Friday, May 30, 2008

The Onslaught of Beauty

The audience for Sunday's Shore Poets was a little thinner than usual, possibly because of the holiday weekend. Music was provided by Just Voices, a four-part acapella group, who treated us to French, Bulgarian, Scots and American songs. Beautiful stuff.

Stephanie Green kicked off the poetry in the newcomer slot. I've seen Stephanie around the scene for quite some time (indeed, she's a regular at Shore Poets) but had never heard her read before. The poem of hers that worked best for me was her first: a well-crafted, interesting mediation on her inheritance--genetic and otherwise--from each of her parents. (Her write-up of the evening is here.)

Honorary Shore poet Ken Cockburn read second. Ken is a former convener of the group, as well as former fieldworker/assistant director of the Scottish Poetry Library and founder, along with Alec Finlay, of platform projects. I enjoyed his set, particularly his take on the myth of Penelope and her suitors, in which Odysseus's wife is signed up to an internet dating site, and his translations from German.

I'd heard good things about the evening's main reader, the Belfast poet Alan Gillis, who is now based in Edinburgh. He did not disappoint: intense, serious, funny poems with striking imagery and a strong sound world. The man has a great ear and he reads well. You can hear him read some poems here, though I haven't had a listen to those files yet.

After the reading, I headed up to Waverley to catch my sleeper to London. There was enough time for a reasonably relaxed pint with Rob A Mackenzie before I found my way to my--ahem--recliner and began my purgatorial progress southwards.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Back from London and, after two less than restful nights on the sleeper (the one on the way down was by far the worse) completely puggelt. Proper reports of Sunday's Shore Poets and last night's reading in due course, but suffice to say it was a cracker of a night.

Friday, May 23, 2008


Andrew Philip: A Sampler came through the post today, 12 author copies of a slim, simple and elegant pamphlet--slightly to my surprise, as I wasn't expecting to see it before the Troubadour reading. And a lovely surprise, too: Helena Nelson has, naturally, done a fantastic job on it and it feels beautiful in the hand. I'm really looking forward to reading from it on Monday, when it'll go on sale for the first time.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Troubadour Poems: Helena Nelson

The final poem in the pre-Troubadour series is by Helena Nelson, founder and editor of HappenStance press. It is very much in the spirit of her wonderfully quirky and deliciously, irreverantly playful pamphlet Unsuitable Poems.


I was like Read this poem
He was like You must be joking
I was like Pleeeease
He was like Fancy a drink?

I was like Get lost
He was like I really like you
I was like Read this poem then
He was like Do I have to?

I was like Yes
He was like Omigod she means it
I was like Shutupandreadit
He was like Gimme the poem


I was like Did you like it?
He was like What was that about?
I was like What did you think?
He was like It was like, like…

I was like That’s the point
He was shocked, like.


Less than a week to go to the Troubadour reading, and there's already another HappenStance date in the diary: several HappenStance poets--including myself, Patricia Ace, James Wood, Eleanor Livingstone and Margaret Christie--will be reading at St Mungo's Mirrorball on Thursday 2nd October. Full line-up and more details nearer the time but, for the moment, those of you in Glasgow and environs put it in your diary!

Monday, May 19, 2008

Troubadour Poems: Andrew Philip

Originally, I wasn't going to post one of my own poems in this series, but I've changed my mind and am posting a piece from Tonguefire that hasn't appeared anywhere else.


Someone was standing in the middle of the road.
She stood astride it, just beyond
the blind spot on a sharp, countryside bend,
so hidden that I nearly ran her over.
At first, she seemed an ordinary figure
—jeans, a fitted t-shirt, long brown hair—
but for the confidence with which she stood
where any car would slam straight into her.
Almost as soon as we jerked to a halt
and I got out the car to remonstrate,
the space around her ruptured
with the opening of wings
as colourful as the flocks of paradise.
She stretched her hand towards me, said
I know you’ll take good care of it and poured
from her palm into mine a sleeping child,
scarcely the size of a nut and sprouting
from its belly a shoot topped off by a tiny leaf.
I tried to ask the obvious questions, but she
folded herself from our vision.
I felt her gift stir slightly, though it slept
as soundly as it does now in my hand.
How can I drive on with this entrusted to me?
I’m rooted here, keeping watch
on the growth of what is planted in my palm—
this difficult, unasked-for joy.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Troubadour Poems: Martin Cook

Martin Cook's life has included soldiering, tea planting, advertising, marketing and social work--the kind of CV that once was almost de rigeur for a poet. His pamphlet, Mackerel Wrappers, was published in 2007.

After Chagall’s Los Novios del la Torre Eiffel

We should never have climbed that phallus.
We were, after all, Brits and when you heard
a squeaky fiddle playing Greensleeves
and thought you saw your pet goat taking off
from the Eiffel Tower towards Spain,
you went goofy and leant out to stop it.

I over-balanced trying to save you
but landed, with you in my arms
on a big duck with a cock’s comb.

You’d forgotten your goat and were
clutching a blue fan and dreaming of cherubs
while I had the Kama Sutra on my mind.

Neither grotesque birds nor angels
with violins and silly wings could save us;
we wasted an expensive wedding gown.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Not having been out in Glasgow for absolutely ages--possibly not since I read at Tchai Ovna west end in 2006, unless you count the Mitchell event Helena Nelson and I did with the Scottish Poetry Library--I really enjoyed heading west to join the audience for the reading at Tchai Ovna southside on Friday night. I met up with AB Jackson and Rob A Mackenzie for a quick drink first. Just as well, because I hadn't clocked it was the Shawlands branch we were going to and would have gone to the wrong place otherwise. Rob had been at the Christian Aid book sale in Edinburgh and come away with a fine haul of books at knock-down, bowl-you-over, irresistible prices, including several doubles of books he already had, which he very generously gave to Andy Jackson and me.

As Rob says, Tchai Ovna southdie is a tottie wee place of a venue. It would be a fantastic place to meet someone for a tea (superb tea, it has to be said), but is was a bit too small for the 14 readers plus musicians and audience. The musicians, Wing and A Prayer, were excellent. The quality of the writing was, well, as you'd expect at an open mic session, variable. Rob and Alexander Hutchison were way the best, to my mind, even if the audience didn't seem to connect with what Rob read. Afterwards, Rob and I joined Sandy Hutchison and Cheryl Follon for a swift drink before we scooted back off to the train in my case and bus in Rob's. Pity we couldn't stay longer, but the last train is the last train. I'm hoping to get back through to Glasgow for a Les Murray reading in June, so it won't be quite as long before I'm back out in the city.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Troubadour Poems: Eleanor Livingstone

Eleanor Livingstone is artistic director of the StAnza poetry festival. Her chapbook, The Last King of Fife, from which "The Monimail Spider" is taken, was published by HappenStance in 2005. More recently, she edited Migraasje, migration o words, a pamphlet of Scots and Shetlandic versions of Frisian poems, published to accompany the reading by Frisian poets at this year's StAnza.

The Monimail spider

Not some economic migrant
who’d deliberately stowed away
under a leaf; nor refugee, surely
from that gentle organic space;

rather a victim of a natural disaster
swept up with his plant
then whirled across the county
friends, dependants, web
left far behind.

A dose of water flushed him out
and he escaped over the edge
eight legged it from the pot
to spin his way through fences,
concrete posts and traffic noise

hoping for a gleam of emerald –
or ruby slippers, four pairs
spider size.

Sunday, May 11, 2008


Just a quickie to say the HappenStance Troubadour gig is now listed on the Troubadour site's programme pages. Can't quite believe I'll be heading down to London for it in a fortnight's time! Last time I was in the city was in 2003 for a Keith Jarrett Trio gig. So much has happened since then, and I'm looking forward to having the opportunity to catch up with some old friends.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Troubadour Poems: Gregory Leadbetter

Gregory Leadbetter has been an environmental lawyer, worked in TV production and written TV drama; he is currently researching Samuel Taylor Coleridge. His pamphlet, The Body in the Well, was published by HappenStance in 2007.

The Scientist

All this talk travels years ahead of him,
a laughing gas in the air-conditioning
at the Royal Society and the British Academy,
a memo circulating at the BBC.

Priests declare him a man of the fields
going barefoot in the city streets,
but reluctantly leave room for doubt.

Mathematicians predict he’ll carry
a ball of superstring in his pocket,
but fear it’s not that simple.

Those of us who’ve seen him
are content to tell you stories

because it’s not the man
we’re chasing now

but the butterfly inside his skull
that raises a storm with a wing-beat.

A Charity Case

I've often thought that I would have arrived a little more as a writer if my publications were to pop up in a second-hand bookshop or a charity shop. Not that it wouldn't be a double-edged feeling, but I always assumed I'd take pleasure in it, knowing how many books I've found in such outlets. Well, yesterday, I had the chance to test that out when my Gaelic tutor told me he'd picked up a copy of Tonguefire in a charity shop. Apparently, it was in the window with several other small poetry collections. Now that does please me. It pleases me even more that somebody who appreciates it bought it, but I can't help but wonder who got rid of it and why ...

While we're on the subject, it seems an opportune moment to mention that HappenStance is soon to go to press with a new pamphlet of my work, in time for the reading at the Troubadour towards the end of this month. It's the first in a new series of single-poet samplers: not full-blown chapbooks but 10 or so pages of poems with slightly more substantial biographical information on the back. The print run is 150 copies, but it's not a limited edition in the official sense. My sampler will reprint "Tonguefire Night" with some slight revisions from the version published in Tonguefire alongside six newer poems. It's a tight little selection, if I do say so myself, and I'm looking forward to launching it in London.

The Visible Image

Interesting short post about Christianity and poetry on Todd Swift's blog Eyewear. Swift says:

Christian poetry, in Britain, has become nearly as invisible as God - partially due, no doubt, to the fear on the part of would-be practitioners of such verse, that such discourse would lead away from the irony, or ambiguity, expected (or required) of poetry now, towards something too dogmatic, earnest, or even, "too emotional".

I'm not exactly sure that Christian poetry is that invisble. Of course, it largely depends on what Swift means by "Christian poetry", which he doesn't define, and my reluctance to agree with his assessment might in large part be due to my being an enthusiast and practitioner.

However, I wouldn't call the career of Michael Symmons Roberts, for instance, invisble. Let's not forget that his collection Corpus, which is profoundly Christian in its concerns and imagery while also being fresh and contemporary in the same, won the Whitbread poetry prize in 2004. Nobody can understand Michael's work properly without understanding how it arises from and interacts with his Christian faith.

Perhaps it might not be so obvious that another Cape poet, Robert Crawford, is a Christian, but a reading of his work with this in mind will shed light on the impetus for, and imagery of, a number of his poems. Les Murray, of course, while not being a British poet, is still a well-known figure in these islands and, again, Christianity is a strong feature of his work. Then there's Gillian Allnutt, who might be best described as post-Christian but cannot be described as anything other than a religious poet.

I wouldn't call that invisble.

Swift also says:

Christian poetry... needs to engage with the difficult, the tentative aspects of its style, its subject area ... - appropriate, since language, too, is invested with the same problematic, indeterminate elements as faith. It is only the (empirically or theologically) strident that needs to be resisted, not writing which seeks, inquires, and, importantly, ethically engages, with the mystery - and yes, often the beauty - of existence.

Well, that seems to me to be a reasonable description of what the above-named writers are up to, in different ways and with different musics; it's also not a bad description of what I aim for.

Perhaps the invisiblity Swift feels is less to do with the degree to which faith shapes the poems contemporary Christian writers produce, the way it shapes them or how that shape is received in the wider poetry--which I have generally found to be warm--than with the growing blind spot in wider society's knowledge and understanding when it comes to Christian, or any other, faith. The challenge for religious poetry in this society is not only to do what Swift says above but to find ways of doing it that neither ignore the riches and depths of religious traditions nor lean on them in a lazy, uncommunicative fashion. That said, Swift's small contribution to bringing into wider view the possibilities of contemporary poetry with a Christian perspective is certainly most welcome.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Troubadour Poems: DA Prince

DA Prince was born in Leicestershire of Welsh parents in 1947. Her book, Nearly the Happy Hour, published this month, is the first full-length collection from HappenStance.

What time is it, Mr Wolf?

Mr Wolf has eyes creased tight, his fists
balled into dumplings, concentrating
on the rules. Today he’s learned thistles,
a difficult door-handle, excuse me,
crackle of the cornflakes packet, the cat’s nose,
broccoli, striped curtains, woodlice,
the smell of doormats. He has eaten
half a boiled egg, toast with Marmite
(but left the crusts), a banana.

The sun tickles like a blanket, the sort
his aunt keeps spare in a wheezing wardrobe
where sneezes hide. He knows
he mustn’t laugh at the sun’s fingers
but keep as still as church. He wants to feel
how they creep closer, mummy, daddy,
inching like grasshoppers, like the giggle
that can’t be stoppered. He’s got to get this right,
listening in puckered darkness
for the tilt of shadows,
for light splitting open,
for Dinner time!

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Putting the Brakes on the Breaks

The Sunday Herald reports that the SNP Scottish Government is abandoning its manifesto pledge to provide Irish-style tax breaks for artists, musicians and writers and, instead, conducting a substantial review of arts funding in Scotland. It's hardly a surprise that it should ditch the tax plans: the Scottish Parliament doesn't have the powers to implement them anyway and it was always extremely unlikely that the UK Government would enable such a scheme to proceed.

With the bill to merge the Scottish Arts Council and Scottish Screen into Creative Scotland going through the Scottish Parliament now, perhaps it's an opportune moment to review arts funding. Interesting that this news comes hot on the heels of the SAC's latest funding announcements, with significant cultural institutions, including Scottish Language Dictionaries and the Scots Language Centre, receiving none of its three-year "flexible funding". If the review results in more cash to go round, that would be welcome. We'll see what it comes up with.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Troubadour Poems: Tom Duddy

Tom Duddy teaches philosophy at the National University of Ireland, Galway. He is the author of of A History of Irish Thought (2002). His first collection of poems, a chapbook entitled The Small Hours, was published by HappenStance in 2006.

Side Street

I don’t often pass through this part of the city,
though it’s on my way uptown as the crow flies.
I don’t feel at home here, or streetwise - it’s cold,
even when the sun is warming the chimneys,

and dark to boot. My footsteps lose their beat,
the paths are so skewed, so irregular here.
The people are not the same as mainstreet people -
a woman comes dashing out of the shoe repair

(Heels-While-U-Wait) shop and cries Sorry; pieces
of burnt paper float from somewhere behind me,
and the man loping rapidly ahead of me
without looking back shouts Shag off, will ye!

(but not angrily) at some guys just out of range
of the corner of my eye. They say nothing at all,
these guys, as the loper increases his lead,
nor do they overtake me. The hot sharp smell

of burnt paper darts to the back of my throat,
and I think a small fragment, like a green flake
of distemper from the wall of an old porch,
has landed on my shoulder, but I can’t check

or be seen to brush it off. Stepping into mainstreet
is like returning through the looking-glass without
a moment’s notice -- shoppers tucked in behind me,
not a thing on my shoulder, slight catch in my throat.

What's New on Tonguefire