Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Last year I was lucky enough to get close to some show dahlias. They were such amazing shapes, real camera sluts. So I decided to try growing some myself under glass. This is one, whose name escapes me right now, something with midnight in it, is so dark and lovely.

Today I got asked by a friend to shoot a calendar for her school, it's a tiny country place with only a few pupils, so it should be good fun.
And today we finally staked out the new border in the big garden, we've been rained off two weeks in a row. I got to draw on the ground with spray survey paint, which was great fun, and tonight I've mapped everything on graph paper and worked out the size of the various beds. I've also done a huge plant list and I'm making an appointment to see our main supplier to discuss what will be the best options on it. Just wish the vandal problem was as easy to solve.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I've not read a poem in ages that has made me cry, but this does.

Don Paterson's "Being" He calls it a variation of a Rilke poem.

I like both poets work, but this is just wonderful. I think it means even more thanks to my recent dip in the in spate Tyne. It really did make me feel like I was saying, "I am"

Monday, August 25, 2008


I was walking past this house yesterday and heard a baby crying. This wee poem came to me on the way home.

Crystal Clear

My scratchy head
tunes to a long-forgotten
sweet spot on the dial,
as, from an open sash
above a busy street,
a newborn voice informs
a weary world
he’s tired.

Reception's lost as soon
as they discover speech.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Colin has posted about this on his blog but I just wanted to say that I took part and that it was the most joyful thing I've done for a while. It is wonderful to sit quietly with a group of fellow poets working on the same thing. Colin is right about new paths and connections silently occurring, almost like a collective brain writing new neurotransmitters. And Colin makes a mean cup of green tea.

I knew a few people there, but others were complete strangers. I particularly liked the Portugese lady, who kept apologising for her English and her understanding, and then came up with a fantastic way to round off the whole piece. And Colin thought a line of mine was worthy of the title for the whole thing!

And as a byproduct we've all got lots of fragments left over that might spark off new poems. Afterwards I went to see the China photographic exhibition at the City Art Gallery. It is a wonderful exhibition of photos spanning two floors and over 50 years of Chinese development. A couple of photos particularly struck me, one taken of workers leaving a factory in the 1980s all on bikes (it reminded me of photographs of the Glasgow shipyards in the 1950/60s) and then one of a similar thing taken 15 years later and everyone is taking motortaxis.

I also saw Tracy Emin's 20 year retrospective. I must say that it has a charm all of its own. I particularly liked a line of hers about school, she left/stopped going at about 13, she says on one of her blanket pieces something along the lines of "school, why go when all they ever say is "you're late"?"

And she and her gran used to call each other "Plum" and " Pudding" - I think that's lovely and from personal experience I know how much an older person in the family can anchor you when everthing else seems more than a little chaotic.

(Although asking a tenner for a notepad with a piece of text on the front saying "I used to be so imaginative" is taking the piss! )

But I feel duly restored by all the fantastic sights and sounds of the last few weeks.

photo is a treatment of a peony shot I took up north

Monday, August 18, 2008


After me blogging all that stuff about corvids a couple of posts back guess what?

I only ended up reading with Ester Woolfson at the book store that's what! And she read very, very quietly, so I didn't really catch much of it. Perhaps she needs to be a little more raucous, like her pet corvids. Her book is the book of the week on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour all this week.

A few folk came up to me after my own reading and actually quoted some lines back to me that they had particularly enjoyed, which confirmed they had at least heard me, and had been listening to what I was saying.

On Friday I took my turn chairing the School of Poets courtyard readings. We had a good mix of folk, although the attendance was lighter than the Monday session, which was probably due to the poetry pamphlet fair being on down at the Book Festival.
We had a lady all the way from Oz who loves Robert Burns and has written some poems about her own life as a tenant farmer. I enjoyed it, in fact I'm enjoying readings almost as much as writing now.

The photo is of a grave attendant sculpture on a 17th century grave in Seton Collegiate Church. Her face has got a bit bashed up over the years, but I liked her ruff, which is more 16th century I think. I had a walk there on Saturday and enjoyed it, the light in the church is beautiful and the grounds were full of butterflies.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

An Arbour

Yesterday I was at the SPL School of Poets first courtyard reading, which a fellow poet was chairing. It was great fun, a couple of kids elected to read, and a beat poet showed up, whose style and delivery gave the kids and then everyone else a fit of the giggles. The whole session was full of energy and a shared love of words and my own pieces seemed to go down well.

I'm taking this Friday's session, and having never done it before went along yesterday to see how it's done. Anne did a great job I must say.
I'm also reading at Blackwell's bookshop in Edinburgh on Thursday 14th at 6.15pm. And Colin Will is selling Calder Wood Press pamphlets at the Poetry Pamphlet stall at the Edinburgh Book Festival also this Friday. It is a really great event, with lots of great poets to hear and buy.

I was editing this photograph when this wee poem popped into my head.

Willow Arbour

There's a living arch
in a garden that I know.
Open to the heavens
it weaves shadows,
samples light, describes
a patch of space,
defines a tract
of time. And, like
love,its shelter
is a grace

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Intrepid Three

Anna, Basher and Gus do have a kind of Enid Blyton ring to them don't they?
Well on Friday the two dogs and I had quite an adventure, as I had to wade waist-deep into the Tyne to rescue Basher. It's a long story, but I saved a trout from one of the puddles left behind by the river after recent flooding and without thinking stupidily threw it straight back into the river.

To my horror Basher, thinking it was a stick, jumped in after it and was promptly washed away.

I thought she's drowned, as I saw her being pushed under by the current, but after tearing downstream through nettles and briars I found her washed up on some gravel in the middle of the river.

There was no-one was around and I had no phone on me, so I tested the depth with a big stick and found a bar of gravel under the surface and walked out to her, put her on the lead, which is a big chunky thing, and got her back to the bank, where she managed to scrabbled up. Walking through powerful water like that is really scary, it seems to affect your vision and balance as it tears past you at terrifying rate.

Basher was one grateful dog! I was worried she might have ingested water, but she's fine, though I now have a stinking cold.

Changing the subject now, do you ever have a spell when you notice a name or something and then it just keeps occuring?

I'm watering a friend's garden just now, a small task given the rain we're getting, but I noticed that she has this poem framed in her kitchen:

Wild Geese
by Mary Oliver

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

from Dream Work by Mary Oliver
published by Atlantic Monthly Press
© Mary Oliver

And I've been reading a book on corvids Crow Country by Mark Cocker, which is an excellent natural history book, with lyrical writing, and then the newpaper this weekend gave a crit on another book in a similar vein, this time about about living with crows/rooks Corvus: A life with birds by Ester Woolfson, and she too mentions a Mary Oliver piece of writing.

So corvids and poets are featuring heavily in my life lately. And I now want to read more of Mary Oliver's writing and the Woolfson book.

I really like it when these things happen,as it makes you feel like you're touching the circularity of life.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Mama Mia

I went to see Mama Mia last night, well to tell the truth I was dragged along to see it.

And the first ten minutes were so toe-curling awful that had I not been in an end seat beside a wall, in a packed theatre, I would have just got up and left.
But then they sang Dancing Queen and to this middle aged woman there is something rather moving about watching a bunch of other middle aged women singing about being seventeen when they should all know better.

However, the whole experience was it was a bit like being sea sick, I had moments of feeling heady and high and then another trough of pure pap would hit and I'd feel the burning need to throw up.

It's as though the cast are all on speed or something. You want to take them aside one by one and tell them to just calm down.

As the reviews say this is a stage show taken straight to the big screen, where unfortunately less is always, always more.
And the casting is really odd. Pierce Brosan for one can't sing for taramasala - indeed "pierce" is the operative word. And if I were a Greek I'd be really pissed off at my country being treated as little more than cheap and cheerful backdrop.

The best thing about it for me was the blue sky, sea and walls and the sharp fantastic sunlight - particularly on a day when the cloud base here was at pavement level!

And OK the sight of all those platform boots did bring a lump to my throat, as I remembered the lumps mine own ones used to leave on my fledgling size four "plates of meat".

But for me Muriel's Wedding is a much better film, with a much better use of the Abba songbook.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Edinburgh Festival 2008


No crumbs of comfort
no biscuit trail, no secret
stash of chips. All credit
crunched,all savings frozen,
all hope congealed.
Our U-bend’s clogged.
Wee prudence has been posted
missing! Darling’s stranded on
some northern rock.
The gnats are biting deep.
Everything’s a busted flush.
So bienvenue, welcommen
one and all to Gordon’s sticky patch.
But please, mind and wipe your feet!

Friday, August 01, 2008

Lest we forget.........

A brilliant poem from 1992:

Luck in Sarjevo

In Sarjevo
in the spring of 1992,
everything is possible:

you go stand in a bread line
and end up in an emergency room
with your leg amputated.

Afterwards, you still maintain
that you were very lucky.