Tuesday 30 September 2008

Koyaanisqatsi - an activist's film?

At the weekend, Friends of the Earth Scotland hosted a showing of Koyaanisqatsi as the closing night of the Take One Action! activism film festival at the Filmhouse in Edinburgh. Koyaanisqatsi is a Hopi word meaning life out of balance and this film shows a world very much out of balance with the natural environment. it's a visually mesmerising collage of constantly moving images of technology and overcrowded cityscapes. It was shown on this occasion with a live musical accompaniment by Urban Farm Hand. It was a great event, this is a film I missed when it came out and I was really pleased to see it at last, and the music was a perfect match. However, I don't think this is a good film for an activist event, because:

*it's unremittingly grim and made me feel more like giving up than increasing my activism
*it's over 20 years old and despite all the activism of the last twenty years the film is still relevant - showing it now seems to imply activism changes nothing
*although the film has a message its quite nebulous and doesn't give the viewer a focus for any activism

In a general sense I would argue that films aren't intended necessarily to inspire activism, but this was a festival of activism. Which environmental films would you show to inspire activism? Indeed, are there any such films?

Monday 29 September 2008

Garden Harvest 2

Not many are there? These are all the potatoes that we harvested from the pots I posted earlier. I suspect that the combination of all the rain and our garden area being so shady, lead to this poor harvest. My partner's parents were much luckier with their yield from potatoes grown in the same way but in a sunnier garden. Garden Harvest 1 was brambles, which you can see here.

Sunday 28 September 2008


misty hills -
two deer motionless
in a field

I wrote this haiku a while ago after seeing deer from a train window somewhere between Edinburgh and Glasgow. A week or so ago, i saw more deer, from a train window along the same route. You can read about those deer here on A handful of Stones.

Brilliant Birds at North Berwick

We had a lovely time in North Berwick yesterday and probably the best day's birdwatching we've ever had there - helped by the tide being in and all the waders being pushed closer to the shore, therfore being easier to see. North Berwick is famous for the gannets that live on the Bass Rock - click on the photo above and the Bass Rock is the white island to my right. It looks white because of all the gannets that live on it. When you get closer you can also see a cloud of gannets flying around the rock. There are also lots of gannets flying closer to shore and diving for fish. As well as gannets though we also sawgood numbers of: oystercatchers, curlew, redshanks, turnstones, ringed plovers, pied wagtails, and eider ducks along with three bar tailed godwits, four terns terns (probably common terns but I'm not sure) a meadow pipit and a whinchat. There were also house martins and swallows flying around the main street of North Berwick itself. The day was warm and sunny too, though windy. The rain started as soon as we got onto the bus back to Edinburgh!

Saturday 27 September 2008


sky burdened
with polluted clouds


no wonder
birds struggle to nest


Poison for Weekend Wordsmith.
If you came here via Weekend Wordsmith, why not browse the rest of my blog here,

Friday 26 September 2008

Catapult to Mars has lift off!

Gordon Mason, a regular contributor to Bolts of Silk has started his own blog, which is now live at Catapult to Mars. The blog features Gordon's own poetry in English, Scots and Spanish and will also feature poetry from guest poets. All the poems are illustrated with a carefully chosen picture.

I'm honoured to be the first guest poet on Gordon's blog and you can read my poem here.

Words-Myth 12 is Up!

Issue 12 of Words-Myth is up, full of excellent poems. Words Myth was voted by readers and visitors to the Poetry Kit site as the Favorite Internet based magazine 2007 so I'm particularly delighted that this issue includes two of my poems, which you can read here.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

Garden Harvest 1

I showed a photo of the brambles growing in the garden earlier, here. This is the bowlful I gathered at the weekend. As they all ripen at different rates and the brambles in our courtyard area all grow in different gardens and aren't all accessible, there isn't much of a harvest at any one time. But they are very tasty....

Who else likes brambles? Find out more at the RSPB here. So I'm happy to let the rest of the berries go to the birds and the insects....

Monday 22 September 2008

It's been a bad year for butterflies....

We've had a very wet and dull summer in Scotland and its been a bad year for a lot of butterflies. Apart from for the Comma, seen here, earlier today, on the Wildlife Garden sign at Gorgie Farm. The Comma is spreading pretty rapidly up Scotland. It's a beautiful butterfly, this is only the second I've ever seen. Click on the photo for full effect....

Saturday 20 September 2008

Trams for Edinburgh?

Trams are great. I've always been struck by the efficiency and comfort of trams when I've visited large European cities such as Vienna, Turin and most recently Dresden. Trams are also generally more environmentally friendly than buses. So I should be delighted that trams are coming to Edinburgh. But I'm not!

Apart from the current chaos on Edinburgh's roads because of the tram works (hey we can live with some chaos (even three years of it!) if the end result will be worth it!) the trams are I think misguided, because:

Edinburgh is a small compact city that probably doesn't really need trams as well as the excellent bus service it has (Lothian Buses are respected as a very good bus company)

the trams will serve such a restricted area - basically Leith Walk (down towards the Scottish Government offices), Princes Street (the main shopping street) and onwards to Haymarket train station and further to a stop bizarrely about ten minutes walk from the airport. There may also be a line down towards Granton, but since the new business and housing development in Granton is possibly not going ahead, due to the current economic uncertainties, that line may also not go ahead. These areas are all currently well served with buses, while large areas of the city currently with poorer bus services will be without trams.

all public transport money is being poured into the trams, with the result that bus services to outlying areas of the city are at best not getting more investment, at worst are being cut. People who live in outlying areas are already more likely to have cars than those of us who live in the centre and if their bus services get worse, they're certainly not going to be tempted to leave their cars at home...

when the trams arrive, it seems that no buses will run along Princes Street. (I may be wrong about this, does anyone know?) This means that someone who lives in Restalrig and works in Gorgie for example, who currently can get a bus directly from their home to their work, a 30 minute journey or so, in future will need to get a bus to Leith Walk, then get off and wait for a tram to Haymarket where they will need to get off and get a second bus. This is hardly going to encourage people out of their cars.
There will only be one tram stop on Princes Street! Princes Street is quite a long street and currently has several bus stops.......

our roads will be very restricted when the trams have taken over most of the space - I would guess it will be much more difficult for cyclists

You can read more about the chaos on our streets and the negative impact on local businesses caused by the tram roadworks at Bond Bloke's Edinburgh Day by Day blog here, here and here

public transport for Easy Street Prompts

The Road to Lagoa Santa by Henrik Stangerup

This is a wonderful novel, following the struggles of Danish naturalist Dr P W Lund, in his attempts to make sense of the bones he is finding in caves in Brazil. It's the middle of the 19th century, a time when Darwin is working on his theories of evolution but when the general culture of religion means that most scientists (including Lund) struggle to interpret their findings in terms of creationism. The novel is wonderfully written (and translated beautifully too, by Barbara Bluestone) and is sharp and immediate, keeping the reader totally engrossed in the excitement of scientific discovery, the tribulations of scientific rivalry and the health difficulties that Lund faced. It is a book with a wonderful sense of place too, the Amazon rainforest, the endless plains, the claustraphobic caves, the endless lines of ants are all evoked very vividly.

Friday 19 September 2008

Nickern Children's Farm, Dresden

On the last day of the conference of European City Farms, we went to the Nickern Children's Farm, which has loads of activities going on. The windmill in the photo above was constructed by a group of young people, entirely out of natural materials and is used to help children learn about wind power. The farm also has lots of animals, you can see photos of many of them on this page of their website (you can click on each photo to open up a whole new gallery.). I'll just share this photo of one of the many rabbits. This rabbit was very lively and insisted on trying to give me pieces of hay through the wire. Maybe it was trying to tell me something?

After we had looked round the farm we had a barbecue and danced to some Cuban music. You can read a haiku about the barbeque on Over Forty Shades here.

Thursday 18 September 2008

Spielwiese Youth Farm, Weißig, Dresden

We had quiet a lot of free time during the conference of European City Farms. Some of used some of that time to visit the Spielwiese Youth Farm. This is a lovely farm for young people and children, in the hills around the village Weißig on the outskirts of Dresden. All the animal homes and play equipment are made from wood. The farm also owns several fields where the sheep, horses and geese graze. There are regular pony rides for the children, the horse below is Mona, an old Norwegian horse.

I posted a view of Weißig here on over Forty Shades.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

More City Farms in Dresden

During the conference of the European City Farms, we had site visits to a number of city farms and adventure playgrounds in Dresden.

The Johansplatz Abenteuerspielplatz is a lovely green adventure playground with a climbing wall, lots of cycling activities, a Bauspielplatz area (where the children can build huts etc) lots of trees and some rabbits. You can see their rabbits here and the photo above shows my favourite, not that you should have favourites amongst rabbits of course!

Eselsnest is a donkey farm and adventure playground with rabbits too. It's a very large area of sand and feels a bit bleak to be honest, but the animals are nice and they have lots of activities for young people. Eselsnest has a website here (in German only) but there are plenty of photos on this page here (click on each photo on this page to reveal a whole new gallery!).

Tuesday 16 September 2008

European Federation of City Farms Conference

The conference was excellent, very well organised with a great mix of lectures, workshops, trips to city farms and free time. There were around 70 people there, from Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Belgium, Sweden and Norway. The conference was held in English, but I had plenty of opportunities to speak German and Italian! The lectures were on:

The relevance of city farms to nature conservation fitted in with similar research that was done recently in the UK.

learning about history and nature by playing focussed on the role archeology can play in farm related education, farm museums are very popular in Germany. City farms in the UK are generally less likely to play a museum role.

the city seen as a playground was a slideshow demonstrating how different parts of a city can be play areas for children.

The workshop I attended was on creating youth exchanges between city farms in different countries.
The lectures and the workshops were held at the Panama City Farm and Adventure Playground. One of the things I liked about this project was that even the animals had adventure playgrounds! (Look at the goat!).
There were of course bunnies too, who I visited every coffee break.
German city farms are often combined with adventure playgrounds and also often have a Bauspielplatz (construction playgrounds where children build huts). In the UK, we are much more concerned (over concerned many of us would say) with risk and so we have fewer adventure playgrounds and those we have are less adventurous that the German ones.

We also visited four other projects which I'll post about in the next couple of days.

Monday 15 September 2008

Beautiful Dresden

Dresden is a beautiful city, full of wonderful buildings, many of which have been carefully renovated after having being destroyed in the Second World War. The photo above shows the Frauenkirche in the centre of the city. The Neustadt area, where we stayed for our conference, is full of lovely little shops and cafes and lots of artists live there. This is part of the wonderful artist's courtyard in Neustadt.
Dresden also feels very green, there are lots of trees along the streets and the River Elbe that flows through the city has wide green banks with cycle paths running along them. This is not just picturesque but also restricts the damage from flooding when the river overflows.

There are several city farms in Dresden, but more about those (and about the conference of European City Farms) in the next few days.

Sunday 14 September 2008

Rabbits on German City Farms

Just back from Germany, very tired from speaking so much German (and Italian). The conference was excellent, Dresden is beautiful and we visited several interesting city farms, all of which had rabbits. I'll post more about the trip in the next few days, but just for now, here are some rabbits from the Johannstadt Adventure Playground and City Farm.

Thursday 11 September 2008

European Conference of City Farms

From 11-14 September I'll be at the conference of the European Federation of City Farms, in Dresden, a German city I've never visited before. The conference has a full but relaxed programme, including visits to city farms, a tour of Dresden, a series of lectures and a workshop. You can read more about it here and I'll be back in a few days.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Gardening and the Writing State of Mind....

snails on the fence -
...................seed pods ripen

In the garden this morning I was thinking about the Writer's State of Mind that Becca talks about this week in Write On Wednesday. In some senses I am very much in that state of mind when I'm gardening, I'm observant but my mind to some extent does wander beyond the tasks at hand. There was lots to see in the garden today, a beautiful lace wing, some small moths, lots of harvest spiders behind the buttercups (which have already inspired this poem), a lovely snail on its back, retracting its body into its shell - a future poem perhaps and the ripening blackberries which are more likely to inspire jam than a poem. I also planted some shade tolerant wildflower seeds which hopefully will grow and inspire at least a blog post next Spring!

I do find being in nature to be a great place to inspire the writer's state of mind. Whenever we go for a walk in the countryside or a park, I am constantly coming up with haiku, which I need to stop and write in my diary.

I try though to constantly be in a writer's state of mind, open to ideas and inspiration. I've had ideas for poems in business meetings and in night clubs, watching films or doing the washing up. So you never know.

The Writer's State of Mind for Write On Wednesday

Ordinary Yellow Weeds.....

Creeping Buttercups

overgrowing verges, persistent
weeds deep rooted under paving stones

in summer yellow flowers
glow in the undergrowth

and behind their thick mass
harvest spiders gather

their strange beauty
in a secret world

most gardeners would destroy

oh dandelions!
if only we could see them
with a rabbit's eyes!

You can read an imagined (and fanciful!) bunny's eye view of dandelions here.

Seeing the Ordinary with new eyes for Miss Rumphius

Tuesday 9 September 2008

Shamrock Number 7 is up!

Shamrock the journal of the Irish haiku society has a new issue up. You can read it here. It features a wonderful selection of haiku from Serbia and if you scroll down you'll also find two of my haiku in amongst the excellent selection from the rest of the world.

Also, I've just had two poems accepted to appear on Words-Myth in October. Words Myth was voted by readers and visitors to the Poetry Kit site as the "Favorite Internet based magazine 2007" so I'm delighted that i will be included on it!

Impressionism and Scotland

This stunning exhibition is hosted by The National Gallery of Scotland on the Mound until 12 October 2008.

The exhibition includes over 100 paintings from artists including Monet, Sisley, Degas and Whistler and covers the history of Impressionism and its effects on the Scottish art scene of the time. I went round the exhibition twice, once to have a close look at the paintings and to read the interesting labels that outline the influences between artists, and then standing in the middle of the room to get a better perspective on things - if ever paintings needed to be appreciated from afar its these ones.

My favourite paintings were those by Monet (especially Poplars on the Epte and his vibrant seascapes), and George Reid's painting of Montrose with the stunning clouds and reflections in the water. A large number of the paintings are landscapes and many others focus either on the dying traditions of rural life or on the industrialisation that was then beginning to threaten these traditions.

Bondbloke also recently saw this exhibition, you can read his review here on A Brush with Art.

Monday 8 September 2008

The Puzzle Box by Paul Squires

When Paul sent me this book he said it wasn't at all environmental, but that doesn't mean he can't write about nature, this is lovely description from sunonhead (origins):

Sunonhead shades his eyes from the river glare and jiggles his big toe to summon fishy fish, blind to his moonwife winding her way through dappled eucalypt and melaleuca scented shade. A dingo slinks past her on his way to the den and an echidna bristles.

The whole book is a must read for anyone who is already a fan of Paul's blog. If you're not yet a fan, you can start reading his blog here. I've said more about The Puzzle Box on Over Forty Shades, you can read about it here.

Sunday 7 September 2008

South Queensferry

Yesterday we went to South Queensferry, a small town not far from Edinburgh on the Firth of Forth. We walked out of the town and along the Shore Walk through the Dalmeny Estate. We saw several swallows flying low over this field. Further along we wandered onto the beach and looked out over the Firth of Forth. It was incredibly windy and the eider ducks looked to be struggling on the choppy waters. We also saw small numbers of curlews and oystercatchers as well as lots of crows and gulls.

There were some determined birdwatchers on the grassy banks near the shore, with telescopes and tripods (if you click on the photo below, you may be able to see some of them!), no doubt watching out for unusual passage migrants that might be blown off course into the Firth.

We went back onto the woodland track and found some interesting fungi, the photo below shows earth balls on a rotten tree stump.

Saturday 6 September 2008

The Power of Place

Place is a very important part of my writing, even if I don't specify a place in a poem, it is usually rooted in a very specific place. Place is an important part of my identity as a poet.

I feel sad for places I have lost - the fields near my parent's home that are now covered with houses, though one of the fields remains and now has a nice wildlife pond, this doesn't make up for the lost area. The new hotel and golf course near there too. Many similar lost areas in and around Edinburgh.

Places that will forever remain in my memory as they were years ago, because I haven't revisited and am indeed very unlikely to - the village in Cornwall I lived in briefly, the village in Malawi that I lived in for two years. These places must have changed, perhaps beyond recognition.

I feel the incremental loss of rainforests across the world, though I've never been to a rainforest. The area around Victoria Falls which once was rainforest, was already really just a small woodland when I visited though I could almost feel the memory of the rainforest there.

The Power of Place for Write On Wednesday

Friday 5 September 2008

Haiku on Plastic is Rubbish

One of my haiku can be found today on Leave Only Footprints.

Concentric Circles by Yang Lian

Yang Lian has been hailed as one of the most innovative and influential of Chinese poets. This collection certainly supports that view. The poems are mostly collages in form, with images and phrases playing against each other, sometimes with no instantly obvious connection. Careful reading though means that the images together have a very powerful cumulative effect. Many of the images and phrases come from the natural world, including: 'autumn vibrates between nows like a crazy musical instrument' which I used as the inspiration for this poem.

There is a haunting sense of mystery in a lot of the poems, which often seem fairly surreal and sometimes sinister:

twelve kinds of self reaping harvests move into refrigerated sky (from Schloss Solitude)

on ocean's map......marbles secretly constructed like revenge (from The Transmigration of Gardens)

flocks of concrete birds......cover your timeless window (from Constructed Ground)

This isn't easy poetry, but nor is it wilfully obscure. It deserves patient reading and re-reading, which will reveal it to be inspiring and meditative.

It feels perhaps a bit like a Chinese Puzzle Box, talking of which, many thanks to Paul over at Gingatao for sending me a copy of 'The Puzzle Box' his collection of poetry and prose, which I will say more about once I've read it, probably over at Over Forty Shades.

Wednesday 3 September 2008

Time to Leave

When the artist's magical light seems to last all day
.....a warm glow slanting with a chill at its heart

when rowan berries shine like jewels
.....and the robin sings its sadder song

when the gold of August fields fades away to brown
.....and green becomes yellow above our heads

then swallows and martins chatter and flutter
gather in crowds on telephone wires
and wait for the northerly wind to blow them
south - its time to go, they know

Time to Leave for Totally Optional Prompts

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Horticultural Therapy at the Botanic Gardens

As many readers of this blog will know, I love Edinburgh's Botanic Gardens, and often visit at the weekend. However until today I'd never visited the nursery area, which isn't open to the public. I visited today (imagine, I get paid to visit gardens!) to find out more about their work. The nursery is not only where plants for the Botanic Gardens are propogated and grown for the Botanics but also hosts horticulture students and volunteers and runs horticultural therapy projects with people from Edinburgh based groups.

I was impressed by the size of the nurseries, they're round the corner and across the road to the north of the Botanics and cover quite a large area. There are several polytunnels, a big potting shed, a tiny bee shed (which is going to be renovated so that volunteers can develop bee-keeping skills), some allotments for the students and a lovely wildflower meadow, that even now at the end of the season is very colourful and full of bees and hoverflies.

The nurseries also make bird and bat houses and insect hotels using reclaimed wood and slates.

Monday 1 September 2008

Festival of the Trees is up

The latest Festival of the Trees is up at Exploring the World of Trees. You can browse it here. It includes Gordon Mason's poem L'Etang, Mougins, which featured on Bolts of Silk in August.

Poem on Poetry Friends

I have a poem up today on Poetry Friends, you can find it here. Why not spend some time browsing, it features some excellent poets (including some that may be familiar to anyone who reads Bolts of Silk!).

Collages for Books

I often make little collages out of scrap materials and put them inside books that I give away to second hand shops or via Bookcrossing. This one is more interesting than most and will be inside the copy of Gao Xingjian's novel One Man's Bible when I give it away. The collage is made out of a recycled envelope (itself made from a recycled German map - one of the characters in the novel is German) with a photo of Hong Kong (part of the novel takes place in Hong Kong), some Chinese lettering and a picture of a book. On the back there are more cuttings from magazines. Of course I've also written in the address of this blog.....