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

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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.


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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 Gr├╝nbein'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...