Thursday, 29 September 2011

The return of the fridge magnet...

Above - Edmonton, Alberta, back in July. How I love my crazy North American roadside signs...

So, I am back at the coalface of poetry-work of late (bang bang, scrape, scrape)... and it feels good, it must be said. I've been writing quite a bit... and reading heaps. I wrote a new poem this week that reminded me of an old one (one of the ones people have actually said was good - hah!) and I realised that I've never posted that old one on a blog (though it is in mah book, still available here). I did post it online ages ago but that was on myspace (and heavens, who could even find myspace these days!). So here it is (with audio here - from a while back... my voice sounds young!). Maybe the new poem next week.

Let me be your fridge magnet

Let me slip into your home
Like a leaflet for a loan
Hidden in a free newspaper
Or supermarket circular
I'm not proud

Oh how I'd love to be your Baby on Board
Suckered on to your smoothness
I'd feel every bump in your road
Know exactly how much air was in your tyres
If you let me

I could stick faster still
If you'd let me be your fridge magnet
I'd hang on to your cool place
So perky, so keen
I wouldn't let you down

I'd be superficial for you, gladly
Cling to any surface - as long as it was yours
Then I'd ask softly 'do you understand now?
Do you get the message?
Do you read me at all?'

RF 2006

And whilst some people reference Greek myths and what-not this one (as, of course, the erudite amongst you will already know) refers back to the great Baby D hit of the early 1990s "Let me be your fantasy". Happy days, dancing on the bar nights. Oh go on then, here it is (and look - you can even sing along):


Sunday, 25 September 2011

More radio poetry

Well, much as I don't want to overshadow that lengthy Poetry Bus review-thing I did last post I must just tell you that this week on her BBC 6 Music show Cerys Matthews is reading a Helena Nelson poem. You can hear the show here until next Sunday. The poem is "The Book of the Night" from Helena's 2010 book "Plot and Counter-Plot" (Shoestring Press) and I wrote a bit about that book here (it is a very good book). The poem slot on Cerys' show ("poetry in motion") is at about 1 hour 15 mins or so this week (it's a 2 hour show) but do listen to the whole two hours if you can because there's some lovely music and a real mix of styles. Radio at its very best.

Photo above is from on the road in Tennessee back in April. Gotta love that road...


Friday, 23 September 2011

Points of interest on the Bus route

So, the new Poetry Bus magazine (issue 2).... getting it out nearly killed its editor, it's twice the area of the last one and this time it has a CD of poets reading their work and some music included too (hooray for music). I've only had my copy a few days but here are some early thoughts (starting near the back... I often read from the back...).

Firstly on individual poems:

The poem about a Francis Bacon painting by Sarah Maria Griffin is outstanding. I like her "electric picnic" poem (in two parts) too – 'selectively claustrophobic' and all.

Liam Ryan's “Homings” is that simple-in-a-good-way kind of a poem. Me like.

The poem about 'dyke and bike' by Kit Fryatt is very sophisticated and entertaining and most definitely, unique.

Jessie Lendennie's “4th August, 2011” is a current affairs poem that shouldn't work... but really does.

Liz Gallagher's “Stuffing Our Faces with Gods” seems to be the poem where the version in the magazine least matches the version on the CD. I would be interested to know which version Liz prefers at this point. I specially like the line “my god is more lucid than your god” but there are lots of other good lines too (some of them involving pies).

Kevin Higgins' “Blue” is a welcome flash of grotesque comedy in a sometimes sombre collection of poems (mine, for example, couldn't be gloomier if it tried... damn that bereavement).

Noel King's “When Fairies Gather” has a good play with the muse.

In “Drumcondra April 2010” David Murphy rhymes 'sarong' with 'pong' (and other things). Joy.

Richard Epstein's “News Break” contains some nifty lines/phrases. I like “Dress for adversity” and “More on this if there is more”. TV news has gone mad and he gets it just so in this poem.

Benjamin Robinson's “Have You Seen My trousers Anywhere?” has some cracking rhyming going on (and I'm just glad to see some rhyming poems in a poetry magazine at all, to be honest... it's been so long... and they're good too – even better).

Colm Scully's “Like a hat” is intriguing.

Michèle Vassal's “Under the Dog star” might just win the “best last line” award for this issue.

Richard Halperin's “Circus” is an interesting trip.

Padhraig Nolan is one of the old online Bus poets. I enjoyed his “Stella” in the magazine very much and remembered it from one of the original Bus prompts (the Stella Artois one, for those of us who were there... good memories). I also like his “an orange block/of what we buy as cheese” in “Noon”.

Miriam Needham's “In Need” is a corker. Dress to impress, indeed. And teamed up with matching artwork on the opposite page (by Una Gildea) – it's this season's must-have.

Brenda Cusack's “The unnameable” is, for me, a grower. First listen I wasn't struck on it (can't be doing with Beckett, so shoot me) but by second listen I was warming to the old corpse and its story nicely.

Colm Keegan's “Fridays” is a heartbreaker with some perfect details. I like “in the time before phones” (just minimal enough) and the mood is very well-painted in a simple but effective way.

And then some other thoughts:

It's good to have some poems in the mag about buses and being on buses. Adrian Mitchell would be pleased (“a bus says 'us' while a car says 'me'”, from his poem “Yes”).

There are not so many poets featured who used to ride the old online bus (someone else has written about that here). Who knows why this is... maybe some didn't submit, maybe some submitted poems that the editor didn't like... whatever it is I'm sure editor Peadar O'Donoghue will have some trouble ahead along this avenue (but I'm sure all editors do...and the more successful the mag the more the trouble will come... but good things will come too). For me, I do have a poem in this one but if he doesn't choose one of mine for issue 3 or 4 or 5 will I hate him? Oh yes... for at least a few hours... and then I'll hate someone else. In actual fact I don't much like the poem of mine that he did pick in the end for this issue. But maybe that's a good sign... I don't know.

Both of the music tracks on the CD are lovely, really enjoyable. Maybe next time there could be even more music sprinkled amongst the poems..? I love the vocals in The Souterrain's track and Martin Egan's “The Tune” is really gorgeous – unusual too.

The readings on the CD are very varied. Some are from live shows, others done on phones, some very clear, some a bit muffled. Some are done at breakneck speed (Sarah Clancy must breathe through her ears!) whilst others are damned slow (that'll be me... I'm getting a bit Pinter with the pauses, there). Anne Tannam, Miriam Needham, Sarah Maria Griffin and Stephen James Smith read well, for my taste, get the right mood (not too natural, not too stage school)... and I like Kat Mortensen's reading too (very crisp). I love all the different accents...and I suppose I never realised before that for an Irish poet, like Karl Parkinson in “In Rios Nightclub Drinking On My Own”, 'poem' can rhyme with 'alone' (that wouldn't work in my accent!). And I heard his 'birds' as 'boards' (which would completely change the tone...) so it's a good job I had the text to check... One or two poems are not on the CD which is a shame as it'd be nice to have the full set. Though saying that in places you can hear how some poems lose a little (for me) as audio. I like Kerrie O'Brien's “Drifting” much more on the page than on the CD, for example. It's a subtle poem and hard to do it justice in a reading perhaps (I like the poem very much).

The artwork is all really well-done and well-chosen. The cover artwork by Adam Neate, as shown at the top of the post, is fantastic (the centrefold too) and I have a soft spot for “Clouds” on page 39 by the Project Twins as well.

There are a couple of typos in the text (though not many). Our man needs a ham with the poofreading maybee.

There are some poems and poets that I haven't mentioned here and that is no criticism of them. This is only early thoughts and, in all honesty, there is nothing I don't like or think is rubbish in this new Poetry Bus (plus what do I know..?). It is a big old Bus with a lot packed into it so well done, that driver, I say. I find a lot of poetry magazines really, really boring/uninspiring/po-faced/predictable and you certainly can't say that about this one!


Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Two songs

What was that about fewer posts..? Here are two songs new to me that I really like... the first one is from a Scottish band:

and the second one from a more English source:

Back soon to talk about the new Poetry Bus magazine (which is fab-u-lous!).
The music on the Bus CD is great too.


Sunday, 18 September 2011

Swiss radio?

My return-home resolution was to blog a little less (one good post a week rather than heaps of little ones...) but I just have to pass this bit of news on today. Photo above by Mark Stephenson, by the way.

One of the first things I did when we got back to Scotland at the end of July was listen to some radio. There's not a huge amount I like on UK radio these days but I have a few favourites still - shows like Mike Harding's hugely enthusiastic folk show on BBC Radio 2 and there are a few highlights on BBC's 6 Music too (like Lauren Laverne's show and the Cerys Matthews Sunday morning 10am spectacular). On the first one of the Cerys' shows that I listened to since our return she was talking about how hard it was to get permissions for poems to read aloud on the show for its weekly poem slot ("weekly poem slot", I know, just for that it's fabulous). She was talking about poems by famous poets like Dylan Thomas but I thought how crazy this was - people in the world of poetry are often to be heard wondering (aloud) how to get a wider audience for the bleedin' poems and here's a national radio show wanting to read poems to folk and not being allowed to (on occasion). So I thought 'I know a whole lot of brilliant poems by less well-known but equally good poets... and I know a lot of small publishers who would love the chance to get their poets more widely heard'... so I sent her a suggestion (this poem by Morgan Downie, or blogger Swiss to some of us). And I didn't hear back right away so I thought 'oh dear, there's another mad email I've sent into the vast vat of mad emails in the world...' (a lot of them mine).

Then this week she read Morgan's poem out... and so beautifully too (hear the show here - if you're in a place where i-player works that is). I can only hope Morgan was suitably delighted to hear his poem "the stone bible" read aloud by the delectable Ms Matthews (I am quite a fan of her singing and music, never mind the radio show). I know Colin Will was pleased to get a mention for his Calder Wood Press too. The show always blends the poems with music and it was a great combination this week (full details at the show's site). There's a wee interview with folk singer/songwriter Ralph McTell on this week too... if you like that sort of thing... and McTell singing a kids song he wrote that I'd only ever heard before on our girl's Singing Kettle CD (don't know the Singing Kettle? It's a Scottish thing...).

I was pleased to hear the reading for many reasons but partly because, as regular visitors will know, I am a HUGE fan of the SOUND of poetry. I've almost got to a place where I've stopped reading it in my head altogether... I want to hear a poem so much more than I want to, what is the word... absorb it (which reminds me... I've added a rather more hurried and rather less gorgeous audio version of my recent first-in-a-while poem in the last post today). But never mind that, rejoice and celebrate in the power of the Downie words and the whole 'hearing good poems on the radio' business... and while you're at it maybe send Cerys a poetry suggestion (especially if you know the show will easily be able to get permission from the poem's publishers for it). The email is this simple:


Friday, 16 September 2011

Coming clean

So my Wednesday trips to Arbroath... no secret mission for the government... just my first ever art classes (once a week for ten weeks). Of course, like most people I did get some art classes in school but I don't remember ever being taught anything back then... apart from that I wasn't very good at art. I remember us being given painting tasks to do and always being disappointed with what I produced. I also remember that awful task that everyone seems to get in high school art (and that very few people can do anything with) - "draw/paint the person sitting opposite you". I remember making a picture of my friend where she looked like a horse with a painful staring problem and thinking "well, best keep to the stuff I'm better at" (pretty much anything besides art back then).

Anyway, I wanted to do some art classes last year (to do something new with my brain partly) but the ones I chose then didn't happen due to lack of numbers. And then we came back this summer and there was a poster in Arbroath library advertising some classes with local artist Jackie Gardiner. So now, here I am, once a week, trying lots of different things like painting and pastelling and drawing and what-not. Two classes so far and I am having a ball - it feels so good to not be working with words and wordy ideas for a change. And maybe soon I will start to understand what my artist friends are talking about now and again. It's a win-win.

In the meantime I did manage a poem this week too. One of the reasons I've been off poetry for a while is that I got tired of endlessly writing about my Mum and the lack of her. I felt like I was just upsetting myself, boring everyone else and, worst of all, that she would hate it (she was a doing person, not a whining person...). Still, I've been reading a book recently called "Writing Down the Bones" by Natalie Goldberg (1986) and it's all for getting everything out and just keeping on writing so maybe that's what has helped this poem along. I found the Bones book via the website of the writer involved in the book of adoption stories I wrote about a couple of posts ago (Ann Angel - I'm guessing not her real name). "Writing Down the Bones" is totally not my kind of thing (I dislike books about writing most of the time and even the subtitle of this one makes me wince - "freeing the writer within"...) but sometimes it's good to face things that are not one's kind of thing, I think. Hence the art classes also I suppose. Anyway, the poem:


You're in that lonely coffee pot
The tiny size of it
The way it pours

And in that rose tree
The clusters of its buds
That choice was yours

You are the empty chairs
The quiet on the stairs
The wisps of light

And though in heavy plastic urn
You take a very peaceful turn
You still burn bright

RF 2011

There is a hint of Python in the urn I know (or Morecambe and Wise...)... yet, still I leave it. Hard to explain why. Maybe it's masochism (so not what anyone sensible in modern poetry would do... and it rhymes too). I am beyond help.

p.s. quick audio version of the above here


Monday, 12 September 2011

Local colour

Still, not many words from me. It seems I am in an unusually wordless phase at the moment... and in some ways I am really enjoying it (maybe others are too...). So instead some pictures.

Above is a bit of colour from our dogwalk on Friday. Below are some shots from a damp drive down to Dundee on Saturday to visit friends. It would be easy to just post sunny beach pictures of Angus (I have plenty of those) but there is more to the great county than that...

Finally a shot of Arbroath's Signal Tower Museum from last Wednesday. I will be in Arbroath regularly for the next few weeks. Ah, but what will I be doing..?


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Adoption Stories

When we were in California in June we stayed with blogger/writer/poet Chris Alba of Enchanted Oak (that part of our trip is here). We stayed two nights with Chris (and entourage) and were made very, very welcome. Then as we were leaving we did some book swapping – Chris got a copy of my now-getting-on-a-bit poetry book and I got a few things from her, one of which was “Silent Embrace” (its cover is above and it was published by California's Catalyst Book Press). Chris has an essay in “Silent Embrace” (towards the end) called “The Long Road Home”.

I think Chris asked me something like “are you interested in reading about adoption?” when she showed me the book and my answer was “yes” for many reasons. “Yes” because I have one adopted sibling (the closest in age to me of all our sprawl and therefore the closest in experience in many ways). “Yes” because there are other adopted children in the family, some of whom are quite new acquaintances. “Yes” because I'm interested in parenthood and how children grow up in general. And finally “yes”, because I guess I'm just interested in people (and my Mum used to say that about herself all the time...). So, yes, yes and again yes. And then another yes.

I got round to reading the book this week and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the subject of adoption (and indeed anyone interested in families at all). The blurb on the back tells you what you're going to find within the pages pretty accurately: “Birth mothers are often the forgotten or ignored part of the adoption triad. This collection of literary essays seeks to correct the imbalance by publishing personal stories by birth mothers, adoptive mothers, and adoptees. The stories cover a range of topics about adoption, open adoption, birth parent connections, and unification with children after closed adoption, focusing on the relationship with birth mothers. An anthology of essays by, for and about birth parents.”

And then here's a few notes from me about the book:

“Silent Embrace” was edited by Ann Angel and her (adopted) daughter Amanda. Amanda's essay is one of the pieces I really respected – it's a brutally honest and very well written account of a very difficult series of events. Ann's essay is about her very different experience of adoption (she and her husband adopted four children – all from different situations/families). Ann also writes books for teenagers by the way (including a biography of Janis Joplin aimed at the young reader – sounds great!).

There is a very wide range of emotional responses on show in these essays. By the end of the book you feel like you have met a lot of different people, heard a lot of different stories and, as the subtitle would have it, read many different “perspectives on birth and adoption”. You may cry more than once... and in some places you may be warmed by the goodness of human nature at its best. It covers a lot of ground.

Most of the essays were written by women living in the US (which is OK - the themes are fairly universal) . However there didn't seem to be a huge range of what we call diversity these days. And that did seem a bit of shame... a lacking in the book somehow.

All of the essays are by women. I'd be interested to know whether this was an editorial decision or just a dearth of men wanting to write about the subject (one of the essays does mention, for example, how rarely adopted boys want to meet birth parents compared to adopted girls who very often do). It does make the book seem a little old-fashioned though (this lack of male perspectives) but that's not to say it stops “Silent Embrace” being an interesting read (because it doesn't).

I must add finally that Chris' essay in this book is, as regular readers of hers would expect, an exercise in how to tell the truth using clear, sharp strokes and pulling few punches. Chris has the best of the journalist and the poet at work in a piece like this – no clichés, no waffle, just really good communicating.

p.s. Anyone who enjoyed the Arvo Pärt piece "Spiegel im Spiegel" a few posts ago might be interested in this radio programme about it from BBC recently.


Friday, 2 September 2011

Angus, thrills and snowing

Photo taken from the car in Ontario, February 2011. Taken by me, I imagine.

Nothing much to report here - had visitors, been reading, walking, learning how to cook again... and for me cooking always means listening to music so here are a few musical things you might like (nothing brand new or anything).

First here's a British band that Mark plays a lot called The Leisure Society with a track we especially liked whilst travelling called "The Last of the Melting Snow" (hence photo above):

Next, a visiting friend played me some music by a woman from Philadelphia called Melody Gardot . Here's "My One and Only Thrill" (and it is gorgeous!):

Finally, on a more local note (and I put this on facebook this week too) here's a local singer/songwriter with a song he made from some words of mine. The singer is Gary Anderson and the song is "The Angus Adoption Song". Gary is on at the Montrose Folk Club at the Links Hotel this Tuesday evening (6th Sept). Also appearing are the Coaltown Daisies from Fife.

I've even been singing today. That's either a very good or a very bad sign...