Saturday, December 19, 2015

It's been the usual chaos month of birthdays, anniversaries and then Christmas events on top of it all. I ordered the collected works of Lorine Niedecker for my birthday - a book I've been wanting for a long time - and after the initial speed read through the entire book I've been slowly devouring the poems. Such an interesting person and her poems are so fresh they could have been written yesterday.

I had the interesting experience earlier this week of judging at the regional heats for the national schools Poetry by Heart competition. Students from fourth through to sixth year reciting two poems each one from pre-1914 and one post-1914. There was a great selection of poems recited and all of the students did amazingly well! I was judging with the lovely poet Sheila Templeton. It's so good to see this competition (run by the Scottish Poetry Library) filling a gap in contemporary education of poetry memorisation, Sheila and I were very impressed with all who took part.

Feeling once again the need for a big project to work on - something to really get my poetry teeth into. I've written the occasional poem since my long Trident poem but find them so unsatisfying. I've realised I love having a big theme / project to work on - something with a real challenge and something I can really get absorbed in.

Friday, October 30, 2015

On writing a Trident poem

To make up for the usual rubbish Scottish summer we had a gloriously long, warm, dry autumn which meant spending many hours sitting by the Clyde Firth writing streams of images.

I've used all this material to write a poem in three voices about Trident nuclear submarines - a common sighting on the Clyde. 
It many ways it was a real challenge to write. Technically, writing a poem in three voices was for me a new experience. I started by separating the material into three distinct personas which I initially based on archetypal projections of  mother / daughter / wife.  

These projections were disbanded when the writing became staid and I pretty much got stuck on the poem. The initial idea was to write dramatic monologues in the voices of women anti-nuclear protesters. So I did a lot of fascinating reading up on and watching youtube clips of women peace protesters and some of the approaches they took. And although I used some of the material the voices in my poem tended much more towards lyric than dramatic writing which I felt would have required a more narrative approach that was non-existent in my poem.

I also did a lot of reading up on and watching documentaries on the atom bomb / nuclear testing / Hiroshima etc. I've always been anti-Trident and also always been fascinated by nuclear power. Reading up on it all has just enforced the horrific reality of nuclear weapons and how the only right and rational response is disarmament.

Anyway the poem approaches this in a very understated way, I think of my voices as Cassandra's - prophets of disaster - rather than being an overtly political poem. 

I found the drafting process more difficult than usual and still feel the need to hear it read aloud by three voices to see if it's actually working.
Whether it does work or not it's certainly been a 'stretching' process in writing it!

Sunday, October 04, 2015

So Dunoon now has its own annual book festival!

I so enjoyed hearing Liz Lochhead read in Dunoon Cinema on Friday night, Vagabond Voices fiction and TV drama writer (including writing for Taggart!!!) Chris Dolan read with Vagabond Voices publisher Allan Cameron last night. Today I heard Jess Smith tell stories about her life and about the Scottish travelling community as well as sing a couple of traditional gypsy songs. I also read today to a super friendly audience with Tariq Latif - it was good to try out my new Dunoon pier poem and Mary Stuart poem.

I was pleased to be mentioned in The Scotsman the other day amongst writers reclaiming childbirth as a legitimate source of inspiration!

I've been doing a lot of unedited writing - just writing pages and pages of images and lines - without cleaning them up into poems. I'm waiting on a new theme, bigger picture to work on and bring all of these images and thoughts into. I'm always looking to move onto something hopefully bigger and better, to really expand my writing.

I'm so enjoying reading and re-reading Theodore Roethke's On Poetry and Craft - so many great quotes from him which I've been twittering occasionally!

I received my contributors copy of Paris Lit Up in the post the other day - what a gorgeous book and collection of poems, stories and artwork!

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

I really thought of it as a lucky fluke when I managed to place three poems in POETRY magazine last year, so you can't imagine my face when I got an email last week from Don Share to say he is going to publish my six-part Mary Stuart sequence in an upcoming issue!!

To say I'm delighted is an understatement. I'm so thankful to Don Share for his willingness to give new and unknown writers like me publication in POETRY - his support of new writers in the hallowed (to me!) pages of POETRY magazine is so incredibly encouraging and surprising in the often closed and cliquey world of poetry publication.

I have a couple of poems online in The Lake - a great monthly poetry webzine, I also have a poem coming out this month in the autumn issue of Paris Lit Up - one magazine launch party I so wish I could make it to! I have a poem coming out in a Scottish issue of the Atlanta Review next spring, I think, which I'm also excited about.
So many more poems submitted and of course many many many rejections have come in...

Four weeks of the kids being back at school and I'm only now feeling the stirrings of poems, again I want to work with a theme / themes to explore through many poems rather than jump from isolated poem to isolated poem. I have a few ideas but nothing as concrete and exact as the pier sequence. Still reading D.H. Lawrence, whose poems I love the more I read! 

Monday, August 24, 2015

"Brimming with images of body, blood and flowers, this sequence politicises and analyses the purpose and process of birth"
Nice to get a review of Our Real Red Selves in the Scottish Review of Books which you can read here

It was a pleasure to read again with Harry Giles and Jennifer Williams as we read in Edinburgh from Our Real Red Selves at the Edinburgh Fringe Book Festival run by the amazing gem of a bookshop Word Power Books. There are free book events going on there every day till the end of the month, well worth a visit.

I was invited by the editor of Berfrois to contribute a poem to an e-book collection of poems called Poets for Corbyn. I submitted a poem that was originally published in my pamphlet collection, Vintage Sea, called The Red Road. I wrote it in 2010 after reading about a triple family suicide - three Russian asylum seekers who leapt to their death from one of the infamous multi-storey flats on the Red Road in Glasgow, their application to remain in the UK had been refused. 
You can read Poets for Corbyn here - it's free and includes poems by great poets such as Pascale Petit and Michael Schmidt.

When I was at Word Power Books I was delighted to pick up a signed copy of Kathleen Jamie's selection of essays Sightlines which I've been meaning to get for years. The writing is even more beautiful than I had imagined, delighted with it. This morning, inspired by Jamie's writing, I wrote the first draft of a reflective essay on visiting Culloden last month. It's the first such essay I've written and so very much enjoyed writing it. I feel it's possibly a new doorway opening to me. 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Unsurprisingly I've done little in the way of writing over the school holidays, and there's still two more weeks of it to go! We visited Culloden on our wee holiday to Inverness and I have some images and thoughts for a poem but it's impossible to get into the 'writing zone' with the kids about!
I had an incredibly vivid dream with Ted Hughes in it last week and so have been reading his early work, essays in Winter Pollen and a biography of him by Elaine Feinstein that I've had for years.
Continually feel the need for something bigger to work on though no idea what. All I want to read poetry-wise at the minute is Ted Hughes and D. H. Lawrence!

I'm excited to be reading at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next month with Harry Giles and J.L. Williams from Our Real Red Selves. We'll be reading at Word Power Books, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh on 22nd Aug at 1pm. It's a free event!

Tariq Latif is launching his latest pamphlet, Smithereens, from Arc Publications at Dunoon Bookpoint on the 12th Aug at 7pm. I'm privileged to be reading one of his poems written in a female voice.

Something that has been a pleasant surprise is how far my Wild Poppies poem has travelled - it's certainly traveled far further than any other poem I've written. It pops up in gardening blogs, wedding pages, eco travelling websites, paired many times with poppy pics on instagram, it's even been put to music and reshaped into a sculpture poem! Every now and again I do an online search to see where it will make an appearance next! It's made me think about why it's so popular, it certainly helps that it was published in such a high profile mag - I think it comes up high on results for anyone doing a search on poppy poems. It's been described as an ode to poppies or a celebration of poppies. The poem itself was whittled down from three pages of notes from intense concentration on the poppies. It was originally three times the length and a three part poem and eventually pruned down to what is left. I think flower poems are generally popular anyway as they cover so many bases emotionally and symbolically. But it's such a pleasure to see how my poem has made its own way into the world!

Monday, June 29, 2015

Well that's the kids now on holiday for a whopping seven weeks!
I managed to write my pier poem sequence which was a relief and now I intend to have a mythological summer reading mainly Robert Graves and a few other folktale / anthropological books.  I've recently been blown away by Matthew Dickman's poems and can't wait to get one of his collections. Here he is reading with his twin brother Michael, who is also an acclaimed poet.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Three new poems from Our Real Red Selves online: -

Iceland Poppies and Dinner are up at The Ofi Press (Mexico)
The Un-Mother can be read at Ink, Sweat & Tears!

I'm working on a long poem about Dunoon's Victorian timber pier. I've no idea where I'm going with it and haven't worked out the heart of it yet. All I know is that it's the only thing I've been drawn to writing about over the last few months. I'm building up ever expanding notes and have a few sections that seem complete in themselves but not knowing the overarching theme is annoying!

Monday, June 01, 2015

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Some post-first full-length collection thoughts  -

It's now been a year since Tree Language was published though it feels much longer - I suppose the whole, long process of putting the manuscript together and drafting drafting drafting makes it feel so.
The last eighteen months has been, at times, a bit of a whirlwind. I'm certainly much more used to doing readings now and very happy to do them.

I was very fortunate in having the mentoring with Vicki Feaver which forced me to keep writing after Tree Language when I almost certainly would have had post-collection block. So this last year has been extremely productive for me and I'm now starting to think about putting together a second collection. I'm writing much more themed sequences now rather than jumping from poem to poem which gives me room to really explore a subject such as the birth series and the Mary Stuart poems.
And now I feel on the verge or something new and the need to order the masses of poems into a collection home to be able to move on - whether or not I submit them as a collection anytime soon I've no idea. But it feels good putting them together, I feel and hope it's a much stronger collection of poems than Tree Language and I have a working title which I'm excited by!

Also I have copies of Our Real Red Selves which will be launched in Glasgow next week!


Friday, May 15, 2015

*New readings coming up in Dunoon and Glasgow* - 

I'll be reading and discussing books with Vagabond Voices writers Chris Dolan, Gerry Loose and Allan Cameron at Bookpoint, Dunoon on Wednesday 20th May at 6 pm. I'll be reading from Our Real Red Selves and copies of Tree Language will be available also.

The actual launch of Our Real Red Selves will be in the CCA in Glasgow on June 4th at 7 pm which I'll be reading at alongside JL Williams and Harry Giles.

I've not been writing much lately - stuck in a bit of a rut after my Mary poems and endless family illnesses. However I have been reading lots - the mammoth Collected Ted Hughes which has been a wonderful and, well, huge read! A complete mythological  world to get lost and roam about in! Also been reading Jim Murdoch's new book of poems, Reader Please Supply Meaning, always a pleasure to read Jim's questioning and thought-provoking poems. Picked up a copy at Aye Write of Glasgow Makar Jim Carruth's verse novella, Killochries, which is beautifully written. And lastly couldn't resist getting Sujata Bhatt's latest collection, Poppies in Translation.

Very excited to be going through to Edinburgh next week to hear Pascale Petit read from Fauverie! What a privilege it was to hear Pascale read some of her Fauverie poems to a small group of us a few years ago now at Chateau Ventenac in the South of France. It seems quite a lifetime ago! I'm delighted that she's reading in Edinburgh with Scottish poet Niall Campbell and that I'll get a chance to hear her again. The event is run by The Scottish Poetry Library and will be on 21st May, 6.30pm at The Saltire Society, 9 Fountain Close, High Street, Edinburgh.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Poems, Podcast and Video...

I can't believe it's this Saturday myself, JL Williams and Harry Giles will be reading in the beautiful Mitchell Library as part of the Aye Write festival. We'll be reading from Our Real Red Selves anthology from Vagabond Voices on  Sat 18th 6-7 pm. Do book a ticket from the Aye Write website if you fancy it!

There are video interviews of JL Williams and Harry Giles on the Vagabond Voices website. There's one of me too - a short, wind-blown interview of me reading poems from the anthology in the Castle Gardens, Dunoon!

Also the interview-podcast I did last year with the Scottish Poetry Library is now available to listen to here.

And I have three poems from Our Real Red Selves featured on Josephine Corcoran's wonderful poetry blog here!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

I have a three-part Lot's Wife poem in the new New York based online literary magazine TRANSMISSION which you can read here. There is a lot of really interesting work in the magazine, this edition has a particular focus on Detroit-based writers with a few non-Detroit 'core creatives' of which I'm very happy to be one!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Easily the most entertaining poet's letters I've read so far. I thoroughly recommend the selected letters of W.S. Graham.

Probably shouldn't be a surprise that the letters are so good since Graham wrote excellent letter poems! The letters are in a sense poem drafts - he says in one that he writes the letters as much for himself as for the recipients. Wonderful early and a few late letters to Edwin Morgan discussing his writing, wonderful exuberant letters to Elizabeth Smart, Michael Schmidt gets a telling-off letter for a review he wrote about him, letters about writing, begging for money, his poverty-struggles, all packed with personality and most of all humour. Letters I'll go back to.

I'm excited to have just finished a seven-poem sequence on Mary Queen of Scots! I was keen to write about her after I came across and read some of her letters on-line. What surprised me was how human she seemed as opposed to the distant stock character queen from history. I read the well-written and in-depth biography of her by Antonia Fraser. There are many surviving letters written by Mary and many recorded first-hand accounts that it is possible to build up a reasonably accurate picture of her as a person. Plus there are so many mythological aspects to her story which is a gift to write about.

Glasgow's Aye Write Book Festival programme in now available on-line here. I'll be reading on Saturday 18th April 6-7pm with J.L. Williams and Harry Giles.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Now that the final manuscript of The Birth Garden is emailed off I'm starting to get excited about the new book!

In December I received an email from Colin Waters whom I had met through his work at the Scottish Poetry Library and subsequently through the beautifully produced anthology of Scottish poetry he edited - Be The First To Like This. He had mentioned previously that in his new role as poetry editor for Glasgow publisher Vagabond Voices he was planning to put together a series of three-poet anthology collections and asked me if I happened to have a themed selection of poems and would be willing to be the third poet in the first produced anthology.
I was delighted to be asked and had just written a series of birth poems - a theme which kept creeping into my garden poems over the last year and when I put all the like-minded poems together I knew I had a mini-collection to contribute.

The anthology is going to be called Our Real, Red Selves which is taken from a line in my Poem for a Garden. My birth garden collection will be flanked by two collections of war poems - I won't mention the poets until it's been made public!  

Other good news - Colin has managed to get us a reading slot at Glasgow's Aye Write Book Festival in April - to publicise both the Be The First To Like This Anthology and the upcoming Our Real, Red Selves which will probably be published around the end of May.

Because I didn't expect to book-publish the poems so soon I've not got managed to magazine-publish many of them - it's been especially painful to withdraw accepted poems because the book comes out before the mag would publish them!

So here's a Wordle of The Birth Garden instead!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Thankful for an honest and thoughtful blog review of Tree Language here.

I'm excited to say that a series of my new poems will be published later this year in a collection featuring two other poets also. I'll write more details when it's all been finalised.
My section is going to be called The Birth Garden and will be prefaced with this quote from Euripides' Medea -
"I would rather stand three times in a battle line than give birth to one child".

As the title suggests, the poems are very much intermingled birth and garden poems. I was really excited at how well the birth and garden poems worked together when I was putting together the selection for the book. I thought I would move away from the bloodiness of Tree Language but I'm afraid these poems are rather bloody too!
I was really taken with the concept of Twilight Sleep - an induced amnesia so that the body remembers the pain of childbirth but the mind doesn't - and also how birthing women were ill-treated during the process.

Not quite sure what to move onto next with my poems. I've recently got very much into D. H. Lawrence's poems - I have no idea why they are not so widely applauded, some of them seem incredible to me. I wrote an odd tulip poem very much under Lawrence's influence and I liked the different tone to it so maybe that's an area I can push further.

Have dozens of submissions out - hope some of them take. My longish three part Lot's Wife poem will be in the New York based online journal Transmissions in March.