Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Monday poem – part two...what there's more?

Great reactions to the last post and its poem so thanks very much for all those. I forgot to mention that in fact I wrote two poems in response to this week's task from Totalfeckineejit. The other poem is much quieter and simpler than that great big shouty thing below. It is probably more like the careful, thoughtful poems all the other Monday Poets came up with. It has some stillness and it's no big thing (might not even be finished) but I thought I'd share it with you anyway. It's inspired by the same time in my life (the up all night years) but it's out of the clubs and parties...and just in a car on the way back to...well, anywhere with a kettle and a soft place to sit down usually. Here it is:

Long night

We're in a car
It's daylight
But nothing like morning

Is someone driving?
They must be
How else would we be moving?

The streets are almost empty
And we are somewhere lonely
In London, England
It seems kind of unlikely

Somebody says something
About us being in the east
And there still being miles to go

The car rolls on and on and on
When we get where we're going
We will call it home

RF 2009


Monday, 28 September 2009

Monday poem – take it to the top, Ted

Can you believe this is the fifth Monday poem in a row? Anyway, this week's task was to read two Ted Hughes poems and then write something (both the poems and the instructions are over at our friendly leader, TFE's, blog). It was another interesting idea so I read the two poems and got to work. Of the Hughes poems I had read 'The Thought-Fox' before but had never been particularly keen on it (or at least not as keen as everyone else...maybe something to do with Fox being my name...that can change your relationship to a word). 'The Horses' though - that appealed to me much I read it a few more times and let my mind gallop about with it for a while. All that talk in both poems of being up and awake when other people aren't around perhaps inevitably brought me right back to Raveworld (where I lived more or less completely from 1989-1997). It was very much a life lived at night and a few years back I wrote about this period a lot (often with a negative slant). Now more time has passed I feel a lot better disposed to it all than I did - I can even remember some of the joy and exhilaration...and hence some of the reasons we all got into it in the first place. 

Some of the references in the following poem won't mean much to you if you missed the house music/nightclub/rave explosion of that time (for example Americans Masters at Work are dance music producers/DJs/remixers and British band Brothers in Rhythm had a couple of big cheesey records called things like 'Peace and Harmony') but we all drop our own nonsense into poems and that's part of what keeps it all interesting. I suppose in places you might think this poem is in bad taste...but it's really not meant to be (I see it more as a kind of celebration). In particular I didn't mean to bring Sylvia Plath into it (I really didn't – it's like the worst of crimes!) but I'm afraid in she came ( she's never been away). You must remember though that although I mention poets who were once real living people this poem is really not about them as's more about their myths (and lots of other things too). It's the freest free verse I've written in a while...but I guess that goes with the subject matter (generally I find form and content do find each other quite naturally). I apologise for the swear words and drug references (neither big nor clever) but I'm afraid, once again, it was very much part of it all and keeping it clean and tidy would not have been right at all. But enough intro, here it is (audio version here too):

Set text fever 

Night time is the right time, 
The time to change direction, 
The time to shake your measly body, 
Like you've never shaken anything before. 


And honey, I don't care who you are, 
How important, how seminal, 
When the night call comes, 
You will respond, 
You will leave your daytime 
(Don't you know who I am?) 
Bullshit at home, 
Put on the most ridiculous outfit, 
Cram yourself in with the masses, 
Sweat like a bastard,
And lose yourself, 
Yes, you will lose yourself,
 In the dark.

Take old Phil Larkin over there,
He is going for it big time, 
He has finally removed that damn suit and tie, 
Taken off those infernal glasses, 
And look, 
He has set himself free, 
Free, free, freer than free, 
It's beautiful to watch really, 
He is grooving, totally grooving, 
I think he might even be 
Communicating with the bottom of his soul, 
And whilst you wouldn't normally have him down 
As a guy for leather shorts and nipple rings, 
People can surprise you,
And there he is now,
Reaching for the higher plane, 
Finding his happy place, 
Dancing on a podium, 
With poppers up his nose. 

And check Sylvia (the sweetheart), 
She is smiling like you've never seen her, 
One ecstasy tab short of a hospital visit, 
She's right out there, flying, 
I bumped into her just now in the toilet 
And she grabbed my bare arm tight and said, 
 'This is so extreme I don't think I can get any higher', 
And I just hugged her, 
We all did, 
We told her that we loved her,
That we always will, whatever, 
And that she should rave to the grave, baby, 
Rave to the grave. 

But it's hard for her because just look at Ted go, 
He is the king of the jungle, 
The ruler of the beasts, 
The man to end all men, 
No DJ can get near him,
With that huge frame, 
That thick mane, 
He is the Master at Work, 
The Brother in Rhythm, 
Standing in the middle of the dancefloor, 
Barechested and vibrating, 
With his arms outstretched, 
His fingers pointing at something somewhere 
That none of us can see, 
And he is howling, 
Full and hard like a wild creature 
(You can't hear him for the music 
But somehow we all feel it), 
He is howling like a wolf 
That wants to eat and live,
High on life, 
Starlight barking, 
He is howling, 
At the moon, 
At the earth, 
At the night. 

RF 2009 

So you see...another very different poem this week. I suppose there is a gentle 'deathly serious one week/bit more light-hearted the next' rhythm to my output but that's about all I can see in terms of regularity. If you want to read my other Monday poems so far here are the links: Week 1 (and please remember this one was written in five minutes...that was the task). Week 2 Week 3 Week 4 Everyone else's Monday poems to date can all be found via Totalfeckineejit's blog. He's like a one man PoetrySocietyAcademy (or something). And he's no eejit. x

Friday, 25 September 2009

Thursday, 24 September 2009

Bad case of life...

Anyone not listened to the Don Paterson interview at the Guardian site yet? It's worth a listen...even if the interviewer has got that wobble to her voice which says 'oo, I really like him so I'm going to witter on and talk a bit of nonsense' (and that's not an insult to her...I have been an interviewer remember...).

p.s. Hope - you'll like it for the Scottish accent if nothing else.


Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Never mind Bruce, try this one

I know the Monday Poem this week was set off by Bruce Springsteen's 'Home Town' in theory but I have to admit that as I listened to that song another one with 'town' in the title started to play louder and clearer in my head as I worked my way towards a poem. It was this song (can't embed it, sorry). The song is 'Our Town' performed by the tremendous Yorkshire lass Kate Rusby (and I have posted about her before). Here she is - unbelievably pretty as well as talented...not that any of us cerebral types care about looks...

If you're interested you can see/hear the same song performed by its writer Iris DeMent (here). I prefer the Rusby version but then I heard hers first and that often happens with a song, doesn't it?

Off to walk the dog in glorious Angus September sunshine now. Fields, woods, all the space of the country – who needs towns anyway?


Monday, 21 September 2009

Monday poem – here we go again

Post on holiday.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

So close

I would SO like to post my Monday poem now and then go to bed early. It's been a busy, tiring weekend and I know tomorrow will be a bit useless (plus Monday mornings can be a little messy at the best of times). But I won't...I'll be a good girl and wait till it's officially Monday in this part of the world before I post it. And so you see...sometimes I can obey rules.



Friday, 18 September 2009

Weekend colour

We're off to a friend's wedding this weekend but here's a bit of local colour while we're gone - the rowan tree in our front garden to be precise. It's lost a lot of the berries from the top now (to hungry birds) but the lower branches are still pretty laden. It really is a beautiful tree.

See you back on Monday for the you-know-what poem.


Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Art people

Anyone in Edinburgh at the end of this month? How about you go and see this exhibition at the Dundas Street Gallery (26th Sept- 2nd October)?

Kim Canale is a Montrose artist who spends a huge amount of time promoting other people's work. This time however the show features her own paintings alongside work by Mauro Betti, an Italian artist showing his work in the UK for the first time. Go, look, enjoy, say I said 'hi'.


Monday, 14 September 2009

Monday Poem – and of all the songs in all the world...

So it's time for another Monday poem project (thanks to the literary kingpin that is TFE). We've had the five minute poem and the person in a café poem and this week the exercise goes a little something like this (I've pared the instructions down a bit):

- Take a piece of music (one you love or that means a lot to you..).
- Listen to it
- Write something.

When I first read this brief I wondered what music I might pick (I have been a huge music fan since I can remember so there was a lot of material to cast my mind over). I looked up at the CD shelves for inspiration but nothing seemed to be calling out from there so I carried on with normal duties - collected Girl from school, walked dog - and it was whilst doing the latter that a song flew into my head with 'use me' taped to its intro. I had hoped for something perhaps just a tiny bit cool but it was not to be. The song that came into my head (almost of its own accord) was this one:

As you can see...not really very cool...unless we're getting into that 'so uncool it's cool' territory (and I've been there a lot recently – start here and there's plenty more where that came from...). Anyway this particular song, as I'm sure many of you know, is 'Don't it make my brown eyes blue' sung by Crystal Gayle (younger sister of Loretta Lynn – I never knew that). The song (usually described as 'pop country' and lyrics here) was a hit in the UK in 1977 and was written by a bloke called Richard Leigh. The title is kind of poetic when you think about it...and I really like the song (whatever kind of music it is) even after all this time. I remember listening to it most a bit after 1977...probably something more like 1981... and in particular on our local commercial radio station in Middlesbrough back then (Radio Tees) whilst hanging about in my bedroom (in between bouts of my main teenage pastime which was of course getting into serious trouble). In that period I listened mainly to heavy rock/metal with friends (it was the North East of England...there was a lot of rockin' going on) but like many people I was more open-minded on my own at home and listened to all kinds of sounds (rock, metal, pop, disco, funk, my brothers' LPs, my Mum's LPs, all kinds of radio...).

Anyway, back to this week's job. Once the song for this project had chosen itself I listened to it a few times and then I sat myself down, honey, and I wrote this little ol' poem (sorry, country music does this to a person apparently...). I tried not to write a rhyming poem but I'm afraid that matter seems to have been out of my hands too. It's very, very different to last week's Monday poem...and the week before's too. And that's good, isn't it? Here it is – hope y'all like it. I've recorded it as an audio file too (here) – it just seemed to be asking for sound.

Crystal clear

Here we are, one and all, in an '80s teenage bedroom
It's best not to picture it, horrors galore
Ugly, ill-chosen, stupid plastic furniture
Duvet cover from hell, scruffy posters, eyes sore
And under the bed, with the dustballs and rubbish
Two curious magazines from a holiday find
We wanted romance when we went Spanish shopping
We got prose porn but in the end didn't mind

The centre of the room is a box that looks empty
A funny old thing, handed down from a Gran
It's a radio (burgundy) only plays FM
It can take you away like no other box can
Even the local commercial stations
Though their drone and their drivel can feel like a bind
At fourteen I handle the endless pop music
The gardening phone-ins, crap chat, I don't mind

The voices tell stories of what is still waiting
Comforting sounds and a background to new
And once in a while there's a call that comes clearer
Like a gal singing 'don't it make my brown eyes blue'
For a few minutes all there is is that piano
That song like a bell, ringing joy (but resigned)
And even though my eyes are green and so useless
I can sit, love the song, sing along, I don't mind

RF 2009

Now I wonder what music everyone else has chosen...


Sunday, 13 September 2009

Sunday night

Tomorrow the Monday Poem (very exciting...mine's all done and will be posted in the morning). In the meantime go and read this if you want to see the latest (fantastic) press coverage for the Montrose National Poetry Day event on October 9th.

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

Anna Dickie's "Heart Notes"

There's no way of knowing whose poetry will stick in your head once you've read it. Sometimes it is the work of a poet you consider to be one of your well-loved favourites that does the trick and that's good in a way because it's reassurance that you do like what you think you like and therefore you're not a complete idiot (hurray!). Other times the words that stick are the work of someone (met or unmet) who you really don't like (for a variety of reasons) and that's good too...really, it is! It means you are challenging your own assumptions and your tired old sense of self - plus it means you really are still open to new things and not a boring old stick-in-the-mud (hurray again!). Then there is another possibility - sometimes the work that grabs you has been written by someone you really don't know at all. Maybe this writer doesn't have a high profile (national or international) or maybe you don't know them personally or socially in any sense. Whatever and whoever they are it's a very simple matter - their words and forms just do that magic thing (they speak to you, they work for you, they switch things on in your head).

I suppose reading Anna Dickie's "Heart Notes" (Calder Wood Press 2008) fits the latter category for me. Anna is a fellow blogger (she blogs as Apprentice) and she lives south of here (but on the same east coast of Scotland) but I haven't had a huge amount of communication with her on this system (at least not until recently). I've seen her name at Barbara Smith's, at Colin Will's (he's her publisher and friend, I think) and probably at a few other places but I don't really know her at all. Colin introduced us at the annual poetry rollercoaster that is StAnza this year but it was in the Poets' Market and it was busy and noisy and it's hard to meet people for the first time in a place like that and get beyond a 'hello, lovely to meet you' (and really it's more awkward than lovely...). I picked up 'Heart Notes' then but I couldn't read it properly in that kind of environment plus I'm afraid a rose on the cover is a put-down rather than a pick-up for me (hard to explain issue...) so picking it up was as far as I got that time. Anna is a marvellous photographer so this is no critical comment on her cover image – just to do with my tastes really. Here is the cover while we're on the subject.

So what next, rambler? Well, then some time went by and Anna and I had some communication and I offered (as I do) a book swap and she said 'yes'. You might be interested to know that only one writer has ever ignored such a request and no-one has ever said no. Even some quite fancy big-name types have agreed to it so it's always worth asking I think. So we swapped and she got my badly behaved poems and I got her book with the rose on the front. And what did I make of it? Why, friends, I fell in love with it. Bits of it are in me now, stuck in my head, fighting for space. I think I might even like roses more now too.

So what do I like about this book/chapbook/pamphlet? Firstly please remember that I have no pretensions or desire to be a poetry critic - in this context I am a reader, plain and simple and that's all I want to be. Poetry criticism puts me to sleep on the whole (though I have tried really hard to keep awake whilst reading it). To me it so often rips the heart out of good writing (while it's trying really hard to show you where it is). It's a strange business.

Anyway. Back to "Heart Notes"...and my 'written in the style of a ten year old' thoughts on it.

I like the first poem, "Flown", which is a delicious note to a just-left-home son with two words that I love ('cauliflower' and 'cheese') in the first line. The poem is unpretentious, funny, gentle and so packed with love and care (for boy and for words) that it makes my heart bang when I read it. 'Heart notes' indeed. Off to a great start.

I like food...a great deal...and there's a lot of it in this book so I'm in luck. Anna starts with the cauliflower cheese but then moves on through wild berries, a honeymoon marinade, candyfloss, some wild garlic...Best to have a snack to hand when you read it. Just in case.

I don't like gardening (my Mum says I will eventually...) but Anna does (she's even going to be on a gardening TV programme soon – see here). All I can say is that if anything will convert me to gardening it might be Anna's poem "Ordering Chaos, Playing God". The last two lines are particularly good (and I'm not going to tell you what they'll have to go and find the whole poem).

I like limpets...the whole shape and idea of them...and Anna has a terrific limpet=the narrator poem on page 18 called "Fixture" (great title too). It would make a good postcard - in fact lots of these poems would. Scottish Poetry Library...are you listening?

I like quiet dogs and the dogs in this book are often present but are always...reserved...observing...quiet. Good dogs.

I like the poem "Light Fantastic" (p.23) that's about dancing, 'in boots', in a wood, on your least I think she's on her own...she does say:
'No-one watches, not the bored dog,
or the surprised roe deer.'
(Told you the dogs were quiet). Now would I be right in thinking that lots of readers of this blog are prone to the odd bout of booted, lone wood-dancing? Or that lots of readers of this blog would be prone to such activity given half a chance? Yes, I thought so.

I like clever use of language. To get a poem (like "Still" – page 27) to (I suppose) breathe new life into the phrase 'still life' is admirable. I read...and admire. I think 'that's clever, that is'. And it is.

I like gentleness...more and more...and that's handy because "Heart Notes" is a book of gentle thoughts very carefully expressed. It is 'Nordic dots' of lonely geese, it is tending 'the down-at-heel', it is the 'soft, sedimentary slab' of Jewish gravestones in Prague. The subject matter is vast but the approach is always focussed, clear and somehow concerned with showing and sharing.

I should say that there are one or two things I'm not so sure about (in the interests of balance). For example, I'm really not sure about the last line of "Untouched" (page 25). The poem ends on a question and the sound and nature of it make me uncomfortable. Has she spoilt a very good poem with that last line? And then I think...well, feeling uncomfortable...that's not such a bad thing is it? Do we want all poems to make us comfortable? (Surely not.) Don't I do all kinds of weird things in my lay-outs and poetry choices that no doubt make lots of other poets uncomfortable? You bet...sometimes I can hear them writhing and groaning even from miles away. I'd better shut up and move on then, hadn't I..? Er, yes.

And so to finish. I think all poetry reviews (even ones written by ten year olds) should include a complete poem and one of my very favourite poems in "Heart Notes" is "Transported" so, with Anna's permission, I will reproduce the whole thing here. A lot of poems have been written about being in hospitals or doctors' waiting rooms, about illness and facing death but still Anna (who has written on the blog and in poetry about her encounter with cancer) manages to do something quite perfect with it all here.


I'm early – I'd be early for my own execution.
Killing time I choose three secondhand books
of poetry to rehome from the shelves at Shelter,
then I wander off to wait my turn.

In the corridor I step back to allow a trolley by
and my eyes smart as a bald woman,
curled up in the foetal position,
gets eaten by the lift.

Surrendering my appointment card
I take a seat, as ever the room's crammed
with silent women. Eyes look past eyes
until I remember the books. I'm laughing along
with Wendy Cope when my name's called.

The rest was just routine.

Anna Dickie

You can buy "Heart Notes" from Calder Wood Press ('Sales' page).


Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Cloudy aside

Last week I watched a TV programme (that I'd recorded ages ago) called 'Cloudspotting'. It featured an interesting organisation (that probably started as a joke but is now huge) called The Cloud Appreciation Society. They have a website with a poetry page and today's poem is my one from TFE's five minute poem project from last week. Just so you know.


Monday, 7 September 2009

Monday poem (community project...)

I tell you - this is not for the faint-hearted! Last week TFE gave us the five minute poem challenge and now this week the new Monday poem project ('to sit in a cafe and write a poem/prose piece about someone else in the cafe'). When I read the assignment I started writing something and then left it lying about upstairs for a few days. Then today I thought 'eek! Finish that poem!' And so I have...much very quick fiddling has gone on...and here it is.

One of three

There are three at the table
But the smallest and youngest
And most obviously female
Sits apart, just so slightly
Off to one side, quite elsewhere

Her thoughts play out loose and long
Her eyes a picture painted
With lights lost at ends of days
Her feet swinging so gently
To a beat no-one else knows

She reads with twitches and turns
Processes data deftly
Saves, saves, throws away rarely
Meanwhile her hair sits pretty
Doing nothing, making smiles

With more space she would scribble
Write names, numbers, meanings
Work out links and miracles
Now she looks for the others
They are there, yes, always there

RF 2009


Saturday, 5 September 2009

Auchmithie day

Auchmithie is a small coastal village perched high on a cliff, just a few miles north of Arbroath in North East Scotland. When we first moved to Scotland in 2002 we lived there for two years (right on the cliff - pretty amazing after years in landlocked West Yorkshire, England). We still have friends in Auchmithie and go back to visit often (it's not that far away). It really is a beautiful place - quite special.

Every September the village organises a wee festival called the HAAR (Heritage Arts Auchmithie Residents - 'not to be mist') which consists of all sorts of activities. There are historical reenactments of life in Auchmithie when it was a working fishing village, races for children carrying dummies of fishermen (to recall the days when women would carry the men out to their boats - to keep their feet dry), exhibitions by local artists and lots of opportunities to eat fish and/or tea and scones.

We spent much of today in Auchmithie helping artist friends to man their in-the-home exhibition, selling books and postcards and also just enjoying the day out. Here are a few very on-the-hop amateur shots of some of the happenings. It's a small but very friendly festival and comes highly recommended.

Mrs Annie Gilruth, a formidable former resident of the village, played with gusto by current local Ann Craig.

More reenactment (with seaview).

An important part of the very popular fisher wedding - the washing of the bride-to-be's feet!

The wedding procession sets off towards the village church. In the old days they would have had to walk a lot further - all the way to St Vigean's Church several miles away.

Outside the village church - the end of today's festivities (but then they're all back on Sunday for a church service, a more challenging race down on the beach for older residents and a family barbecue).


Thursday, 3 September 2009

Old news, new news

I don't write a lot about current affairs on here - there are many people far better qualified or informed on most subjects and you can read or hear their words about news (and olds) at plenty of elsewheres. I do watch the news though...some of the time...and the other night I saw this report about the child survivors of the Beslan school hostage crisis (five years on). It's a pretty amazing piece of TV - compelling, emotional, heartwrenching. I did wonder as I stared at it whether it was voyeuristic too...and maybe it is but then that is the nature of TV. We watch.

Ever since I watched this one the programme has been following me around (the faces, the words, their lives). I advise that you only watch it if you are prepared to have it follow you around too. It's haunting.


Wednesday, 2 September 2009

So much to do...

And now I'm almost quoting myself in post headings...that will never do. Anyway...I have got a lot to do so on with it!

Firstly I need to tell you about a new page I've just set up where you can find information about the poetry events that I am organising/have organised/will organise (like the one for National Poetry Day this year). The page is called Brilliant Poetry and it's here. I named it with this October's event (and McMillan and Vettese) in mind and it was only afterwards that I realised it might look like I am saying my poetry is brilliant too (because I have also included info about last year's Forest/Edinburgh event on the page and I was part of that). Oh I look like a raging egotist. Never mind. I've been called worse things.

Secondly I need to get on with that task set by Titus (the one that says "Collect the book that you have most handy, turn to page 161, find the 5th complete sentence, and cite the sentence on your blog."). Here's the book I picked up:

"Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry" - edited by Douglas Dunn. To be honest there were other books closer but as they were thinner poetry books they didn't go up to page 161 and so were no use in this instance. I had this book nearby because it has three poems by Raymond Vettese (one of my featured poets for the "National Poetry Day - Plus One" event) and I needed to make sure I got the anthology details right for a press release. There are plenty of poets I'm a fan of in the book too (Don Paterson, Jackie Kay, Tom Leonard, Liz Lochhead, Edwin Muir) plus all the well-known Angus women poets of the early part of the century (Violet Jacob, Marion Angus, Helen.B.Cruickshank) plus lots of poets that I know many of you are big fans of (Norman MacCaig, Ivor Cutler, Edwin Morgan, George MacKay Brown, Mick Imlah). There's all sorts. But page 161...that's W.S.Graham (1918-86) and the end of a poem called 'The Children of Greenock'. The fifth complete sentence is:

" It saw the neighbour
Fear them housed in her walls of blood."

So now you know (and I never pass on tasks to lists of other people, sorry, I always just say the same...if you feel like doing this, be my guest). Maybe some of you are experts on W.S.Graham and can offer words of wisdom (always welcome!). Maybe one of you can find the whole poem on-line (I can't see it right now). If anyone is desperate for the whole poem I might type it up at a later date.

And now I must go and finish all the other things I have to do! Well after I've read this article about language by Johann Hari in the Independent newspaper today.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

5 minute poem

I didn't think I was going to take part in this. I forgot last night (caught up in household tasks) but this afternoon I had a go (just now in fact). So here it is...and it really did take five minutes so no harsh judgments please!

Five minutes about clouds

Thinking about clouds
Can be stormy or calm
From the darkest of grey
To the softest of balm
Now your head's lost in fluff
And your smile is a charm
Then it's back to full gloom
And a sign marked 'alarm'

RF 2009