Thursday, November 30, 2006


I've just had a poem accepted by The SHOp, a beautifully produced Irish magazine. The poem, "In Praise of Dust", should be published sometime in the next 12 months.
I've also been meaning to mention that Lallans recently accepted four poems in Scots, one of which is a translation of Rilke's "Orpheus. Eurydike. Hermes." I'm told they should be in Lallans 70, which is due in out in March 2007.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Temples in our Hearing

Rilke has been a significant figure for me for a while, although there's much of his work I've yet to read. When I lived in Berlin in the early 1990s, a friend gave me his collected poems in German for Chirstmas. The same friend later gave me the Letters to a Young Poet (in English, although I got my hands on a secondhand German edition a few years after that) and, last Christmas, sent me a CD of the Sonnette an Orpheus. So I was delighted to see a "Responding to Rilke" event on the Scottish Poetry Library events programme for Wednesday past.

The SPL's mezzanine floor was pretty packed to hear Don Paterson deliver excerpts from his new book Orpheus (an English version--i.e., not a straight translation--of the Sonnette an Orpheus) and Jo Shapcott read from Tender Taxes, her 2002 collection of responses to and versions of some of Rilke's poems in French. Quite a reading. The narcotic spirit of Rilke was firmly present in Paterson's versions. To judge by the reading, he has managed find a voice that is distinctly his but still recognisably Rilke in a convincing contemporary English. I'm looking forward tremendously to sitting down and digesting the originals and the new version side by side.

In Shapcott's work, the spirit of Rilke was somewhat less direct. I remember hearing her read some of the work in Tender Taxes about eight or nine ago. My French not being much good, I can't really comment on Shapcott's poems as responses and versions, but Tender Taxes looks and sounds like an strong and stimulating book. She calls it "a reader's book", that is, a continuation of the conversation she has with Rilke as a reader of his French poetry.

Some people get prissy about translating v versioning. Personally, I'm quite relaxed about it. Like Don Paterson, I feel both can be legitimate and illuminating exercises. In reality, there are and can be few if any one-to-one correspondences in the translation of poetry, even between closely related languages. This means that a translation is always a version to some extent. The most important factor is whether the translation/version works as a poem in the target language. This is surely part of the reason why each generation revisits great texts of other languages that have already been translated time and again.

After the reading, I wound up in the pub with some folk from the MLitt in creative writing at St Andrews. Ended up missing the train I'd intended to catch, and the next one. It was worth it though.

Friday, November 17, 2006

David Kinloch's Website

David Kinloch now has a website. It's pretty easy to navigate and contains poems, essays, an interview with David, reviews, translations, news and other information. Worth looking at if you're interested in his work.

Arvon Successes and Failures

The shortlist for this year's Arvon poetry competition is out. I entered, but didn't get anywhere. However, Siriol Troup, who read alongside me at StAnza this year, is on the shortlist. Gaun yersel, Siriol!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

New Voices: The Crichton Crowd

I headed to Dumfries yesterday for the second of my two New Voice events with the Scottish Poetry Library. Lilias Fraser from the Library and I took the train to Lockerbie--a very civilised Virgin conveyance--where we were picked by Andrew Forster, who took us to the venue at Crichton Campus via a pretty decent coffee shop in Dumfries.

We arrived at the Crichton just as Helena Nelson was coming out to meet the AA man she'd had to call because she'd locked herself out of her car (with the materials for the workshop still in the car). Not a good start, but the AA van pulled in just behind us, sparing us what could have been a more than nervous wait.

Despite that inauspicious mishap, the workshop went really well. The participants were quite a different bunch to those in Glasgow. The age profile was significantly older for a start, but they also responded much more. That might have had something to do with its being an afternoon event (although the real low point of my energy is often around 3pm) or to do with the fact that most of them belonged to the same writers group. Certainly, the geography of Dumfries and Galloway seems to make for a stronger sense of creative community. Whatever it was that made them livelier than the Mitchell crowd, it made for an thoroughly enjoyable afternoon for us! Plus they almost all bought a pamphlet, in contrast to the two we sold in Glasgow (although to be fair at least one person at the Mitchell already had a copy).

So, that's the practical side of my New Voice involvement over. Even virtually it is passing, as I relinquish the front page of the SPL website to the other New Voice, Cheryl Follon (whom I've yet to meet, not having been able to make it to her reading at the Shore Poets last year). I've enjoyed working on the events with Lilias and Helena. It was good too to meet Andrew Forster--who mentioned in dispatches right next to me after StAnza this year--more properly than I have before.

I look forward to doing more of this sort of thing in future. I'll post something soon about my next readings, which are in the new year.

The Poets were in the Counting House

On Saturday night, the Shore Poets celebrated Stewart Conn's 70th birthday at the Counting House in Edinburgh. The evening, which was open to the public and more or less sold out with various bodies from the poetry world, involved readings from a number of poets whom Stewart admires and counts among his friends, including Anne Stevenson, Anna Crowe, Andrew Greig, Tom Pow and James Robertson and several Shore poets.
It's hard to believe that Stewart (the Shore Poets' honourary president of several years' standing) is as old as 70; his zest for life would be enviable in a man of any age. The celebrations were a fitting reflection of that joie de vivre and Stewart's fundamentally warm, generous character.
The Shore Poets have marked the occasion not only with the birthday bash, but with a pamphlet, There's a Poem to be made. The pamphlet, available in a numbered limited edition of 300, contains poems from Saturday's participants, Shore poets past and present, and a few other fine contempoary Scottish poets. It's not mentioned on the Shore Poets website yet, but I'm sure it will be soon.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Quieter Fire

Went to hear the fine Gaelic poet, publisher and scholar Derick Thomson (or Ruaraidh MacThomais in Gaelic) read on Wednesday at the usual haunt. The audience was far smaller than that for Sharon Olds. That, I suppose, is predictable, but it's also a poor reflection on the knowledge of the poetry-reading public in Edinburgh.
Gaelic poetry in or after the classical style is difficult to translate well into English, given that its dense sound patternings are lost, leaving a much barer experience, but Thomson writes in a modern free style that works well in English. His poetry is witty, lucid and rich in unexpected turns, such as the idea that people in 2121 will ask why we watched the box in the 20th century "instead of reading Plato", that Princess Diana "still speaks with a Glasgow accent" or that, when the Norsemen went ashore at Ness in Lewis, "they were afraid".
Thomson is a quiet, self-depricating man, which helps to make him an engaging reader. He is somewhat unexpectedly apologetic about reading the oringinal poems (the Gaelic versions), but not at all apologetic about his Scottish nationalism. (Still, perhaps one expects a little Caledonian antisyzygy now and again.) Remarkably, he's 85 and hardly showing his age. Long may he continue in that vein.

Monday, November 06, 2006

The Last to Know, But Hey!

I've only just discovered that "A Rough Guide to Monday Morning", the first piece in Tonguefire, was poem of the week in Saturday's Scotsman. If I'd known on Saturday I'd have bought the paper!
Irritatingly, they have the title slightly wrong. I wonder whether that was a sub trying to shoehorn it into a preconceived notion of what fits the weekend.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Vocal in the Mitchell

Thursday's New Voice session went very well. For the first half of the evening, Helena Nelson gave a short workshop on how to raise your profile as a poet. In the second half, she interviewed me as a live case study. Poems were interspersed with the interview in roughly chronological order. Out of the 17 people booked to come, 11 turned up, but we anticipated some drop-off, and 11 was a good size for the group. It was a real mix of people at very different stages in their poetry writing and publishing histories.

One of the participants, Stephen Nelson, happens to a friend of a friend and had been in touch with me earlier in the week. He has just published, under his own imprint called Afterlight Press, The Faithful City, a beautifully produced pamphlet of what he describes as visual poems. They might be more usually described as concrete poems, but his use of colour and shade in the text takes the genre a step further. (I believe the pamphlet will be reviewed in the next issue of Sphinx.) It was a pleasure to meet and chat briefly with him.

Another notable participant was George Philp, one of the originators of Scotsoun, a company that has amassed a remarkable recorded archive of Scottish writing, song and music. Scotsoun's focus is on Scots, but there are also recordings of Gaelic and English-language writing in the catalogue. George is now retired from the work, but he's writing its story. Should be a fascinating read, given all the luminaries with whom the folk at Scotsoun have worked.

I was also encouraged to see someone who had heard me read at Reading the Leaves in Tchai-Ovna early in the year. Nothing better than people coming back for more!

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