Tuesday, January 27, 2009

West Lothian Writes

The West Lothian Writes event at Bathgate's Regal Theatre a week past Friday was a really good evening, very ably compered by Ellie Stewart. There was a mix of poetry, prose and even film script (!), with several really good pieces of writing and several strong performances, as well as one or two that weren't perhaps exactly to my taste. Certainly, there was nobody there who seemed to be under the impression they were delivering a masterpiece when they weren't!

One set that particularly stood out for me was the children's poetry from John Wilkinson (not, I hasten to add, to be confused with the John Wilkinson published by Salt). He was very self-depricating about it being silly rhymes, but they were extremely well-written, vibrant, imaginative silly rhymes. Not at all easy to do well. There's no doubt the man's a real writer.

West Lothian Writers plans to run such events three or four times a year, and I'll certainly be going back to them.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Gone to Press!

A quick update on the progress of The Ambulance Box: the book went to press on Friday! I can tell you, that was an exciting moment. It was made even better by the fact that I shared it with Rob A Mackenzie, whose collection The Opposite of Cabbage was sent to press at the same time. And, as you can see from the link, Rob's book now has a webpage too.

Happy Birthday, Mr Burns

Technically, I've let the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns's birth pass without comment, but I could hardly let it pass without mention, even if a touch belated. I'm not going to regail you with an online immortal memory; I'll simply point you in the direction of one of my favourite pieces of Burns.

I love "A Poet's Welcome to His Love-Begotten Daughter" -- or, in its unbowdlerised title, "He Welcomes his Bastart Wean" -- for a number of reasons. First off, its mixter-maxter of swagger and sweet tenderness. So typically Burns. He can't resist thumbing his nose at convention even as he's expressing how fatherhood has bowled him over.

Secondly, it demonstrates the flexibility of the Standard Habbie (better known, but less accurately so, as the Burns stanza). It's tempting to think of that form as fit only for the satirical and comic poems that Burns so excelled in. After all, it's the stanza of "Holy Willie's Prayer" and "To a Haggis". But, in this poem, it proves itself equal to the task of containing and shaping the conjoined tenderness and bravado. And there's some great rhyming.

Thirdly, giving this as my favourite piece of Burns in a BBC Radio Scotland competition won me a copy of the Linn complete Burns songs recordings! A fantastic set of discs.

At the link above, there's a good reading of it, taken from the BBC's project to record, gradually, all Burns's poems and songs. I'd have wished John Gordon Sinclair to read "faither" instead of "father", but he hits the nail on the head when he uses the fricative in "unsought for", "fought for" and "unwrought for", rightly taking his lead from "dochter".


Another Burns link, but less striclty Bardic: The Falkirk Antonine Friendship Link will be holding their 2nd Burns Supper on Fri Jan 30th at 7.30 pm, in the Christian Centre, Glebe St, Falkirk - with apropriate music and food. This year's speaker will be Gene Stolzfus, founder and Director Emeritus of Christian Peacemaker Teams. CPT maintain trained Violence Reduction Teams in several parts of the World, including the Hebron area and Iraq (where four of a delegation were held hostage two years ago, and Islamic Peacemakers were established). Gene had been asked to talk about "A Casestudy in Peacemaking: Iraq", but also to refer to Israel/Palestine - no doubt this will include Gaza. Admission by donation, all are welcome.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Upcoming Readings

Just a quick note on readings I'll be doing in the coming weeks and months.

This Friday, I'll be among those making their six-minute appearances at West Lothian Write! at the Regal Theatre in Bathgate, sometime between 7:00 and 9:30pm. It should be a good night, if the standard of the work and performances by the other West Lothian writers who came to the Linlithgow Book Festival open mike is anything to go by.

Rob A Mackenzie and I are reading at St Mungo's Mirrorball on Thursday 5 March. There'll be one other poet on the bill besides us. It might be Brian Whittingham, but that's yet to be confirmed last I heard. I'll give more information when it becomes available.

Rob and I will also be launching our respective collections on Wednesday 11 March at 7pm in the the Scottish Poetry Library. I'm also having a Linlithgow launch at the Black Bitch Tavern at 8pm on Saturday 28 March.

I'll be on the Golden Hour stage again on Wednesday 22 April. I'll let you know more about that when I have the details. Should be a really good night, though, if the October one is anything to go by.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Hadfield on Today

The Today programme's interview with Jen Hadfield is here, along with all the recordings they've done of the other shortlisted writers. Worth a listen. She sounds a touch tired. Good on her!

Seeing the shortlist again just emphasises how stunning a success this is for her. Not just for her, but for the younger poetry generation(s). Somehow having the faces there gives it all the more impact. There's almost something of a Dr Who moment to it, not only because Jen Hadfield is the youngest TS Eliot prizewinner ever, but because of how young she looks next to everyone else. (She's only three or so years younger than me, but somehow it feels like she younger still.)

There's certainly a sense of excitement around the UK poetry world -- or at least the corners I frequent, virtual and otherwise -- about this award. A sense of something genuinely fresh happening. Todd Swift says it's the next best thing to an Obama moment, which feels accurate, overblown and very slightly churlish all in one to me.

Here are some links to other bloggers' perspectives: Katy Evans-Bush, Rob Mackenzie, Matt Merritt (I'll add to this if and as I spot any more).

Monday, January 12, 2009

The Nearly No Has It!

Jings, as my dad might say, Jen Hadfield has won the TS Eliot! Andrew Motion describes her as "a remarkably original poet near the beginning of what is obviously going to be a distinguished career", an assessment with which I wouldn't quibble*. Nigh-No-Place is certainly an interesting, stimulating, rich book. The prize must be an enormous boost to Jen Hadfield, given the company of winners she now joins.

*Quibble is such a fine word, don't you think? Only, it sets me in mind of that scene from Blackadder Goes Forth in which our eponymous antihero prentends to be mad in an attempt to escape the trenches. Wubble! as much of my generation is wont to exclaim randomly.

Mick Imlah 1956-2009

Mick Imlah, whose second book of poems, The Lost Leader, won the 2008 Forward prize for best collection and is shortlisted for the TS Eliot prize, has died. He was only 52.

Timor mortis conturbat me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Me, Themselves and I

Rob Mackenzie has blogged about using personas and characters in his poetry. One of the points he discusses is the degree to which a reader is likely to equate the I of a poem written in the first person with the writer. Anyone who writes in a persona -- anyone who writes, I suspect -- knows that the poem can go places and say things its writer doesn't necessarily think or agree with. One way round that is to use the second person, but I don't really like that. I've tried to explore the reasons for that dislike here.

Is it, I wonder, more common for people to equate the first person with the writer when they're reading poetry than when they're reading fiction? I have to say I was once guilty of making that lazy assumption more often than not, but that time is long gone! Certainly, anyone properly familiar with the techniques and approaches of contemporary poetry is unlikely to assume automatically that, just because a poem is written in the first person, it directly reflects the experiences and/or opinions of its writer.

Of course, the reverse is also true: just because a poem obviously employs a persona doesn't mean it is no reflection of the writer's life. "The Apple's Song" by Edwin Morgan strikes me as a good instance: it is very much like his love poetry in tone and language -- so much so that I want to say, "his other love poetry" -- but is written in the voice of an apple in a fruitbowl. I don't know whether Morgan felt that affinity as he wrote the poem, whether it was intentional or one of those wonderful creative accidents, but the connection is undeniable. And there are several reasons why that love-lyric impulse might have been pushed through the monologue form, consciously or (more likely) unconsciously.

As readers, we have to make the judgment writer by writer and poem by poem. But we also have a responsibility to take into account the rest of the writer's work, as far as we can know it. For writers, the problem is perhaps less to do with the use of the first person for a (semi-)fictional persona and more to do with the publishing of individual poems here and there in magazines and, perhaps, anthologies, divorced from the context of the rest of their work. That's one reason why the poetry collection is such a good thing.

(Did I mention Rob's collection is also coming out from Salt? 1 March: it's this year's day, people!)

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