Tuesday 30 March 2010

Time Traveller

Back in time across the fallen tree river bridge,
where farmhands guide horses pulling ploughs
through fields of meadow flowers
to unspoilt Podebłocie
in the forest heart of Poland.

We built a simple base-camp in a clearing
near a shady spring of pure cold water.
We hung muslin larders from the branches,
the smell of honey luring
invading swarms of wasps.

We spent dirty, dusty days digging,
unearthing coins and other treasures –
mementoes of the even further past –
a perfect Iron Age fort
in the forest heart of Poland.

Evening’s sudden cold drew us to the campfire,
blinking smoke from our eyes, drinking wine from a bottle.
While Janek strummed the Podebłocie Blues,
we gazed at the black night sky.

We watched satellites blink silently overhead,
threading their way through Orion’s belt,
travellers from the Space Age
to the ancient heart of Poland.

originally for a Writer's Island prompt.
reposted for

You can also read two haiku I wrote for Darkskies 2010 here.

Monday 29 March 2010

Water of Leith

The woodland floor is vibrant with wild garlic leaves even though the trees are mostly barely in bud.

thin drizzle -
jackdaws gather twigs
and chatter

Sunday 28 March 2010

The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone

This is a wonderful novel, based on the travels of Gudrid who was the furthest travelled woman in the Viking era. The reader feels really absorbed into the story and experiences the discomforts of the travel (sleeping in damp cloaks in the boats, living through hard winters with little food) and the beauty and harshness of the natural world:

We climbed up past the caves where the giants live, right to the glacier itself. Close to, the glacier isn't the smooth white cone you see from out at sea. It's streaked with spines of larva and the snow is dusty with ash. There was cloud over the mountian, where the icedisappeared into a clammy mist that caught us in its breath as we passed. Our ponies trudged through patches of snow and picked their way among boulders through streams of meltwater. The glacier took a long time to pass. Then we climbed down by a river with may waterfalls.

Gudrin really comes alive in the narrative and I found myself really empathising with her. She's also a fascinating historical character and this novel gives insight into her role in Viking explorations of Greenland and the eastern coasts of north America, where they cut down the forests to make boats.

Susan Richardson has also written about Gudrid in a series of poems in here collection Creatures of the Intertidal Zone, which I reviewed a while back here.

The Sea Road by Margaret Elphinstone, published by Canongate

Creatures of the Intertidal Zone by Susan Richardson, published by Cinnamon Press

Saturday 27 March 2010

Corstorphine Hill

We had a wonderful walk round Corstorphine Hill in Edinburgh today. The weather was very springlike though changeable, windy with the occasional flurry of rain but mostly bright and clear. The trees are still only in bud, though there are some fine displays of catkins and the birds are definitely in spring mood! We saw bullfinches, chaffinches, goldfinches, song thrushes, robins, blackbirds, blue tits, great tits and coal tits. We also had a very good view of a low flying buzzard that swept across the sky above our heads.

Friday 26 March 2010

spring haiku

geese skein
across patchwork fields -
new shoots appear

previously published in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Unthinkable Skies

I was delighted to come home today to an envelope containing my author copies of Unthinkable Skies. It is a lovely looking book though I say it myself. Thanks to Colin Will of Calder Wood Press for all his work on the book. You can order the book from the Calder Wood Press and overseas orders are welcome (I say that because people have asked, not because I want to brag).

I was also delighted and not a little surprised to find one of the poems from the book featured as the Poem of the Day in the Herald newspaper. For those of you who live outside Scotland or read other papers, you can read my poem on their poetry blog, here.

Tuesday 23 March 2010

My Spoondiful Bunny

Spoonful magazine have a wonderful Draw a Bunny competition on at the moment and how could I resist? I drew this earlier today, using office scrap paper and pasting it into a scrapbook I had bought second hand. It's based on our much missed rabbit Anya and I'm actually quite pleased with how it turned out! You can see other pictures featuring Anya by following the links below:

Round Rabbit,
You can find out more about the Draw a Bunny contest here.

Monday 22 March 2010

Spring along the Water of Leith

Squirrels chase each other round the trees, as if forgetting that this isn't their season. Robins chase each other across the path as mallards chase each other along the river and across the sky. Jackdaws gather in chattering groups in the trees. Catkins shiver on the trees. The slopes are covered in profuse greenery as the bulbs push their leaves through the soil.

rain in the air -
faint smell of wild garlic
not yet in flower.

Saturday 20 March 2010

Spring along the Union Canal

We had a lovely walk along the Union Canal today. It was quite mild and the winds of the last few days had died down. Spring was definitely in the air, the coltsfoot is a wonderful splash of colour just now (see photo) and there are snowdrops, crocuses and the first daffodils. The birds were full of Spring energies. The hedges were full of house sparrows, shouting and fluttering and flying across the canal, it's always good to see them here as they have declined so badly in the country as a whole. We heard and saw blackbirds, blue tits, chaffinches, robins, dunnocks, great tits and a song thrush. A pair of moorhens on the water were chasing each other and the mallards were crazy. Two males were fighting over a female and then decided they'd both try their luck, so she ended up almost drowning under their combined weights on her back. I'm glad I'm not a female mallard.

Friday 19 March 2010

Reflections on Water

I took the photo above at Edinburgh's Blackford Pond the weekend before last. You can read more about that trip here.
One of my photos from a previous Weekend Reflections post (the first photo in this post) features on the front cover of my poetry chapbook Unthinkable Skies, which will be published by Calder Wood Press on 22 March. You can see the front cover here.

Thursday 18 March 2010


My parents' garden is wilder now
and the birds that visit more unusual

but the fields down the road
have grown houses

and a sad bulrushed pond
to compensate.

Cars drive past
ever faster

despite the new 'pollution busting'
Park and Ride

that concreted over
what was once a field.

Wednesday 17 March 2010

Expectations by Gary Beck

I was sent an email review copy of Expectations, the new poetry collection from Gary Beck. Beck is very aware of the issues that confront us in our modern lives and writes passionately about war and urban deprivation, education and parenting, among other issues. He alsi, though he is very much centred in today's world, realises the debt we owe to history, or perhaps more correctly, how little we've learnt since ancient Rome. There is therefore a series of historical poems with clear modern day parallels (eg Ancient Carthage, Tired Knight). Nature and the environment appear briefly and occasionally in this book, often showing how difficult the co-existence between humans and nature, for example a yellow butterfly coming into conflict with traffic in Hazards of the Road. I'll end with a brief quote from Peace the Panther:

The black shape slides ashore
through cringing waves
frothing green, white spume,
landing on a littered beach
coated with plastic, glass, metal
submerging the sand

Expectations by Gary Beck, published by Rogue Scholars Press.

I have previously published five of Gary's poems over on Bolts of Silk. You can read them here.

Tuesday 16 March 2010

thiscollection showcase event

thiscollection is a poetic and cinematic exploration of Edinburgh. I am delighted to have a poem included, though it hasn't yet been made into a film. You can read the poems at: http://thiscollection.wordpress.com/ (mine is about Gorgie City Farm and features Driftwood, one of my favourite bunnies) and you see some of the films at: http://www.youtube.com/user/filmthiscollection.

There is to be a free showcase event at the MacEwan Hall in Edinburgh on 25 and 26 March. Thusday 25th will see an all-day film extravaganza from 10am-5pm with films projected on several screens and a free press table where visitors can gather more information about the artists and the project as a whole. On Friday 26th starting from 7pm, there will be live sets from poets and screenings of the films.

I will be reading on the Friday evening, though I am slightly sad that Driftwood won't be able to accompany me as bunnies seem to be banned from MacEwan Hall!

Monday 15 March 2010

Sunday 14 March 2010

Unthinkable Skies

My poetry chapbook Unthinkable Skies is currently at the printers and will be available from 22 March. You can order it from: http://www.calderwoodpress.co.uk/ or if you will be at Stanza Poetry Festival in St Andrews then you will probably be able to buy it there.

The title Unthinkable Skies is taken from one of the poems in the collection and most of the poems feature the sky in some way. Yes there are lots of birds in there but lots of other themes to interest the non-birdwatchers among you.

There will be a launch event at some point and I'm hoping to do several other readings over the next few months, mostly in Edinburgh but also in other parts of Scotland and even perhaps in Manchester and Bristol, depending on opportunities. I'll keep you up to date on these kind of things, though I hope not to become boring about it. You can always check this post here for updates of what I'm doing.

Saturday 13 March 2010

Another Spring Ritual

We wandered through the Meadows in Edinburgh today admiring the crocuses, which are at their best. Crafty Green Boyfriend wasn't the only person with a camera crouching in front of fields of flowers. It's nice to see that people make the effort to come out to enjoy nature's displays. Not only the crocuses either, there were a lot of redwings around (see Crafty Green Boyfriend's photo below), they were congregating on the edge of a football game and flew up into the trees whenever the players came too close and then down onto the field again when the action moved away. They'll be thinking of leaving the country again soon. It was nice to see them here in such numbers today and and also yesterday, the Meadows is traditionally a good place to see redwings in Edinburgh but I hadn't had much luck over the past couple of years.

Friday 12 March 2010

Up the River Tay

On Saturday afternoon we went further up the river Tay than we've ever been before and we rewarded with lots of birds. The handsome creatures in the photo above are goosanders, the males are the whiter ones. Click on the photo for a closer view of the birds and their reflections.

We also saw over 30 wigeons, which are very pretty ducks. There were also over 40 oystercatchers, making a lot of noise and flying around a lot with four or five curlew quietly hiding in their midst. A group of cormorants squatting on a rocky island, several of them adolescents which look confusingly unlike their parents. Also confusing were the three winter plumaged little grebes. We also saw three herons quietly standing in the water nearby and three deer on the riverbank. So it was a very wildlife rich walk....

For Weekend Reflections

Thursday 11 March 2010

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Lessons from a Hermit Crab

The hermit crab
lacks pride

it hides
in abandoned shells

cast offs it then
leaves for others

We could learn from the hermit crab
you and I.

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Blackford Pond and Hermitage of Braid, Edinburgh

This morning we wandered down to Blackford Pond, a relatively small suburban pond in Edinburgh. We were delighted with the birds we saw! As well as lots of mallards and tufted ducks there were 2 pochards, a little grebe (in summer plumage today, unlike those we saw in Perth), a heron (click on my photo above for a closer view), greylag geese, moorhens and a coot. Crafty Green Boyfriend saw a kingfisher but I had been too busy watching a pair of swans dancing and courting to notice, which is a shame as I've not had much luck with kingfishers recently, it's always other people who see them! It was however wonderful to watch the swans, they have such a graceful, balletic courtship dance. After wandering round the pond, we walked by the side of Blackford Hill (see the new banner photo), where we heard a buzzard and then watched it soar across the sky. Then we walked along Braid Burn, through the Hermitage of Braid. Definitely felt like Spring today, we've had signs in the past few days but this was the real thing today.

Monday 8 March 2010

Quarrymill Woodland Park, Perth

The mallards feeling Spring in the air despite the ice under their feet. One male pecked his beak onto a female's back and when water began to puddle there he lifted himself onto her and seemed to almost drown her, but hopefully there'll be chicks as a result later in the Spring.

We found a new path leading up from the river to the woodland edge and across farmland to the village of Gannochy. The sky big to the distant snowy hills and raining the joyful sound of skylarks.
The next day, under hazy skies the bus took us through snowy hills and past a silvery Loch Leven.
geese skein
across patchwork fields -
new shoots appear

(haiku previously published in Blithe Spirit, the journal of the British Haiku Society)
Quarrymill Woodland Perth is owned and managed by the Gannochy Trust.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Kinnoull Hill, Perth

Kinnoull Hill is always one of the highlights of a trip to Perth. The hill sits behind the city and currently is still covered in snow (though the paths were mostly clear). We had a wonderful walk over the hill on Friday. We had excellent views of buzzards, including one that flew very close to us before settling in a nearby tree. We also had an excellent view of a peregrine falcon, which though not common is a bird that is often seen around this hill. Plus two very good views of great spotted woodpeckers, though neither of them were drumming. Lots of smaller birds too, including bullfinches that we continued to see in good numbers all around Perth, a reassuring sign as bullfinches had been in decline but are starting to do better, they're such lovely little birds too. Oh and were those skylarks singing over the field at the bottom of the hill? Definitely Spring in the air, the birds are pairing up, most noticeably the jackdaws in the photo below (click to see in more detail!).

Thursday 4 March 2010


These are the crocuses in Edinburgh's Meadows this time last year. When I walked through the Meadows yesterday the crocuses were barely out!

And now we're off to Perth for a few days!

Wednesday 3 March 2010

Sushi and Chips by Colin Will

Colin Will is a Board member of the Stanza Poetry Festival and web-master for Poetry Scotland. He also runs Calder Wood Press and will be publishing my chapbook very soon. I thought this would be a good opportunity to repost this review from a couple of years ago, when not many people read this blog. Colin's fourth poetry collection. Sushi and Chips is most notable for its close observations of nature, birds, landscapes, weather and skies. The poem SEVEN MOONS contains this wonderful description:

The fourth moon is a round of butter
in a hot harvest night, stifled by desire.

There is humour too, as in this stanza from the poem UNSEASONAL:

A resigned young gull paddles
through the shallows,
pecks without interest, wishing
it was migratory, having seen
pictures of the Maldives
in a discarded tour brochure.

This stanza not only captures the gull accurately and comically, but also makes a comment about litter, in a lyrical way that doesn’t disturb the flow of the poem, so the reader absorbs the message along with the words.

Not all the poems are specifically environmental in theme, there are poems in memoriam (FLOWERS FOR MICHAEL) and about Carstairs prison (SECURE MENTAL INSTITUTION) but all the poems are aware of their place in nature – the flowers in FLOWERS FOR MICHAEL, the cows in SECURE MENTAL INSTITUTION. Even the entertaining poem about older men’s habit of wearing beige clothes (NONDESCRIPT) is rooted in nature:

Beige would be camouflage
in a dull desert, say the Gobi
in October, where the wind from the steppes
blows beige sand over the endless plains.

Colin Will’s poetry certainly can’t be described as nondescript!

Sushi and Chips is available for £5.20 from Diehard the publishers of Poetry Scotland.

Tuesday 2 March 2010

Mic Macs

This afternoon I saw the wonderful French film Mic Macs a Tire-Larigot. Much though I love documentaries, I love even more to see a feature film that engages with issues creatively and humourously and that's what certainly happens here. Bazil's Dad was killed by a landmine and years later Bazil himself is injured when he gets caught up in a drive by shooting. He comes out of hospital to find himself homeless and jobless but is rescued by a community of talented misfits and artists who live in a home made from salvaged metal where they spend their time making crafts from recycled materials and where everyone's unique skills are valued. Bazil encourages them all to join his campaign against the man who was ultimately responsible for his father's death and his own injury. Mic Macs is currently showing at Edinburgh Filmhouse and other selected cinemas in the UK.

Useful Links

Campaign Against Arms Trade.
Landmine Action.

Monday 1 March 2010