Thursday, May 31, 2007

Marina Lewycka and the 36 Rejections

This from The Guardian today.

Marina Lewycka was rejected 36 times before she finally found a publisher at the age of 58. Now A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is a worldwide hit.

Before Tractors, the only creative work she had had published was a poem in an Arts Council magazine about 30 years ago. Had she ever doubted that her dream would come true?

"I doubted it all the time," she says, "but writing was a compulsion. Lots of very good writers never get published, and that could easily have happened to me. People think that good writers will always come out in the end, but I don't believe that."

She says she had reached the point where she barely discussed her writing with her husband, a mining consultant, or grown-up daughter. "When you've been doing it for as long as that, it gets a bit embarrassing, so you don't talk about it very much…"

The whole article can be read at the link above.

From Islam to Christianity

A couple of days ago, Malaysia’s highest court rejected Lina Joy’s appeal to have her conversion from Islam to Christianity recognised and to remove the word “Islam” from her identity card. It decided that only the Muslim Sharia court could recognise such conversions, but under Sharia law, conversion is illegal.

Outside the court, 200 protestors shouted “"Allah-o-Akbar" (God is great) when the ruling was announced. "You can't at whim and fancy convert from one religion to another," said Malaysia’s Chief Judge, Ahmad Fairuz. However, it’s now six years since Loy changed her religious affiliation – hardly whim and fancy. She has had death threats, as has a Muslim lawyer who took on her case.

It’s similar to the case of Maria, who is so afraid of her Christian identity being discovered that she kept it a secret, except that her family were demanding her Christian boyfriend convert to Islam before they got married.

I understand these stories demonstrate the tensions that exist within a country, nominally a secular state, where one religion, Islam, is determined to hold onto, and increase, its power. People like Lina and Maria are pawns in the game.

But it does seem weird. Lina is not a Muslim. She has converted to Christianity. However, as long as the courts continue to maintain that she is Muslim on paper, people chant slogans, and are euphoric that she has not been allowed to convert. It’s as though these people are more interested in making her life as miserable as possible than in winning the battle for her soul.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Yet Another Reading

Last night I was again reading poetry, this time in a rather different environment. My wife acts with the Edinburgh People’s Theatre, one of Edinburgh’s most venerable amateur companies. Every year, the company has a Poetry Evening. Members and their families can read their own poems or other people’s.

About 14(?) people sat in a semi-circle. There was plenty of wine and finger food. There was Stevie Smith, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Rupert Brooke, Kathleen Jamie, Tom Leonard, A. A. Milne, Ian McMillan, Wendy Cope, and others. There was self-penned doggerel, ode, elegy and reflection. There was humour and sadness. The actual quality of the writing varied, as it always does in an free-for-all situation, but the evening was very laid-back and enjoyable.

I read a few poems, spacing them out through the evening and, believe it or not, sold three copies of The Clown of Natural Sorrow.

After Andrew Shields' comments to my post yesterday, it appears that posting set lists is about to catch on! So here’s what I read yesterday:

1. Bananas
2. Love Poem from the Pot to the Kettle
3. Girl Playing Sudoku on the 7.15
4. Taxi
5. Crossing the Border

Monday, May 28, 2007

Live at the Shore Poets

Last night, I was in performance at The Shore Poets monthly poetry 'gig'.

The evening kicked off with Richard Dawson, a singer-songwriter from Northumbria. He was very good – shades of Nick Drake, also a touch of Tom Waits, a touch of Martin Stephenson, a touch of gospel – downbeat, haunting vocals, fine guitar-playing.

Then I did my set – more of that in a minute.

After another few songs by Richard, Andrew Philip did his reading. He read a couple of quite long ones, sparse and meditative - intense, mesmorising stuff, but with a heart. You could hear the line-breaks and see the white space simply by listening. He read mainly new poems. Andy has become the first HappenStance author to sell out his chapbook, and didn’t need to advertise poems from it!

Kate Clanchy had cancelled on Friday evening with an attack of bronchitis, which was disappointing, but her ‘replacement’, Alistair Findlay, who had originally been booked to read sometime next year, was very entertaining. His poems centred around football and John Knox, but managed to talk about everything else that matters in Scotland in the process. He was a witty and engaging performer. It was as much theatre as poetry.

Richard finished off the evening with a few more songs.

My set got a good reaction. People laughed in the right places, and seemed to be concentrating during the serious bits. Nobody appeared to be nodding off. Afterwards, folk told me they’d enjoyed it a lot. But would you care to guess how many copies of The Clown of Natural Sorrow I sold?


And you know, my chapbook costs no more than a pint of beer. So if any of you are feeling in a generous mood, please click on the link to The Clown and buy a copy now. You won’t regret it. Really…

Anyway, here are the titles of the poems I read (not that this will mean much to anyone):

1. Bananas
2. Marriage
3. Breaking the Hoodoo
4. The Hedge Artist
5. Plaster Cast
6. The Babysitter
7. Beyond the Blue
8. Advice to the Lion-Tamer on becoming a Poetry Critic
9. The Preacher’s Story
10. Scotlands

Friday, May 25, 2007

Life and Work...and Poetry - Kenneth Steven

I was skimming through Life and Work, the monthly magazine of the Church of Scotland. This month, unexpectedly, there is an article by Scottish poet, Kenneth Steven, on poetry.

Kenneth Steven argues that poetry is an art form “ripe for our time” and can present “new ways of looking at world.” That perception is at odds with the invisibility of poetry from bookshops and television, but it’s still true enough. Even without “dumbing down,” I’m convinced poetry could have a much larger audience if people overcame their fear of trying to read it.

Steven then goes on to say that “the poet’s task is to make the known world strange again, to take the reader and let him or her see that world afresh.” Here’s where I begin to differ. I don’t believe there is a single “poet’s task.” A poet’s task is whatever a poet wants to do and that may be different for every poet. Variety of purpose is a good thing.

Then Kenneth Steven says – “I’ll be bold and say [that enabling the reader to see the world afresh] is sadly lacking in the bulk of our contemporary writing. There are some fine exceptions, but most of the lauded Scottish writers I read are wandering round playing games with the trivial, waxing lyrical about the inconsequential.”

Now that’s quite a claim. My first reaction is to disagree completely. I wish he had named the writers he is talking about, as without naming them, he’s talking into a vacuum. Most of the “lauded Scottish writers” I read certainly aren’t concerned with the inconsequential and trivial. I can understand why he wouldn’t want to make enemies by quoting examples, but without such examples, his allegations mean nothing. And – quite honestly – such allegations aren’t exactly going to encourage people to try reading contemporary poetry.

He then makes an interesting statement – “we used to write about things that matter, now we write about what matters about things.” Interesting, but very vague. Who is this “we”? Presumably Kenneth Steven doesn’t include himself - despite the odd first person plural - so who is included?

In any case, poets have always written “about what matters about things” and have used these reflections to consider the “things that matter.” I don’t think things have suddenly changed in that regard. Poets may disagree over what matters most, but the best poets surely write about what matters to them.

He goes on to examine the relationship of faith and poetry, which I might come to on another occasion.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Three Poetry Chapbooks

Andrew Shields and I traded chapbooks a few weeks ago. His one comes in an engraved cardboard box along with a book of photographs by Swiss photographer, Claudio Moser.

Of Andrew’s poems, the first one, Aftermath, blew me away, but the rest kept up the standard. It's a bi-lingual edition, in both English and German, so those (unlike me) who speak both languages get double the treat. I don’t think any of the poems in the book are online, but I did find four others in Softblow, which should give you an idea of how good this is. Well worth getting hold of.

I read Payday Loans, a chapbook by Jee Leong Koh, a collection of 30 sonnets. I’d read several of the poems before, but having them all between two covers revealed both the unity between them and their diversity. It’s very strong formal poetry, with energy, quick intelligence, and emotional intensity. Not to be missed.

Finally, for something different, it’s worth picking up Pick’n’Mix by Martin Parker. Martin writes very sharp and witty light verse, which usually contains dark undercurrents. He’s especially good on human relationships and the short distance between love and disaster.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Tamar Yoseloff - Fetch

A ‘fetch’ is defined as “a stratagem by which a thing is indirectly brought to pass…a trick; an artifice”, or as a 17th century term meaning “the apparition of double of a living person; a wraith.”

Titled Fetch (Salt Publications, 2007 - audio and information at the link)), Tamar Yoseloff’s third collection certainly revels in strangeness. It’s packed with disappearances, with colours viewed through murk, with threats that remain just out-of-sight, with surreal intersections between worlds. That’s not to suggest that the book is vague or at all impenetrable, more that this writer views her subjects through oddly skewed lenses.

In St Ives, against a pale background of sea, smoke and sky, a few tethered boats bob on the water and “imagine the open sea”. The poem then ends:

…From this window: curtains
partly drawn, the coffee in the mugs
stone cold, the tiny union jack
the only colours in the world.

This is a typical artifice in Fetch. The coffee mirrors the world outside, but the poem zooms in on the tiny, colourful flag flapping from a boat. It doesn’t read to me like a positive vision of colours brightening a dark world. The flag’s small loneliness is all the smaller compared with the gloom around it.

That kind of image, suggesting a great loneliness or darkness at the heart of things, is a recurring theme. In Siesta, “even the clock/ can’t be bothered to chime.” In The Sea at Aberystwyth, “The Spice of Bengal dims its lights, its one customer/ sated,” and

…What we want
lies broken on the shore, what we can’t have
stays black on the horizon:

the moon of the zebra crossing
flashing for no one.

In The Angle of Error, the narrator hears her “heart pounding its old song – stop, stop, stop.”

I enjoyed many of the poems in this collection, although a few didn’t elicit much of a reaction from me. This may be down to me rather than the poems, as almost all were well written. The settings were skilfully drawn and the technique of juxtaposing contrasting images usually succeeded in lending a new dimension to both. When Tamar Yoseloff attempted a more fragmented discourse, in poems like Marks, The Venetian Mirror, and The Firing, I felt the results were less successful, despite the presence of some fine passages within them. The Firing was the best of the three, but the other two left me unmoved.

Marks is an ambitious attempt to look positively on the experience of dissolution, on a world in which things no longer seem to connect the way they once did, and yet... But when I read stuff like “radio waves in air/ break over me/ words/ just audible/ between broken frequencies/ sound without/ meaning/ I mean/ the sky darkens to hold/ its weather” (I apologise for not being able to reproduce the formatting on this blog), it reminds me of many other such fragmentary poems on similar themes, and this one doesn’t stand out from the (always expanding) pack. Perhaps other readers will enjoy it far more than I did.

One of my favourites was The Library. A woman in a cold, sealed-off room reads books, which transport her all over the globe. The third stanza switches to the image of a model ship (boats feature frequently in Tamar Yoseloff’s poems) that had metaphorically “drifted on the dark, oak desk.” The ship becomes lost. The closing lines reflect a shift in perspective, and a double-edged shift at that:

…She would touch
its windless sails, wonder at how they could make
everything so small. A planet reduced.

So the library brings the world to the enclosed woman and expands her reach, but the reader understands how the world has diminished in the process.

Several poems titled Fetch are scattered through the collection. They all concern two woman, whose identities are bound up with one another. They could be different aspects of the same woman. Often one seems to exert a measure of control over the other. The opening poem begins:

I send her out
into the cold dark night.

Later, the sense of control is threatened. The two woman stop breathing; the second woman is making love, and the first is somehow caught up in that, but then:

As their bodies blur in the tangle
of bedclothes, I feel my skin
go numb; the power to receive
his touch is gone, his face grows dark.

The final, sinister Fetch poem has the first woman steer the second away from the safety of streetlamps and then a car “swerves into being” from the other end of the alley and races down the sidewalk towards her. These poems reminded me of recent David Lynch movies in which characters populate the same bodies with radically different identities. The films, as the poems, both invite and resist interpretation, and are attractive in their mystery.

This is certainly an interesting collection that repays thought, and the poems aren’t exhausted after a read or two. It’s well worth having a look at.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Edinburgh Poetry Event

If any of you happen to be in the vicinity, please come along to the Shore Poets this Sunday evening (details below).

Live poetry by:

Kate Clanchy
Andrew Philip
Rob A Mackenzie

And with music by Richard Dawson, acclaimed Northumbrian singer/songwriter

Sunday 27 May, 7.45pm (sharp), Mai Thai cafe bar, The Tun, 111 Holyrood Road, Edinburgh

(down the lane from the
Scottish Poetry Library)

Admission £2 / concessions £1

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Deleted Poem


Thanks for commenting.


I hadn’t written a new line of poetry this month, although I have been revising the poems I wrote in April, and I’ve read several collections.

Until yesterday, when I wrote a new poem. I’ve had no ideas, but Daljit Nagra’s blueprint for a dramatic monologue in this month’s Guardian workshop was enough to kick start 30 lines.

It’s probably not one of the best poems I’ve ever written, but enough to prove to myself that I am still capable of writing a poem. Anytime a few weeks go by without me writing a new poem, I begin to wonder if I will ever write another one. I realise no one would care if I didn’t, but I’d not know what to do with myself.

I went six months without writing anything after the birth of my daughter, but such events are exceptional. Birth, break-up, death, and other major life changes tend to have the effect of bringing writing to a halt for a while, but can give it greater depth in the long term.

But blocks without obvious reason are another matter. The longer they go on, the more anxiety they cause, and it’s hard to write anything worthwhile when anxious.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Book up for Grabs

I have an extra copy of The Emperor’s Babe by Bernardine Evaristo. It’s good stuff.

If anyone would like it (where you are in the world isn’t important), let me know. If you want to exchange a poetry book for it, so much the better, but I won't insist on that.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Gordon Brown Truly Humbled

I’m intrigued by the use of the word, “humbled”, in this context:

Gordon Brown says he is "truly humbled" by the scale of the backing given to him by Labour MPs as their choice to succeed Tony Blair as prime minister.
Mr Brown was supported by so many Labour MPs his only rival could not get enough backers to trigger a contest.

Wouldn’t “truly proud of myself” be a more honest phrase? Or, in this case, does “truly humbled” mean exactly the same thing?

Thursday, May 17, 2007


I just posted this at PFFA, but thought I may as well put it here too.

A UK poetry editor said recently that he disliked poems that had designs on the reader, and it does seem as though this view is quite common. For example:

John Keats - "We hate poetry that has a palpable design on us."

Robert Mezey (blurb) - “What I value in poetry, and find in Clive Watkins’s poems, is a faithful, accurate, attentive eye that is always focused on the subject at hand, a mind that is never self-regarding, does not strike postures, has no designs on the reader. (This alone would distinguish him from most of his contemporaries.)”

Paul Batchelor on UK poet, Penelope Shuttle (from Poetry Review) – “Whether the writing of such poetry was therapeutic should not concern us: that Shuttle has designs on the poem rather than the reader ensures the results are genuinely affirming.”

My initial reaction was to feel that all poetry has designs on the reader. If a poet doesn’t care how his work is perceived, why bother writing it in the first place? But perhaps what this editor dislikes is a hidden design that hooks readers in by force of rhetoric, emotional display, or personality, and which might thereby be viewed as manipulative, compared with the quieter poet who steps back out of the poem. This seems to be kind of what the poet/critic Peter Riley is talking about in a review of UK poet Alice Oswald:

“The first thing Oswald says about Ted Hughes, remembering her first experience of one of his poems is, "I was instantly drawn in." All the Big Hs do this — they draw you in: to an experience, a rusticity, to a theology and a history, to an Irishness, which they insist is important, and they draw you in with force and offer you no alternatives, and they do this by metaphor-laden forms of rhetoric. The opening lines of Dart don't grab hold of you and drag you in: they offer you an entrance. If it is insisted that we are still "drawn in" it is at our own wish: we have agreed to the contract proposed. The whole of Dart maintains that tone, as a text without designs on the reader, without self-projection, which achieves its form by following a simple terrestrial course and harmonising the voices of others…

...We could indeed be talking about a kind of self-sacrifice into the text, for the more impersonal the poems are the more they are infused with sense material which can only come from practised observation and strong response, and those can only come from the author. Yet the author is never more than marginally present.”

But do you think there is any problem with poetry having designs on a reader? Do we, with Keats, hate it? Or do we have designs of our own?

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Ban the Blurb Fodder!

“John Ash could be the best English poet of his generation.” (Peter Campion, Poetry)

“The greatest living poet in the English language.” (Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian, on Geoffrey Hill)

“Tamar Yoseloff is emerging as one of the best poets of her generation.” (Thomas Lux)

“She is perhaps the most subtly skilful poet of her generation, the most profound, the most modest, the most moving.” (Kenneth Rexroth, New York Times, on Denise Levertov)

“[This chapbook collection] resembles, in its internationalism, nothing so much as T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, but with one significant difference: Hirschhorn is a physician, a healer.” (Jonathan Holden, Poet Laureate, Kansas, on Norbert Hirschhorn’s debut chapbook)

“The most original poet of his generation.” (Carol Ann Duffy, The Guardian, on Ian Duhig)

“Pinsky has given us one of the outstanding bodies of work in English-language poetry.” (Justin Quinn, The Boston Book Review, on Robert Pinsky)

All the poets discussed above are fine writers, but isn’t it about time “of his/her generation” became a banned phrase in reviews? And indeed any phrase suggesting that a contemporary poet is the greatest, or "one of" the greatest, or even "perhaps" the greatest, there has ever been?

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


My muse (if I believed in a muse, which I don’t) appears to have deserted me since April. I think it’s a combination of lots of work, and bright mornings wakening me too early. I’m brain-dead come evening.

Even in prose I can hardly string a few sentences together. I wrote a review of John Ash’s book, but I’m not yet happy. I’m fine with what I’m saying, but not with the way I’m saying it. I do believe in reviews. Note: I’m not saying I necessarily believe reviews, but I believe in reviews. I think they should be interesting to read, every bit as much as a good poem. At their best, they contribute something valuable to literature, even if they get things wrong. But they must be well written.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Feedback from Readers

One thing about putting one of your own poems on your blog or site is that you often get an immediate reaction, even if people are rarely critical. On the other hand, if you publish a poem in a magazine, you rarely get the chance to find out whether readers enjoyed it, or otherwise.

However, Iota magazine has a feedback page on its website, in which readers can record their feelings about poems from the latest issue. What everyone else thought might be another matter, but it was good to hear that at least one reader, Ronnie Goodyer, enjoyed my poem. I also see that Brian Daldorph appreciated Positive by fellow blogger poet, Arlene Ang.

More magazines should do this.

Eurovision 2007 ESC Final Live, France Les Fatals Picards

This song and performance was so far ahead of the other entries, I can't believe it came second bottom.

The fact that they clearly weren't taking things at all seriously is also a big plus point.

Anyway, this is their performance on the night. It should have blown everyone else away.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Eurovision 2007

The Eurovision Song Contest was won last night by Serbia. The Serbian singer, Maria, described the victory as a triumph of songcraft over showmanship.

I thought it was a bland, average ballad of a kind I’ve heard a thousand times. The political block voting was more obvious than ever, particularly among the Balkan countries. The contest is a joke, not only because of the generally low quality of music, but because politics has completely taken over.

Why do I watch it? For the entertainment value (occasionally something is so bad that it becomes good), for the “showmanship”, for the idiot presenters, for Terry Wogan’s sarcastic commentary.

And yesterday evening, the French entry, performed by the Fatals Picards,
who finished second bottom (equal with the UK), should have run away with it, despite Terry describing it as “chronic”, and complaining that they weren’t taking it seriously at all(!). Their energy, clever lyrics (I think...), and hilarious camp theatrics made it by far the best of the night. And not a bad little tune either.

I’ve just noticed that Ms. Baroque preferred the Ukranian entry, and I can see its appeal too. However, I’d guess the French would be less irritating after the tenth play, so I’m going to stick with them.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

How Are Verses Made?

Since NaPoWriMo ended, I haven’t written a single new line of poetry. That isn’t worrying though. Thirty in the previous month is way enough, probably too much.

But I have been revising the NaPoWriMo poems. Already, twenty-three of the poems have undergone some kind of revision process. In some cases, the revision has been a tweak here and there. In others, it’s been quite extensive. However, the tweaks are usually as important to the poem, if not more important, than the wide-ranging changes. The success, or failure, of a poem can hang on a single word or phrase.

Then yesterday evening, I was reading How are Verses Made? by early 20th century Russian poet, Vladimìr Mayakovsky (definitely not your average “how to” guide!). He describes how he composed poems while walking through the city, waving his arms and mumbling wordlessly in time with his steps, which would increase and decrease in speed. Eventually, he would have a rhythm for the poem, and then:

Gradually you ease individual words free of this dull roar.

Several words just jump away and never come back, others hold on, wriggle and squirm a dozen times over, until you can’t imagine
how any word will ever stay in its place (this sensation, developing with experience, is called talent). More often than not, the most important word emerges first: the word that most completely conveys the meaning of the poem, or the word that underpins the rhyme. The other words come forward and take up dependent positions in relation to the most important word.

When the fundamentals are already there, one has a sudden sensation that the rhythm is strained: there’s some little syllable or sound missing. You begin to shape all the words anew, and the work drives you to distraction. It’s like having a tooth crowned. A hundred times (or so it seems) the dentist tries a crown on the tooth, and it’s the wrong size; but at last, after a hundred attempts, he presses one down, and it fits. The analogy is all the more appropriate in my case, because when at last the crown fits, I (quite literally) have tears in my eyes, from pain and relief.

Well, I rarely have tears in my eyes from writing poetry. Perhaps my poetry would be better if I did, I don’t know. But two things are interesting to me here:

First, the walk: often when I’m stuck, I walk around, preferably outside, and very often a word or phrase or line that has eluded me for days will pop into my head. I don’t know how that happens.

Secondly, his insistence that “talent” is a sensation that develops with experience: I’m sure there’s something to that as well. He talks later of a “jolt” that’s needed to set the rhythm going – that’s his moment of “inspiration”, I suppose, but that’s where inspiration begins and ends, and then the hard work takes over.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Thunderclap Newman - Something In The Air

A soundtrack for a new and more hopeful Scotland? We can hope. We always do.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Snakeskin's Book Fair

Anyone with a book or pamphlet can publicise it in Snakeskin’s Book Fair, in the web journal’s June issue. Instructions are at the link. It’s very good of Snakeskin to do this. I’ll certainly include my chapbook and will try to buy a few publications that appeal to me.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Poetry for New Readers

Time for a list, but quite an interesting idea for a list, I think. As far as I can gather Jeff Newberry started it off, then Justin Evans, Andrew Shields and Steve Shroeder followed on.

Say someone asked me, "I kind of like poetry, but I don't know anything about contemporary poetry. Who should I read?"

I will be creating this list with a little restrictive creativity. No real life friends, no blog list names, no mentors or former teachers. All must be alive and kicking when this goes to press. I may know a few people, but e-mail is as far as that goes.

Here’s my list of 12 in no particular order:

1. Edwin Morgan
2. Wislawa Szymborska
3. Charles Simic
4. Sinead Morrissey
5. Philip Levine
6. Christopher Logue
7. Robert Crawford (the Scottish one)
8. Bernardine Evaristo
9. Seamus Heaney
10. Carol Ann Duffy
11. Stephen Dunn
12. Marilyn Hacker

My list is very different from the others (the UK/USA divide at work, despite three of my poets being American), although it's interesting how often Philip Levine is mentioned.

I never tag anyone by name, but if you want to do this, consider yourself tagged.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Poetry Scotland

Poetry Scotland has become the latest print magazine to add itself to the database at

There, you can find information on the magazine (along with many other UK literary magazines), which looks a bit like a broadsheet newspaper, get subscription information (only £5 for 5 issues), and read the full contents of issue 50. This includes one of my poems, French, but there’s plenty of good and varied material throughout the issue.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Matchbox Poetry

Why start a poetry magazine when you can make poems available in a Matchbox?

From the few names I recognise, I suspect the poetry will be quite left-field and experimental. Each matchbox (there are three per year) contains both poems by a single poet, and a “free gift.” At only £3 for three issues, I’ve just sealed a envelope containing my subscription payment. It’s got to be worth a try.

Friday, May 04, 2007

SNP Win!

Well, it is a genuinely historic result. The pro-independence Scottish National Party have won the election to the Scottish Parliament - only just, but it's the first time Labour have been beaten in Scotland since 1955. It now remains to be seen what coalitions will form. The final number of seats:

SNP 47
Labour 46
Conservative 17
Liberal Democrats 16
Others 3

I suspect the Scottish Lib Dems will have orders from the Lib Dem HQ in London to go with Labour and oppose a referendum on independence, but we'll have to see. And who will the "Others" go with? - 2 Greens and another I haven't worked out yet.

Scottish Election Chaos

The Scottish Election results are still being counted. “A mess” is how one journalist put it. Transport problems, computers unable to process the ballot papers, and a huge number of spoilt papers, have caused massive delays.

Predictably, the system is being blamed. It was too complicated to have parliamentary and local elections the same day, we are told. No wonder there were so many spoilt papers! People didn’t understand what to do.

It’s typical that the system is being blamed rather than the irresponsibility of individual voters. At the polls, we were given two sheets of paper. The first was for the Parliamentary election. We knew this because it actually said so at the top of the sheet. On the apricot-coloured left half of the first sheet, we had to mark a single X against the party we favoured, and on the other, purple half of this sheet, a single X against the candidate we wanted to represent our constituency. Hard, eh? On the second sheet, we had to vote for our local councillor by writing numbers – 1 for the one we liked best, 2 against our second choice, and so on. Tough concept to grasp, eh?

The instructions for voting were pasted all over the polling stations. They were also clearly set out on the voting forms. DO NOT FOLD THE FORM – if anyone missed that, they must have been blind. The staff at the polling booth told me that if I didn’t understand anything they were on hand to answer any questions.

How hard is it to write a couple of Xs on one sheet and a few numbers on another? If people spoil their papers, they have only themselves to blame. There’s no reason to blame anyone or anything else.

At this moment, the result hangs in the balance – with 81 of the 129 seats declared, Labour are ahead with 32, the SNP have 29, the Lib Dems have 12, the Conservatives 7, the others 1. But still 48 results to come in…

Poetry Books

After picking up books at the Scottish Poetry Library a few days ago, I now have a lot to read. I’ve read John Ash’s new collection, The Parthian Stations and really liked it, but I plan to read it again. I am considering whether to write a review of it, and also which magazines would be interested in publishing such a review.

I’ve recently received a copy of Payday Loans by Jee Leong Koh, a chapbook containing 30 sonnets, which I’ve just started. The poems are dense, precise and unsparing in their candour. I’d say they are informed far more by modernism than by “new formalism”, although their formal skill is self-evident.

I’ve done a couple of exchanges. First with Andrew Shields, who sent me a beautiful package – two books inside an engraved box. One book contains photographs by a guy called Caudio Moser, and the other contains poems in both English and German by Andrew. It’s a work of art as much as a book set. Andrew also included another book of translations he’s done of contemporary German poet Dieter M. Graf. I have sent off a package in return.

The second exchange was with Martin Parker, whose chapbook, Pick’n’Mix, looks very entertaining. Many of the poems are funny, but others show a darker side, some combine comedy and tragedy.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Poetry Library Sale, and Posterity

If you’re a poetry fan in the vicinity of Edinburgh, I’d advise you to take a trip to the Scottish Poetry Library as soon as possible.

The library are selling off boxfuls of stock. Most books cost 50p. A few bigger ones are £1. What surprised me was how much good stuff was being sold off. I bought:

The Lion from Rio – Penelope Shuttle
Devolution – Tony Lopez
My Manifold City – George Gömöri
Sweetheart – Tamar Yoseloff
Devotions – Clive Wilmer
Coming to Terms – Harry Guest
A Snail in my Prime – Paul Durcan
The Poems of Laura Riding – Laura Riding Jackson
Gli Hospiti Nascosti – Gian Piero Bona
Quasi una Serra – Enrico D’Angelo

I didn’t have much money on me (perhaps fortunately) or I would have bought more.

I also didn’t have much time and couldn’t explore the vast number of collections which dated back to the 1970s and 1980s, most of whose authors were unknown to me, although they may have been well thought of at the time. A while back online, a poet boasted to me that he had a poem in an anthology that was going to be archived “forever”, so he already had his place in posterity. His ego is astonishing. What I saw the other day was what that “posterity” really means. Some of the collections in these boxes will have won awards, some of them looked damn good and don’t deserve to be forgotten. But they are being sold off for 50p if they are lucky, or otherwise pulped, and that’s after only two or three decades, with many (perhaps most) of the authors still alive.

C E Chaffin has just written a marginally more hopeful outlook on posterity, although the story comes with its own warnings.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Scottish Elections

The Scottish parliamentary elections are on Thursday 3 May and I’m still trying to decide who to vote for. I see that Colin Will has also been considering the issues, as has Andy Philip.

By a process of elimination, the choice becomes clearer for me. I will not vote Conservative. Not even if they paid me a million pounds to do so. I won’t vote for the extreme left parties, as they tend to get more obsessed over ideology than real people. I won’t vote for the extreme right because I disagree entirely with them. I won’t vote for any party that wants to take us out of Europe. I won’t vote for the Liberal Democrats because they stood last time on a platform of abolishing student tuition fees and promptly sacrificed that as the price of a coalition with Labour – I don’t like people who sell out their principles so cheaply.

So effectively, that leaves the centre-left Labour and the Scottish National Party, a centre-left group who believe in an independent Scottish nation (within Europe).

If it were a UK election, I wouldn’t consider voting Labour because of the Iraq issue, but it’s not a UK election. However, the Scottish Labour Party give me a strong impression of being in Tony Blair’s pocket. I have tended to vote Labour in the past. All through the bleak years when the Conservatives were in power in the UK, I voted Labour. And when Labour were finally elected, things looked promising. I think the UK Labour Government has been much better for Scotland than the Conservatives would have been (shudder). But I don’t trust them an inch, and I feel that getting a real gubbing in the Scottish election might lead the Scottish Labour party to distance themselves more from their UK counterparts.

The problem with voting SNP is that I am not a nationalist. I don’t feel particularly patriotic. Indeed, I feel quite critical about many aspects of Scottish life. I would like to think that independence would give us a new sense of belief and confidence, but I suspect the politicians would make a mess of things and people would become even more cynical than they are now. On the other hand, at least we wouldn’t have anyone but ourselves to blame if it all went wrong, and this might be good for us. If we broke with the UK and got into a mess, we might make genuine changes to the political system rather than mirroring Westminster politics. We might even manage to dig our way out of a self-inflicted hole. Or we might lie down and die.

The choice isn’t easy. All the polls show the SNP well ahead, which could trigger a constitutional crisis in itself.

NaPoWriMo Pick of the Day 30

It’s hard to imagine a better way to end NaPowriMo 2007 than by sitting back and relaxing with The Dirty Underbelly of Poetry by MEHope.

Great finish!