Monday, 31 December 2012

Pulping is the new Book Burning

Swift's suggestion for solving the problem of starving children was to eat them- Manchester City Library's solution for needing more shelving space, is to pulp books.

The Nazis burnt books publicly.  Pulping, the next best thing, is happening behind the scenes in Manchester. Perhaps I am being too emotive but if you allow this sort of thing, without public consultation and no transparency, where will it lead?  Writers including Carol Ann Duffy, Jeanette Winterson and Michael Schmidt (also publisher of Carcanet) have signed a protest letter.  See

Neil MacInnes, Manchester's Head Librarian said, quoted in the Guardian: "While it is correct that some of the items which have been amassed over time will not be returning, these are obsolete items, such as outdated reference books, duplicates, such as paperbacks we have in hardback, or books in such poor condition it would not be viable to repair them. The idea that the library will be saying goodbye to valuable stock is just plain wrong."

What interests me in the above is the 'outdated' reference books, (who is to say they are of no interest to historians,  historical novelists and others) are being pulped and those 'in such poor condition' that  it is not 'viable' to repair them (who is to say they is not worth it?).

I have a grouse myself - the only copy of a Scots Gaelic edition of songs from Hiorta (St Kilda) which I know existed because I took it out a year or so ago, has now vanished from the Edinburgh City public libraries.  With the aid of a very helpful librarian we tracked down another edition in English. What has happened to the Gaelic version?  A mystery.  The librarian suggested that when books disappear it is usually because they are in such disrepair, it is not worth repairing them. It was fine when I took it out.  Besides, this book is a rare item. Ok, not rare in the sense of being worth a lot financially, only of minority interest in that Gaelic is a minority language and even more interesting in that some of the songs are in the St Kildan dialect which is distinct, and which, since the only inhabited island was evacuated in 1930 , there must be practically no one who speaks this dialect left alive, so rare and of value to linguists and Gaelic scholars and musicologists. It was a paperback copy therefore more fragile than a hardback. Surely, a torn spine, or page, or whatever the issue was, is not reason to destroy a book such as this.

There may well be a copy in Edinburgh National Library but their books are reference only. I wanted to take the copy out to play on the piano and use the language of the songs to inspire my own poetry.  No, the English version is not the same thing.

A minority interest? Yes. But isn't that the point of libraries? Otherwise, there'll be nothing there but Barbara Cartland,  and gameboys. (I kid you not. Look in some local public libraries.)

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Poetry, Song and Stories with 'Read Aloud' in Edinburgh Care Homes

It seemed a bit scary to just start reading a poem out loud to a group of people in an Edinburgh  care home.  What if it was the last thing they wanted? I certainly did not want to impose myself on them. To be fair, some looked as if they were asleep, but after turning the telly off and after a bit of chat, I  asked if anyone wanted me to read a poem?  One lady clapped her hands and her face lit up: 'Oh YES, please!'  came a chorus. I was surprised.   So I did, giving it my best performance skills, to great applause.

This is not the reception poetry gets from many adults nowadays. However, the previous volunteer visitors had prepared the way well. Or maybe my listeners had memories of being read to aloud as children and it was a happy memory.

This was part of a scheme called 'Read Aloud' run by the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh City Libraries, where a team of volunteers visit care-home throughout Edinburgh, and recently this scheme is being extended to other parts of Scotland. The idea is to use poetry, song and stories inspired by a different, given theme each time to spur chat and reminiscences.  Some of the care-home residents have early onset dementia but the poems and songs jog their memories,  help keep their brain active, and the sessions are a way of being connected to other people, and most importantly, bring them great pleasure.

 Incidentally the poem I had chosen was Jackie Kay's 'Grandpa's Soup' and it went down a treat.
'I say, Grandpa, Grandpa, your soup is the best soup....' I read and several of the group finished the line with me:  'in the whole world', not that they knew the poem in advance but Jackie's lines are predictable in the best way. Haven't we all said something similar as children?

 So after that initial success, I read a few more - but not straight away. Lots of chat and came first, stories about childhood reminiscences prompted by the poem.  If I was apprehensive that it would be difficult to get them chatting, this worry was soon dispelled - it was the opposite, impossible to stop them!  We also varied the poems with songs - music hall songs proved popular.  One lady, a great character, knew all the words and it did did not take much to persuade her to sing. She confessed she'd gone to Miss Henderson's School for tap-dancing in her youth and learnt the songs there. 

And I must admit, I think I enjoyed it as much, if not more than they did: hearing reminiscences about life in the auld days in Embra, poverty-stricken childhoods in houses with no running water or indoor baths or toilets, walking to school with no shoes, (the only pair saved for kirk on Sundays) were some of the stories. I felt honoured to share their memories and how important it is for these stories not to be lost.

If you want to know more, here is a clip on You Tube, showing sessions in action with comments from volunteers and care home residents (10 mins)

Sunday, 9 December 2012

Gifted Paper Sculptures blow us away

The Scottish Poetry Library on a Saturday morning is usually rather quiet but yesterday over a 100 people had visited by 1pm when my volunteer shift ended and it looked like at least another 100, if not more,  would arrive by close of day, breaking their record. The previous day, Friday, they'd had 350 visitors, and the previous Saturday 400.  Though hard to find, tucked down a close off the Royal Mile and not very well sign-posted, it has to be admitted,  yet these hundreds tracked the SPL down. And why has a poetry library suddenly become so popular?

Yesterday (Sat) was the last day of the 'Gifted' exhibition of the ten paper sculptures (made out of cut-up texts from well-known poetry and books by Scottish authors) that have mysteriously  appeared at various libraries and museums in Edinburgh over the last year, plus a new one, delivered in a box labelled 'Do not open until Dec 7th' of a child reading a book and a tag  featuring a poem from Robert Louis Stevenson  'A Child's Garden of Verses' and another reference to new beginnings ('In my end is my beginning.'- T.S. Eliot, I presume.) - all charmingly reminding us of reading to children, or remembering being read to as a child, where the imagination is first awakened leading to a  love of books.

To My Mother

You too, my mother, read my rhymes
For love of unforgotten times,
And you may chance to hear once more
The little feet along the floor.

Robert Louis Stevenson

No one knows who the anonymous donor/artist is - although she is a she is known from emails. The palpable excitement of visitors was evident and I enjoyed chatting to everyone who came through the door. Wondering at the patience and precision needed by the artist to craft such intricate and minute, detailed work, we speculated on her need for  a jeweller's magnifying glass and scalpel.  She had to be a book-lover too.  Who could this artist/book-lover be?  Perhaps she was actually walking round the exhibition that very moment!  Wouldn't you, if you were her be there on the last day of the exhibition where all the sculptures would be together (minus the 5 new ones), eavesdropping on people's comments (all complimentary) and chuffed by the excitment and delight everyone was showing?  Why it might even be you, I said to an attractive arty looking lady with sparkling eyes in her 50s/60s.  She just laughed. So who knows?

 Half the fun has been tracing which book the texts have come from.  All of the books (not just poetry) are well-known to all Scottish readers and some probably internationally too but lines of text cut up into strips means they weren't all immediately apparent, but Lilias Fraser, a librarian at SPL, has managed to track them through the wonders of search engines on the net.

The mystery heightened last week when 5 more sculptures were announced via Scottish Book Trust with clues to trace their whereabouts, resulting in an excited hunt throughout Scotland. The 5 have now been found and you can see pictures and details of their locations here:

 ' She' has said she wants to celebrate the importance of keeping libraries, museums and art galleries free and OPEN!  It's certainly put the Scottish Poetry on the map. 
More on the first 10 sculptures and photos see my previous entry Blog 2011/11/11

Saturday, 13 October 2012

Mist and mystical moments at Poetry on the Lake

View of the island, Isola San Giulio from Orta SG, Piedmont, Italy.

Posting late as I went down with flu after a trip to Italy. (The wages of sin or La Strega, a local aperitif which means 'witch'? 'Nuff said.)

Mist and sun, this time at the Poetry on the Lake Poetry Festival, at Orta San Guilio.(27th Sept-1st Oct)
It was lovely to be back, (my third visit), especially to see familiar faces and old friends for a few days of pasta, vino and poesie.  I was also delighted to be invited to have a 10 minute reading slot in the Pallazotto, the 17th c town-hall along with other poets.

Gillian Clarke, the judge of the competition, had awarded a Highly Commended to one of my poems. ('Stac an Armin'.) Gillian's was the first poetry workshop I ever attended back in the 80s in a shooting lodge overlooking Llyn Cregennen, and Cadair Idris  in Wales. (See my earlier post on Gillian Clarke)  So it was particularly special for me to meet Gillian again and reminisce.

Other headline poets were Carol Ann Duffy (who comes every year as she is the Patron of the Festival), Penelope Shuttle and Imtiaz Dharker.  Penny's poetry I have read and heard many times, and she is always wonderful.  Imtiaz was new to me - and delightfully surprising and funny.  A respectable-looking lady, she read shocking poems, with an unexpected use of racy language and a satirical  punch.

It was also great to hear Wayne Price,  the Silvern Wyvern  prize winner's poem about crows in a playground.  The competition theme was 'beastly' and most of us had chosen mythic or horrrific beasts, so Wayne's choice of subject and treatment was understated but the more frightening for that.

Two other poets who gave terrific readings were Katrina Naomi and Caroline Carver.  The poetry in Katrina's book 'The Girl with the Cactus Handshake' (Templar) certainly lived up to its title:  striking, prickly and noir with clear-cut imagery and language;  about her experiences growing up in Margate, and later in the East End- a particularly funny one about lying dead drunk on the floor of a pub in the Elephant and Castle with  'let's call him Andy'.  I complimented Katrina on her forties' outfits and the flower in her hair and learnt she is a fan of Lindy-Hop.

Caroline Carver's latest pamphlet 'Tikki-Tikki Man' (Ward Wood Publishing) is about child abuse and the dream-landscape she and the abused friend invented to cope with their father's 'friend'.  Horrific, nightmare stuff set in the Caribbean island she grew up in, evoking the real landscape, sights and sounds vividly.

There is also much more than poetry at the festival and each year I've been, Gabriel Griffin, the organizer, manages to treat us to new experiences.  This time it was a piano recital ranging from Mozart, Clara Schumann to Chopin held  in the Sala Tallone, part of a 17th c pallazza on the island.  Most surprising was to see that the pianist, Ilan Zajtmann,  was an 11 year old.  It made me think what it must have been like seeing the boy Mozart himself play.   I ended up in the overspill, the stone terrace outside but I think this was a bit of luck, as piano strains mixed with the sound of water lapping and bells floating across from around the lake.

The traditional poetical pilgimage round the Sacre Monte, where everyone is invited to read a poem outside chapels which wind round the mountain, with views of the lake below through shady pines and cypresses, was a charming experience - and a way of getting to know others at the festival.  

I managed to slip away  to walk the 'silent path' round the island by myself too where overhead signs invite reflection.

Another special  event was a celebration of the 14th c mystic,  Hildegard de Bingen, (whose canonization was announced last May - the Papacy takes its time) with a performance of her music, sung by Julia Berger accompanying herself on opaque white glass bowls.  Performed in the dark, lit only by candle-light, Julia, who has long blonde hair and wore floating robes, looked like a prophetess or priestess.  The music was trance-like and eerie, the singing bowls with a strange, haunting resonance, like a hum or gongs. The performance took place outside a herbal remedies shop, 'Thesaura Naturae', which uses Hildegard's recipes. (She has quite a New Age following.)  The music was followed by various poets, including me, reading poems inspired by Hildegard. The whole event was a magical, never to be forgotten experience.

But just in case you think the whole festival sounds far too serious, here are some photos of the more earthly delights:

The citizens of Orta San Giulio competing against their own Guinness Book of Record entry for the largest risotto ever made.

Tikki-Tikki Man by Caroline Carver See

Monday, 27 August 2012

Day 5: Surprise links from across the Atlantic, Poetry in the Persian Tent

    Marie Howe, Mandy Haggith, Eunice Buchanan, Carole Clarke, Stewart Conn and George Wilson.

It's extraordinary how distinctive each morning of these five poetry events has been and today proved to be no exception with a surprise American thread. Carole Clarke, with her accompanist, George Wilson, could have had no idea that their inclusion of a Bernstein song, and a poem, 'Little Rose' by Emily Dickinson put to music, would be the perfect echo to a  last minute addition to the line-up- the acclaimed  American poet, Marie Howe.  How Marie Howe came on board is a long story, involving trans-Atlantic links, the Aldeburgh Festival and John Glenday so many thanks to them for this wonderful surprise.

                                                        Carole Clarke, mezzo-soprano

The event started and ended with Burns' songs from Carole, so the Scottish-American balance was maintained.  Our first Scottish poet was Eunice Buchanan from Arbroath who lives part of the year in Australia now, following her grand-children but is back in Scotland for the summer (what summer?) My favourite was a suitably rainy poem from the point of view of  Noah's Wife in her characteristic dry wit and in Scots, made it clear the wifie would have a deal to say to the All Mighty about those floods.

Next, a poet who lives in the far Top Left Hand corner of Scotland, Mandy Haggith  brought the salt-water and winds of Assynt into the room with dramatic poems personifying trees- reminiscent of Alice Oswald's poems about wild flowers.  These were a sample of the  18 poems about the trees of Scotland, each one also a letter of the Gaelic alphabet,  that Mandy will be publishing shortly with illustrations  so I'm looking forward to that.

Marie Howe's poems proved as stunning as I had been told.  Her poems are sensuous and wise, about love and loss in that everyday American speech that can be cool and seemingly casual, but hits you with its truth and simplicity.  It sounds so different from the more heavily laden iambic we do over here.  I was particularly taken by 'After the Movie' when she and a lover debate what they mean by the word 'love', quoting Simone Weil, Meister Eckhart and Janis Joplin.  That's a great example of her range - issues tackled by great philosophers and  theologians but in the context and voice of the contemporary world too.  I was smitten and will buy her latest book, 'The Kingdom of Ordinary Time' at the EIBF whilst it's still there. Because, of course, I have to admit it wasn't just our event she had flown over the pond for- but for her event with Lavinia Greenlaw the day before at the festival across the road from us in Charlotte Square.  Great that she could fit us into her tight schedule though.

Our last poet, Stewart Conn, needed no introduction to a Scottish audience, especially in Edinburgh, as he is the former Edinburgh Makar (poet laureate).  Also as former Head of Scotland's BBC Radio Drama, his poems proved to be little dramas too, and no surprise, he was a terrific performer too. The audience made it clear how well-loved he is.  I particularly enjoyed  'Early Morning' about two doves billing and cooing outside his bedroom window and the title poem of his latest collection 'The Breakfast Room' inspired by a painting by Bonnard of a woman (whether the painter's wife or maid is unclear) merging into the curtains.  Stewart's poem is in three parts: the p.o.v. of Stewart himself, Marthe, the painter's wife and the painter. As in the painting and poem, things or people on the periphery are often the most important just as in Stewart's poems, where he knows how to bring out the drama of  everyday occurences.

Sadly it was our last event. It all passed in a dream-like haze for me, partly due to paracetamol and flu but I think my euphoria was really due to the superb performers - both poets and musicians who created such a wonderful atmosphere, and the lovely responsive audiences.  But I have to thank the small army of  wonderful volunteers,  and FoSP backstage staff, and in particular the Sound and Technical support, Wezi, who kept calm at all times...considering the changes to the line-up which seemed to occur every day either due to cancellations due to unforseen problems, or planes unable to take off or land due to fog, or planes bringing us surprise newcomers.

Will I do it again next year?  I need time to think about that one.  A hot bath and early night or rather several early nights are needed.  Some very happy memories though. Thanks to everyone involved.
I'll post up on Oxfam's Just Giving site for Old MacDonald had a Farm for Africa project how much we made when it's all worked out.

More photos, see our Facebook Poetry in the Persian Tent event page

Day 4: Rural themes and Celtic tunes: Poetry in the Persian Tent

Aonghas MacNeacail, Jim Carruth, Niall Campbell and Patsy Seddon

A dreich morning of harvest- end rain and cold did not keep a good crowd from coming to the penultimate PiPT event- the performers handed a glass of hot Persian Tea, with mint and honey from Yousef's Persian Tent cafe to warm them up. And it was a terrific event, warmly received by the audience, a  loyal band of supporters but also others who had loved previous days of our events and came along to sample something new.
I asked Jim Carruth to begin his set by speaking a bit about the charity, since all 5 of these events are in aid of  Old MacDonald had a Farm for Africa, which he devised with the backing of Liz Lochhead.  As a farmer, Jim was particuarly inspired by Oxfam's idea of start-up farms - so that people could become self-sufficient.  A call was made for others to contribute by their own fund-raising events too - it doesn't have to be poetry - anything from sponsored walks to cake stalls. Become a 'Young MacDonald' and part of the effort.

Jim then began his reading and  harvest was a theme that was touched on. Though largely billed by me as a 'Celtic' flavour event, with Aonghas MacNecail originally from Skye and Niall Campbell from Uist accompanied by the Celtic harpist, Patsy Seddon, we also had a lowlander, Jim Carruth who started the readings with poems about rural life- people and animals. From poems about hay-baling as a youth with hay allergy (dressed up in balaclava, boiler suit and gloves in the heat)- a great way to lose weight, he quipped,  to a rollicking narrative poem about a young gal forced to dance with all the ageing farmers at a ceilidhe and being birled about by all of them, with humourous character sketches of each one - the warts, literally, n all. A tour de force, reminiscent of George Mackay Brown's Hamnavoe Market characters, but with the hirpling rhythm of a wild reel.

The theme of farming life nicely balanced Niall Campbell's , who comes from a fishing family background so the rural theme continued- the copper of rusting fishing ropes like 'ampersands.'  But we also had poems inspired by Niall's sojourn in France where he spent several weeks on the Robert Louis Stevenson Writers' Fellowship and particularly evocative, a poem about the tepid water there in contrast to memories of cool water from Scottish taps. His  lyrical and sensuous poems have an elegance in their brevity and he has  a fine-tuned ear. A young poet starting his career, who will be someone to watch.

Aonghas MacNeacail in his 70th year, our leading Gaelic poet, also read in English and Scots. The trouble with Gaelic poems, he said, is they take so long, as you have to read the English translation too! This self-mocking sense of humour was evident in all his asides and also in his delightful poems.

                                                         Patsy Seddon

It was also clear why Patsy Seddon is considered one of our leading Celtic harpists and singers.  She certainly gave the whole event a special atmosphere and lift. And it was very illuminating  to learn about the difference between a clarsarch and a Celtic harp. (If you're interested, a clarsarch has metal strings and is played with the finger nails. The Celtic harp has gut strings. The one she played was the latter.)

A Review on the Scottish Poetry Library's Blog/Sweet Etceteras:
Sweet Etceteras

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Marie Howe, American star, to read at Poetry in the Persian Tent

Amazing news.  I am so thrilled that the acclaimed American poet, Marie Howe, will be reading at PiPT tomorrow, Sunday, at 11am.   Marie, who read with Lavinia Greenlaw at the EIBF, has managed to fit us into her tight schedule on her flying visit to Edinburgh.

Her poetry is deeply moving and in particular, the elegy she wrote for her brother who died of an Aids-related illness in 1989.  Margaret Atwood has said that Howe writes 'poems of obsession that transcend their own dark roots.'  Her reading at the Aldeburgh Festival some time ago went down a storm and I sure she will tomorrow too.

Along with Stewart Conn, former Edinburgh Makar, Mandy Haggith and Eunice Buchanan, it will certainly be an event with a variety of voices.

Friday, 24 August 2012

Days 1, and 2 and 3 : Tears and Laughter at Poetry in the Persian Tent

                        Liz Lochhead, John Sampson, John Glenday, Stephanie Green and Ryan Van Winkle

An amazing three days of events have gone by like a wonderful dream.  Each day has had a distinctive feel and been amazing in its own way. Day 1 had a great mixture of voices:  John Glenday's meditative poems a great contrast to Ryan's edgy, Kinda Blue, my own poems inspired by Shetlandic landscape and  Liz Lochhead's variety of moving and funny poems, ending with her hilarious  'ootloud' poem 'Men Talk' (Women natter, chatter) which was her BBC Poetry Slam entry the night before (I think some of the younger contestants got a shock not realizing Liz was a seasoned Performance Poet star in her Art School student days)  before she dashed off for her own Assembly Rooms performance - what a trouper!

                                                                    Liz Lochhead

  John Sampson on crumhorn, a cow's horn and several instruments in his mouth at the same time (see photo) lifted the whole event  by his staggering virtuosity.

                     Jackie Kay, Billy Letford, Liz Lochhead, John Sampson, and Stephanie Green

Day 2 had  a disappointment in that Helen Mort had to cancel but Liz stepped in to help with a longer slot so we were treated to a greater variety of her range.  Liz and Jackie Kay, both terrific performers, both brought the house down.  I had tears in my eyes from Jackie's moving poem about her friend, the poet, Julia Darling's death, how friends are still in our memories, and are only finally dead, when we are. Then later tears of laughter from her uproarious 'Ma Broon has Colonic Irrigation.'  Not the usual subject matter in a church hall! Hey, it's a Persian Tent for the duration.

                                                                    Jackie Kay

 William or Billy Letford was as stunning as word had said.  He recites by heart poems of great directness and strength with an equally no nonsense, strong delivery, about the world of a roofer, a life of hardship and work.  The integrity and moving simplicity of his poems knocked me out.   What a privilege to hear someone who is the real thing, so talented, at the beginning of what will surely  be a great career. His first collection, published by Carcanet, was  launched the day after our event, so we also had the pleasure of a sneak taster.

A disappointment was a message from Lise Sinclair, fog-bound, with no planes able to land or take off from Fair Isle but John Sampson, the hero, stood in and gave us another amazing series of flourishes and tootles.


Day 3 a rainy day added atmospheric sound effects from outside, whilst inside the half-notes and close harmony of some mournful Bulgarian and traditional songs from 'Just Voices' were perfect as an introduction to a less uproarious than the day before, but evocative and lyrical poetry of Patricia Ace, Jane McKie, with the seemingly gentle but  fierce, visceral bite of Vicki Feaver's.
                                                                Vicki Feaver

                          Patricia Ace

                                                                                                              Jane McKie

                                                                      Lise Sinclair                                            

A wonderful surprise was Lise Sinclair's appearance - fog finally clearing from Fair Isle - and we were treated to a sample of evocative poetry in Shetlandic followed by her song about her daughter being taught to spin by her own father, the child's grandfather.

 More Photos and articles on our Facebook Event page  Poetry in the Persian Tent   Scroll down to Press Officer, James T Harding's entry with link to the Photo Collection and articles in The Skinny and Broadway Baby.

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

Kilims, lanterns and mezze, oh and poetry and music too: Poetry in the Persian Tent 1.

Today's first of five Poetry in the Tent events was fabulous - though I say it myself. Poets Liz Lochhead, John Glenday, Ryan VanWinkle and myself and the brilliant virtuoso on crumhorn and other weird wind instruments, John Sampson kick-started the series of poetry and music with an exotic Persian Tent background, lanterns winking,  kilims on the floor. And afterwards we indulged in mezze and delicious honey and mint tea in the persian tent cafe next door.

Tomorrow's line-up is just as starry with the beloved Jackie Kay and others.  The only disappointment is that  the folk singer, Lise Sinclair is fog-bound up in Fair Isle and won't be able to make it.  John Sampson has heroically agreed to stand in.

Here's a taster of what's to come in The Skinny online:

Sunday, 17 June 2012

Stellar line-up for Poetry in the Persian Tent/Old MacDonald charity event, Festival of Spirituality and Peace, 2012

St John's Church, Edinburgh, 22nd-26th August, 11am-12pm

Poetry in the Persian Tent, has gone Mega. Ballistic! Hyperbolical words fail me.. The line-up of poets who have agreed to perform has, day by day, got better and better, grown, indeed like Topsy,  until the final programme is quite staggering:

Liz Lochhead
Photo credit: Norman MacBeath
Jackie Kay

                                                          Scotland's Makar, Liz Lochhead, and  Jackie Kay, our  two 'national
John Glenday
Photo credit: 
John Glenday, short-listed for the international mega-prize, the Griffin (dare I say, even more prestigious than the T.S. Eliot),
Vicki Feaver, whose visceral poetry has a terrific fan-base, 
Aonghas MacNeacail, our leading Gaelic poet and  Stewart Conn, well-known and well-loved, former Edinburgh Makar are our headliners, a different one each of the five days...(though Liz is performing twice.)
plus other rising stars and up and coming poets from all round Scotland and musical interludes from a varied and brilliant range of musicians and singers.

Vicki Feaver
Photo credit: Alisdair Young

Stewart Conn
Photo credit: Jemimah Kuhfield
and mind, they are all performing without a fee, as it's for a wonderful charity (Old MacDonald had a Farm for Africa/Oxfam).
Many, many thanks to them all.
Aonghas MacNeacail
Photo credit: Kevin MacNeil

See the event web-site for the schedule of performers : Poetry in the Persian Tent

There's  a Facebook page so do send it round all your poetry-loving friends.
Poetry in the Persian Tent

Booking opens in a few days.  Book early.
All booking details on the event web-page: Poetry in the Persian Tent
Further info on the full festival of Spirituality and Peace on

Sunday, 10 June 2012

Wee Nippy Sweeties

A copy of 'Clockworks' with my poem 'Wee Nippy Sweeties' arrived through the post this week.  Great to be published in the company of stories (flash or short) by illustrious writers such as Alan Bissett, Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh.  I gather the booklet is to be distributed throughout carriages on the Glasgow Subway - the pieces not to be framed on the wall along with the adverts, as I had originally thought.

The pieces are various lengths - timed as one stop, two or even up to seven stop pieces, meaning the time it takes to read.  People are requested not to take the book home but leave it for other travellers.
Well, we'll see how long that altruistic plan lasts!

Look out for it if you take the Clockwork (Subway).

Monday, 7 May 2012

Poetry in a Persian Tent: the Festival of Spirituality and Peace, 2012

 22nd-26th August, 2012:  11am-12pm

The Edinburgh Festival may seem a long way off, but this is advance notice of a very exciting event bubbling away in the planning stages:  a series of one hour poetry readings over five days in a Persian Tent cafe, behind St John's Church, Princes St., as part of FoSP, one of the many festivals that runs concurrently with the International, Book and Fringe.

 Some leading poets have agreed to read, plus some up-and-coming poets from all round Scotland and beyond - there'll be three poets per day. Names to be confirmed in due course. Meanwhile, check out

Come and hear a spot of poetry, whilst reclining on a silken cushion (or not, if you prefer. It's not compulsory), imbibing light refreshments.  There may be some musical interludes between the words. What better way to recharge your batteries for the hurly-burly of those other possibly more frenetic festivals.

This event is in the wake of the tremendous poetry reading being organized by Liz Lochhead and Jim Carruth to raise money for an Old  MacDonald Farm for Africa project, on May 18th at the Glasgow Arts Club. As Young MacDonalds, our events too will raise money for the same project.

If you can't attend the Poetry in the Persian Tent readings, then please donate as generously as you can via clicking on this link:

                                                           An Old MacDonald Farm for Africa
                                                                                              Photo credit: Steven Simon/Oxfam

Monday, 30 April 2012

Thomas Hardy and Emma at the Old Rectory, St Juliot's

The Old Rectory, St Juliot's, North Cornwall.

As Hardy buffs will know, the Old Rectory at St Juliot's, in a remote part of North Cornwall, hidden away down a warren of sunken lanes and in a dell of its own, is where Thomas Hardy was sent as a young architect to restore the roof of the church and thus met his first wife to be, Emma.

Photos of Thomas Hardy and Emma in the dining room of the Old Rectory.

Her flowing, abundant golden curls and her blue eyes inspired his novel 'A Pair of Blue Eyes' and it was wonderful to re-read the fictionalized account of their meeting whilst I was sitting at a desk by the window in the room Hardy is thought to have stayed in.

The Old Rectory is now a B and B, and staying there is something I have always wanted to do but had no reason to when I lived in a nearby cottage many years ago, in the late 70s . I used to take winter lets to hole up and write my first novel ('The Triple Spiral') but had to move out before tourists arrived for Easter and the rent went up out of my reach.

So it was lovely to be in Cornwall at a time of year when I was usually leaving: a chance to see those famed daffodils, primroses and the blackthorn (which is, of course, white) blossom covering the cliffs above Boscastle- a sight I usually missed.

View of the cliffs looking north from above Boscastle. Beeny is the highest cliff in view: where Emma would ride her pony and Hardy walk alongside in their days of courtship.

Far from the crowds mooching round harbour at Boscastle, it was a peaceful and blessed relief to wander up the lane from the rectory to St Juliot's church with its daffodil-strewn graveyard

or to go round the woodland gardens of the Old Rectory itself which were stunning - camellias and early red rhododendrons also out. The owners encourage you to wander about - to sit on the seat where Hardy and Emma sat overlooking the Valency Valley (where they lost a picnic cup), and to tour the small-holding with their reddy brown and black stripped pigs, their Jacob's sheep, geese and solar panels. This is a self-sufficiency green idyll.

Hardy's marriage to Emma turned sour and he treated her appallingly, only to repent when she was dead. A nostalgic visit to North Cornwall, walking their old haunts and seeing her ghost, led to some of his greatest poems. I think I love the poems more than the novels. Though re-reading them this visit, with their overblown language, 'opal' and 'sapphire' sea and Beeny's wild weird 'chasmic' beauty, it's hard to appreciate that the more difficult poems presaged the early Modernists.

Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Wee Nippy Sweeties on Glasgow Subway, Clockworks' project

After the highs of StAnza, some low news (low as in the Glasgow Metro/Subway/Underground). I learned today that my poem 'Wee Nippy Sweeties' has been selected to go up in a carriage of said Glasgow Subway. The project is run by 'Clockworks' named after the subway's nickname: the 'Clockwork Orange' ...

and googling the origins of this nickname, I have discovered that no locals call it that, but never mind. Most of its carriages were painted orange, although called Strathclyde PTE red because of the sectarian connotations of Orange in Glasgow (a step and a hop from N.I.) but anyway, new carriages are now painted in carmine and cream, with a thin orange band. The wonders of wikipedia also informed me of the Subcrawl (visiting pubs near each stop and to complete the entire set takes a whole day) and subsurfing, where said sub/pub crawlers must stand in the aisles balancing without holding onto any straps or poles, probably increasingly impossible as the subcrawling goes on.

Well, well. The times I have travelled on the Glasgow Metro and not known this. Journeys will be more amusing now and possibly sweeter - do look out for my poem 'Wee Nippy Sweeties'.

Monday, 19 March 2012

StAnza 2012 Memories

Gardens of the Preservation Trust Museum, St Andrew's.
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Above photo evokes a quiet moment much welcome during the festival hurley burley.

This year, rushing around as Guest on the StAnza Blog, my brief to write about the art installations, and links between poetry and the image.... means that I have not written my usual personal blog about the poetry events. I am far too exhausted, post festival, post end of festival party, dancing into the night to the amazing , bouncy Scottish Western String Band, under the photos/poems of the Stereoscope project flickering on the Byre bar walls to do more than a brief resume of my favourite poetry events:

My mates, of course, Gill Andrews, Claudia Daventry and Jane McKie lived up to all expectations. (Do check out last Saturday's Guardian where Janie's latest pamphlet is given high praise.) Alan Buckley read with assured presence, looking extremely dapper.

The Big Stage highlights for me were Lavinia Greenlaw, Michael Symmons Roberts and Kathleen Jamie for the intensity of their vision and precision of language and a wonderful, exuberant performance by Jackie Kay - a double pleasure was her intimate 'Afternoon Tea' at the Albany Hotel. Did I mention the dog?

Brief encounters but memorable moments for me were chatting to the warm and generous, laid-back Kwame Dawes and of course, his reading,
and the charming Bernard O'Donghue, whose reading at the T.S. Eliot prize-giving in January I had also had the pleasure of hearing, the approachable Tony Curtis (whose readings I missed but everyone has been saying how dynamic they were) and David Morley (whose reading I did attend, and enjoyed his use of the Romani dialect. He was equally dynamic, not least leaping onto the stage). Having a laugh interviewing the two Ruaridhs -(Rody Gorman and Derek Robertson) and getting them to pose for a photo.

Quieter and thoughtful events were Joyce MacMillan's interview with Matthew Hollis about his biography of Edward Thomas - which made me want to get to know this troubled and overlooked poet, whose influence has reverberated throughout the Modern age, as Mathew explained.

Special new finds for me were the Irish poet, Kerry Hardie, with her beautiful, evocative imagery. I would not necessarily have gone to this reading, since I'd attended back to back events all day and was having an energy dip, but a friend insisted I go and she was right. Kerry was sheer gold.

And talking of magic moments, this friend, the Irish poet, Geraldine Mitchell and I had not seen each-other for over 35 years - we were at Trinity (Dublin) together and bumped into each other at StAnza by chance...wonderful serendipity that we have poetry in common too, and it was a poetry festival that has brought us together again. She gave me a copy of her collection 'World Without Maps' (Published by Arlen House, 2011) and I've spent this morning back home reading it - wonderful clarity of imagery and sparse words.

Unexpected bits of info I gleaned, chatting to Catherine Hales, was about the Berlin Poetry Festival (in English) that runs every November run by Catherine. They're working on a webpage but meanwhile can be contacted via Facebook 'Poetry Hearings' so if you fancy a holiday in Berlin and can pay your own expenses, then why not contact them to read your poetry there too? A festival is about networking too, is it not?

Disappointments were the non-appearance of Rachel Boast, who had to withdraw due to illness and my missing the various film/poetry events due to conflicting events. But snippets can be seen/heard on audioboo so I can catch up.

The mega highlight, for me, was the all-day workshop at Balmungo House with Lavinia Greenlaw (see my post on the StAnza blog), followed by Lavinia's lecture on a poet who has influenced her, Sir Thomas Wyatt ('They flee from me...') and the discussion during the Poetry Cafe event on the image, 'Icon' , with Lavinia, Michael Symmons Roberts, Robert Crawford and the photographer, Norman MacBeath. All of these events brought together issues about writing poetry, especially the use of images, which have been illuminating and exciting. I have great hopes that my own writing practice will benefit. But now to get down to reading the new books from above poets, and also writing, maybe, a few of my own.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Back from StAnza 2012

14-18th March
This year, I've been been a Guest on the StAnza Blog, so do have a look.
Fantastic festival, but rather a busier one than usual for me.

It's all over now, bar the crying (that it's over).
Back home, with a suitcase of books and a head full of poetic images. But you'll have to read the StAnza Blog to see what I mean.  See

Monday, 6 February 2012

Bard in the Bog

Photo from Shetland Islands Council

What an honour. I'm delighted to learn I will be a Bard in the Bog!

One step up from poems displayed in a window pane maybe.

Now I shall have to return to Shetland to see it in situ/in sitting. Yes, it is what you're thinking: a poem displayed in a public toilet. A competition judged by Jen Hadfield and library staff. The first time this competition was run in 2009 the poems were published in a book which raised over £1200 for a water sanitation charity. How great is that? Not just a project for fun.

Mine will appear in April. Others before that. All 12 selected poems will be up on the website of Shetland Islands Council before long. Posters available too. I'll post the poem on my website when it's up in a bog - which precise one I don't yet know.

Now there's another reason you have to go to Shetland.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Burns Window Poems

The challenge to think of a new way to celebrate Burns (Burns Night is fast approaching, on 25th January, as you no doubt know) has been wonderfully thought up by Hugh Bryden of Roncadora Press and David Borthwick, a lecturer at Crichton Campus, University of Glasgow, who have asked poets around Scotland and all over the world, local people and schoolchildren in Dumfries to write a Burns-inspired, contemporary poem to fit on a window pane on various houses throughout Dumfries- Burns himself scratched a poem on the Globe, a local pub's window with a diamond. Hugh supplied a transparent plastic sheet and special pen to write our poems on.

My friend Jean Atkin who lives near Dumfries has photos on her blog of some of the resulting poems which are now up. Mine included!
Burns Window Poems. Photo by Jean Atkin.

If you can't read my poem above in the photo, here it is:

My Luve.

O, my luve is like a sleekit beastie
That nibbles on fingers and toes.
O, noo he's crept intae my hert,
He's dearer than ony rose.

Local newspaper article here

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