Friday 9 August 2013

Thank you for turning up here at
The Dog Days of Dumfriesshire.  

Do peruse.  

But I now have an updated blog and website at Click here to visit.

Monday 29 April 2013

I'm going to be Poet in Residence at Logan Botanic Garden!

Yes!  At last I'm allowed to shout about it!  I'm so honoured to be joining Gerry Loose, Mandy Haggith and Sue Butler as one of the four poets selected for the brilliant new project Walking With Poets, a partnership between the Scottish Poetry Library, Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh and Cove Park..  Each of us will have a month long writing and walking residency at our assigned Scottish Botanic garden, as well as a fortnight’s residency later on at Cove Park.

This fantastic opportunity has come about through the first aim of the Scottish Poetry Library: 'bringing people and poems together', and most appropriately, etched into the flagstone at the entrance to the Library,  Patrick Geddes's words 'by leaves we live'.

We will each work from an iPad (and yes, this is also rather exciting for me) for the duration of our residency, with which to contribute regularly to an online blog Walking With Poets, with photographs, poems and observations from the garden. We'll run writing workshops and guided walks for various age groups during our stay in the garden, providing endless opportunity for sharing the wonders of these extraordinary places with the people who come along.

From the start I've been madly obsessed with Logan Botanic Garden.  After 12 years living in Dumfries and Galloway I know it fairly well, and have always loved visiting it.  Because it's so strange - an exotic garden in the warm Gulf Stream, perched on the long, thin, green peninsula of the Rhins, at the very edge of Scotland, lapped by the seas.
And inside it, those palm trees sheltered by tall, dusty walls, which are all that remain of the old castle of Balzieland, said to have burned down at the end of the fifteenth century.

At the thought of waking up there, early on an August morning, my fingers itch for a notebook.

Wednesday 17 April 2013

Quantum Poetics - unorthodox poetry with some laughs

As part of Dumfries & Galloway Wild Science Family MAYHEM! Day, I've been asked to provide a means of finding the poetry in science.

I've enjoyed myself and invented Quantum Poetics (well I borrowed the title) - two fun-seeking and exploratory short workshops aimed at guiding scientists to the poetry that lurks in pendulums, and poets to the thrills to be had from theoretical physics. But no doctorates are required – just curiosity and a sense of adventure!

I'll be there to help participants find their way into making a short poem inspired by science, using appropriately ‘MAYHEM! Day’ unorthodox and experimental techniques. Expect both laughter and some deadly serious creativity.

The workshops are at: 11am – 12 noon and 1.30pm – 2.30pm. Free entry (age 14 to 104) but please book ( ) as places on the workshops will be limited.

Dumfries & Galloway Wild Science Family MAYHEM! Day takes place in theRutherford McCowan Building, The Crichton Campus, Bankend Road, Dumfries DG1 4ZL

Wednesday 10 April 2013

Going Dada for Much Wenlock

Much Wenlock is the sort of place where poets should indeed be leaning languidly against medieval oak and mullions.  However, instead they were bounding purposefully along the winding streets in search of a very fine weekend of poetry indeed.

Venues were pleasingly dotted up and down the old streets, and the sun shone warmly down, so it was a real pleasure to wander from The Pottery to The Priory to lovely Wenlock Books.  It was a treat to meet Anna Dreda in person.
My Saturday was spent mostly in The Pottery, a most attractive venue for readings with a glowing woodburner and racks of handmade pots above our heads. Grey Hen Press read to a packed audience: I especially enjoyed Angela France and Alison Brackenbury.
Efforts to get into the George and Dragon for Poems and Pints with Mark Niel were defeated by other people having had the same idea slightly earlier... but we found an excellent bowl of soup in a cafe across the square, and ran into more poets.
Then we went to readings by Offa's Press, and Nine Arches Press - I bought Nick Pearson's collection 'Made in Captivity', and Angela France's 'Lessons in Mallemaroking'.

Among the large heaps of ice still lurking on street corners were colourful boards which turned out to be Dada Poetry Orienteering.  I absolutely loved this!
Here's my Dada Poem:

Line up alphabetically, by height,
Animal Upright - Grey and Purple.
Always a Plum, if you
could lick the surface of Jupiter.


I read myself from my first collection 'Not Lost Since Last Time' with Oversteps Poets - a huge treat to read with R V Bailey, Charles Bennett and Alwyn Marriage.  We had a packed and lovely audience, thanks all, then dinner in the George and Dragon with Andy Forster from the Wordsworth Trust, then a fantastic reading from Carol Ann Duffy, Sean Borodale and Imtiaz Dharker.

Sunday I went off to find Emergency Poet (my friend Deborah Alma) - who was having a weekend of High Demand for Poetic Cures.  Nurse Verse (who was really Kate) was dressed in her Poemedic outfit because it's warmer, and reported soothing the anxious patients as they waited for their turn in the ambulance.  Well worth clicking on the pic to read their ecstatic feedback (though I'm not sure about the one who says they have an attack of the Rumis).
Later I read from my pamphlet 'The Dark Farms' and the slide show of the Galloway Forest worked a treat, thank you the technicians of the Edge.  I also enjoyed meeting and listening  to Paul Kingsnorth, with whom I shared the bill.
And a fabulous last night with all my family along to see Benjamin Zephaniah.  Just how often have you seen a poet begged for an encore?

Sunday 24 March 2013

One must have a mind of winter

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;
And have been cold a long time...

as Wallace Stevens put it (The Snow Man).  I'm the kind of wimp that if in doubt wears several vests, and is properly respectful about having no power for days on end - but today I know I'm missing out on experiencing south-west Scotland's heaviest snowfall in decades, and there's a sting in that.

So this blog post is a wallow in the white stuff, with poetry to sharpen the experience denied to me in actuality.
Here's a beautiful photo of a small child (dressed in red!) absorbing the world made new near Dalbeattie.
Look at winter
With winter eyes...
Douglas Florian

And here the beach under snow at Portpatrick, on the Rhinns in Galloway.  It's about as far west as you can go, a soft coast of Atlantic air and Gulf Stream warmth.  Just south of here is Logan Botanic Garden, where the palm trees must be bent with snow this afternoon.
the feathers
of some unimaginable bird
that loves us,
that is asleep now, and silent—
that has turned itself
into snow.
Mary Oliver from 'White-Eyes'

And here is a lane near Tinwald, in Dumfriesshire.  Snow re-writes.

The snow whirls over the courtyard's roses.
Didn't bring my boots and scarf, leafing
through books, don't know what to do with all this light!
Tua Forsström (Poem of the Week in the Guardian recently)

Monday 11 March 2013

How it snowed on StAnza 2013, but poetry melted us

Dry, bitter snowflakes whirled in the streets of St Andrews, where StAnza International Poetry Festival merely gained in warmth and conviviality as the thermometer fell.  I'm just back from a fab four days in the north.

Highlights for me were Gillian Clarke reading from 'Ice', and explaining the principles of cynghanedd - and Eurig Salisbury reading in Welsh.  Mark Doty read a beautiful poem about a - dog.  Rare, that, but this one was perfectly weighted, humane, moving.  Wasn't really just about the dog.
I fell big time for 'Found in the Fields', Carrie Akroyd's work on John Clare.  You felt it was a collaboration.  
Alvin Pang was great, and over my last Poetry Breakfast I heard him reading in Chinese, and then the translation.  All the Poetry Breakfast discussions were absorbing.  I especially enjoyed listening to friends Dave Borthwick and Andy Forster talking with Mandy Haggith and Carry Akroyd about how poetry engages with the environment.  I had to rush from that one though, to beat my way through Arctic winds to St. John's Undercroft for my reading with Zoe Skoulding.
Which was a sell-out, especially appreciated as it was the official launch of my first collection from Oversteps Books, 'Not Lost Since Last Time'.  (Mandy Haggith told me later how she got the last ticket).  I had a lovely audience, and since I went first I was able to enjoy listening to Zoe's work too.
John Burnside's Masterclass was fascinating, and ran to time, though I could have taken more.  Dumfries and Galloway poet Em Strang put in a tremendously strong poem, as did Fife based poet Barbara Davey.

Jean Johnstone's book (collaboration with Jane Hirshfield)
In the middle of one busy day I walked very fast (to avoid hypothermia) down to the Westport Cafe where I met with artist Jean Johnstone, who had brought her handmade artists books, created in collaboration with poets, specially to show me.  We set the coffee and soup safely away to the other side of the table, and slowly unwrapped rough silk cloths to reveal the books.  When I picked up the first book, I gasped.  It had no weight at all, yet substance, like holding a songbird, with the same sense of both frailty and life pulsing.  Jean sets words and images into beeswax, and the books retain a faint scent of wax alongside the woodiness of handmade and hand-moulded paper.  Sensational.  And she's coming to Ludlow Fringe to do a special event  in June.  Don't miss.

From 'Unmapped'

And I loved 'Unmapped' an exhibition and poetry book by poet Rebecca Sharp and artist Anna King.

Gael Turnbull's 'The Edinburgh Poem'

And I played with Gael Turnbull's famous 'Edinburgh Poem' (slot the words together in magical serendipitous ways that always work).

And met Maureen Sangster and Paula Jennings, and admired their work on the collaborative Farlin project, involving artists and poets from Fife and Shetland.  And we all missed The Byre as a venue, and hope it'll be back before long, but the spirit of StAnza certainly remained in place. And John Hegley and Jacob Sam la Rose were just great, as was Erin Moure's twinkly humour and experimental mind.  I could go on, but it's my bedtime.

Basically, if you can get to StAnza next year, go.

Wednesday 20 February 2013

Magma Poetry Awards Night

Me and a Magma
London was freezing cold, Bloomsbury at its sharpest.  Like any good provincial I was distracted by the window displays but was securely borne along by my London-based friend so that we arrived at the RADA Studios almost without my noticing.

Inside, all was warm and friendly.  We were briefed about the running order and given our free copy of Magma, before swigging some wine.

Short poems first, with winners reading both their own and a favourite written by someone else.  This was often a perfect sidestep from where they'd started from, very good to listen to.   Paul Stephenson, the winner, was really, really good, reading 'The Pull', a poem of 10 short lines, that began: 'Moon is a dare:// a raid on a haystack,/a stock of silver,/a salver of harvest...'

Then we had the specially commissioned poems from Moniza Alvi, Simon Barraclough, Tom Chivers and Claire Crowther: varied, surprising, skillful.

Paul Stephenson 1st Prize short poem
Gillian Clarke read from 'Ice'.  I willed her to read 'Polar', the poem about the polar bear rug - and she did.
'I'm dreaming on the white bear's shoulder,/paddling the slow hours, my fingers in his fur'.

She was a smiling, generous judge, who although she said she wouldn't comment on individual poems then suddenly changed her mind and did so.
Which did make us all very happy.  I read my shortlisted poem John Henderson Walks, happy to think of it under Gillian's stone on her piano, having  made it to her 'Maybe' pile.

I thought the top 3 poems Gillian chose were all exceptional.  Amali Rodrigo (who had come all the way from Mumbai!) read Glacier Lagoon, with its attenuated, perfect, inevitable metaphors - 'learning a new language// unable to shake off the foot-fall/ of an old tongue, floes drift, hang//back at the river-mouth, shape-shifting/...
Gillian Clarke

In Lucy Ingrams' poem Snow Tide, the 2nd prize winner, we were again breathing cold air, in a poem so understated you are halfway through before it makes its meaning simply, terribly clear: 'She starts, "You are my... my...?"/We laugh and answer, "...daughters!"/It takes no hold, she starts/again, stirs salt into our tea.// I trace the valley's freeze...'

Third prize winner Rosemary Hudis took me instantly and simply back to the house I grew up in with 'The Women of my Childhood' ...'who, as I came out of the fog/of my own play in a brick-quiet/yard, back through a kitchen door/were always bending/away into another act//their hands vanishing into bowls'

Thank you Magma for such a well planned, warmly executed evening.  It was a treat to meet Rebecca Bilkau after we'd collaborated on the Solstice poems project last midsummer.   And also Laurie Smith, Rosie Shepperd, Anja Konig, Simon Barraclough and Anne-Marie Fyfe.  And finally, thank you Shona, who looked after me for two days.  Long ago, we ran off to France by bicycle for a whole year, in the interests of avoiding Thatcher's Britain.  But this week, as well as getting me safely to the Magma Awards, she took me to the Schwitters in Britain exhibition (which is another story, a good one), the John Soane Museum (weird corridors of the mind) and very much more.
Amali Rodrigo 1st prize winner