Thursday, October 30, 2008

The News Agenda

Never mind Brand and Ross, this is the real entertainment news (and this is the really interesting bit).

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

A busy weekend ahead with this year's Linlithgow Book Festival kicking off on Friday. I'm particularly looking forward to the workshop I'm running and to Alistair Findlay's reading on Sunday. Alistair is one of Scotland's sharpest voices and a hugely entertaining reader. He's an unusually political writer for this era and can be a bitingly funny commentator on our culture and society. Not to be missed, I'd say.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Green and Gold

It's really been a week for new audiences. Wednesday morning was filled with meetings about a Scots language poetry project in Bo'ness Academy. They lasted longer than I anticipated and ended up running into the afternoon but some extremely useful and exciting stuff came out of them. The project gets going in earnest on Monday; I might say something about it over at The Skraich, time permitting.

In the evening, I scurried off to Edinburgh for the Golden Hour at the Forest. First time I'd ever been at it so I didn't quite know what to expect but I liked what I found. It was packed, for one thing. I haven't seen that many people, let alone that many people under 40, at a live literature and music event for some time. I've obviously been in the wrong place!

Anyway, I was first on, which was good because I was knackered, what with this week's travelling, meeting and being up late preparing for a busy family weekend ahead. But you can always count on the adrenalin to waken you up a bit. And the peppermint tea helped (I know, I live dangerously). Here's what I read:

1) The Invention of Zero
2) Coronach
3) Lullaby
4) 45 Minutes
5) Man With a Dove on His Head
6) The White Dot
7) The Melody At Night, With You
8) In Praise of Dust

It's the aftermath of a pile-up involving Monday's two sets but it worked well and the Golden Hour crowd liked it. I sold one pamphlet, which is respectable, especially as prospective purchasers would have had trouble locating me merging into the books in the corner (the only place near the stage I could find to perch when I arrived). And an audience member sent me a lovely message on Facebook Friday morning saying how much they'd enjoyed it.

Train timetables, tiredness and small children's getting-up times being what they are, I couldn't stick around for the whole night, but I managed to hear most of it. And I really liked what I heard: Beyond the Pale, a five-piece klezmer band; Asazi in a storming acoustic set; short story writer Tracey Emerson; and, of course, the Nite Fite cartoons. All ably compered by Ryan Van Winkle, better known to this blog as the Scottish Poetry Library's reader in residence.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Food and Ink

Got back on Saturday from a much-needed family break in Northumberland, then it was off to St Andrews on Monday for my Inklight reading, stopping off en route in Edinburgh for lunch with fellow HappenStance poet James Wood.

With a bit of time to kill between lunch and my train to Leuchars, I popped into the Scottish Poetry Library to do some final set building and have a quick read of James's "Song of Scotland", in the current issue of Poetry Review. I must go back to the poem. Seeing it on the page confirmed my impressions on hearing him read from it at the Mirrorball gig the other week. It's very strong, hugely entertaining and lays down a barbed challenge to a number of lazy attitudes and assumptions on both sides of the border.

St Andrews being a slightly awkward place to get to, I opted to stay overnight. The train, of course, ran somewhat late, so there was only just time to check in at the B&B before dashing round to The Grill House for a quick meal with Laila and Charlotte from the Inklight committee (£10.95 for two courses and a drink on their early evening menu; recommended) and from there to the venue.

The reading was in the North Hall of the All Saints Rectory (a Scottish Episcopal Church building I remember from previous StAnzas). An intimate room, shall we say, but all the better for that. The audience of about 20 people, mostly students, pretty much filled the seats. I really enjoyed reading to a mostly new audience, but it was great to have Brian Johnstone, Paula Jennings and Anna Crowe there too.

I read two sets, all but two of the poems coming from The Ambulance Box. The first set focused very much on the poems of loss and grief at the heart of the collection. And, following the convention Rob A Mackenzie began, here's the list:

1) The Invention of Zero
2) His Wading Light
3) A Voice is Heard in Ramah
4) Down Darkness Wide
5) Coronach
6) Saxifrage
7) Dream Family Holiday
8) 45 Minutes
9) Lullaby
10) Notes to Self

Hardly light, I confess, but the audience was attentive and very appreciative. It's always particularly pleasing to get good feedback from a set of those pieces.

The second half was shorter, less intense and more of a rag bag:

1) The Meisure o a Nation
2) Cardiac
3) Man with a Dove on His Head
4) The White Dot
5) Spanish Dancer
6) Improvisation for the Angel Who Announces the End of Time
7) The Melody at Night, With You
8) In Praise of Dust

This lot went down well too; laughs and chuckles in all the right places! I'd never read "The White Dot" before and was pleased how well it worked. Not only that, I sold six copies of the sampler pamphlet.

Unfortunately, there wasn't time for a question and answer session after the reading, but a handful of us sauntered to the pub after the Inlight committee had locked up. We had quite a good-going discussion about, among other things, Don Paterson's opinions on the connections between sound and meaning.

I had a great time, rounded off well the next morning by a hearty cooked breakfast and a chat with the other guest at the B&B, who turned out to be a regular StAnzagoer (and thanks for dropping by here already, Di).

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Salt's Poetry Bank

This being national poetry day, it seems a good time to wave Salt's new poetry book club, The Poetry Bank, under your nose. If you like the look of the Salt lists, you'll like this:

From just £40 you can subscribe to Salt’s Poetry Bank for one year and receive the following benefits:

  • Four luxury, first edition, hardback books, selected for you by our own Editor, delivered to you POST-FREE

  • 30% discount on ALL Salt books, including our full range of short stories, poetry, translations, companions, guides and critical books, and our gift books and anthologies

  • A FREE copy of the unique full-colour gift book Poets in View by Chris Emery as a welcome present to new subscribers

Looks like a pretty good deal.

And the Winners Are ...

Mick Imlah, Kathryn Simmonds and Don Paterson. No real surprise on the main Forward prize and possibly not an enormous surprise on the best poem prize, but Kathyrn Simmonds's win in the best first collection category seems to have been unexpected. To be honest, I can't really comment, not having read any of the winners (for the nth year running!), so I'll leave the commenting to my fellow poetry bloggers. So far, of those I follow, Rob A Mackenzie and Matt Merritt (who was at the award ceremony and has a poem in the Forward anthology), Colin Will and Todd Swift have commented. As others pitch in, I'll update this post and continue to extend the list. There will probably be some discussion of the merits/demerits of the choices on this Poets on Fire thread.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Poets on Radio 3

I love the work of Michael Symmons Roberts. He's one of the finest writers in Britain at the moment and quite possibly the best religious poet we have. This year, he has published two books: his second novel, Breath, and his fifth collection of poems, The Half-Healed. Both fine books, of which I intend to say more in due course. In this coming Sunday's Sunday Feature on Radio 3, he'll be exploring why elegy is such an enduring poetic mode. Apparently, he

talks to poets Douglas Dunn, Michael Longley and Gillian Clarke about their own elegies and discusses with Andrew Motion the challenges of writing elegies at times of public mourning. Michael writes a series of elegies to the elegists of the past and asks whether, in the way it captures lost moments, objects and people, all poetry is elegy.

Michael's radio style is distinctive and interesting. Should be worth hearing.

Another fine poet and novelist, John Burnside, was the guest on Sunday past's Private Passions, also on Radio 3. I like the programme for its focus on music, as befits its home. Burnside's choices are varied and beautiful; his comments on them typically intelligent and illuminating of his sensibilities and insights. Definitely worth listening to on the iPlayer before next Sunday's edition expunges it.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Inklight Reading: Venue Details etc

Details for the St Andrew's reading are just in:

Venue: The North Hall, All Saints Rectory, North Street, St Andrews, Fife KY16 9AQ
Date: Monday 20th October
Time: 7:30 pm - 8:45 pm, Refreshments served at 7:30pm.
Entrance: Inklight members £2, non members £3.

I'll be reading from the manuscript for The Ambulance Box. Not the first time I've read from the collection, but it's the first substantial reading I'll have done since I assembled the manuscript in its current form. (And, incidentally, the first one ever where mine is the only name on the bill ... )

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Catch-up Time

Busy busy busy at the moment here. It's good busy, though. I've proofed my proofs, sent 'em back and had author photos taken for the book (of which more in due course); I'm gearing up for Linlithgow Book Festival and this month's various readings; and I'm working on a Scots language writing project in the secondary school in a neighbouring town. Somewhere in among all this, I prentend to find time to breathe.

Anent LBF, we're delighted that we have our first sell-out event: there are no more tickets left for Christopher Brookmyre's reading on the Friday! There are still tickets left for everything else, but don't delay. And don't forget the open mike reading at 8:30pm on the Saturday night, which I'm hosting.

Speaking of readings, the first of my October run was the St Mungo's Mirrorball HappenStance showcase on Thursday just gone. Turnout was decent despite the less than friendly weather. It was especially encouraging to see some folk who were at the event Helena Nelson and I did at the Mitchell Library for the Scottish Poetry Library a while back and to learn that that had been a significant point for at least one of them.

As for the readings themselves, it was an evening of great contrasts in style of writing and performance, but with a lot of good work. That's the glory of these gatherings. There were eight of us reading--myself, Michael Munro, Patricia Ace, and James W Wood; Paula Jennings, Eleanor Livingstone, Margaret Christie and Rob A Mackenzie. I'm only going to pick out the highlights of the evening for me.

I was very, very impressed with James's new long poem, "The Song of Scotland". It's been published in the latest Poetry Review and, to judge by the excerpts he read, such high-profile publication is well deserved; it's a strong, imaginative, distinctive piece of writing. A rant, yes, but there's a great pedigree of those in poetry. James's HappenStance pamphlet is well worth getting hold of, and I must buy his latest, which is published by Linlithgow-based Jane McKie's Knucker Press.

It was also particularly good to hear Paula Jennings again. Her pamphlet, From the Body of the Green Girl, was so hot off the press it had been pressed into her hand that evening and isn't on the website yet. I like her inquisitive sense of craft, form and line; her quiet confidence and her imagination. Paula was a Shore poet for a while, and it's a shame she was unable to continue as part of the group.

Helena Nelson read only two poems: one at the beginning and one at the end. The latter was a lament for Duncan Glen in ballad form and in Scots. Very brave of Nell, as she's from Cheshire, but she pulled it off beautifully (and I don't say that lightly). She's writing some extremely good formal work these days. The evening was, also, in a way, a celebration of Nell's energy, her skill as an editor and what she has achieved with the press. That's as it should be. She never ceases to amaze me.

There was, of course, an added sense of celebration, given that Rob and I were both reading not only from our HappenStance chapbooks but from the manuscripts of our forthcoming Salt collections. In publishing our pamphlets, Nell undoubtedly gave both our writing careers significant boosts towards that goal, so our celebrations and successes are also very much hers.

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