Thursday, August 30, 2007

Best Non-Hits

I'd have Big Star's 'September Gurls' (1971) as one of the best singles not to have been a top 40 hit.

Any others?

(sorry about the pointless 2003 Spanish Grand Prix footage)

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Andrew Philip on Poetcasting

Andrew Philip has recorded four of his poems and you can listen to him reading them at the Poetcasting site. In my opinion, The Invention of Zero is a particularly fine poem. Check them out!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Patrick Kurp is interesting as usual, this time looking at rare words, with particular reference to Geoffrey Hill, the word “shotten”, and a discussion on the entropy of language.

Edinburgh Festival and John Hegley

Some people may be wondering at the paucity of references to this year’s Edinburgh Festival and Fringe on this blog, given that I live in Edinburgh. Well, the reason is that I’ve hardly seen anything. Last year, I saw a number of events and wrote about them. This year, my wife was in a play almost every night for three weeks (last year, her play was over only a fortnight), and going out would have meant getting babysitters. During the day, I’m too tied up with work etc to go festivaling. Last year there were several events I really wanted to go to, but this year less appealed to me, and paying around £10 for a ticket to go to something I wasn’t over-enthused by seemed pointless.

I went to Luke Wright’s Poetry Party, which was fun, and of course I went to The Holy Terror, which was very good, although I’m bound to say that.

However, yesterday, my wife and I managed to see John Hegley. He was great entertainment – warm and sharp wit, good interaction with the audience, perfect comic timing, imaginative improvisation, and a love of the absurd that drives his humorous verse. It strikes me that the same material, without his personality and performance, wouldn’t work nearly as well. It's all part of the same package. If he’s performing near you, don’t miss it.

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Poetic Ego

We all have an ego and we all need one. It’s a strange irony that ego is necessary to achieve anything that involves other people! An ego-less poet might compose verse, but would never think to display it publicly or seek an audience. The minute a poet sends off a submission to a magazine, or creates a blog/website, or stands up to read in front of anyone, the ego is at work.

Publishers clearly appreciate poets who create an audience for themselves. As Tony Frazer says in the submission guidelines to the Shearsman Press (not a press associated with commercial populism!), “It is very unlikely that a poet with no track record of publication in magazines in either the UK or North America will be accepted for publication, as there is no obvious audience for the work. We do have to sell the books.”

Other publishers also publicly emphasise the importance of the poet’s role in promoting and selling their work. It’s not as though small poetry publishers can do it all on their own.

However, there is a fine line, easily crossed, between self promotion and arrogance, and if you slip onto the wrong side of that line, it comes over very badly indeed. It’s often tricky to know exactly where you are around that line. That’s the worst of it. You might think you’re doing a good job of promoting yourself and your poetry, and yet other people think of you as a desperate, needy individual with only a moderate talent and an immoderate sense of your own importance.

I am Scottish, born and bred in Glasgow – it’s hard to think of a city that has less sympathy for prima donnas. Often that part of the Scottish psyche can be destructive – anyone who shows an ounce of creativity and the willingness to display it will soon have it knocked out of them, an attitude Kathleen Jamie effectively lampooned in the title poem from her collection, The Queen of Sheba. I am naturally reticent to push myself forward, but since The Clown of Natural Sorrow was published (note the self-promotional link!), I’ve tried hard to sell copies, to network both in real life and on the Internet. But I am always conscious of that fine line…

How to avoid stepping onto the wrong side of the line? Suggestions are welcome. So far, I’ve come up with four:

1. "You are not as good as you think you are" (Scavella’s mantra).

2. "Never believe in your own propaganda" (John Peel).

3. Never dispose of a rejection slip.

4. When people, especially famous poets, say something nice about you, accept that with good grace. But listen even more carefully when people you respect criticise your writing.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Alexander Hutchison Interview

This is a very interesting interview by Andrew Duncan with poet, Alexander Hutchison. It’s 14 pages long and covers a wide range of subject-matter, a highly individual journey through the back alleys of 20th century poetry, and there’s plenty of intelligent reflection on what makes for a good poem.

The link contains just two paragraphs, but if you click on the link to the .pdf file there, you get the whole interview.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Roy Moller: Great Wall Of China

This is my friend, Roy, with one of his best songs. The video features him wandering about Glasgow. Really good stuff I think, and his album, Speak When I’m Spoken To, is excellent.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fixing Poems

Jane Holland’s comments on how she goes about fixing ‘failed’ poems are very instructive.

The time element is important for me. Leaving poems and not looking at them for months often helps me to identify the bits that don’t work.

I also identify with the section on conclusions. Often poems don’t work well because the ending isn’t good enough. I very rarely get my conclusion right on the first draft or two and I’m amazed at poets who start writing their poems already knowing how they’re going to finish off! In one way, I feel envious. In another way, I wonder if that prior knowledge is restrictive and liable to tie down poems too much. I guess people’s brains work differently when it comes to writing a poem.

For me, the most interesting part of Jane’s commentary was this:

‘So what did I change, in these 'laid-aside' poems, to make them good enough to enter in a poetry competition? Well, first of all, I read each one through several times so that I could hear the rhythm of the poem before I started carelessly hacking at it. Once I felt comfortable with the rhythm, I began making notes on the poem itself with a pencil…’

and later on:

‘…the most useful thing seems to be arriving early at a sense of the poem's original rhythm and purpose. That's why I advocate reading it through several times and letting the poem sink into your psyche, bad lines and all, before beginning any salvage work. For its rhythm is the poem, and without grasping that fully within yourself, you will only destroy the 'good' parts of the poem by making cuts and revisions which don't take rhythm into account.’

It’s well worth checking out the full essay.

Fringe Award

The Holy Terror, the play my wife is acting in during the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, was runner-up, from a shortlist of thirteen nominees, in the Evening News Drama Award, which was won by the Tempo group with Spend Spend Spend.

But coming second is pretty good and yesterday the entire audience got an invite backstage for a celebratory glass of wine with the cast.

Tonight's show was a sell-out. Only two nights to go.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Being 'A Writer'

More people from the UK aspire to being a writer than any other job, according to a new poll – about 10% of respondents. Sports personality, pilot, astronaut, and event organiser all came close behind.

But why? Do they already write and love it, and dream of being able to do it full time? Is it the attraction of ‘being your own boss’? Is it the joy of creativity coupled with the democratic nature of writing i.e. all you need is a pen and notepad? Or does it seem like an easy option for people who have never got beyond thinking about writing?

After all, writing can be a isolating experience and the difficulties of landing a publishing contract, let alone actually selling many books once you have one, are overwhelming.

The reality of the writing life is usually very different from the fantasy, as John Crace points out, even if it’s more than a little cynical to have that point made by someone who gets paid to write (and I expect he is very well paid!).

Tuesday, August 21, 2007


This is one of my favourite clips from the punk era, although you couldn't exactly call this 'punk'. But I don't know what to call it! The sound quality is dodgy for the first 30 seconds or so, but it's OK after that.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Live Poetry and Mrs Mash

I met Andrew Philip for lunch and we went down to the Scottish Poetry Library, which hosts readings every day during the Edinburgh Festival. Anyone who turns up can read, a recipe for variety, you might say. I didn’t like much of what I heard, but the audience didn’t look as if they were enjoying my stuff either – not really surprising. Anyway, I tried out a couple of new poems along with one from The Clown of Natural Sorrow, and was pleased with how they seemed to work read aloud. A quick set list:

1. Accident
2. Happiness
3. Voices

I then wandered down to the Book Festival tents to take a quick look at what was on offer. Last year I went see quite a few events, but this year, little has appealed to me. I looked at the poetry section in the book tent and at the poetry pamphlet shelf, but didn’t buy anything.

I was about to go home when I heard a voice calling my name. I turned round to find a woman, Marie-Louise, who I hadn’t seen for years. She had been at university with me back in the 1980s. The best memory I have of her is at a faculty Christmas Party, where Marie-Louise, myself, and two other friends, Tom and Steve, sang Caravan of Love a-cappella style in four-part harmony. It had been rotten in rehearsal, but somehow it sounded great when we did it for real, and I still have a cassette tape recording of it somewhere.

Marie-Louise was studying Comparative Religion and you might be interested to know what someone with a degree in that goes on to do in life. Well, Marie-Louise has been around the world, is married with several children, and has done various jobs in her time, but she is now known as Mrs Mash. She takes bookings, so sign her up!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Schuman the Human

Most friend-requests I get at my little-used MySpace site are from young women using their sites as a front for porno activity, so I feel a sense of here-we-go-again whenever I get a request. Another delete button job.

So I was pleasantly surprised to get a request from someone called Schuman the Human, which didn’t sound like a porn thing.

He turned out to be a musician and songwriter. More to the point, unlike many singer/songwriters in MySpace who are OK but bland and derivative, Schuman the Human is really good. Do check it out. It’s part bluegrass, part Belle and Sebastian/Tindersticks, and manages to be more than the sum of its parts. Very enjoyable stuff.

Friday, August 17, 2007

First Two Lines: The Answers

Well, there were no right answers, but I'll at least tell you the names of the poems and who wrote them.

First, however, thanks to all of you who had a shot at my First Two Lines game.

I suppose whether you feel inclined to read on from an anonymous opening two-lines depends largely on personal taste. There were lines that some people loved and others found a complete turn-off.

I do think that all these line-pairs set the scene admirably well for what happens afterwards. But if you didn’t like a given line-pair, it's at least possible you might change your opinion when you know who the author is. That’s interesting in itself. I reckon you’ll ‘hear’ some of these lines in a different way when you know who wrote them. It’s like what Andy J. says about number 8 sounding as if it had been written by an “old English duffer,” but if you heard it read by a young New Yorker in the late 1950s, you’d have completely different expectations of what was to follow.

Reading the words without the author ‘being present’, so to speak, is quite difficult. Number 8 turned some of you off, but of course it turns into a fine poem. And you could bet on the authors of numbers 1, 4 and 6 to deliver from their unconventional opening lines, just because they are brilliant but far from conventional writers. A couple of lines on the brink of pretentiousness can be made to work (sometimes) in the right hands.

Well done to those of who guessed on Geoffrey Hill for number 2 (and to Heather who picked it as a favourite, without knowing who the author was, as she is a big GH fan). I'm impressed! It shows how distinctive Hill’s writing is, and, of course, how well-read readers of this blog are.

Several of you picked out number 3. It guess it shows why this author is so popular, and the same can be said of number 9, which also got a few thumbs up. Of course, they also got one thumbs down and one shrug, and I expected more than one of each. The ubiquity of such poetry is the cause of much division in contemporary UK poetry circles.

Number 7 also got a few votes. It’s a weird poem, quite surreal, but quite compelling and sensually rhythmic as it goes on – at least, I think so. Hedgie worried that it might turn unto “a not-terribly inventive dream poem.” I see the cause of worry, but fortunately the writer’s power of imagination worked overtime on this one.

Number 5 is typical of its author – jaded, cynical and funny, and always writing the same poem rather too often! – and number 10 is probably better known as a novelist for a reason…

I’ve listed the lines again, with the authors, the names of the poems, and the books where I found them.

1. Today, this insect, and the world I breathe,
Now that my symbols have outelbowed space,
- Dylan Thomas: Today, this insect (Collected Poems 1934-52)

2. Covenants, yes; outcries, yes; systemic
disorders like the names of rock-plants, yes;
- Geoffrey Hill: Poem No. 50 (Orchards of Syon)

3. I found the words at the back of a drawer
wrapped in black cloth, like three rings
- Carol Ann Duffy: Finding the Words (Rapture)

4. Unsnack your snood, madanna, for the stars
Are shining on all brows of Neversink.
- Wallace Stevens: Late Hymn from the Myrrh-Mountain (Selected Poems)

5. there’s nothing like being young
and starving
- Charles Bukowski: a place in Philly (Bone Palace Ballet)

6. What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?
Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,
- Edwin Morgan: The Death of Marilyn Monroe (Collected Poems)

7. I sat in the cold limbs of a tree.
I wore no clothes and the wind was blowing.
- Mark Strand: The Man in the Tree (Selected Poems)

8. Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,
- Frank O’Hara: To the Film Industry (The New York Poets)

9. It’s told like this:
the five of them, up with the lark
- Simon Armitage: Tale (Book of Matches)

10. We alone can devalue gold
by not caring
- Alice Walker: We Alone (Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

'First Two Lines' Schedule

Thanks to all of you who have answered the First Two Lines Question so far. I’ll leave it for today and most of tomorrow. Early tomorrow (Friday) evening, I’ll post the identities of the poems and poets, and possibly make a comment or two. There have been some very interesting observations.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Four Star Show

The Holy Terror, the play my wife is acting in during the Edinburgh Festival, got a four-star review from Thom Dibdin in the Evening News.

I’m not sure whether you have to register to read the review or not. In case you can't get to it, the best bit was:

“Her granddaughter Marianne (Anne Mackenzie) is not the brightest, but still would like her father's blessing…”

People keep saying to my wife (at risk to their lives), “Now I know you’re not the brightest, but can you help me with a wee problem?”

But getting four-stars is a big deal. They’re now in contention for a top Fringe award, and remaining tickets are selling very fast indeed.

The First Two Lines

The first and second lines of a poem set the tone for what lies ahead, so they’re always very important. Below are ten opening two-liners.

Which of them (maximum of three) make you want to read on most?
Would any of them put you off reading further?

Reasons for your choices are welcome but not compulsory. If you know who wrote any of them, don’t give it away (I will reveal the authors - all well known writers - at some point).

1. Today, this insect, and the world I breathe,
Now that my symbols have outelbowed space,

2. Covenants, yes; outcries, yes; systemic
disorders like the names of rock-plants, yes;

3. I found the words at the back of a drawer
wrapped in black cloth, like three rings

4. Unsnack your snood, madanna, for the stars
Are shining on all brows of Neversink.

5. there’s nothing like being young
and starving

6. What innocence? Whose guilt? What eyes? Whose breast?
Crumpled orphan, nembutal bed,

7. I sat in the cold limbs of a tree.
I wore no clothes and the wind was blowing.

8. Not you, lean quarterlies and swarthy periodicals
with your studious incursions toward the pomposity of ants,

9. It’s told like this:
the five of them, up with the lark

10. We alone can devalue gold
by not caring

Tuesday, August 14, 2007


I guess I should remove those W.S.Graham-inspired poems from my blog and try to mess about with them. But not tonight. I'll maybe get round to it tomorrow.

I have written two poems since, with original first lines, and another should appear tomorrow if I get up early enough and feel sufficient inspiration. When I begin to run dry, I'll stop writing, and start revising.

Submissions and Reading

I haven’t submitted poems anywhere for a while, although I still have batches out at various places that tend to take a few months to make their decisions – Chapman, The Rialto, Poetry London.

Over the past year or two, I’d been sending out far more poems than I used to, but I now reflect that over-zealous submission can become almost a game, with no apparent end. You end up publishing poems that aren’t your best in mediocre zines, or at least zines undiscerning enough to publish the kind of poems you sent them.

But maybe that’s wrong. Perhaps submission, and the accompanying acceptances/rejections, show you that poems you assumed had value weren’t good enough, and poems you thought unremarkable had an appeal greater than you realised.

In any case, I’m enjoying my reading material at the moment – three books simultaneously, and all brilliant:

The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations Millennium General Assembly – Denis Johnson (HarperPerennial, 1995)

Poems of Fernando Pessoa – translated Edwin Honig and Susan M. Brown (City Lights, 1998)

My Noiseless Entourage – Charles Simic (Harcourt 2005)

Monday, August 13, 2007


And today, to my complete surprise, my poem, Midges (originally published in Poetry Scotland), is featured in the poetry blog of The Herald, Scotland’s biggest broadsheet newspaper. I don’t know if it’s in the print edition or not. I suppose I should buy a copy and take a look.

The Herald Poetry Blog started only a few days ago and features a new poem more or less every day. It should make good reading as time goes on.

***update: I got a print copy of the Herald and indeed, the poem is there too on page 21 - below the obituaries!

Luke Wright's Poetry Party

The weekend’s Edinburgh Poetry Party, organised by Luke Wright, had to cope with two days of unseasonable summer weather of driving rain (Saturday) and damp cold (Sunday), but still managed to be an enjoyable and worthwhile occasion and I hope it happens again next year. So three cheers and big thanks to Luke!

I enjoyed some of the poets very much, others I found less interesting, but that was only to be expected given the diversity of participants. Some stuff seemed a bit formulaic, but other poets, including those primarily ‘performance poets’, had a unique style and an enviable stage presence. So both days had some great moments.

I ran into quite a few people, some of whom I’d met before and others who were new to me – Colin Will, Eleanor Livingstone, Roddy Lumsden, Tim Wells, Tim Turnbull, Clare Pollard, John Hegley, Andrew O’Donnell, Andy Philip, Andy Jackson and Milton (whose pseudonym surname I’ve temporarily forgotten).

On the Saturday evening, it was after 2.30am by the time I left the bar, and I got to bed about 3.30am. It was fun though, even if I had to get up and work the next morning.

I have to mention Tim Wells’s overcoat. It’s the best coat I’ve ever seen. I wish I had brought my camera and taken a photograph of it.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Tony Wilson Dies

Ack! Tony Wilson has died at the age of only 57. Really sad.

Here’s some Joy Division. There’s a few seconds of John Cooper-Clarke first. "...the bloody flowers bloody die," indeed.


Well, I’m off to the Poetry Party shortly. It’s bucketing with rain outside. The Meadows (a large green parkland in Edinburgh) will end up like quicksand if this keeps up.

Andrew Philip's Manuscript

Andrew Philip and I swapped manuscripts recently – poems we reckoned might be good enough for a debut full collection.

I’ve read through Andy’s MS twice now. I’d say there’s quite a difference between the poems in his now sold-out(!) chapbook, Tonguefire (a number of which are also in the MS) and his new material. There’s the same precise reflection on the world, but there’s more ‘space’ in the new material – often white space on the page, and daring connective leaps between thoughts and images.

There are a few brilliant, daring poems and a fair number of very good ones. It deserves publication. What beats me is how it’s so hard to get a first collection published in the UK, and yet so much poetry being published is quite ordinary and generic. You couldn’t say that of Andy’s stuff.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ethics and Ownership

I’ve been thinking about these ten poems I’ve written beginning with a line by W.S. Graham. I’ll have to read through them and decide what to do with them. Some may be fine as they are, some may need revised or cut, some may need to be thrown away.

But what are the ethics surrounding that first line? Say I decided to cut the W.S. Graham first line in a poem and add in a first line of my own – would it then be ethically wrong to present it as purely my own poem, considering it was inspired by a line from another poet? Or does the fact that all the lines left in the poem are my own mean that what originally inspired it becomes irrelevant?

Of course, I might keep one or two of them as they are and acknowledge that they begin with a W.S. Graham line. One or two is fine, but ten is a bit much, I think…

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Luke Wright's Poetry Party

This weekend means Luke Wright’s Poetry Party, in which 20 UK poets will perform for free in The Meadows, Edinburgh. Running from noon to midnight on 11 & 12 August in a marquee at Dr Roberts Magic (Routemaster) Bus (Venue 308).

The full timetable is at the link, and some of the names are new to me, but highlights include:

Luke Wright
John Hegley
Lemn Sissay
Roddy Lumsden
Tim Turnbull
Tim Wells
Clare Pollard
Jenny Lindsay

I’m going to be there for a fair bit of it. If anyone else is going, email me and let me know (my email address is at my profile) - we can meet up.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Holy Terror Photos

I mentioned The Holy Terror a few days ago. My wife is acting in this production with the Edinburgh People’s Theatre, as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Below are a few photos from it to go along with those from a production of ten years ago on Colin Will’s blog.

This is the preacher baddie, Rev. Maister Tarland

The one on the right is my wife, flirting shamelessly on the sofa, complete with false ringlets

And here's the whole cast

all photographs © Rob Fuller, 2007 (that’s a different ‘Rob’, not me)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

The Holy Terror and Jack Kerouac

The Edinburgh Festival (the biggest international arts festival in the world) got officially underway today with a drizzly cavalcade through the town, the first rain at this annual procession for more than ten years. My wife has been rehearsing hard for her part in the Edinburgh People’s Theatre production of The Holy Terror, which opened yesterday – a free adaptation of Molière’s Tartuffe into Scots by James Scotland. Details are at the link.

Unrelated to this, an excellent article by Sean O’Hagan to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. I read On the Road in my twenties and loved it, but haven’t picked it up since. I would fear disappointment, but perhaps bits of it would still resonate? Hard to know what it would mean to young people today. Carolyn Cassady is in no doubt:

Carolyn Cassady, the last surviving member of Kerouac's closeknit coterie of friends and fellow Beats, now 84 and exiled in deepest Berkshire, is even more scathing about Noughties youth. 'It's all about money and surface now, the clothes you wear, the things you buy, and no one is the slightest bit ashamed of being superficial. I often thank God that Jack and Neal did not live long enough to see what has become of their vision'.

But the beat generation didn’t go down well with most of their elderly contemporaries either.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

The Shit Creek Review

The Shit Creek Review, issue 4 is just up. It looks full of interesting material.

And it contains this article on one of Scotland’s most ground-breaking (yet criminally-overlooked) poets, J.R.Q. MacPrune. Great to see something on him!

Poem 3 in the W.S Graham opening-liner series coming later (I hope...).

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Dramatic Poetry

Matthew Sweeney’s Guardian workshop invites participants to choose from 10 opening lines from W. S. Graham poems and use one of them to write a poem characterised by drama – deadline 12 August.

I’m going to write ten poems, one for each line – one each day, starting tomorrow, and I’ll post them daily to this blog.

Once I’ve written eight (by 9th August), I’m going to revise the best two or three from 10th-12th August and submit the best of these to the workshop. Then I’ll write the remaining two poems on the 13th and 14th.

Why? Because I think something good will come of it. I have a feeling. Maybe just one really strong poem, maybe more, who knows? Heh, maybe none.

If any of you want to join me, go for it. You can make up your own schedule, starting and finishing whenever you like, and you can use the opening lines in any order. The only rule is that the daily draft poem can’t take you any more than one hour to write – that doesn’t include thinking time, scribbling occasional ideas etc.

The available opening lines are:

Imagine a forest

I leave this at your ear for when you wake

Whatever you've come here to get

Shut up, shut up. There's nobody here.

Meanwhile surely there must be something to say

I called today, Peter, and you were away.

This morning I am ready if you are

Gently disintegrate me

Just for the sake of recovering

I have my yellow boots on to walk

Word Doctors Move

Poetry discussion board, Word Doctors, run by Helena Nelson and Sarah Williams, has just shifted its url. The place looks a bit empty at the moment, due to the move, but I certainly found the old board (which will stay up for the next few weeks) an easy-going kind of place. The ‘polympic’ exercises are fun (although good poems do get written, it’s more for play) and the discussions on poetry are often illuminating (I’d like to see more of them). There are good writers there and it’s well worth registering.