Friday, 29 October 2010

The very silly season - Poetry Bus style

So this week's Poetry Bus is driven by Liz Gallagher (all the options over here). I went for the option "the night I dressed as a..." and whilst the poem below isn't about a Halloween costume strictly speaking it was a costume and it sure was scary (and I wore it on stage in front of lots of people). So what was I dressed as..? Here's a clue:

Back at this post there's another clue too (right at the end of the post, I should say).

And as for the poem - I wrote this years ago but it was never right so this week I've rejigged it a bit. It's still not what I would call my best work... but that's not really the point always is it?

The true but sorry tale of the woman who was once a sanitary towel

In a fashion show once was I
We never really knew quite why

It wasn’t simply looking good
More 'artistic, yet light-hearted, study of the nature of womanhood'

So in a full nightclub at 1 am
We dressed all girl for all gay men

But unfashionable I in the trendy glare
Never one to read Vogue, look now, style hair

Demonstrated the usual poor career management
And a giant sanitary towel, somehow, I wore as a garment

A female Australian Boy George lost in space
Ringlets of tampons ahung round my face

In surfboard with wings and top of dry weaving
I was menstruation for part of an evening

Very Brit Art Pop culture and all of that blur
Very cool, very weird, very him, maybe her

Our stylist, in love with ideas and their power
Was half Carol Smillie, half whiff of Madonna

In pseudo-political, confrontational fashion
I was struck down with pre-making-a-cock-of-myself tension

And I recalled the case for in-your-face womb lining
From years gone by and feminist redefining

But this wasn’t it, this was hip fancy dress
Aspects of woman without all the mess

How even a towel can have a great time
Dancing on catwalk in clean white design

No second formers being on the rag
No hiding of evidence deep in your bag

No awkward moments during insertion
No sitting funny and cursing the cursing

This was grown-up crap with the usual gloss
Fashion, once more, a provider of dross

Down in the cellar the day dragged along
Waiting for showtime, the volume, the throng

To prepare for the show, for this silliest of nights
Aspects of woman got higher than kites

RF 1997 (rejigged 2010)

For those interested in Rachel trivia that night it was a group of us from a Leeds club visiting a popular Manchester night called Flesh (read about Flesh here). And for those who don't know who Carol Smillie (pronounced Smiley) is she's a Scottish TV presenter (and former model) most famous for a home makeover show.


p.s. Really good poem by Mike Venner at my last post (here). Plus a boat made of tetrapak... maybe I should try wearing that this year...

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Other people's poetry – Mike Venner

I've already mentioned once or twice that I've not been best friends with poetry this year. You hear all this stuff about poetry helping in hard times but this year, with my Mum dying and all that, I have found other people's poetry mostly really hard-going in all honesty. Maybe it's a childish reaction ('why are none of these people writing about my marvellous mother? Idiots!'), maybe my head is just too full of other stuff to take in other people's complicated thought patterns and rhythms just now... but whatever it is I'm afraid I've just been finding reading other people's poetry a bit of a drag in the last six months or so (listening to it though, interestingly, I've found much more bearable, stimulating and pleasurable... I am a sound person, it seems, but maybe we knew that already...).

Anyway, in a bid to reignite some love for reading poetry I dug out my old file of 'other people's poems that I like' earlier this week. I started compiling it over ten years ago and mainly it contains things photocopied from library books and such like (these days I am more likely to buy the books - partly because I have more money, maybe because I have more inclination...). The file has plenty of Larkin, some Roger McGough, some Liz Lochhead... but many more besides - all kinds of poems by all kinds of writers really. Some are by people with well known names (poetry-wise) and many are not and I'd have to say that that's pretty much the way I like it. I really don't feel that a well-known name means that much in poetry (not to me anyway...). Sure I can admire a Ted Hughes poem (for example) but do I really think his work is so superior to a million minor/obscure poets? No. I don't. So much poetic success is to do with right place, right time, right amount of application... I think. I really do believe that most of us have at least one good poem in us (and more than that if we work hard at it). We like to hype people up (it's just how we work somehow...'the best Scottish poet', 'the Nobel Prize winner' etc.) but if we strip away the hype I don't believe there is such a big difference between the skills and abilities of poets from all over the success spectrum. And I know there are poets and poetry fans who would disagree strongly with all that! Some would have me sent to the poetry gallows for such heresy!

Somewhere in my file I came across a poem I'd copied from an anthology ('Anvil New Poets 2' 1995 – ed. Carol Ann Duffy). I hardly remember the book now but I can remember why I liked this poem enough to put it in the file. The poet's name wasn't known to me at all and yet still I liked these words – very much. See what you think:

When My Ship Comes In

At last it was on the horizon, a big three-islander, and it was
coming in.

I waited on the sand with the sandflies pricking my ankles. I
smiled. My ship.

Still it came, but as it came somehow it wasn't getting any

Perhaps it had stopped. No, I can see it clearer now, rigging
and wash.

I could almost make out the captain, red in the face from sun
and yelling.

I waited, and still it came, clearer, frothing at the bow, getting
no bigger.

I had only to wait, so I waited, and my ship came in, shrinking
and shrinking.

The tide washed it right up to my feet. I picked it up. Shook
the sea out.

Held it to my ear to hear the captain's hello. Listened hard. No
hello. No captain.

Carefully I returned it to the sea and shoved it off and watched
it leave.

Slow at first, and then full ahead, making a coot's wake, a
swan's wake,

ship's wake, ship's wake, and soon it was miles away, growing
as it went.

by Mike Venner

'Anvil New Poets 2' 1995 is still available by the way (here). It costs £8.95 and other poets in the anthology include Alice Oswald and Kate Clanchy (middling to huge names in English poetry).

I tracked Mike Venner down online and quickly realised that some of you may already know him as he lives in Ireland and is one of the owners of Dingle Bookshop. The shop produces poetry postcards and some of these feature Mike's poems (including 'When My Ship Comes In'). Coincidentally blogger and irregular Poetry Bus rider Pure Fiction sent me some of these cards earlier this year (small world...). Mike also writes plays and is writer-in-residence for Beehive Theatre Company. I did get Mike's permission to reproduce this poem. Cheers Mike!

Hope you enjoy the poem and I'll be back for the Halloween Poetry Bus (driven by Liz 'the ghost' Gallagher) at the weekend. I'll be wearing a truly terrifying costume. You have been warned.

Image above borrowed from here.


Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Without failure we are nothing

Nothing much of my own to say just now... so have a listen to and a read of this:

It's Laura Marling from her first album "Alas I cannot swim" (2008). She's one of my very favourites just now and I think it's good to listen whilst seeing her words (as above) instead of that, undoubtedly, very pretty face of hers. Pretty faces have nothing to do with it really, do they? I adore her voice and she's one heck of a songwriter too. And can she really only be 20 years old? Eek. Suddenly I feel ancient...


Saturday, 23 October 2010

Madame, I think your whale needs dusting... another week, another Poetry Bus

So, politics here is not good news (is it ever?). We will be cut, cut and cut again and in many quarters there is that unavoidable sense of doom I remember so well from the last time (ah, the Tories...high priests and priestesses of the religion Do-as-we-say-not-as-we-do...).

This isn't a political post much as anything because I'm still in holiday-mode. Here is another photo from our London trip (from the Natural History Museum). Other photos are here and here.

As for the Poetry Bus, this week it is driven by Argent and has the subject 'meetings' (task is here). My poem ticket is below and although it's written in the first person it's really not much about me at all (just in case you were wondering). I'm just a bit of a first person voice kind of a writer I guess... sometimes it's plain old me but sometimes it absolutely is not!


This is the meeting where I will ask you all those questions
Where I will see your face again after so much time
And it will be a hard sea of answers

This is the time that I thought might never come
One more chance to hold you
And I don't even mind if your heart's not in it

This is the place we all try to imagine
Last-chance saloon, grabbed set of moments
And it is hard to be here but here we are all the same

RF 2010


Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Views of London - the rest

So, we continue!

Day 3 we took a bus to Knightsbridge. We showed the munchkin Harrods which involved coffee:


and then a trip round the hilarious pet section:

The photo of 'pet fashion' I posted the other day was from there too... and they have a pet food section that includes a dog cookie and 'pupcake' store. You couldn't make it up.

Next we walked to South Kensington, took in some French atmosphere and then made for the Natural History Museum (hence the other Poetry Bus poem this week). I did my last two years of school just over the road from there so I do remember visiting the museum... and it has changed a lot since those days. Our girl looked at the dinosaurs (no, not me!) but really preferred the mammals:

Sadly though the escalator through the world wasn't working (typical!):

Next we walked up to Kensington Gardens and looked at the Anish Kapoor sculptures currently dotted about the park (interview with Kapoor here):

Next a bus trip along to Soho and Chinatown for a snack for the young one:

before heading back to our hosts for us grown-ups to share a meal with many cousins.

Day 4 and it's family business for me but the Science Museum for Mark and girl. They wore these:

and saw this:

and this:

Our last full day in London was Day 5. Our hosts took us down to Columbia Road flower market in E2. We did indeed see flowers:

walked to Spitalfields market (now a mix of old and new) for lunch and then paid a visit to the lovely Living Museum on Folgate Street, E1 (photos not allowed in there but their site is here and more info here). On our way back to our hosts' we ended up seeing St Paul's again:

And then, pretty much, we came home again (trains on time and not unbearable both ways, a bleedin' miracle!).


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Views of London - Days 1 and 2

So, we were in London last week. I'm far too tired out to write much so here are some photos instead.

Day one and our first stop was the Foundling Museum (daughter knew about it from a Jacqueline Wilson book). I'd really recommend a visit if you don't know it - especially some time before March 2011 as they've a really interesting exhibition on till then. The visit involved some dressing up:

Next stop the British Museum. Despite living in London for a couple of years in my teens I'd never been before. Mark liked the new (2000) ceiling:

and we saw one of Titus' favourites:

I got split in half:

and finally I saw the marbles that aren't spherical...

Next it was down to Trafalgar Square to roar with the lions:

then eat cake on the Haymarket:

Before the Hamleys marathon (not the classy shop I remember - felt like a big even more overpriced Disney Store):

Quick bit of Oxford Street and then onto the bus to meet lovely old friend for dinner. Phew!

Day Two and we took a bus to St Paul's Cathedral:

I wrote a poem (see last post) and the others climbed all the steps for these views:

When we finally left St Paul's we walked over Millennium Bridge and looked east:

nipped into Tate Modern (ugly, crowded, too tired to tackle the main galleries...):

and then took the Tate to Tate river boat west past these sights:

From Millbank we walked to Victoria to meet hosting cousins, eat and then see a musical ('Wicked' - girl's choice). It was everything she wanted it to be. Late, late night though!

More pics tomorrow.


Sunday, 17 October 2010

A change of route

So the Poetry Bus task this week (see here) is to break from our writing routine. This was quite easy for me as, if I do have a routine these days, it involves writing at home and this week I have been away on holiday all the time. I wrote these two poems out and about in the world and maybe you'd like to see if you can guess where - the more precise answer the better (and for some of you it will be quite easy). I won't put any photos - they'll all come next week when we return.


You don’t know me
Not very well
I don’t come here that often

Even today I was this close
Nearly headed south
Went for the new

Instead, quite a change
Your size and majesty
Just called me

And even the twelve pounds fifty ticket price
I couldn’t deny you
It was strange

Quakerly quiet
The guests all wrapped in headsets

I sit still
Stones all around us
And all is silence, huge and alone

RF 2010

Pockets of peace

By contrast it’s all go with the dinosaurs
We walk in free, lost deep in hordes

Backpacks, pushchairs, lunches, texting
See two-legged mammals steam through the species!

They take no prisoners, swooping, pacing
They move en masse, hunt hard and long

Older ones yawn, the hours so endless
Youngers ones stamp and howl and writhe

The business of life moves swiftly, swiftly
Holidays, playdays, work days all

We feel quite weary and seek out quiet
Go veg in a corner with a film about sea cows

We watch their slowness, take stock, stop touring
The swiftness, the hording, the rushing, the pain

RF 2010


Friday, 15 October 2010

Still away

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Captain's log

Busy, busy, time for waffle (I know, I know... so unlike me...).

Firstly the review of Friday night's poetry/music event here in Montrose is over at the other blog (this one!).

Secondly the Poetry Bus magazine is still for sale (here) and I've got my copies (hurray!). So far I have particularly enjoyed the beautiful cover and the poems 'For God's Sake (and one for my baby)' by Liz Gallagher, 'To Destroy your letters' by Saint James Harris Wood and 'Chalks' by Colm Keegan (I haven't read anything like the whole thing yet though). Obviously I am biased (being in it...) but if every publication is influenced by its creator/publisher then this magazine is (thanks to Peadar) one of the most genuinely positive reads I've had in a long while. All poetry magazines have pretensions but pretension is a big wide word and here, for sure, all the pretensions are good (lots of fun finding out other Poetry Bus bloggers' real names too... assuming they are real names and not just more pseudonyms like, er, mine...).

And finally, the Poetry Bus (online) prompt for this week from Niamh B is:

Pick a newspaper, any newspaper. Find a little story - no more than 2 inches of print... i.e. a really short news item - nothing majorly important.

Make a poem inspired by it.

So last week I picked a story out of the local paper about a young guy of 24 doing community service for carrying a dangerous weapon.

And now... the poem (removed temporarily):


p.s. Nice to see you, to see you nice.


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

This week

And so... a busy week... and it's school holidays... no time to waste...

First off the Poetry Bus print magazine is now available. Go to the Poetry Bus blog (here) and buy, buy, buy! Oh and the next prompt for the online Bus is up already (here).

This Thursday (National Poetry Day) Raymond Vettese and I will be reading some poems at the library here in Montrose – 2-3pm, admission free.

This Friday, of course, it is the big poetry & music event I've been planning for a while – all details here. I think we're going to be getting a pretty good audience so if you are coming get to the venue early. Doors open at 7.30pm – Links Hotel, Montrose.


Sunday, 3 October 2010

Happiness with a twist

So the Poetry Bus is a bit off-road this week. The original driver (Watercats) seems to be lost on the mountain somewhere (are you OK, Cats...come in Cats...). I suggested we have a week off (tired, emotional, lazy) but instead super NanU has stepped into the seat (can you do that...step into a seat.. anyway...). Her post with links to all travellers is here.

NanU suggested we write about happiness but this was not good timing for me. I did write two new poems on Friday but Friday was that day in the menstrual cycle when I always write doom, gloom and misery (can't help it... always happens...I'm fine again now). This means I do have a poem for you but I'm not really sure it's about happiness (well, unless you like your happiness in a kind of...very roundabout way). This poem is so miserable it's almost funny, I think. And I make no apology for mention of menstrual cycles... as Ben Elton once observed if men had them we might well hear a lot more about them...

Also, because I was talking about liking the sound of poems more than the look of them in the last post, there's an audio file right here (if you want it).

Rank and file

We have no medals
Or fancy prizes
Some of us, to be honest
Don't even have uniforms
Not any more

We stand, slump, doze
With nothing remotely grand on show
Not even our wounds impress
Pathetic scabs
Sad stories all

We are quite the army
Of Could-Have-Been
A quiet country
Our battles weak
Sometimes from nothing

And still we have worn ourselves
Into the ground
The markers show
Our fallen ways
A bugle plays

RF 2010

Of course the fastest route to happiness, as we all know, is ballroom dancing. Well, this guy looked pretty happy on 'Strictly Come Dancing' the other night. Keeeeep Dancing!


p.s. The photo above is the cliffs at St Cyrus, Aberdeenshire (taken on dog walk yesterday about lunchtime).

Friday, 1 October 2010

Findings... and not findings...

Over the past month I have been reading the book that I picked up second hand in Edinburgh (back here) – Katheen Jamie's 'Findings' (2005).

I've been reading this one slowly because it isn't a book to rush – you really feel like you should stop and put the book down after each section, take a deep breath, take it all in. Though Jamie is perhaps best known as a poet (Scottish, prizewinning... now Pwofessor of Cweative Whiting at Stirling Uni) this is a book of essays that covers a wide range of subjects (wild nature predominantly but also how we live, think, see and well...everything really). You can read a short interview with Jamie connected with the book here.

I enjoyed 'Findings' hugely – it is beautifully written and, even more importantly for me, beautifully thought too (she studied philosophy as her first degree, I note, not literature). If you're interested in Scotland, in wild creatures, or even if you're just interested in life and death and thinking... then I'm sure it is a book that you will probably enjoy too. It feels so full of layers – it's a real work of art.

I've seen Jamie sat in the audience at the StAnza poetry festival but I've never seen or heard her read her poetry live. There isn't much of her on youtube (shame, it's such a great source of everything) but you can hear her voice and some poems at the Poetry Archive here. Having loved 'Findings' so much I am trying to get better acquainted with her poetry again – so far I've liked the poems of hers I've read well enough but I've never really fallen for any of them hook, line and metaphor, if you know what I mean. So (because I've been spending too much money and I'm meant to be saving) recently I ordered 'The Tree House' (2004) from the library (Arbroath copy... not been off the shelf since Oct 2008 apparently, poor thing) and I have been trying to make friends with it bit by bit. Its opening poem is one that's read on the Poetry Archive ('The Wishing Tree' - it's here). I can see why it was chosen as the opener as it is a very confident piece (what did I hear Don Paterson say... something about putting the best ones at the beginning and end of your book...). So go and have a listen....go on, go on, go on...

Though I have warmed nicely to a couple of the poems ('Landfall', 'The Creel') so far I'd have to admit that I am kind of missing what, for me, she manages to do so brilliantly in 'Findings' which is really connect with the reader... this reader anyway (what was it Bug said in the comments the other day... when "the words grab hold & don't let go"?). Now I know there might be lots of reasons for this lack of grabbing:

1. Poetry works differently to prose... it can be more subtle, take effect more slowly. I know that argument... and I suppose it might be that.

2. It might just be me. It is possible that I am a total poetry philistine. I tend to feel about as at home with a bunch of serious poets as I do at the school gate with a bunch of ├╝ber-Mums (i.e. not very). I don't quite know how I ended up this way.

3. In particular the more perfect poetry is suggested to be (the more prizes it's won...and 'The Tree House' won the Forward Prize for best collection in 2004) the less I seem to respond to it, quite often. In part I think it is that I like some mess, some fallibility in poetry (and this, I should think, will make some people quite sure that I am a poetry philistine... but I'm not sure it's quite that simple). In a similar way, perhaps, I prefer more natural singing voices to operatic ones.

4. Partly what I miss in 'The Tree House' (that is abundant in 'Findings') is the author's personality (and that must be the concluding evidence for my philistine tendencies, I fear... personality! Is she mad?). It is possible, I suppose, that I am just a shallow illiterate (if educated) bimbo doomed to a life reading nothing but celebrity hardbacks (see last post). I mean, there's a Dawn French book of my Mum's lying around the house that's looking pretty damned inviting right now.

5. It is even possible, I'd have to admit, that maybe I just don't like poetry (that does seem to have been a bit of a theme this year) but I don't think it is that. I think I just find a lot of the current trends and splits and schools of thought in poetry just now a bit... alien. And I do like some poetry... just this month I chose the 'Poem of the Month' on the Philip Larkin Fan Club, whoops I mean Society page. It's here (and it's the same poem I posted back here with an audio version by the old sod himself). So, you see, I'm not a completely lost cause (not completely).

6. People can be very, very fussy about what poetry they really like and maybe this is just not so much of a big deal. Maybe it is exactly because of poetry's connection with music ('musicality' easily the most overused, and wrongly used, word in poetry reviewing – discuss). Maybe we do just have very strong reactions in favour of or against individual poems in the same way we respond to songs or pieces of music (but we can't allow ourselves to describe it as such with poetry or that might make us seem simple... so instead we have to come up with whole schools of criticism to justify our likes and dislikes... most of which come down to 'what I like is good and what I don't like is bad'...don't they?).

7. Speaking of music, increasingly I want to hear poetry, rather than see it on a page. And that doesn't mean just 'performance poetry' (you know I don't make that division anyway... any poem can be read/performed). More and more it is the sound of words that make poetry what it is, I feel. I might just go and burn some books or something (only my own ones, no-one else's...).

Anyway, this could go on and on. You can read more sensible, literary-minded thoughts on 'The Tree House' elsewhere online (like here). Not everyone just rambles, unfettered, on a blog.

Finally, there was one bit I particularly liked in the interview with Jamie that I linked to above. It's a quote about writing where she says:

"If my work were totally ignored I'd be debilitated and depressed, possibly fatally."

Well, yes. Just imagine. It might explain a few things round here too...