Friday 29 February 2008

Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius

Yesterday I went to the Ansel Adams exhibition at Edinburgh's City Art Centre. It was like stepping into a time machine, seeing so many photos of Yosemite in California, which I had visited on a family holiday, when I was very young.

The photos in this exhibition are all in black and white which adds to the sense of travelling back in time and also seems to add to the grandeur of the scenery. The landscapes are stunning,mostly from Yosemite but also from other areas of the USA. Adams seemed always to capture moments of wonderfully beautiful light or spectacular storms, the rising moon or the eclipsed sun. The rivers almost leap out of his photos. As well as landscapes there are a lot of almost abstract photos of trees, where the texture of the bark or the shape of the branches becomes the focus of the photo. Other photos feature parts of machinery or buildings. But it is the photos of landscapes and trees that are most magnificent and also demonstrate Adams' keen interest in the environment, for which he was a tireless campaigner.

Showing with this exhibition was a small exhibition of the black and white landscape photography of Lindsay Robertson, a Scottish photographer. His photos are stunning too. I really like how he had taken photos of some of the same areas in the USA as had Adams (showing the same view from different points in time). Sometimes his photos are in reply to Adams, for instance whereas Adams had taken a photo of the Golden Gate in San Francisco before the building of the famous bridge, Robertson had taken a photo of the Sound of Sleat before the Skye Road bridge had been built. In these cases, it is interesting to go back in time to see the landscape unspoiled by the bridges, though both bridges are themselves beautiful. It was interesting too how in Robertson's exhibition photos of the USA were displayed next to photos of Scotland. Our scenery may be on a much smaller scale, but its just as spectacular in its own way.

Ansel Adams: Celebration of Genius and The Landscape Photography of Lindsay Robertson
until 19 April at the City Art Centre, Edinburgh

Time Machine for Sunday Scribblings

Thursday 28 February 2008

Wild Dreams of a New Beginning - Lawrence Ferlinghetti

Lawrence Ferlinghetti has been described as one of our 'ageless radicals and true bards'. Before I picked up this collection of his, I took that description with a pinch of salt, being very used to finding highly praised poets to often be disappointing in the reading. However in this case there was no disappointment at all. Ferlinghetti's poetry is well crafted, vivid, passionate and engaged with life. He also has a strong environmental consciousness. Seascape with Sun and Eagle describes an eagle in a beautiful meditative style with a poignant ending, Alienation: Two Bees focuses on the communication and sense of community in bees, Billboard Painters outlines the history of how colonialisation has destroyed natural beauty over and over again. Many other of his poems have an environmental message running through them or referenced, for example in A Nation of Sheep:

The little Cessna flies low
over the socked in snowfields
It's a late spring silent spring

makes discreet reference to Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring. But Ferlinghetti also has a light touch, in Populist Manifesto, he nods at Allen Ginsberg's Howl (which he published) with these lines:

We have seen the best minds of our generation
destroyed by boredom at poetry readings.

I can't imagine anyone being destroyed by boredom at Ferlinghetti's readings!

Wednesday 27 February 2008

Coded Messages

The eternal lapping of the sea
lulls this bay. Rock pools
are lacy with fossil leaves -
a record
of species lost.

Perhaps a warning
of our fate.

photo taken by my partner in Orkney September 2007 (click on it to see the fossils)

A Scribbled Message for Totally Optional Prompts

Tuesday 26 February 2008

Global Blogging Buddies

I'm so delighted that Selma in the City awarded me this, which must be the cutest blogging award there is. It's the Best Blogging Buddies Award for Global Communities and so I will pass it on to some bloggers across the world, with thanks for making this blogging thing so international:

Na at Shadows and Clouds (Italy)
Polona at Crows and Daisies (Slovenia)
Paul at Gingatao (Australia)
Clare at Clare's Sunflower Sky (USA)
Rethabile at Poefrika (France)

Monday 25 February 2008

Mother of Pearl Clouds

Glittering, flickering rainbows of light
Chasing around the clouds.

The ancients would respect such an omen in the skies,
A message from a god who speaks a language
We now refuse the time to understand or even recognise.
Time was even the rainbow meant something –
A grave covenant with a listening world in awe.
Now only the astronomers stop and stare,
Look up in delight to analyse and compare
And add this phenomenon to their lists.

Under the spinning, sparkling, shimmering lights,
Mothers hurry children onward home
And stop them staring at the sky.
But the children somehow understand
This power of the heavens reaching out,
Demanding their time to be still and watch.
They know it will be fish fingers again tomorrow,
But mother of pearl clouds not for twenty years

Previously published in Acumen

Sunday 24 February 2008

haiku - time

outside my window
the clouds speed across the sky -
the alarm clock ticks

plants buried in mud
millions of years ago -
fossils on the beach

time for Mad Kane's Haiku prompt


ink black sky -
branches sway across
the moon

blows the branches
in the sky -
I fill my pen with ink
and stare at the empty page.

Ink for One Deep Breath

Saturday 23 February 2008


Seven years old, in my jigsaw world map
I saw the west coast of Africa
fit neatly beside Brazil
despite the expanse of ocean
that correctly came between
in broken blue.

Years later in a college lecture room
I discovered continental drift,
plate tectonics, theories of biogeography
and instantly understood.

Now, sifting through photographs
I see your distant face:
Africa to my Brazil.

previously published in Curlew magazine

unneeded(?) puzzle pieces for Weekend Wordsmith

Friday 22 February 2008

The Wall by Marlen Haushofer

This is a wonderful, profoundly moving novel about a woman who is staying in a house in an alpine valley and wakes up one day to find there is an invisible wall between her and the rest of the world. She is isolated with only a cow, a dog, a cat and the land and wildlife around her. It is a beautifully written book and makes the reader ask lots of questions about our ability to be self sufficient, our relationship with the environment and with animals and the meaning of life. Each of the animals is a wonderfully drawn character and the narrator (who has no name) draws great comfort from them. The Wall itself is fascinating too, it could be symbolic of psychological or political isolation or could represent environmental breakdown. I read this book in German, but I think that it is available in English translation.

Thursday 21 February 2008

Songs that are Poems, Poems that are Songs

Selma in the City tagged me with this meme, to choose five songs that appeal to my poetic sensibilities. To narrow things down a bit I chose five songs that appeal to me poetically and are also inspired by the natural world or show an environmental consciousness, even that was a difficult choice, but here we go, today these are for me the most crafty green poetic songs:

1. World Falls written by Amy Ray of the Indigo Girls - my favourite all round band, who I saw in concert three times last time they were in Scotland several years ago. World Falls is from their 1990 album Nomads, Indians, Saints:

I've slept in rainy canyon lands, cold drenched to my skin.
I always wake to find a face to calm these troubled lands
This world falls on me with dreams of immortality
Everywhere I turn all the beauty that keeps shaking me.

2. Celestial Horses by Bruce Cockburn, he's a great activist musician, whose song When a Tree Falls helped to shape my environmental conscience when I was a teenager. Celestial Horses comes from his 2002 Album You've Never Seen Anything and the lyrics are among his most poetic:

Tomorrow may be a hissing blowtorch
may be a silken sky shaken by the wind
that whirls in the wake of those whispering horses
But there's always a pillar of cloud on the valley's rim
There's darkness in the canyon

3. Everybody Knows by Leonard Cohen. This is one of the many songs from Cohen that poetically links the personal and the poetical, one minute this is a song for dying love, the next its a warning on the state of the world:

Everybody knows that the boat is leaking. Everybody knows that the captain lied.
Everybody got this broken feeling like their father or their dog just died.

4. Crescent Moon by Cowboy Junkies from their 1993 album Pale Sun Crescent Moon.

Out among the fields gently hipped
beneath the corn
Assiniboine bones beneath the Highway
he stood there and he thought of home.
A finger traces the path of a satellite.
You're drawn to a distant copse of trees.
A voice as sweet as Mare's Tail
clings to the prairie breeze.

5. Birds by Aztec Camera from their very poetic 1993 album Dreamland:

I take a winter coat and walk the square
the people gather
and the birds they scare concrete and clay
conspire to cage me there
among the lost boys down in the streets
i see the trees grow bare
broken and battered in the thinning air
the birds are scattered in my footsteps there

I now tag gromit at Goss with Gromit (because she asked me to!) and Rethabile - and you! Join in if you want to and if you do, remember to leave a link in the comments here so I can come and read your answers!

Wednesday 20 February 2008


cold mist blurred
the almost full moon
as it rose

to redden later
in eclipse

but from our window
all we could see
was mist

Total Lunar Eclipse, 21 February 2008

edited on 21 February, I wrote this poem on 20 February, thinking I'd missed the eclipse but I'd got the date wrong. As it was though the situation turned out to be as predicted in my poem!

Monday 18 February 2008

Why I'm not a Research Scientist

six week lab project
with no sign of a result -
grade A for effort.
measuring wheat stems

in a noisy, dusty room -
cheap student labour.

counting all the plants
in a square metre of grass -
surrounded by cows

taking soil samples
to the lab to count earthworms -
rucksack full of dirt.


bad jobs for Mad Kanes Haiku Prompt.

Saturday 16 February 2008

Weekend Walk - Birds

We walked along the Water of Leith this morning. The weather was lovely, cold but with bright blue skies and no wind. The slopes by the paths were often covered with snowdrops and there were lots of rich mosses on the walls. It was a good day for birdwatching, we saw a pair of goosanders, which seem improbably grand for a small river in the middle of a city. Further along we got very close to two dippers, I was hoping to see some courtship behaviour but each bird stayed firmly on its own rock and groomed. It was lovely to get so close to a bird that often is nothing more than a blur as it speeds along the river! We also saw long tailed tits almost dancing in the branches above us.

Friday 15 February 2008

A Future Altered Book

I had picked up a copy of Fly: An Experimental Life by Martin Brooks from a second hand shop. I noticed it had been withdrawn from a library very soon after publication, which I thought was a shame until I opened it up and realised that any self respecting librarian would take it off the shelves. The second half of chapter 2 and the first half of chapter 3 are missing, then there are two copies of the second half of chapter 3, a bit like a mutant fly. So, once I've read the bits of the book that are there (fascinating chapters on what experiments with fruit flies can tell us about ageing, reproduction and evolution) then I'll be making it into an altered book! I'll post the best pages here.

Thursday 14 February 2008


In the woodland canopy
two gently courting doves
calm in soft grey
pinkly glow in almost sunset.

On the forest floor below
the hunter sets his sights.

Previously published in Poetry Cornwall

Wednesday 13 February 2008

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

I decided this year, that instead of just buying interesting second hand books about science, I would make a real effort to actually read them! (A particularly useful decision, given the fact that I'll be working at this year's Edinburgh International Science Festival!). Bill Bryson's Short History of Nearly Everything was the ideal book to read to get me back into reading science. Its the history of the earth and the history of scientific discovery. Its engagingly written and informative, full of facts and interesting digressions. I did feel that the last few chapters on human evolution were a little rushed, but that is a minor criticism and the final chapter on how humans directly and indirectly cause the extinctions of large numbers of living species is sobering indeed. I'd recommend this book to anyone wanting to start reading more about science.

Tuesday 12 February 2008

Dates of Poetry Workshops

For anyone reading this blog who is in Edinburgh (not many I know!) here are some details of the workshops I am facilitating. I think all these dates are subject to change:

The workshops at Waste Innovations have been cancelled again. No new dates I'm afraid!

Afternoon of Saturday 21 June - Haiku workshop at the Salisbury Centre. Further details to follow in this blog and in the Centre's summer programme which can be viewed here.

February 2009 - writing workshop at Vogrie Country Park, Midlothian. Date to be confirmed and details to follow!

Monday 11 February 2008

Sunday 10 February 2008

Anya's meme of 5

This is a bit silly, but having read Moose's answers to this meme over at Clare's Sunflower Sky, I thought that in memory of Anya, I would put together her answers to the questions:

1. Favourite songs/music
a) Crafty Green Poet singing me her special bunny songs.
b) the sound of dandelions being rattled in a bag
c) The theme tune to Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was named after the character Anya who is scared of rabbits and here I am sitting in front of the video collection.

d) Killing Moon by Echo and the Bunnymen - the Bunnymen!
e) The theme tune to the Teletubbies - lots of giant rabbits in teletubby land!

2. Favourite toys
a) my cardboard tunnel, I loved to sit in it!
b) small cardboard tubes to chew and throw around
c) old pillowcases to chew
d) a plastic figurine of the lion king
e) pine cones to chew and throw around

3. Favourite food
a) dandelions, dandelions, dandelions!
b) raisins
c) hay
d) grass
e) carrots

4. Favourite activities
a) posing and looking beautiful
b) running round the flat
c) binkying (the bunny dance of joy)
d) chewing
e) digging

5. Bad habits
a) chewing books (but I thought Banana Yoshimoto was a new kind of banana treat!),
b) digging in the corner of the living room (here I am looking guilty!)

c) my naughtiest moment ever was when I chewed a new organic cotton sheet - but it tasted so good and Crafty Green Poet always says how good it is to eat organic!
d) chewing carpets
e) I was too adorable to have more than 4 bad habits...

Now I tag Hugo at Yowlyy's Bunnies, Needles and Books, any or all or the rabbits who live with Rabbits' Guy and BunnyLady at A Houseful of Rabbits, any or all of the pets who live with Inland Empire Girl at Gathering Round the Table and Padma who lives with na at Shadows and Clouds. Plus anyone else who has a pet that wants to take part...

Saturday 9 February 2008

Weekend Walk - Snowdrops

Every February we go to Cammo Country Park to see the snowdrops. They can be found throughout the park, but specially in the old walled garden (see photo). The weather today was bright and unseasonably warm and the birds were all singing. We saw lots of magpies, crows, great tits, blue tits (including two checking out a nestbox!), blackbirds and what was probably a buzzard. We heard a lot of robins too, singing their wistful winter song, ready to change to their breeding season song very soon I expect!

Friday 8 February 2008

Science Festival and an Excellent Blog

I'm excited to have been offered a post as a science communicator at the Edinburgh International Science Festival. It's only two weeks work but it sounds like great fun! I'll blog more about this closer to the time.

I'm also hoping to deliver a series of poetry workshops in March and April for Waste Innovations, an eco-company in Edinburgh, I'll post more about that here when I've got more details.

I'm also delighted that Gautami awarded me the Excellent Blog Award, very honoured, thanks Gautami.

Thursday 7 February 2008

haiku - red

black clouds
grumble with thunder -
red umbrellas

willows lean
over a red painted boat -
rain dimpled river

previously published in Haiku Scotland

Wednesday 6 February 2008

The Iguana by Anna Maria Ortese

This is a wonderful novel, part adventure, part magical fable. Aleardo is a young Italian count whose voyages take him to the unknown island of Ocana, where he meets a family of Portuguese nobles and their servant who seems to be an iguana. As the story progresses the differentiation between fantasy and reality blurs, so that towards the end, the narrative shimmers like a hologram, it's most magical. There is also a strong environmental conscience at work, for example the iguana can be seen as a symbol of human relationships between classes and with the natural world. Here is a short quote that spoke to me:

' "...nature is not at peace. She's like a mother whose son is in the grips of some calamity that's forcing him to abandon her. ...she's in a state of alarm, pressing her ear against every outcropping in the air. And so many strange sounds that we take for the creaking of a branch or the whisper of a leaf innocently falling onto a windowsill, well they're nothing other than her scratchings at the door of our cramped and contorted reasonings, her way of begging us not to abandon her..." '

The book is also beautifully translated from the Italian by Henry Martin. It flows much better than do many other translations from Italian that I've read.

Tuesday 5 February 2008

Framed Collage

This is a framed collage for the bathroom. I bought several second-hand frames and painted them with poster paints (there's a bit of a dilemma, poster paints fade quickly, but they are probably more environmentally friendly than acrylics and certainly more convenient than emulsion unless you're decorating the house which we're not! Natural Collection no longer seems to stock their 100% natural paints - does anyone know anywhere that sells genuinely natural paints that can be used for this type of work?). The frame is finished off with a seahorse stamp. The collage is a couple of photos from magazines (the smaller picture is a boat, the light caught it so it may not be clear!) and a French postage stamp.

Monday 4 February 2008


Malawi, 1991

My heart is stretched out over this land,
pegged down with sharp stakes of brittle roots,
parched dry by the oppressive heat
of this rainy season without rain.

Women with the desert in their eyes,
heavy laden, trample the ground, my soul,
their dresses, bright splashes of colour,
their laughter gurgling like springs.

Eagles with cunning in their bills,
claw the shrinking lake, my ebbing blood,
scratching for small fish – usipa, utaka, *
rage against the dying of the lake.

Monkeys, baboons, in hillside starvation,
break garden fences, come looking for food,
join herds of goats to steal the crops,
pull braids and ribbons from my hair.

Up in the mountains, thunder lurks
and deep, dark grumblings underground.
Dry packed earth and blistered skin
wait for rain’s sweet, wet relief.

Previously published in Candelabrum and in my pamphlet Bougainvillea Dancing

See another poem including clothes over on Over Forty Shades, my Alter Ego blog, here.

Clothes for Read Write Poem

Sunday 3 February 2008

10 for 10

is my favourite colour
the colour of fields, of the trees

in my parents' suburban garden
I was too scared to climb
though I liked to draw them

a skill useful in college Botany
though what I learned outside class
was as interesting as the lessons

so when I taught biology in Malawi
I also lead wildlife walks
and directed a play

when I returned to the UK
I joined a local drama group
and realised I couldn't act

but I could write so wrote a play
then found poetry suited me better
so that's what I did

between volunteering and looking for
work, which was a harder search
than it should have been

then finding work in fact the biggest
disappointment in my life
though it pays enough

for me to buy all the second hand
books I want to fill
the shelves of the flat

that I share with the love of my life
and the ghost of our rabbit
and where I can be crafty and green!

The Unskilled Poet challenged me with the 10 for 10 meme - write ten verses about yourself and then challenge 10 other bloggers! So there's my attempt and I tag:
Jo (Florescence), Rethabile (Poefrika), Clare (Clare's Sunflower Sky), Brian (Truth is Freedom), Rose (Live and Laugh), Gautami (Rooted), Deb and Whirling Dervish (Stoney Moss), Abzdragon (A G33k Tragedy), Mike (Word Anger) and you! And don't worry, if you don't want to, you can pass...

Friday 1 February 2008

Ten signs a book is written by me

Kristen of Write Now is Good has tagged me with this meme:

Ten signs a book is written by me

1. It has an appealing cover design, featuring images from the natural world
2. It is produced using recycled papers

3. It is illustrated
4. It contains a fair amount of writing about the natural world or on environmental themes
5. It deals with issues but doesn't rant
6. It is accessible but thought provoking
7. It is mostly poetry
8. Most of the pieces are short
9. There is the occasional surreal or weird piece to change the flow
10. It will probably be sold only at poetry readings and independent bookshops like
Wordpower Books in Edinburgh

And if you want to see what a book by me really looks like, I think there are a couple of copies of my old pamphlet Bougainvillea Dancing left to buy here.

How about you? What would a book by you look like? If you answer the questions, come back and let me know so I can see your answers!