Monday, 31 August 2020

 Podcast of Seamus Heaney Centre Summer School Students, 2020

31 Aug, 21:22

In this episode, we hear some of the new poems made during our annual Poetry Summer School, which is led by Nick Laird. The Summer School ran online for the first time this year, and so instead of reading their work to an audience in Belfast, participants in this year’s summer school have each recorded a poem or two in their own homes, for a virtual Summer School Showcase.

Featuring new work by Genevieve Stevens, Steven Blythe, Alanna Offield, Kevin O'Farrell, Grace Tower, Lorraine Carey, Tim Dwyer, Rebecca Farmer, Sinead Nolan, Iain Whiteley, Rachel Donati, Julia Wieting, Tom Day, Dide, Stephanie Green, and Erin Vance. With a personal note from Nick Laird. 

The Seamus Heaney Poetry Summer School is an annual intensive week of study for emerging poets, hosted by the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s, and led by Professor Nick Laird. 

The Seamus Heaney Centre Podcast is created in a small back room by Ian Sansom, Stephen Sexton, and Rachel Brown. This episode was produced by Conor McCafferty. Thanks as always to our writers, and to Nick Boyle for his music.

SHSC podcast 2020

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Writers' Rooms, Seamus Heaney Summer School participants


Writers' Rooms(Seamus Heaney Summer School)

Stephanie Green

"I began to appreciate the qualities of a wide range of poetry styles, and also to see that I should stop trying to write like other people but to write like myself." 

We're dancing in the kitchen with Steph, as she tells us about her writing plans and memories of the Summer School. 

Where are we?  
In a corner of our kitchen in Edinburgh. This is where I type up on the computer or have Zoom/Teams calls. The danger is my husband coming in and asking if I’d like a cuppa - the man from Porlock, so I use our son’s former bedroom for concentrated writing where I am undisturbed and there is no wifi link to tempt me. This bedroom has become a junk room since our son left home. I’m far too ashamed to show you a photo of the piles of old chairs, towers of books and files on the floor and the tiny walk-way I squeeze through to get to my desk-space, an old table. I thought I would get to grips with it during lockdown but one day of it was so depressing I gave up. I kept thinking I could be writing a poem instead.

What are you working on?
I am editing/rewriting poems that were discussed in the Summer School workshops or in 1-1s. I am polishing poems that will go in my first collection ‘The Further North’ (working title), poems inspired by landscape, history, folklore and myth of Shetland, Orkney, St Kilda and Iceland. I also have a completely different second collection about half way there: ekphrastic poems, colour (as in paintings), and women reclaiming herstory or the male gaze. I usually work on several collections at once (like Monet, though mine are worked on over several months not in the same day.)

What’s that over there?
That is a Balanese shadow puppet, Tuban, a comedy character which I bought in Bali whilst researching wayang kulit (shadow puppetry) and sacred dance. Tuban’s jaw can be manipulated to open and shut.

What’s that sound?
It could be the fridge, my husband munching toast, or the cacophony of seagulls, and magpies from the garden. I don’t mind the pigeons and pretend their cooing is doves.

Time for a break…?
Sitting on the bench in the sun (if any) in my tiny garden with a cuppa or weeding (a meditative activity) - aware I’m so lucky to have this Hortus Conclusis. After lunch, I go for a walk in the nearby grounds of a former lunatic asylum, (appropriate as we all feel a little mad now). I used to wade through a lake of buttercups during lockdown but now sadly mown as council workers return. If gales (which we seem to have more of this summer) I might do Tai Chi or just dance around the kitchen open space to something inspiring. At the moment, it’s Jamie Callum or ‘MarĂ­a de Buenos Aires’, Piazzolla’s tango operetta. I used to go to Contemporary Dance classes at Dancebase in the Grassmarket, Edinburgh but since lockdown, the kitchen has had to do. I don’t write in the eves as that way lies insomnia. Instead we watch telly/Netflix/Google Play together - the brilliant  ‘My Brilliant Friend’ at the moment.

Was there a particularly striking moment during the Summer School?
Fellow students in the group workshop critiques were both incisive and uplifting and I was grateful for the time they must have spent preparing. I began to appreciate the qualities of a wide range of poetry styles and also to see that I should stop trying to write like other people but to write like myself  - I don’t mean stop reading and learning from others - and also how to push my own writing to be more arresting.

What's next for your writing?
I hope to get my first collection published. 

To see other Writers' Rooms click on  Writers'Rooms

Sunday, 9 August 2020

New Boots and Pantisocracies

New Boots and Pantisocracies website:

Postcards From Malthusia DAY ONE HUNDRED – Stephanie Green

Desire Paths

(Craighouse, Edinburgh, June 2020)


Few people used to come here – the grounds

of the former lunatic asylum:  joggers, the elderly

but they kept to the tarmac round the edge.


But now, as May turns into June, buttercups

like a bright lake darken with currents,  trails

criss-crossing the expanse of unmown grass.


Let out for their allotted hour, small kids burst

into the open space –  whooping and screaming,

running wild – their parents indulgent.


We tread our separate desires: the lonely,

longing for touch, keeping their distance as they pound

their griefs into the grass to the soil beneath


or let the eyes relax at the long views,

a respite from crouching over screens,

to the views of Arthur’s Seat or the Firth of Forth


where we cannot go, or even on the distant horizon,

when the haze clears, to the triangle of Berwick’s Law

where I have never desired to go, until now.

To see more poems chosen for this project, see Bill Herbert and Andy Jackson's   New Boots and Pantisocracies


Saturday, 25 July 2020

Lockdown Blues from dark to light

 At the start of the first lockdown (end March, 2020) I did not write about the pandemic or lockdown;  I found it hard to write at all. It was all too vast a subject and I was too ignorant. I was also filled with fury - at the unnecessary deaths of care-workers and their patients in care homes, and staff in hospitals all because they did not have the proper PPE.  

But eventually here is how I coped and I hope some ideas that will help others:

Tips for keeping your poetic flow going:

keeping your spirits up

but also cheering occupations outwith your usual:

For me, in July  it was an eco-poetry course with Jen Hadfield (online via Moniack Mhor, Scotland's writing centre) - a new way of looking and writing poetry - slow poetry, writing about your back garden, or your window box if that's all you have;

this echoed nicely the practice of Tai Chi and then Yoga (tutored online by my friend, and fellow poet, Trish (Patricia) Ace.  A way to keep flexible, calm and meditative.

 I  also studied Chinese art history and culture online via the City Lit and British Museum, picking up a bit of Mandarin, pinyin (spoken) and characters (traditional and Mao's simplified); one of the benefits of the internet, to 'go' to places I could never manage in life - the cost of a whole term in London out of the question.  The tutor also offered a one off workshop online in calligraphy which got me hooked; I wanted to do a full course but it made sense to find one in Edinburgh where I live, albeit still online so that when we can go live again I can meet everyone - impossible with a London class.  So I took further classes in calligraphy but also Chinese ink and wash painting with Chi Zhang at the Confucius Centre, Edinburgh. 

 This is also a calm and meditative practice and I had had no idea of how difficult it would be to paint a line, whether in calligraphy or painting, that is from the heart, perfect the first time (like the proverbial arrow straight to its target.) I have treated myself to a wooden brush holder with carved dragon heads either side of the frame, many brushes in wolf (though Chi says it's more likely weasel) and goat hair. I gather a new-born baby's hair is for the finest work, but I'm a few years off that standard.  Essential to have the right rice paper and Chinese inks.  

But poetry-writing returned, as I guess it was bound to. Some influenced by Daoist paintings. 

Friday, 10 July 2020

Pestilence series: Poems from the Back Room: Hugh McMillan's Blog

With thanks to Hugh McMillan for featuring me on his Blog.  You can read more of the Poets chosen for this series on

Thursday, 9 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 115: Stephanie Green

Hugh Bryden is a ghost now and then in these pages, illustrating a book here, facilitating a project there. He nearly appeared earlier on the series talking about his latest collaboration with Donald S Murray but the pamphlet was coronavirused at the printers at the time and he wanted to show us the finished product. As he is coming up to a very important birthday soon I hope someone is putting together a chapbook of appreciation given that he has worked with some of the best poets around and is an international class artist and print maker in his own right.

One of Hugh’s great ideas was the 'Burns Windows' project. As you probably know Burns used to carry a diamond tipped pen around (the accessory of choice for all ploughboy poets) with which he would inscribe folks' windows with comments in verse about his experiences in the locality, a kind of 18th century Trip Advisor. I don’t know how he got away with it given when I wrote a pejorative essay on the toilet wall of the Globe Inn about another poet I was threatened with arrest. Anyway Shug’s idea was to cover all the windows of the Globe, Burns fave pub, with acetates bearing words from poets all over the world. He did this marvellous project several times in Dumfries and once in Dunfries’ twin town in Germany, Gifhorn. It was a marvellous effect, a glistening sea of words.

I think 'Burns Windows' is where I would have first come across Stephanie Green’s poetry although she was also involved in several projects in Dumfries including, as she is an expert in dance, the Dumfries troupe Oceanallover who can always be relied to come to arts events dressed as prawns. She's also the first poet we've had in the #plague who is a trained puppeteer. But it is her poetry we are concerned about here, and it is glorious indeed.

Steph is another Irish/Welsh meld, a Welsh speaker with an Irish parent though she now lives in Scotland. Her first poetry pamphlet, 'Glass Works'  from Cat's Pyjamas Publications in 2005 was short-listed for the Callum McDonald Award and her latest pamphlet 'Flout' was published by HappenStance and launched at StAnza in 2015. She has read at many poetry festivals in this country and beyond.  Stephanie's poetry is often born from history and in her hands it is not only a thing of beauty but work that holds a mirror to our contemporary hearts and souls. 

Here Stephanie is reading 'Hanmer's Agate', a poem about a tulip brought home from exile to a country torn by war, a symbol of peace and beauty born out of carnage, the kind of gift of/from nature we’re looking for to inspire and guide us out of all our current messes. Originally it was written as a counter to Brexit, a catastrophe still looming. It is transcribed below, along with the haunting 'I tell my husband I am pregnant and he sets out to make a tiny coffin (1891)', a poem inspired by the tetanus epidemic on St Kilda in the 19th century which is almost unbearable in its understated sadness.

Stephanie's Website:

Poetry Library Profile plus two poems:

Two Poems from 'And Other Poems':

Hanmer’s Agate: Experiments of a Tulip Fancier,
Sir Thomas Hanmer (1612-1678)

Returned from exile, he stands in a muddy field,
once his garden of formal parterres;
the trees are war-torn, storm-slashed; fireweed
rages through the grounds and the unhinged door

into the great hall; mice rampage,
bird shit weeps on the lace and lovelock
of his portrait as a young man; dung in the chapel
requisitioned for Parliamentarian horses.

Far from the Commonwealth’s courts, Sir Thomas
tends his garden, remembering the promise packed
in papery brown bulbs brought back from France
in the ship’s hold, his first wife left behind in her grave.

He plants the knot-garden they’d planned together: auriculas,
ranunculas, anemone and above all, tulips:
Belle Isabelle, Belle Susanne and Agates.
They rot in the wet Flintshire soil.

Should he sprinkle wine on the earth with incantations
to the moon? No. But after much experiment,
he shares his success with a fellow tulip-fancier,
Cromwell’s second-in-command.

To Major-General John Lambert,
From Sir Thomas Hanmer, Bart.

Plant them about the full moon in September,
in soil taken from mould from the fields or woodstacks
and mix with a 4th part or more of sand.

A gift of beauty, beyond faction: the mother-root
of the most exquisite and gallant, a tulip agotted
with scarlet, and gris de lin on pure white,
well parted, its base and stamens blue.

(First published in Magma: the European edition, April, 2018.)

I tell my husband I am pregnant and he sets out to make a tiny coffin (1891)

I choose a name: Mhairi or Callum.
He searches the tide-wrack daily for driftwood.

He forbids me to make clothes
But I make sheets for the coffin-crib.

There will be clean linen until the last
while I will rock and croon to my babe

for the few blessed days of its life.
It is God’s will. I shut out imaginings:

the fourth or fifth night,
when the babe gives up sucking;

the seventh, clenched gums,
even for my finger dipped in water.

I am knitting a shawl of such intricacy,
nothing so beautiful will have been seen before.

(Published in ‘Northwords Now.’)

Friday, 3 July 2020

Seamus Heaney Centre Summer School, Belfast


So delighted to have been accepted on the prestigious Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Summer School.
A week long of poetry critique, discussions and readings - but this year, due to Covid -  all online.  A fantastic way to hear and 'meet' poets of such talent and different approaches.  A bit of craic too, even though through the internet.  Our tutors were all brilliant: Nick Laird, Leontia Flynn, Simon Sexton.

TheBlackbird  is the emblem of the centre, named after a beautiful early Irish poem, translated by Seamus Heaney and many others.  'The Yellow Nib' is the SH Centre's poetry magazine.

A shame not to have been able to go to Belfast itself but certainly in the future I'll go in the flesh next time.

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Berlin Umbrella post StAnza vimeo

Berlin Umbrella and Berlin Water post-StAnza Festival.

We were so lucky for StAnza to go ahead.   We just got in before lockdown declared.  People were greeting eachother elbow to elbow but that was it.  A friend of mine caught covid on the train back to Wales (crammed standing room only with a crowd of football supporters).

But here is a reminder of happier times at StAnza:                                         

Sonja has made a vimeo giving a taster of our StAnza experience plus extracts from our 'Meet the Artists' talk: Sonja Heyer (Sound Artist), Valerie Coffin Price (Artist) and myself (Poet).

Valerie's artwork is inspired by the poetry and sounds of  'Berlin Umbrella' but she also included her own experiences of walking along the river Spree and Landwehr canal and so her exhibition is entitled 'Berlin Water.'

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Berlin Umbrella comes to StAnza 7-9th March, 2020.

Sonja Heyer and I outside the Byre Theatre, centre of the Scottish Poetry Festival, at St Andrews.

Everyone came up and enthused saying how much they enjoyed the poetry/walk.  We had sun, but one windy day when a few umbrellas fell victim, turning inside out, one rainy day but that didn't matter as they are real umbrellas.

                                  A punter listens to Berlin Umbrella in the Byre courtyard,
                                                     sheltered from the wind.

                                The Meet the Artists event led to a lot of hand waving -
                                in the background on the wall are Valerie Coffin Price's artwork
                                inspired by my poetry in Berlin Umbrella and accompanying
                                Sonja whilst she made natural water sound recordings.

                                        Stephanie holding forth on the process and development
                                                                of the poetry.
                                         Valerie on the artwork.

                                              on the Sound Art.

Popular Posts