Tuesday, February 11, 2020

One of the pleasures of being a student again is online access to academic journals. I'm having a blissful time researching my old favourite subjects - nature, animism and transcendence in poetry - and having access to endless papers on it which allows me to follow rabbit trails on Roethke, Lawrence, Bly and others. I think writers and poets should have access in their own right to academic journals!

Yesterday I came across a poetic form invented by Robert Bly called 'Ramage'. It's an eight-line poem where each line is built around the repetition of a specific 'union of consonant and vowel' such as 'ur', 'in' or 'ar' for example. It allows the sounds of the poem to lead the meaning, imagery and metaphors of the poem. Since I naturally allow sonics to direct, to an extent, my writing this seemed like a fun exercise to try. So I've written one so far and it was incredibly fun, throwing up unexpected and fresh imagery and reaching into the recesses in a different way. I think I'll be writing more!

I consciously decided to devote a week entirely (as much as possible) to poetry because my writing has been neglected with so much else going on. It's been so enjoyable spending hours following up my old favourite subjects and coming across poems I otherwise would have missed. I've been working hard at a poem I've sat on the bones of for over six months now - I've managed to add a few lines to it but still nowhere close to getting to the heart of the poem. However, I wrote a surprise poem yesterday about my daughter's hair which I would never have written if I hadn't been in the place mentally to 'receive it' (from the ether?) that all my reading had prepared me for.

Friday, February 07, 2020

I write best when I have a theme to work on, a project bigger than individual poems. For me, poems happen in that tension when two or more separate strands are brought together and in their coming together create a movement, an energy towards something new.

Part of my process is gathering notes, images, observations over many months until the theme, idea, the other strand reveals itself and then the 'gatherings' can be brought together and the poems can be finally written. 

Yet, there are also occasional poems that spring out of nowhere, appear with their own internal dialectic, and therefore can be written / drafted immediately. 

In reading the introduction by Robin Fulton to his translation of Tomas Transtromer's Collected Poems I noted some quotes about Transtromer's poems that particularly interest me:
"And this fascination with the borders between sleep and waking, with the strange areas of access between an everyday world we seem to know and another world we can't know in the same way but whose presence is undeniable - such a fascination has over the decades been one of Transtromer's predominant themes."
"imagery from and about dreams, speculations about how both past and future can impinge upon the present, investigations into memory, and a fascination with the many ways in which borders, open and closed, may be experienced." 
And this quote from Transtromer himself:
"but you could at least say that I respond to reality in such a way that I look on existence as a great mystery and that at times, at certain moments, this mystery carries a strong charge, so that it does have a religious character, and it is often in such a context, that I write." 
I feel like I am forever looking for the next project, next theme which will unlock the writing process and make use of all my 'gatherings'. I feel a constant pull back to folklore and folktales hence my ballad poems. I also like to write in the voice of historical / mythical women and find a real freedom in adopting personas. However, I  think my real fascination in reading and writing poetry is, and always has been, in the meeting place of the natural and the psychological worlds; the internal and the external and how each colours each. 

Thursday, December 19, 2019


Time for another word-cloud created on here!

So I've written twelve poems this year - not a huge amount, three of which I wrote last week which saved the end of the year for me!! I hate writing less than twelve in a year.
My word-cloud is made up of this year's poems so lots of water (as usual!) making an appearance, flowers and body parts!

My favorite reading this year has been by Anne Carson. I've been sadly disappointed by Sharon Olds' latest collection, Arias - the poems are so hit and miss. Not the spectacular collection that Stag's Leap was at all. Of course I'm still a huge fan of her work but wonder if she felt under pressure to bring out this collection or if she lost some objectivity over the editing process!!
I absolutely loved Kathleen Jamie's Surfacing - so beautifully written, I'll be re-reading these essays several times over.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

It's been a slow few months poetry-wise with so many other commitments going on. However I did write a poinsettia poem yesterday (which was also my birthday!) and without fail it's flower poems that are the most enjoyable for me to write - the mix of bags of room for playfulness in terms of metaphors and similes and bucket loads of symbolism make flowers the perfect objective correlative (for me anyway).

My current reading includes Surfacing by Kathleen Jamie - her most recent gorgeous collection of lyrical essays exploring different landscapes and lives. And Sharon Olds' new collection Arias which I'm slowly savouring.



Thursday, November 07, 2019

I made an attempt, a few months ago, to write a poem based on the plans for a building made out of shipping containers to be built in Edinburgh, designed by Scottish artist David Mach. The Scottish Poetry Library offered a commission to a poet to write a poem about it. Sadly I didn't win the commission but since I only entered the competition after feeling I could be inspired to write about the building I now have a purposeless poem with no where for it to go so I thought I would post it up here!

Mach 1

In the year of the Painted Lady you grew, 
body sprawling like red buddleia

1
When you think you know me
     look again. 
          I have magician hands,
I aim to surprise. 

I hold up the sky with my many facets. 

You need no passport, need not climb border walls
to enter me. I am open and welcoming you
     to explore my nooks, my crannies.

          I am alive
building and rebuilding myself 
in your imagination. 
I am a new kind of Edinburgh rock
     made from steel rubble.

I am a coastline without water,
a Giant's Causeway on land.

I have travelled all over, 
journeyed the Straights of Dover, 
Los Angeles, Yokohama, 
                                   Hong Kong.

When the materials of the earth fall apart
and remake themselves, this is my rebirth.


2
The bricks of the world converge on Edinburgh Park
born out of bloomeries and crucibles,
                                         pig iron.
Mach 1 was not formed by hand but strode into the city.
Mach 1 is a whirlwind, a freestyle dance, shape-shifting body.
Mach 1 is a fallen metropolis, a steel jigsaw. It cuts the skyline
     with its ragged edges.

Can you taste the ocean? The haulage of whisky,
cat food, bottles, cups, combs, pens, spades, spoons.
golf balls, flip-flops, bubble wands.

We are all caught in the flux of Mach 1.
          It is a metal river.
The thrust of containers leap midair.
Every container has a door, so many red doors opening and opening.
Mach 1 is a series of fingers twining and untwining together.

Mach 1 is the enigma of a Celtic knot. Moving 
in the night, it breaks and rejoins daily.
Mach 1 composes its own song. It is a red mantra.

Mach 1 is the cape of a matador waiting for a charging bull.
It is the falling sun turning to blood. Now it is still. Now soundless.
If you tune in you'll hear its song humming between your ears growing louder.

Mach 1 is a flock of red corbies nesting together.
The beauty of Mach 1 is that which was invisible, servant of the seas
               has now been made visible.


3
You are home, who have come from all over.
You have been transported,  shipped, landed.

You chant the names of the seas you have traversed, 
the oceans, the waves hunting you 
     from port to port.
What does it mean to contain the meaning
of the lives of so many?

You are a sea anemone, your tentacles draw us into you.

The sky sleeping behind you falls away
into every sky above town and city
where dreaming we all lie,

part earth, part rock, iron blood
               running through our veins

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

I've had a busy time of it over the last couple of months with work and starting my counselling training, so unfortunately poetry hasn't featured much in my life. However I'm seeing a slowing down of the busyness in sight and my poetry senses are clawing to get reading and writing.

I have, however, been writing occasional poem notes / imagery to go back to when I have the mental space to write. I especially gathered material when I was on a recent family holiday to Skye and the Western Isles and hope to create something meaningful out of it.

Poems that have caught my eye over the last while have been a series by Victoria Chang of 'Obit' poems. They are a fascinating and imaginative range of poem-obituaries that Chang wrote after the death of her mother. The full collection of them is due to be published early next year by Copper Canyon Press. A book I'm very much looking forward to reading.

Monday, October 21, 2019






Detail from Blaven and Loch Slapin by Jenny McLaren









I'm happy to have my poem, Freud's Couch in February, published in the latest issue of Northword's Now.
It's a visual exploration of that fascinating object which is on display in London.

Thursday, October 03, 2019


Happy National Poetry Day!



I have a poem - Apple of my Tree - showcased today on the Mary Evans Pictures and Poetry which you can read here!

Thursday, September 19, 2019


Nice to have a couple of my poems in the summer edition of Poetry Salzburg Review with its characteristically beautiful cover. It's really packed full of poems and very good read! I have a three-part poem about Inveraray Castle in it. I've added the first part below.

I have a few more castle poems submitted out into the world, hopefully I'll find homes for them soon!

























My other poem in the mag is a good example of a line that pops into my head but refuses to go anywhere. I liked the rhythm of it but it just wouldn't lead to anything. Luckily I was able to sneak it into the title of this poem, here's the first stanza -



Thursday, August 22, 2019

The summer holidays are never a great time for writing and this year is no different. I have barely written a thing over the last six weeks, also not helped by health issues. But the kids are now back at school and I have the peace and quiet to work myself back into the writing zone.

I started by looking over the poems I've written over the last year or so, casting a fresh eye over them and editing where needed. I have also managed to finally fix my printer and have printed out all my post Madame Ecosse poems to start thinking about the direction of my writing and get a sense of what my next collection will look like.

It's an exciting thought, thinking about a next collection. I remember when I put my first pamphlet together and how a full collection then seemed to be an insurmountable challenge, and now I'm thinking about my third full collection!

It's funny how the germ of a poem can suddenly spring out of nowhere. The other day I was on the bus to work and happened to pass by an old telephone box with a spray of oak leaves lying on the shelf inside. I knew immediately it would lead to a poem and quickly jotted down some notes. So today, in blissful peace, I'm working on that poem whilst reading bits and pieces of Anne Carson. What I have grown to love about Carson's work is that she reminds me to stay true to myself in my writing no matter how weird it may be!

Monday, July 15, 2019

Highs and Lows

I complained recently about the length of reply time from magazines concerning poetry submissions especially when they in no way match the claim on their website. For instance I recently received a rejection from a magazine after holding onto my poems for eight months, they claim on their website that they aim to reply within three months.

They caveat that the reply may take longer especially if your poems are being considered for publication, which sounds reasonable. But five months longer? Seriously? I would have no problem if they had stated up front that the reply time may be around six to eight months. Then it's up to me whether I want those particular poems to be tied up for that length of time.

However, I was pleasantly gobsmacked to be on the receiving end at other end of the spectrum today. I submitted poems to a magazine which does claim a reading time of around eight months. Thirteen minutes later I received a delightful acceptance of two of my poems!! I'm still in shock!

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

So I wrote my ballad poem and I'm pleased with how it turned out! I found Anne Carson's voice in her long poem The Glass Essay to be a useful sound in the back of my mind whilst writing it. Sometimes it seems so bizarre how the writing process / inspiration happens. My poem is nothing like Anne Carson's in any way but somehow hearing her 'voice' in the form of this poem stimulated my voice and helped unlock my poem for me.  

A couple of years ago on retreat at Moniack Mhor I read Anne Carson's translation of Antigone and thoroughly enjoyed it but apart from that I had never been drawn to her work. Yet recently when I started reading The Glass Essay I was completely absorbed by it, the voice in it caught me and drew me into its multiple parts. The voice is refreshing and yet familiar, her diction straightforward. A few years back I would have struggled to be engaged by this poem with its 'talky' rhythm and image-lite stanzas compared to my preferences then. 



The last month or so I've been plagued by physical ailments, and I can't concentrate on poems when I'm in pain, so I've done no writing since my ballad. Thankfully I'm feeling much better. 
I'm currently reading through a book of Scottish ballads and seeing which ones I'm drawn to and will perhaps become part of my project. 

Friday, May 31, 2019

So I'm working on a four-part poem based on Scots Border Ballad 'Mill O' Tifty's Annie', also known as 'Andrew Lammie'.

This is my third reworking of an old Scottish ballad. It looks like the ballads will be an ongoing slow project!

It's a murder ballad and it is about a young woman, Annie, who falls in love with a laird's servant (trumpeter) Andrew Lammie. Her parents, who want her to marry a man of high birth, complain to the laird and he sends Andrew away. Before he goes, Andrew promises Annie he will come back for her and marry her. Annie has a premonition that she will die before he returns. She is then beaten by her father and mother, her brother breaks her back and she dies. When Andrew returns and finds her dead, he commits suicide.

Change a few details and you could read this story, sadly many times over, in contemporary news.
For now, at quite an early stage in my working of the poem, my parts are crudely split into:
Annie falling in love; her experience of love-sickness; locked-up and beaten by her parents; murder by her brother. All of this will be set against the backdrop of Loch Eck (a loch I travel past regularly on my way to work).

Here is a version of the ballad sung beautifully by Jean Redpath. Kate Rusby also does a version which I'd love to hear.


Thursday, May 16, 2019

It is torturous when a poetry submission gets to the 6 months stage with no reply, especially when the website indicates a much quicker reply time!
I'm trying to be more systematic about sending out poems for submission especially now, when more than ever, many mags are happy with simultaneous submissions. Better to have the same poems out at two places even if they both take more than half a year to respond! 

I've been writing steadily occasional poems, short poems. However I'm ready for a bigger project to throw myself into and I have a few seeds of ideas. I'm reading the work of an old favourite at the moment - Hilda Doolittle (H.D.). I bought her book 'Tribute to Freud', a memoir about her time in therapy. It's just arrived so I'm excited to start reading it. The bringing together of two major interests of mine - poetry and therapy. I'm also excited to have been accepted onto a postgraduate course in person-centred counselling which will start in September and take two years part-time, the end of which I will be a fully qualified and accredited counsellor.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019






My contributor copy of Scotia Extremis arrived this week. Beautifully put together by Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone, it is a great selection of poems. A wide-ranging anthology exploring the many aspects, extremes and icons of contemporary Scotland.


The collection is being show-cased at Glasgow's Aye Write Festival. I will be reading my poem, alongside readings from many other poets who contributed to the collection, on Sunday 24th March, 3pm at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow.



I've had a good writing week - been working on a three-part sequence on Glasgow Central Station, another Glasgow poem and a playful primrose poem. It's been cathartic getting back to writing after three months of no poems!


Friday, March 08, 2019

I spend a lot of time in Glasgow Central Station these days. With my new job I'm either hanging about waiting for a train or killing time until my shift starts. I've been gathering Central Station notes / images over the last couple of months and I'm now ready to start working on a sequence of poems.

I've been thinking over why I like writing sequences so much and feel it's very much to do with the fact that sequences give me the sense of freedom and space to explore my subject in a variety of ways that are all interconnected but coming from different angles.

My current ambition is to bring together the symbolism and otherworldliness of Brigit Pegeen Kelly, the control and candor of Durs Grunbein, the playfulness of Theodore Roethke and the clarity and insight of Tomas Transtromer, all clothed in my own voice. A tall order to say the least... but what's the point if you don't aim high?

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Life has been busy over the last month. I've started a new job working in a homelessness unit in Glasgow so I've not being doing much in the way of writing whilst adjusting to my new routine. However I have been given pretty much free rein to do creative writing in the unit with any of the guys who are interested.
A few years ago I did creative writing on a weekly basis with some guys who were going through drug rehab. It was such a pleasure to be able to give them the space and encouragement to write about their experiences and surprise themselves with the stories and poems they produced.

Likewise, at the unit, it's an honour to share in the stories of those who feel able to take part and create a space for them to express themselves in writing. I give the guys a few options of what to write about. One exercise I particularly enjoyed was using Mirolav Holub's poem 'The Door' to imagine a door, write about that door and who / what might be on the other side of it. It produced some really thoughtful and interesting work. At the end of each writing session I type up the work produced and pin it to the pin board so that all the residents at the unit can have a read.

It's also been fun exploring parts of Glasgow, south of the River Clyde, that I've never really spent much time in before. I've been reading up on some of the rich history of the area and I've a feeling there will be at least a few Glasgow poems to come!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Photo credit: fourthandfifteen / Flickr
A few weeks ago I was commissioned to write a essay on Burns Night for Stranger's Guide - a new American-based travel magazine. 

Dunoon has a particular connection to Robert Burns so I enjoyed writing this short, reflective piece which you can read here - 'Burns Night: Raising a Toast to Scotland's Bard'.


Thursday, December 27, 2018

It's been a very Merry Christmas with Joseph Brodsky and Durs Grunbein! I have been immersing myself in Brodsky's 'A Part of Speech' sequence and Grunbein's 'Variations on No Theme' sequence. I'm trying out new parts of my 'voice', experimenting in pushing my writing style in ways that have occasionally made an appearance in my work but now focusing on taking it much further. 

It's fun experimenting and every experiment inevitably doesn't exceed. But it's a joy to be so mentally stimulated in the writing process!
I've pieced together a sequence on Inveraray Castle and I've just written a three-part sequence on the festive season using Grunbein's form of thirteen-lined poems.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

I'm halfway through reading Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land by Robert Crawford and it's easily the best literary biography I've read in years, well, since Richard Holmes' wonderful two volumes on Coleridge anyway! Extremely detailed and readable it is a fascinating piecing together of Eliot's early years. I was interested to read there are a vault of letters Eliot wrote to a female friend which will be opened in 2020 - I wonder what they will add to our knowledge of Eliot. It's been so enjoyable to sink into the world and thoughts of that great poet, I want to eek the book out as long as possible though there is a volume two to look forward to which Crawford is currently working on.

At the WS Graham event in Greenock I picked up a copy of Kathleen Jamie's Selected Poems, a beautiful book and just published. It was really great to hear Kathleen Jamie read at last, I particularly enjoyed hearing her read Graham's 'Loch Thom' poem and also reading an early poem of hers called 'Crossing the Loch'.

It was a good turnout - moving to see Graham celebrated in Greenock, thanks to the hard work and organisation of Rachael Boast and Andy Ching. Very enjoyable to hear Crawford read and Bill Herbert delivered a fascinating talk on Graham's work.

Well I'm definitely on a roll of Inveraray themed poems at the moment. I have a series of individual poems which I think may be turning into a playful sequence. I'm fascinated by Durs Grunbein's sequences and the influence on him by Joseph Brodsky. So that's my poetry reading at the moment!