Saturday, 24 December 2011

Go out on a song...

A couple of posts ago I was mentioning Xmas music... and a few years ago some of us chatted about it on the old blog too. Here's a song a friend of mine posted on facebook this week... and though I'm not a big cheerleader for Xmas music... or a big fan of this artist... I really liked this song:

I enjoyed watching the movie "Nativity" last night too (we'd seen it before but it was funnier than I remembered). Yo ho ho, indeed.

See you after the break.


Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Sights of Midwinter

Yesterday cousin and I headed south (well, to Forfar) for lunch and an art exhibition. Forfar is the Angus "county town"... it's also pretty grey and landlocked (unlike coastal Montrose and Arbroath - the Angus towns I know better). In Forfar you can see the hills... and get a very good lunch at a place called Springers (best chocolate cake I've had in a long time). We hit the charity shops, the gallery, looked up at the lights.

Road to Forfar:

Forfar Xmas lights:

Something missing:

I do like a Xmas tree:

Something with bells on:

Well, some of the lights came on:

Santa really does fly over Forfar:

No snow here yet but some over on the Angus hills (road back towards Brechin):

And then today the schools broke up at lunchtime. In the afternoon I walked the dog on an old railway embankment nearby and watched the sun go low (this photo taken at 15.03... sun set not long after):

And tomorrow our visitors arrive and then it's cook, cook, cook and non-stop games playing till Hogmanay. Happy holidays everybody.


Thursday, 15 December 2011

Hallelujah for inappropriate Xmas music...

So, here I am in the edit stages of my first draft of the long writing project. My head is spinning, the house is a tip, the Xmas cards largely unwritten... and one minute I think it's worth all that and that the piece isn't bad and then CRASH it's the worst thing ever written and what the hell am I doing? But that's normal. I think. Isn't it?

Anyway, night off last night for our girl's last primary school Xmas show. Her class did some Beatles songs (and I really can't comment on that for many reasons...) but the class below hers did a brilliant job with three Queen songs. They did possibly the most enjoyable version ever of "We will rock you" (not a favourite song of mine in normal circumstances), a good "Another one bites the dust" and then a version of "Don't stop me now" which actually brought a tear to my eye in a Freddie-was-my-childhood's-Jesus (hilarious!) kind of a way. "DSMN" is a song that gets played/sung/covered so much these days (it was in the panto here last week too - the baddie sang it...) but there was something about a group of 10 year olds singing it with gusto and abandon (and style - well, done that teacher!) that really moved me. I was about their age when the song came out (in 1978) and I remember absolutely loving it (though I was never what you would call a Queen fan). One of my older brothers had the 7 inch single (like the devil he had a lot of the best tunes...) and I remember listening to it over and over in his room (when he was out - I don't think I was allowed in otherwise). I sang along a lot too no doubt - it really is the best song for that time of life (and I'm pretty sure I never even noticed the "sex machine" section of the lyrics until recently...). Here is one of the best front men ever at work:

Another favourite from brother's record collection around then was also from 1978, this one by George Clinton's Funkadelic:

But I think that one involved more dancing around the room... and in those days I actually believed that one nation under a groove was a possibility (I know better now of course...).

So who needs Santa songs and "Jesus, it's your birthday" or whatever. Not me, baby, not me. Let the good times roll... on the jukebox/record player/mp3 player at least.


Saturday, 10 December 2011

No time to shop...

No time to blog, no time to shop... but there's always time for poetry! I've been working pretty much non-stop on a long writing project this week... and dealing with the weather (power cut on Thursday evening)... and girl's pantomime business this week (in 3 shows - last one tonight)... and this and that.... but still I have been following the progress of other poets in IPYPIASM (see here). I've hardly been in any shops myself this week (hurrah!) but I did just quickly knock this little number up with the "In a Shop" feature in mind. Maybe someone else would like to get it onto the shelves for me (STOP PRESS Titus did it - here) ... or maybe I'll manage it next week. Here it is:

Smells like corporate machine spirit

Who wants to smell like famous folk?
The pong of Katie Price?
Sex and the City's flashy brew
The whiff of Old Posh Spice?

I'd rather smell like just washed hair
Or even just washed dog
Who needs Tulisa's X appeal
Or Britney's boxed-up fog?

RF 2011


Thursday, 1 December 2011

Pamphlet Power

I have three fairly new poetry pamphlets just now that I would like to write a little about. Regular poetry reviews bore the life out of me so I'm not going to attempt such an exercise. Instead I'm going to do something that looks more like a survey/questionnaire (market research has been one of my, ahem, fields of expertise...). *Most of the "questions" are self-explanatory but the “first/last poem power” may need some introduction. I remember hearing or reading Don Paterson talk about first and last poems in a collection (I think when his book “Rain” came out). Basically he said they should be the best poems in the collection and whether we agree with that statement of not I want to test these three pamphlets on that criteria. Just for fun partly.

So, pamphlet one... into the ring!

Title – Vintage Sea
Author – Marion McCready (formerly known as the blogger Sorlil... now blogging under her own name here)
PublisherCalder Wood Press
Price – £5
Number of poems – 29
Cover – artwork by possibly the internet's finest purveyor of images Roxana Ghita

Recommendations – on the back James Owens, morgan downie and Hugh McMillan say nice things about MM's poetry. I like morgan's offering – “it is not magical realism but a realism that becomes magical”.
Phase in career – first collection
First poem power (*see introduction) – “Razor Shell” is probably my favourite poem in “Vintage Sea” thus far so yes, a good choice of opening poem. It is possibly the plainest poem in the collection but it is very effective. The title comes from it too.
Last poem power* – yes, definitely a powerful piece once again... though perhaps more so for a person of some religious leanings as one of the quotes is from the Bible (I only know because I asked...) and the poem references “the Eternal”. Still, I like it anyway especially “the sun-bell of your arms”.
Everything in between – there is a lot of beauty in this book, a lot of nature, colour and birdlife. There are also a fair few “I”s, a huge amount of water and quite a few mysterious female characters/spirits/mysteries. It is undeniable that Marion has the voice that some poets look for and never find or hear and her voice says things like “My hair rests on the waist/of the North Sea” (from “Castle Sands” – the book is full of sea and hair!). Marion writes often of her admiration for the poetry of Sylvia Plath but whereas I find Plath's poetry almost (heresy alert) comical at times I can enjoy Marion's poems without sniggering – especially the subtler ones. Plath was a little distracted by her own brilliance, I suspect, but sometimes the less glittering life can help the writing, I think (and Marion lives fairly quietly on the west coast of Scotland, has worked in a fish factory, went to uni but has a practical, regular life that keeps her grounded, at least most of the time...). Perhaps because of this (at least in part) Marion can write simple lines very well (and that is to be cherished, I think). Take “I am pushing this pram/uphill forever” from “Becoming Spring” or “I'm up to my knees in nothing” from “Child” – so easy-sounding but so right. And then on the other hand she has a kind of mystical side that stops the work being too mundane (so she has the lot in some senses – in terms of potential anyway).
Overview - if she keeps hard at it (perhaps with some kind of mean mentor) I can see Marion's writing career panning out nicely as Scotland looks for more strong, dedicated women poets to fill up the ranks. Onward, watery woman of the west, onward!

and our next contender...

Title – Grave with Lights
Author – JoAnne McKay (blogs as a dog – here, damned clever canine...)
Publisher – self-published, handmade by the poet indeed, available at blog (link above)
Price – £10
Number of poems – 13
Cover – Like fancy wallpaper and the whole thing comes in a little fabric bag/slipcase, images inside the pamphlet are by Victor Henderson

See JoAnne holding a copy of the book at this blog post
Recommendations – as with JoAnne's previous two pamphlets this one is introduced/endorsed by Hugh McMillan. No matter how flattering the intro I'd have to say that if you keep this up guys people will talk... maybe someone else next time?
Phase in career – third self-published pamphlet (and I self-published... we are the true hardcore!)
First poem power* – (not counting the poem on the dedication page) “The Countess of Bathory of Romford” is a poem of JoAnne's that I have come across online once or twice and somehow I do like it more on a proper page (maybe I'm just getting old...). It is a kind of Essex anthem and I love the cheek of “for we all hate grass”. It sings pretty loud and clear.
Last poem power* – “Grave with Lights” is my favourite in the book, for sure. A tiny little slip of a thing it will even fit in here:

Grave with Lights

When the sky is great,
such night as this, and not sky
but heavens to ask
why do I feel
this thing, that thing
is child's why.
Because I said so.
Because why not.
Because you are so
very, very


JoAnne McKay

So yes, a good end.
Everything in between – I much enjoyed JoAnne's first pamphlet “The Fat Plant” (and wrote about it here) but her second one “Venti” (near prize-winner and very beautiful item, as it was) didn't do so much for me, I'm afraid. Maybe I'm just allergic to prize-winners (near or otherwise) or maybe it was the balance within the book (there was more of JoAnne's erudite content in “Venti” than the “Plant” and I have my allergies to that too I think, though I'm not proud of it...). Maybe it was also that some of the “Venti” poems felt more consciously poem-y, if you know what I mean, than those in “The Fat Plant” and I like a poem that isn't too excited about itself being a poem on the whole. Whatever... I never judge prizes (and we all know prizes are the way to proceed) so JoAnne should probably ignore everything I say! Bad news for her is that I enjoyed the work in “Grave with Lights” (as well as the first and last poems I liked “On Looking”, “Edge”, “Romford Handfasting”, “I Shall Give You”) so I hope that doesn't jinx its progress...
Overview – despite being of English origin (if married to a Scot) JoAnne is still managing to make her way as a poet in Scotland (ours is the last voice Scots ever want to hear really but sometimes they just can't ignore it...). JoAnne does have a strong voice too (like Marion) though the McKay version does splinter off in many directions thanks to the many strands of her personal history (Essex abbattoir survivor, horrific experience survivor, ex-copper, mystical mother, at times ferociously academic expert type person, at others weary working wifey). One thing you can never say about JoAnne McKay, however, is that she is boring. I hear she never sleeps.

and finally...

Title – The Heavy Bag
Author – Ross Wilson
PublisherCalder Wood Press (them again... they have published several of my favourites now...)
Price – £5
Number of poems – 24
Cover – Sepia family photo, nice and fuzzy... and I'm no whizz at typefaces but that doesn't look like one of the approved "poetry" ones (good).

Recommendations – first a cringe-moment... Colin Will did you really write “This collection marks the emergence of a refreshing new voice in poetry”? I feel like maybe I've read that line a few hundred times before (naughty Colin). Luckily the back cover also contains, in place of the usual recommendations, a charming quotation from one of Ross's school reports that kind of makes up for the first sin (I'm presuming the quote is genuine... and OMG was RW really at school – primary school – in 1989..?).
Phase in career – first collection/pamphlet
First poem power* – Yes, Ross (and Colin?) have done their first poem homework because “What's in our Hands” is an absolute cracker and I won't show it here because then you might not buy the pamphlet. To be honest it's so good that it sets quite a high standard for the rest of the book to live up to (like a really high-achieving first child...).
Last poem power* – “Milne's Bar” is yes, another really strong poem (linking with the title, linking with the opening poem...). Good work, very good work.
Everything in between – there is a lot of family content, a fair bit of Fife and a lot of boxing poems (unusual... but Ross was a national schoolboy boxing champion). These all ring good and true (though I suppose they could all be fiction – how the heck would I know?) and they all contain well-drawn characters and crunchy snippets of dialogue (“The Way John Went Out” is my favourite just now). There are also several crap-job-and-crap-training-course poems which I enjoyed too – “Stuck” perhaps most of all (“Because we were unemployed/we had to get up early every morning,/ sit in a portakabin in Kirkcaldy,/ and listen to a man speaking/ through a rolled-up cigarette/ as though it were a microphone.”). There are few women in the book (just a lassie here and there, a factory full in “The Old Patterns”) but that's fine – it balances out nicely with Marion's sea full of mysterious long-haired, seaweedy females and, heavens, poetry needs the male point of view too (especially the, if you like, ringside view that Ross works pretty well). My least favourite parts of “The Heavy Bag” are the end rhymes (for example in the sonnets “Friday Night” and “Saturday Morning”). I love end rhymes but on this evidence I don't think they're Ross's strong point (not as yet anyway). He gets away with the rhymes in “Milne's Bar" but they are more scattered and casual, somehow. Still, a lad doesn't have to be good at everything does he?
Overview – “The Heavy Bag” is a very strong first book – varied, rich, individual and a refined-kind-of-raw. Let's hope he keeps that edge (and in contact with interesting, vibrant content) as his writing career progresses. Scotland has a lot of successful male poets – it's some crowd to stand out in – but I think he could do it, given time. You could say that he's challenger material alright (and he will have to get used to bad boxing references from other people writing about his work...). It's lazy, isn't it, just lazy...

So that's my survey over. I hope you've seen something that interests you.

p.s. pic at top of post is this week's art class offering... my first try at a watercolour (messy but I enjoyed it... I like mess really).