Thursday 31 January 2008

Poetry Association Scotland AGM

Yesterday evening was the AGM of the Poetry Association of Scotland, held at the Scottish Poetry Library. As well as the usual business of an AGM there was wine and a chance to share poetry about cats. I am delighted that two blogging poets had allowed me to read their cat poems at the event. I read My Cat Answers the Question 'Why are You Standing in the Doorway?' by James Engelhardt and String Player by Steven Schroeder. Both poems were very much enjoyed by the group - thanks for letting me use them, James amd Steven! There was an excellent variety of poems read by the other members present, including Stevie Smith's poem The Galloping Cat and Wallace Stevens' poem A Rabbit As King of the Ghosts. It was a very entertaining evening and one member said as she left 'now I want to get a cat!'.

Wednesday 30 January 2008

Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan

Set in the Tasmanian rainforest, this is a story of tourists and the environment, Aboriginal history and family secrets. Aljaz has given up leading tour groups but has agreed to lead one another as a favour to a friend. He's out of condition and not able to successfully lead the group, which leads to accidents and mis-judgements, prompting him to think back over his life. I love the parts of the book set on the river, the river itself is a fully developed character in the book, roaring through the gorges and dominating all the human activity, demonstrating the utter power of nature. At the same time, Aljaz's personal stories are moving and give interesting insights into the history of Tasmania and the relationships between convicts, free settlers and aborigines and the descendents of all these groups. The book very effectively uses rafting as a metaphor for life and builds up emotional power as it moves along.

My first prompt over at Read Write Poem

I am happy to say that my first prompt over at Read Write Poem is now up. Why not pop over and have a look and think about joining in?

Tuesday 29 January 2008


Birch woods, snow packed high,
black branches taut against white sky.

Fresh clean air and crispy cold,
singing birds and

Guns at dawn.

Previously published in Envoi

Monday 28 January 2008

winter wonders

On Saturday, we walked through the Hermitage of Braid, in Edinburgh:

perched on a rock
in the rushing stream -
a dipper sings.

Last time we had walked here, it had all looked very different:

changed by snow -
lost paths

the sun
blurs behind clouds -
trees drip snow.

across the snow -
gorse still blooms

winter wonders for One Deep Breath

Thursday 24 January 2008

In the post today....

After a long and convoluted saga of chaos and confusion involving the Royal Mail, I finally received this stunning photo that i had won in a competition at The Green Fingered Photographer. So thanks Mark! Mark's photography is wonderful and he holds regular competitions to win prints of his work, so why not visit his blog?

And belated thanks to Melissa from Poet with a Day Job for her postcard of her poem Safeway. Last year Melissa was offering postcards of her poems to the first person to comment on the posts. I won this one and it arrived in the post last month.

In the post today i also received a copy of the latest issue of Wisteria, the journal for tanka and haiku which has one of my haiku in it!

...and one of my haiku is haiku of the day on Beer Haiku Daily - see it here.

My favourite book that no-one's ever heard of....

Booking Through Thursday this week asks us 'What’s your favorite book that nobody else has heard of? You know, not Little Women or Huckleberry Finn, not the latest best-seller . . . whether they’ve read them or not, everybody “knows” those books. I’m talking about the best book that, when you tell people that you love it, they go, “Huh? Never heard of it?”

Many of my favourite books could fall into that category, most recently probably The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugresic. But overall, I think I would have to say my favourite book that no-one has ever heard of is 'The Tuscan Master' by Peter Adamson (the founder of New Internationalist magazine). It's a wonderful novel about a painter who was once the most promising artist in Italy. However he has grown up into what he feels is an unproductive middle age, working as a tour guide and seeing himself as one of the great overlooked artists. The novel is full of ideas about art and creativity, recognising and nurturing your own talents, but at the same time is wonderfully plotted and full of characters that leap off the page. It is also incredibly moving without being sentimental and is not to be read in public if you are likely to cry whilst reading! Ultimately it is truly life affirming. Unfortunately I think this book is now out of print (why oh why???) but try your library - it really is a must read for anyone interested in Italy or art.

Tuesday 22 January 2008

Here's one I Made Earlier.....

I customised this box when I was still at school. It was an old wooden pencil case that had become quite battered so I covered it on papier mache and painted the lid and then varnished it. Even after all these years it still looks pretty good!

Monday 21 January 2008

haiku - vision

my first
binoculars -
new stars

in the bizarre -
new science

there's a different view of visions on Over Forty Shades (my renamed Alter Ego blog) here.

vision for One Breath Poetry

Saturday 19 January 2008

Weekend Walk

Today we walked round Bonaly in the Pentland Hills Regional Park. Just a short bus ride from the centre of town and a short walk from the suburbs and you find yourself in countryside like this! It was very windy but not too cold, the sky was blue and it didn't rain though the paths were fairly wet and muddy. We had never walked round here before, one of the things I like about going for a country walk is deciding which fork in the road to take - where will you end up? We decided to keep to the straight route, through the woodlands where there were lots of tits in the trees, singing softly and flying from branch to branch. We then passed a small loch where there a duck kept ducking under the surface of the water, not allowing us to identify it properly. From the loch, we walked up onto the heathland. We saw footprints of deer and droppings from foxes and rabbits as well as from sheep. We heard stonechats calling, they sound like stones being tapped together. Sadly we didn't see them, they're lovely little birds. After wandering round the heathland for a while we turned back and walked the way we had come and got a bus back into town. Next time we walk round there, we might take another fork in the road and end up on a totally different walk!

You can browse all my nature diaries here

Fork in the Road for Writer's Island

Friday 18 January 2008

Poetry Anthologies

Susan at Black Eyed Susan's commented on my recent review of Poetry Speaks Expanded asking where are all the anthologies of living poets? So I had a rummage through my bookshelves and here are some of my favourite anthologies that contain work by poets, most of whom are still alive:

Staying Alive edited by Neil Astley is a brilliant anthology of well written poetry that speaks directly to the emotions, all these poems have something to say. The book is divided into sections and includes poetry about the enviornment and about science. The poetry includes work in translation. Neil Astley has also edited the follow up volume Being Alive.

Emergency Kit edited by Jo Shapcott and Matthew Sweeney is an anthology of imaginative, surprising poetry from across the English speaking world from mostly living poets.

Real Cool edited by Niall MacMonagle is supposedly an anthology for teenagers, but I think everyone should read it. The poetry here is direct and moving, including work from living and dead poets.

Sixty Women Poets edited by Linda France is an anthology of poetry written by women, most of whom were alive when the book was published.

Foil edited by Nicholas Johnston showcases 33 poets who have emerged since 1985. I haven't read the book but it seems to include a wide variety of work including photography.

The Spoken Word Redux is an excellent anthology with CDs of performance poetry.

The books above mostly include poets who are well known at least to poet lovers in their own country. Interland (Six Steps Underwater) is an anthology of work from six less well known poets from Ostrobothnia, Finland and Yorkshire, England focussing on the theme of water and human relationships with water.

And last but not at all least, The Book of Hopes and Dreams edited by Dee Rimbaud features poetry from the internationally famous (Margaret Attwood), the famous in the UK (Edwin Morgan) and the not very well known (It includes my poem Alchemy). All proceeds from this book go to Spirit Aid, working in humanitarian aid in Afghanistan.

What are your favourite anthologies of modern poetry?

Wednesday 16 January 2008


church towers
rise above the mist -
reveal themselves
in my cloudy thoughts


I have a haiku on Beer Haiku Daily again, check it out here.

Newspaper House

I'm not a fan of free newspapers, though they're fine if they're genuinely local community papers keeping people in touch with community events. But these days most of them are just cheaply produced papers full of adverts and second rate journalism and most of them end up as litter. In London, tube passengers alone discard approximately nine-and-a-half tonnes of free newspapers a day.

So I was delighted to read about sculptor and installation artist Sumer Erek’s Newspaper House project. The installation will be made from newspapers brought by the members of the public over the course of one week. Erek will invite visitors to insert their own thoughts, observations, etc into the newspapers as they add them to the structure. The installation will be erected in Gillett Square, Hackney, London N16 8JH from 3rd - 9th March 2008. It sounds like a thought provoking piece of artwork, it will be great if it can raise awareness about waste and littering. Find out more here.

Tuesday 15 January 2008

In the Shadow of A Saint - Ken Wiwa

In this memoir, Ken Wiwa explores the legacy of his father, Ken Saro Wiwa, the environmental activist, most famous for his leadership of the Ogoni in Nigeria in their struggles against Shell which despoiled their land and is linked to violence against people and communities. Ken Saro Wiwa was executed in November 1995, which is what brought the struggles of the Ogoni into worldwide popular consciousness. Here, although Wiwa outlines his fathers' political battles, he talks more about what it is like to grow up in a political family and to feel your needs are subservient to your parent's political activism. He meets up with the families of Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela and with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese activist, herself the daughter of a political activist. Its a fascinating book, giving insights into family relationships, political legacies and the large contradictory country that is Nigeria.

Monday 14 January 2008

haiku - rain

one collared dove
on tv aerial -
rain-clouds pass

constant drizzle -
bracket fungi pattern
dying trees

previously published in Haiku Scotland

Sunday 13 January 2008

But n Ben a Go Go by Matthew Fitt

This was a strange book for me to read. It's a SF novel written entirely in Scots dialect - I don't generally read SF and I don't speak Scots! Nevertheless I enjoyed this story, set in 2090 Scotland which has been mostly flooded due to climate change, with ordinary Scots and refugee Danes living in floating city communities, while only the Highlands are still above ground, inhabited by the very rich; mutant wild animals (Kelpies) and rebel American tourists. Its a very inventive novel, it has to be commended for grappling with ideas about where climate change and other contemporary issues could lead. I enjoyed the linguistic playfulness of the novel, a mix of standard lowland and highland Scots with some invented futuristic Scots words. I'm not sure how much of an audience there is for a book like this though, outside of Scotland and the very north of England.

Saturday 12 January 2008


For me the greatest treasure in the world is nature. Human beings have created magnificent treasures in architecture, literature, crafts and fine arts but for me nothing compares to the treasures of wonderful landscapes, forests, the seas and the skies. My favourite natural treasures are probably birds. For all that I love plants and animals (especially rabbits) birds are what endlessly fascinate me. The UK is lucky to have a great variety of beautiful and interesting birds (if you want to find out more about our birds, a great place to start is the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds which has a great online field guide to British birds.) Some of my favourite bird singhtings include: kingfishers (surprisingly often) on rivers in Edinburgh, waxwings on one of their rare visits to Edinburgh a few years ago (read my poem about them here), spending twenty minutes watching a green woodpecker digging out a hole in a tree in woodlands in Edinburgh, Finding sand martins nesting on a river just outside Edinburgh, a fish eagle that lived in a tree behind the house where I lived in Malawi, a hoopoe on a lawn in Malawi and a secretary bird building a nest in Zimbabwe. I could go on....

You can read more about some of my nature observations here.

For a different kind of treasure, I recently reviewed a treasure of a poetry book here.

Treasure for Writers Island

Friday 11 January 2008

Poetry Speaks Expanded - ed Elise Paschen & Rebekah Presson Mosby Part 2 The CDs

Poetry Speaks Expanded is an overview of recorded poetry from the beginning of sound recording to the later years of the 20th Century. The first CD begins with recordings of Alfred Lord Tennyson, Robert Browning and Walt Whitman. These recordings were originally made on very early technology and the sound quality isn't good, but there is a palpable sense of history being made in the readings and its a privilege to hear them now. The CDs also include what may be the only recordings of HD (Hilda Doolittle) and Melvin B Tolson, as well as a wealth of poetry from many of the most influential poets of the 20th Century.

The CDs give a fascinating insight into the development of performance styles in poetry. Earlier poets were more inclined towards chanting or declaming their words whereas later poets give more intimate, more nuanced performances. Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath and Robert Hadyen struck me as having particularly appealing reading voices. Jack Kerouac performs with accompaniment from jazz musicians, while Gwendolyn Brooks delivers her poetry in an engaging conversational tone that I had heard in the poems as I read them before listening to the CD. Other poets, like Ted Hughes and Dylan Thomas sounded just as I had imagined them to, while some like Denise Levertov sounded totally other than I had expected. It's interesting in the case of Elizabeth Bishop to note the changes in her reading style in the thirty years between the original recording of The Fish and that of Crusoe in England. Some of the poets are recorded giving introductions to their poems, TS Eliot for example apologises for taking time to warm up, while Langston Hughes gives some important background information behind his poem The Negro Speaks of Rivers.

The CDs demonstrate very clearly the importance of poetry as a spoken art form. The poems are felt differently when they are heard read by the original poet. William Carlos Williams is a real case in point for me. I have only recently really learnt to really enjoy his poetry but hearing him read Queen Annes Lace in particular gave me a much fuller appreciation of his work. The rhythm and music of the words become so much clearer. As much as anything it is totally amazing to hear all these famous poets actually reading their own work.

The book and CDs together are a great resource to act as an introduction or overview of English language poetry over the period. I think they could be particularly useful for anyone who teaches literature.

You can read my review of the book here.

Thursday 10 January 2008

Poetry Speaks Expanded ed Elise Paschen & Rebekah Presson Mosby. Part 1 - the book

Poetry Speaks Expanded is a huge and ambitious book with three accompanying CDs, bringing us an overview, from a USA perspective, of English language poetry from the end of the 19th Century to the later years of the 20th Century. In this post I review the book. I review the CDs here.

The 40 poets included here were chosen from influential poets who have lived and died since the invention of sound recording. The poets are arranged in order of date of birth, starting with Alfred Lord Tennyson and ending with Sylvia Plath. For each poet we are presented with a brief biographical introduction, an appreciation from a living poet and a selection of their work. The biographies are fascinating, offering real insights into the influences different poets had on each other artistically and personally. The appreciations are all excellent, each writer obviously chosen for their keen interest in the featured poet they are matched with. Each writer takes their own approach to their subject: Brad Leithauser for example gives us a clear overview to the work of e.e. cummings, while Robert Bly concentrates on William Stafford's 'genius in sound and his relation to reverie'.

Nature has always been an important topic for poetry and certainly the three 19th Century poets represented here (Tennyson, Robert Browning and Whitman) all have natural images in almost all their poems, whether to set the physical scene or the emotional tone of the poem. I was struck for example by Whitman's detailed description of the gulls in Crossing Brooklyn Ferry:

- saw them high in the air, floating with motionless wings, oscillating their bodies,
Saw how the glistening yellow lit up parts of their bodies, and left the rest in strong shadow

In the 20th Century, many poets started to write less about nature, reflecting the increasing urbanisation of society or concentrating their writing on social issues (race issues are particularly well covered in this book which includes several major black American poets). However, nature continued to be integral to the writing of many poets in the 20th century, WB Yeats, Dylan Thomas and Robert Frost, for example, all represented here, were poets embedded in the natural world.

Some poets started to bring a more analytical eye to our relationship with nature. Wallace Stevens for example, whose wonderful 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird isn't just about the blackbird but is also about how we think about nature and our relationship with it.

I was of three minds,
Like a tree
In which there are three blackbirds.

Elizabeth Bishop's The Fish explores the complexities of human relationships with nature, the narrator examining the fish so closely that she couldn't bear to keep it and let it go back into the water. William Stafford explores similar issues in Travelling through the Dark, in which the narrator is conflicted about what to do with a deer he has injured on the road. Ted Hughes' Thought Fox captures the experience of writing about nature and making it real for the reader:

with a sudden sharp hot stink of fox
It enters the dark hold of the head.
The window is starless still; the clock ticks,
The page is printed.

The 20th century saw the emergence of the poet as environmentalist, for example, Robinson Jefferson was a fine observer of nature in his writing but was also very aware of the follies of humankind and conveyed that well in his poetry, though his views were sometimes extremist.

Many poets, particularly HD (Hilda Doolittle), Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath use nature mostly as imagery to heighten mood or to explore their emotional landscapes. Others have a more mystical approach, Robert Graves in particular, but also Robert Duncan in his poem The Sentinels, which gives an eerie description of burrowing owls.

Denise Levertov though, is rightly here described by Nancy Willard as the 'poet laureate of rabbits and serpents, llamas and armadillos....... She urges us to bear witness to the earth itself'. I have quoted from her wonderful poem Animal Presence in an earlier post, so here I quote the sad ending of Her Sadness:

weighs on my shoulders.
I know
too much about Time for a pig.

The development of poetic attitudes to numerous other themes can can be traced through this book, it's also instructive to look at how the style and form of poetry changed through the period. Some readers outside the USA may be surprised by some of the poets included or excluded, but as a guide to the greatest influences on the development of US poetry over the past century it is an invaluable resource.


Churring calls, flurrying birds
flashing red and yellow
on this season’s improbable
feast of berries.

The flock wheels over
our heads, settles
in a bare tree
crests silhouetted

against a cold blue sky.

previously published in Moonstone

(The Waxwing is a European bird that occasionally turns up in large numbers in eastern parts of the UK in winter. Waxwings visited Edinburgh in December 2004 and we had several good sightings of them. I think we saw waxwings again recently though I may have been mistaken as they were quite a way away and there are no official records of waxwings in Edinburgh this year!)

Wednesday 9 January 2008

Albino Squirrels in the Edinburgh Evening News

The front page of the Edinburgh Evening News today features a photo of an albino squirrel and there's a full story inside! You can read the full article online - this blog is mentioned in paragraph 8.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Japanese inspired notelets

I've posted some similar designs previously but I'm really pleased with these ones (though the angling has come out strange in the photos) They're made from card from old publications and pages torn from a Japanese poetry journal. The butterflies are from used notelets and the rhododendron photo is from a magazine.

Monday 7 January 2008

haiku - moon

yellow moon
in pale blue sky -

white moon
in black sky -
owl calls

Moonstruck for One Deep Breath


high resolution -
the unknown bird in the bush
becomes a brambling

the brambling is one of the birds I most want to see every winter

a different take on Resolutions for Read Write Poem

Sunday 6 January 2008


Imprinted at birth by a human,
you never learnt to be what you are.
Flightless and petted, you enjoy comforts
of home and hearth,
insulated from the harsh
rules of nature that made you.

Winter air fills with honking
geese in joyful formation
high in unthinkable sky.
You look up, an ache in your bird’s brain
before waddling indoors
to be hand fed choice grain.

Later you puzzle over dreams
of endless blue and the steady beat of wings.

Previously published in Raindog.

Recycling poetry

Crafty Green Poet is committed to recycling, even when it comes to poetry! I've just gone through my poems that have been published elsewhere but not posted in my blogs. Over the next few weeks I'll be publishing some of them here and over on Alter Ego. I'll be including links to the journals wherever possible.

Friday 4 January 2008

Another Walk and Some Thoughts about Photography

We went on another long walk today, along icy streets (the one thing that really could stop me going for a walk!) to the Hermitage of Braid and through to Blackford Pond (link includes bird list!). Everywhere was beautiful in the snow and there were birds everywhere, blackbirds and robins, lots of different types of tits and a large flock of chaffinches. At one point we saw a flock of what could have been waxwings but they were a long way away, I recognised the way they flew from the last time I saw them (which is several years as they're only here once every few years, so this may be a case of mistaken identity!). No photos from our walk, the slippery paths made me reluctant to carry something so breakable. There are also several other reasons why I often don't take photos, especially not wildlife photos:

1) Our camera is not sophisticated to guarentee good nature photos
2) We often forget to take the camera (!)
3) Given the choice between fiddling with focus and light meters or just watching, I'd choose just watching any day. That's why although you may see landscape photos here, you won't see bird photos.

To see really some good nature photography visit:
Mark at Green Fingered Photographer
Sandy at Gardenpath
Abe at My Birds Blog

Thursday 3 January 2008

Walks in Wintry Weather

Well as the Norwegians say there is no such thing as bad weather, just the wrong choice of clothes! So bearing that in mind we've gone out for several walks in the last few days, braving rain, hail, snow and fog. We've had a great time!

On New Years Day we walked through a rain drenched Edinburgh, past the Scottish Parliament to Holyrood Park. We were too early to catch the annual husky race but we walked up the hill to Salisbury Crags (an ancient extinct volcano). The views of Edinburgh were amazing, actually we couldn't see Edinburgh at all, apart from the castle, various charch spires and a few cranes poking through the mist! We walked home through the Meadows, where we saw several redwings and a couple of fieldfares. These are the winter thrushes here, the redwing is small and gaceful with red under its wings, the fieldfare is bigger and quite colourful if the light is good.

Yesterday the weather was dull but dry and we walked along the canal, there were plenty of mallards and swans and some moorhens and a coot. We also saw an albino squirrel! Well it was mostly white with a little bit of brown on its back, it was playing quite happily with an ordinary grey squirrel! Read more about albino squirrels in Scotland here.

Today we went out in the snow and walked to the Botanics. On the way we saw more redwings, haning at eye level in a holly bush, gobbing the berries greedily. The Botanics was full of squirrels, all of them grey and very friendly! The snow was really heavy at times, which is unusual in Edinburgh these days and very nice to see!

Tuesday 1 January 2008

Desert Remembers Forest

Before cattle ate me bare
I remember dark wooden pillars
hung with damp banners of green.
Coloured jewels flew beneath the pillars,
soft, fluffy things scuffled beneath.

And the noise –
whistles and chirrs
and something called words
from the ones who carried arrows.

Now the sun beats endlessly down
on land parched to both horizons,
dust settles on dead wood and arrowheads
in silence.

Previously published in issue 141 of Orbis magazine.