Thursday, 27 June 2013

My Selkie poem set to music, St Magnus Festival, 2013

Stephanie Green and Marisa Sharon Hartanto at the St Magnus Festival, Orkney, 2013

Back from the Orkney Writers' course: one of the most exciting experiences was hearing the verse of one of my poems, 'The Child of Breckon Sands'  set to music by a talented, young composer, Indonesian-born, Marisa Sharon Hartanto on the Composers' course.  It was sung  by the mezzo soprano Alison Wells in the Peedie Church, Kirkwall as part of a poet and composer masterclass at the St Magnus Festival where we also heard comments from the Director, Alisdair Nicholson.

Marisa's music was hauntingly beautiful and very evocative of what I was trying to achieve in my poem. I was thrilled with it, and also delighted to meet the charming Marisa. (I give her website below.)

 'The Child of Breckon Sands' is inspired by a selkie folktale from the Isle of Yell, Shetland.  Here is an extract:

My peerie boy, the only voices you hear haunting the dunes
are the shalder shaking loose its cry
and the rain-throated rain-goose:

                     a' wet, wet, wet,
                                waur wadder, waur wadder.

Notes on Shetlandic:
peerie - little
shalder - oyster-catcher
rain-goose:  red-throated diver, whose cry is said to presage rain.
waur wadder:  worse weather

The full poem will appear in my forthcoming pamphlet to be published by HappenStance in 2015.

Marisa Sharon Hartanto:    
also you can hear some of her other music on

Marisa's next production will be the music for an Indonesian (Wayang Golek) Puppet Show  by Mathew Cohen at the Clore, South Bank, London on 6th July, 2013.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Orkney Writers at the St Magnus Festival, 2013

Exciting news is that I'm one of the 8 poets selected on the Orkney Writers' Course and will get to  perform with the other participants at the St. Magnus Festival, Kirkwall, June, 2013.

St. Magnus Festival,  Orkney
Sunday 23rd June, 2013
'Poems with Tunes, Tea and Cake'

Orkney Writers accompanied by classical guitarist, James Boyd 
 at 16.30-17.50
at the Stromness Hotel, Stromness.

So a change from my usual summer trip to Shetland, but I am not being totally disloyal as Jen Hadfield who tutored me on courses in Shetland will also, with  Pam Beasant be the tutor on the Orkney course. So it will be great to meet up in a new setting.
Christopher Reid, the Festival Poet in Residence, will give us a Master Class and we get an opportunity to collaborate with the musicians on the Orkney Composers' course.  Evenings at the St Magnus Festival events - can't wait to hear the acoustics in the cathedral.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

Venice, Byron, Browning, Ruskin, Singer Sargent etc

After our week by the Italian lake Orta, the Hub and I, abandoning our hire car, travelled to Venice by train - just as I was getting used to driving on the right (wrong) side of the road, controls on the right (wrong) and hair pin bends etc but obviously one does not need a car in La Serenissima.

Friends met at Orta GS had recommended we get a week's season ticket on the vaporetti - 'It feels like you're travelling for free,' they said. And it saved us a fortune. Great to ride up and down the Grand Canal as many times as we wished, or hop on and off at various places - even all the way out to the Lido (to sit on the veranda of the Hotel des Bains where Visconti filmed 'Death in Venice' where a tiramisu cup and coffee cost more than a 6-7 course meal elsewhere and where service took so long the Hub declared he now knew what the chap (name? played by Dirk Bogarde) died of: obviously it was starvation.

Ca'Rezzonico chose to go to as owned by Browning. (Not the poet, tho he died there, I later discovered, but his son, Pen Barret Browning). The visit a homage to 'My Last Duchess' being the first poem that hit me with such dramatic force that I am still reeling, and opened my eyes to poetry. Probably the reason why I chose to read English at university and not try for art school and why I write so many dramatic monologues myself -the most influential poem in my entire career. As callow 14-15 year olds we were introduced to it by our wonderful English teacher, Mrs. Bainbridge (not Beryl but Ivy) who also introduced us to Tennyson (The Lady of Shalot) - not so shattering, Keats (St. Agnes' Eve)- also influential.

Also I read the biography of Elizabeth Barret Browning some time ago - (As school girls we had also acted a one-act play in our school's House drama competition about her lying on a sofa being tyrannized by her father, and her salvation and freedom when Browning took her away) but the biography left me with a rather more depressive impression of her continued drug addiction (laudenam - sp?), her 'little girl' mannerisms she never grew out of and general Black Cloud of negativity. So a few illusions fostered by the play were shattered. Ca'Rezzonico was also very dark and gloomy - like so many of these palaces which keep their shades down to preserve the art work (and also necessary in the summer heat). The vast ball-room was stupenduous - don't know if the Brownings owned this, or only an upper floor flat. (The Mezzanine is dedicated to Browning.)If so poets, earned a bit more than they do now. (Tho it was Pen's, the son's). So some research to do.

If you're interested, I have written about the art I saw in my art blog 'Wandering round Art Galleries..'
Yes, we did spot the palazzo Byron wrote Don Juan in (and kept his monkeys,dogs and foxes. No mention of the giraffe?), learnt that Singer Sergeant had also stayed at Ca'Rezzonico, noted the one Henry James wrote 'The Aspern Papers' in, and not sure, but think I spotted which one was the Mosca family's (of Francesco/BBC 4 documentary about Venice fame); went to the Pensione Calcina, a restaurant on a pier opposite house where Ruskin ( he of the art must 'burn like a clear, bright flame') stayed on the Zattere, Dorsoduro. Wonderful to sit above the expanse of darkening waters and see the lights on the Guidecca on the far side, and port and starboard lights of passing ships. There are few places to sit by the water on the Grand Canal (apart from the over-priced, overcrowded Rialto) so the Zattere was a find.
We did not discover where Vivaldi's orphanage was - a reason to return - but you can hear 'The Four Seasons' almost every other night at various churches. No thanks, much as I love it but know far too well. I do hope the Venetians have a more varied concert diet to get them through the winter.

Some Venetian poems may result - I hope. Plenty of notes taken - and thousands of photos. I actually got photoed out. It is too tempting not to look with one's eyes, or scribble notes for possible poems, with those digital thingies. I was leaning on Ca'd'Oro's first floor balustrade over the Grand Canal when a vaporetto went by. As it came level, the boat exploded into silver fireworks -the flashes of everyone's camera going off. And I am one of the worst. Made resolution then to put camera away, and get notebook out.

Friday, 17 May 2013

Callum Macdonald Award 2013 for Stewed Rhubarb

Rachel McCrum and James T. Harding at the Callum Macdonald Award ceremony , 2013 at the National Library of Scotland.
The youngest,  most snazzy, cool etc words fail me new publishing house, Stewed Rhubarb, won the Callum Macdonald Award last night (over the work of more established poetry houses and poets* See below) with their publication 'The Glassblower Dances'- the poetry by Rachel McCrum and cover design by James T. Harding.  So hurrah for the judges, Tessa Ransford, Lyndsay Duncan, Lady Marks, Alistair Peebles and Tom Dalgleish for rewarding young talent.

 Stewed Rhubarb, started over late night discussions, fueled by ginger wine it is rumoured,  hit the scene with this pamphlet - but many more have followed over the year, often launched with  rhubarb-coloured or rhubarb flavoured beverages -  publishing the best, spoken-word/performance poets around in Scotland.  After this, I'm sure they'll be bombarded with submissions from all over.

Meanwhile, the poet, Rachel also gets to go to the Harvard Center for Hellenic Studies in Greece, visiting ancient ruins, and attending academic talks on literature, myth, history, archaeology etc all to promote Scottish/Greek cultural relationships.    Maybe some mythic poems will result. As Lady Marks said in her speech, Lord Byron started it all off.

Oh, as I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm a bit of a fan.  The fact that James is my son may have something to do with this but great to see it's not just his mum who thinks Stewed Rhubarb is great.
For more about them, and pix of more covers:
The 2013 Shortlist:

  • Hansel Cooperative Press and Woodend Publishing for 'Reflections' by Yvonne Gray and John Cumming
  • Happenstance Press for 'After the creel fleet' by Niall Campbell
  • Mariscat Press for 'On time' by Donald Mackay
  • New Voices Press for 'Holding' by Maggie Rabatski
  • Roncadora Press for 'Nest' by Tom Pow and Hugh Bryden
  • Stewed Rhubarb Press for 'The glassblower dances' by Rachel McCrum.

Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Hurrah for HappenStance

Sphinx - five stripes

Exciting news:   HappenStance have accepted my pamphlet of poems inspired by Shetland for publication in 2015.  A long way off, yes, but most publishers seem to be planning years ahead - a measure of how in demand they are, so I'm not complaining. I'm thrilled.  It's a fantastic wee press and Helena Nelson is a conscientious editor. It's a great honour to be in her 'stable' with so many fine poets.

The title of this post should be HappenStance the latter half in italics but my computer won't do it.

See more about the press, including a list of the poets, Sphinx magazine and the 'Unsuitable Blog' :

I've always loved their logo - but then I'm a sucker for cats.

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Outwith the official StAnza Blog

As a Guest Blogger for StAnza, I had my brief - the theme of Poetry and Design and the Welsh strand- but of course, there was much, much more as I was not asked to cover.

So my personal highlights were readings by Gillian Clarke, Liz Lochhead and Deryn Rees Jones,  mentioned already, but also readings by Mark Doty, Paula Meehan, Alvin Pang and Robin Robertson.  Chatting to Mark Doty, Alvin Pang and George Szirtes briefly.  Spending longer with Gillian Clarke and Paula Meehan in the Supper Room.

Touching base with friends Mandy Haggith, come down from Assynt, Jean Atkin come up from Shropshire, and Geraldine Mitchell over from Ireland...and bumping into many more poet/friends from around Scotland and my son, of course - one of the StAnza PR team and whose beautiful cover designs grace the Stewed Rhubarb poetry pamphlets.

And sloping off to the Fairmount Hotel on Sunday afternoon for a break and a snifter with Maurice Franceschi to see his photo - part of the Dualism project (oh yes, I did mention that in previous blog).

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Back from StAnza 2013

Back from StAnza 2013, Scotland's Poetry Festival in St. Andrew's.

I was invited to be a Guest Blogger for the second year running - again to cover the link between the art installations and poetry and since one of the festival's themes was 'Poetry and Design' there was masses to see.

And also, since I lived in Wales for 13 years, I begged to cover the Welsh strand of the festival:
StAnza Blog

But of course, there was much, much more as I was not asked to cover.  See my personal favourites in my next blog-
And sloping off to the Fairmount Hotel on Sunday afternoon for a break and a snifter with Maurice Franceschi to see his photo - part of the Dualism project.

Maurice Franceschi toasting his own photo by Chris Parkes, part of the Dualism: Poetry and Photo project, exhibited at the Fairmount Hotel during StAnza.

Hwyl fawr!

Thursday, 28 February 2013

Beat the Block poetry workshop

If you are not poetried out after StAnza, do come along to my latest workshop hosted by Inky Fingers.

Beat the Block

Saturday 16th March 11.15am-1.30pm, 2013
£7 Full (£6 concs)
Venue:  meet at Forest Cafe, Lauriston Place, Tollcross, Edinburgh and you will be taken to the workshop.  Book in advance with  Inky Fingers.

Terrified of the white page?  Need a push to get started? Or just want to take your writing in new directions?Fun exercises and stimuli from poet and experienced tutor, Stephanie Green, in association with Inky Fingers.This is a poetry writing workshop suitable for beginners and more experienced writers.

Booking in advance is recommended. Contact: 

Click on
Word Lab: Beat the Block.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Gavin Wallace

I was very sad to learn of the death this week  of Gavin Wallace - with the portfolio ('whatever that is', as he is reported to have said) of head of the Literature at Creative Scotland, (the Scottish Arts Council). Latterly in charge of bursaries.  He was that rare thing, the friendly face of bureaucracy.

I am one of the myriad of writers, and in my case poet, who will always remember him as someone who made a huge difference in their lives.  By awarding me a New Writer's Bursary in 2007, he not only gave me money for time to concentrate on my poetry, but it was the first official recognition that yes, maybe I could consider myself a poet.  The money was not large, but the sense of encouragement and self-belief was immeasurable.

I cannot say I knew Dr Wallace well but I did meet him.  We were standing in a queue together, by chance, for an event at the Edinburgh International Book Fair and as the queue inched forward, I plucked up courage to introduce myself and tell him how grateful I was for the bursary, and what a difference it had made to me.  I apologized that I had not yet found a publisher for my poetry pamphlet.

Gavin (as I think of him, rather than Dr Wallace) was not at all intimidating but pleasant and interested and said that he had not expected me to find a publisher so quickly, and  not to worry...that it usually took some time, but that the main aim was to encourage and he was so pleased that the bursary had done that.  We went on to discuss whichever poet it was we were queuing to see.

Over the years, Creative Scotland (aka Gavin Wallace) have awarded me several grants for my trips to Shetland to work on my poetry and each time I have known it came from Gavin, not a faceless bureaucrat, (though I suppose there is also a committee, but in which he would have had the final say.)
So I remember him with great warmth and sadness that Gavin will not know that my pamphlet has indeed been accepted for publication.  Also sadness that he should have died so young, in his fifties and my condolences go to his family.

See  Gavin Wallace obituary Scotsman

Sunday, 20 January 2013

The countdown begins to...StAnza, Scotland's Poetry Festival March 2013.
Booking for the general public has opened. Get your tickets fast.
Here is a video made last year which will give you a taster of the weird and wonderful world that is StAnza

Popular Posts