Nobel Prize for Literature. If you didn't know much about him before there's now no shortage of articles on him and his poetry popping up all over the place.

First draft

Like the Sklif of a Daylight Moon

(poem removed)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Review of Vintage Sea!!

"Throughout Vintage Sea is the accumulation and distillation of things that Plath did well – situating the self in / seeing the self through landscape; myth-making as a way of making sense of experience"

"My favourite poems here are highly musical, and their sparse forms, clipped lines and taut linebreaks support their close sound recurrences and small units of meaning. In this, I’m reminded of Elizabeth Bishop"

"So many lines (too many to quote) from ‘Sargassum Lullaby’, ‘The Cockle Picker’s Wife’ and ‘Life Rafts’ are tactile, smelly, tasty"

I'm so exited about this fantastic review of Vintage Sea by Mark Burnhope which you can read on the Sabotage Reviews website

Though I really must stop writing smelly poems! :))) 

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Poems: published and rejected, books and birthdays

I'm pleased to have my Allen Ginsberg poem up on Ink Sweat & Tears today, especially after receiving my third rejection from Magma...they really don't want my poems. On the bright side it frees up two poems to send out elsewhere!

I've yet to really get into Transtromer because the lovely Rachel Fox posted me a bundle of Plath related books which I've been up to my eyes in all week! I've also been reading a biography of the Scottish psychoanalyst R.D. Laing, whom I became interested in after reading Jim's excellent review of one of Laing's books on his blog. It's been fascinating reading, the fragility of the mind, perceptions etc.

Also it's been a busy weekend of birthday celebrations, a friend's 50th and Ruby's second birthday tomorrow which we celebrated today. So, I'm hoping to get into Transtromer this week!

Sorley and Ruby

Monday, September 19, 2011

Poetry on the Radio

If one can have a little fame by association then I'm glad to know Morgan Downie whose beautiful poem 'stone bible' was read out on BBC radio by Welsh singer/songwriter Cerys Matthews no less!!

You can listen to it here at around 1:44. It's from Morgan's full-length poetry collection stone and sea available here from Calder Wood Press.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Programmes, Blogs, Books

So that's The Killing finished and life seems a little empty without my daily dose of Danish crime drama :) But the good news is that series 2 is apparently on its way!

The BBC series A Poet's Guide to Britain is currently being re-run. It's good getting a chance to catch up on the programmes I'd missed first time round. I'd only seen the Plath and George MacKay Brown ones. So the other day I watched the one on Matthew Arnold's 'Dover Beach', which was really enjoyable and the one on the Welsh poet, Lynette Roberts, and her poem 'Poem from Llanybri' which I also really enjoyed, not knowing much about her previously. I'm really looking forward to watching the Louis MacNeice programme, a poet I've very much neglected to read which leaves the Wordsworth programme, which I think I might pass on...

Blogs of Interest: -

Thanks to Andrew Shields for the link to this fantastic blog - How a Poem Happens - every post is a poem followed by an interview with the writer of the poem analyzing how the poem came to be written. Reading through the back-posts has been fascinating, enlightening and full of little gems of advice. Very satisfying for those, like myself, who probably think too much about the actual process of writing!

Randomly came across this blog - Angel Exhaust - while researching the British poetry scene, lots of interesting stuff on the history of the underground/experimental/non-canonical poetry scene.

Been lazy about writing over the last couple of weeks, probably because I've been mostly reading prose. So need to decide on a new poetry reading plan, feel a little Crowther and Grunbein-ed out, though I'm still thinking on their poems I need to bring in a fresh strand of reading/focus.

I've been reading Primo Levi properly for the first time since I visited Dachau six years ago. Levi is a favourite writer of mine, I love his ability to see things so concisely and analytically. I think his collection of essays in The Drowned and the Saved is some the most insightful and honest writing on human behaviour ever written. I expected visiting the camp at Dachau to be an upsetting experience but wasn't ready for it to be such a traumatic experience. So six years on I'm now ready to face my Levi books and the difficult unanswerable questions he raises.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

reading, submissions, blah

So my recent poetry efforts have all been re-drafted and sent out into the big wide world. They've been experimental poems for me so I'm curious to see how they'll go down or whether most or all will come back to me with a thanks-but-no-thanks reply. I wish all journals and mags would move to email submission, I've become very lazy about submitting to anywhere that requires an actual envelope and stamp.

Apart from Michelle McGrane's widely admired collection The Suitable Girl, which I bought last week,  poetry-reading has been moved aside for non-fiction prose.  I'm currently reading Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee (I'd love to pinch that title for a line in a poem!)  and volume one of the The Alan Clark Diaries.

My Allen Ginsberg poem, 'The Kitten and the Brick-layer’s Cap' (after  his 'The Bricklayer's Lunch Hour) will be up on Ink, Sweat & Tears later on this month, Vintage Sea is now available to buy through Word Power Books (as all Calder Wood Press titles are now) and I even have an Amazon page for my pamphlet but since I've not supplied Amazon with any, none are available through it and thankfully there aren't any selling secondhand...yet...!!

I never got into the Danish Crime drama The Killing first time round so I'm catching up with it now!

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monday, August 22, 2011

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Poetry School Downloads

Busy week, my son's first week at school which thankfully went went swimmingly well.

I've been feeling for a while that I really need an intensive boost to my writing to get past my current plateau. I'd love to go on an Arvon course or something similar and be tutored by great poets, but that's just not going to happen. There are plenty of online courses and poets willing to provide individual critical attention but finances won't allow for that either.
Which is why I'm rather excited about coming across a webpage on The Poetry School website which lists plenty of purchasable downloads of varying poetry advice from many interesting and admirable poets at £3 apiece! I'm most interested in "Chance and Random" by Penelope Shuttle, I've been reading up everything I could on Peter Redgrove recently, and "Stealing Stanzas" by Alison Brackenbury.
You can find the list of downloads here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Poetry Workshop

Just noticed on BBC iPlayer a new series of poetry workshops by Ruth Padel on Radio 4. The first one is on landscape poems and starts with a reading of one of Alice Oswald's poems. You can find it here.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Roethke and Kunitz

This week I've been reading what I can of Theodore Roethke and Stanley Kunitz online. I don't own any of either poets' poetry collections and this is where I really miss access to a uni library. However there's no shortage of stuff on both poets online. I've glanced at Roethke's poems before but not really read them properly. Reading the poems of his that are available online I can't help but see the influence of his work on Plath's poems.
It's a well known fact that Plath was greatly influenced by Roethke, especially his 'Greenhouse Poems' on which she based her sequence 'Poem for a Birthday', a pivotal turning point poem in her writing. I'm enjoying them and particularly interested in how he explores his personal themes, in part, through a kind of surreal personification of nature, something I've always enjoyed in Plath's writing. You can see this in Roethke's poem The Geranium and Plath's poem Poppies in July.

I was intrigued by this review of Stanley Kunitz's book The Wild Braid  which mentions the influence of nature and Jungian symbolism in his writing. I love this quote from the book:
'The poem has to be saturated with impulse and that means getting down to the very tissue of experience. How can this element be absent from poetry without thinning out the poem? That is certainly one of the problems when making a poem is thought to be a rational production. The dominance of reason, as in eighteenth-century poetry, diminished the power of poetry. Reason certainly has its place, but it cannot be dominant. Feeling is far more important in the making of the poem. And the language itself has to be a sensuous instrument; it cannot be a completely rational one. In rhythm and sound, for example, language has the capacity to transcend reason; it’s all like erotic play.'
Another book to add to the list of desirables!

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

First draft

Love: when boats of papyrus

(poem removed)

Monday, August 01, 2011

McCready and Downie in Conversation

Fellow Calder Wood Press poet Morgan Downie (swiss) and I review and interview each other on our respective poetry collections. I've been reading Morgan's poetry and conversing with him via the blogs for a couple of years now and I enjoyed this wee joint venture. Morgan's first full-length poetry collection, stone and sea, was published last year and is packed with excellent poems. I was pleased to get this opportunity to ask him some questions on his collection and his answers are interesting and very Morgan!

Thanks to Michelle McGrane for featuring us on her wonderful Peony Moon blog!
"Every translation leaves the poet behind a glass window"

My current obsession with Durs Grünbein has led me to this wonderful short youtube video which features Michael Hofmann reading one of his translations of Grünbein's poems, Grünbein reading an english translation of one of his poems and following it with the German reading, and a lovely mini-interview with Grunbein at the end.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Strong Words: Modern Poets on Modern Poetry, one of my all-time favourite books on poetry. I never get bored of flicking through it, there's always a new thought or insight into someone's writing process which I pick up on depending where I am in my own writing. It features statements on poetry from around sixty odd poets right throughout the twentienth century from Pound and Yeats to current poets such as Selima Hill and Paul Muldoon. The statements from modern poets have been specifically commissioned for the book and the statements from older poets have been gleamed from their own writings from essays, letters and  interviews where they intentionally or sometimes perhaps inadvertantly give away an insight into their own writing processes.
The introduction itself is a fine and thought-provoking piece of writing, here's a snippet:
"No good poem ever steps fully into the light or becomes completely accessible, but remains, instead, almost infinitely approachable. This dark is nurturing: belief in it results in the uncomfortable conviction that it is not the poem's job to explain itself. Rather, the poem is there to affect the reader, to mean something to them that is immediate and powerful, however complex that encounter may prove to be."

I was pleased to get my contributor's copy of Gutter Mag in this morning, it was great reading poems from JoAnne McKay, Colin Will, Sally Evans and fellow Calder Wood Press poet Judith Taylor. It really is a fantastic magazine, packed full of short stories as well as poems. I haven't read the stories yet, just the poems. I particularly enjoyed Dilys Rose's poem 'Yellow Polka Dot Dress': "In the style of downtown Louisaiana, circa 1955 - / Was that when Mum and Retro were born?" (actually my mum was born in 1955 so that made me smile!). Also liked Robert Marsland's 'Poetry' with its "white broth / power", Rizanwan Akhtar's 'Bride from Lahore': "wobbling on the pointed heels / smile-collecter she walks / with a market-logic", Jim Stewart's 'Hive' sequence, Jim Carruth's rural poems and loads more including Gaelic translations, translations from Arabic and translations from a contemporary Swiss poet.

The Editorial was a very interesting read, talking about the lack of quality poems submitted in Scots: "Good writing in Scots is not a matter of changing was to wiz", this made me smile as I thought about my experiment the other year of 'translating' one of my poems into Scots! It raises a lot of interesting questions about the diminished ability of Scottish writers to write in Scots. I'm the first to admit that I don't / can't write in Scots, I maybe throw in the odd Scots word but to write a whole poem in Scots would require supreme effort. Yet perhaps I ought to be making that effort, afterall I do speak Scots to a certain degree, but it doesn't come natural to write in it. Part of the problem is there doesn't seem to be strict grammatical rules governing Scots so trying to write in it feels like abandoning all the ingrained certainty of the english language and that's not easy to do. Plus there's that niggling feeling that Scots is just poor / lazy english, these days they encourage school children to write in Scots, they certainly didn't do that when I was at school! But it's about the preservation of indigenous culture, heritage and identity and what it comes down to is the fact that "people are not engaging in written form with the language they speak on a daily basis". Poetry is about communication and I guess I'm missing out on being able to communicate a core part of my identity by not writing in Scots, coming to realise this makes the issue suddenly more important to me than it was previously.

Friday, July 22, 2011

"I feel I will be well shot of it. Quite a lot of poets seem to be rather bloody unbalanced." trustee of the Poetry Society

You have to laugh... :)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Some new things...

Carcanet now have a blog which you can read here.

If you want to keep up with the on-going Poetry Society drama/crisis check here for the Poetry Society info page and here for the 'requisitionists' webpage.

The latest Northwords Now is now available to read online here.

Sally Evan's 2011 Callander Poetry Weekend, check here for details. Email Sally if you are interested in reading at it. I read at it last year and had a great time, it's a super-friendly atmosphere and a great mix of events.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First draft

(post removed)
First draft - if any of it looks familiar it's because parts of it are recycled from an old poem that that never really worked out.

(post removed)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

For those with access to BBC iplayer, the wonderful Coast series did a programme the other week on the Outer Hebrides which included a good bit on the Iolaire Disaster (a ship bringing surviving soldiers home from WW1 which struck The Beasts of Holm and sunk half a mile off Stornoway harbour, 205 of the 280 soldiers on board drowned) and a wee bit on the guga hunters of Ness. You can see it here.

photo by Renate Brandt

I've been reading through Durs Grünbein's wonderful essay Why Live Without Writing. He writes with such wit, style, intelligence and depth (the same can be said of his poems) that they are a real pleasure to read.

Here's a small taster:

"Better watch out: artists are people who, unless they’re feeling particularly hypocritical and ingratiating, would laugh to scorn the claim that there’s an artist in everyone. Whether they appear in the guise of cool diplomats or cult figures or shabby drunkards, none of them is without that shred of vanity. Of course they are going to assume that someone without the lofty inner life suggested by art and poetry is to be pitied. Sooner or later he is bound to break up into aspects that may be connected to him as a legal entity, but that won’t have the least thing to do with his inner world. They shudder at the notion that one day he will realize that none of this was him, and in all of it was hardly any of it his. Then it’s usually too late, and the person will dimly sense that for the whole of a selfless life he has been working in the cause of negation."
I picked up this lovely Faber Selected Poems of Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes at a bric-a-brac table today. There is something so very comforting about returning to these (not so) old poetries. This gorgeous collection cost all of 45p in its day, has the odd student analysis notes pencilled in the margins and, most importantly, it has that lovely library booky smell about it.
I enjoy deciphering the pencilled notes and smiled at the "terrible punctuation" comment signed by one unimpressed Jim Scott at the end of Hughes' 'November' poem!

The selection of poems were picked by Gunn and Hughes themselves which makes their choices interesting. Hughes of course adds his characteristic 'The Thought-Fox', a poem I've never really cared for. Everyone knows the story behind it of course, and how important it was to Hughes' writing but is it really a great poem in itself? I can put with it for 'The Horses' though:

"Not a leaf, not a bird, -
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness"

In saying that, the first edition of this Selected was published in 1962 so I guess Hughes would have had a much smaller repertoire to pick from at that point.

Never read much of Gunn before but I was intrigued by the very first poem in this collection, 'The Wound':

"The huge wound in my head began to heal
About the beginning of the seventh week.
Its valleys darkened, its villages became still:
For joy I did not move and dared not speak;
Not doctors would cure it, but time, its patient skill."

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Plath Profiles 4 is now available online! See here.

A great range of essays, poetry and artwork plus a never before published photograph of Plath and Hughes! Also an interesting insight into archive work by Plath-researchers Gail Crowther and Peter K. Steinberg.

The featured theme is Plath and Place.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Part two of Jim Murdoch's intro to Vintage Sea is available here! 

A rather mammoth series of Q & A's. Thanks to Jim for the excellent questions and I hope my answers aren't too dull!

Friday, July 01, 2011

Spent a blissful two hours in the library study room today away from family, chores and the evil, distracting internet! It's been so long since I've written a poem that I'm at that 'staring hopelessly at a pristinely white, blank Word doc page' point. I know through past experience that when the poems come, keep writing them at all costs because it's the regular poetry-brain activity that keeps them coming. Once that part of my brain goes into hibernation it seems to take ages to coax it back out again. However sometimes life (and laziness) just gets in the way. So here I am, all clogged up with poems to be written but as yet unable to access them. Please, brain, unclog soon...

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review of Vintage Sea here!!

Many thanks to Jim for this detailed and insightful blog-review, I'm absolutely delighted with it!
Anyone who reads Jim's blog, The Truth About Lies, regularly, knows the research, preparation and effort that goes into each of his blog-essays which make them a constant source of fascinating information and philosophical discussion into, among other things, writers, creativity and the writing processes.

Jim's next blog post is dedicated to a series of questions and answers on my poetry and will be published on his blog next week.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

"I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry" - John Cage

Unfortunately my nothing to say is not poetry. I've been feeling pretty weary over the last few weeks, it's been enough to keep up with daily life. So although I'm a bit more back to normal now I've still no new poems to work on. I did get a poem acceptance email from Gutter Magazine a few day ago which I'm really happy about, Gutter is one of my favourite literary mags.

The last few days I've been working on answering a series of questions about my pamphlet set by Jim who is going to publish them on his blog along with a review of Vintage Sea. I really had to think hard about the questions, Jim likes to get down to the heart of the matter so they were particulary thought-provoking.

I'm currently wading my way through the rather giant Penguin Book of Women's Lives. The snippet of life I've enjoyed reading the most so far is Simone De Beauvoir's taken from one of her autobiographical volumes The Prime of Life. It recounts the start of her relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre. It's a wonderful read, how the two young philosophers approached their life together attempting to live out  rationalist principles in their relationship. Trying to imagine the great Sartre as a young man facing off De Beauvoir's father during a confrontation. I love the personality of their relationship that comes through in the reading. Here's a paragraph taster:
"We were both as healthy as horses and of a cheerful disposition. But I took any setback very badly; my face changed, I withdrew into myself and became mulish and obstinate. Sartre decided I had a double personality. Normally I was the Beaver; but occasionally this animal would be replaced by a rather irksome young lady Mademoiselle de Beauvoir. Sartre embroidered this theme with several variations, all of which ended by making fun of me. In his own case, things very frequently got him down - especially in the morning, when his head was still foggy with sleep, or when circumstances reduced him to inactivity: he would hunch himself into a defensive ball, like a hedgehog. On such occasions he resembled a sea elephant we had once seen in the zoo at Vincennes whose misery broke our hearts...when Sartre's face took on an unhappy expression, we used to pretend that the sea elephant's desolate soul had taken possession of his body. Sartre would then complete the metamorphosis by rolling his eyes up, sighing, and making silent supplication: this pantomime would restore his good spirits."

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thanks to Colin Will for organising a fantastic dual launch for Geoff Cooper and myself. It was a great night. I enjoyed hearing Geoff read from his pamphlet collection, Songs the Lightning Sang, after picking it up at the Callander poetry festival last year, the music and singing from Pauline Vallance was simply gorgeous, and the audience were a super-friendly bunch, a real pleasure to read to.

Other highlights included meeting fellow writers and bloggers JoAnne McKay and Jim Murdoch. So good getting to meet them finally in the flesh! Also lovely catching up with poets Jack (Andrew P Pullan) and Amy Anderson whom I've met at previous events.  The CCA is such a nice venue and it was great to be reading in Glasgow, the city of my heart!

It's taken me all day but I've finally managed to work out how to upload and edit videos so here's a clip of me reading three of my poems:

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The launch, the launch!! It's nearly here and I'm mostly prepared for it. I have my reading list and have been practicing reading my poems to the walls. All I need now is little sticky markers for my pamphlet so I won't  be (hopefully) fumbling about trying to find the poems.  It will be the first time I'll be reading from my pamphlet which is exciting in itself. It's funny to think of my little pamphlet being so public, it's hard to imagine other people reading it. The local secondary school librarian bought a couple of copies for the school library and apparently a student was reading it in the playground today which makes me very happy but also realise that my little bundle of poems have taken on a life of their own which feels very odd!

I'm really looking forward to hearing Geoff read his beautiful poems from his pamphlet Songs the Lightning Sang and I can't wait to hear Pauline on the Clàrsach, thanks to Geoff for booking her! It's going to be a really great night!
Calder Wood Press Glasgow launches

Geoff Cooper’s pamphlet, Songs the Lightning Sang, came out last year. His poetry is vivid, passionate and profound. Whether read on the page or heard in performance, the emotional impact is astonishing.

Marion McCready’s pamphlet, Vintage Sea, was published in May. Widely recognised for her originality and strength of voice, these poems are visionary, elemental and magical. She paints pictures in words, describing landscapes, real and imagined.

These contrasting voices will be augmented and enhanced by the music and singing of Pauline Vallance, who plays the Gaelic harp.

Introductions will be by Colin Will, who will also highlight some of the outstanding poetry published by Calder Wood Press in recent times.

The event will take place in the CCA – the Centre for Contemporary Arts, 350 Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow, on Friday 17th June, 6.30 for 7pm. It will be open to invited guests and to members of the public.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

"It is as if the art of poetry, of all things, were the blind spot in the cultural memory of modern man" - Durs Grünbein, from 'The Poem and its Secret'.

I've mentioned Grünbein a few times now since I picked up his Selected Poems: Ashes for Breakfast, almost by chance, at StAnza this year. I don't mind admitting that I've been neglecting my chosen poets and focusing my reading mainly on Grünbein and Claire Crowther over the last few months. What I've learned from the reading experiment is that for me to be able to progress in my writing means having to stop reading my old favourites (mainly Plath, Akhmatova, Eliot). It's been hard, so many times I've wanted to wallow in the old familiar, adored, poetry. Of course that wasn't the only poetry I was reading but I hadn't realised I was reading other poetry slightly disingenuously, not giving it the level of focus and attention that I automatically reserved for the old favourites.  In denying myself the big three and in order to satisly my poetry fix I've definitely learned to read other poetry with a deeper focus. So, for now, Grünbein and Crowther have become my Plath and Eliot. I'm still reading other poetry but at the moment returning, with joy, to these two poets. I know at some point I'll have to give them up the same way I've given up the other three in order to move on but it's been an interesting lesson to learn. I'm also looking forward to the point where I'll have (hopefully) developed my writing such that I'll come full circle and be able to wallow in my old favourites from a new perspective.  I'll be coming back to Grünbein's Selected Poems in another post.

I was delighted to read these lovely thoughts on Vintage Sea on the swiss lounge blog, made my day!

Starry Rhymes, the pamphlet launched at the Allen Ginsberg event is now available for purchase here. A limited print run, every pamphlet handmade with love! It includes poems by Sally Evans, the Gaelic poet Aonghas MacNeil, Morgan Downie, Eddie Gibbons and li'l ol' me! And if you haven't heard enough about the Ginsberg event already...there are photos!! One of me looking like I'm singing a solo from a hymn sheet here, honestly I was reading poems!!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

I'm glad I made it through to Edinburgh for the Allen Ginsberg event, it was certainly an interesting night with a wide range of poets reading. We read in the chronological order of how our poems appear the lovely Starry Rhymes chapbook launched at the event and as my poem is the first one in the chapbook I was first up to read. A bit unnerving but also good to get it out of the way which meant I was able to focus on all of the other readings. Poets came from as far as Dublin and Manchester to read and it was a right mix of readings. I think I was lucky to get one of Ginsberg's earlier poems to respond to, I think I would have struggled to get a foothold in his more prominant and political poems. Each of us read the Ginsberg poem we were assigned followed by our own response poem. Some of my favourite readings of the night were Ryan Van Winkle's reading of America and  Colin McGuire's reading of Howl part II.

This is the Allen Ginsberg poem I wrote a response to:

The Bricklayer's Lunch Hour

Two bricklayers are setting the walls
of a cellar in a new dug out patch
of dirt behind an old house of wood
with brown gables grown over with ivy
on a shady street in Denver. It is noon
and one of them wanders off. The young
subordinate bricklayer sits idly for
a few minutes after eating a sandwich
and throwing away the paper bag. He
has on dungarees and is bare above
the waist; he has yellow hair and wears
a smudged but still bright red cap
on his head. He sits idly on top
of the wall on a ladder that is leaned
up between his spread thighs, his head
bent down, gazing uninterestedly at
the paper bag on the grass. He draws
his hand across his breast, and then
slowly rubs his knuckles across the
side of his chin, and rocks to and fro
on the wall. A small cat walks to him
along the top of the wall. He picks
it up, takes off his cap, and puts it
over the kitten’s body for a moment.
Meanwhile it is darkening as if to rain
and the wind on top of the trees in the
street comes through almost harshly.

I enjoyed the poem when I first read it but now I've really come to love it. I found it challenging to read at the event, so different from reading my own work and quite unnatural in that sense. I deliberately didn't listen to any recordings of Ginsberg reading his poems, I decided the best way I could read was by making it mine and so I read it aloud until it became perhaps not quite natural to me but certainly a lot less strange and the more I read it the more I naturally emphasised the beats and the rhymes that gave it a rhythm I could comfortably read with.

When it came to writing my response poem I spent a lot of time reading the Ginsberg poem backwards to disassociate myself from the narrative and the familiarity of the poem and focus instead on the words themselves and imagery. It quickly became clear to me that the key point in the poem that was going to spark a poem in me was the narrative between the kitten and the bricklayer and the tension of the threatening rain and wind. So my poem is called "The Kitten and the Bricklayer's Cap'! I initially attempted to write a fatrasie, the form I learned from Claire Crowther's fantastic workshop at Stanza this year. I've kept the spirit of the fatrasie in the poem but couldn't contain it within eleven lines however I did use an introductory couplet which combines the first and last lines of the poem, a part of the fatras form that I really enjoy working with.

So it was a very enjoyable evening and now only two weeks until my pamphlet launch!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

Really looking forward to heading up to Edinburgh on Friday for the Allen Ginsberg event. I'll be reading the Ginsberg poem I was allocated (The Kitten and the Bricklayer's Cap) and my own poem written in response to it. Sounds like it's going to be a great night of poetry, film and music, more details below in case anyone is interested and in the area.
I'm staying over in a youth hostel and spending Saturday in Glasgow with a friend, we plan to wander around the west end reminiscing over the good ol' student days, so it's going to be good! Providing I don't get lost, I'm not all that familiar with Edinburgh but I shall go armed with print-outs of google maps!!

I've been pretty lazy about writing recently, a mixture of excitement about the pamphlet and also been busy with domestic stuff. I think once the launch is out of the way I'll have the head space to work on poems. I've been reading quite a lot though but I find myself coming back, time and time again, to the Durs Grunbein Collected that I picked up at St. Andrews this year. I'm not entirely sure why, the poems are just so immensely enjoyable, fun, playing with language and ideas, and yet striking deep, unexpectedly so. I'll aim to do a review of sorts of it sometime.


HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLEN GINSBERG, Friday 3rd June, 7.30pm, Bristo Hall (Forest Cafe)

Friday 3rd June this year would have been the 85th birthday of legendary Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, and to celebrate the occasion, Read This Press are teaming up with Edinburgh's Forest Cafe to throw a massive birthday bash in his honour.

Read This Press editors Claire Askew and Stephen Welsh have spent the past few months compiling an anthology of contemporary poems which respond to Ginsberg's original works. Poets from all over the world got in touch to request one of Ginsberg's poems to respond to, and the editors were overwhelmed with hundreds of submissions. From these, just 33 were chosen to be included in a limited edition, handmade chapbook of poems, named Starry Rhymes after one of the great man's lesser-known poems. Poets whose works have been selected include Sally Evans, Kevin MacNeil and Eddie Gibbons, whose latest collection was shortlisted for the 2011 Scottish Book of the Year award.

The HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLEN GINSBERG event will take place on Friday 3rd June, in the Forest Cafe's cavernous Bristo Hall. As well as marking the official launch of the Starry Rhymes chapbook, it will also host a rare screening of Ginsberg's 1967 London travelogue, Ah! Sunflower, and feature a solo set from the brilliant Withered Hand, taking time out of his UK tour to play for Allen's birthday. Poets whose works are featured in the chapbook will perform their pieces alongside Allen Ginsberg's, and other literary folk are invited to step up to the mic and offer their birthday tributes to the great man.

The event begins at 7.30pm and is totally free to enter. Forest operates a BYOB policy, and donations to the Save the Forest fund will be encouraged. Attendees will be able to purchase copies of Starry Rhymes at the event, and it will also be available for purchase online thereafter.

Loved by readers since his emergence onto the literary scene in the mid 1950s, Ginsberg was one of the foremost figures in the Beat movement, and as well as producing seminal works such as Howl and America, he was also responsible for the promotion and publication of some of the great Beat novels including William S Burroughs' Junky and Jack Kerouac's On The Road. His most famous work, the volume Howl and Other Poems, was the subject of a high profile obscenity trial upon its publication in 1955, and this trial and its eventual outcome was recently depicted in the movie Howl, which starred James Franco and David Strathairn.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

A quick post to say my launch date has now been set (in stone!) for Friday June 17th in the Centre for Contemporary Arts (CCA), Sauchiehall Street, Glasgow.
I'll be reading with Calder Wood Press poet, Geoff Cooper, and there will be music on the Celtic Harp by Pauline Vallance. Can't wait!!

I'm typing from the library - I've had no internet access since Monday's gales blew a tree down on my phone line....disaster!! BT were supposed to send someone out to fix the line today but I'm not banking on it now...

Monday, May 16, 2011

My pamphlet launch has been postponed until sometime next month, hopefully anyone who was thinking of coming along will still be able to make it. It's a bit of a relief really, I've been ill with sickness and colds over the last fortnight and I hope to be in better form by the time the launch comes around.

Also this week is busy enough as it is with my husband - school teacher by term time, animal/man tracker in holiday time - flying off for a few days on a top secret man-tracking mission to be filmed by the BBC!!!

I'm pleased to say that my Ginsberg poem made the cut for Claire Askew's Ginsberg project which means my poem along with 32 others will be printed in an forthcoming chapbook, I hope to make it through to Edinburgh for the launch next month.

Other than that it's been illness and sleepless nights with very little poetry being read or written though I did read through Ted Hughes Letters and Plath's Letters Home, which is always a good read. Keep meaning to pick up Virginia Woolf's diaries, it's always nice to know they are there yet to be read but I really must get around to getting them!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

What a week! We were all sick as dogs for a few days, a really nasty bug going about. But yesterday my copies of Vintage Sea arrived in the post (didn't even feel well enough to blog about it last night!). How amazing to have it in my hands! I went down to my local bookstore and, excitingly, they're going to order a bunch from Colin and stock it! 

I currently have two poems up at the Ink, Sweat & Tears webzine and Michelle McGrane is featuring Vintage Sea on her wonderful poetry blog, Peony Moon

One of the poems, 'Brenhilda', was inspired by The Guga Hunters by Donald S. Murray, which I bought a few months ago on my way back from Lewis. A beautifully written book about a centuries-old Hebridean tradition, a really wonderful read.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

That's VINTAGE SEA, my poetry pamphlet, now available to buy from the Calder Wood Press website for a measly £5! Just click on the picture to the right and scroll down to catalogue.

It has been a labour of love which would never have happened if it wasn't for this blog and you readers who have read, encouraged and helped me workshop these poems. So thankyou! :)

Here's what these lovely people have to say about my poems:

'to read marion mccready's poetry is to enter a transformational landscape where the act of seeing is ecstatic and filled with meaning. it is not magical realism but a realism that becomes magical. i highly recommend it.' - morgan downie

'Marion McCready lives on an island which seems to be one giant metaphor. From seascapes and landscapes she creates dreamy, often startling, images, sometimes making a pithy point, sometimes nudging the reader beyond the here and now to a place more mythological and elemental. This is the first collection from a very individual voice.' - Hugh McMillan

'It is rare these days to read a first pamphlet in a voice so sure and well formed and rooted in local knowledge as Marion McCready’s, whose poems come to us drenched in the waves and mists of the Firth of Clyde and the islands off the west coast of Scotland, and yet never fail to remain responsive to the tidal surges of the universal. Whether writing of the natural world of her beloved seashore and rivers, or of the equal mysteries and deeps of love and motherhood, McCready’s poems are always both aware of the spirit and grounded in the here-and-now of a pleasurably physical sense of language as music and of the poem as a shaped and shapely object. Setting out for the islands, McCready advises that we will be able to find her “in another life / among the kittiwakes, the sea pinks, / cormorants feeding their young in my ribcage,” and we, already persuaded, are eager to follow.' - James Owens

The cover photo is by the wonderfully talented photographer / artist, Roxana Ghita. You can view more of her work here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Personal Reflections

With the pamplet due out soon I've been thinking on my 'poetry journey', for want of a better expression. I started this blog back in 2006 as a sideline to my pregnancy blog and as a place to showcase the many little poems that I'd written on and off since I was in my early twenties with the hope that it would spur me on to writing more and better poems. Well it did that! I removed those early posts a couple of years ago when I outgrew them but I remember my first couple of regular blog readers and how important they were to me in keeping me writing when perhaps I wouldn't have. I remember the first poem I had published, which seemed like a minor miracle! And now I'm so happy to have my very own pamphlet coming out. It's been a long process for me but it's always been about the writing, my first poems were total trash and my very first aim was to write a poem I could be proud of. That, in a sense, hasn't changed. I'm always keen to learn how writers write better because I want always to be progressing in my writing. It doesn't matter what stage you're at in writing, the aim, for me, is to get more out of the language, more out of a poem, to be learning always.  This makes writing exciting and a continual challenge, I guess this is what I love about it.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Birdbook I: Towns, Parks, Gardens & Woodlands (Sidekick Books)

My contributor's copy arrived this morning and it really is a stunning book. Every poem has a bird drawing opposite it. The art work is superb and so many of the poems are excellent. I can see this being a favourite book of mine. It's the first anthology I've genuinely thought, I'll be buying copies of these as presents for poetry and non-poetry readers alike (plus it's the first poetry collection I've ever actually seen my husband read through from cover to cover!).

Here are some pics from it, the first one is my Crossbill poem with the Crossbill drawing.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Yes, my pamphlet is now complete and currently at the printers. Colin says he'll be picking it up a week tomorrow. Thanks to Roxana for the use of her wonderful picture, I really can't wait to have it in my hands.
I have a provisional launch date: Saturday 21st May in Glasgow along with the launch of Geoff Cooper's lovely pamphlet Songs The Lightning Sang.

I really am too excited for words, and isn't the cover simply gorgeous??!

Sunday, April 17, 2011

An anthology of bird poems and artwork produced by the wonderfully eccentric Sidekick Books. I met Kirstin Irving and Jon Stone, who produce Sidekick Books and are the editors of Fuselit Magazine, at a reading in Edinburgh last year and Kirsten asked me to contribute a poem for the anthology. The book was delayed in coming out but now it's available and I'm so looking forward to receiving my contributor's copy. From what I've seen I'm sure the artwork is going to be stunning, and I expect the poems will be pretty good too! :)
You can read my poem at this link, it's the sample poem on the webpage!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Apart from following a few folks' admirable efforts, I've pretty much ignored the fact that it is NaPoWriMo this month. I've just not had the energy to even contemplate giving it a go so...maybe next year...!

I have had two poems accepted for publication by Ink, Sweat & Tears, an excellent poetry and prose webzine edited by Salt poet Helen Ivory.  They'll be up on the webzine after their Easter feature. Really nice to submit some poems again, I've been afraid of tying my poems up with the pamphlet coming out but it's nice to know that every poem I write now is free from the tyranny of the pamphlet :)

I'm working on a poem as part of an Allen Ginsberg project organised by Claire Askew to mark, what would have been, Ginsberg's 85th birthday on the 3rd of June this year. Beyond a casual glance I've never properly read Ginsberg before (one of the reasons I decided to get involved) so I have my mystery poem which is 'The Bricklayer's Lunch Hour' and I'm exploring which approach to take - concentrate on a particular image or sentence and write from that, or actively explore Ginsberg as the narrator of the scene, or put myself in Ginsberg's shoes and  re-interpret the scene...etc etc.

Friday, April 08, 2011

I've been away the last few days but before I went Colin emailed me a first draft pdf of my pamphlet which I have in front of me, printed out and stapled together. So exciting to see how it's going to look. I'm really happy with the order and poems, a last minute poem thrown in and a couple of weaker ones taken out. I'm feeling confident enough about all of the poems in it now, that is, all twenty-nine of them! I've been enjoying the process of putting the pamphlet together, thinking about font styles and which poems to start and finish with. I also think, with a pamphlet, the centre page poems are really important. It's obviously where a pamphlet naturally falls open so I think it's good to have some eye-catching ones there. Colin's been brilliant, he's done a great job in sorting through my poems, ordering and arranging them, I'm so pleased with it! Also, I'm so happy and excited that Roxana is very kindly letting me use one of her gorgeous images for the cover!!!

Whilst scrolling through facebook earlier I came across a link to an interview with Frieda Hughes on some of her favourite poetry. It's an interesting read as she analyses the work of some of her favourite poets and demonstrates what she looks for and loves in poetry. She also talks a little about her own writing processes and Ted Hughes' advice to her to 'only write for yourself'. I've been thinking, recently, about the role of the reader in the writing of a poem, about what responsibility/ies (if any)  the writer has towards her reader, so it was interesting to read Hughes' advice.

I'm ignoring the urge to re-read Lorca's wonderful play, Blood Wedding, which is sitting in a pile next to my computer. I'm really trying to immerse myself in my (now seven!) chosen poets and stay away from the old favourites. I feel it's doing me good to be focusing on different writers/writing and I'm really enjoying reading, re-reading them and becoming familiar with the poems.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Geoffry Hill's first lecture in his role as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University.
Very interesting, sermon-esque. Here are some quotes I've taken from it, by no means the best of what he said just that which was pithy enough to be quoted! Very much worth listening to, also his voice is wonderfully rich, deep and timberous.

Listen to the lecture here.

"thought is to be made manifest in structure"

"contemporary poetry receives far more encouragement than is good for it"

"the greatest tragedy of the last 60 years has been the extinction of the ontological reader, at least in any public domain which would or could affect the moral aesthetics of the nation, I'm sure they exist in private but they don't find their way into the reviews section of the sunday telegraph or the sunday times"

"what Eliot and we are looking for...(is) significant emotion, emotion which has its life in the poem and not in the history of the poet. The emotion of art is impersonal, the poet cannot reach this impersonality without surrendering himself wholly to the work to be done"

"Blackmur wrote in 1935 and I regard it as one of the great modern/modernist formulations of what poetry is: "the art of poetry is amply distinguished from the manufacture of verse by the animating presence of a fresh idiom. Language so twisted and posed in a form that it not only expresses the matter in hand but adds to the stock of available reality.""

"if the poet suceeds, all the impersonality that Eliot desiderates is there objectified by the strenuosity of the maker's inventiveness"

"If I were to offer anything to the conventional young poet...I would say: don't try to be sincere, don't try to express your innermost feelings, but do try to be inventive"

"the craft of poetry is not a spillage but an ingathering. 'Relevance' and 'accessibility' strike me as words of very slight value...'accessibility' is a perfectly good word if the matter of the discussion concerns supermarket aisles, library stacks or public lavatories but has no proper place in discussion of poetry and poetics"

"poetry of the new millenium is as it is because of what English poetry has been during preceding centuries and a degree of humility when faced with that fact would not come amiss from our latest celebrities"

"english poetry, poetry written in english, cannot be comprehended outside the context of politics, economics and theology in Britain"

"when did it begin, this fantasy that the literary scene of the day is some kind of national treasure, when what it more resembles is a landfill"

Monday, March 28, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Having just about recovered from the mad rush of StAnza, here's a list of my purchases:

The Mermaid and the Sailors by Claire Askew, the young dynamic Edinburgh-based poet. It's her debut pamphlet and I have to say I love her cover pic.

An Illustrated Book About Birds by Anna Davis, exactly what it says on the tin and the illustrations are brilliant

The Water Table by Philip Gross, a T.S. Eliot winner

The Hat by Selima Hill, a book of rather surreal short poems 

Incense by Claire Crowther, a pamphlet sequence of Fatras

Ashes for Breakfast, Selected poems of Durs Grunbein, translated by Michael Hofmann

Needless to say my five-poets-only reading plan has been dropped for the time being. However I have resisted (nearly) every temptation to reach for the beloved  poets and I intend still keep away from them. I'll be resorting to my big five when I'm through the other poetries but I'll also be adding Durs Grunbein and Claire Crowther (who I'd been reading anyway) to the list.

Monday, March 21, 2011

*Warning: mammoth post ahead*

StAnza 2011

Where to begin...!

A brilliant weekend, so much packed into a couple of days, so much to take in. I left home at 11am on the Friday and got to St. Andrews at 5.30pm, which seems a ridiculous amount of journeying time for the distance between here and St.Andrews but such is the joy of boat, train and bus connections! Found the B&B which was about five mins walk from the bus station and the centre of town was a further two mins walk from the B&B, so fantastically handy!

By the time I had settled in and grabbed something to eat it was time to get to the Byre Theatre for my first event which was a reading by Paul Farley followed by Marilyn Hacker. Two very different poets, it was nice to have the contrast. I hadn't read much of either before the reading so I wasn't exactly sure what to expect. Farley was hilarious, a Liverpudlian, great at introducing his poems and telling stories between the poems. My favourite poem from his reading was 'Liverpool Disappears for a Billionth of a Second', a funny yet strange, surreal poem with a sinister edge. You can hear him read it on youtube here, worth listening to.
Marilyn Packer is an American poet who now lives in Paris. It was hard to take in her reading without being familiar with her work on the page. Having looked at her poems since I wish I could go back and hear her read again, the language and imagery is densely packed and in tightly controlled forms. I'm glad to have come across her and I'll be watching out for her work.

After the readings I stayed at the Byre theatre bar for the Open Mic session. It was good to catch up with folk like Ross Wilson who is being published by Calder Wood Press next year and blab on about poetry into the small hours. Also funny to meet familiar internet names in the flesh and realise just what a small community this poetry lark is!
I read a couple of poems at the open mic, I didn't make any effort to practise them beforehand foolishly thinking that after doing two proper readings I was somehow an old hand at it. Big mistake, the nerves took hold when I stepped up to the mic and I mumbled through my poems. Some folk afterwards said I did well but I think  they were just being kind. Anyway there was a great range of folk reading at the open mic from songs to poems in Scots, poems in French and poems in Arabic!

The next morning the first event for me was the workshop with Claire Crowther which I had been so looking forward to and I wasn't disappointed. It was on a 13th century form called the Fatrasie and its later development into the Fatras. A kind of nonsense poetry, playful, energetic  with talking animals and flying objects etc but also in a tightly controlled form. There were, I think, thirteen of us at the workshop. Apart from the Douglas Dunn masterclass a couple of years back  I've never really been to a poetry workshop so it was slightly scary seeing who the other participants were including  Sarah Howe whose poems I've admired when I've seen them in literary mags and Paula Jennings whose Happenstance pamphlet I picked up last year and thoroughly enjoyed. Claire Crowther herself was lovely and I was pleased to pick up a copy of her new pamphlet, a series of fatrasies on the theme of  body fat (!!) which I'm really enjoying.  By the end of the workshop we had all written a fatrasie and read them aloud to the group. I think everyone did really well, I loved the general idea of the form especially the introductory distich/couplet which consists of the first and last lines of the poem. It's kind of revealing seeing where you started in a poem compared to how you ended up and I found it really interesting bringing both of these parts together, it's something I'm certainly going to be thinking about incorporating in future poems.

The next event I went to was the Hugh McMillan reading which was fantastic. This was the first time I'd heard Hugh (shug!) read, though I've been following his blog for years now. Absolutely hilarious, he read some of my favourites of his poems and the audience was in constant guffaws. As a history teacher, history (esp, Scottish history) makes a constant appearance in his poems, his own humourous take on it anyway which as he rightly pointed out, goes for all of history - it all comes down to someone's take on it. The funny, clever poems gave way to quieter, personal poems with beautiful imagery and wry humour. Definitely a highlight of the week-end!

After that I went to a 'Past and Present' event to hear Helena Nelson talk about Ruth Pitter and Carrie Etter talk about Barbara Guest. I had picked up Pitter's 'Persephone in Hades' a few years back when it was produced as a pamphlet by Happenstance and really enjoyed her nature imagery so it was interesting to hear a little more about her and her life.
The Carrie Etter talk, however, was one of those little miracle moments. I knew next to nothing about Barbara Guest, the name is familiar so I know I've come across her but really couldn't tell you anything about her. When Etter spoke about Guest's poetry it was as if she was talking about all the things I've been mulling over in my head about poetry over the last while such as "viewing the poem holistically (as one lived experience) as a painting rather than trying to decipher it line by line" and "having a tension-filled balance between sound and the visual, between the music and the imagery". It was a kind of a relief to hear someone talk about this, confirm for me how I want to push my own writing.

Then I went to the round table reading with artist Jila Peacock reading Hafez and showing us her gorgeous illustrations of his poems in a Persian script, similar to Arabic script, shaped in the form of a different animal for each poem.  It was as just as delightful as it sounds, plus it was in a 16th century room in St. Mary's College, one of the oldest parts of St. Andrews University where in the quad there is a giant holm oak which bloomed in a perfect circle like some kind of weird archetypal image and which frankly gave me the heebies!

That left the main Saturday night reading which was by Philip Gross and Selima Hill. Gross talked about obsessions inbetween reading his poems. How his TS Eliot winning collection The Water Table came out of an obsession of writing about the changing landscape of a body water as he commuted across it when his real intention was to write a collection of poems about the Welsh countryside. He read lots of water poems, imagining watery gardens, which I enjoyed.
I found Selima Hill's reading slightly uncomfortable, read a lot of poems about neglected babies which, as a mum to a one year old, I could hardly bear to listen to. Excellent poet, though she seemed incredibly uncomfortable herself during the reading which, for me, was begging the question ought we expect our poets not only to write poetry but also to get out there and perform it for us? Anyway, she told us the last reading she gave was to a room full of Harvard students whom she likened to reading to a pack of racehorses, "they were so beautifully immaculate and sleek". Couldn't get this wonderful image out of my head for the rest of the night!
After this I avoided the slam and went for a late night walk (in true west coast style with a bag of chips and a can of irn-bru) by the shore, such a beautiful still night and the moon lighting up the cathedral ruins.

The next morning my final event was the Ciaran Carson Masterclass. My poems weren't picked so I could relax in the audience and enjoy it. Most of Carson's advice could be summed up in 'precision, precision, precision' and beware of abstractions etc.  He also said
"All we write about is accuracy. Not what you have in mind but what you arrive at through poetry"
It's something I've been pondering on since.

I've come home to, excitingly, find Colin arranging my pamphlet. I've picked the cover picture and now I've got to work out acknowledgements, biog etc etc so if anyone has a wonderful sum-up quote about my poems then pass it on to me ;)