Saturday, 30 January 2010

News and heavy metal

First, the news...

Details of the next poetry & music event I'm organising are now up here. Go and have a look – it's all very exciting.

And speaking of poetry Dominic Rivron put up a poetry challenge thing last week (see how good I am with language...'thing' unexpected...) and I've been working on it a bit this week. I struggled with it to be honest – at one point I started to just hate words which is a totally new state for me...where poetry is concerned anyway...but it seems to have passed for now. The task was to go and listen to the track 'Ghost Road Berlin' over at this myspace page, to write as you listened, go away, fiddle a bit and then post the results. And my goodness have I fiddled! The music/sound on the track is fairly sparse and that was part of the problem I suppose but Dominic likes that kind of thing and I like him so I'm willing to give it a go. Here's the piece I came up with.

Heavy Metal

Deep in the ocean in an old diving suit
An aquatic astronaut with no sky to see
Dull boots on my feet to weigh me low
I'm waiting

Hanging by a rope to nowhere fast
Adrift for dead and falling by degree
I see no-one and the sea sees me
I'm looking

It could be an ocean or a giant's swimming pool
How would I know - no clues on me
Day upon day filled high with brine
I'm tired

Harsh metal noises – clunks and scrapes
I hear all wrong and I cling to free
My head rattles hard in its helmet jail
Still waiting

RF 2010

Go gently.

p.s. Photo above was looking out towards Scurdie Ness, by Montrose on 1st January this year.

Thursday, 28 January 2010


TFE's writing prompts are always so fruitful. I would say that the poems I've written to his prompts have been some of the best I've done in the last 6 months. Also he's such a good nudger...I think I've been wanting to write the poem below for ages, for example, but I only got round to it this week thanks to his latest idea.

This week TFE has Nuala Ní Chonchúir and her book 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car' at his blog (she was here last Friday or so, remember) and so he's asked us all to try and write something to the 'red car' theme. It's not something I would have thought of doing myself (cars have been a real problem to me in the last 10 years) but OK...he says 'do' I do. (Though it was only after writing the poem that I reread TFE's post and realised that the task was "have the words 'red car' in it"...mine only has 'red' and not 'car' but I can't change it now...and anyway what's a little rule-bending between friends?).

Luckily I had a red car once...back in the mid 1990s (back in the days when I drove regularly and with pleasure). Here's a tiny picture of one just like it (and yes, mine was that dirty too):

It was a Volvo 340, quite middle-of-the-road and staid and that was weird because this was during one of the very non-staid phases of my adult life (much clubbing, much madness, very little sleep). My DJ partner and I (for visuals of us back then see here and nip down a bit) used to turn up at the trendiest places in this very untrendy car and god knows what other people thought of us for it. I suppose in retrospect it was some kind of anti-fashion statement but I didn't really think about it at the time. It was just a car. It was cheap. We were never stopped by the police in it (though the fashion police...well...).

Anyway, here's the poem. There are several references in it that you won't get if you weren't around that particular clubscene at the time (Vague at the Leeds Warehouse) and really I suppose there are some references that only Daisy & Havoc will understand (that was me and her). It was a funny old time – wild and so many ways. The club was run by eejits with overblown senses of their own importance of course...but then what nightclub isn't? You can't have everything.

This poem's for Georgia.

Here come the girls (DJ memory mix)

It's the coolest club in town
And we arrive hot
And safe
Cushioned in red volvo
OAP sofas for seats

We slam the old boot down
Stride past the panting queue
And drop those metal boxes
To the cobbles with attitude

RF 2010


p.s. I would have posted a pic of my old record box at the top (covered in stickers and all that of course) but I can't find it to photograph. I think it may be buried in the garage somewhere (apt I suppose).

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Cara Cara

Last summer I wrote a little bit about the Irish singer Cara Dillon and her album 'Hill of Thieves'. I've been listening to that album again this week and I would have to say it is very much my favourite CD of last year. It is totally folk but with a very modern interpretation in places - at times it sounds like the album Kate Bush might have made if she'd ever gone Irish folkie (and that's a compliment, I assure you...Kate Bush is brill). Here's another song from 'Hill of Thieves' (and I picked this clip because some of the live ones cut off before the end or had poor quality sound). There is a link between this song and my last post too...not a very subtle one. It seems my passion for all things Irish continues apace too (and we had Irish-American John Doyle at the folk club last week and he was EXCELLENT!).


Sunday, 24 January 2010

Overdosed on messages

I can't believe I now have 12 different designs of poetry postcard - it seems a lot, doesn't it? I started years ago (early 2006 I think) with the first card ('The sisters said it best') and I've just recently had delivery of card designs numbers 11 and 12 (as well as some reprints of previous cards - sparkling new versions of 'Crowded out' and 'Save the trees'). Some of you (especially facebookers) already have copies of the new ones but here is card number 11 (or a suitably murky scan of it anyway):

This poem was part of a blog post not long ago (here) and many of you would have spotted the Joni Mitchell connection even before I mentioned it, right?

Card 12 is this one:

and it started as part of TFE's Monday poem project (back here).

Both cards are now up on the website too and anyone wanting to buy sets of all cards (now £4 per set of 12, incl P & P) can get them there (head to the postcard page at this site). If you want to buy individual cards (a few or in bulk) just email me at the usual address ( I am very reasonable...well, unless you park on the school crossing and then I am a total nightmare. All cards are recycled card, as ever.

I haven't got round to stocking up all usual outlets (or looking for new's been January) but the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh has all 12 designs and it's a nice place to visit anyway.


p.s. Forgot to mention that last week at A Cuban in London's place I did say that anyone who bought a book this week would get a free set of cards too. It's a January special offer, you know.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Hot wheels

There are a lot of writers online – on blogs, facebook and all that – and some of those writers are, we must admit it, simply better than others. It's always hard to back up that 'better' of course (and I'm not going to get into that one right now) but still, I think you know what I'm talking about - some people are just brilliant. I'd have to say that, for me, Ireland's Nuala Ní Chonchúir, is one of those people.

I really only learned about Nuala last year (and still, I'm ashamed to say, I have no idea how to pronounce her surname – some linguist, huh?). The first I knew of her was mentions of her short story collection 'Nude' online and then I bought that book and was absolutely knocked over by it. I don't read short stories all the time but I have read my share over the years and I would say (and have said before) that 'Nude' is as good as short story writing gets (for me). The stories are quite simply sharp, sizzling and sumptuous. In fact just thinking about them makes me want to read the whole collection again (and I will...before too long).

I then found out that Nuala wrote poetry too (and has a novel out later this year...some people!). But the poems couldn't be as good as the stories, could they? That just wouldn't be fair! Well, her new book of poems is 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car' (Templar Poetry). And is it good? Oh yes. Yes, yes and yes. Here are a handful of observations about it:

It is only 24 poems...several of them quite tiny...but each poem has a fairly huge punch hidden about its personage somewhere.

Like her short stories, these poems are pumping with bold images and deep, passionate emotions. Lots of people try to write like this but few really manage it.

Quite a lot of the poems in this book make you feel as though someone has given you a great big, (in some ways) painful life injection. But in a good way.

Anyone could read this book and understand it (well most of it...enough of it). And I know that isn't always important but it's still worth mentioning, I think.

Nuala writes about what you might call women's subjects (pregnancy, childbirth, lack of pregnancy, periods...yes period blood...still shameful to mention after all these years!) and about other shared physical subjects (like sex) in a way few poets can and/or do. She is a writer for women to feel proud of and for both men and women to learn from. And yes, you can learn from poetry. You can learn from anything if you try hard enough.

And next, with all permissions, I'd like to share with you a poem from her new book. I wouldn't say it's typical of the book in any sense (because it's a very varied collection) but it is one of the slighter poems and one of the softer ones too. I am aware too that just the title is probably enough to make some people wince (men who don't like to know details of our grimness, women who hate the idea of women 'writing about women's issues'...) but I think poets can and should write about everything...somehow, some time, somewhere...


Before the butterfly days
are the fly days,
and before those,
the days of the spiders,
and along with them
come the waiting days.
The mind asks the body
if it is happening,
invisible and unseen,
a cell-dividing miracle.
The answer comes
on too many of these
long summer days,
drop by red drop.

From 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car' by Nuala Ní Chonchúir (Templar Poetry 2009)

And finally here is a mini-interview with Nuala. Three questions and three fine answers.

Q. 1. Which writing is closest to your heart - poems, stories or novel?
Hi Rachel and thanks for having me over for the second stop on my Red Car Virtual Tour. Even though I am touting a poetry pamphlet just now, I’d have to say that short fiction is the form closest to my heart. As a writer – and as a reader – stories are what get my heart racing. I love how they can be absurd or moving in content, adventurous with language, and that they often contain a vast landscape within a small space. They are such gems when done well.
I love poetry too and I find when I am in a poetry-writing phase, I read a lot more of it and wonder why I don’t do that constantly.
I grew up on novels and am usually grazing on one; currently the rather brilliant writing of Zoë Heller.

Q.2. How would you react to a word like 'brave' if it was used to describe your writing?
Brave? I guess I’d like that. As a woman writer and as a feminist I’m aware how important it is that women’s direct experiences of life be aired. If by sticking my neck above the parapet (however slightly) I then make it easier for another woman to do the same, that’s a good thing. Poets Sharon Olds and Eavan Boland, and fiction writer Edna O’Brien have all done that for me – their candidness inspired my own. As writers who are also mothers/lovers/daughters/friends/workers it is important that we reflect life as lived by women, I feel.
A lot of the poems in 'Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car' can be described as confessional, as they deal with aspects of my life including marriage breakdown, fertility issues etc. Personally I love to read poetry that comes from real experience; it usually has more humanity and feeling in it.

Q. 3. What book (by someone else) have you most recommended to others (friends, family, other writers, students...) in the past 5 years? And why? 

Probably 'Silk' by Alessandro Baricco, a beautiful novella translated from Italian. It is ostensibly about one man’s impossible love affair, but it’s really about his wife’s strength and intelligence.
Why do I recommend it? Because it is gorgeously well written and it’s a real story, with layers and motifs. I also love its fairytale-like quality.

Thanks for lovely questions, Rachel, and for having me at More about the Song. Next Friday the 29th January I am at Total Feckin’ Eejit’s blog. Maybe some of your readers might join me there.

Portrait of the Artist with a Red Car is available to buy for £4.50/€6 at Templar Poetry. Nuala blogs at Women Rule Writer.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Two quick notes

This'll be quick.

First off there's a lovely review of a book you might know over at a Cuban in London. For anyone visiting from there 'More about the song' is available from my website or from

And secondly the answer to that poem title TV quiz the other day was 'NYPD Blue'. Apparently 'Don't squeeze my shoes' is New York cop language (or it was) for 'don't hassle me, man!'

Back on Friday with a visitor from Ireland...


Sunday, 17 January 2010

The other foot

I imagine there might be one or two people who found the last post just too lovey-dovey for words. If you're single (and not necessarily thrilled about it) hearing about other people's fantastic loving relationships is really just about the last thing on your 'fun stuff to do' list (if I remember rightly...). So here's the other side of the record, if you like, a piece of writing about not being able to find Mr/Mrs/Ms/Miss Right.

I wrote the piece below a few years back - partly about some of my own past and partly because I know quite a few lovely, desirable people who have really not had a love in their adult lives that has been in any way worthy of them (OK it's not headline news but it is something that bothers me because I like to think that everyone can have at least one really good love in a lifetime...even if it doesn't last 'forever'...even if it isn't perfect). The piece started (as the name suggests) as a song without a tune. Then it had a tune for a while (and it made a lovely song, if I do say so myself). But then (for reasons I can't go into now) it lost its tune again and it is currently looking for a new one. So anyone up for giving it a go? Dominic – you there? Anyone else? I'd love to hear it sung again.

Love song without a tune

There’s a hole in my hearth
Where the fire should be
My guitar’s short a string
Is it G, D or E?
My music’s too lonely
It sings a sad song
And sad can be tiresome
When it goes on this long

There’s a gap in my life
There’s no lace in my shoe
Cos I’ve plenty of stuff
But I can’t find a you

I’ve no warmth in my bed
It’s a double for one
No surprise in my cornflakes
The food without fun
There’s a huge gaping hole
Where my loved one should be
I’ve a big full hot teapot
But no two for tea


I’m not a bad person
I have love to share
But I can’t find a taker
And I’ve looked everywhere
So the hearth remains cold
And the bed just the same
I’d find you much quicker
If I just knew your name


RF 2007

And shoes make another appearance in this you'll notice (which all makes me wonder if I have a shoe fetish I don't know about...). Guesses still coming in for the title of the poem in the last post you know your US TV?


Thursday, 14 January 2010

A poem finds its feet

This post is something cheerful for January...a happy tale about another of my older poems and how it recently had a trip out (and even a moment or two in the sun).

Quite a few years ago now I started putting poems straight onto my website (well, I say "I"...obviously this is the royal "I"...i.e. me and the ever-faithful/marvellous tech support). I didn't put absolutely everything up on the site but I did put quite a lot of poems (about 200 at last count). I split them up into various different sections (by theme, loosely) so any casual passers-by could find their way around and not be put off by just a HUGE list of poem titles. The sections are: circle of life, distress and recovery, little poems, love, modern world, occasions, other people, Scottish interest, seeing and believing, songs and singing, wild years and writing (if you're interested).

The ones I put up are all still there though mostly they're poems I wrote between 1997 and about 2007. More recently I've just had other priorities (this blog, the book, the postcards) and so I haven't kept updating the site (if I had it would be more like 300 poems by now). I know putting poems up (for free) on a website isn't the way everyone would do it (I know, for sure, that it is not the proper poetry way to proceed) but it seemed like an obvious thing to do to me. After all I want people to find the poems...and when I say "people" I really do mean anybody (and the internet is about as accessible and anybodyable as it far). So I put the poems up there and then I got on with everything else (more writing, some promoting, more writing and so on). And there they sat – mooching, daydreaming, possibly even picking their noses (and by now you might be wondering where I'm going with this ramble...).

Well, one poem that is up on the site (and has been for a while) is a love poem called 'Don't squeeze my shoes' (stored in the 'love' section, suitably enough). Here it is:

Don't squeeze my shoes

A love, like shoes, must feel just right
Not too loose and not too tight
Not too high or far too low
And if you're young have room to grow
It must look good with any clothes
It must be kind, not pinch your toes
It must last well and not wear through
It must be just the thing for you
The style you choose, however strange
Must show ability to change
To cope with rains and frosty morns
To help you dodge bunions and corns
Your love must fit and not break banks
It must not always expect thanks
It should be happy being there
The chosen one, the happy pair

RF 2007

I wrote it a few years ago (and can't even remember now what prompted it really) but I do know I read it once at the folk club and then put it away because I figured I'd probably never be able to do much with it. For a start it rhymes in that straightforward bang-bang way that I like to play with now and again (and therefore it doesn't stand a chance in most poetry competitions, journals and so on). Also it is, I suppose, a bit sentimental (and heck, that's crime of the century in Poetry World...cause for angry cries of 'Hallmark' and so on...) but I have thought about this and, you know, I have written plenty of bleak, fragmented and hopeless poems too so I don't see why I have to be limited in this particular direction. Finding true love is a big deal and it really is something to be happy about (and indeed possibly even sentimental if the mood takes you). Plus I like bits of this poem (the 'however strange' is the key to it I wouldn't get that in a greetings card). Anyway, there it was on the site for a couple of years - feeling a bit unloved perhaps...and waiting...

...waiting for a person called Jennie, apparently. Jennie bought some of my postcards (and my book, I think) at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh some time ago. She liked them (hooray!), she bought more cards (double hooray!) and presumably at some point she went cruising around the website too (I've never met her so I'm just guessing). Then at the very end of 2009 Jennie got married (to Brandon) and guess which poem they chose to have read out at their wedding? That's shoes one! And just think how happy it was to be set free from cyberspace after all that time...and even better they carried on the theme and had a lovely photo taken of their shoes on the big day:

Thanks to their photographers Edinburgh-based Blue Sky Photography for the above (and there are other pics here for any photography/wedding junkies amongst you).

Now didn't I tell you it was a cheerful story? Thanks Jennie - for reading and for giving this poem a life of its own.

p.s. Anyone who knows which TV series I got the poem's title from...maybe I'll find you a prize. Don't worry though, reader - I promise not to marry you!


Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Seeing green

We've had a thaw here in the last twenty four hours after three weeks of solid white snow and ice (it's not been particularly deep compared to some places but it's been a lot more snow and ice than we used to all the same). For the last week or so I was starting to long to see green again...and so I thought I'd post this old poem. On my website it has the date 2005 but that's only when the site was first up because I know I wrote it years before that (in fact it's number 11 in my book of 'all poems ever' so it must have been a while ago). It's not about weather (that much is fairly obvious...I wrote it around the time when I was low, low, low a lot of the time) but it's still relevant in its way.

It is old so I suppose I could rewrite it and tidy it and make it more well-behaved as a poem. But does that sound like the way I behave? Never!


This colour

Are you
Low in mood
In the pits
Below blue
Down where it's kind of
Or blue times blue
Where it's bluer than
You can imagine
On the days when
Other colours
Can still be seen
Remember green anyone?
I see green
But I don't believe it
Now I think
No I am sure
That what looks like green
That grass that tree
That's merely blue in thin disguise
It looks like green because
Unbeknownst to us
We all wear yellow-tinted glasses
To hide the terrible truth
About blue

RF about 1997

Sunday, 10 January 2010


I didn't plan to post the questions in the last just sort of happened (story of my life...indeed most of our lives I suppose). Anyway after so many of you gave answers (or started thinking about them) I realised it was only fair to have a go myself. So here you are. Let the madness commence...

Do you think that you know yourself in any sense? Do you care? And if you don't care...why is that?

Sometimes I do think I know myself a bit. Other times I think I am totally in the dark. And I'm not sure which feeling I like best.
Yes, I care. It's not something I think about all the time but I do care. I am interested in people full stop so there's no reason why I can't be part of that general interest topic. For a start sometimes no-one else is around...and I have some quite good subject matter to investigate. My life has been anything but dull!

Do you like yourself much?

Sometimes I do. I would like to like myself a little more though...then I could think about something else (and stop worrying about all the things I've done or not done that have led me to not like myself as much as I might do!). Convoluted, moi?

What would you change about yourself if you could (and I'm talking personality...not physical changes)? And if there is something you would like to change...why haven't you just got on and changed it? What's stopped you?

I'd like to feel more confident, I think...that might surprise people who know me (because I'm confident at public speaking and things like that) but there are lots of areas where my confidence is really very low and I am working on those areas all the time. I don't talk about it too much (as a rule) because I think it can be a bit boring for other people. And I'm rarely wrong (which in itself is a curse...if I was just stupid this would be easy!).

When you look in a mirror do you smile or flinch ('s the concept of yourself that I'm thinking about here more than your physical attributes...though they may be linked)?

I neither smile nor flinch. I often think 'who the bloody hell is that? Oh, it's that person who keeps following me around!' (Really, I that a sign of some mental wouldn't be my first one).

Do you really treat people the way you'd like them to treat you? What always?*

I try. But some people are impossibly foul...and some are really annoying and selfish...and some just don't want you to be pleasant to them (so then of course being pleasant is exactly the way to annoy them!). People are my great happiness and my worst nightmare.

Do you think you've contributed anything positive to the societies that you've lived in? Do you think that matters anyway?

Honestly...not much (and certainly not enough). I do what I can for immediate family and for people I know but I'm not sure I've done anything that's affected anyone or anything much beyond that (though I get some comments about poems along the 'that really meant something to me' lines but I'm not sure that'd be nice if it did). And yes, I do think positive contributions matter (even if that makes me sound like a Minister from 'In the Thick of it'). The whole thing is a bit of an ongoing conflict in my head (hence the question I suppose).

What do you find really, really difficult?

Lots of things...if I told you everything I'd be here all day (and night). Being in a big crowd in a small space is something I find quite difficult (makes me want to scream really, really loud). And I'm not very good at keeping my mouth shut when I get an urge to speak (but often I don't see that as a bad depends).

If you are a person who writes then why is that? Think about the reasons and which ones are the most significant to you (practising honesty to the point of death!).

Writing is so weird...these days it can sometimes seem that almost everyone either is (or wants to be) a writer of some kind...and this leads me to ask myself quite often why I am continuing with this oh-so overcrowded occupation/vocation/pastime. Why don't I take up embroidery or something? Why don't I set off for Everest (got to be back for school hometime, that's why)? And who would notice if I stopped writing? Might I not even feel better for spending more time on a less introverted activity? So why do I keep at it?

Boring (predictable?) answer
Everybody always says this but I have always written (diaries, articles, stories, about that order) and I find it odd when I don't. My head gets overfull. Bits start to fall out all over the place.

More specific answer
Once I started writing poetry regularly (in about 1997) it just felt right it suited my brain more than other kinds of writing. And now I just love writing poems (it's about that simple) and I especially love trying different forms and styles and subject matters. And I have had quite a lot of positive feedback.

Annoying, whingey, self-doubting answer
Sometimes when I'm thinking about giving it all up and spending all this time (like now!) doing something else there are people who say very nice things about my poems and 'no, no, no you should carry on' and then I think 'OK, maybe it is something I can do and I should stick at it'. But I do vacillate quite a seems kind of a selfish thing to be doing sometimes...but I've bored even myself a bit with the vacillating of late to the point that my resolution this year is to shut up with the vacillating and just get on with some work! Really. You might not think so reading the blog thus far, eh?

Answer I'd rather avoid
How much of a person's reason for writing is about the approval and possibly even adoration they might get as a result (if things go really, really well)? Too much? Any at all? Oh come on...if you really look close? I come across writers (not well-known ones particularly) who talk an awful lot about 'the work' but who (I'm pretty sure) are really far more interested than they'd like to admit in the possibility of ardent fans one day regularly hanging on their every word...of becoming someone whose opinion means something. And then thinking about that I feel a sense of I have some of that in me? Is it all (or even just partly) about some pathetic need for...verification? Oh bloody hell that would just be so stupid! Plus it would mean I wouldn't be able to like myself very much at all and we'd be back to number 2! Circles, circles, ever increasing circles of nonsense, you see...

And now you see why I wasn't going to post my answers! What a bunch of overthought craziness. Sometimes I hate this bit of me that always wants to try and see the truth of things...

Anyway, let's have a song to change the mood. I absolutely LOVE English soul singer Beverley Knight (her voice, her performances and style anyway...some of her songs are... better than others). She was on the quiz show 'Celebrity Mastermind' this week and did brilliantly (and came up with a beautiful definition of soul the intro) – attagirl! Here's an old clip of BK on Jools Holland (and wouldn't you just love to sing like that, to look that good on stage?). I think in my best dreams I am a fantastic soul singer with a body to die for. And then I wake up.

This clip is a bit the heavy metal end of soul music. I think it's headbangingly good.


Friday, 8 January 2010

Better to be true?

The two lines that hang around in my head most from the poem in the last post are these:

'It's horrible to know yourself
But better to be true'

I think about them quite a bit because although they look kind of simple (and they are simple) they are also fairly tricky at the same time. It is perhaps a bit of a counselling-culture obsession (trying to know yourself) and many people (especially some writers, I'm sure) would say it's impossible, a waste of time, a simplistic nonsense...but then sometimes the harder or more impossible something is the more we want to do it (don't we?). Do we give up that easily? Are we wimps?

So, rather than a long post (all about me...) all I'm going to post today is a series of questions. You don't have to answer any of them here...really they're just things to think about...but what I really don't want are quick, smart answers that mean nothing (hell, I could come up with them myself). So here you are...have a think on some of these:

Do you think that you know yourself in any sense? Do you care? And if you don't care...why is that?

Do you like yourself much?

What would you change about yourself if you could (and I'm talking personality...not physical changes)? And if there is something you would like to change...why haven't you just got on and changed it? What's stopped you?

When you look in a mirror do you smile or flinch ('s the concept of yourself that I'm thinking about here more than your physical attributes...though they may be linked)?

Do you really treat people the way you'd like them to treat you? What always?*

Do you think you've contributed anything positive to the societies that you've lived in? Do you think that matters anyway?

What do you find really, really difficult?

If you are a person who writes then why is that? Think about the reasons and which ones are the most significant to you (practising honesty to the point of death!).

OK, that will probably do for now. January always seems to have me in this tiresome, why-what-how mood (birthday approaching and other factors no doubt). It will pass. Bear with.**


*Sainthoods available on request.
**If you watched the BBC sitcom 'Miranda' this reference will mean something to you. Otherwise...not a chance.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010

Self-help, I need somebody...

Why do the newspapers fill with diets and how-to-change-your-life pieces every January? Don't they know (a) they're all doing the same thing, (b) we are not paying attention and (c) most likely we'll never change anyway? I guess they have to print something.

Anyway, here's my contribution on the subject (written some years ago and it's on the site and in the book). It rhymes in a most unfashionable* fashion (hurray!) but it's one that hangs around me all the same. One line in particular relates slightly to the last post (and not the most obvious line either). See how you get on with it.

Self-help shortcuts

Let's save the £14.99
And learn to cure ourselves
We'll save a heap of time as well
And have more room on shelves

So (1) let's eat a balanced diet
That's not just sweets and fat
(2) Let's get some sleep at night
And (3) let's buy less tat

(4) Let's work quite hard
But (5) not too much
(6) Make sure we have some fun
Some laughter, treats and such

(7) Let's get some exercise
But (8) not overdo it
(9) Live in the here and now
There should be nothing to it

(10) Let's like where we live
Or work to make that so
(11) Ditch that Joneses thing
Comparisons can go

(12) Look in the mirror now
And who's that gorgeous creature?
(13) We can live with us
A semi-permanent feature

(14) Let's not bottle up
And (15) work guilt through
It's horrible to know yourself
But better to be true

(16) We must find a love
And (17) explore sex fully
(18) We should not be bullied
Or (19) be the bully

(20) Let's find clothes that suit
(21) Be kind to skin
(22) Watch less telly
Go out more and stay in

(23) Enjoy music
It's so good for the spirit
(24) Read a poem now and then
It's not that painful is it?

And (25) if we must
Rot our bodies and our brains
With too much recreation
Then there will be (26) pain

(27) Read widely
But avoid the self-help bibles
(28) They're a waste of space
Not very reliable

(29) Don't take advice
From the dense and glossy quacks
(30) Life gives lessons free
Let's read our own hardbacks

RF 2006

*Well, I say 'unfashionable' but I suppose this may change...Don Paterson having a lot more bang-bang rhyme in his newest book 'Rain'. I'm reading 'Rain' now...that is not NOW now...NOW now I'm typing this...but about 5 minutes ago...upstairs. And yes, 'bang-bang rhyme' is a technical term. Didn't you know?


Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Foot or face?

In the past couple of months I have been wasting, er, I mean spending some time over on facebook here and there. I didn't really mean just happened (though I assure you I have not been getting involved with online mafia games or sending hugs or any of that nonsense). One thing I have not put on facebook though (until now) is my face (or a photo of said face). Just the fact that it's called 'facebook' made me almost allergic to putting my face on it somehow and so instead I went for feet...these feet from a few years ago (they are mine):

And thinking about this in turn reminds me of a poem by our lord Hugh McMillan (recorded back at the Forest place in Edinburgh in 2008):

Is he not the man?

But back to me...yesterday I decided to break all tradition (OK...slight exaggeration for dramatic effect) and post a face photo on facebook. I think maybe that at nearly 43 it is time to look myself in the somewhat tired face and see what's going on there. Here I am (brace yourselves):

This was taken last summer (back here in fact) and no, I don't have that tan anymore. Anyone remember summer?


Saturday, 2 January 2010

Bloody women poets

On New Year's Eve I spent hours in the kitchen preparing heaps of food. Like a lot of people I work much better in the kitchen with music or radio to keep me company and one thing I listened to the other day was Radio 4's Woman's Hour (I listen to it about four times a year...usually in the holidays). I managed to hit their end of the year poetry round-up special and you can hear it here until the morning of 7th January or thereabouts (if you're somewhere where the BBC i-player is accessible that is...).

It's a great programme – interviews with Jen Hadfield, Carol Ann Duffy, Sharon Olds and Alice Oswald as well as a few words on Elizabeth Alexander's Obama inauguration poem, a fair chunk of Sylvia Plath, a note about the Ruth Padel Oxford business...all this plus in-studio guests Fiona Sampson and Sarah Churchwell. It was all good stuff (though I especially enjoyed the Olds section and the contributions from Churchwell...I must be in an American mood just now).

Here's a quote or two from the programme...taken completely out of context, of course, and with punctuation put in by me (i.e. a bit slapdash – apologies to these no doubt highly professional women of perfect punctuation).

Carol Ann Duffy
“Poetry for me is a secular prayer”

Alice Oswald
“I do see poetry as a kind of music”

Fiona Sampson (editor of 'Poetry Review') on the subject of women critics/reviewers:
“Certainly there is a problem for women critics...that is to say there aren't many women critics in poetry and whether that's because criticism is somehow assumed to be macho and destructive (whereas in fact of course close reading can be extremely nurturing), or whether it's because critical practice is seen as somehow geeky and anoraky and sort of the engine room rather than the elegant liner of the beautifully finished creative task, or whether it's because there is quite a problem with women's authority (which I suggest is probably closer to the truth) or whether, fourthly, women are still more likely to multi-task and when they do actually have time away from earning their living and looking after the kids they want to be writing their own poems...for one reason or another at the moment, in the middle generation, there aren't many women critics.”

That last's interesting. I studied literature (not English Lit as it happens but it easily could have been) and I remember at uni thinking how life-draining lit crit was (particularly at that time – the late 1980s). I hated it because it seemed to me so often to be either deathly dull or overwhelmingly, and quite unnecessarily, overcomplicated and it quite likely put me off hanging around in literature at that time. Years later and back involved with the work of words, I do, every now and again, write about other poets' work on here but I couldn't be further from a person who wants to be a critic (and I suppose I am loosely of that 'middle generation' Sampson mentions...). I know reviews can be interesting and worthwhile (sometimes...maybe...) but it does often feel like life's too short to wade through...well, an ocean of them to find out for sure. often I feel that poetry doesn't really need reviews (or it shouldn't). A good poem is its own review...isn't it? That's one of the things I like about it (it can cut out the middle man, if you like).

It's worth listening to the whole programme if you can.


Friday, 1 January 2010

Off we go again...

Last New Year's Day I posted this poem of mine. Today here's a link to a poem by Frank O'Hara (1926-66) that I read last month and liked (see the poem here). It's got a huge cheek, this poem, but in its place I kind of like cheek. Indeed where would we be without cheek..?

All the best for 2010 to readers, friends, fools and casual passers-by. May it be a great big cheeky one for all of you.


Oh and, a little later than intended due to visitors and other stuff, here's a photo for Captain TFE. We love you, you marvellous crazy creature you.