Monday, 18 December 2017


People are for life, not just for Xmas

And whilst they can be annoying
And disappointing
And they can make your head hurt
And your heart crack
And you can cry rivers
And sometimes lakes
The source of all this pain

Is love

Or lack of love
Or confused love
Or broken love
So love your people
Whoever they are
Whatever that looks like
While you can

RF 2017

I like to knock up a Xmas poem if possible (still waiting for a tune for last year's - I read it at the local folk club recently and a few people seemed to like it). I prefer Midwinter really and, given the choice, I'd do all the celebrating a few days earlier but we can't always get what we want so Xmas it still is here, for the most part. And celebrating always seems odd to me anyway, when there is so much sadness all around for so many reasons, but we continue to do it because the alternative seems so impossible (just sadness and no joy anywhere...). So: joy to you all! Spread it, feel it, hunt it down!

Photo - Montrose beach, Angus. 6.12.17.

Monday, 20 November 2017


A garden turbine on the edge of Dundee...

An old friend of mine is crowdfunding for her new EP. Her name is Ana Laan and all the information about the EP and options to pledge/buy are here. You can hear the title track 'Camino del Agua' here (spoiler - it's lovely!). The title track is in Spanish but Ana sings in English too (and French and Swedish...). Support her if you can...

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Dead inside

Living blues

Stop all the rot, put down the blessed phone,
A dog will eat itself if you leave it too alone,
The radio has dropped to a heartless hum,
We know all the news that is still to come.

The sky was on fire and it’s in my head,
The memories hot as they freeze the dead,
The funeral lasts like the longest love,
My eyes look down, hell burns high above.

I have no direction, or home, or rest,
There’s a rattling thing inside my chest,
I know I once could sing a song;
I thought that music stayed forever: that was wrong.

The stars are way too far, they can help no-one,
Not the dead inside, not our dying sun;
Hear my broken voice, scratch my name in wood.
I feel like nothing, for nothing is good.

RF 2017 (with obvious debt to W.H.Auden)

I usually like to start posts on here with a photo... but I can't think of a suitable one for this kind of piece. This post is just a poem and that poem the product of watching this news interview with a Grenfell survivor yesterday and then watching, later the same day, a documentary about the poet W.H.Auden (1907-1973). The documentary featured his well-known poem 'Funeral Blues' ('Stop all the clocks...') and so this afternoon I found myself reworking it with the Grenfell interview (and mental health matters in general, I suppose) in mind – they are never far from my mind to be honest, and are much in the news too just now. There are many reasons this Auden poem is significant in many of our lives (whether we like it or not) and its fabulous rhyme and rhythm have a lot to do with it (though there is the film/movie issue too of course... I am not a rom-com fan but I know someone who is...). When I watched the interview online yesterday I wanted to send my friend (who is a very good counsellor) down to the woman immediately... but of course my friend is very busy, as all good counsellors are, because they are so in demand. Our societies are broken in so many places that we struggle to manage day-to-day lives, never mind huge, terrible occurrences like the Grenfell fire.

p.s. I suppose some people won't approve of me reworking a 'classic' but I like this kind of thing (I'm quite partial to Benjamin Zephaniah's 'What If' reworking of Kipling's 'If', for example). And it works in music (you can like an original track and a cover version or a track that uses a sample of that original... see Chic and 'Rapper's Delight'). Not that I'm saying it's in that kind of category. Anyway...

Thursday, 19 October 2017

Dark Times

New music alert! MarKived (a very local producer...) has a new EP out today called 'Dark Times'. You can hear the 3 tracks on Bandcamp (over here) and, for those of you who haven't used that site, you can listen to each track 3 times for free and then it prompts you to buy if you want to listen any more than that. The first track on the EP is called 'Dark Times' and features actor Joseph Millson as Lord Byron reading the poem 'Darkness'. It's all brilliant, of course.

Now, I'm back off to Instagram to read hashtags (not really... but some of those lists are soooooo long!).

Tuesday, 3 October 2017

National Poetry Day - part 2

Poetry textbook from my schooldays
First published 1960, my edition 1981

Maybe the last post was a bit of a stress-fest. I think I am less and less keen on celebrations (Xmas=you must be happy, birthdays=ditto, National Poetry Day=you must overflow with love for poetry etc.) and they have the effect of sending me in the opposite direction (and there was a lot of National Poetry Day coverage in the media here this year...). I am a bit contrary, perhaps. This is not news.

But a couple of things cheered me up a bit (poetically/celebrationally speaking) so I wanted to mention those too. One was a TV show from the Hull 'Contains Strong Language' festival featuring a couple of poems I really got lost in (one by Zena Edwards, the other by Bohdan Piasecki). One of the things that unsettles me, I suppose, is how much poetry I really don't like (old and new). I feel like maybe I'm really in the wrong boat when these sensations rule the waves so it's always a great relief to encounter a poem or two that hit that 'oh, yes, I love this, do it again' button.

And then also, the day after National Poetry Day, poet Benjamin Zephaniah was a guest on the Lauren Laverne radio show on BBC 6 Music (the show is here for a little while longer, he's on in the last hour). He talked about poetry in pretty much the opposite way to the Don Paterson radio series I listened to all last week (which was great, very interesting, but depressing here and there for various reasons... see last post). Lovely, calming, positive, magnificent human that he is, Zephaniah said:

"If you are suffering, if you are going through change in your life, if you are confused, if you are feeling pain, that's the stuff of great poetry... especially when it comes to the kind of poetry I'm interested in, it really doesn't matter much about form as such... can you speak to me?"


"It's just words we use every day. Everybody... you all... can have poetic thoughts every day... and sometimes you forget them, you let them go... all we are doing is capturing them and remembering them and writing them down."

I'm not saying either one of them is right in their approach really (Paterson's perfect form or Zephaniah's more open book...) and in fact I enjoy listening to them both talk (I'm such a liberal...). I think maybe that, as a writer who sometimes feels kind of on the edge of everything, I need them both to keep me moving in any kind of direction. 

On the second day after National Poetry Day I listened to the last programme in the Paterson series (on Robert Frost's 'Design'). Frost was a poet I studied at school in the early 1980s (poems in the book pictured above - though 'Design' not one of them) and Paterson covers things like the (now pretty well-known) great misreading of 'The Road Not Taken' (or is it...? I suspect Frost changed his own mind from day to day). I felt less battered by the end of the series (I guess surviving the Plath episode* was a help) and ready to keep trying, here and there, to be the best writer I can be, whatever that is. Small steps, everybody, small steps...

*You can still hear my old Plath/Hughes/Larkin go raving poem 'Set text fever' here or read it here

Friday, 29 September 2017

National Poetry Day - diary of sorts and thoughts

Early light picture from last week, playing around on Instagram

One of my favourite pieces of writing this year has been a writing diary from Scottish author Denise Mina. She read it aloud on a radio programme a few months back and it was honest and funny and I suppose that is one of my favourite kinds of writing. I have a simple relationship with comedy (and with music...) because I just love them, so much of them. I suppose this is partly because I have adored them both from a very young age but also partly because I have never tried to do either of them in any kind of serious way (put something out in the world and say 'I am a musician' or 'I am a comedian'). Poetry, though, is another matter.

And yesterday, here, it was National Poetry Day so I thought I'd have a go at one of those diary-type things (with some poetry-related content). I used to write a lot more like this on the old blog (ah, the golden days of blog... when you'd get up to 50 comments on a post... how did we read them all... etc.) but I haven't done one for a while. So here's yesterday... though the times are only approximate (I put them in after...).

9.00am. It's one of those waiting-for-work days for me (the paid work, not the poetry). When it does come it just arrives by email (some days loads, many days nothing) but today nothing comes (so more time for poetry matters). It’s a good job we don’t rely on my salary to survive.

9.10am. I look at Twitter and see all the National Poetry Day links etc. (along with all the stuff about Hefner... which just reminds me of Watson and Oliver's great bunny sketch... their series is on Netflix these days... go and find it if you can, daughter and I quote several of their sketches regularly). For a couple of years (see back here) I organised a local event to mark National Poetry Day and it was always in October back then so it feels weird to have it in September this year (though here in Scotland it makes sense… it’s school holidays in early October and why should they escape the freedom – this year's theme – of organised words). I write a tiny poem about this calendar issue, post it to Twitter, get a very small response. I am not in a loop, no celebrities retweet me or anything like that, so it's a fairly unsatisfying and quite possibly pointless endeavour. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my poetry (or social media success) to survive.

9.30am. I watch a video from one of the links on Twitter. It features Sarah Crossan, whose book ‘One’ we won as a prize at a books quiz in the summer (Dundee Waterstones, monthly, it was summer, not much competition...). She writes verse novels (‘One’ is one). I really enjoyed ‘One’ (though I'm starting to feel like the queen with all these ones...) – it may be marketed at teens but (a) yes, I am at least part teenager and (b) it’s bigger than that. I’ve never been one for dividing lines anyway. And it’s a good job we don’t rely on my career in marketing to survive (my first proper job was in an advertising agency… in the late ’80s and I didn’t last long... in fact I just left one lunchtime, never went back... well, I had to return the company car at some point... but apart from that). Anyway...

10.00am. I listen to the third part of Don Paterson’s radio series ‘Five poems I wish I had written’ – the one about Michael Donaghy (it’s Wednesday’s). This is the first one (that I've listened to so far...) where I can agree with him about the poem and that might well be because the poem is, at least in part, about music (the poem is ‘The Hunter’s Purse’). Tuesday’s (about Elizabeth Bishop's 'Large Bad Picture') is a great listen, whatever you think of the poem. It packed some punches though and whilst up till then I had not been feeling too bad about my own recent poetic output (I had written two ‘proper’ poems in the past couple of weeks, not shown them to anyone yet but felt I was back on that track a little after nothing but unloved Twitter 4 liners over the summer) this programme knocked me right back down off that artificial high. I am totally crap (and needy) and don’t know the most basic things about form and rhythm and it’s no wonder I am moaning in obscurity most of the time. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my positive outlook to survive.

10.15am. I wonder about the idea of ‘poems I wish I had written’. I’m not sure I think about poetry in that way at all, certainly nothing really comes to mind (what would you say if Radio 3 came knocking..?). I could think of about 100 people whose singing voice I covet… and maybe some songs I wish I’d written… though no, even there I can’t say that’s the way it feels (I can love something, but that doesn't mean I wish I'd made it...). What I can say is that we were looking through the old youtube channel the other day (for admin reasons) and Mark and I both really enjoyed hearing the videos we posted in 2008 of Hugh McMillan (live… in Edinburgh…). I especially loved hearing ‘Three Letters to McMhaolain Mor’ again (‘my heart bleeds in this Travelodge’). I don’t wish I’d written it (how could I have done… it’s Hugh’s history background coupled with his experience of life in some particularly modern-day trenches – schools and pubs and buses – that makes this ring so true and be charming and painful all at the same time). I have non-poetry friends (one in particular) who says poetry only works for them when they hear it (aloud, with or without music) and, although I do read poetry quietly, sitting still, I do also understand the need for hearing (when it comes to enjoying/understanding/wanting to repeat the experience certainly). In the poetry world there is less and less of a divide between 'page' and 'performance' (so I hear, so I read…) and that is a good thing, I think. There are good poems right across that spectrum (there always have been) and many of the best poems (for my taste) can be inhaled either way. After this I watch a video of BBC Scotland’s poet in residence Stuart A Paterson giving a lesson in Scots weather terms (he is a long-term friend of Hugh McMillan, I think). Twenty years ago I wouldn't have known any of the words but now I know about half of them (and will go through and pause with Scots dictionary/friend to get the rest later). That’s a poem I certainly couldn’t have written! It’s a good job we don’t rely on my career in Scots poetry writing to survive.

12.30pm. I do some Mum things…take girl here, go to the supermarket. No one in there is talking about National Poetry Day or seems to be worrying about rhythm patterns. It’s a beautiful sunny day and everyone is trying to get out of there as soon as possible. I worked in shops quite a lot in previous stages of life and the money is so crap but it’s bearable as jobs go. I don’t have a great record when it comes to jobs and making money (but I have a great CV… ). It's a good job we don't rely on my ability to earn money in any kind of regular way to survive.

1.30pm. Essential jobs done I think I should make a National Poetry Day effort so I grab a poetry book (the first that comes to hand - an anthology) and sit in the sun for a brief stretch (as long as a cup of tea). It’s too hot for the dog so she whinges at me and the neighbours seem to have the loudest lawnmower ever made (it’s probably old... as they are). I can’t say anything really grabs me from the book… but that might be the dog, the (very hot) sun and the fact that I’m going out this evening and possibly to a place where people will be sitting quietly in rows (this always makes me anxious). I am much more a cabaret-atmosphere kind of person… in every possible way. It’s a good job we don’t rely on my career as an airline passenger or jury member to survive. And yes, I know you don’t get paid for either of those…. Well, not often.

7.00pm. It turns out that I have tickets for a poetry event in Dundee tonight – a total coincidence as I bought them ages ago before I knew that the national day of poeting had moved closer to the sun. This event features Rachel McCrum and Caroline Bird and I don’t know either of the poets’ work but I have seen them bigged up online by people whose work I do know (and like) so I'm quite keen. It’s a long time since I went to a poetry reading of any kind I realise (other than my own). I used to go to quite a few (particularly at the StAnza festival in St Andrews – I used to go there every year) but in recent times it just hasn’t happened (partly to do with where we live but a lot to do with my weirdness about sitting quietly in an rowed audience). I find the awkwardness of some types of readings really difficult so was disappointed to get to the venue tonight and discover it was my least favourite kind of place (no exit at the back, only one way in and out and that right in front of the whole audience and stage...). It’s hard to explain if you’re not a person who feels this kind of specific anxiety about places but believe me, it does rather spoil your concentration… especially if you can’t have a calming alcoholic beverage because you are going to be driving a car at some point later. I decided to ask for help (always one of the hardest parts...) and luckily the organisers were lovely and didn’t think me at all mad (well, they didn’t say so anyway) and found me a bolthole where I could see but not feel awkward (and no, I'm not going to describe it…). So I did see the show and it started with music from Roseanne Reid (tiny enigmatic songs, liked them a lot) followed by poet Rachel McCrum. She did a few poems about boats and a lot about women (her new book, her first I think, is called ‘The First Blast to Awaken Degenerate Women’) but, though I did find these interesting (facts about Marie Stopes, for example, plenty to go back and read…and in fact the poem that includes them is online here, though it's quite far down the page), the mood I was in (odd, career identity crisis, locked in anxiety bolthole… and not for any lack of feminist tough thinking over the years…) meant I was drawn more to a poem about unusual stars (‘Runaways’). I didn't buy a book but I am thinking I might; there was a lot to take in. After a little break poet Caroline Bird (now on her 5th book apparently, though she started very young) took us to places I really wasn’t expecting (her experiences of drugs and mental health, albeit with a surrealist twist... although if you’ve lived though any of it… which of course I have… you don’t really need the twist). She was very engaging (a bit bouncey, getting herself gradually more and more into the audience…) and if I hadn’t been in an anxiety bolthole (with my poor, long suffering daughter… ‘what weird place are you taking me today, Mummy?’) I would have stayed for the whole thing. But we had quite a trip back, and there’s school tomorrow and Mummy can tell you plenty of stories about that kind of thing on the way home (she is pretty much an adult now...). I have no line here about careers and surviving. I have run out of steam about that.

9.00pm. And then the train… and the car… and the chips (I have an old poem about having chips on the way back from a poetry reciting competition when I was a little girl... I guess this is our version of that in some kind of dragged-out mirror image). And on the radio (I love radio!) it was still National Poetry Day and there was a young guy called Isaiah Hull on the Jo Whiley show on Radio 2. We didn’t catch the beginning of the poem but the bit I heard sounded warm and young and hopeful. Ah, it's a good job we don't rely on my career in misguided nostalgia to survive...

Thanks, as ever, for reading. x

Monday, 18 September 2017

A is for apple

I've gone a bit apple-mad. The ex-psychiatric hospital nearby has an orchard full of apples (and I mean full!) but of course it is an ex-hospital so the grounds are pretty much places in waiting... and so the apples are too. For the last few years that orchard has worn a carpet of apples for much of the fall season and it's pretty sad, I think, when food costs so much and we all seem to talk about healthy eating all the time. We went and picked a bag full yesterday (we all have permission, I emailed the current landowners to check... ) and I am telling everyone I can think of to try to keep the rotting to a minimum. I suppose this is partly because I was brought up by a mother who'd lived through WW2 and so I hate food waste (though I think most of us do really). There are issues of course... some of the trees are very tall and quite old... and everyone is busy... but I'm hopeful.

And lo, an apple poem (title connected to my late arrival at Instagram... I like to try most things... just not always at the same time as everyone else...). 


Dream, if you must, of apples.
Check the ground first,
Flatten nettles,
Clear the rotten windfall.

Then head up high
To the happy bounty,
Ripe clumps of life,
Calling out to be pie.

There’s no finer sight;
Than apples above,
The pound in your heart,
A red and green beat.

Preserve if you can,
Keep the taste fresh,
Make the good cake,
And save the picture.

RF 2017