Wednesday, 3 August 2011

New direction

So we're back from our six months trip to Canada and the USA. I've posted the last travel post (over there) and there will be just a map and a final round-up to come in a few days and then that blog will be left alone for a while I suppose (maybe forever). As for this one (this blog that I have been keeping since, can you believe it, 2007!) I just started to feel it had run its course so I'm leaving it today and moving to a new place. For a start the format/template of this one looks so old now but I can't bear to change it at this stage - partly because this is the way it's always looked and I've had some good times within these boxes (some hard times too). This blog has seen me through all kinds of poetry nonsense, the death of my Mum, various changes and friendships and complications... so I am just going to leave it as it is and take a bit of a hike over to a new blog over here. Come visit. Bring cookies.


p.s. Mark took this photo at Thessalon, Ontario a couple of weeks back.

Sunday, 22 May 2011

California Cheatin'

Photo - Venice Beach, L.A. Friday night.

So I am still not really here (still there...) but as I am currently visiting this week's Poetry Jam host (in California, darling) it seemed very rude not to at least try to join in. Her two prompts are both great (they're here) and if I was at home and working as normal I would probably write new poems for both of them but as it is... I am not and so I won't. Truth be told I've barely written a line of poetry since we've been away... and I don't say that in any kind of bad or sad way - if anything it's been a really pleasant change. I feel very free of anything to say just now - just happy looking.

So what to post..? I have an oldish poem about the politics of kids' playgrounds and parenting and it is mainly about Dads so I thought I'd go with this one (I don't think it's been on the blog before... I might be wrong of course... it's not coming up in the search anyway). I do have lots of poems about my own Dad (of course!) but I'm really not in the mood for any of them right now. So here is the playground one... and maybe I'll get to honky tonk when I get home...

Dads army

In combat trousers
Some long
Some short
They wear the modern camouflage
For parks and play areas
It's a must
The beige and grey and khaki green
Nice modern men blend in
Avoid unnecessary conversations
Mums can't seem to dodge so well
These are the loaded guns
"He's very small isn't he?"
"Does she eat fruit?"
"Oh, an only child"

Shaven heads
Trainers in winter
Maybe risking open sandals
In summer
But in a neutral colour
Dads keep their mouths closed
Their eyes and ears open
Not at war but always prepared
They don't fall in traps
Mums could learn a lot from their approach
No hearts on sleeves
No nervous wittering
No defensive play
Just cropped heads steady
Resolve firm
No time wasted
We're here to play, kids
So play

RF 2005 (or so)

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Titus Bus

I'm not really here (because I'm there) but Titus has a Poetry Bus prompt this week and it made me write a little something. Titus' prompt is here and writing a response was quite a surprise because so far on our trip I've written mainly diary notes and travel blog stuff. I haven't even wanted to write poetry... or think about it hardly (though I have read a bit of Edna St. Vincent Millay and I've squabbled a bit with a book of Billy Collins...). My little Bus poem is right here:


I keep looking for you in the wild

But it is a long hunt

And getting tougher all the time

I would see your flash of blue

Your jolly brightness

It might change everything

RF 2011

Photo above taken South Street, Philadelphia, 28.3.11

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Maybe this time...

we really are going (my, this has been a long good-bye).

But finally, as of tomorrow, I will be away from this particular desk for six months. In the meantime you can find me here or via email/facebook. See you on the flip side, friends.


Saturday, 29 January 2011

Wandering away...

Photo taken 01.01.00, Nottinghamshire, England.

So much going on right now... just days till we go and my head has been up and down and all around. I think I am winning the battle for calm in my head though (the war against terror indeed!). Well, sometimes. In an attempt to capture sanity I've been enjoying the clips below courtesy of other people's postings on facebook and blogs. They both feature Tom Waits showing how to really read poems aloud (poems by Charles Bukowski). Even if you've seen them before... maybe watch them again... and most of all listen (the sound! The sound!). I know some people (Colin McGuire...) have been Bukowski fans for ages but it was really only the Waits touch and sound that brought me in to these poems, that sat me down and said 'these are good, these will be good to you'. And they are.

Also we watched the movie 'Into the Wild' (2007, dir. Sean Penn) this week (highly recommended... had forgotten how much I love William Hurt for a start). The movie features a brilliant poem by Sharon Olds (text here) – it's called 'I Go Back to May 1937' (and I had read it before but, unlike Mr Penn, I had forgotten it). The clip with the poem is here - can't embed it, sorry). I like it when movies use poems well and this one really does (and who would have guessed that that young yob Sean Penn would turn into such a real star?). Great music from Eddie Vedder in the film too.

And finally... a mini poem from me for this week's Poetry Bus (task over at NanU's). I did write this over a few days (there was a Thursday but it was so bloody whingey that I'm afraid I just couldn't stand the sight of it and out it went!). Here's what's left.

Outside, outside

on Wednesday
a week stretches out like a tired old inner tube
by Friday
a walk in cold, fresh air can work wonders

RF 2011

So, that's me. As of this coming Wednesday I'll see you on the other side.... here!


Friday, 28 January 2011

Stay with me

Some of you may not have realised that the poem in the last post was partly written as a response to the song in the clip below. Before you watch I should warn you however that this song is pop-dirge-cheese of the highest order (and some crazy outfits in the video too). It's from 1996 and is on the soundtrack for the movie 'Space Jam' (never seen that myself... it stars basketball star Michael Jordan and... Bugs Bunny...).

That song was written, produced and performed by R Kelly and I can't say I've ever known much about him or listened to much of his music. Funny though, how songs you don't like can stick in your head and sometimes even prompt work/poems that you do quite like. All the world's material...


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

Old things 2

Another old poem. This is number 1 in my files of many poems (and so was written a little while back). I still feel it... and this week more than ever! Repeat after me: people fly all the time and it's fine, people fly all the time and it's fine...

B is for believing (1997)

I do not believe I can fly
In fact I do not really believe planes can fly
It's a hoax
In a Total Recall vein
Belief so often wasted

I do believe there is more to life
Than a well laid-out house
With items from Ikea
Being individual everywhere
That shopping is bad for you
And you're probably safer with tranquillisers

I believe private cars in cities should be
On the whole
That if those of us who can
Don't walk more
Our legs will wilt away
And walking whilst shopping
For anything other than essentials
Doesn't count

I believe there are some people
We'd be better off assassinating
But it's a bad habit to get into
Like shopping
But with less plastic bags

I believe there is good and bad taste
Good and bad art
Good and bad ideas
That I am almost always right
But that this certainly doesn't make me a happier
Or more prosperous individual

I believe that in fact 9 times out of 10
Not caring what is right or wrong
Is the key to success
Just identifying a gap in the market
So people will want to have you
Buy you
Display you in their individual home
This is what to aim for
But when achieved it cannot be described
As achievement

RF 1997


Sunday, 23 January 2011

Old things

Another year older... tick, tick, tick. And yesterday I was looking through my poem files (all in order, very thick now...). I was doing it for various reasons but partly just because I enjoy doing it. I like looking at what I've done, what I've achieved and not achieved, I like re-evaluating some of the poems, enjoying some again, remembering some of the stories behind them. And I still think that (whatever anyone else says!) the choices that I made for the book in 2008 were right (for me). Mainstream poetry can do what it wants - really I find it a bit of a thin stream, too often heading in only one direction. I'm still glad I did it my way!

Anyway, here's an old poem (about 2005 I think). I've never done anything with it... and I suppose I could change some of it now ('elegant'? My feet? Did I have sunstroke?) and I suppose it all sounds a bit bored housewife (which in itself is a bit boring...). But what can we do... life can be boring at times... and life is what we write about, non?

Sunday afternoon sands

Who are not young
And not old either
Impractical but pretty
Leather flip-flop shoes
In hand

Bare feet
Let us push cares
Cares they call
But what does the world care
For family relationships
Roofers who don't ring back
And the complications of the modern diet?

We reach
As far as we can go
Time limited
We turn round to go
The way we came
We look for prints we left
In vain
We went so lightly
We left no marks

We see
The prints of dogs
Walking boots
But no
Size 6

We ask ourselves
Is this significant?
Is this beach life?
Does our lack of effect on the sand
Mean something deeper?
Is that just women all over
Too much bloody symbolism
And nothing left to show for it?

We don't
Know the answers
We get to the steps
That go back to the rest of the world
We brush
Sand from our toes
And put the flip flop shoes back on

RF 2005

One reason I liked this one yesterday is that I realised how related it was to this more recent poem (possibly my favourite of recent poems what I've written). Tracks in the sand, tracks in the snow... and off we go...


Friday, 21 January 2011

Nilsson had a point...

The guests at our folk club this week were Mollie O'Brien and Rich Moore from the USA. I'd never heard of them before (though I had heard of Mollie's fairly famous brother ... bluegrass/country star Tim O'Brien) but this duo were over for the Glasgow Celtic Connections music festival and had taken a quick trip up to Montrose on a day off. They put on a great show up here and we liked them very much (Mollie is a great singer - hear her here) so we bought their latest CD "Saints and Sinners". It looks like this

and it features songs by many different songwriters (Richard Thompson, Dave van Ronk, Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan, George Harrison, Rodgers & Hart, David Francey... a real variety show).

One of the songs in their current repertoire that I'd never come across before was "Think about your Troubles" by Harry Nilsson (1941-1994, also known just as Nilsson... famous for all sorts of things... "Without You"... being pals with the Beatles...). The song was part of the soundtrack to a 1971 animated film called "The Point!" (apparently) that was created by Nilsson with animation director Fred Wolf. I'd never heard of the animated film either (had you?) but it's about a boy with a round head in a land where everything (and everyone) is pointed. This is the bit with the Troubles song:

It's OK but having heard Mollie's version first (and loved it) of course I almost prefer hers. Anyway, hope you enjoyed it - back to packing and sorting for me...


Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Other people's poetry - Hazel Buchan Cameron

Hazel Buchan Cameron is another one of those people who I know-but-don't-really-know-at-all (in an internet stylee). As far as I can recall I've never even spoken to this writer but I have had emails from her (she's something organisational to do with Scottish Pamphlet Poetry and they've let me sell cards at their book fairs), I've read some of her life story (a draft anyway... she appealed for test readers on facebook and we are 'friends' on there) and now I've read some of her poetry (to be precise her latest pamphlet 'Finding Ikea'). The book in question looks like this:

I was first attracted to this pamphlet when I read some reviews of it (also via Hazel's facebook page). The reviews (which all feel a bit like somebody's school homework to me...) are here, if you're interested. So why did they grab me..? Well, I suppose it was the first one (and there are three)... as well as some complimentary words ("a refreshing collection in a way: here is someone willing to come out and say what she thinks, or fears") the first reviewer called Hazel's poems, in places, "gratuitous", "unsubtle" and "immature", referred to "clichéd endings" and worried that she was "not in safe hands" (with this book/poet). Instead of being shocked or dismayed (perhaps the intention...) I was intrigued! Oh goody, I thought, perhaps here's a poet who gets misunderstood now and again too! This review made me keen to see Hazel's book (and sure to steer clear of anything put out by this reviewer... Jeez who wants maturity and safe hands in their poetry... not I... certainly not all the time... people's views on poetry never fail to astonish me...).

For balance I should say here that the second reviewer was more positive about the pamphlet overall (though felt the need to drag in that tiresome 'show, don't tell' business – boring... now there's your cliché, folks!) and that the last reviewer wrote something mindnumbingly daft about the cover but then recovered. Anyway, poetry reviews... rarely the most exciting reading in the world.

So on to 'Finding Ikea'. I am not going to review this pamphlet (ahem..) but I will just say this - as with Helena Nelson's "Plot and Counter Plot" (we talked about that just back here) I had a long list of poems that I might well have chosen to reproduce here (and there are only 22 in the book - not bad going). The title poem is meaty (to say the least) and there are lots of other poems in here that speak clearly, rhythmically and defiantly and in a pretty original voice (to my mind). I didn't feel safe after reading this little collection (I'm glad to say) – instead I felt stimulated, on the edge of my seat, alive. In end I asked for this poem... because it's tight and perceptive and the kind of thing that can only be written after some pretty interesting living. Hazel Buchan Cameron is most definitely, my friends, my kind of poet (and that's probably the kiss of death...sorry Hazel...).


I have a stalker watching over me,
constructed from discarded flesh
and bones of those I've known ―
sometimes for just one day.
Yet I kept their look of scorn,
sneers of contempt,
a shaking head or
a finger to point.

I stored them all,
built an incondite Frankenstein,
to articulate my every doubt
and gatecrash all I dream about.

From 'Finding Ikea' by Hazel Buchan Cameron (2010 Red Squirrel Press, £4). Buy the book and read about Hazel here.


Saturday, 15 January 2011

Look right in – TFE's Bus to the depths of the soul...

TFE has posted the Poetry Bus prompt this week. Here it is:

Write a poem. Don't think, just feel. Sit yourself down,stay quiet, find silence, concentrate on your breathing, feel your chest rise and fall, your heart beating, blood pumping.You are alive, so alive.Breathe in and breathe out,count those breaths, slowly look into your heart, your soul, how are you? Who are you? Are you happy/sad/ lost/ found/ confused/ certain.Are you where you hoped to be, do you know yourself? Are you who you were? Who might you yet be. Where might you be? Forget what your brain tells you that you know,and forget what your brain tells you to think, listen to your breath,tell me how you feel and why you feel it. How many breaths have you taken in this life? Think of them, focus on them. How many breaths are still to be taken?Disengage the brain and write from the heart.

You know I wrote a poem a good few years back that could have been written to this prompt. It's here. I don't know exactly when I wrote it but it's number 84 in my file (and I'm up to 375 this week) so I know it was quite a while ago. It says 2005 on my website but that's really just when the poems went online first and not when they were written. It was probably written somewhere between 1997 and 2000.

Anyway a lot has happened since I wrote that pretty sad (pathetic...) poem. It's funny that people liked it so much (and they did... how hurt we all are!). I have certainly got better at being positive and coping with what can be my sky-HIGH levels of anxiety since then (I wrote about anxiety a bit back here). I am more aware, for example, of what is good and what can help me stay sane and I know to keep myself away more from what is bad and what can make things worse (hell, class A drugs rarely help anyone stay sane!). These days I live in a quiet place, I am loved by good people, I take things easy and I look after myself (and anyone else who'll let me..). But still, you know, it can be pretty on-the-edge in my head (even if no-one else knows it). I still struggle with driving (and avoid it most of the time). I still don't really like crowded places (school concerts – uck!). And I am still fairly choked up about flying in planes (and big flight coming up soon... pass me the medication, doctor...). The difference now is that fundamentally I know I will survive any panic that comes my way - I used to think I would just self-destruct but now I know that I will feel terrible... but then I will be OK (most likely). I take deep breaths. I do my hypnosis reassurance finger-press thing (that really works...highly recommended!). And I go on living.

So I could write a breathing, focus-on-life poem that could be much better than the miserable one on the link above (couldn't I?). People might not like it so much (how we love sadness and confusion, how we laugh in the face of competence!) but I reckon I could do it. Compared to when I wrote 'Problems with value' I am feeling good... on the whole (except, you know, my Mum dying last year... I'm still a bit of a well of tears on that... still writing lots of sad death poems... wrote one on Friday in fact... quite pleased with it). But surely some of this improvement can be reflected in a poem..? Didn't I write this one a couple of weeks back... it's pretty positive and on the right road. But this week? This week I have packing to do (panicking? No, I definitely said packing...).

Temporary diversion

Lately we've been watching the TV series 'Six Feet Under' (on DVD, it was on a few years back). It is SO good. It's all about life and death, running a family funeral home and... well, coping with everything life can throw at you I suppose (and it's really funny... and packed with sex... of all kinds...). It's no wonder I like it – its creator Alan Ball wrote the movie 'American Beauty' which I also really enjoyed/rated. Here's the end of season 4 of 'Six Feet Under' (that's where we're up to – please don't tell me anything about series 5!) with the lovely David chatting to his dead father Nathaniel (they do that a lot in '6FU'... the dead get all the best lines). David (lovely, uptight/sensitive, gay, played by Michael C. Hall) has just had a life-threatening experience and then faced his attacker in prison. Richard Jenkins plays dead dad Nathaniel:

'The point's right in front of your face' - when simple lines are right... they are so, so right.

And here are some other simple lines... a sort-of poem response to TFE's fecker of a prompt.



The air is softer than it was
And it goes further in
And it doesn't always hurt me


And I may come from a family of fuck-ups
May be made, in part, of weakness and error
But it is not all bad
One good soul is enough


And the fight is longer than we think
And harder than we know


So breathe again my love, he says
Breathe again to stay alive
And I listen

RF 2011


Friday, 14 January 2011

The sounds of the States – Part two: with his hot hands

Well, I did say poems, books and music (not just poems... it's never just poems for me...) so today's all American favourite is the marvellous, the magical, the mesmerising.... Miss Nina Simone (1933-2003).

We listen to quite a lot of Nina Simone music in this house but with the BBC Radio 2 documentary that's been on recently (narrated by her daughter, now singing under the name Simone...) this fantastic artist has been on my mind even more than usual. She really was a HUGE talent (one of the twentieth century's stand-out greats) and these days most people know that (which does show that sometimes we get it right!). Listening to the documentary (which doesn't tell you anything particularly new but does get some nice insights from close friends and family) I realised how much I loved her version of the song below. She sings it so gently and with such strength of feeling that it just stops you in your tracks. I think her appeal is largely due to the combination of overwhelming talent (has anyone ever played a piano with more understanding..?) and giant emotional range (in the programme her drummer Paul Robinson refers to her, lovingly, as 'organically deranged'...).

Song credits - music by George Gershwin and lyrics by DuBose Heyward and Ira Gershwin.

Another thing the Nina Simone documentary made me realise (that I suppose I already knew but had never really considered) - if it hadn't been for the racism that kept Eunice Waymon from progressing as a straightforward classical pianist we, the wider public, might never have known Nina Simone and her amazing, life-changing repertoire of popular songs. Something to ponder, for sure.

p.s. This may be the end of this (very short) series. I mean, how the heck do you follow Nina?


Thursday, 13 January 2011

The sounds of the States - Part one: the fool of books

So in just a few weeks we set off for Canada and the USA for six whole months. I've been to Canada before (in 2003) and even Central America before (Costa Rica and Nicaragua in 1987) but I have never set even a tiny bit of a foot in the U.S. of A. Perhaps because of this I've been drawn very much to poems, books and music of that country recently and so I found myself the other day, for example, dawdling over some Robert Frost. Assuming I've got the right poet, he looked like this (though he was generally more successful as a teacher and writer than a farmer, despite the pic and the rural poems – see life story here):

I've mentioned Frost on here before – he's in my 'influence' list back here, he was the source of my memorable line back here and he even made it into a poem back here. His poems are probably the first I remember enjoying at school and none more so than "The Death of the Hired Man". It's a quite long narrative poem and this reminds me that I've been wanting to try and write one of those myself. At the folk club here (where I've done a lot of readings) I know they would enjoy narrative poems (they enjoy narrative songs after all) and yet I've still to really try one out. Maybe that's something I'll have a go at whilst we're away and on the road.

Anyway, you can read the text of "The Death of the Hired Man" here and more excitingly perhaps you can hear Frost read it (and lots of other poems) here (in particular "West-Running Brook" and "The Death of the Hired Man" are here). I can't say they're the best readings I've ever heard (rushed... lack of drama... was he late for a bus or needing the loo or something?) but still, they are the man himself (so I'm told). To hear them best I'd advise listening in headphones too - bit fuzzy over speakers for me.

Now, who else shall I pick from the land of the, er, free?


Monday, 10 January 2011

Other people's poetry – Helena Nelson (again)

I mention poet/publisher/teacher Helena Nelson on here fairly regularly. We're not pals or anything (more irregular correspondents) but I have known about her work ever since I moved to Scotland in 2002. I first came across her, I think, when she was chairing an event at the StAnza poetry festival but since then I have sent her poems, had them rejected, sent her more poems, had the odd one sneak into an anthology, asked her advice, only taken bits of it, put her in my list of '25 writers who have influenced me' (here) and then last year booked her for one of my Brilliant Poetry events (where she was one of the best guests ever – reviewed here by me and here by her... that sounds a bit Two Ronnies, doesn't it..?). I guess all of that kind of makes me a fan... and I suppose I am really... of her work and her determination and vigour. She is a very good poet and a very good person and if we are all a stereotype (and I think we often are at some level) then Nelson is the hardworking woman who doesn't (yet) have quite the reputation to match her work. Luckily she is such a diamond that this kind of thing doesn't really bother her – she is far more interested in other people's work and poetry with a big 'p' (as it were) than just her own role in it, I'm pretty sure. And plenty of people say that... but how many really mean it...

Maybe Nelson's not-exactly-high-profile is partly to do with the fact that, whilst some poets are larger than life, Nelson is almost the opposite - a wee wifey in Fife, getting on with business, not shouting 'look at me, look at me, look how loud and right I be!'. Then you look at her life and work and you see where the size comes in – her workload is huge! She puts out other poets work with her madly busy Happenstance pamphlet operation, she has various poetry books of her own with various different publishers and, as far as I know, she has a full-time, hard-work teaching job. Heck, she makes me feel very lazy...

But the reason I am talking about her today is that Nelson put out a new book of poems at the very end of last year with Shoestring Press. It's called 'Plot and Counter-Plot' and it looks like this:

Design by Nathanael Burgess from a painting by Gillian Beaton

I'm not a book reviewer at the best of times (and I have no desire to be one either – did you read the last post..?) so I'm not going to review 'Plot and Counter-Plot' in the conventional sense (and by the way Nelson reviews well too of course - read her here about Irish poet Tom Duddy's new collection, a lovely job). Rather than get into that territory, I offer you instead a list of observations:

1. It took me ages to decide which poem from 'Plot...' I'd like to post here – most of all because they all have something special and they are all pretty different. I'd say that's a plus for the book for sure – variety is not to be sneezed at (especially variety like this).

2. A lot of what Nelson writes about Duddy's book (see link above) could be said of her new one just as truthfully. I'm not going to quote that review because we'd be here all day but it is worth a read so click away, click away.

3. I'm not sure that the title of 'Plot...' will attract readers in the way that some titles can... but I am sure Nelson knows what she is doing. There is a lot more to poetry than catchy titles after all (even in this day and age).

4. There is a lot of rain in this book... and rain can mean sadness... and yes, it does feel a sad book in some ways... a getting-older book, a time-ever-so-slightly-running-out book. But all that makes me like it of course (I love Philip Larkin, let's not forget, and he's hardly the prince of positivity). And it is not sad-moan anyway - it is sad-wow-look-at-the-beauty-of-that-sadness.

5. The word 'song' appears in this book quite a few times too. This makes me very happy and even dare to wonder if maybe (just maybe!) I've had a tiny influence on Nelson too. Though of course those songs could have many other sources (music for a start... oh and you know...Rabbie Burns... a few other folk...).

6. At £9 it's quite expensive for a slim paperback... but it has gentle wisdom inside and 50 or so pages of gentle wisdom for £9 – that doesn't sound like quite such a bad deal, does it? Also it is £6.75 to HappenStance subscribers via the HS shop.

7. 'Plot...' is a clever book – and not look-at-me-aren't-I-clever clever... just simply clever (and cleverly simple). Anyone could read it (from the lowest brow to the highest ponytail) as it's aimed neither at the elite nor the dumbled down dregs. It's just words - good words, well-chosen.

And now the poem I picked. I ummed and ahed and ahed and ummed... and then I went for this one – a good, old-fashioned love poem. I picked it because although Nelson and I don't have much in common (in fact we are almost complete opposites in some ways...) I think one place where we do meet is that we both value real, good quality, well-executed love and we would probably fight to the death to protect it (and that love can be for a significant other, for a mother, for a child... these are all important loves). Again the title here is almost too small for the poem (for me – but then I like big power-titles... I could almost write a book that was nothing but titles...) but I trust Helena Nelson like a fish trusts... well, not a bicycle. Whatever she went with, she had her reasons.


Love is like riding a bicycle of light
spinning on two great wheels of moon and sun,
clean rain in your hair, and the air
kissing your face and tugging your clothes,
balance as sharp as a rush of stars.

You would ride forever
but it is only a simile.
Love is not a bicycle. Love
waits in a country lane.
Love will unseat you.

By Helena Nelson
from 'Plot and Counter-Plot' (Shoestring Press 2010 £9.00)
You can buy it here.


Friday, 7 January 2011

I'm right, you're wrong – it's Critics Week on the Poetry Bus

And don't forget your angry eyes...

I absolutely was NOT going to be on the weekly Poetry Bus this year! And then Kate Dempsey at Emerging Writer posted this trip's tasks (here) and what do you know... another bloody poem! And I should be getting organised for our HUGE, six month long 'trip of a lifetime' (see here... posts as we go...)! I should not be hanging around on blogs and writing poems! Anyway, enough exclamations.

It was the first task on the post that caught my eye – the one about responding to negative criticism. I wasn't going to talk about the matter below in public, as it were, but the prompt has pushed me to it. Let me give you a little background.

I put out a book of poems in 2008 (you can see the cover in the column to your right →).

You can still buy it by the way.

Anyway, I got a lot of really positive reactions to the book when it came out and if anybody did hate it (and I'm sure they did) they didn't say anything to my face or on screen anywhere obvious. I knew it was a bit different to many poetry books of our time (neither high art nor high performance, neither all serious nor all comic...) but I knew what I was doing – it wasn't accidental! As much as anything I don't see the point in putting out a book that's anything like anyone else's. As for the finished book... I guess you could call it either a mish-mash or an interesting tapestry (depending on your point of view) but obviously my intention was more the latter. I knew it wouldn't be everybody's thing but I was mostly OK with that. I mean what is 'everybody's thing', after all? Oxygen, water... beyond that the list pretty much peters out. Some people don't even like Morecambe and Wise (apparently). Fools.

But then last year some time (or possibly even the year before) I sent a copy of 'More about the song' to someone (who shall remain nameless here) for an online review. I had sent out review copies before and I'd had some good responses and a fair few no responses (the world is flooded with poetry books and self-published ones come fairly low down on some people's must-read lists but I knew that before I started). Even though I did have something like reservations about this particular site (because the reviewer in question seemed a bit snide, a touch full-of-herself and generally reminiscent of a primary-school-teacher-who-really-wanted-to-be-a-princess/professor/prime minister-but-didn't-manage-it-and-never-got-over-it) I still sent it off (my decision – only myself to blame!). Eventually she posted her review and, quelle surprise, it was nasty, nasty with more nasty on top. Mostly this taught me something I really should have known already - a person should trust their instincts. The gut rarely lies.

This (thankfully obscure) reviewer pulled me to pieces... she called my poems "unfocused", "meandering", "trite". Now I've had "trite" before (from magazine editors) and I have learned that most of all this means that the critic and I have totally opposing senses of humour (i.e. I have one...) and very different tastes in poetry too. The other two words though... "unfocused"? Really? No, I'm just not taking that one. I may ramble on here but my poems are totally focused (or, now and again, purposefully wanderful) and just because she didn't like them that doesn't make them woolly. And "meandering"? This made me wonder if she'd mixed my book up with another one from her pile. It just isn't that in any way. She also compared me to "that boring bloke I sat next to on a train once who insisted on telling me all of his poorly-informed opinions about things I'm just not interested in." Boring? Really? I have many faults (as a person... as a writer...) but I think that's the first time I've been called “boring” (so does that mean she took my "boring" virginity – how ucky).

Anyway. I didn't mean to mention it on here (too whingey, too predictable, obscure and well-known writers are always moaning about reviews) but when the Poetry Bus calls who amongst us can say "no thanks, I'll just stand here in the rain"? Sure the review bothered me for a couple of days when I first read it (but then my Mum had just died... I was bothered about lots of other things) and yes, I felt a little nauseous to begin with but that soon passed. I showed it to a couple of people, laughed about it... and then it was forgotten. Overall I was pleased how little it bothered me – after all most writers, musicians etc. (even the very, very best) have to put up with harsh reviews so it's just part of the process and everybody knows that so it's no big deal. One poet pointed me towards this song about critics. And this week Kate Dempsey posted Tim Minchin's reaction to criticism (which, I'm afraid, I didn't like too much... he can be cleverer...but I suppose that part of the joke is his silly response... in theory... it's the first clip on Kate's post). And now, thanks to the Bus, here's my little contribution (audio here). I think the focus of this one is fairly clear.

You think I stink

So, snooty snip, I give you pain
You would not sit next to me on a train
My work is everything you abhor
You spit out 'unfocused' and slide in 'bore'

Well, that's OK, you have your say
No-one reads you that much anyway
And if we should meet whilst out and about
You could bore me back tenfold, without a doubt

RF 2011

Now I must get on with some organising, packing and generally getting ready for flight. I must! I must!

Other poems for this week's Bus are linking now over here.


Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Fluffy brain?

Oh boy was that a busy Xmas season! We had visitors for two weeks solid and lots of folk in and out too so I feel something approaching drained of all life force (although, as ever, it's possible that I'm prone to exaggeration too). I don't have a lot to say right now but what I can tell you is that we had a fairly Muppet Xmas here (we got the wee girl a dvd of old Muppet Shows from the '70s... one featuring Bruce Forsyth... real vintage TV...). It's all brilliant but one of my favourite moments from an old show was this song (I always did like the hums of Pooh better than the stories... and who better to sing them than a dog called Rowlf?):


Monday, 3 January 2011

With a bang

We've had lots of visitors over the holidays and so have been at home a good deal (entertaining, darling) with music playing in the background a lot of the time. Once we got through our favourite albums we dug a little deeper into the files and so we've listened to lots of albums and artists that we might not have hung around with for a while. Here's one of them - Kristina Olsen from California. We saw this bluesy singer/songwriter at Stonehaven Folk Festival a few years back (by accident really) but we thoroughly enjoyed her whole show. She's funny and the owner of a lovely growly voice. Here she is just talking:

And here she is singing a great song called 'The Big O' (written by David Dodson):

She's pretty much always touring so you can catch her somewhere some time, I'm sure.

Happy January, one and all.