A trip to Millom… and a poem for Norman Nicholson.

May 26th, 2015

I don’t usually post my own poetry on this blog*. To do so would be considered ‘publication,’ and mean that any poem I posted here would be one less for me to send out to magazines, journals or contests. That’s not me being over-protective, I promise: I just write slowly. I need all the material I can get, if I am to successfully follow the Jo Bell Method!

However, I have been aware that new folks coming to this blog will easily get a sense of things like how much I love cake, what kind of books I read and how often my writing time is interrupted by procrastination… but they might not get a sense of the sort of poet I am. I ought to give people at least a few hints. Also, this weekend I wrote something I thought might especially suit this blog, which often acts as a place to recap my adventures. This poem is partly about a recent adventure, so… here it is!

This weekend I visited Millom for the first time. Cumbria is one of the places I call ‘home,’ yet I’ve spent very little time exploring anything west of Coniston Water (partly because I often rely on public transport). But West Cumbria — although geologically very different to the lake country, and much more industrial — has many charms, and I have been particularly keen to visit Millom as a pilgrimage to one of my now-favourite poets, Norman Nicholson. Norman was a self-identified ‘provincial poet,’ who fought his entire life to be recognised by a literary establishment that scoffed at him for staying in his little Cumbrian town and writing about the concerns of the working class people — mostly iron miners — who lived there. I find his life story, as well as his poetry, extremely inspiring, so went looking for him, and wrote this. Bear in mind… it’s still new!

*

A day’s work
for Norman Nicholson

I drive through villages
called The Hill and The Green,
by the prison, follow
the sandbagged, tidal river

and arrive in Millom.
From owert top in a hot
May, Black Combe was not
the Mordor you’d described.

The estuary lopped off the land
in a big V. My mother had warned,
it’s still a bit spit
and sawdust out that way.

My ancestors, the not-all-that-
long-ago Coles, lived locally
for the ironworks your poem
dismantled famously.

From the pavement, I see
the brickwork in your window’s
shot; the cafe now living
in your shopfront is shut;

your blue plaque a bit gubbed
with rust and gull shit;
the library’s Norman Nicholson Room
one shelf and a sign.

This is Cumbria, like you
always said: keep your daffs,
your Windermere, your slim
white boats and Londoners,

this is it. The women
in the churchyard say
he never did a day’s
work in his life
, when I

mention your name, their town’s
most famous son. I looked
for your grave so I could say
Norman, nothing’s changed —

the Coles all died young,
and pattern this hillside
like earthworks, stubborn
old roots — but the women

don’t know exactly where
you are. Just that you’re off
up the top somewhere,
in a plain spot, looking out.

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Some of the Nicholson-related things I saw on my Millom trip…

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

As well as being ill-received by some in the literary establishment, Norman also pissed off council officials and local hob-nobbers by writing candidly about things like the Windscale disaster and the closing of the Millom ironworks. As a result, a posthumous campaign to name the Millom Reading Rooms after him was repeatedly denied… but a compromise was reached in the form of the Norman Nicholson Room, which is inside.

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

Iron mining was hard, horrible work that killed a lot of people. This monument in Millom’s town square recognises this fact… and includes a plaque to Norman Nicholson, too, though the townspeople do (or at least, did) think he was a layabout who needed to do a day’s work! (Probably true of most poets, right?)

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

I really did fail to find Norman’s grave, in spite of the vague directions given to me by a gaggle of local ladies who were manning a flower display in the churchyard! However, I did get to see his memorial window, which is absolutely stunning and includes lines from his poems.

Norman Nicholson pilgrimage

Here’s the house Norman lived in from his birth until his death. He wrote all his poems in the little stick-up room at the top. The blue plaque describes him as ‘a man of Millom.’

*you can see a list of my poems in other places, though, by clicking here.

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

30 before 30: the first year! 21: Discover new vegan eats

May 25th, 2015

Remember my massive ‘before I turn 30 to-do list’? I’ve been doing particularly well on no. 21 — eating a ton of delicious vegan food! Here are just some of my recent edible discoveries (NB: they’re mostly cake)…

Recent vegan eats
OK fine, not a new discovery, but this is my favourite thing to eat ever. Lovely Boyfriend’s own vegan thai cashew and peanut satay.

Recent vegan eats
Also cooked by Lovely Boyfriend — aka my personal chef — were these Tibetan momos, or vegan dumplings. So good… and so pretty!

Recent vegan eats

Recent vegan eats
I tried a brand new banana bread recipe. Went pretty well!

Recent vegan eats
Another new recipe for me was this East Coast Coffee Cake from the PPK. Crumbly!

Recent vegan eats
This is Earthy’s vegan rhubarb and almond loaf. A m a z i n g with a nice cup of tea… something I want to try and recreate!

Vegan eats
My first effort at vegan cookies (double chocolate), kind of half-made-up from an old non-vegan recipe. Pretty good but they need some more tinkering! (Like my Aynsley porcelain tea plate? Got it for 20p in a rummage box!)

Vegan eats
I found out that Peter’s Yard do vegan pecan pie and I can’t believe I didn’t know that before!

Recent vegan eats
Remember I was promised vegan options ‘coming soon’ when I went to the Secret Herb Garden last year? They delivered! This is vegan lemon tart… that’s a lone clove on the top, not a bug!

Recent vegan eats
Vegan chocolate and almond cake at Henderson’s at St John’s… this fuelled me through a stint doing the door takings at Shore Poets!

Recent vegan eats
Lastly, I’ve done a few versions of these chocolate and double-peanut-butter vegan cupcakes, as they’ve proved pretty popular…

Recent vegan eats
…they’re chocolate sponge with molten peanut butter in the middle and peanut frosting. This is the ‘fluffy’ frosting…

Recent vegan eats
…this is the smooth frosting.

Recent vegan eats
Lovely Boyfriend’s reaction says it all!

Not bad for a year of eating…!

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Things I Love Thursday #103: springtime days out in Edinburgh edition

May 21st, 2015

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Hi Spring! Last time it was York… here’s what I’ve been up to in Edinburgh lately.

The Botanics

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Is there a better day out on a fine day in spring in Edinburgh than a stroll around the Royal Botanic Gardens? I am pretty sure there isn’t, and I am super lucky to live less than five minutes away from the Botanics’ East Gate. My sister and I went on the perfect day… within a week, the rhododendrons in pic one had already started to drop their flowers. The Kazakh pear, which is the frothy white blossomed tree in pic three, has since had all its flowers blown off and its now focussed on fruiting. And the big tree with the white buds in the last pic is in full leaf! I love wandering the same paths throughout spring and seeing the rapid growth.

The Secret Herb Garden

Secret Herb Garden, Old Pentland

Secret Herb Garden, Old Pentland

Secret Herb Garden, Old Pentland

Secret Herb Garden, Old Pentland

Yes, I have written about The Secret Herb Garden (one of Edinburgh’s best-kept secrets!) before, but when I went last time it was October, and a lot of the stock was starting to be taken into the polytunnels for the winter. Going back in spring was always on the cards and it really is very different when all the plants are back outside, beginning to grow and stretch and bud and smell amazing!

Secret Herb Garden, Old Pentland

Secret Herb Garden, Old Pentland

Secret Herb Garden, Old Pentland

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

I don’t know if I mentioned everything last time… like, they sell garden tools and supplies! I really wanted this vintage chair from the greenhouse! And of course, we returned to scratch the ears of their resident pigs!

The best part was finding a comfy, sunny seat in the greenhouse and settling down with Mark Doty’s brand new collection, Deep Lane. It’s his best yet and that’s coming from someone who thought he literally could not get any better. Buy it, buy it, I command you. It’s especially perfect for garden reading, as many of the poems are about Doty’s own garden.

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Lovely local adventures

I keep passing the window of Maison de Moggy and spotting the kitties sunning themselves, which always makes me smile (according to the website, the two cute kitties pictured above are brothers, named Marcel and Phillipe!). Speaking of smiling…

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

Recent Edinburgh adventures...

There’s someone in my neighbourhood — Inverleith, Canonmills area — who’s been going around chalking positive, inspiring messages all over the place. I love it. My favourite is “ignore the boos, they come from the cheap seats.” I’ve been carrying that phrase with me. Other things they’ve chalked include “Smile!” and “Be kind to strangers.”

I don’t know what you think about graffiti, but I generally love it… and I love that someone has livened up one of the benches in Inverleith Park by scratching a stanza from this anti-war poem into it. The refrain is, “I am a hero, I am a hero.”

…and the last photo is not from Edinburgh, but it’s also wordy and made me smile. I was in Penrith recently, having a cup of tea in the lovely Wordsworth Bookshop and Coffee House. There was an exhibition of calligraphy going on, and this hand-lettered paper plate was one of the exhibits! This is an expression I associate with my gran and her many pearls of wisdom, and I was so impressed by the handwriting I had to get a photo.

What are YOU loving this week?

Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Can you give a beautiful typewriter a loving home?

May 18th, 2015

Long time no blog, friends! What have I been doing? Well, if you follow my Twitter you’ll know that one of the things I’ve been doing is buying typewriters. I made the mistake of joining the Facebook group Antique Typewriter Collectors not that long ago, and since then have become addicted to looking at the typewriter-related bargains my fellow collectors have scooped on ebay, Gumtree and in thrift stores. I guess it was only a matter of time before I got bitten by the bug and started picking up new machines left, right and centre.

So yeah… my collection is growing, and my house is small, and I am trying to have a one-in, one-out policy. So that means I’m looking for loving homes for a couple of my beloved typewriters. Can you help?

1. THE UNDERWOOD MASTER

My typewriter collection!

This is my Underwood Master. He dates from around 1940 and is famously the model that was massively scaled up into a house-sized version for the 1939 New York World’s Fair. You can find a bit more information about the Master model — and see its typeface — here.

My typewriter collection!

My Master is, admittedly, a bit scruffed up. Because he’s not one of the machines I use all that much, I’ve let him get a bit dusty, which I am rather ashamed of. He also has a bit of a wonky space bar, poor thing… but still types. You just need to get the knack.

My typewriter collection!

At the moment, you’ll see there’s no ribbon fitted (the ribbon that came with this typewriter had long since dried up, and I don’t see the point of passing on a useless old ribbon to the new owner!). Ribbons are easy to come by on ebay and elsewhere, so if you wanted to get this guy typing, I don’t think it’d be difficult.

My typewriter collection!

My typewriter collection!

My favourite thing about this machine is the little drop-down cover on the front, that lets you see the mechanism inside. There’s also a nice ribbon-spooling mechanism, controlled by a small winder on the side of the typewriter… pretty unusual!

My typewriter collection!

All in all, this typewriter is a stunner… if you just want a machine to make your office / living room / shop / cafe space look great, he’s ready to go. If you want a reliable typer, he just needs a bit of TLC to get him back in full working order. Want him? Check out the options below.

Choose shipping

2. THE UNDERWOOD NO. 3

My typewriter collection!

This is my Underwood No. 3. He’s a proper antique, dating from the mid-1920s. I’ve managed to find a serial number on this machine: it’s 688456-14. This is a cousin of the Underwood 5, the typewriter Allen Ginsberg would eventually use to write some of his best known poems. Here’s some more information about the Underwood 3, and some of the sub-models. Mine has a 14 inch carriage, which is a little wider than usual.

My typewriter collection!

How pretty is this typewriter? Sadly — though perhaps not surprisingly, given its age — it’s taken some knocks and so the gilt paint and decals are not quite what they were. There’s also some rust, dammit. In its current condition, this is a display piece, for sure!

My typewriter collection!

I’m told that rust remover, car polish and toothpaste can do wonders to turn a typewriter like this into a going concern once again. I don’t have the time or the mad skills, but I also don’t want to just chuck this guy. Look at those lovely white keys!

My typewriter collection!

If ^this doesn’t outface you, then a) you’re awesome and b) I’d really like you to give my Underwood a good, loving home!

Although the condition isn’t as good as the Master, the price is the same… the No.3 is older, prettier, and more collectable, which is why! Here are the details:

Choose shipping

If you really want to take one of these guys off my hands, but you’re too skint to cross my palm with quite that much silver, I will happily consider an offer. Just drop me a line to claire[at]onenightstanzas.com!

Happy typing!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

More reasons to Write Like A Grrrl!: spaces on the May course

April 27th, 2015


(Photo credit)

You must have been living on the moon (with no wifi, obv) if you haven’t noticed that I am running a(n amazingly fun) all-female fiction course in Edinburgh at the moment! It’s called Write Like A Grrrl!, the Edinburgh version started in January, and I have already posted some responses to the course from the women who bravely signed up for the first round.

I’ve just finished the second Edinburgh Write Like A Grrrl! course and I don’t think it’s at all an exaggeration to say that it’s going from strength to strength. I have loved teaching both ‘blocks’ and meeting the wonderful women who signed up — and I am now booking for a third course, starting on 12th May.

Here’s what some of the March/April ladies had to say about Write Like A Grrrl! Edinburgh:

Talking things through and getting different perspectives is so helpful. Meeting other really cool writers has been amazing… if you are serious about getting serious about writing, it’ll kick you into shape. I’ve written more in six weeks than I had in the previous six years. I don’t want it to end.

The chance to speak informally with like-minded people and be reminded that the first draft won’t be perfect but it’s important to keep going… I’d wholeheartedly recommend it. Even if I never write another word (which won’t happen!), I wouldn’t regret taking the course.

It’s been a great kick-start for me and I’ve enjoyed forming our group and sharing the experience with others. Getting the basics has also been so helpful as I’ve not done creative writing since school, and found the idea of other creative writing courses intimidating. This felt relaxed and accessible. Thanks, Claire, it’s been ace!

Do it! It cures all self doubt. It stops you from being your own worst critic.

I would say that it stops you from procrastinating and makes you get on with it. It’s not a passive course – don’t expect to be spoon-fed. There is work! But it’s excellent. And I doubt there is anyone who actually manages to finish it and not feel that [writing] is something they can do, and even enjoy doing!

I always found it hard to even start anything. I’m now looking at things differently and finding inspiration in the oddest places. I would say that it’s a great way of getting started on the road of writing… if you’re stuck, this will pull you out.

You can’t procrastinate forever. Just do it – this course will make you do it, but you have to do the course!

Hearing that other people have similar blocks was so reassuring… Absolutely do this course! You’ll learn so much, not only about writing, but about yourself as a writer (and you are!) in a supportive, accessible format. There’s nothing to be afraid of, and everything to gain.

Sound good to you? The new May/June course is booking up fast, but there are a couple of spaces left. If you fancy grabbing one of them, just click here and scroll down for instructions!

Not in Edinburgh? Write Like A Grrrl! can also be found in London, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol — just check out the right hand sidebar at this page!

See you there, grrrls?

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

UPDATED! Where is Claire? Readings and events for Spring 2015!

April 19th, 2015

I’m going to be reading words at people from stages across Edinburgh and Glasgow this Spring! Come and find me…

Inky Fingers Open Mic Night: April
Tuesday 7th April, 8pm, Forest Cafe (Edinburgh)
Inky Fingers say:

We want to hear from YOU. We want your poems, your rants, your ballads, your short stories, your diaries, your experimental texts, your heart, your mind, your body. We want the essay on your summer holidays you wrote when you were four, your adolescent haiku, and extracts from your eventually-to-be-completed epic fantasy quadrilogy. We want to hear your best new work as well. And we want people to care about the way words are performed.

Aaaaand you’ll get to read with me, ’cause I’m the booked headliner person for the night!

Best Scottish Poems launch, Aye Write! 2015
Sunday 19th April, 7pm, Mitchell Library (Glasgow)
So as you’ll know if you follow my Twitter, I was PRETTY DARNED HAPPY to have my poem Bad Moon selected for the SPL’s Best Scottish Poems anthology (this is the third time I’ve been picked! 2008 and 2009 too, baby!). I’ll be reading that poem at this event, alongside some brilliant other folks including JL Williams and Richie McCaffery.

Shore Poets: APRIL (the open mic night!)
Sunday 26th April, 7.15pm, Henderson’s at St John’s (Edinburgh)
Every year Shore Poets hosts an open mic night in April — this one is already full, I’m afraid, as we had people signing up as early as September last year! However, I’ve seen the list of performers and can tell you, you’re in for a treat. I’ll be the Shore Poet on the night, which means I’ll also be reading a set!

Illicit Ink: The SEX Show!
Sunday 3rd May, 8pm, The Bongo Club (Edinburgh)
OMG CN LESTER IS PART OF THIS! Is that not all you need to know? In case you need more (wtf), there’ll also be readings from the holy trinity of hip young everywhere-at-the-moment Glasgow writers Alan Bissett, Kirsten Innes and Kirsty Logan. I’ll be reading ranty feminist poems about things like witchcraft, burying bodies and setting things on fire. Yay? Here’s Illicit Ink’s website, and here’s the Facebook event in which I am billed last because I am OBVIOUSLY the least interesting performer.

Hot Tub Astronaut: Launch!
Thursday 7th May, 7pm, Sneaky Pete’s (Edinburgh)
Hot Tub Astronaut say: “Please come to help us launch the beginnings of Hot Tub Astronaut and its project to foster a creative community and to facilitate all kinds of innovative making. Hot Tub Astronaut publishes contemporary words, images, sounds.” They do indeed! In December, they published one of my poems as their first ever creative output (woo!) and they’ve since published many a fine writer on their e-zine. Now, they want to spread the word to more folks and a launch is the way they’re doing it! Not all the acts are announced yet, but I know you’ll be able to come and hear me and the Great Colin McGuire for sure. Entry is a bargainous £2 and you can buy your ticket on the door, or here at Eventbrite.

10Red (or TenRed… I am never quite sure!) June
Wednesday 3rd June, 8pm, Persevere Function Rooms (Edinburgh)
I am always happy to be invited to read at 10Red, one of Edinburgh’s most reliably excellent live literature nights. I don’t yet know who else is on the bill, but please do come along to see me, and doubtless 9 other bloody excellent people. There’s also the increasingly famous mega book raffle, and entry is a very reasonable three quid.

The Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Issue Launch
Thursday 4th June, 7pm, The Voodoo Rooms (Edinburgh)
I am so excited to have poetry featured in The Dark Horse once again, and this time in the sure-to-be-amazing 20th Anniversary issue! I’ll be reading alongside literary GIANTS Alasdair Gray (yes, really), Douglas Dunn (OMG) and Vicki Feaver (I am not worthy) at the Edinburgh launch. Apparently tickets are already flying off the shelves, so to speak, so if you want to come then grab one asap!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #143

April 10th, 2015

Most poets don’t write a poem a day. For me it’s a very sporadic activity. Until recently, I thought “occasional poetry” meant that you wrote only occasionally. So there’s a lot of waiting, and there’s a kind of vigilance involved. I think what gets a poem going is an initiating line. Sometimes a first line will occur, and it goes nowhere; but other times—and this, I think, is a sense you develop—I can tell that the line wants to continue. If it does, I can feel a sense of momentum—the poem finds a reason for continuing. The first line is the DNA of the poem; the rest of the poem is constructed out of that first line. A lot of it has to do with tone because tone is the key signature for the poem. The basis of trust for a reader used to be meter and end-rhyme. Now it’s tone that establishes the poet’s authority. The first few lines keep giving birth to more and more lines. Like most poets, I don’t know where I’m going. The pen is an instrument of discovery rather than just a recording implement. If you write a letter of resignation or something with an agenda, you’re simply using a pen to record what you have thought out. In a poem, the pen is more like a flashlight, a Geiger counter, or one of those metal detectors that people walk around beaches with. You’re trying to discover something that you don’t know exists, maybe something of value.

BILLY COLLINS IS MY HERO (thanks Lucy for sending me this)!

Fail Safe: courage and the creative life < - I NEED THIS RIGHT NOW. (Wow. I’m starting out CAPSy this week!)

Give your writer friends gifts that they’ll actually appreciate. They’ll be grateful, trust me!

In 2013 for example The London Review of Books posted reviews for books written by only 72 female authors as opposed to 245 male ones. The New Yorker came in at 253 female to 555 male and the Times Literary Supplement (with far more male reviewers than female) also fared poorly in the equality stakes with male 903 and female 313. This given that over 80% of fiction is bought and read by women.

Get angry about literary gender inequality with the great sense-talker Sara Sheridan.

I’m afraid to say I rather enjoyed Writers You Want To Punch In The Facebook.

Reminder! Scottish Book Trust wants to read YOUR story about an important journey.

Descriptions of my work get more and more diminished until someone at the Library of Congress says that I am “easily understandable.” Actually though, compression is the opposite of what I do: what interests me is so remote and fine that I have to blow it way up cartoonishly just to get it up to visible range. My technique is something like using a hammer to drive a needle through silk.

This interview with Kay Ryan is so good. So, so good. I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed reading something so much.

I love this story of one of the most infamous London book thieves of all time!

There’s a poem by Dan Mussett on the Moth Magazine at the moment. Dan was one of my fav Edinburgh poets… then he went wandering and became one of my fav wandering poets.

I remember I hadn’t read very much, but then the school got a library, and I picked up Joyce’s Dubliners. I remember reading it late into the night. By the time I got to ‘Ivy Day’ and ‘Grace’ I didn’t really know what was going on. It was quite disorientating. But I made it to ‘The Dead’, and something happened. I’d never had an experience like it before. The last pages, as the snow comes in… I know it sounds corny, but it was an epiphany. And I thought: ‘I’m having this’.

Here’s Alan Gillis — great poet, great critic, Edinburgh Review editor and my former PhD supervisor (yay!) — talking about why he writes, what he writes about and lots of other interesting stuff.

…and also from the Edinburgh Review, here’s a wonderful poem from Graham Fulton.


Here are two of my favourite male novelists, Michael Chabon and Neil Gaiman, talking together about another of my favourites, the great Terry Pratchett. As wonderful as it sounds. (Neil Gaiman also wrote a great blog about TP’s passing.)


These kids are super, super inspiring, and made me smile. I want to make a bottle top mosaic for my garden, now!


This is really very silly, but it also made me LOL, so I thought I would share it with you!


Finally, I love the earnestness and honesty of Edith Zimmerman talking about antique jewellery in this video. A lot of what she said really resonated with me — these kinds of ideas inform my running of Edinburgh Vintage, too.

You should read this! Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism anthology

April 6th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to Glasgow Women’s Library’s brilliant Mixing The Colours Conference 2015. Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism is a groundbreaking project, which has been running for about two years now, funded by the Scottish Government and designed to get women talking about one of Scotland’s most taboo subjects. The conference was an amazing day of discussion, performance and ideas, but importantly, it was also the launch-day of the project’s amazing anthology of women’s writing.

I’ve also been working on a project designed to tackle sectarianism: until just a few days ago, when the project reached completion, I was the Project Co-Ordinator for Scottish Book Trust’s graphic novel project Walk The Walk. I worked reasonably closely with staff from Mixing The Colours throughout that project, and so came to see clearly the various ways in which women’s voices have traditionally been erased from discussions about sectarianism.

Think about it for a second. When you read a newspaper article about a story relating to sectarianism, what is the accompanying photo usually of? Chances are, a stand full of male football fans. Perhaps a line of police personnel in their yellow jackets. There might be the odd female face or two if you squint closely, but traditionally, sectarianism in Scotland is considered a “men’s issue,” and all too often, seen as synonymous with football. I’m sure you’ll agree that this hurts men as well as women.

Thankfully, we now have the truly amazing Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism anthology to add to the conversation. It features poetry, memoir, fiction and drama, all exploring individual women’s responses to their experiences of sectarianism. My favourite story is ‘Paddy,’ written by Ethyl Smith — a bittersweet tale of a young girl who is unwittingly caught up in the sectarianism that exists between two of her adult neighbours, all because she wants to be friends with a wee dog. But every piece in the book is brilliant, and important, and merits reading, re-reading and sharing.

You can get a look at the book by heading over to Glasgow Women’s Library’s stunning new(ish) home in Bridgeton, Glasgow. GWL is located in what was once the Bridgeton Men’s Reading Room, which I find rather delicious. The Mixing The Colours team have also been steadily gathering a collection of other resources that examine women’s reactions to sectarianism, so while you’re there, you can browse the whole lot.

Finally, the Mixing The Colours film gives a taster of what’s inside the book, and as you can see from my conference notes above, gives plenty of food for thought! Here’s a trailer:

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

You should read this: Hallelujah for 50ft Women

March 31st, 2015

Content note: discussion of sex essentialism.

If you know me at all, then you know I like a good women-only space. I’m currently teaching on the brilliant all-female fiction writing course Write Like A Grrrl!; Making It Home was an almost entirely all-female endeavour; and although I love working with folks of all genders, there’s something a bit special about getting a room full of self-identifying women together and seeing what they can achieve.

For that reason, I am pretty excited to have a poem in the brand new Bloodaxe anthology Hallelujah for 50ft Women, which is edited by the [in]famous female performance troupe Raving Beauties. It’s a pretty stunning looking book, as I’m sure you’ll agree — I’m loving the purple colour, and the typefaces!

The theme of the book is ‘women talking about their relationship(s) with their bodies,’ and my poem, ‘High School,’ is kind of about body dysmorphia, kind of about female competition, but also kind of about the fact that I knew a bunch of really bitchy girls when I was a teenager. I was pretty gobsmacked that it got picked, and even more gobsmacked when I saw it included alongside such truly legendary poets as Lucille Clifton, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Sharon Olds and Grace Nichols. Also in there are Warsan Shire, who’s everywhere at the moment and seemingly exceptionally cool, and Patricia Lockwood, of the brilliant — and mega-viral — poem Rape Joke.

I’d really encourage you to buy this book for the truly wide-ranging variety of poetic voices therein. The poets in here are some talented women and their work deserves reading. However, I feel I must apologise to my trans, genderqueer and non-binary friends for some of the content from the introduction. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be read as essentialism, but I did feel a bit queasy about the “all women have cunts” overtones in there. I mean, yay for female bodies, and yay let’s not be squeamish about them! But had it been my introduction to write? I’d've been underlining the important fact that not all women’s bodies look or behave in the same ways, or have the same bits.

Happily, I believe the poems themselves make it only too clear that women’s bodies are all different, and all awesome — in fact, they’re awesome in their differentness to one another. Have a read! You might well discover a new favourite female poet!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #142

March 27th, 2015

York March 15 (13)

Certainly the PBS still loves it some authoritative dude poetry. I helped out with a criticism workshop the other day and we were discussing a review of Harsent by Michael Hulse, which started out by listing Harsent’s achievements and using words like ‘magisterial’, ‘masterful’, ‘universal’. One of the other folks said she didn’t feel like there was room for the reader to make their own decisions… That’s kind of what I mean when I talk about the ‘aggrandising’ stuff; when the poet’s so big there’s no room for the reader. Why bother having readers when you’ve already decided how you are going to be read? It’s dull and usually comes bearing nostalgia for the time of Great Men. Which is fine if you’re in a position to be a Great Man.

Dave Coates, aka the most sensible poetry reviewer around, was interviewed by Hinterland and he spoke SO MUCH TRUTH. (If you read nothing else from this post, read this. Really.)

The new Scottish Book Trust public participation campaign is now open! The theme is “Journeys” — send SBT your journey-related story and it could end up in a book!

Check out these cheeky book “recommendations” from mischevious Waterstones staff!

I’ve always wanted to belong to the city of ideas, and it seems to me that membership of such a city is often incompatible with the other kinds of membership on offer along the way. Choices, or compromises, have to be made, and I find myself more and more inclined to say no to some invitations as a way of saying yes to to something closer to that ideal. I found it liberating to refuse both the Poet Laureate’s invitation to write a poem for the Queen’s Jubilee in 2012, and the Poetry Book Society’s attempt to include me in its Next Generation promotion of emerging poets this year. It’s not that I don’t want to be read, or that I object on principal to the business of actively seeking a readership. The question is one of context—do I feel happy in those groupings, in those lights? Do I want to be marketed as “young” and “new” and “sanctioned by”? Am I prepared to curtsey to the Queen, figuratively or otherwise? Do these things, these appointments, sit well with the actual poems I’m writing?

FRANCES LEVISTON IS UTTERLY GREAT.

I both do and do not agree with Ms Trollope here. Discuss.

Related: In case you’re feeling depressed about the fact that one of the Scottish Children’s Book Awards was just won by a 21 year old (a deserving one — well done Alex McCall!) here’s a list of twelve authors who weren’t published til later in life.

People who complain that creative writing courses produce relatively few writers don’t complain that history degrees produce few historians, that music schools produce relatively few world renowned soloists, that art departments don’t necessarily produce a lot of major artists. I spent 16 years in schools teaching art. Are people asking how many of those are ‘great’ artists now? I sincerely can’t see why writing is different from any other art.

So that guy wrote that article about Creative Writing MFAs, which I [largely] totally and utterly agreed with… but I agreed even more with George Szirtes’ response. (I’m contrary like that.)

I have seen so many lovely, touching tributes to Terry Pratchett online over the last few days… but among my favourites were xkcd’s cartoon and Chris Riddell’s wonderful drawing.

OMFG, Kindle Cover Disasters is… amazing.

Of writing itself, Rilke wrote: “Depict your sorrows and desires, your passing thoughts and beliefs in some kind of beauty—depict all that with heartfelt, quiet, humble sincerity; and use to express yourself the things that surround you, the images of your dreams and the objects of your memory. If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself, tell yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for to the creator there is no poverty and no poor or unimportant place.” All writers know this problem. A poor workman blames his tools, and we have only two: language and experience.

This essay on Rilke and ‘writing from the middle of things’ is pretty excellent.

Have you read Barthes’ Death of the Author? Here’s a pretty cool discussion on it.

Calisthenics for writers is pretty hilarious…

Your Chicken Leg Hut Performance Art will explore the idea that women can never win when it comes to their appearance; in a culture of pervasive misogyny, there will always be something “wrong” with how a woman looks. It will also ask its viewers to examine their own internal biases with regards to the objectification of women. Divorced of their context, are the chicken legs simply things? Or are they body parts deserving of love and respect? Remember that there are no right answers to these questions.
Plus you will be running around like the fucking boss of the forest in your hut on legs.

Feminist advice from Baba Yaga is pretty excellent.

You really ought to read these extracts from Citizen: An American Lyric, by Claudia Rankine, which just won a National Book Critics Circle Award.

Do you say “in a weird way”? Do you know why you say it?

It’s critical to understand that this isn’t censorship, but rather that these are amendments not permanently made to an already-published text. But the question is raised: What damage could be done to a writer’s intended vision in the name of this cleanliness?

Someone’s invented an app that will take all the swears out of any book. EYEROLL.

You might have seen this Forty Portraits in Forty Years post floating around… it is wonderful, touching, inspiring.

I LOVE Jessamyn (thanks to Lucy for introducing me to her) and I love this easy morning yoga routine she’s put together for Buzzfeed.

What is a writer’s freedom?
To me it is [hir] right to maintain and publish to the world a deep, intense, private view of the situation in which [zie] finds [hir] society. If [zie] is to work as well as [zie] can, [zie] must take, and be granted, freedom from the public conformity of political interpretation, morals and tastes.

[pronouns changed by me because they were all needlessly male]
^This is Nadine Gordimer on what freedom to write really means. Pretty good, pronouns aside.

I want to be ALL of these people when I grow up. …and related, here are some more excellent women.

Celebrities standing up to fat-shaming. As it should be!


The lovely Jane Alexander is launching her first novel… check it out!


Author Cesca Major created a writing webseries which is now done — this is video one and you can see all the rest here.


And the brilliant Sasha just introduced me to Australian feminist songstress Courtney Barnett and I. love. her.

Have a great weekend!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!