Friday, May 30, 2008

Weather Report

Earlier this morning when I looked outside about 9am, BBC Weather was predicting a sunny day in Edinburgh with light cloud. Well, it’s raining buckets and there’s no blue sky to be seen beneath a thick cloud blanket.

I checked just now and the symbol has changed to thick cloud without sun, but still no hint of rain, even though it’s been raining heavily off and on all day.

Tomorrow, the prediction is for sun and 20 degrees centigrade. Better pack your umbrellas, scarves and fleeces!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

France Eurovision 2008 Sebastien Tellier - Divine

This was easily the best song of Eurovision 2008. By a million miles. It didn't pick up many votes due to the political nature of the voting, but it's the real winner. That's two years in a row the French have had the best song and done really badly!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

HappenStance Poets At the Troubadour, London

It’s hard to know exactly what to say about the HappenStance reading in London’s Troubadour Café on Monday evening. It's an atmospheric, intimate venue with good acoustics. I imagine it must get hot if it's warm outside, but on Monday the weather was awful - cold, windy and near constant rain, and I'd left Edinburgh without a cloud in the sky (that's all changed now!). There was a very good audience, who seemed happy with what they heard and bought plenty of pamphlets.

There’s no definite ‘house style’ about HappenStance. That could either be a strength or a weakness depending on how you look at it. I’d like to think of it as a strength. I suspect that most people would have preferred some poets over others on Monday, but different people would have preferred different poets, according to taste. There were 9 readings each of 8-10 minutes (with a break halfway through), so there wasn’t time for anyone to bore the crowd senseless! I really enjoyed the evening. I met plenty of people, had a good time and my own reading was fine. For those who (like me) like reading setlists, my set was:

1. While the Moonies are Taking Over Uruguay
2. Concentration
3. A Night in the Circus
4. Prelude
5. Scotlands

Only five poems, less than anyone else I think, but my poems tend to go on a bit and I chat between poems too.

Helena Nelson introduced each of us by comparing us to a wine. I can't remember what I was but, at the end, Anne-Marie Fyfe (organiser of these events) said that Helena was obviously 14 percent proof. That's certainly true!

Earlier in the day I met up with Ms Baroque and sampled cappuccino and biscuits in her local coffee house (very nice place). We then made out way to the Troubadour where we met up with the HappenStance crew and I had a veggie burger with various folk from Magma magazine.

The gig itself flew past, so I must have been enjoying myself. Andy Philip (who read very well from his *new* HappenStance ‘sampler’) had to leave a little early to catch his train home. I saw Helena Nelson and Eleanor Livingstone rushing off for a coach at the end of the evening. Tom Duddy, Greg and Karen Leadbetter, Ms Baroque, myself, and RCL all found a pub nearby. I finally got to sleep on the Baroque fold-down sofa at around 2.30am and was woken up by a tuneful dawn chorus. Luckily the coffee shop was open for business that morning again as there is no coffee in the Baroque Mansion. They do a great almond croissant too – highly recommended.

On the train down I was reading Birgit Pegeen Kelly’s Poems: Song and The Orchard, recently published by Carcanet, and on the way home I read about half of Michael Hofmann’s Selected Poems (Faber). Both, in very different ways, are extraordinary books. At least, I think so, so far.

I was knackered yesterday and still haven’t really recovered today, but it was a great trip. Lots of fun. Anne-Marie Fyfe – when can we come back?!

June 2008 Taster no. 3

At the Great Grog site (link coming up), you can now read a poem and bio from Jim Carruth, the third of our featured readers for the next Poetry at the Great Grog gig on Sunday 8th June from 8pm (43 Rose Street, Edinburgh).

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Two Gigs and a Gottfried Benn

Tonight at the Shore Poets (7.45pm at the Mai Thai, Crichton’s Close, Edinburgh), there’s Stephanie Green, Ken Cockburn, and the incomparable Alan Gillis. I’ll be there!

Tomorrow night, I’ll be lining up with my HappenStance colleagues to read at the Troubadour in London from 8pm. I’m looking forward to that immensely. Should be a terrific evening.

Tony Williams is telling us to Read Gottfried Benn!. I’d certainly like to have a shot. I’ve come across his poetry only in Michael Hamburger’s The Truth of Poetry. As Tony says:

“Benn makes uncomfortable reading in the professionalised world of contemporary letters: his style is idiosyncratic, histrionic, extreme, and rhetorical, in opposition to the dominant style, which is moderate, sober, and uses a regulated jargon.”

It’s like that with most of the poets who truly matter. What they do comes from a personal, idiosyncratic vision that leaves the rest of the world trying to catch up with them – often unwillingly at first.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Eurovision 2008 - The Result

Well, as Terry Wogan pointed out after the votes had been announced, “This is no longer a song contest.” The voting is so blatantly political. There’s not even an attempt to hide it any more.

Eurovision was won by an insipid Russian song – it got votes from the Balkan countries, the eastern Baltic states, and some of the eastern European regions, all of whom depend on Russia – “That’s right! Keep the oil flowing through the winter,” said Terry. But it was a crap song.

The UK came last!

I think the western European nations should pull their funding from the competition. It’s been fun, while the fun lasted, but the fun is now over.

Eurovision 2008 Prediction Time

It's that dead time when all the songs have been performed and the votes haven't yet been cast.

The worst song came from the furry-winged angels of Azerbaijan. Shockingly bad song, awful performance and dreadful choreography. It couldn't have got any worse.

Actually, Croatia, Poland, Spain (had to be a joke!) and the weird pirates (can't remember where they were from) were also appalling, and I'm sure that something went badly wrong with the harmonies ('what harmonies?' you might well ask) of the German vocalists.

So who will win? Given the political element in the voting, the winner will probably be from the Balkan region. I think the tedious, forgettable song from Serbia might do it for the second year running.

My personal favourites were France (eccentric but genuinely clever songwriting) and Bosnia-Herzegovina (although it's a Balkan region, the performance was so bizarre that it has little chance, I think, but I liked it).

If I had to bet on a winner from outside the Balkans, I'd go for Norway. I suppose the Scandinavian bloc will help there, but it also helps to have a catchy song and Norway were one of the few countries who did.

Eurovision 2008

The final of the Eurovision Song Contest takes place tonight in Serbia. Entries are sung from representatives of countries throughout Europe and then each country has to vote for heir favourites.

Who will win? Will the Scandinavian countries vote for one another? Will the eastern European countries try their best to leave their western counterparts with as close to nul points as possible? Will the UK score any points? Which nation will turn out the campest performance? Who will take it most seriously and who will be most obviously in it only for laughs?

I’ll be glued to my TV set tonight. And just to get you in the mood, here's Bosnia-Herzegovina's bizarre entry, by Laka. That one definitely has my vote, from what I've seen so far:

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Steamie

My wife, Anne, is involved in a performance of Tony Roper’s famous Glasgow social comedy, The Steamie, at Edinburgh’s Churchill Theatre. Anne isn’t acting in this, but she is the musical director. Yesterday, there was an excellent 4-star review in the Edinburgh Evening News. A quick excerpt:

“The result is a cast who work together to create ensemble theatre of a quality that would make a professional company proud. Far and away the most entertaining thing on an Edinburgh stage this week.”

Tomorrow evening (Saturday) is the final night and ticket orders are flooding in following the review. If you’re near Edinburgh, check it out. I saw it yesterday and the review is spot on.

Poetry at the Great Grog - Taster No. 2

A second taster for the readings at the Great Grog Bar (43 Rose Street, Edinburgh) on Sunday 8th June from 8pm. At the following link, you can read a bio and poem from Eleanor Livingstone.

He Needs Your Votes

It’s the final round of Andrew Shields's fourth Daily Poem Project. The winners from each of the last 12 weeks have been gathered together and you can vote for your favourite, the poem of poems. Have a look.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Rangers or Celtic?

After the excitement of the Champions League final yesterday (which I missed, due to a meeting I had to attend), it’s time to turn to the question of who will win the Scottish Premier League?. The answer is: Rangers or Celtic. That’s hardly an unusual occurrence, but the title being decided on the last day of the season gives added excitement.

Both teams play away from home tonight, locked on the same number of points. Celtic meet Dundee United, Rangers meet Aberdeen. Celtic have the better goal difference and a win will almost certainly give them the title. They also have slightly the easier fixture, but any slip-up could see the title going to their Glasgow rivals. Dundee United won’t be a pushover.

In a few hours, one third of Scotland will be celebrating all night, one third will lock themselves in their bedrooms for a week and one third won’t care either way.

For the last third, here’s Glasgow’s finest – The Blue Nile.

Monday, May 19, 2008



Well, NaPoWriMo (National Poetry Writing Month) gets more and more popular every year and it’s been a great idea. However, without readers, poems can’t do what they’re supposed to do i.e. be read.

So I’d like to inaugurate June as National Poetry Reading Month (NaPoReMo). The idea goes like this:

1. Buy a new book, preferably before June, by a contemporary poet whose work you are not particularly familiar with. An anthology is also acceptable. You must buy the book. Poetry publishers need your money, especially the smaller ones.
2. Read the whole collection by the end of the month at least once. I know some people will laugh at this, as they will read several collections every month. But for others, this will be a new experience.
3. Each day of June, write a paragraph on a poem from the book, and post it to your blog (if you have one). There’s no minimum or maximum length of paragraph. It could be a short sentence. But explain how you react to the poem and quote your favourite line (or a line to show why you didn’t like it).

*Please note – the sentence you write on the book needn’t be at all sophisticated. It should simply be an honest reaction to the poem, not a long theoretical treatise. So if you’re relatively new to poetry, have a go.

Anyone reading this – please spread the word. I know some poetry bloggers have already indicated their interest, but it would be good to have people taking part who don’t normally read much poetry. I have been known to read novels and non-fiction, and go to cinemas, theatres and art exhibitions, so crossover is possible! If you’re in, let me know in the comments box and I’ll create a link-list of participants.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

June Taster

The next Great Grog Bar (43 Rose St, Edinburgh) poetry readings will be on Sunday 8th June from 8pm. As usual, poems from the readers will feature over the next few weeks on the Poetry at the Great Grog site. You can now read a bio and poem from Mike Stocks.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Tchai Ovna and Secondhand Treasures

I read last night at the southside Tchai Ovna Café in Glasgow. It had some great ginger tea and some fine hippyish décor. There were too many readers, both for the size of the venue (tiny) and for anyone’s concentration span and the standard of work/reading varied from good to bad the way these kind of evenings always do. I read four poems, and here’s the setlist:

1. Glory Box
2. Breaking the Hoodoo
3. Moving On
4. untitled hebdomad

Anyone who knows my recent work will know that’s not exactly the most commercial, crowd-pleasing set I could have read, but at least I didn’t overstay my welcome…

You can also read Andrew Philip’s report on the event.

Earlier in the day, I went to the annual Christian Aid booksale in Edinburgh, the largest second-hand booksale in Europe. It was the last day and I thought there would be nothing much left, but I was in for a surprise, especially as the prices had been halved to shift stock before closing time. I picked up a beautiful hardback of a 1984 anthology, ‘Fifty Years of American Poetry’, an anniversary volume for the Academy of American Poets – Moore, Merrill, Ashbery, Wilbur, Simic etc and loads of people I’d never heard of. Looks really good. I’ve had real luck in the last week with American poetry as, only a few days before, I’d picked up a hardback copy of Wallace Stevens’s ‘Opus Posthumous’ for only £4. The original price (when the edition was published 20 years ago) was £27.50. Worth its weight in gold.

Anyway, at the Christian Aid sale, I also picked up:

David Kennedy – The Devil’s Bookshop
Tony Lopez – Covers
Maggie Nelson – The Latest Winter
John Hartley Williams – The Ship
John Wilkinson – The Lyric Touch
Alexander Hutchison – Deep-Tap Tree
Jen Hadfield – Nigh-No-Place
Luke Kennard – The Harbour Beyond the Movie (2 copies)

I already have those last two so I gave a copy of each to Andy Philip and the latter to Andy Jackson. For 50p a time, it seemed better to buy them and give them to people who will read them than see the books pulped and recycled, or whatever happens.

Anyway, having bought 6 books published by Salt (worth about £72) for about £5, I plan to buy a book or two for the real price direct from Salt. The only way to support the publishing of good poetry is to buy books, so I’d recommend spending some cash at Salt, bluechrome, Shearsman, Arrowhead or one of the other enterprising poetry presses around at the moment, including pamphlet publishers such as tall-lighthouse, Perdika, or (of course) HappenStance. You’ll probably get a good book, the author will be happy, and you’ll put food on the editor’s table. Everyone wins.

The only problem is deciding which books to buy. I've read Salt books by Jane Holland, Tom Pow, Luke Kennard, Steven Waling, Alexander Hutchison, Tobias Hill, Tamar Yoseloff, Peter Abbs, Simon Barraclough and Peter Jaeger. Recommendations welcome.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


Tomorrow, Thursday 15 May, at 7pm, Hazel Frew will be launching her new collection, Seahorses, on Shearsman Books. The launch is at The Poetry Club, The Glasgow School of Art, 167 Renfrew Street, Glasgow.

Hazel’s pamphlet, Clockwork Scorpion was published by Rack Press in January 2007. Seahorses is her first full length collection.

Also reading will be Jim C Wilson, whose previous poetry collections are The Loutra Hotel, Cellos in Hell and Paper Run.

Poetry at the Great Grog: June 2008 Line-Up

Here’s a sneak preview of the stellar line-up at the next Poetry at the Great Grog reading, which will be at 8pm on Sunday 8th June. That’s 43 Rose Street, Edinburgh. Click on the names to find out more.

Kapka Kassabova
Mike Stocks
Eleanor Livingstone
Jim Carruth

By the way, there is a Poetry at the Great Grog Facebook group, if any readers here would like to join.

Tchai Ovna Reading

This Friday 16th May, I’ll be doing a short reading at the Tchai Ovna in the south side of Glasgow, 169 Deanston Drive, Shawlands, from 8pm, along with a host of writers. The full line-up is:

J. David Simon
Karrieanne McCafferty
Alexander Hutchison
Pamela Nicolson
Yvonne Stone
Jas Sherry
Rob A. Mackenzie
David Manderson
Lynsey Calderwood
Thomas Rae
Chris Beattie
Graham Fulton
P.J. McCafferty

plus guests
Live music by Wing and a Prayer

Monday, May 12, 2008

Two Books, a Competition, and a Reading

I finished Robert Crawford’s Full Volume tonight, which I enjoyed. Earlier in the day, Simon Barraclough’s debut collection, Los Alamos Mon Amour, arrived in the post. I haven’t had time yet to take a look, but I might read a few poems now.

I sent off my entry for this year’s Poetry on the Lake Competition, to be judged by Jo Shapcott. Can’t say anything more about it as the poems are given to the judge without names on them.

I’m doing a short reading at the Tchai Ovna Café in the south side of Glasgow on Friday in the company of several other writers. I'll post more on this tomorrow.

Great Grog Report

I really enjoyed my self at the Great Grog readings last night. I’d met up with Barbara Smith earlier. My daughter and I showed Barbara around Edinburgh’s city centre, which therefore involved a playpark and an ice-cream cone before we could walk anywhere else. Nice to meet up with Barbara after those couple of years on the Internet.

All four readers – Barbara Smith, Claire Askew, Sally Evans and Alan Gillis – were terrific. I thought beforehand that they would read well, but they surpassed my expectations. Fantastic stuff! Some of the readers and audience migrated afterwards to The Standing Order in George Street until around 1.30am. It was about 2.30 before I got to bed and had an early start this morning…

Apprentice has blogged about the evening. Good to hear people enjoyed it.
Sally Evans reports on it as well.
And here’s Barbara Smith’s take on things.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Poetry at the Great Grog

Last minute reminder for tonight's gig!

Poetry at the Great Grog
43 Rose Street, Edinburgh (turn left going up Hanover St and walk for 30 metres)

Sunday 11th May from 8pm.

Alan Gillis (latest collection, 'Hawks and Doves', nominated for this year's TS Eliot Prize)
Sally Evans (editor of Poetry Scotland and author of several collections, including her latest, "The Bees," just out)
Barbara Smith (debut collection, 'Kairos', published by Doghouse Press last year)
Claire Askew (22 years old, poetry soon to be published in the Edinburgh Review)

Entry £3, Concessions £2

Friday, May 09, 2008

Suona per Te

Excellent evening in the Italian Institute in Edinburgh yesterday. Alexander Hutchison would read a poem and Alessandro Valenzisi would then read his Italian translation. They alternated like that for about 45 minutes or so. Everyone in the audience was given a booklet, Suona per Te (after one of the poems), to mark the occasion with both English and Italian versions inside.

What was so good about it? Well, partly because Sandy is a good reader, relaxed and engaging, and Alessandro’s comments on the decisions he’d made with the translations were very interesting.

But there were other things too. It was largely a non-poetry-crowd, people I’d never seen before at a reading. That’s good in itself. Many of them had come because it happened to be in the Italian Institute’s programme, and people seemed to really like it. It’s not as though Sandy didn’t read any ‘difficult’ poems either. He read from a wide variety of his work, but didn’t leave out the more oblique pieces. However, the audience appreciated them as much as anything else. I kept hearing people saying how much they’d enjoyed themselves. I think it’s to do with sound and rhythm, the sheer energy of the word-choices, and also the wit in many of his lines. It made me feel more hopeful for the future reception of poetry than I have in ages. The usual story – when people hear good poetry, many respond positively to it. It doesn’t have to be dumbed down, served up with bells and tinsel, or come with a guide explaining what it’s all supposed to mean.

Afterwards in the reception lounge, the wine (Dolcetto d’Alba – ah! takes me back to my time in Torino) was good and the snacks – grissini wrapped in prosciutto crudo, bruschetta with tomatoes and with an aubergine mix, parmesan cheese etc – were fabulous.

After that came the Southsider Pub round the corner for a couple of Guinnesses, and then home. Good conversation, nice people, and a packet of crisps. What more could anyone ask for?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Review: Troy Town by Matt Merritt

Matt Merritt’s excellent pamphlet collection, Making the Most of the Light, was published in 2005 by HappenStance and it’s no surprise that he has gone on to produce a debut full collection this year, Troy Town, published by Arrowhead.

Birds flit through this collection, literally and metaphorically, as he explores the intricacy of love’s beginnings, middles and endings, the tension between desire and routine, the gift of unexpected happiness and a often latent sense of un-ease, the vitality of the present moment coupled with an awareness of not being in control of it.

The writing is very strong. There’s rarely a superfluous word or out-of-place phrase. In The Meeting Place, Matt Merritt quotes Tomas Tranströmer’s “…within us, balanced like a gyroscope, is joy,” and his poems are successful through achieving a difficult balance; what they say is never imposed on their subject matter but is sourced naturally from it. When I say “naturally”, I mean the poems give that impression even as they take you a little beyond what you thought you always knew.

The Meeting Place is a good example of Matt Merritt’s strengths. It begins, “Nothing leads up to it.” Nothing remarkable is going on. “Traffic lights maintain their sequence.” The world continues as it always has. And yet:

…she is there
at the junction of all things, and at once

the better part of you is persuaded
out of balance. Moments fray to a fine thread.
The past is startled into a sudden eloquence.
Nothing need follow.

That “persuaded/ out of balance” is indeed in perfect balance with Transtromer’s line – its contradiction and fulfilment at the same time. The joy of the balance couldn’t come unless out of balance. The final line is also brilliantly double-edged because, of course, the high point of meeting can’t promise anything other than a longing for something to follow, but isolating the moment gives a different, tension-filled perspective. That kind of complexity written with compressed (and seemingly effortless) precision makes this collection one not to miss out on reading. Other pieces that also achieve this to particular effect include Winter Saturday, Attenborough and Poem, which maintains its tension and keeps the reader guessing right up to (and, to some extent, beyond) the final line.

Knots is a bird poem, but a metaphorical one, beginning with the enticing “Only now does it occur to me/ as something unseen, maybe a dog in the dunes/ beyond (although in the poem it will be a peregrine,/ probably).” The poem works through the well observed descriptions of the knots and the transformative vitality of its metaphors. The knots (wading birds) begin as spirals of smoke;

first black as a cloud of summer gnats, now silvered
as the foil they used to fool radar

and then stand “Calidris canutus” (their real scientific name)

king’s men all, commanding the waves to turn back
or else making a point completely lost on history.

The grand claim of the first of those lines, tempered humorously by the second, is characteristic of Matt Merritt’s writing. He refuses to reach beyond the capability of his images, but he isn’t afraid to extend their possibilities, revealing those possibilities as inherent all along. The poem closes:

And they’re airborne again,
only now they’re more
...........................a shimmering shoal of sand eels,
dissipated in a second, disappearing momentarily,
a stubborn collective thought of explosive energy.

There were a few ‘passengers’ in the collection, but not many, and even those poems weren’t bad, just not as good. On two or three occasions, I noticed the presence of colloquialisms, as if from an anxiety to fit the lyricism into spoken speech patterns. In First Draft, “You’ll go to the window, your eye caught by a seagull, say” and in Loons, “you catch them/ in the corner of an eye, perhaps.” Both of these are good poems, but the “say” and “perhaps” broke the spell and invited comparisons to certain popular poets from the north of England. But these are small complaints.

It’s hard to get attention for individual poetry collections if you’re not on a major press (and sometimes even if you are). But I wouldn’t want to think that a collection like this one would go un-noticed. It’s much too good for that.

Troy Town is available on hardback from Arrowhead Press for £8.99 (post free in UK).

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

May Taster part 3

The third featured reader at this month's Poetry at the Great Grog event on Sunday May 11th is Sally Evans, and you can now read her bio and poem at the link.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Friday, May 02, 2008

HappenStance on the Road to London

On Monday 26th May, HappenStance poets will be reading at the Troubadour in London. The line-up (although not necessarily in this order) will be:

Martin Cook
Tom Duddy
Eleanor Livingstone
Greg Leadbetter
Rob A. Mackenzie
Michael Mackmin
Helena Nelson
Andrew Philip
DA Prince

So if you’re around London that evening, come along. It should be a really good gig, and I’m up for a pint or two afterwards with whoever cares to join me.

Andy Philip has begun posting poems from each reader - so far, at the link, you can read poems by Michael Mackmin, myself, and Tom Duddy, and more will be added over the next few weeks.

May Taster, Part 2

At the Poetry at the Great Grog site, you can now read Barbara Smith’s bio and poem – the second feature on the four readers reading there on 11th May.