Saturday 31 May 2008

Evening in Malawi

We used to watch the sunset on the lake
while drinking tea as daylight turned to dusk,
bougainvillea above our heads still
dancing pink against the darkening blue
and, flying fast against the fading light
returning to its tree - a fish eagle.

Each day the haunting calls of the eagle
echoed from shire to shore across the lake.
A heavy bird, in flight it seemed so light
as it hunted for fish from dawn to dusk
moving quickly against the sky of blue
and diving in the lake so clear and still.

As the big bird passed we would sit quite still
awestruck by the grace of the fish eagle.
Sometimes we would walk in the evening blue
to look for other birds around the lake -
the weaver birds displaying until dusk
their wingtips fluttering in the fading light.

Sometimes we would see the flickering lights
of fishing boats floating on the lake, still
and motionless in the gathering dusk,
competing for food with the fish eagle.
The fishermen shouted across the lake,
the football scores echoing in the blue.

Once I sat on the beach, feeling quite blue
and watched the fireflies glimmering with light
as they gathered by the side of the lake.
I began to feel so peaceful and still -
above my head the call of the eagle
heralded another gathering dusk.

I left the beach to get home before dusk,
saw a kingfisher with its flash of blue
(a much smaller bird than the fish eagle)
startlingly bright in the pale evening light -
the colour stayed in my mind's eye as still
I walked to my house with views of the lake.

I heard the eagle call above the lake-
in the blue evening the world felt so still
and in deepening dusk my heart became light.

Unleash the Poem Within recommends using the sestina to explore memory.
Read Write Poem this week asks us to play about with form, using one form to rewrite a poem that was originally in another form. This poem, my first attempt at a sestina, is sort of a reworking of After Sunset, Lake Malawi.

Friday 30 May 2008

The Talking Horse and the Sad Girl and the Village Under the Sea by Mark Haddon

A poetry collection from the author of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nightime, this is a wonderfully varied book (for some reason, some critics see this as a weakness in a poetry collection, I don't, I revel in poetic variety). These poems are wonderfully imaginative and vivid, sometimes surreal, sometimes funny, sometimes sad and sometimes beautifully insightful. I could make long quotations from almost any poem in the book but I'll just stick with this, the ending of A Tally Stick about a farmhand learning to count:

Then pausing at the gate one night
he thinks of seven. Not trees. Not dogs.
Just seven. Like The Plough
before God put the stars in.

The collection also includes elegant new versions of Odes by Horace and a poetic condensation of a novel by John Buchan. I was sent this book by another member of Bookcrossing and now need to pass it on to the next on the list, but I may need to go out and buy a copy...

Thursday 29 May 2008

Pet Three Names Meme

I've been tagged a lot recently and I'll get round to doing them all soon! Firstly, Diana Moll of The Qi Papers tagged me with the Pet Name Meme. In case you aren't familiar with The Naming of Cats, in the Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot, cats all have three names! Rabbits have at least three names.
Here are the rules:
You must link to the originator of the meme ( that is
Tara ), list the following rules, and then tell:
1-The name that the family uses daily ( such as Peter, Augustus, Alonzo or James ).
2-The name that is particular, a name that is peculiar, and more dignified ( such as Munkstrap, Quaxo or Coricopat )
3-What you are doing when you are thinking of the name only you know, and will never confess, that deep inscrutable name. Then tag three cats ( or other creatures) to give us their names.

Anya's answers would have been:
1. Anya
2. Anyanka
3. lying sprawled out after eating dandelions

Most of the blogging rabbits I know have answered this meme already (or are thinking about it!) so I'll just tag Inland Empire Girl who has plenty of pets who could answer this meme, but anyone else out there with a pet who'd like to do this meme, feel free and let me know in the comments that you've done it so I can find your answers!

Wednesday 28 May 2008

Tuesday 27 May 2008

City Farms and Community Gardens in the UK

As I'm soon going to be starting a new job with the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens, I thought I'd say a bit about what they are (also because Rabbits Guy seemed to want to know more too!). City Farms and Community Gardens are locally based green spaces found mostly in urban areas of the UK. They offer people opportunities to get closer to nature and find out more about the relationship between farms and food as well as to learn about the environment and to gain practical skills such as gardening and animal husbandry. Many of them offer training places for people with learning disabilities or with mental health problems. You can find out more about their work and, if you're in the UK, find your local City Farm or Community Garden at the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens website.

Monday 26 May 2008

Weekend in Perth

We had a lovely weekend in Perth, the weather was perfect for late Spring - warm and sunny with a light breeze. Perth is a nice small city with lots to do, especially nice nature walks! We went on several walks along the River Tay. It was beautiful to watch the swallows and house martins diving low over the river, while the swifts did their aerobatics higher up and the gulls glided by, some of them even trying to copy the more acrobatic birds by swooping down after flies. We followed part of the Perth Sculpture Walk which showcases several pieces of modern sculpture along the banks of the Tay. We also wandered into a more wooded part of the riverbank where we heard whitethroats and saw a flock of long tailed tits, several blackbirds and a very good number of song thrushes (song thrushes were once a really common species in the UK but have declined badly in recent years and it was lovely to see and hear so many of them).

We also wandered up Kinnoull Hill, which, on the lower slopes, is beautiful woodland, full of birdsong (especially the descending trill of the willow warbler) (see photo above) and more open at the top, with steep cliffs falling down to the plains below.

a ruined tower
beside perilous cliffs -

a peregrine hunts

It was wonderful to see this bird of prey as it glided past and dived near us several times. They're quite uncommon and certainly I've rarely seen them anywhere. On the bus home we saw three deer in the woods just outside Perth.

Saturday 24 May 2008

Two Art Exhibitions in Edinburgh

On Thursday I went to two art exhibitions:

North Light - Contemporary Photography (on until 8 June at the City Art Centre ) is a varied and interesting collection. A lot of the photos on show are social commentary, ranging from black and white photos of Edinburgh in the 1960s to more recent vibrantly colourful photos of a Sikh wedding ceremony. My favourites were the black and white photos taken in Orkney - Thomas Joshua Cooper's stark landscape of part of the Old Man of Hoy and Albert Watson's series of photos of stones - a standing stone and large scale close ups of ancient mortar and pestle. I left wishing more photos had been on show....

Across the road from the City Art Centre in the Fruitmarket Gallery was an exhhibition of works from Lucy Skaer (on until 9 July). Skaer's work is varied and interesting but sometimes feels to me to be too experimental, just for the same of being experimental. The highlight for me was her large scale reworking of the iconic Japanese print of the Great Wave by Katsushika Hokusai , her version is entirely made up of grey spirals of various sizes - the exhibition is worth going to purely for this piece.

Friday 23 May 2008

New Job!

I was delighted to be offered a new job as Scotland Development Worker with the Federation of City Farms and Community Gardens to be based at Gorgie City Farm, which is ten minutes away from where I live. I had a good feeling in the interview, I was asked to wait in the garden and then the interview took place in a room with an animal mural on one wall and sheep, goats and horses in the fields outside! I start in a few weeks and probably will have a week off between jobs.

Thursday 22 May 2008


Oh look the swifts are here again.
They swoop so low and soar so high
I think there may be more than ten -
oh look the swifts are here again.
We know it's summer round here when
our favourite bird comes gliding by
Oh look the swifts are here! Again
they sweep so low and soar so high!

A triolet for Totally Optional Prompts. It reflects my conversation when looking out of our window at this time of year!

Evening Walk

Yesterday evening we walked over to Blackford Pond, where we saw these proud parent mallards and a little grebe, respendent in its breeding plumage. The books describe little grebes as very shy and this one certainly was, it spent most of its time under water! The evening was beautiful, mild and still with a wonderful sky of soft clouds. We walked round Blackford Hill and the Hermitage of Braid and after coming almost face to face with a swooping kestrel (they're incredibly beautiful at close range!) we sat down for a while looking at the trees below, which were full of chattering jackdaws and the hill behind that was full of rabbits. Swifts were darting about high above us and the air was full of birdsong (I was pleased that I recognised the song of a whitethroat). A very peaceful place.

Wednesday 21 May 2008


In a garden silver bright with the moon
an owl hoots under the light of the moon

The city streets are deserted tonight
tv aerials held tight to the moon

A girl stares out of her bedroom window
she wants to take a bite out of the moon

A young boy runs into the empty street
trying to fly his kite to the moon

Musing and gazing out into the dark
Crafty green poet delights in the moon.

Chapter 4 of Unleash the Poem Within suggests that the ghazal is a perfect form for daydreaming and letting your mind wander.

The Ghazal Page , an excellent resource to find out more about this fascinating form, is currently holding a competition for moon ghazals.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Unleash the Poet Within - Wendy Nyemaster

This book is an intriguing mix of self help and poetry manual. The tone of the book is relaxed, chatty and women centred. Each chapter takes the reader through a specific poetic form (eg the sonnet) or type (eg the letter poem) and suggests which form is best for writing about certain personal situations, giving examples written by the women in the author's writing circle and titles of examples by famous female poets that can be accessed online or from a library. The focus is on using poetry to explore personal issues and to allow writing to access emotions and discover solutions to personal problems. Form and craft are described in a simple (sometimes simplistic) and straightforward way that demistifies poetry and enables the reader to feel confident about starting to write. There are also nice lists of tips for each form, along with a selection of ideas around areas such as sharing poetry, how to make time to write and using poetry in journalling.

My problem with formal verse has always centred on why to use a particular form, I'm a prolific haiku writer because that is a form that suits my way of looking at the world and the things that inspire me, but I don't like to write, for example, a sonnet, just for the sake of it, I want to feel it's the right form for the thoughts I want to express. This book really helped me with its chapters outlining why each form suits particular situations, eg:

sonnet - working out emotions
sestina - making sense of memory
ghazal - allowing your mind to wander
haiku - living in the moment
villanelle - accessing your inner voice
ode - dwelling on what is good in your life

I know that each form suits other situations too, but this was really helpful in getting me to think about form and when I can use it. So in the next few weeks and months, watch out for posts here containing my first ghazals and sestinas!

The book is aimed at beginner poets and women interested in poetry as therapy. As the author says: 'I decided to write a book on poetical form because it is something I can wholeheartedly believe in and can provide personal testimony about. It can help women to live fuller, more in tune lives...' It's a book about allowing creativity to help you explore personal issues and though it is also useful for free verse writers who want to start exploring form, it is not a manual for the experienced poet who wants to develop skills in writing quality formal verse.

Unleash the Poem Within by Wendy Nyemaster, published by Source Books.

Sunday 18 May 2008

Weekend Walk

We walked over to the Botanic Gardens yesterday. We walked over the Water of Leith (see photo above) wandered through Inverleith Park, round the pond in the park. We saw a pair of coots feeding their four chicks in the new reed bed area that has been created recently. The open part of the pond was full of swans and mallards and there were several house martins and swallows flying around and swooping down to catch insects.

Walking into the Botanics, we noticed the new bird feeding centre that has been set up near the North Gate. We saw a greenfinch, a chaffinch and a couple of blue tits here as well as a grey squirrel and several feral pigeons, waiting underneath the feeders to pick up food dropped by the smaller birds. We had a very good view of a long tailed tit just at the edge of the Chinese Hillside.

We had a cup of tea in the Botanics Cafe, which is always a good place to get close views of more common birds such as robins or blackbirds. Today we were lucky enough to see a treecreeper climbing up a tree and then flying from tree to tree. We also saw blue tits, dunnocks, chaffinches as well as blackbirds and robins.

Saturday 17 May 2008

Manufactured Landscapes - film review

Edward Burtynsky is internationally acclaimed for his large-scale photographs of landscapes transformed by industry. Manufactured Landscapes – an award winning documentary by director Jennifer Baichwal – follows Burtynsky to China, where he captures the effects of the country’s massive industrial revolution and to Bangladesh where he documents the work of ship breakers on a beach. There is a strange beauty in some of the photos of piles of waste materials or derelict landscapes and the sheer scale of things is overwhelming. More than anything though the film gives the viewer a sense of the alienation of modern life. Around a million people lost their homes to make way for the Three Gorges dam and were paid to dismantle their own homes. Large numbers of computers from around the world are sent to China to be recycled by people who mostly have no protective clothing, in villages that now are so polluted that they can be smelt from five miles away*. This is a very sobering film that really makes the viewer think about industrialisation and globalisation. It is showing in selected cinemas in the UK.

*Recycling computers is a good thing, if done locally in an environmentally friendly way. In the UK there are a number of companies that refurbish computers and donate them to community groups that need them. For a list of these companies see here.

Friday 16 May 2008

haiku - warning

storm dark skies -
a raven's loud croak
from the tower.

warning for Mad Kane's Haiku Prompt. Inspired partly by Mad's own haiku and partly by the ravens at the Kitchener Memorial in Orkney

Thursday 15 May 2008

Poets for Equality and Justice

My poem Shells is included in today's post on Poets for Equality and Justice over on Poets Who Blog

Homebrew Biodiesel

According to this article in the Guardian, making boidiesel from waste cooking oil is becoming a real niche market industry in the UK. This is really good news as it is a genuinely environmentally friendly fuel, unlike agrofuels that take agricultural land out of food crop production or that are responsible for rainforest destruction. Read my previous post about making your own biofuel here.

Find out more about the Fuel Pod, which can be used to recycle waste oil into biofuel on the Green Fuels website.

Of course, finding environmentally friendly fuel for your car is good but finding an alternative to the car whenever possible is even better! We're lucky in that Edinburgh is a small city, pleasant and easy to walk round and with very good public transport (and there are bus companies in Scotland that run their vehicles on biofuels made from recycled cooking oils!).

Tuesday 13 May 2008

Birdwatching in central Edinburgh

I posted recently about the birds in my parents' garden in suburban Manchester. So I thought it was time to list the birds we regularly see or hear from the window of our flat in central Edinburgh or in the ground directly in front of our building:

house sparrow
blue tit

herring gull
lesser black backed gull
carrion crow
collared dove
feral pigeon

in summer we also see swifts

I recently once saw a grey heron fly by and my partner has seen some sort of bird of prey

I have heard what sounded like a blackcap singing, but that seems unlikely, it was more likely a dunnock, which has a nice song that I can never recognise unless I can see the dunnock at the time!

Monday 12 May 2008

haiku - mother

watched by their mother -
six ducklings leap one by one
into the river

there's another mother bird in this poem.

Over on Over Forty Shades, you can read a poem I wrote about a mother and daughter here and on Cynthia's blog, Epiphany: Amour Habito Intus Vos you can read a poem I wrote about my grandmother here.

Mothers for Read Write Poem

Sunday 11 May 2008

Saturday 10 May 2008


This beautiful mayfly found its way into our flat yesterday. It must have come from the nearby canal. There are around 50 species of mayfly in the UK! You can read a bit more about them here.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Bored Meeting

Closed picture windows stale the air,
coffee is drunk but doesn’t keep awake.
Bored fingers crumb biscuits,
leaf through unread notes.

Absent minds wander.

Outside, birds discover spring,
the river dances,
a young woman passes by,

blonde hair flying free.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

Climate Counts Company Scorecard

Climate Counts launched its latest Climate Counts Company Scorecard today. This scores companies on a scale from zero to 100, based on 22 criteria relating to climate change. Consumers can see all the current company scores and download a pocket shopping guide at This seems to be currently mostly for US consumers but its a helpful project for consumers who want to reduce the environmental impact of their shopping.

84 percent of the scored companies —among them some of the world's largest -- made improvements in their efforts to reduce greenhouse gases and to make information about those actions actions easily accessible to consumers.

Tuesday 6 May 2008

Botanic Gardens

Yesterday was a Public Holiday and we went down to the Botanic Gardens. The weather was warm and sunny, the gardens were bright with blossom and loud with birdsong. There are a lot of large trees in the Botanics which you can stand under and watch all the birds flying around, hopping from branch to branch, they somehow seem not to notice you're there. Apparently 50 species of bird were seen in the Botanic Gardens last year.

The photo is of an ash tree, which we saw walking back from the Gardens, the light in it isn't very good, but its one of my favourite trees at the time of year, it looks quite bizarre, don't you think?

Compost Awareness Week

It's Compost Awareness Week in the UK. Find out more here.

Monday 5 May 2008

Planet Earth 2020

In this derelict valley
where old satellite photos show
there were once forests and fertile plains
farmers scratch a poor living
and hide from packs of rabid dogs.

Vultures once cleaned up the dead
animals that now pile
across the land. The last vultures
died years ago, staggering and deformed
poisoned by banned drugs.

The aliens behind their invisibility shields
telemessage back to their planet
"Mostly stupid"
turn through the wormhole

Population of white backed vulture in northern India in 1990s - 30
Population of white backed vultures today - 11 000

The dramatic fall in population has been caused by use of the veterinary drug Diclofenac, which stays in the carcasses of domestic animals and is then ingested by vutures. The drug has been banned for animal use but is still available for human use and is still finding its way into the vultures. The drug Meloxicam is a vulture-safe alternative to Diclofenac. All three species of Indian vulture will probably be extinct within ten years. There is evidence that Diclofenac is now being exported to Africa.

To find out more about vultures in crisis across the world and about successful breeding programmes, visit the Vulture Rescue website. If you live within the distribution range of any vultures in Asia, you can help map their popluations, see here for details.

Science Fiction for Read Write Poem

You can read my recent scifaiku here and here.
You can read an earlier poem I wrote about vultures here.

Sunday 4 May 2008

Dalkeith Country Park

Dalkeith Country Park is a lovely area of woodland near Edinburgh. At this time of year, the woods are carpeted with bluebells (see above), wood sorrel and lesser celandines. The birds sing loudly, we heard blue tits, great tits, chaffinches, blackbirds and robins. Looking up into the trees I could see loads of small birds, most of which didn't come any closer but one goldcrest flew into the lower branches and bowed to me, showing the yellow crest on its head. Later a mistle thrush loudly shouted at us.
It was nice to see in the ancient oak wood, that oak seedlings had been planted and protected from the grazing cows.
Later in Dalkeith town we saw our first swifts of the year. I've just seen more outside our window here, which may mean spring is really here at last.
You can read about another trip we made to Dalkeith Country Park (and see more photos) here.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Torrential Rain

As we started walking up Arthur's Seat, we could see the rain out to the west, shining silver in the sunlight. The sky was dull and the air was damp around us but it didn't start raining until we reached the small loch. Then it became torrential as we watched the mallards swimming, swans sitting on their nest in the middle of the water, tufted ducks diving for food, looking like white streaks underwater. We turned back quite soon, made our way back down the hill, hunching ourselves against the rain. Then as we got halfway down the rain stopped and the clouds cleared, leaving a beautiful blue sky. The gorse bushes all around us shone golden, overburdened with flowers. Then we saw it. On the hill, a small brown animal ran into our sights and then stopped to stare. A weasel! We watched the rabbit it might have been stalking run away, then the weasel ran up the rocky hill.

Torrential rain for Weekend Wordsmith

You can read about previous walks round Arthur's Seat (and see photos!) here.

Friday 2 May 2008

A Family of Blackbirds

Father has one white eyebrow, sings beautifully.
Mother is the brown of polished chestnuts
with a beak as bright as her mate's.
Dutifully they collect food, wait
every morning for the feast of raisins
to carry to their brood
hidden in a garden tree.

Soon they will come to the lawn
with large-mouthed, speckled young
teach them to pull worms from grass
to recognise the footsteps
that promise raisins.

for my parents, who feed raisins to the blackbirds

Family for Sunday Scribblings

Brood parasites

too fat for the nest
the young cuckoo throws out
the other chicks -
I think about our follies,
our desperate greed

for Totally Optional Prompts

Thursday 1 May 2008


My prompt on Science Fiction poetry is now up at Read Write Poem - you can read it here! I'll be posting my response to the prompt here on Monday, but meanwhile here is a scifaiku I recently wrote (strange layout courtesy of Blogger!):

pewter sky glowers

over the leaden land -
red lightning

I posted another scifaiku over on Over Forty Shades, which you can read here.