Friday, 29 September 2017

National Poetry Day - diary of sorts and thoughts

Early light picture from last week, playing around on Instagram

One of my favourite pieces of writing this year has been a writing diary from Scottish author Denise Mina. She read it aloud on a radio programme a few months back and it was honest and funny and I suppose that is one of my favourite kinds of writing. I have a simple relationship with comedy (and with music...) because I just love them, so much of them. I suppose this is partly because I have adored them both from a very young age but also partly because I have never tried to do either of them in any kind of serious way (put something out in the world and say 'I am a musician' or 'I am a comedian'). Poetry, though, is another matter.

And yesterday, here, it was National Poetry Day so I thought I'd have a go at one of those diary-type things (with some poetry-related content). I used to write a lot more like this on the old blog (ah, the golden days of blog... when you'd get up to 50 comments on a post... how did we read them all... etc.) but I haven't done one for a while. So here's yesterday... though the times are only approximate (I put them in after...).

9.00am. It's one of those waiting-for-work days for me (the paid work, not the poetry). When it does come it just arrives by email (some days loads, many days nothing) but today nothing comes (so more time for poetry matters). It’s a good job we don’t rely on my salary to survive.

9.10am. I look at Twitter and see all the National Poetry Day links etc. (along with all the stuff about Hefner... which just reminds me of Watson and Oliver's great bunny sketch... their series is on Netflix these days... go and find it if you can, daughter and I quote several of their sketches regularly). For a couple of years (see back here) I organised a local event to mark National Poetry Day and it was always in October back then so it feels weird to have it in September this year (though here in Scotland it makes sense… it’s school holidays in early October and why should they escape the freedom – this year's theme – of organised words). I write a tiny poem about this calendar issue, post it to Twitter, get a very small response. I am not in a loop, no celebrities retweet me or anything like that, so it's a fairly unsatisfying and quite possibly pointless endeavour. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my poetry (or social media success) to survive.

9.30am. I watch a video from one of the links on Twitter. It features Sarah Crossan, whose book ‘One’ we won as a prize at a books quiz in the summer (Dundee Waterstones, monthly, it was summer, not much competition...). She writes verse novels (‘One’ is one). I really enjoyed ‘One’ (though I'm starting to feel like the queen with all these ones...) – it may be marketed at teens but (a) yes, I am at least part teenager and (b) it’s bigger than that. I’ve never been one for dividing lines anyway. And it’s a good job we don’t rely on my career in marketing to survive (my first proper job was in an advertising agency… in the late ’80s and I didn’t last long... in fact I just left one lunchtime, never went back... well, I had to return the company car at some point... but apart from that). Anyway...

10.00am. I listen to the third part of Don Paterson’s radio series ‘Five poems I wish I had written’ – the one about Michael Donaghy (it’s Wednesday’s). This is the first one (that I've listened to so far...) where I can agree with him about the poem and that might well be because the poem is, at least in part, about music (the poem is ‘The Hunter’s Purse’). Tuesday’s (about Elizabeth Bishop's 'Large Bad Picture') is a great listen, whatever you think of the poem. It packed some punches though and whilst up till then I had not been feeling too bad about my own recent poetic output (I had written two ‘proper’ poems in the past couple of weeks, not shown them to anyone yet but felt I was back on that track a little after nothing but unloved Twitter 4 liners over the summer) this programme knocked me right back down off that artificial high. I am totally crap (and needy) and don’t know the most basic things about form and rhythm and it’s no wonder I am moaning in obscurity most of the time. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my positive outlook to survive.

10.15am. I wonder about the idea of ‘poems I wish I had written’. I’m not sure I think about poetry in that way at all, certainly nothing really comes to mind (what would you say if Radio 3 came knocking..?). I could think of about 100 people whose singing voice I covet… and maybe some songs I wish I’d written… though no, even there I can’t say that’s the way it feels (I can love something, but that doesn't mean I wish I'd made it...). What I can say is that we were looking through the old youtube channel the other day (for admin reasons) and Mark and I both really enjoyed hearing the videos we posted in 2008 of Hugh McMillan (live… in Edinburgh…). I especially loved hearing ‘Three Letters to McMhaolain Mor’ again (‘my heart bleeds in this Travelodge’). I don’t wish I’d written it (how could I have done… it’s Hugh’s history background coupled with his experience of life in some particularly modern-day trenches – schools and pubs and buses – that makes this ring so true and be charming and painful all at the same time). I have non-poetry friends (one in particular) who says poetry only works for them when they hear it (aloud, with or without music) and, although I do read poetry quietly, sitting still, I do also understand the need for hearing (when it comes to enjoying/understanding/wanting to repeat the experience certainly). In the poetry world there is less and less of a divide between 'page' and 'performance' (so I hear, so I read…) and that is a good thing, I think. There are good poems right across that spectrum (there always have been) and many of the best poems (for my taste) can be inhaled either way. After this I watch a video of BBC Scotland’s poet in residence Stuart A Paterson giving a lesson in Scots weather terms (he is a long-term friend of Hugh McMillan, I think). Twenty years ago I wouldn't have known any of the words but now I know about half of them (and will go through and pause with Scots dictionary/friend to get the rest later). That’s a poem I certainly couldn’t have written! It’s a good job we don’t rely on my career in Scots poetry writing to survive.

12.30pm. I do some Mum things…take girl here, go to the supermarket. No one in there is talking about National Poetry Day or seems to be worrying about rhythm patterns. It’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone is trying to get out of there as soon as possible. I worked in shops quite a lot in previous stages of life and the money is so crap but it’s bearable as jobs go. I don’t have a great record when it comes to jobs and making money (but I have a great CV… ). It's a good job we don't rely on my ability to earn money in any kind of regular way to survive.

1.30pm. Essential jobs done I think I should make a National Poetry Day effort so I grab a poetry book (the first that comes to hand - an anthology) and sit in the sun for a brief stretch (as long as a cup of tea). It’s too hot for the dog so she whinges at me and the neighbours seem to have the loudest lawnmower ever made (it’s probably old... as they are). I can’t say anything really grabs me from the book… but that might be the dog, the (very hot) sun and the fact that I’m going out this evening and possibly to a place where people will be sitting quietly in rows (this always makes me anxious). I am much more a cabaret-atmosphere kind of person… in every possible way. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my career as an airline passenger or jury member to survive. And yes, I know you don’t get paid for either of those…. Well, not often.

7.00pm. It turns out that I have tickets for a poetry event in Dundee tonight – a total coincidence as I bought them ages ago before I knew that the national day of poeting had moved closer to the sun. This event features Rachel McCrum and Caroline Bird and I don’t know either of the poets’ work but I have seen them bigged up online by people whose work I do know (and like) so I'm quite keen. It’s a long time since I went to a poetry reading of any kind I realise (other than my own). I used to go to quite a few (particularly at the StAnza festival in St Andrews – I used to go there every year) but in recent times it just hasn’t happened (partly to do with where we live but a lot to do with my weirdness about sitting quietly in an rowed audience). I find the awkwardness of some types of readings really difficult so was disappointed to get to the venue tonight and discover it was my least favourite kind of place (no exit at the back, only one way in and out and that right in front of the whole audience and stage...). It’s hard to explain if you’re not a person who feels this kind of specific anxiety about places but believe me, it does rather spoil your concentration… especially if you can’t have a calming alcoholic beverage because you are going to be driving a car at some point later. I decided to ask for help (always one of the hardest parts...) and luckily the organisers were lovely and didn’t think me at all mad (well, they didn’t say so anyway) and found me a bolthole where I could see but not feel awkward (and no, I'm not going to describe it…). So I did see the show and it started with music from Roseanne Reid (tiny enigmatic songs, liked them a lot) followed by poet Rachel McCrum. She did a few poems about boats and a lot about women (her new book, her first I think, is called ‘The First Blast to Awaken Degenerate Women’) but, though I did find these interesting (facts about Marie Stopes, for example, plenty to go back and read…and in fact the poem that includes them is online here, though it's quite far down the page), the mood I was in (odd, career identity crisis, locked in anxiety bolthole… and not for any lack of feminist tough thinking over the years…) meant I was drawn more to a poem about unusual stars (‘Runaways’). I didn't buy a book but I am thinking I might; there was a lot to take in. After a little break poet Caroline Bird (now on her 5th book apparently, though she started very young) took us to places I really wasn’t expecting (her experiences of drugs and mental health, albeit with a surrealist twist... although if you’ve lived though any of it… which of course I have… you don’t really need the twist). She was very engaging (a bit bouncey, getting herself gradually more and more into the audience…) and if I hadn’t been in an anxiety bolthole (with my poor, long suffering daughter… ‘what weird place are you taking me today, Mummy?’) I would have stayed for the whole thing. But we had quite a trip back, and there’s school tomorrow and Mummy can tell you plenty of stories about that kind of thing on the way home (she is pretty much an adult now...). I have no line here about careers and surviving. I have run out of steam about that.

9.00pm. And then the train… and the car… and the chips (I have an old poem about having chips on the way back from a poetry reciting competition when I was a little girl... I guess this is our version of that in some kind of dragged-out mirror image). And on the radio (I love radio!) it was still National Poetry Day and there was a young guy called Isaiah Hull on the Jo Whiley show on Radio 2. We didn’t catch the beginning of the poem but the bit I heard sounded warm and young and hopeful. Ah, it's a good job we don't rely on my career in misguided nostalgia to survive...

Thanks, as ever, for reading. x

Monday, 18 September 2017

A is for apple

I've gone a bit apple-mad. The ex-psychiatric hospital nearby has an orchard full of apples (and I mean full!) but of course it is an ex-hospital so the grounds are pretty much places in waiting... and so the apples are too. For the last few years that orchard has worn a carpet of apples for much of the fall season and it's pretty sad, I think, when food costs so much and we all seem to talk about healthy eating all the time. We went and picked a bag full yesterday (we all have permission, I emailed the current landowners to check... ) and I am telling everyone I can think of to try to keep the rotting to a minimum. I suppose this is partly because I was brought up by a mother who'd lived through WW2 and so I hate food waste (though I think most of us do really). There are issues of course... some of the trees are very tall and quite old... and everyone is busy... but I'm hopeful.

And lo, an apple poem (title connected to my late arrival at Instagram... I like to try most things... just not always at the same time as everyone else...). 


Dream, if you must, of apples.
Check the ground first,
Flatten nettles,
Clear the rotten windfall.

Then head up high
To the happy bounty,
Ripe clumps of life,
Calling out to be pie.

There’s no finer sight;
Than apples above,
The pound in your heart,
A red and green beat.

Preserve if you can,
Keep the taste fresh,
Make the good cake,
And save the picture.

RF 2017

Tuesday, 12 September 2017


I saw Chris Wood play live in Glasgow in January 2016 and can't recommend his live shows enough (he's touring this year too - see here). The song above was written about his daughter leaving for college or some such... but even if that isn't a situation you know it is still a beautiful song about love.  He has some very political songs too - all the usual weapons of a good folk singer - and he plays and sings really well. Proper makes your heart sing, he does. 

Friday, 1 September 2017


Picture of the girls of the house

Still not much writing business to report here. Mostly I've been hanging out with these two. Well, look at them ‒ wouldn't you? I don't often post photos of the daughter on here but it's a lovely one and I thought you might like it (it's not staged). Some regular readers will feel like you know her I am sure (internet family and all that). 

There is some almost writing news though as I will be heading to the Auchmithie Arts Festival on 9th and 10th September (11-5 on Saturday, 12-5 on Sunday). The artist who did the cover artwork for both my books (Steph Masterson) is opening her house as part of the festival (along with her artist husband Scott Henriksen). There isn't a website for the festival but there is facebook page for it. I will be selling books at Steph's (venue 5) and generally hanging around. It is always a lovely day out (16 art venues, tearoom in the village hall, beautiful setting).

I've not even been writing the little Twitter poems recently (that has been this summer's, post-pamphlet poetic activity). Then today a little one arrived (here) probably because I've had contact with quite a few old friends this summer. It's such a strange business (lovely in the main part but strange for all the memories it stirs up). I tend to have an overwhelming feeling of gratitude around this kind of thing ‒ I just feel so pleased (and amazed in some cases) that we've made it this far. Is it a poet thing to be so obsessed with the possibility and probability of death? Or a child of a suicide thing? Or just a human thing? Or is it just because I read the news (more than some, not as much as others)? Or because this was one of my favourite songs in childhood (it came out the year my Dad died, as it happens...)?

Anyway, after a busy week I had a little quiet time this morning and listened to Robert Webb's much-publicised 'How Not to Be a Boy' (Book of the Week on the radio). It is sometimes frustrating for non-celebrity writers when famous people's books get a lot of hype but this one is published by Canongate (Scottish, love them...) and I did really enjoy his reading (though bits are super sad ‒ more death of course...). There were some pretty perfect sentences in amongst it all. I especially liked his description of his academic position at the age of about 11 ("the disappointing end of clever or the hopeful side of dim") and this sentiment from (I think) the last of the 5 episodes "those of us who are loved have no excuse". I read a lot of work by and/or about people who weren't loved much early in life and think about this kind of thing a great deal (for one reason or another). And his is an interesting addition to such thoughts... and it could easily have been part of a poem (Larkin maybe). Poetry is everywhere... whether you want it or not!