Sunday 30 December 2007

tanka - frost

From a frosty Christmas Day walk through Princes Street Gardens, Edinburgh:

glitter white
with frost -
greenfinches glow
like emeralds.


frost glitters
on slippery pathways -
hand in hand
we feel safer
from falling.

A senryu on a different aspect of frost is on my Alter Ego blog.

Frost for One Deep Breath

Pot Pourri bag

I bought some pot pourri from a local second hand shop and transferred it into pretty cloth bags. Some of the bags I made - this one is admittedly a bit of a cheat as it was the gift bag from a candle, but it is the most photogenic! The ribbon is re-used though I don't know where it came from originally.

Saturday 29 December 2007


Ever since we had a pet rabbit (the adorable and much missed Anya) I have looked at rabbits in a new light. No longer are they almost a pest species, ten a penny in fields everywhere across the UK. Now they are adorable furry things with loads of personality. There is a colony of about twenty rabbits that lives on the hill below Edinburgh Castle. These rabbits are thin and scrawny, their heads bent to nibble the thin grass on the hill, only occasionally daring to go into Princes Street Gardens, where the grass is thicker but there are people around too. Over on Arthur's Seat, the rabbits seem better fed, sleeker as they scamper around the hill, glowing in the sunlight. When we visited Orkney, we saw brave bunnies who lived on the seacliffs, their burrows overlooking the sea.

I wrote a poem about Anya here. I'm currently reading my review copy of Poetry Speaks Expanded and was struck by this description of rabbits in Denise Levertov's poem Come into Animal Presence:

...............................The lonely white
rabbit on the roof is a star
twitching its ears at the rain.
...the rabbit inspects his strange surroundings
in white star-silence

Animal for Weekend Wordsmith

Friday 28 December 2007

Rethinking Basic Assumptions

One of the problems of buying all my books second hand is that sometimes I find topical books a bit late in the day. Never mind, Hijacking Environmentalism (ed Richard Welford) seems to be (sadly) just as relevant today as it was when it was written 10 years ago. The book addresses basically what we would now call greenwash, how business adds on environmental extras to its work without addressing the real environmental issues. I've only read the Introduction so far but this quote leapt out at me:

When for example, an oil tanker runs aground causing massive environmental destruction we blame the disaster on the fact that the tanker had a single skin hull rather than a double skin, we blame the pilot or the adverse weather conditions. We rarely ask ourselves why millions of gallons of oil are transported round the globe in old vessels.....We do not ask ourselves what kind of consumption patterns, which we take for granted, have resulted in thousands of seabirds, fish and seals dying to satisfy our greed.

It promises to be an insightful read, which takes into account the interconnectedness of environmental sustainability and social justice, but also demands some serious rethinking of basic assumptions about how our society works.

Thursday 27 December 2007

Best of the Year

I thought I'd do a round up of some of my favourite books, films, shows and exhibitions of the year that have some environmental connection. I buy all my books second hand so my favourite books are mostly not recently published, where they are, I've probably been sent review copies!

Creatures of the Intertidal Zone by Susan Richardson
Gyrfalcon Poems by Colin Simms
The Good Neighbour by John Burnside

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

The Wild Blue Yonder - Werner Herzog

Planting the Dunk Botanic Gardens, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Seeing Dragons in the Clouds, Edinburgh City Art Centre
Weaving Words - Anna S King, National Museum of Scotland

More of my Best of the Year over at my Alter Ego Blog.

Best of the Year for Booking through Thursday, with added extras!

Wednesday 26 December 2007

Adaptation and the Bird

Thousands of years evolution
to reach perfection -
form fit for purpose and place

until the poison
the warming
the looming shadow
of humankind.

for Totally Optional Prompts and all the penguins, vultures and other well adapted birds doomed to extinction by humankind's arrogance

Monday 24 December 2007

haiku - giving

throw raisins
onto the lawn -
blackbirds wait.

Giving for One Deep Breath

Seven Random Things about Christmas

mm at Wanting to Be Here tagged me for the 7 random things meme. I've done this one before more than once but i thought it would be fun to do 7 random things about a mostly crafty and green Christmas:

1. We will have a vegetarian Christmas dinner with nut roast, potatoes, carrots and Brussel sprouts followed by a vegetarian Christmas pudding with custard

2. I handmade all my Christmas cards this year.

3. I bought my sister and her husband ten metres of hedgerow from the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.

4. Most of the other gifts I have given are handmade, second hand or fair-trade.

5. Gifts that needed to be wrapped, I wrapped in handmade giftbags or in reused paper

6. From our flat we can see fairy lights decorating a crane in a building site!

7. There are reindeer in Edinburgh's Princes Street Gardens during December up until Christmas Eve.

I'm not going to tag anyone for this, but feel free to join in if you want! Have a wonderful and peaceful Christmas!

Sunday 23 December 2007


Earth is amazing and unique. Even if other planets out there support advanced life, there will be no other planet that supports just exactly the mix of living organisms that earth supports. From beetles coloured like precious jewels to the magnificent tiger, life is full of wonder.

Life has come and gone. Once the dinosaurs ruled the planet, now humans like to think we do. However, humans are polluting the earth, destroying rainforests and discupting weather systems. We are putting great stresses on the ecosystems of the world, pushing numerous species to extinction and damaging our own life support systems.

Things pass, everything changes, the earth as a planet will survive until either the sun dies or the planet is destroyed by huge meteorites. However, if we care for human society and for the species we currently share the earth with, we would stop and think a little more about how we treat this wonderful earth that is our home.


luminous roundness

subtle swirls in blue and green

draped with wispy veils of white

set against a backdrop of black


The Earth for Writers' Island

Saturday 22 December 2007

Customised Glamour for the Party Season

Christmas is the time for parties and dressing up. These gloves I had originally bought new (I buy my clothes second hand, apart from underwear, shoes and some hats and gloves) but I was getting a bit bored of them. So I cut the lace from the top of some old stockings and then sewed it into the top of the gloves - there's just the right amount of lace at the top of a stocking to form a nice border on a glove with enough left over to allow for hemming etc.

Thebracelet was £2.40 in a second hand shop and the ring was literally found in the street! Altogether an ideal touch of glamour for a festive evening out.

Friday 21 December 2007

Poetry Speaks Expanded

I just received in the post my review copy of Poetry Speaks Expanded from Source Books. It's a huge book of poetry from some of the most well known poets of the 20th Century with three accompanying CDs. So I know what I'll be reading and listening to over the Christmas holiday! I'll post a review early in the New Year. Meanwhile, you can read my review of Source Book's Spoken Word Redux book and CD here.

Thursday 20 December 2007

Creatures of the Intertidal Zone by Susan Richardson

CREATURES OF THE INTERTIDAL ZONE is a collection of poetry rooted in the natural world, more specifically rooted in ice and ocean and the journeys made across them by humans and animals. The poems include haiku and tanka, two villanelles and a number of poems showing skillful use of end rhyme, as well as extensive use of internal rhyme. Richardson is a poet who knows how to use the sounds and rhythms of language.

There are poems here based on the experience of the men, including Scott and Shackleton, who explored the Antarctic and others based on stories of the Scandanavian heroines Gudrid and Freydis. There are several poems about penguins,

continue to read the review here.

The NHI review site, run by Gerald England, is closing to new reviews this Christmas, but will still be online as an archive. So, thanks to Gerald, I've enjoyed writing reviews for this site over the past few years, I've been able to read a great variety of books that I wouldn't have found otherwise and reviewing is a great way to get closer to poetry and think about it more than you might otherwise do.

Wednesday 19 December 2007

Gift Bags

I made these gift bags from scrap material. The gold fabric was left over from a top that I bought second hand that wasn't in perfect condition but the fabric was so beautiful I bought it anyway. I shortened the top by cutting off the damaged areas and found myself with enough cloth to make two of these gift bags. I decorated this one with beads from an old skirt and a ribbon from a box of chocolates! The other bag is made from material left over from a dress I had made in Malawi. The ribbon came from an old gift. I left this one without beads. These bags are an ideal alternative to wrapping paper. The recipient will hopefully reuse the bag, either a gift bag for someone else, or for personal storage.

Monday 17 December 2007

Crafty Green and True Blue

I was delighted to find that nà of Shadows and Clouds has awarded me the True Blue Blogging Award, which i would in turn like to pass on! Many thanks for thinking of me, Nà! This award is for 'blogging friends, for people who stick by you in blogland and make it fun to blog, create a community of communication and friends.' I could award it to so many people who visit me but I will choose:

Janice (Pursuance of Truth)
Jo (A Broad's Thoughts from Home)
Polona (Crows and Daisies)

I would also like to award it right back to as well!

Thanks to those I've listed and to everyone who visits here and comments or just lurks!

Sunday 16 December 2007

Saturday 15 December 2007


I love clouds, they add character to the sky. On a recent train journey between Edinburgh and Manchester, the clouds were low and the landscape became most mysterious, even disappearing on occasion! I love the contrast between sunshine and cloud:

dark clouds
full of rain

snow capped
that glint

in the sunlight

Clouds for Weekend Wordsmith

Thursday 13 December 2007

Heima - Sigur Ros on Film

This documentary follows the Icelandic band Sigur Ros as they tour Iceland, giving a series of free concerts, mostly in open air venues, including at a protest camp against a large dam in the middle of a huge area of upland wilderness (the dam has now been flooded and it's too late for the scenery and the habitats, sadly). Sigur Ros' haunting music is the perfect accompaniment to Iceland's stunning scenery and the film is mesmerising. There are also some surreal moments, some humour and introductions to other musicians (including someone who makes musical instruments from pieces of rock and 100 year old stalks of rhubarb!). This is probably not going to get a wide release, but if you get the chance to see it, it's definitely recommended!

Wednesday 12 December 2007


Scrawny necked, ugly birds of death,
feeders on carrion and rotting things.

Somewhere in Nepal,
they leave their dead for you,
on ice-cold mountainsides,
and watch you take the flesh,
the bones,
the heart,
the soul


An article in the current issue of the RSPB magazine Birds, prompted me to repost this poem. Three of southern Asia's vultures have declined by 99% since the early 1990s. Vultures play a vital role in ecosystems, clearing up carcases and preventing the spread of diseases that could be picked up from these carcases. This decline is due in large part to a drug, diclofenac, which is used to treat domestic cattle. Vultures are poisoned by this drug when they feed on the carcases of domestic animals. Work is going on to ban this drug and to breed vultures in captivity to release them back into the wild. If caught soon enough, poisoned vultures can be treated and can recover. For more information and how you can help please visit:
Vulture Rescue and the RSPB Vulture Campaign pages.

(Poem previously published in Envoi)

Tuesday 11 December 2007

Line Length

What effect does line length have on a poem? I write a lot of short poems and usually use short lines in these poems, because very long lines in a short poem can look unbalanced. However in longer poems I think the effect of very short lines can be to make the poem seem choppy, though used well very short lines add drama to a poem or can fix attention on individual words. Longer lines often seem to flow better, adding lyricism or making the rhythm gentler. Here are some examples of different line length in my poetry:

short lines - Young Woman in Black (on my Alter Ego blog)
medium lines - Wild Again

varied line length - Confluence, a Riverscape

I'm sure it will surprise no-one that I couldn't find an example of a poem with long lines! That will be something to work on perhaps.

Line Length for Read Write Poem

Wild Again

Champagne to celebrate breeding success -
the rare dove, the rare eagle
both released back into the wild

Scientists and tourists alike gasp in delight
to watch the newly wild eagle plunge
through the sky in pursuit of prey

Delight is stunned into silence
when the eagle's first victim is seen -
a newly wild, rare dove

Birds and Bonds for Totally Optional Prompts

Monday 10 December 2007

Moses Gate Country Park

While we were in Manchester over the weekend we visited Moses Gate Country Park, in Farnworth, Bolton. It's a lovely local nature reserve, tucked away in quite a built up area, with a lake and reedbeds and a bit of woodland. We were lucky with the weather, the earlier rain had disappeared and the sky was clear and the air crisp and still, though it was a bit slippy underfoot! The lake was covered with Canada Geese with plenty of mallards, tufted ducks and coots. We also saw one black swan (probably an escape from either a private collected or from the nearby Wildfowl and Wetlands Reserve at Martin Mere.) We only saw one greylag goose , though there may have been more. There was also a very sad and ill-looking white goose, sitting on the bank.

When we got back to Edinburgh, I was delighted to find that I've won a mounted print of Mark Eccleston's stunning photo
Frosted Teasel. If you don't know Mark's work, why not go and visit his blog and website - his photos are wonderful! And thanks for the prize, Mark!

Wednesday 5 December 2007

Scottish Government backs millionaire in bid to destroy ecosystems

I suspected that my optimism of a couple of days ago would be short lived. The Scottish Government is to appeal against Aberdeenshire Council's rejection of Donald Trump's proposal to build golf courses and hotels on the coast of Aberdeenshire. I find it strange that a government committed to the idea of an independent Scotland should a) not trust local councils to use their own powers to make their own decisions and b) want to sell off our land to an American billionaire. Not to mention the environmental impact of the development. I also find it strange that the government aren't leaving it to Trump to put in an appeal against the decision.

The appeal will be lead by John Swinney, MSP. Any letters of complaint or even support can be sent to him, using the contact details found on that link.

Of course some people see only the economic benefits that the proposal could bring but at the end of the day if we destroy the environment, we ultimately destroy ourselves and the economy. Progress isn't just about money. Or golf for that matter.

Tuesday 4 December 2007

Salt Monody by Marzanna Kielar

Salt Monody is the latest collection of poetry from the Polish poet Marzanna Kielar, here in a bilingual edition with excellent English language translations by Elzbieta Wojcik-Leese. The poems took me right back into the ancient forest heart of Poland that I visited briefly years ago. Kielar's writing is very evocative and full of wonderful images like:

dark splash of a crow in the floodplain of silence

from the poem Dusk. A lot of the book feels quite bleak, set in winter weather in stark landscapes and there are dark themes running through, such as death and abandonment. However the collection is not depressing or grim, its too beautifully written for that. I also have to say that this is one of the best poetic translations I've read, I don't speak Polish so I can't say how close to the original the translations are, but as poetry they flow wonderfully and multiple meanings can be read throughout - wonderful enough in poetry at any time but very difficult to achieve in translation.

I haven't been able to find a bilingual website that offers Kielar's poems side by side in Polish and English (For readers who are interested in reading some of her poetry in Polish, there is a sample and a short biography here).

Monday 3 December 2007

Haiku Broken Telephone Game

Inspired by a game called ‘broken telephone’ in Lithuania, Ricardas at Haiku Poetry Blog is setting up a haiku game. In Broken Telephone, a sentence is passed through a chain of people by whispering it to the next person, then he/she whispers further on and so till the last person who announces loudly what he/she have heard. Normally, it is different from what initially was said and more people participate funnier it ends up. To see how the haiku version works and to participate, see this post. The game is now up and running here and you can see my haiku (in Italian and English) if you scroll down.

Sand Dunes Protected from Development

I was delighted to read over the weekend that Donald Trumps plan to destroy ecologically sensitive sand dunes in Aberdeenshire to build golf courses and hotels was turned down by Aberdeenshire Council. Read more in the Guardian. I've heard it said by some politicians about similar though smaller decisions in Edinburgh that people are starting to resist change to the extent that they're going to miss out on progress. But what is progress? I don't see yet more golf courses in Scotland as being progress if they destroys our natural heritage. I don't see new hotels in Edinburgh as being progress if they destroy wonderful old buildings that are part of our historical heritage.

More and more people are seeing that progress needs to respect the past and the natural world and more and more in Scotland, there is hope that nature can win against the destructive advance of progress. More and more people are seeing that true sustainability means more than economics and that heritage and the environment are not nice extras but vital components of our world.

Well the signs are good today anyway.

Sunday 2 December 2007

Signs of Otters

' Otters Crossing' Roadsign, Kirkwall, Orkney Islands

In tv wildlife shows broadcast from remote Scottish islands,

excited presenters whisper your name to camera

imply only patience stands between us and you,

a view shared by the makers of roadsigns.

We however have only ever been teased

by your footprints; leftovers from your meals

found on coastal rocky outcrops

and stories told us in hotel breakfast rooms.

Told in quieter whispers when we return home

are stories of your kind in our town

leaving footprints by our less romantic waters.

Our fingers cross now on every weekend walk.

Roadsign for Totally Optional Prompts

Saturday 1 December 2007

Winter Walk

This morning we walked along the Water of Leith through Colinton Dell. The ground was covered in leaves (and very slippery in parts!) the trees were largely bare, the sky was blue and it was chilly but not too cold. The trees were full of birds, though many of them kept themselves hidden despite the lack of leaves on the trees. We heard blue tits, robins and jackdaws and saw coal tits, magpies, woodpigeons, mallards and carrion crows. When we crossed the footbridge over the river we caught sight of a heron. Then we walked further up and saw a second heron from the bridge near the weir (click on the photo to see it!).

We were able to watch this heron for a while as it wrestled with (and swallowed) a large fish then flew up river to drink and rest.

We then walked into Colinton, which is a village that has become part of Edinburgh but still retains its village feel. Just as we were about to get on the bus to come home, we saw several redwings in the trees near the bus stop. Redwings are one of the UK's winter thrushes, so it must really be winter now.

You can read about more of our weekend walks by following these links:

Arthur's Seat, November 2007

North Berwick, August 2007

Corstophine Hill, August 2007

Walk for Sunday Scribblings

Friday 30 November 2007

Two Exhibitions at the City Art Centre

Scissors Paper Stone is an exhibition of commissioned craft works on the theme of Edinburgh. The exhibits are varied, taking different types of inspiration from the city. There are models of plants found in the Botanic Gardens, hats inspired by different areas of the city. My favourite part of the exhibition was the series of totemic sticks by Anna S. King and the Edinburgh Makar (Poet Laureate) Valerie Gillies, inspired by the Royal Mile. Each stick is covered with ribbons, text, pressed flowers, feathers etc to capture the history of the street.

Seeing Dragons in the Clouds is an exhibition of the 'Art of the Imagination'. Lizzie Farey looked back to her childhood watching swallows in the sky and created some beautiful impressionistic willow sculptures of swallows. I was also particularly struck by the case of wonderful insects (I didn't make a note of this artists name unfortunately) made from plant parts, a comment on mimicry and camouflage in insects but also an example of incredibly skilled craft.

Both exhibition are on at the City Art Centre until 12 January 2008.

Thursday 29 November 2007

The Yellow Rain by Julio Llamazares

This is a good book to read at the end of autumn just as winter sets in, because that's the season of the book. It's beautifully written, full of late autumnal and winter weather. The narrator is the last person in his village in the Spanish Pyrenees, everyone else has either died or moved away. Even those who have moved away to neighbouring villages rarely come to visit him. He watches nature take over his home village, ivy and lichens growing on the buildings, snow and wind damaging the roofs. It's a melancholy farewell to a way of life.

The Yellow Rain by Julio Llamazares, translated from the Spanish by Margaret Jull Costa. Published in Spanish in 1988, translated into English 2004.

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Craft Project in Progress

You'll need to click on the photo to see the detail clearly. I've sewn some scrap velvet ribbon onto the scrap of lace. Unfortunately I don't have another piece of lace to match otherwise I could make a lovely pair of cuffs to sew onto a blouse or onto a pair of gloves. It's probably going to be another needle case as I really need one myself.

Monday 26 November 2007

Orkney Rocks and Stones

low tide -
delicate fossil ferns
traced on the rocks.

brave rabbits burrow
homes in rocky cliffs -
sea waves crash below.
(These are definitely rabbit holes, we saw the rabbits to prove it!).

rocks and stones for One Deep Breath

Gyrfalcon Poems by Colin Simms

As a birdwatcher I was immediately drawn to this book. GYRFALCON POEMS is a collection of poetry, illustrations and short essays based on Simm's close observations of gyrfalcons, the largest of the falcons, over half a century. This poetry is full of the wildness of the birds and of their chosen exposed habitats in Northern countries. Simms is not always a straightforward poet but he is never wilfully difficult and his words are written with such a love of language that they are worth reading over and over.

Continue reading my review here (mine is the second review on the page, just scroll down). I would definitely recommend this book to all the birdwatching poets out there!

Sunday 25 November 2007

Poetry and Animals

Yesterday we went to the Botanic Gardens and this haiku is absolutely true and sums up how I feel about animals and how they feel about me:

expecting food -
a squirrel runs to me
and hugs my leg.

I write a lot of poetry about animals, especially birds. Here are some examples from the archives:

Passenger Pigeon


In the Dark (for Anya our rabbit)

I have also posted several poems featuring birds over on Bolts of Silk, the most recent being:

Yang Chung's Poem 70 by Duane Locke

First by Frank Praeger

Animals for Totally Optional Prompts

Friday 23 November 2007

Eating Mangoes

It took almost two years to discover
there is more than one type of mango.
When I had arrived I had tried one
that was green and stringy and sickly
with a strange metallic tang.

The second, the orange lay in hiding
growing only on shade loving trees,
eaten only by people who know
what a stone well aimed at a branch
can dislodge from a mango tree.

I must admit I was doubtful when a friend
said these ones were different
but the orange mango was heaven
as I bit into sweetest flesh
and the juices ran over my chin.

I came back to the UK too soon
still craving that flavoursome mango.
I went to the supermarket that I thought
would stock what I wanted
and yes they had rows upon rows of mangoes

and every last one was green!

An old poem on the topic of Food for Read Write Poem

Monday 19 November 2007

Some Places I've Been and How I Got There

Seeing as I've been talking about my travels recently, I thought it might be interesting to list where I've travelled to and how I travelled:

California, family holiday when I was 7 - flew

Poland - archeology dig (when everyone else I knew was at their graduation ceremony) - ferry and train, 48 hours of train as I remember...

France - conservation working holiday - ferry and train and bike

Malawi - two years VSO (UK Peace Corps equivalent) - flew

Zimbabwe - holiday when living in Malawi - bus through Zambia, 48 hours of bus with 5 hours stuck in Lusaka bus station. We missed the bus back and so had to fly...

Botswana - holiday when living in Malawi, train from Harare (Zimbabwe)

Germany - several trips, usually with ferry and trains.

Austria - train from Germany

Amsterdam - usually ferry, unless then going on through Germany in which case I have flown sometimes

Spain - exchange trip, flew

Jersey - conference and holiday - flew

Italy - conference and holiday - flew

Scottish islands - numerous visits - ferry, train, local buses, school buses and hired cars.

I've occasionally flown to Bristol for work reasons as the train takes far too long to be justifiable for work purposes. I flew to London with a colleague once but generally take the train to London as that train is speedier in real terms than the flight. I try to avoid flying for environmental reasons, but also I enjoy seeing the scenery from a train or a bus. I like birdwatching from the deck of a ferry and seeing island scenery - an overnight ferry with a film, a couple of drinks and a meal with a nice cabin to sleep in is a very civilised way to travel, I think.

haiku - adventure

torch light
searching for snakes – oops
an elephant!

a canoe
in the Okavango
hippos grunt

Adventure for One Deep Breath

Sunday 18 November 2007


half bare trees -
carrion crow collects

This is what I saw yesterday, I was totally fascinated, why would a crow be collecting leaves at this time of the year? For a winter roost nest?

Saturday 17 November 2007


Beyond the garden fence wild grasses sway in the breeze:
Festuca rubra shimmers red
Digitaria ischaemum smoothly fingers the air
Agrostis curtisii bristles and bends in a curtsey
Elymus caninus slowly wags its beard

out in the undulating fields
even their names are more beautiful than lawn
their colours greener.

Festuca rubra - red fescue
Digitaria ischaemum - smooth finger grass
Agrostis curtisii - bristle bent grass
Elymus caninus - bearded couch grass

Grass for Weekend Wordsmith

7 Random Things About me

Well both Abzdragon and This Girl Remembers tagged me with this meme, so I guess I should do it! Seven random things about me that you may not know:

1. I once bumped into an elephant. I was camping in Victoria Falls campsite with a friend and going back to the tent in the dark one night we were scared of stepping on snakes so we were focussing the torch on the ground, then suddenly oops - there was an elephant right in front of us!

2. I hate the smell of Himalayan Balsam. It may be a pretty flower but it stinks!

3. I couldn't face the thought of going to my Graduation Ceremony so I went on an archaeology dig in Poland, much more fun! Then somehow I ended up with two graduation certificates!

4. I find really cool things in the streets - I've found a lovely silver ring with black stones, a wooden ottoman with a velvet lid that looks perfect in the bay window in our bedroom, and books of course.

5. I can't stop buying second hand books, I keep telling myself its an excellent form of recycling and my purchases help charity - both true but how am I going to find time to read all these books?!

6. When I was living in Malawi, one of my fingers swelled up and turned green. I had to lance it with a needle and then it went back to normal.

7. I can't cut in a straight line, as anyone who's ever had a homemade greetings card from me can tell you.... (This is one of the reasons I could never sell the greetings cards i make!)

Now I know this meme is doing the rounds, so I'm not going to tag anyone, but if you want to join in, consider yourself tagged!

Friday 16 November 2007

A Poetry Meme

Jo from A Broad's Thoughts from Home has tagged me with an interesting poetry meme - list at least four things you think a beginning poet should attend to and four mistakes you think a poet should avoid. You can read Jo's answers here.

1. Experience poetry - read poetry blogs, read poetry books, read poetry journals, go to poetry readings and listen to other poets, listen to poetry on CD or online. Read poets who immediately appeal to you and try some of those who don't. (In the UK, second hand bookshops are great places to find poetry books, you can try new poets for as little as £1 a book). Absorb poetry so that it is part of you!

2. Think about poetry - write mini reviews on your blog, discuss with other poets about the poetry you like and why, read poetry actively, thinking about what works for you and what doesn't.

3. Write poetry - you may not like what comes out of your pen at first but keep writing!

4. Write with feeling, genuine emotion is one of the most powerful elements of poetry. However, restrain your passion so that it drives your poetry rather than swamping it.

5. Be specific - the more specific the details you're writing about, the more vivid the poem is for the reader.

6. Pay attention to craft - if you're writing formal verse, study the form and use it well. If you're writing free verse, pay attention to how words sound together and the rhythm of language. Otherwise what you're writing is just prose chopped up into short lines.

7. Revise your work, once you've written it, put it away for at least a day and then look at it again with a fresh eye. It's amazing how much polishing you can do with a fresh eye!

8. Share your poetry - post poetry on your blog; go to a poetry writing workshop; go to an open mic poetry reading and read some of your poetry; find some poetry journals (either online or in print) that you like, read them carefully (subscribe to some print journals!) and send some of your poetry there.

9. Listen to people's opinions of your work, most bloggers in the online poetry communities are polite and won't really criticise work unless you ask for it. Editors are more likely to give criticism, but they mean it constructively, listening to experienced readers and writers can help you to improve your writing - and you are allowed to ignore them if you disagree with what they say!

10. Join in some of the poetry communities online - such as Totally Optional Prompts, Read Write Poem, One Deep Breath (for haiku).

1. Don't feel you need to follow poetical fashion, there are enough poets out there trying desperately to show that they can follow. Be your own poet.

2. Don't expect to make money out of poetry. Some print journals pay but none pay much. Most poetry books don't sell many copies. Most poetry competitions don't give big cash prizes.

3. Don't be obscure. You can't expect all your readers to understand all your poetry but avoid being overly clever or obscure just for the sake of it. (The internet is great, you can make links to eg species of bird unique to your area to help readers from another country)

4. Don't be lazy about language - avoid cliches, archaic language, vagueness.

I tag: Whirling Dervish or Deb at Stoney Moss, Melissa at Poet with a Day Job, Darlene at Daisies and Tiel at Knocking from Inside.

Thursday 15 November 2007

The Last Rock Eagle by Blaga Dimitrova

Published in 1992, this slim volume is the selected poetry of the Bulgarian poet Blaga Dimitrova, translated by Brenda Walker with Vladimir Levchev and Belin Tonchev. Dimitrova's poetry is beautiful and moving, often political but subtly so, to avoid the censorship of the old communist regime. She writes about family and love and is a poet in tune with the natural world, the title of the collection refers to the poem Eagles are Vanishing, which ends:

The azure's smile has frozen
above the rocks and rocked hard.
The comparison 'like an eagle'
has lost all meaning.

She has the ability too to make political points through observations of the natural world:

And the sobbing throat of water
is stopped up with a lump of ice
(from Frost)

And the birds shall return
and with their beaks shall melt the ice into song
(from Almost Prophecy)

So this is political poetry written under oppression, but the very fact of needing to be careful of official censorship has forced the writer to avoid being overtly political so the poetry is lyrical too.

Blaga Dimitrova (1922 - 2003) one of the most popular and loved writers in Bulgaria, was vice president of her country in the first democratic government after the fall of communism.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

American (Holiday) Sentences

For a seven year old, California was a real adventure

Seeing the Half Dome in Yosemite Park made the sore legs worthwhile

Chipmunks darted to my hands to eat the nuts we had brought to Muir Woods

Walking down hot hot sand to the joy of cold water at Lake Tahoe

Dusk, hummingbirds hovering on feeders in a suburban garden

Because I'm British, on my Alter Ego blog, My Sentences are Not American

American Sentences for Read Write Poem

Beer Haiku

My haiku is the haiku of the day over at Beer Haiku Daily. Cheers!

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Poetry of Place

Totally Optional Prompts this week asks us to post about the poetry of place. I enjoy poetry with a real sense of place, some of my favourite poets are very firmly rooted in their sense of place, to mention just two Scottish examples: Kenneth Steven and John Burnside.

When I select poetry to include on Bolts of Silk, I am drawn in by writers who can evoke the atmosphere of a specific place (though a sense of place isn't a prerequisite for poetry being selected!) Recent poems on Bolts of Silk inspired by place include:

Firewirks owre Bressa Soond by Christine De Luca
Fire Ranger by Bob Bradshaw
If I Were Young Again by Michael Lee Johnson

Place is often the starting point for my own poetry, especially the poetry I post on this blog. Place offers a wonderful starting point for exploring nature or history or emotion. I also think including the specific details of specific places in poetry adds immediacy. Some of my recently posted poems inspired most directly by place include:

Through an Open Window

Monday 12 November 2007

haiku - belonging

in the woods -
the squirrels run
towards me

I also belong here.

Belonging for One Deep Breath

If you like writing haiku, how about joining in the Haiku Broken Telephone Game?

Sunday 11 November 2007

Needle Case

I finished this needle case for my Mum today. It's quite small as she doesn't have many needles! The outer fabric is left over from a dress I had made when I lived in Malawi, the lining is scrap material I can't remember where it came from! The felt is made from shed fur from our much missed rabbit, Anya. The felt is very delicate, partly because Anya's fur was very fine, partly because this was the first time I had made felt and its not as well made as it could have been!

Saturday 10 November 2007

The John Murray Archive Exhibition

This is a new permanent exhibition at the National Library of Scotland that was set up recently when the library was donated the archive of the John Murray Publishing firm. This firm has been greatly influential in publishing history and the exhibition showcases work of the authors they published, eleven at a time. The current featured authors include Charles Darwin (scientist), David Livingstone (explorer), Lord Byron (poet), Isabella Bird Bishop (traveller and photographer) and Maria Rundell (cookery writer). The exhibition is interactive, with loads of information on each of the writers and exhibits drawing parallels between publishing in the early days and the modern day industry.

Friday 9 November 2007

Christmas Card

This shiny green recycled wrapping paper is ideal for Christmas cards! I kept this design really simple (well to start with it was more complicated but went horribly wrong so i had to chop the bottom off the card!).

Thursday 8 November 2007

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Now its easier to walk round town!

If you're in Edinburgh, Birmingham or London then Walkit a new website can help you! You can enter in where you are and where you want to go and the website gives you the best route to walk along with how long it will take and how many calories you'll burn up! It looks like a brilliant site and there seem to be plans to expand the coverage to include other UK cities in the future. I probably won't use it myself though as I prefer a good old fashioned map, but if it gets more people walking then its a good thing!

Tuesday 6 November 2007

Unforgettable Nature

A short random list of some of my unforgettable moments with nature

Watching the sunset over Lake Malawi
canoeing through the Okavango Delta
standing in front of Victoria Falls
red squirrels dancing towards us as we walk through pine woods
a fox stealing our sandwiches in the Royal Botanic Gardens
red legged
choughs off sea cliffs in Wales
a humming bird hawkmoth on buddleia in Edinburgh
humming birds on feeders in California
a kingfisher flying across the red canal
the moon turning orange during lunar eclipse
an electric storm over the Mediterranean Sea

Unforgettable for Writers Island

Monday 5 November 2007

Save Our Seas

The Scotsman newspaper is running a campaign to preserve the seas round our coasts, including calling for a network of marine reserves and marine planning to protect sensitve wildlife habitats and fishing stocks.

Why not Join the Campaign?

Sunday 4 November 2007


The last
Reunion Giant Tortoise -
empty beaches.

(Reunion is an island in the Indian Ocean.)

Loneliness for One Deep Breath

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

This is a wonderful novel, made up of 6 stories, 5 of which start and then break off halfway through for the next story to start, the sixth which is told in its entirety in the middle of the book. Each story is written in an entirely different style and the whole moves from historical narrative, through contemporary to futuristic science fiction. I was very impressed by the way Mitchell handled each style so convincingly and also by how he made so many connections between the various stories to tie them into a whole. The novel deals with issues including slavery, our treatment of older people, consumerism and environmental destruction. I found the stories in the middle of the book terrifying in their depiction of environmentally degraded possible futures for the earth. At no time though does it feel like preaching, the book is readable and fun, though it can be difficult to adapt to a different style every hundred or so pages. I think some readers may be tempted to read each story in its entirety, but don't - part of the joy of the book is how things look different once you've read part of each story. It's an amazing book, read it and listen to what it's saying....

Saturday 3 November 2007

Weekend Walk

The weather has been beautiful today, very mild for November and with perfect blue skies. We walked round Arthur's Seat - from the first photo, you'd not think you were in the middle of Scotland's capital city, would you? There were a few birds around including some very aerobatic crows. The trees are stunning at this time of year, especially when the light shines on the leaves.

Friday 2 November 2007

Autumn Colours

a suite of haiku

pink berries
on orange leaved rowan -
sun rises red

yellow berries
on red leaved rowan -
orange sunrise

red berries
on yellow leaved rowan -
pink morning sky

Wild rowan has red berries, the trees around Edinburgh with their varied coloured berries must be ornamental varieties.

Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) - an alternative to money

Local Exchange Trading Systems (LETS) are community based systems of skills exchange that allow people to share skills and equipment outside the monetary economy. The sharing is done in a systematic way with members of the scheme earning credit for everything they share and then spending this credit on services or equipment they want in return. For example one person may bake a cake for someone and then use the credit to borrow someone's lawn mower for an afternoon. Although LETS systems allow exhange without money, it isn't really likely that they would replace money, rather they offer an alternative method of trading. Part of the idea behind them is to empower people on lower incomes to access services that they would otherwise find difficult to access, though people of all income levels get involved. We tried to set up a LETS scheme at our workplace a couple of years ago, but it didn't get off the ground because too few people were interested to make it viable. I'd be interested to hear if anyone has any experience of LETS.

Money for Sunday Scribblings

Thursday 1 November 2007

Green Toothpaste update

Since my previous post about toothpaste, I've been studying the toothpaste tubes in the health food shop and I found two brands of toothpaste that are free of Sodium lauryl sulphate and parabens, the additives found in most toothpastes that have links with health problems including cancer. (SLS also comes from oil palms that are grown in plantations that are responsible for rainforest loss, so is also bad from an environmental point of view). The brands are: Sarakan and Green People. Sarakan is vegan, approved by Dental Boards while Green People is vegetarian and as far as I know not approved by any Dental Board. One website that sells Sarakan claims that it contains a paraben ingredient, but this isn't true according to the packaging. Both are produced in the UK, which is a great plus for me, as I like to buy local where ever possible. I bought a tube of Sarakan, now it just has to pass the taste test....

Wednesday 31 October 2007

Two Poems about Mushrooms

Rich sweet earth smell of mushrooms
teases me from the garden
unrecognised feast or fatal temptation?
But wait, this stirs memories
I am old, death is anyway close
I will go where lead, butter fry
and eat with finest wine.

Yes this is exquisite, the same
as I ate years ago in joy
of survival, sensual reality
of food after death had threatened
after a boot had held my head
to the soil, a gun in my mouth
and my only comfort the
rich sweet earth smell of mushrooms.

(previously published in Envoi)

We went north for mushrooms –

boletes for frying gently in butter for omelettes,
elusive apricot scented chanterelles promising heavenly flavour,
common false chanterelles stubbornly unscented, unflavoured,
bright fly agaric dramatic for danger.

On the other side of the world
kamikaze pilots
sowed the seeds
for the next mushroom cloud.

previously published in Raindog

Monday 29 October 2007

haiku - change

leaves turn red -
a squirrel gathers


leaves fall -
geese fly south
in skeins.


robin sings
a different song -
bare branches

Change for One Deep Breath

Sunday 28 October 2007

Christmas Cards with Ribbons

This weeks challenge on Daring Card Makers is to use ribbons in Christmas card designs. These are my two designs. I've kept them simple, as ever. Both are made from scrap card and paper, the one on the right includes recycled ribbon from gift wrap and the one on the left includes a ribbon from a pot of Scottish jam.
This is such a good idea, I think there may be more ribbons in future Christmas cards!

Friday 26 October 2007

Weaving Words - The Art of Anna S King

I can't believe it took me until today to get along to this wonderful exhibition at the National Museum in Edinburgh. Anna S King is a multi-talented artist and craftperson, this small but perfectly formed exhibition features drawings, tapestries, baskets and assemblages. A lot of her work includes natural materials - such as a basket made from pine cones and others made from feathers or goat hair - or recycled materials - such as a tapestry woven from recycled shredded computer print outs. Words are an important part of King's work, whether shredded in tapestry or found in poetry books hidden away in the baskets. All her work is stunningly beautiful and the assemblages are totally fascinating.

The exhibition finishes on Sunday, so if you're in Edinburgh, make sure you put it on your must do list for this weekend!

Eve Green by Susan Fletcher

My Mum recommended this book to me and two days later I found a copy for £1 in the nearest second hand shop. It won the Whitbread First Novel Award a couple of years back and deservedly so. It's a coming of age story set amongst the landscape and nature of Wales. Against this backdrop is the story of Eve Green an orphan living with her grandparents and getting used to the countryside after having lived in the city of Birmingham. One of Eve's schoolmates goes missing and this is the source of suspense in the story, there is malice lurking under the beautiful flowers. Fletcher writes with an amazing eye for detail and her prose is rich but at the same time well controlled, very rarely does a word feel to be out of place or superfluous. She creates well rounded believable characters too.

Wednesday 24 October 2007

Green Toothpaste

In the previous post about toiletries I had forgotten to mention toothpaste. I currently use Kingfisher Flouride Free toothpaste. It is the only 'natural' toothpaste that is recommended by Dental Health organisations. It is also one of the more palatable natural toothpastes. However, it contains sodium lauryl sulphate which is implicated in health risks including cancer. SLS comes from palm oil which also has serious environmental consequences, including the destruction of rainforests across the world. If anyone can recommend a more natural toothpaste that is palatable, effective and available in the UK, please let me know in the comments. At the same time, if I discover one, I'll post about it!

Pink for October

Tuesday 23 October 2007

Energy Saving Week

It's Energy Saving Week in the UK. The Energy Saving Trust are asking people to commit to reduce their energy use, why not join in here?

Some ideas to save energy:

Only boil as much water as you need in the kettle
Use public transport, walk or ride a bike instead of driving
Don't leave appliances on standby
Fit energy saving lightbulbs and only have lights on when you're in the room
Put a jumper on rather than switch the heating on
Turn the thermostat down when you do have the heating on
Wash the laundry at 30 degrees Celsius
Fit loft insulation and cavity wall insulation
Fit double glazing

Monday 22 October 2007

tanka - closeness

two wagtails
chase each other
downstream -
hand in hand, we watch
from the green footbridge.

Closeness for One Deep Breath

Sunday 21 October 2007


Childhood Memory: Lying on my back in a yellow green field, staring at the red and yellow kite flying bright in the deep blue sky. Dark trees on the horizon, my cousins shouting around me.

Edinburgh Kite Festival: The fields below Salisbury Crags are crowded with familes, students, groups of youngsters, dogs. The blue air is full of multi-coloured kites of all types jostling against each other, swooping or gliding, climbing and falling. The sounds of laughter everywhere.

Red Kites: Going on holiday to the Black Isle, knowing that there might be a chance of seeing Red Kites. The birder's anticipation of a rare species. Nothing though can prepare for the thrill of a kite appearing on the wing in front of you, glowing vibrant in colours even the best field guides never prepared you for. Pure energy of a raptor, the joy of a bird now not so rare as it was.

Kites for Weekend Wordsmith

Friday 19 October 2007

More Christmas Cards

These are the latest - the one of the left is made from a business folder, a paper bag and a picture from a catalogue. The one on the right is belatedly for the Daring Card Makers Christmas Tree prompt and is made from a leftover piece of nice cardboard and patterns from wrapping paper and a magazine. I may add lettering to the one on the right.

Not only Fabulous but Nice Too

Ruby ReUsable from Olympia Dumpster Divers has awarded me the Nice Matters Blogging award. "This award is for those bloggers who are nice people; good blog friends and those who inspire good feelings and inspiration. Also for those who are a positive influence on our blogging world." I'm now supposed to pass it on, but really, you're all nice, so you can all consider yourself awarded....

Thursday 18 October 2007

Poems Published on Poetic Legacy

I've had two poems published on Michael Lee Johnson's online poetry magazine Poetic Legacy.
You can read them here (scroll down).

He's looking for poetry, flash fiction and short creative non-fiction. He prefers work to be previously unpublished but will accept work that has been previously published if credits are included. New writers and established are all welcome. Why not send him some work?

Wednesday 17 October 2007

A Poetic Collage

There's poetry in the shapes of the script;
music in the sound of an unknown
tongue drifting in the breeze

windchimes tinkle
leaves flutter
a river rushes by

a red book
on a wooden table -
its pages shiver.

inspired by:

On Hearing a Lute-Player by Liu' Chang-ch'ing
Your seven strings are like the voice
Of a cold wind in the pines,
Singing old beloved songs
Which no one cares for any more.

the only translated poem in a red book of Chinese poetry

for Totally Optional Prompts