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....