Tuesday, December 13, 2022

And then it was December...

Life moves on, sometimes in ways hard to fathom. The months pass quickly but weeks can last forever.

As usual, keeping a record here of publications. I've had a few poems published recently. It feels like the waiting times for magazine submissions has vastly increased over the last few years. I'm guessing there are more folk writing and submitting poems now than ever before. 

I have a couple of poems in the lastest issue of Stand Magazine, a couple of poems in Ofi Press issue 71 which you can read here. And, I'm particularly pleased to have a poem in the latest issue of The Manhattan Review.

Quite probably the last poems in magazine publication from my next poetry collection, Look to the Crocus, before it is due out in Springtime (may Spring come quickly). 

I'm going through various drafts of my forthcoming collection, editing and cutting poems from it. I have way too many poems. It's a pleasant process to be absorbed in, particulary in these wintry cold days. 

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

New bumper issue of Northwords Now is out with a couple of my poems in it. Always a pleasure to have work in Northwords Now which is freely distributed across Scotland and every edition fully available to read online which you can access here. Lots of poems, short stories, non-fiction writing and book reviews from across Scotland, a fab read! 

So, Look to the Crocus is due to be published spring next year and my manuscript is now pretty much ready for publication. It's nice to be able to sit the ms aside for a sort of resting period which means I can go back to it closer to publication with fresh eyes. 

This also means I have the sort of feeling of a blank slate in front of me for new writing...!

Friday, April 15, 2022

Life is very busy and although poetry has taken a back seat, it is always going on in the background. Plans of a third collection to come out next year, a few poems published, daydreams about what to write next...

This Spain-inspired poem appeared on Ink, Sweat & Tears a while back.

A few poems from my Van Gogh sequence were published in the recent Poetry Salzburg Review.

I'm occasionally contacted by people who have been moved by one of my flower poems and it's nice to know that my poems are out there and working their way into occasional lives despite my minimal active involvement in the current poetry scene. 

I'm so enjoying the work of Matthew Sweeney at the moment, it has taken me a while to really get on board with his poems but I'm seeing possibilities in his work that could potentially help me move on in my writing. I absolutely love his poem The Owl

Monday, November 01, 2021

I was unable to attend a recent launch event at the Scottish Poetry Library for Beyond the Swelkie anthology in celebration of George Mackay Brown so was asked to contribute a video reading of my poem to be played at the event instead and here it is!

It was lovely to receive my contributor copy of Marble Poetry Magazine with a poem in it I wrote about my counselling room! The magazine is  beautifully put together and is filled with poems and reviews, copies can be purchased here.

I've been invited to read my poems to an Edinburgh-based 'Poem and Plant Hunters' group run by artist, Brigid Collins, who is the artist-in-residence at the secret treasure that is Dr Neil's Garden in Edinburgh. 

I've had such a pleasant time looking out 'plant-themed' poems to read and was surprised to see that I have even more flower poems in the manuscript for my new collection than in my previous collections!

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Relieved to be past the height of summer - always feel not quite myself in summer and the quiet space for writing poetry disappears in the busy summer months. 

I now feel, in the back-to-school lull, the autumn urge to write falling over me and I'm preparing for it by reading a poet who is new to me and I'm utterly bowled over by her poems - Mary Szyblist. Always a joy to come across a new poet whose poems feed and inspire. Not just her themes of nature, spirituality, female experience; but her hard, crisp imagery, her music, the bringing together of metaphysical and the sensual external world reminds me of Akhmatova.  

I find myself looking again for a large theme to work within and to write a series of poems around rather than going from writing opportune poem to poem. 

It's been lovely to have poems in two Scottish anthologies that have come out this summer: Summer Anywhere published by Dreich (a new and very dynamic press on the Scottish poetry publishing scene), a bumper anthology containing poems by around 200 poets. 

And Beyond the Swelkie edited by Jim Mackintosh & Paul S. Philippou, published by Tippermuir Books and is a collection of prose and poems to celebrate the centenary of the birth of George Mackay Brown.
Click on the links for more info on both books.

I've also had a few poetry acceptances (in the midst of several rejections!!), especially pleased to have some poems taken for Stand literary mag where I've never published before, they will appear in the magazine sometime next year.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

It was lovely to receive a parcel from Athens last month with my contributor copy of a selection of Scottish poetry translated into Greek. The anthology contains poems from Niall Campbell, Penny Boxall, Stewart Sanderson, Janette Ayachi amongst others. Now I know what my name looks like in Greek!

I've been reading poems by the Polish poet Adam Zagajewski. I attended his zoom reading recently as part of the StAnza poetry festival online, which was really great. Then sadly he passed away just over a week later. It's an oddly different experience reading someone's poems just after they've died, as if all of their poems now take on the spectre of elegy regardless of what the poem is about. 

I was asked to contribute a poem inspired by George Mackay Brown to a book coming out this year celebrating the centenary of his birth. So I spent a very pleasant few days reading through my collected GMB which I hadn't done for a while and wrote a poem inspired by a line from his poem 'Beachcomber'.

It's an odd place to be - at the end of a collection of poems and inevitably at the start of another. Plus the process of submitting to publishers and the endless cycle of acceptance / rejection and re-submission endemic to writing and publishing. The endless waiting for responses... such a slow process.

Except for a few intense writing spells, last year was not a hugely productive poetry writing year for me. I hope this year will be different and I've certainly found myself writing my way though this month so far and seemed to have, without planning to, joined in with national poetry writing month! Lots of dross coming out but I'm long enough in the tooth to know, if I persevere, I'll get past the dross. 

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Mary Evans Picture Library/John Maclellan
I don't think about the old world now - pre-covid life - in fact it barely crosses my mind. I'm living in the here and now, taking each day, each week with its own plans, expectations, pressures and commitments. I'm lucky to have enough in my life to occupy me during this slow snail's pace existence. I have essays to write, reading to do, children to look after, counselling commitments, a dog to walk. The days and weeks are ticking by in ultra-slow motion. I dare not look ahead to the end of this lockdown or imagine life beyond covid - that would make the present unbearable. 

I stopped my ekphrastic writing spree at twenty poems and have since culled three from the sequence of poems as not up to standard. But the remaining seventeen poems I'm happy with! I recently re-read Sharon Olds' beautiful collection Stag's Leap and I so much admire how she shines a light on the tiny, mostly unnoticed moments in daily life and relationships and yet which encapsulates the essence of those relationships.  

Being called 'young' in the poetry world has a decidedly different meaning from how the rest of the world defines 'young'! So bearing that in mind I'm happy to have a selection of poems translated into Greek in a newly published anthology of contemporary young Scottish poets (featuring also some genuinely young Scottish poets!!). 

I have a poem showcased on the Mary Evans Poems and Pictures blog which you can read here.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

So amidst the madness of Christmas seasonal whatnot's, I've managed to write eighteen poems over this last week or so in a series of poems I've called the Van Gogh Variations. They are loosely ekphrastic poems based on paintings by Van Gogh but really, in many of the poems, just using the paintings as a jumping off point and following the poems where ever they go. They are odd little poems, incredibly absorbing and pleasurable to work on. And I'm learning a lot about the life and works of Van Gogh as I go along!

After a year of writing very little (the pandemic has not at all been conducive to my writing) working within these rhyming quatrains and couplets has released me to write. I hope to keep writing many more in this sequence of poems and I'm excited to see how far I get! 

Saturday, December 19, 2020

I've been surprised to find myself having written eight short poems in the last two days as part of a, hopefully, much longer sequence of poems inspired by my reading of Durs Grunbein's book-length sequence Porcelain and Joseph Brodsky's sequence A Part of Speech.

Each poem in my sequence is ten lines long with an ababcdcdee rhyme scheme. I can't remember the last time I worked in such a regular form and although I'm not keeping to a regular meter or syllable count in each line, all the lines are fairly long and roughly the same length. It's been a mental pleasure to work within the rhyming scheme and great to move away from the more intensely lyrical poetry I normally write. 

I absolutely love Porcelain, translated by Karen Reeder. Aside from the actual poems, it's a beautiful book inclusive of notes on the poems by Grunbein himself. It's a sequence of forty-nine poems about the destruction of Dresden by the allied forces during WW2. The poems of course are wonderful, fascinating, intriguing, informative, elegiac, questioning, all in Grunbein's stylish and ironic way of writing. It also includes photos of Dresden and artifacts mentioned in the poems. Only now translated into English, the poems are not recent works of Grunbein and proved controversial when they were first published in German in 2005. 

Thursday, November 26, 2020

So I feel I may have finally completed the manuscript for my third poetry collection. 

My idea earlier this year of splitting the collection into three parts each prefaced with a quote has been abandoned! I have come up with a new book title (and feel fairly set on it) - googled it and checked on Amazon to make sure there were no other books by that title. 

The spirit of Transtromer has been my guiding poet through many of these poems - in fact I wonder if I'll ever be able to write a poem again without having his work open in front of me for inspiration! 

Undoubtedly I'll probably add a few more poems to it between now and eventual publication - whenever that may be - but right now it feels pretty complete. 

And I feel set free to do something different...change direction...have a new focus in my poems. Perhaps a large scale project of some sort...I like the idea of having a specific book-length project for my next book. 

However, the immediate focus is on submitting my manuscript to poetry publishers, tricky... as many are not accepting submissions at the moment because their publishing schedule has been disrupted by Covid. 

However, my baby is ready to be sent out into the world, and it's an exciting place to be!

Monday, November 02, 2020

I recorded my poem 'Apple Trees' for a new podcast - Salon B- produced by Berghahn Books. The poem was first published in the academic journal Critical Survey and was inspired by folklore associations of the life of a newborn being inextricably linked to the fortunes of a newly planted tree. You can hear me read my poem at around 50/51 mins here

I've been enjoying reading through the new biography of Sylvia Plath: Red Comet by Heather Clark. You'd think there couldn't possibly be anything left worth saying about Plath and her life that's not already been (excuse the pun) done to death. However, and I'm only about a third of the way into it, my feeling is this will be a fairly definitive, balanced, more objective and fuller examination of Plath's life in the context of her time than has been previously achieved. Plus it's always a pleasure to escape into a literary biography especially during these weird times. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

I was delighted to read a very kind review of Madame Ecosse in the latest issue of The North magazine. The reviewer, John Killick, very kindly sent me a copy of the magazine via my local bookshop as it turned out he had bought my book actually here in Dunoon during a visit to the area! Anyway it was a very pleasant and unexpected surprise since Madame Ecosse has been out for over three years now. 

I was also very happy to have a poem commended in the Buzzwords Poetry Competition judged by Penelope Shuttle. I've always been an admirer of Shuttle's poems and to have a poem of mine read and commented on by her in the judges report is such a pleasure to me. My poem 'The Telephone Box' can be read here alongside the winning poems. I particularly love Penny Boxall's beautiful runner-up poem. 

Thursday, September 03, 2020

I recorded another video poem for Hugh McMillan's fab #plagueopoems series which are now being showcased weekly by Dumfries & Galloway and Renfrew libraries.
A poem I wrote for my daughter, 'Her Hair is a Landscape of its Own', is in the recent issue of the London Grip and can be read here.

It's been a slow return to writing after effectively a five-month summer holiday for the kids. And summer holidays have never been a productive writing time for me. I've been reading Wendell Berry's The Peace of Wild Things and I'm enjoying the quiet simplicity of the poems, the drawing back to silence as I get to experience silence at home again. I've also been re-reading Michael Hamburger's excellent book The Truth of Poetry which I've written about before. It's helping me come back to writing and thinking about what kind of poems I want to write, for what purpose, and how I conceive of my writing in terms of the tradition of poetry and how that translates into poetry of the present. I wrote a poem about cobwebs this week - my first completed poem since April!

Thursday, July 30, 2020

I'm very happy to have two poems in the latest issue of The Manchester Review.
My poem 'Glasgow Nights' was written about my journey to work last year when I was working night-shifts in a homelessness unit. My other poem 'Written on Board MV Coruisk' is another commute poem - the short ferry ride from Dunoon to Gourock is usually part of my travels several times a week. Though I can hardly believe I've not been on the ferry for nearly five months now!
You can read my poems online here.

For anyone interested in acceptance / rejection stats - both of these poems were rejected three times by other mags/journals.

I've kept a record of every poetry submission, acceptance, rejection I've ever sent - my records date back to 2006! I've had 117 rejections - not individual poems but full submission rejections which often contain several poems.
My first acceptance came in 2008 - so two years after I started submitting. I've had 67 acceptances, again, not individual poems but often more than one in a submission.

I'm also starting to record rough reply times by mags/journals so I can better gauge how long I want a poem/poems potentially unavailable for.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Back to work this week which represents the official end of lockdown for me. It's life out there but not as we know it!

Over the last few weeks I've been playing around with the draft of my third poetry collection. I'm really not that many poems off a full and complete collection.

I've split the collection into three sections that they seemed to fall into quite naturally. My first book was split into four sections and, in hindsight, I think that was too many! I didn't have any sections in Madame Ecosse and I think I prefer to have a book in sections. Plus each section has its own title page and the option of adding a quotation which I quite like to have. 
Again, 'nature' is the major theme, backdrop and also active ingredient running through my poems regardless of what else they are about.

So far I'm thinking of using this quote from Thoreau for the first section: "As a man studies the details of nature he discovers himself". A quote from Francis James Child for my ballad section: "True popular ballads are the spontaneous products of nature". And a verse from Wordsworth for my third section that links to a poem I have in that section.

Anyway this is all very much at the thinking and early days planning stage but I'm excited to see the manuscript coming together in what feels like a satisfyingly cohesive manner.

I have a couple of poems coming out in the next issue of The Manchester Review and one in the next issue of The London Grip. I'll be working on trying to get as many poems from my manuscript published as possible.

Thursday, June 11, 2020

I've lost count how many weeks into lockdown we are. And in some ways that's a good thing, I've finally adapted to and accepted the way life has changed. I know we'll be on our way out of lockdown soon and the changes will stay with us for the foreseeable future.

What I've badly missed is my commuting / travelling time - as a non-driver who lives in little town out of the way; on a weekly basis I'm used to a lot of travelling via boat, train and bus. And I enjoy it! It's my reflective time, my reading time, my jotting down images and thoughts time. I've also missed coffee-shop writing time! The business and bustle around me helps me write at the early stage of working on poems and then when I'm in the pit of the poem I need the peace & quiet and my own space to write it.

I'm delighted to have my poems 'Look to the Crocus' and 'The Complicated Sex Life of Primula...' in this month's issue of Poetry Magazine which you can read here!
I also have a lockdown poem, 'The Solitude Stone' on Andy Jackson's and Bill Herbert's brilliant Postcards from Malthusia series of poems written in response to the pandemic.
And...I have a poem about Spanish orange trees -  'The Orange Trees of Altea' on Atrium Poetry!

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Eight weeks of lockdown now here in Scotland. I've avoided working on poems over the last two to three weeks. I had fallen into overthinking mode and badly needed to get out and stay out of my head for a while in order to cope with and make it through this time. So I've cooked (and eaten!) a lot, watched tv a lot, and generally otherwise stuck to the practical - walking, knitting, homework and general activities with the kids etc. And it's paid off. I feel much more myself, have a healthier perspective on things and have let go of what I cannot change.

However, poetry never entirely escapes my life! I've been enjoying reading a biography of Robert Lowell by Ian Hamilton. It's been a fascinating, at times hilarious, read! It's good to get a background to the poems and the biography quotes large chunks of Lowell's letters so I'll probably re-read his poems soon and when I do have more of a sense of his 'voice' and the character behind the poems. I've also been reading a book on the Black Mountain poets. Olson, Creeley and Duncan have never been high in my awareness and I've never really been drawn to the later Language poets so it was good to be reminded of the poetics behind it all.

I'm very excited to have two flower poems coming out in next month's issue of Poetry Magazine. It's always an utter surprise and more than a tiny bit miraculous to me to have poems accepted for this amazing magazine (for the fourth time!!!) . And my flower poems are generally my favourite to write, there really is no where else in the world I would rather have them 'homed'!

So I feel ready to go back to working on poems and have notes for a bat poem beckoning...!

Sunday, March 29, 2020

How much the world has changed in a month. I've been through, and watched others go through, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross' five stages of grief  - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance - which is applicable to significant loss of any kind. And we've all been through significant loss in the last month, in the very least any sense of normality and trust in the world as we know it.

However we are amazingly adaptable creatures and poetry is thankfully a stable and safe place to return to in these unstable times. I was happy to contribute a video poem recorded from self-isolation in my bedroom to be showcased as part of a 'Plague of Poetry' series blog run by the ever cheerful Scottish poet Hugh McMillan. I've been enjoying the daily dose of the plague and you can see my contribution here. Stay safe out there, this time will pass.

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.