Tuesday 28 November 2006

Creative Writing Tutoring

I'm very excited to have been accepted as a creative writing tutor for The City of Edinburgh Council. I was originally accepted a couple of weeks ago as a 'supply tutor' but have been offered two full courses to tutor next term - one class of creative writing workshops and one on blogging for beginners. I'll post more details as they are confirmed, just in case any readers in Edinburgh know anyone who may be interested.

Monday 27 November 2006

Haiku - legacy

Our legacy for
the next generation -

this beautiful earth.

Legacy - for One Deep Breath.

Sunday 26 November 2006


This notebook is made from good quality scrap card from the office, scap paper from the office, a photo from a magazine and a belt from a skirt! I've made a couple of other notebooks from similar materials, sometimes substituting old shoelaces or reused parcel ribbon for the belt. Once the notebook is used up, it can be refilled with scrap paper cut to the right size.

Thursday 23 November 2006

Poetry Live

Poetry Readings are a great way to experience poetry. Hearing a poet live can and should add to the experience of the poetry. If you’re a poet yourself it’s a great way of meeting more poets and developing an audience for your work.

The poet who I most like to hear live is Ruth Padel, she has an electrifying stage presence and brings her work to life with great passion. She's also very much an environmentalist too, which of course appeals to me. I really enjoyed Sharon Olds reading recently at the Scottish Poetry Library, she has a very matter of fact delivery and a great confidence in public reading (I wrote a mini-review of the evening on my other blog Alter Ego). This makes a huge difference, some poets hide behind their books when they are reading and the words are all lost in their chins and the audience feels no sense of engagement. I know from experience how nerve wracking it can be to read your work in public, but once you have a certain level of recognition, you are expected to give performances and you might as well learn to do it with style and at least a pretence of confidence!

I'm not well recognised enough to be expected to give readings. I actually choose to do it for fun! (?) My readings have almost all been in performance poetry venues (though I don't think of myself as a performance poet!) rather than in literary venues. There are some excellent performance poets in Edinburgh and there used to be some excellent caberet nights for poets and musicians (I used to love performing at Kin, which was a low key cabaret night and Silencio was interesting too, an evening of glamour and surreal entertainment that somehow never quite lived up to expectation while at the same time always providing a very daunting audience to read to! Neither of these nights exist anymore and Big Word Poetry is too aggressive for me, though it can be credited with kickstarting the whole performance poetry scene in Edinburgh).

Maybe Edinburgh is strange in having two distinct poetry communities - the literary circuit (eg the Scottish Poetry Library, Poetry Association Scotland) where you have to have a serious track record of published work before you're invited to read and then the performance poetry world where you can often just turn up and read, though its dominated by loud aggressive comedy poets who perform their work usually without a book in sight. There are a couple of in between events. Is there this kind of distinction elsewhere?

Thoughts on Poetry Readings for Poetry Thursday.

Monday 20 November 2006

Autumnal haiku - senses

Sweet cherries
hang ripe on the trees -
free snacks!

bonfire smoke
rises from the garden -
sharp frost.

a robin perches
on a bare branched tree –

a robin sings
a melancholy song -
first snow fall

autumn wind -
the roughness of falling leaves
brushes my hair

More haiku on the senses on my Alter Ego blog.

Senses for One Deep Breath

Thursday 16 November 2006

This Train

This train does not exist, or
if it does, it does not pass
through major towns or cities.

This train carries only cargo that is safe
or if not safe, unlikely to
explode or give off noxious fumes.

This train does not interest terrorists
and if it does, they cannot damage it
as it is impregnable.

This train is not an embarrassment
to the government, is not illegal,
does not glow in the dark.

This train does not pass
the end of your street.

If you live in the UK, you can find out whether nuclear waste is transported by train through your neighbourhood here.

This poem was slightly influenced by Woody Guthrie's song This Train is Bound for Glory, the lyrics for which are here.

Telling lies for Poetry Thursday.

Sunday 12 November 2006


GreenGirlsGlobal is a new blog with lots of advice on how to make your life greener. It looks like it could be interesting!

Earth Passengers

"I don't want to be a passenger in my own life." (Diane Ackerman)

Not having ever learnt to drive
I am a constant passenger
on buses, trains and ferries
old Mazda trucks in Malawi
even planes when necessary

In my life I guess I want
to control the driving wheel
rather than to be controlled
by government or family

but we accept being passengers
on earth, abdicating
responsibility for the mess we're in
watching the scenery on the tv
as we hurtle through space
on an overheating planet.

Destination unknown.

This is now a second draft (as the first draft was not clear in meaning to some readers), written in response to the Diana Ackerman quote as suggested by this week's Sunday Scribblings.

For more about global warming and what you can do to try to stop it getting worse, please visit:

If we all take action now and refuse to be just passengers we may be able to secure a planet worth living on for future generations.

Kekexili - Mountain Patrol

Kekexili is a stunningly beautiful, interesting and depressing film about the mountain patrols set up to protect the last populations of the Tibetan antelopes. Beautiful because the scenery is stunning and the cinematography is brilliant. Interesting, because the viewer learns so much about the plight not just of the antelopes but also of the human populations in the area. Depressing, because although the statistics that are shown on screen at the end of the film show that the situation is improving for the antelopes, there is no indication in the film that the situation is anything other than totally grim. The viewer needs to know that the patrols are dogged by danger (patrol officers have been killed in their work) and that they are greatly under-resourced, but given that there is hope, there should be at least a glimmer of this in the narrative! This all said, it is a wonderful film for everyone interested in Tibet or nature conservation and for anyone who has ever thought about buying a shastoosh. The answer to that is don't. Shahtoosh shawls are made from the pelts of dead Tibetan antelopes and are the main reason the animal is endangered.

Monday 6 November 2006

Poetic Cinema - An Artist's Date for Poetry Thursday

This evening I went to the Poetic Cinema event, organised by Edinburgh's Filmhouse and the Scottish Poetry Library. An evening of cinema inspired by poetry. Including three film poems from Margaret Tait Where I Am Is Here (1964), Colour Poems (1974) and Hugh MacDiarmid; A Portrait (1964). Although there are moments of great beauty in the first two of these and all of them offer interesting historical snapshots, I felt that they lacked coherence and any sense of either direction or wholeness.

Much more interesting and successful for me was Neil Kempsell's visual interpretation of Sorley MacLean's poem Hallaig, about the tragic loss and memories of a highland community on the Island of Raasay. This is a stunning film of animated characters moving over filmed broken houses and landscape, as if the ghosts of the original inhabitants have returned. The soundtrack was wonderful too, composed by Martyn Bennett.

The evening ended with Bernard MacLaverty's film inspired by the Seamus Heaney poem 'Bye-Child', a film of eerie beauty with a disturbing story to tell.

After the screening Bernard MacLaverty and Neil Kempsell discussed the films and some of the challenges around adapting poetry for the screen. The most interesting discussions for me centred around narrative and how to adapt a poem to fit the narrative requirements of the cinema. Of course Margaret Tait chose to sidestep any real narrative and that for me is largely why her films didn't work. However I have seen other films that have chosen to take a non-narrative, poetic approach to their subject matter and have succeeded as a more meditative type of cinema, possibly blurring the boundary with video art. The other question is how to judge how much material to add to a poem in making it a film and where is the line between the film of a poem and a film inspired by a poem?

This week, Poetry Thursday suggested we take an Artist's Date, I think this fits the bill!


A perfect November day. Clear blue sky and sunshine but with a bracing wind. An ideal day for a walk around Arthur's Seat.

extinct volcano
towers above the city -
ancient seat of kings.

We walk through trees, yews covered in berries, silver birch with their stark white and black trunks and beeches.

autumn sunshine
through the changing beech leaves -
copper glow.

Then onward, up the hill, the wind blowing through our hair. From the main path we have stunning views across Duddingston Loch to the Firth of Forth. While on our other side cliffs rise steeply.

Crows chase kestrel
wheeling above the hillside -
bright blue sky.

Sunday 5 November 2006

November Morning, Edinburgh

Over breakfast I watch the sunrise
fiery orange giving way
to red and grey patchwork clouds.
Colour fades then
sky clears to perfect cold blue.

Golden leaves lie crisp
on the lawn.

for Sunday Scribblings

Thursday 2 November 2006

The Starfish Remains Untranslated

One of my favourite lines of poetry is 'the starfish remains untranslated' which comes from the magnificent Axion Esti by the Greek poet, Odysseus Elytis, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1979. I love the sense of mystery about the natural world encapsulated in that line.

I have long wanted to write a poem with this line as a starting point and on Poetry Thursday this week we were given the challenge of taking a favourite line and using it as a starting point for thinking about poetry or writing a poem of our own. So here is a short poem inspired by that line:

The Starfish Remains Untranslated

Heavenly body fallen to earth
shining between rocks and detritus -
symbol or cosmic co-incidence?
What can it tell us
about the sea and its tides,
the galaxies,
ourselves and our lives?