Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

Yesterday John, one of the other trustees, and I spent the morning planting the second phase of the cottage garden. We had to barrow in all the plants from the gate and then layout the planting plan on two big beds, one being a mirror image of the first, and then put in about 300 herbaceous plants. The turf is also down in parts and the whole thing is starting to pull together.
It has been a huge undertaking, deciding on the revamped layout, doing the drawing of the plan, researching suitable plants, working with nursery on what was still obtainable that was period appropriate and getting their helpful ideas on designs for planting the four beds, sourcing the new hedge and putting it in back in the autumn and working with the Community Volunteers to clear the site and layout the new beds and paths.

But yesterday it all came together and I must admit to feeling really proud of all our efforts. Members of the public stop to chat too and told us how they couldn't wait for it to grow and flower. It will be a typical blaze in June/July, but that's how things were back then, and leaves and seedheads will extend the interest.

I didn't take the camera as I had really dirty hands, but this shows some recent shots.


I also got asked for a copy of Peeling Onions for a friend of friend who is going through breast cancer treatment just now and got a lovely letter yesterday from the woman, which included this, " I could relate to so much of what you have written and it made me laugh and cry, especially about the diagnosis and other people's feelings."

So yesterday was a good day, it is well worth being alive when you can see that you have made a tiny difference to the world and someone else's life.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

End of........

As they used to say on the Fast Show, this week I've mostly been - clearing out.......

I've been sorting out my MIL's crockery and glass to see what might be worth going to auction, what the family wants to keep etc etc. The house is starting to feel less like a home and more like a waiting room, which is rather sad.
I think I counted over 20 glass thingies for putting in vases, a photo of some of them here off my Flip, with another shot of some of the Spode.

I've also had a birthday recently and got some poetry books from folk, including "Poems" by J H Prynne, clearly someone thought , that'll sort out her out - get your head around that then!
It is a huge tome and quite daunting, but I'm actually starting to like some pieces, as I read and reread them.
It makes you realise just how far one can push the boundaries of language and meaning, in a world where others are doing that anyway, either to sell us things, or convince us that their own world view is the right one, phrases of the moment like "quantitative easing" spring to mind.

John Kinsella 's helpful introduction on Prynne is at the clickable link, as is his appreciation of Prynne's poem Rich in Vitamin C .

A list poem that Roddy Lumsden did at Stanza was a bit Prynne - like, it was based on various technical terms used in the firefighting, a very suitable subject in the week of the G20 summit.
And I'm sure the President of Brazil's recent words to Gordon Brown would form the basis of a good poem, especially:

Before the crisis it looked like they knew everything about economics. And now they have demonstrated they don't know anything about economics.
These were people who appeared to be gods of wisdom.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

National Galleries for Scotland

I heard a few days ago that I've been made runner up in the published section of the National Galleries for Scotland Inspired? Get Writing!Creative Writing Competition.

This is the fourth year of the competition which is a three-way partnership between National Galleries of Scotland, the English Speaking Union and the Scottish Poetry Library.

Last year I got a special merit in the unpublished writers section.
But with Heart Notes being published last year, as well as having a few things accepted elsewhere, I had to step up to the published part of the competition. So I'm really amazed to have been awarded a runners up prize, as well as a further special merit award for another piece, at the first time of trying in this category. I submitted four pieces and got prizes for two, which can't be bad.

I think it means I'll have three pieces in the very beautiful biennial publication that will come out the September and will include all the art work and the winning pieces from the last two years - including pieces by the talented Alan Gay and Rob MacKenzie.

The two pictures I chose to write about were Alison Watt's wonderful Sabine, which is my runners up piece, and a tiny jewel of a landscape by the 17th century artist Hendrick Avercamp, called A Winter Landscape.

The readings and presentation are in May and I think my prize is a book of tickets for two for all of the up and coming exhibitions in the next year.

Sunday, March 22, 2009


I did a very whirlwind visit to Stanza yesterday with a couple of friends from the Musselburgh group of Tyne and Esk writers.

We saw Homecoming poets Annie Boutelle (who teaches in the English Department, Smith College, where she founded the Poetry Center in 1997. Her first book of poems, Becoming Bone was published by University of Arkansas Press. Her second book, Nest of Thistles, which focuses on her Scottish childhood, was published in 2005 by the University Press of New England, and won that year's Samuel French Morse Prize) and Ros Brackenbury (who lived in Edinburgh for 12 years, where she co-founded Shore Poets with Brian Johnstone in 1991. Since 1993, she has lived in Key West, Florida, with her American husband. She has published five collections of poetry, the latest of which is Yellow Swing (2004), as well as several novels. Her latest novel, Becoming George Sand, is due to be published by Doubleday (Canada) in 2009.)

They did a good set and it was interesting to note that their geographical locations in the US seemed to match their poetic style and their outward appearance. Annie Boutelle's style was concise, neat and precise, Brackenbury's more expansive
and relaxed. Brackenbury did the best name drop of the day by mentioning that she'd done a workshop with Sharon Olds. As my friend Irene would say, there I sat at one remove from greatness ....

And then we went on to see Roddy Lumsden, who I enjoyed enormously.(He teaches for The Poetry School and Morley College in London and is currently compiling Identity Parade, a major anthology of recent British and Irish poetry.) I don't know why but I had expected a rather pugilistic style, but his delivery was rather gentle and very thoughtful. And he displayed a dazzling virtuosity in terms of subject choices and style - I was disappointed not to be able to wait and queue for a copy of his new book Third Wish Wasted, but I will ask for it for my birthday.

Then I went to the pamphlet fair, where I was looked after Colin's Calder Wood Press stall for an hour. There I met fellow blogger Rachel Fox as well as lots of other poetry chums from the other side of the Forth. And I managed to scribble down a haiku for Colin's Stanza haiku exercise.

We also gave our seat in the cafe to Simon Armitage, we were leaving anyway, but I like that about Stanza - it is a very democratic festival. One minute folk are upon the stage, the next they are sitting beside you eating.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

I believe .... in Spring

Gorgeous day, so I took the lensbaby into my garden. NY poet Holly Anderson and I have agreed to do a project together that we're tentatively calling "zoned", because in North America areas are zoned to denote the climate and therefore the hardiness of the plants that will grow there. I won't give away all of our ideas as we hope to have something worthwhile by this time next year.


There are two things I consciously don't do, one is go to funerals unless I know that a real effort has been made to capture the essence of the person, and the other is writing reviews. My reasons for not writing reviews are complex -

1)I feel they are a bit of an art form.

2)While I trust my own ear, eye, heart and mind I'm never sure that I'm good at getting their honest reaction down on the page with the required balance and objectivity.

3)I tend to think, "what gives me the right to criticise"


4) I'm a kind of artless person, be my friend and I'll defend you to the death, but I come from a long line of folk who didn't do praise,and were bloody good at nit picking and silently crushing the spirit, so don't ask me what I think because I'll just revert to type. (I love Sharon Old's poem Fish Oil, which also touches on this idea.)

So may I highly recommend K Cadwallender's review of Irene Brown's Glass Slippers which is a really good reflection of the night and of Irene's individual voice and style. (for the uninitiated click on the link to go to the review)

The photo is of an Angelica pachycarpa (native of Spain, naturalised in NZ) leaf breaking. I've been very slow to be won over to Spring this year, but I'm getting there now.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Old remedies

Old Remedies

Apply a scalding poultice
to lance the boil. Let maggots
gnaw at mouldering flesh.
Wash noxious odours
from fevered skin, then loose
the leeches from the purdah
of their porcelain jar. Purge
me of both black and yellow bile.

Once cured prescribe
an indeterminate absence
in a warmer clime
to prevent recurrence
of my ill humour and caustic

I've been reading about a specialist "maggot nurse" who uses maggots to treat necrotic wounds, and wrote this afterwards.

Irene Brown's pamphlet launch last night was really good and her final poem, a comic villanelle was excellent - I've never heard the form treated like that before and it really works. Good to hear some west coast humour in Embra.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Lisa Hannigan/I don't know

If,like me,you're feeling curmudgeonly this should help.

The Scottish Parliament: New graffiti

"A new quotation is to be added to the Canongate Wall at Holyrood to mark a decade of devolution. Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson MSP today launched the hunt to find a new addition to the 24 quotes already in place on the Wall.

Announcing the start of the search, Mr Fergusson said: “The Canongate Wall was always supposed to be a living wall – one that we would add to when the time was right. We believe that as we approach our tenth anniversary, that time is now.

"We are asking people to nominate a well-loved or significant piece of writing that is relevant for Scotland, perhaps something that expresses how they feel about Scotland, what it means to be Scottish, or hopes for the future.”

I'm reading Don Paterson's The Blind Eye just now and I think,

"Fate's book, but my italics"

would work very well. The nationalists could even recast this to read, "Westminster's book, our italics".

Or perhaps:

"I've always wanted to serve, and now that Woolies is no longer an option..."

which is my own, but I think it has a certain ring to it.

Paterson has another lovely one though, that the panel might even consider -

"Whale to the ocean, bird to the sky, man to his dreams"

- just so long as we're not planning any cultural exchanges with the Norwegian or Japanese Parliaments that is.

I also have a wee soft spot for something profound that Oor Wullie said years ago in the last frame of one of his strips -

"Where there's a Wullie there's a way!"

It's something my dog swore by, until his operation.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Wendy Richard

I had a good chuckle at Wendy Richard insisting that her recipe for chili con carne be printed on the order of service at her funeral. I also found her simple willow coffin very moving.

She has provided much of the "visual soundtrack" for my generation and she will be sorely and genuinely missed.

It is proving to be a hard time for those living with and being treated for cancer, as there is also the media blitz over Jade Goody's sad demise. I think the least judgemental of all have been those people living with and being treated for the disease. I've known a number of very young woman who have died of breast cancer and it has always seemed like the cruelest cut of all, because they often leave very young children or are deprived of ever knowing motherhood.

I'm not going to debate the wisdom of living in the eye of the camera, it seems to me to be more like a life in the eye of a tiger. But Jade Goody has already saved the lives of a number of her peers, who like her had thought that youth conferred some sort of invincibility and/or immortality, and that is something they and we should all be very thankful for.

I also hope her situation makes them think about their own sexual health and that of their daughters - the new cervical cancer vaccine has the potential to save very many lives.

I was also saddened to learn of Ann-Marie Rogers death. She won a landmark victory in 2006 to be treated with HER2 inhibiting drug Herceptin. When I was first diagnosed this drug was still in clinical trial and I had to volunteer for the trial to get the blood test to see if I was "Her2-positive". Fortunately I wasn't, as HER2-positive breast cancers tend to be more aggressive than other types of breast cancer, but at least I then knew what type of cancer I was dealing with. I can't imagine what it must have been like to fight a high profile court case while dealing with this disease.

On the radio this morning they were again debating the merits of feminism and some women in the debate were being almost apologetic for using the word.

These three women are all feminists in the best possible sense of the word, in that they valued their lives and the skills and strengths that they each possessed.
They are wonderful examples of life being so much more than mere longevity and we should celebrate them.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Polly Clark/Fielding Foundation

I got an e-mail from Polly asking me for a 75 word biography and photo for the Fielding Foundation site for the April 2009 course.

This makes the fact that I'm going at all start to feel horribly real and trying to extricate myself from things around here is getting all the more difficult, what with my MIL's house selling, which means we now have to empty the place by mid May and my FIL's hip op, no he's not a rapper, now happening on the 15 April.
My family all have a great capacity to bury their heads in the sand as things with the speed and force of a runaway steam train come thundering towards them out of left field. I'm not entirely sure what the evolutionary benefits of this trait are, nor do I have it in the great spades that my father did, but it does lurks within me and I do deploy it against the things that I find most scary.

I booked this course a year ago, for the very reason that I wanted to have one week where all I had to think about was me. But I'm now starting to feel selfish, with a large dose of blind panic thrown in for good measure.

On a more upbeat note Lucy and I have an overspill piece at postal poetry from our "mutating the signature" collaboration, my photo/her poem. And my friend and soon to be published poet, Irene Brown and I have both got poems into this collection , a poetry and film project about Edinburgh using 100 poems about the city that will be turned into film shorts. We applied at the 11th hour, so I'm 98 and Irene is 97 I think, but the company is very fine.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Photography Competition Winners

Here's the link to see the winning shots

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

On the mend

Still feeling lousy, but at least I'm up today and moving around, albeit in the house. The car is home and 300 quid has walked out the door - but I tell myself that that is less than a pound a day and that I'm worth it.

Nothing much else to report, other than I wish there was someone here to make me chicken soup :(

I took this photo last Spring, the pond was full of junk, which looks like digital noise, but I like the dispostion of the tadpoles. I wrote the words today.