Thursday, 31 March 2011

Places & Poetry Postcards - my free workshop for children at RSPB Mersehead

I'm running a free workshop for children as part of Dumfries & Galloway Wildlife Festival.  It's called Places & Poetry Postcards, and it's at RSPB Mersehead on Friday 15 April.  Meet at 10am.  We'll go outside first for inspiration and exploration, then come in to draft, edit and generally write some poems onto Poetry Postcards, hand-stamped and decorated to take away with you. Ring me on 07504 649 150 to book.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Scotland's Poetry Capital

I've returned from my first visit to St Andrew's and StAnza 2011, head spilling over with words.  It's felt like a long weekend because so much was new and so much was going on, and now I'm back, a short one.
The town seemed almost constantly sunny, crowstepped, winding, full of people.  Hey, it's nice, though I did think the high-end shopping must reflect the royals-at-uni element.   

The only regular festival dedicated to poetry in Scotland had chosen as themes for 2011 Timepiece and The Poet's Ark.  Certainly I heard great discussions of history in poetry - and some great poems - at a delicious Poetry Breakfast (pastries, poetry and coffee, I rest my case).  And interesting thoughts about how writing about place implicitly invites us to write about time.  And Polly Atkin did a great reading (at pointblank range, standing in for a missing poet) which addressed the Ark.   Eerie, feral foxes and a wonderfully exact little poem I've heard before featuring frogs in a child's red tin wheelbarrow.

A treat for me was to be there with what Hugh Bryden calls the 'Roncadora Stable'.  Roncadora featured in the StAnza programme as one of the invited exhibitions ‘Black and White’, which was installed in the picturesque – and appropriate – half timbered surroundings of the Trust House Museum. 
Rab Wilson and Hugh McMillan both read on the main programme.  Rab was launching not only his new pamphlet (though that is too small a word for this creation) ‘Ye’re There Horace!’, a Scots version of Horace’s Odes, but also his great new collection from Luath, ‘A Map for the Blind’.  (I still want one Rab).

Hugh McMillan’s reading was likewise at sell-out, with the audience emerging still grinning.  His new Roncadora pamphlet, a nifty version of drystone origami, ‘Cairn’ is a bit of a beauty.

Andy Forster, who was Literature Development Officer in D&G for 5 years before he went off to work for The Wordsworth Trust over the border in Cumbria, was at StAnza with his lovely Roncadora pamphlet ‘Digging’.  He was very good at being there for the craic, too.    
I went to see my Roncadora pamphlet, ‘Lost At Sea’, looking beautiful in an old fashioned glass-topped museum case in the Trust House Museum.  I met many new friends in the space of three days, and was made very welcome.

From Catriona Taylor's 'A Thousand Sails' inspired by Sorley McLean
 Sleep was short and the gaps between readings, workshops, exhibitions, discussion groups and talking a lot in the cafĂ©-bar were extremely short.  Highlights were the Poet’s Market, the SPL's gigantic Knit A Poem (it’s a Dylan Thomas poem and would cover a village green), Philip Gross, Ciaran Carson, Douglas Dunn, Marilyn Hacker, Catriona Taylor’s gorgeous exhibition ‘A Thousand Sails’ inspired by Sorley McLean, and more…

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Writing about a derelict beauty spot

Crichope Linn was once a destination.  It possessed all that a devotee of Romantic Landscape could desire, and folk came on the train, got off at Closeburn Station, queued up in the station yard to board a charabanc, and bowled between the narrow dykes and hedges to the foot of the Linn Burn some three miles away.

No-one's got off at Closeburn Station for some time.  In fact the last time I remember it being in the news some entrepreneurial villager was caught using a station shed for the cultivation of a cannabis crop.  But Crichope Linn was much visited throughout the 19th and early 20th century. It was much written on too, by early Banksy types who could handle a neat chisel for Roman capitals.

Perhaps its paths were better maintained then, and its vegetation managed.  It was in a wild state when I clambered up in mid February, trees down and tangled, the path sliding away, fresh rockfall damming the burn. It has a bleak and gothic appeal.

Here's a cinquain about those trees.

Wind like
a weight that can’t
be borne.  The sound of wood
tearing.  Enormity of dark.

I'm writing about it for a project called 'Writing Ground', as are friends and poets Vivien Jones, Jackie Galley and Fiona Russell.  We'll present our efforts at a reading on Friday 15 April, with support from University of Glasgow at the Crichton,.as part of the programme for Dumfries & Galloway Wildlife Festival.  7pm.  The Midsteeple, Dumfries.  Free wine, you know.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Finding Archipelago

I went along to The Crichton where indefatigable Dumfries poetry campaigner Dave Borthwick had arranged no less than the launch of Archipelago 5, from Clutag Press.  Bending my flexi-time at work quite elastically, I managed to get there to hear Andrew McNeillie deliver a really interesting talk about the origins of this creamy, slow-paced, textured publication.  Apparently Archipelago was born after a liquid lunch in Barcelona, which is quite a pleasing thought in itself, but I really enjoyed Andrew's descriptions of his early life in Wales, and his sense of his destiny across the Irish Sea to Galloway, and the lost wonder of North Clutag, the family farm in Galloway.  He talked then about spending time as a young man on the Aran Islands, and waved around a book or two, which I will track down.
We all went off with a back number of Archipelago, which I have enjoyed so much I've actually bought the next one off the website  Beautiful artwork by Norman Ackroyd, Stac Lee and Stac Armin, and more.  Some satisfying essays, strange, edge of the horizon poetry from Peter Mackay and John Burnside.