Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Dear Poetry Newbies: quit procrastinating!

Monday, January 14th, 2013

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

Procrastination. You know, that thing where re-cataloguing your record collection or washing all the skirting-boards in your house suddenly seems really important? Here’s how to beat it.

1: Start.
When you have a task or tasks that you’re avoiding, for whatever reason, it’s often just the thought of getting started that’s daunting. It may be hard to do, but just sit down, shove everything else out of your mind, and start. Even if you can only write a title, or the first sentence, it’s something… you’ve given yourself something to work from. Get something done; knowing you’ve started can make all the difference, because that task is no longer “to do”, it’s “in progress” instead.

2: Make a timetable.
When I had my PhD thesis to write, I found I couldn’t empty my head of all the other stuff that I “should” be doing — laundry that I’d previously been happy to leave spilling over the top of the washing-basket, sorting out my bank-statements, writing to people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, etc. Of course, none of these things were essential, but my brain wouldn’t let me focus on my essay-writing until I’d removed these distractions. In the end, I made myself a timetable. I wrote up a mental list of all the “other stuff” I needed to do, and then spent a full morning completing these tasks. At 1pm sharp, forced myself to start writing. And eventually, I’d get into it… or maybe I just ran out of “other stuff.”

3: Unplug the internet.
Just about anyone you ask will tell you that the internet is one of the worst distractions there is. It doesn’t just eat into your writing time… all too often it disguises itself as a writing “aid”, so you feel justified in surfing when you should be working. If you’re reading writing blogs or other people’s poems, then surely that’s just research, right? That’s just helping? But you know, deep down, that it’s just not true.
Stop it! Pull the plug! Disconnect your internet… or move to another room, the garden, or anywhere out of range! If you don’t need the internet to do what you’re doing (and chances are, you really don’t), then there’s no reason for it to be accessible. For some people this feels like severing an arm, but try it, and see what a difference it can make!

4: Bitesize it.
As a tutor, I constantly get pupils complaining that they can’t concentrate for long enough to get their revision done properly, and I always send them in the direction of Bitesize. You can browse it by a subject - say, English Lit - and it will break your subject down into its modules: in this case, Reading, Close Reading, Speaking, Writing etc. The students find that it makes their essay-writing and revision sessions so much easier, because they are given managable amounts of work to do at once.
When you find yourself procrastinating, you have to do the same thing. Think about your task. Do you need to write an essay, put together a poem, do some editing? Think about how you could split the task into several smaller tasks. Could you edit a stanza at a time? Write your essay paragraph by paragraph? Doing something slowly is better than doing nothing at all.

5: Don’t go it alone.
You might think that having other people around would be even more distracting, but in fact, working in someone else’s presence can really focus you. Get together, have a cup of tea, talk things over, and then get to work. If someone else is keeping an eye on you, you’re less likely to leap up and say “I think I might just wash the car / clean out the kitchen cupboards / bake a cake” or whatever… and if the other person is working away diligently, you’ll feel the need to keep up. If you can’t concentrate with someone else sitting next to you, or if you can’t find anyone who’s willing to come and work too, just get your partner to look in on you every so often to see if you’re still working, or get a friend to text you for a word-count at the top of each hour. It might feel a bit like being in detention, but it’ll keep you going!

6: Take breaks.
I nag and nag and nag my students constantly about this. Your brain only works at its best for 45 minutes at a time… after that, your concentration starts to flag and the task you’re working on gets less and less of your attention. For that reason, you should only ever work for one full hour maximum before you take a break… and your break should be a proper break, where you set aside at least ten minutes to do something other than the task at hand. Not taking breaks can encourage procrastination, because if you work and work until you’re sick and tired of working, eventually you’re going to get to a point where you walk away from your task and don’t go back to it.

7: Go against your habits.
You may not like working in the evening (or in the morning, afternoon, whenever), but that’s tough luck if your deadline is looming. Your favourite library or internet cafe may be closed, your favourite writing pen might have run out. Deal with it! Don’t let these things become excuses not to complete your task! Procrastination is pressure enough without you placing further limitations on yourself. Even if you do have to work in the evening / in your living room / with a different pen, you’ll be glad you soldiered through once the task is finished!

8: Give yourself an incentive.
For some people, just the idea of getting a project finished is incentive enough. However, telling yourself that “eventually I will have a finished poem” or “some day I will get paid for this commission” or “perhaps this poem will get into a magazine once I edit it” might not be enough to get you worked up to the task. If so, you need some incentive, so think of a way to reward yourself once you’re done. Resolve to treat yourself to a takeaway, a long soak in the bath, a new book or whatever you think will make it all feel a bit more worthwhile. Sit down to work with your reward in mind, and you may well find that you suddenly feel more like putting your nose to the grindstone. No cheating though - don’t let yourself dial for a pizza or step into a bookshop before you’re done. Get the task finished… and then you can mix the relief of finishing with the sweet taste of a celebratory tub of Ben and Jerry’s!


You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

A To Do List For 2013: Why, how, and what.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in December 2008.

OK, as regular readers might have noticed, I am an obsessive list-maker. I make time for a Love List and a Link Love List every week, and New Year is my favourite time — it’s all about wishing and hoping, planning and dreaming, as Dusty would’ve said (or rather, mimed hideously!). I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently rubbishing this kind of thing, but forget it — I am a typical dreamy Pisces, and I need to organise myself well in advance. So I will still be making New Year’s Resolutions (though only ones I know I can keep!), and I’ll also be writing a 2013 To Do List.

Why should I write a To Do List for the whole year?

Well, everyone writes To Do Lists from time to time, no matter how well organised they are… usually when they have a lot on, and it’s important that they get everything done. Well, apply that kind of thinking to a whole year — how much stuff will you have to deal with between now and December 31st next year? Surely it’s a good idea to have a bit of a plan before you start, in order to hit the ground running. You can never be too organised.
Also, a year might seem like a long time but as we all know, you get to Christmas every year and inevitably find yourself commenting on how it only seems like five minutes since it was January. This is why it’s not only important to write down all the achievements of the past year, but also to get ready for the next one, to make sure that the 365 fleeting days are well-spent. Here’s a fact for you: if you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them, so To Do Lists are NOT a waste of time. If there’s something you really want to achieve in the next 12 months, write it down now… it could make the difference between success and failure.

How should I do it?

Prioritise: Maybe you have some goals that you’re desperate to achieve — getting really good exam results, for example. Maybe there are others that aren’t so vital — you’d really like to get your poetry published in a certain place, for example, but if it doesn’t happen you won’t be totally devasted. And maybe you just have some odd little whims that you can take or leave but might try out at some point…
A good idea might be to write three separate lists, or divide your list into three ’sections’ according to your priorities. Don’t sweat the small stuff — but at the same time, don’t forget it either. Put the biggest want for 2013 at the very top of the list in big letters, and keep the airy whims for the end.

Be realistic: Don’t clutter up your To Do List with things that you know aren’t achieveable in the next year. If you start too big you’ll end up disappointed with yourself at the end of the year when you find you haven’t reached you goal — remember, as I said, a year isn’t as long as it seems! If you have a big goal like saving up for a house or writing and publishing an epic six-part novel, you might want to make a separate list for the next five years, ten years or whatever. You can also put slightly silly goals like “note to self: win the lottery” on a fantasy To Do List if you like… just keep them off the serious list!

Expand: If you have a goal but aren’t sure how you’re going to achieve it, you can turn your list into more of a plan. If your goal is to travel for six months, for example, you can note down the steps you think you’ll need to take to get there… “get job / open savings account / save up and stop buying notebooks obsessively (confession!) / book flights in advance” etc. A great big goal can seem a bit scary and unrealistic, but break it down into smaller steps and it will seem less intimidating and easier to achieve.

Share: You might not want to let other people in on your cunning plan for world domination, but showing your To Do List to someone else can make you more likely to get where you want to be. Proving to someone else that you can do it gives you added incentive, and having someone to talk to if the going gets rough is always useful. If you’re feeling shy, just show your best friend or a family member who won’t snigger at the fact that your ambition for the year is to become a professional Cliff Richard impersonator or whatever… or if you’re more confident, get thee to your blog, or better still, spread the To Do List idea around your friends. If they also draw one up you can compare notes and keep one another going!

Display: Once you’ve written your To Do List, don’t just stuff it in a drawer or squirrel it away in a dusty old file on your computer desktop. Put it somewhere you’ll see it often, and make sure you check back every so often to see how you’re doing. It may sound daft, but crossing another thing off your list brings a real sense of achievement, AND if you get to the end of the year with everything crossed off, how awesome is it going to feel?? If your To Do List is out in the open you can also update it as more ideas and ambitions hit you during the year… and this humble piece of paper will serve as a cool memento of the fabulous 12 months you’ve finally put behind you once you get to New Year 2010!

What should I put on my To Do List?

Anything you want. The important thing is that, if you think you can achieve it in a year, you should put it down, regardless of how daft it might seem. If you’re worried about other people thinking you’re nuts, you don’t have to show the list to anyone… and if you end up not achieving the big goal for the year, you can transfer it to next year’s list instead. Nothing is too small for the list, and nothing is too vague. “Finish reading the last Harry Potter” is just as acceptable as “Conquer Finnegan’s Wake,” and “be more confident,” might seem very general, but putting it down on paper is the first step towards getting it done.

Note! The To Do List you make is there to be scribbled all over, torn to bits and stuck together again or chucked on the fire if you so wish. Don’t write it and then assume it’s set in stone. You can add things at a later date, remove things if you change your mind, and tear it up and start again in August if you find your priorities shifting massively. You’re not writing a personal Bible or anything, you’re just visualising goals, which is the first step on the road to achieving them. If, halfway down that road, those goals don’t seem as appealing anymore, no worries. The whole point of the To Do List is that it can — and probably should — evolve. Happy listing!

What’s on YOUR To Do List for 2013?


You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

In 2012, I…

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

2012 journal... nearly done!

You may remember my admission here, in January, that 2011 had not been a very good year. I wrote here — and in my paper journal — that I wanted to reclaim my life from work-related stress and insomnia. I also wrote in my paper journal that I wanted to extricate myself from the politics and cliques of the poetry community (locally and online), and just write. It took a while — nearly all year, with the latter — but I feel like I can now say I managed to do those things. 2012 was a good year, all told. Here’s some of the stuff that happened.

In 2012, I…

* worked as a reader for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for the fourth year running.

* won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, and am about to begin — quite belatedly, which was my choice — my programme of creative mentoring.

* spent two great weekends in York early in the year, and remembered how much I loved it. Going back soon!

* moved from a 0.7PTE contract at work to a 0.5PTE contract, as part of my “reclaim my life!” challenge. Less teaching hours, less office politics, more free time, less stress (also less money, obv, but that’s OK).

* moved into the third year of studying for my PhD in Creative Writing. Switched to a brand new thesis topic for the third time. Probably drove my supervisor crazy.

* delivered a lecture, “Making Poems, Writing Histories, Excavating Myths”, to the Melrose Literary Society.

* went vegan, and I love it.

* scored an amazing haul of SEVENTEEN antique typewriters on Freegle! (Still haven’t got round to starting restoration/reclamation work on most of them…)

* organised an all-female poetry slam to celebrate International Women’s Day 2012. It went really well!

* celebrated my 26th birthday with not one but TWO birthday parties: one a nom-tastic vegan dinner at Zeffirelli’s with my family, the other a fabulous few rounds of cocktails at The Dome with friends. Yay!

* attended the Scottish Women’s Aid Feminist Day School at the University of Edinburgh, and was inspired.

* was shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award for a second time (first time was 2010. I forgot to enter in 2011).

* competed in Literary Death Match (Edinburgh, ep 4) AND FREAKING WELL WON!

* spent a week in beautiful Barcelona, and totally fell in love with the place.

* spent a weekend training to become a Scottish Women’s Aid Community Champion. Possibly the most empowering weekend of my life so far!

* performed in “Dear Glasgow,” directed by David Grieg, at the Traverse Theatre.

* read poems in a magical launderette in Durham!

* spent a long weekend in gorgeous Whitby — surely the most literary seaside resort there is? — with Lovely Boyfriend.

* was introduced to The West Wing, fell in love, and watched all seven series in the space of a few weeks.

* spent ten days in Greece while One Night Stanzas was on hiatus. Visited Athens, and spent a week in a one-room cold-water whitewashed cottage on the tiny island of Hydra. Here’s the view from our room! We went swimming at daybreak, befriended donkeys, made lots of delicious vegan food, and spent tons of time writing, writing, writing. It was great.

* taught Creative Writing at the Scottish Universities International Summer School for the third consecutive year. My wonderful students were Dan, Linda, Sarah, Joanna, Daniel and Jill. You guys were fab!

* had a poem shortlisted in the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Contest.

* went to see George Watsky on the London leg of his Nothing Like The First Time tour. Also spent a fabby weekend hanging out in London!

* organised and hosted One Night Stanzas presents Watskyx2 — definitely my biggest and scariest moment as a poetry promoter! But it went SO WELL, yay!

* went to a ton of great stuff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, including Louise Welsh, Andrew Keen, Alice Oswald’s Memorial event (OMG!), Daniel Franklin launching Megachange, Billy Letford & Sean Borodale and Marina Warner (who I also saw at the International Festival, ’cause I’m a fangirl).

* read poems at Blackwells: Writers at the Fringe.

* attended a discussion that included the amazing Jean Kilbourne, personal superheroine of mine, and met her afterwards! Swoon!

* was employed as a creative facilitator with a local women’s community support group (details redacted!), and I am loving working with these amazing women as they read poems, share stories and unlock their creativity!

* joined the Shore Poets committee and became their blogging/tweeting/Facebooking person, among other things!

* survived root canal surgery!

* got tattooed (again).

* went to beautiful Paris for the weekend with Lovely Boyfriend to celebrate our two-year anniversary!

* helped run Scottish Women’s Aid’s I GET IT campaign, spreading positive messages about healthy relationships to young people aged between 16 and 25.

* wrote articles and reviews for The Skinny, xoJane (two, in fact), the Edinburgh Review (again, two! One’s online here) and The Scottish Review of Books.

* had three poems included in Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poetry from the UK

* spent an amazing day at the Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow, meeting incredible, inspiring women, and being treated to a crash-course in filmmaking, a fashion show, a dance recital and a ton of delicious food!

Favourite photos from this year:

Vegan Noms (1)
Just one of the many millions of photos I took of delicious vegan breakfast/brunch food. I obtained this book upon becoming vegan and it changed my world!

Lovely Boyfriend
Lovely Boyfriend being lovely.

Hooping in the Meadows
I will remember summer 2012 as the summer of hooping in the park with my sister!

Rainbows over Tollcross
I love living in Tollcross — and my top floor, bay-window view! — so, so much.

My SUISS class of 2012
My fantabulous SUISS Class of 2012!

Watsky x2 performers
All the lovely performers from One Night Stanzas presents Watskyx2! Such talent!

Lit 101 students' work
Just when I’m feeling down and crap, along come my amazing students to make me feel inspired again.

Parisian adventures
♡ ♡ ♡

Insane family portrait...
A loopy family portrait.

Visiting the jaw-droppingly gorgeous GiftED sculptures.

& Christmas comes to ONS Towers!

It’s been a great year. I feel I am a million miles away from the place I was in this time last year — phew! I am also extremely excited about 2013 and all that it holds for me. I plan to finish my PhD, put together my first full-length poetry collection (at last!), get more tattoos (yeah!), and start work on a ton of exciting new projects. Wish me luck!

If you want to see what I got up to in 2008, 2009, 2010 or 2011, just click on each year!


You can also visit Read This Press for poetry and typewriter paraphernalia! Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

Monday, December 24th, 2012

My All-Time, Top Ten Movies of 2012

Monday, December 24th, 2012

…in chronological order, are as follows:

The Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place
Actually a 2011 movie, but it didn’t get to the Filmhouse til January 2012. It was amazing to see so much film footage of the mystical Neal Cassady who stars in so much of my most beloved Beat Literature.

Margin Call
Incredible cast, incredible script, incredible everything. Watch this trailer and see if you don’t instantly want to go and buy the DVD.

Apart Together
I saw this amazing movie as part of the Take One Action Festival at Filmhouse. Unfortunately I can’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but hopefully you can get an idea of how beautiful and poignant the film is from this video. The story follows an exiled nationalist soldier who fled mainland China in 1949. He returns an old man to see if he can find his then-girlfriend, who was pregnant when he left. It was made with support from the Chinese government, which is really quite something given its strong political message. I loved it.

The Muppets
Again, a 2011 movie that didn’t get to The Cameo til 2012. Do I need to go into why I loved this, really? Jim Parsons’ cameo was my favourite moment, for sure.

The Artist
Another 2011 movie, but I put off seeing it for such a long time because I was so afraid it would disappoint me. It didn’t. All the hype is totally deserved. I’m now just kicking myself for not allowing more time to see it over and over on the big screen!

The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
I’d have enjoyed this film much more had I not been sitting with my odd sister, who kept squealing throughout about how much the little dodo totally looked like me. THANKS.

Moonrise Kingdom
This is the first Wes Anderson movie I’ve seen, and this, I’m told, is a very important moment in a young girl’s life. It has so much stuff in it I love. Bruce Willis! Frances McDormand! SWINTON! A cute dog! Whimsy! And so I loved it very much indeed.

Leave It On The Track
Easily the BEST MOVIE EXPERIENCE I have ever had. I was at the world premiere of this movie at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the audience was about 90% derby girls. The film was hilarious, poignant and super, super empowering, and being in such a passionate, loopy audience was just fantastic! This is a low budget movie about roller derby made by one guy for his Film Studies thesis. See this instead of Whip It… or if you loved Whip It.

Before I went to see this I made the mistake of reading a comment thread on a blog I normally like, where folks were talking about all the various ways this movie was “problematic.” These were mostly “Scots-American” commenters (as in, my great-great-great-great aunty Mavis lived in Galashiels for a bit and I went there once for half an hour on a coach trip), who were taking umbrage about the film’s portrayal of Scotland and Scottish people. They’d all seen it, so I was led to believe that Brave was an hour and a half of mocking stereotypes and Celtic twilight twee-ness. Turns out, that was bullshit. It was actually GREAT to see a huge Hollywood film that starred so many Scottish actors, actually speaking with their actual accents. As a proud Scot, I loved it, and so did all the Scots I know who saw it.
PS: Er yes, I go and see a lot of kid movies.

My favourite movie of the year. I love Rian Johnson’s work, especially Brick, and I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis and Paul Dano, so I was extra-super-excited to see this. It was the only movie I saw twice and I’ll fight anyone who thinks it’s anything less than freaking excellent. Top class sci-fi actiontastic fiery explosive goodness.

What were your favourite movies of 2012?


You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

“How much does a tattoo hurt?” and other tattoo virgins’ frequently asked questions

Monday, November 5th, 2012

New tattoo!

So as you know, I recently got tattooed for the seventh time: the highly capable Alec Benjamin, currently of Red Hot + Blue Tattoo in Tollcross, was kind enough to make my upper left arm considerably more awesome. (The design is a hamsa / Hand of Fatima / hand of protection.) Now that I have a few bits and pieces of ink on me, I’ve started to get questions about tattoos and tattooing. My un-inked students will spot one of my tattoos and ask about it, or I’ll tweet about the latest on my tattoo wish-list and get a question land in my @ box. There are lots of questions that are repeatedly asked by nervous tattoo virgins, many of them sensible. I wanted answers to these questions, too, when I was a quivering member of the inkless club! So here are my thoughts. Hope they’re helpful!

My chest-piece, inked by Roberto Seifert during his guest stint at Tattoo Zoo, Victoria, Canada

How much does a tattoo hurt?
This is by far the tattoo virgin’s most burning question — and quite right too! It was my most burning question when I was pre-ink, too. Unfortunately, it’s kind of impossible to answer. The pain level varies from person to person: some folks apparently feel pain completely differently to others, so what was excruciating for your just-tattooed friend may be fine and dandy when it comes to your turn. Also, the amount of ouch varies hugely depending on where you get your tattoo. Areas that are notorious for being painful include the ribs, feet and fingers. In general, beware of anyone who tries to compare tattooing to something else for you — “it’s like a bee sting” — or worse, the people who try and stab or pinch you to show you what it feels like! It really is different for everyone.
To be honest, my usual answer to this question is “not that much.” I’ve now been tattooed on my chest, neck, both legs and my upper and lower arms, and the pain level was much of a muchness… and really pretty OK. Think of it this way: tattooed people go back again and again and again to have this stuff done to them. How bad can it be?

Aren’t you worried they’ll look ugly when you’re old?
Not in the slightest. I think this is something you worry about pre-tattoo, and then you get your tattoo, and suddenly it’s not important anymore. This question is in the same bracket as “but what if you want to get a good job?” The answer is the same — and mind-blowingly simple — for both. If you’re genuinely worried about either of these, just put your tattoo somewhere where you can cover it up with something — clothing, a watch, a scarf, your hair, whatever. And if you’re still worried about it, maybe you just aint meant to be tattooed.

Getting Violet, my mermaid, inked by the fantabulous Hilary of Electro Ladylux Tattoo of Vancouver, Canada, in summer 2011

How long does it take to heal a tattoo?
Depends on the tattoo. The smaller and simpler it is, the less time, generally… though I know a dude who has a full sleeve and reckons it healed in one day (NB: he’s lying). But all tattoos go through roughly the same stages. Firstly, it’ll be brand new and kinda shiny and sticky and generally feel a bit gross. This is because it is essentially an open wound, hooray! But you should not be afraid to wash it and moisturise it and keep it happy. I kind of think of a new tattoo as like a graze: immediately after it happens, it’s kind of painful and you don’t much like putting clothing over it, because it’s tender. But then within 24 hours it starts to heal a little and that stuff all feels a bit better.
The next stage is the initial scabbing stage — gross, but necessary. This is the part where you think, ‘whoah, my tattoo’s healing super fast!’, because these big bits of scab seem to be wiping off all over when you put your cream on. Do not be fooled! Next comes the itching stage, probably the worst part of being tattooed. Forget the pain of the needle, and fear the itch! HUGE DEAL: you cannot scratch a tattoo. You cannot peel off a scabby bit. You have got to let it itch and you have got to let the scabs come off in their own time! In the meantime, all you can do is lightly slap the tattoo, which sometimes (sometimes!) alleviates the itch a bit.
Finally, you’ll get additional scabbing, where much smaller, finer bits of ink come off and your tattoo really starts to show through. By this time you’ll probably be fine to touch the tattoo, wash that part of yourself as you normally would in the shower, and even wear abrasive fabric like wool over the tattoo. At this point you should still moisturise, but you’re nearly healed, hooray!
These stages can last days or weeks, by the way. My mermaid took over a month to heal — my little bit of Latin on my right forearm? Only about six days.

My ampersand, inked by the wonderful Jason of Red Hot + Blue Tattoo in 2011.

Doesn’t being tattooed open you up to discrimination?
Folk walk around with this notion that as soon as you get large, visible or multiple tattoos, your life gets much harder. You’ll never get a good job now! People will think you’re violent [men] or a slut [women]! People will question your intelligence/social background/how you were raised etc etc etc. Newsflash: heavily tattooed people have responsible jobs. Alec, my aforementioned tattooist, is literally covered in the things (he even has some on his face) and he used to be an IT teacher. I’ve got a fair few, plan to have more, and I’m a college lecturer. Look at Melissa Kakoulas — she’s an incredibly successful lawyer. Some employers, like the Metropolitan Police and HMV, have a bee in their bonnet about tattoos — but frankly, if they’re that intolerant of difference then do you really want to be working for them anyway? In my experience, folk don’t bother too much about them, as long as none of them are really offensive and you’re willing to try and cover them up if required. As for people who draw conclusions about your sexual proclivities, background or intelligence based on your tattoos? Hooray! Those people essentially just posted a big sign over their heads saying I AM A TOXIC HUMAN AND YOU WANT NOTHING TO DO WITH ME. I always like to know where I stand.

Boy's new ink!
My bestie Leon’s most recent tattoo, based on this poster, done at Tribe, Edinburgh

Don’t you regret it?
I never have. I’ve had a couple of tattoos now — the Hamsa included — done on a bit of a whim. I’ve never regretted any of them. I can’t speak for anyone else, but here’s the weird thing about mine: after a surprisingly short time, I stop seeing them. You know how you don’t really notice, say, your elbows or what colour your eyes are when you look in the mirror? My tattoos are like that, too. They’ve just become part of the landscape. I did have a wobble when I first had Violet the Mermaid inked (see photo futher up this post), mainly because she was my first colour piece and much bigger than the others, but also because she’s topless and has a bit of a saucy bum. But after a couple of weeks of “oo-er I do I really have a naked lady on me?,” she just became… part of my leg. Now, the main times I notice her are times when I buy a pair of trousers or a skirt or a pair of boots that hit just the right part of my leg to show her off. And then I think, “Violet looks awesome!”
I know a lot of tattooed folk and never met anyone who regrets any of their tattoos. I think that’s probably because none of the people I know have ever walked into a parlour and picked some random pink butterfly off a flash sheet and gone, “that’ll do.” If you put some thought into it and make sure it means something to you, that’s a fairly good start. The actual design of my hand of protection — which I vaguely sketched for Alec and then he improvised with — was done on the spur of the moment, but I’d been thinking about a hand of protection and why I wanted one for several months. As long as it’s a meaningful act, you won’t regret it. I think that probably goes for most areas of life!

Any questions I’ve missed?


You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

How well would Edinburgh survive a zombie apocalypse?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

zombie attack


Edinburgh might well prove tricky for zombies to navigate — especially the Old Town. The many hills, narrow closes and staircases might not stop them, but they’ll surely slow them down.

Edinburgh is coastal. Travelling by water is a good way to move fast, avoid gridlock on the roads, and lower your risk of attack. Leithers should get themselves to the Shore and find a boat.

Edinburgh has no underground system, which means no chance of getting trapped underground with the ravenous hoardes (unless you’re unlucky enough to work in the Vaults), and no chance of zombies popping up out of subway grilles.

Edinburgh has a lot of high ground. Is there a better urban vantage point than Arthur’s Seat? Not to mention Salisbury Crag, Calton Hill, Blackford Hill and Castle Rock.

Edinburgh is home to a ridiculous number of students, hippies and geeks. Every one of these people has, at some point in their lives, formulated a What I’d Do If Zombies Attacked plan. A large percentage of the city’s population is zombie-ready.

Edinburgh is damned cold in the wintertime. Some zombie experts reckon zombies would probably freeze in cold weather. If they decided to attack in February, they might well struggle, therefore.

Edinburgh’s city centre graveyards are all very, very old. If these are claw-their-way-out-of-the-ground type zombies, then it’s likely there’d be little-to-no action in Greyfriars or Canongate Kirkyards… there’s no one in them fresh enough.


Edinburgh is a small city. If a human can walk its length in a couple of hours, it won’t take too much longer for a zombie. And if these zombies are the result of an airborne virus, well… basically we’re all screwed.

Edinburgh’s a tricky city to get out of. Even more so at the moment thanks to — cue groan — the tram works. Unlike Glasgow, you can’t just get on a motorway and speed on out. Unless you start from an outermost area, you need to drive through a ton of city before you can get into open country.

Edinburgh’s the capital of Scotland. As a nation, we’re generally unfit and have pretty poor health. We’ve never been known for our military prestige. It’s likely that many of our number will simply crack open the best whisky and try to die of alcohol poisoning before the undead arrive.

Edinburgh’s roads are narrow. When the fleeing begins, the traffic’s going to get pretty crazy pretty fast.

Edinburgh is an unusual city, in that its city centre is as much residential as it is commercial. It’s not like Newcastle, where the looters could just be walled up inside the Metro Centre if needs be: almost every shop is in the same building as people’s houses. And looters be crazy.

Edinburgh doesn’t have much of a military presence, unless the Tattoo’s on. Clydebank’s got warships. We’ve got the Royal Yacht Britannia.

Edinburgh’s two big hospitals are a pain in the ass to get to from just about anywhere.


The Castle: a big-ass castle on top of a big-ass slippery rock with only one road entrance. I’m pretty sure there are at least a few soldiers in there at any one time, and there’s at least one huge field gun that works. Get yourself inside that thing and you’re probably dandy.

Sighthill / Wester Hailes: the outlying area that’s closest to the Edinburgh Bypass and the M8. If you can get out of your front door sharpish, you can beat the gridlock and be in open country pretty quickly. However, this area also has high rises, so if you’re more of a stay-put-and-keep-quiet-somewhere-high-up kinda person, there are also suitable buildings to accomodate you.

The Shore / Leith Docks: see the point under ‘pros’ about travelling by water. Even better if you have your own boat and don’t need to shoot anyone in the head to get one.

Comely Bank: don’t panic, just get to the Police HQ building. They have riot vans there. They probably also have a buttload of guns. And their yard backs onto a Waitrose, so posh food supplies for everyone!

The Banshee Labyrinth on Niddry Street: it’s a bar with only one entrance that’s mostly underground and is basically windowless. It’s also staffed/kept in business by the kind of folks who’ve definitely spent a lot of time thinking about zombie attacks. It’s also full of booze.


Any ground floor or basement flat pretty much anywhere. Get up, or get out.

Morningside: I’ve long held the view that it’s not so much the zombies you have to worry about in a zombie attack, but the other people. Morningside has rich people, which means hunting-shooting-fishing type stores and antique shotguns mounted above pub mantlepieces. Don’t think this is a good thing: everyone is looking for a shotgun and not everyone is going to be nice about sharing. Also, if there is such a thing as a smart looter (I’m not sure), then they’re going to head for where the fanciest goods are.

Princes Street: you’re in the open, on the flat, vulnerable from attack from all angles, and in smack-bang in the middle of the city. It’s going to take you longer to get out than anyone else, and everyone around you is going to go crazy looting or panicking. Dude, you’re so stuffed.

The Quartermile: every building in your immediate vicinity is 90% glass, and the artisan bread you might be able to loot from Peter’s Yard aint going to last very long. Hope the overpriced fancy-schmancy flat was worth it!

Happy Halloween!


You can also visit Read This Press for poetry and typewriter paraphernalia! Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

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A nearly-Halloween hello from Edinburgh Vintage

Tuesday, October 16th, 2012

Cute earthenware Halloween pumpkin lantern candle holder — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Hey you guys, BY THE WAY, I have an Etsy store! (In fact, I have two, but that’s by the by.) It has a ton of lush autumnal lovelies in it at the moment, AND there’s a sale on until the end of October! You can get 20% off anything in the store — even the sale and clearance items — by quoting the coupon code EDINA20 at checkout. Read on for my autumnal picks — or click on the shop homepage to see what else I’ve got!

Pumpkin skirt — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Autumn berries sweater — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Wrap up warm cap — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Gathering clouds sweater — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Fireside sweater — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Bramble overcoat — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Falling leaves scarf — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage

Farmhouse kitchen tea cosy — for sale at Edinburgh Vintage


You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

“Writing to the setting sun”: George Watsky in profile

Wednesday, September 26th, 2012

George Watsky

In August, One Night Stanzas played host to an exclusive spoken-word gig at the end of George Watsky’s Nothing Like The First Time tour. I started a write-up for it, but got bored: it was my own gig after all, and I spent the last three months or so organising it. The man himself is far more interesting. See if you agree.

THE FIRST TIME I saw George Watsky, he was stepping onto the stage at Camden’s Barfly, ready to launch into the penultimate gig of his twenty-four-city Nothing Like The First Time tour. Initially, I couldn’t get over how small he was – at 26, he looks more like a geeky high-schooler than a hip-hop wunderkind. For the gig, he wore an outsize t-shirt with goofy slogan – “dreamers think with their heart” – and a San Jose Sharks cap which he constantly fiddled with, turning it backwards, forwards, backwards again. But if boyish awkwardness has been a difficulty for Watsky in his efforts to get noticed as a hip-hop artist – one of his lyrics registers the complaint, “I’m the best rapper alive / who gets mistaken for Michael Cera everywhere that he drives” – then it doesn’t show. This tiny, funny-looking guy has become one of the genre’s fastest rising stars, thanks in part to the gawkiness that makes him stand out in a scene all too often characterised by macho posturing.

Watsky began to be noticed as a talented performance poet, winning over a dozen slams in the San Francisco area between 2005 and 2006, and scooping top titles at the Youth Speaks Grand Slam and the Brave New Voices International Poetry Slam. He was contacted by HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, and his performance of “V for Virgin,” a poem that advocates remaining chaste in spite of peer pressure, aired in the show’s sixth season. Subsequently, Watsky toured campuses across America, and in 2007 released his first record, the “barely-heard” Invisible Inc. This laid the foundations for the 2010 album Watsky, an eclectic mix of tracks dealing with everything from George’s struggle with childhood epilepsy to his thoughts about the privileges and challenges that come with being a white rapper.

“I spent pretty much all my time and all my money for the last two to three years [making Watsky],” he said at the time. But the hard work paid off: it’s a brilliantly unique hip-hop record, layering whip-smart lyrics over slickly produced, usually collaborative, tracks. ‘Seizure Boy,’ the album’s fourth track and one of the opening numbers at Barfly, starts out as a teenage epileptic’s lament, poking fun at the condition with lines like, “you don’t remember whether you were wetting your gym shorts / in front of Amanda / the girl you’re after / who already thought you were a fucking disaster.” But the song turns into a call-to-arms for all youngsters whose lives are touched by illness: “this is for my sick kids / time to quit this shit / Depakote, Adderall, Ritalin, Pixie Sticks / I don’t give a fuck what you’re writing to the setting sun / use it as a weapon when it’s said and done.” ‘Who’s Been Loving You?’ was also on the Barfly set-list: a real crowd-pleaser, the track serves up floor-filling Northern Soul horns and lyrics like, “this insanity? That’s hereditary / but it’s my family, so we can let it be / wish I’d pretended that my mom and dad are dead to me / but I love my dad, that motherfucker read to me.”

As copies of Watsky began to move, George worked to boost his profile online, building up his Youtube channel by posting self-made videos for the album’s tracks. The video for ‘Who’s Been Loving You?’, which now has 1.5 million views, features home movies of Watsky as a small child. Gradually, these music videos got snazzier, and previously unheard tracks appeared on the channel beside them. One of these was the one-and-a-half minute ‘Pale Kid Raps Fast,’ in which Watsky delivers his lyrics at truly breath-taking speed. The song includes the lines, “I want everybody focussing on getting me to Letterman / to kick it for the betterment of innocent Americans,” and just days after it was uploaded, he pretty much got his wish. The track went viral – it now has over 21 million Youtube views – and Watsky was invited to perform on Ellen de Generes’ TV show on 24th January 2011.
“It’s a video that kind of changed the course of my life,” he recalls. “It gave me this following of people who actually for some reason want to watch my stuff… when I look back, I’m still so excited that it happened.”

Watsky’s appearance on Ellen gave him the boost he needed to take his career to the next level. To meet suddenly-increased demand, he released a flurry of new tracks, most of them collected onto his 2011 “mixtape” – essentially a serialised digital album – A New Kind of Sexy. In early 2012 came a digital EP, Watsky and Mody – but far more exciting for fans was the confirmation that, over summer of 2012, George would be setting out on tour and bringing his music to twenty-two smallish venues across America.
“I don’t know if I can describe to you how stoked I am,” he gushed, confirming the tour in a vlog on March 15th. “This is a dream of mine… a proper national tour. We’re not going to be playing stadiums, but… playing live is the reason I get up in the morning.”

Five months later, I watched George Watsky climb onto Barfly’s fogged stage. Somehow in the intervening period, he’d found a way to get his band across the Atlantic, and added two London dates to the end of his tour. An admirer ever since the Def Poetry appearance hit Youtube, I could hardly contain my excitement as a fairly mediocre DJ warmed up the crowd. I was desperately hoping that everything I’d seen online – dazzling lyrical originality, self-deprecating wit, effortless performance – would translate into real life. Although I was momentarily thrown by the tiny stature of the man who took to the stage, the doubts didn’t stick. Visibly tired from a month on the road and the weight of jet-lag, Watsky kicked off with an emotional thank you to everyone who’d turned out to see him. This was no ordinary hip-hop gig – there was no ego on display, no swagger. This was a scrawny kid who couldn’t quite believe his luck: a bundle of nervous energy delivering a smart, fast-paced, hugely engaging set to an audience almost rabid with adoration. As I glanced around, I realised why he cultivates the goofy teen Michael Cera look. The vast majority of my fellow audience members were shy young blokes, nodding and singing along to lyrics about girl trouble, social anxiety and secretly really loving your parents. My favourite moment was probably mid-set, when the band took a break and Watsky stood alone in a column of spot-lit dry ice, reciting a poem. “Who here likes poetry?” he asked the crowd, and the resounding cheer was accompanied by a forest of skinny adolescent hands. I felt a warm glow envelop me. George Watsky isn’t just a rising star in the hip-hop solar system: he’s making a whole new kind of masculinity acceptable to a new generation of listeners. George Watsky is a hip-hop game changer.

The second leg of the Nothing Like The First Time Tour starts on 3rd November. See for more details.


You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Five small ways to change your recycling habits and save the planet just a tiny little bit more.

Monday, September 24th, 2012


Remember this post? I said at the end of it that I wasn’t going to make ONS All About Poetry any more… so here’s a totally-not-poetry-related post for your viewing pleasure. NB: you should still totally read it.

So… you guys all recycle, right? RIGHT? I like to assume that everyone does, to some extent, because if I did not assume that, I would probably cry and potentially slap people. But although I think most people really genuinely do recycle, it’s pretty likely that right now, most folk are doing the bare minimum they can get away with, ’cause that’s what we humans like to do. HOWEVER, there are several little teeny tiny changes you can make to your recycling habits that will totally make the planet love you more.

1. Recycle the paper off your tin cans
For ages, I used to just chuck used tin cans (that once held beans, soup, etc) into my local recycling bin. Then I read somewhere that — vexingly — sometimes a tin can’t be recycled if it still has food waste in the bottom. This led me to start washing the tins out, usually after doing my washing up — just giving them a quick rinse to make sure they’d definitely stay out of landfill.
One night I was feeling extremely lazy and could not be bothered to go through this process. Instead, after I finished haphazardly washing the dishes, I just dunked the tin cans into the remaining washing-up water and went off to do more fun things. I then forgot about them, and the next morning, got up to find that their labels had unpeeled in the night and were floating atop the now-quite-minging water.
OK, gross, I know. BUT this did mean that I could fish the paper labels out of the sink, leave them to dry off, and then put them into the paper recycling bin. I recently read Edinburgh City Council’s latest recycling handbook and it turns out they actually advise people to do this. Nowadays I always remove the paper labels from cans while washing them out. It takes about fifteen seconds and means double the recycled-ness.

2. Put your envelopes in the right bin!
DID YOU KNOW: you’re not supposed to put paper envelopes in with other paper recycling? ‘Cause I didn’t, until very very recently. Apparently, the gum used to seal envelopes is tricky stuff to get rid of, and paper that’s had the gum on it can’t be recycled as a result. Similarly, window envelopes have glue AND plastic involved. Putting them in with your other paper products means the whole lot could potentially end up in landfill, which makes small furry creatures everywhere very sad indeed.
BUT you can recycle these pesky envelopes — you just need to put them into the right bin. The gum and plastic interferes with the density and purity of recycled paper, but recycled cardboard can cope with it just fine. Therefore, you should put your envelopes in with your cardboard, tins and plastic, where they will be happily accepted into the arms of some big magical machine that turns junk products into shiny new recycled things.

3. Give unwanted stuff to small, indie charity shops.
As a wide-eyed young teenager, I used to volunteer on Saturday afternoons for a Cancer Research charity shop. Even then, before I became a hardcore vegan pain-in-the-ass greenie, I was a bit shocked by the things we apparently “had” to throw out… but as the years passed I convinced myself that times must have a-changed for charity shops. Well… yes and no. Although it does depend on the charity, I recently discovered that many of the larger charity shop chains still have ludicrously strict rules about what they can and cannot sell. Many can’t sell electronic items, or they won’t take clothing or fabrics that are marked, however faintly. Toys and furniture often need to come complete with their original safety labels in order to be accepted. And so on, and so forth.
If you’ve been taking your old togs to a big charity’s thrift store for years, panic not: they don’t just shove everything into landfill. Even in my distant volunteering days, a shadowy figure called The Rag Man used to come around every week or so and take away for recycling any fabric items unfit for sale, and this is still common practice. Also, you can improve your chances of your items being actually sold by taking them into the store during opening hours (many big charities won’t sell on items that have been left on the doorstep for health and safety reasons — a badger might have gnawed on them, or something). But an even better thing to do would be to seek out a smaller, less high-profile charity shop to send your stuff to.
Edinburgh has several such places — there are stores for the St Columba’s Hospice; two Birthlink thrift shops in the Tollcross area; and my personal favourites, the Hospices of Hope shops. Case in point: I recently bought a tablecloth from the Tollcross Hospices of Hope shop, which was priced super low because it was covered in blotches of candlewax (like, really covered). No big charity shop would have put it on sale, but hey — candlewax is super easy to get out, as the Hospices of Hope ladies clearly know. I was able to get a very cute tablecloth for a bargainous price, and they made money for their charity. Smaller charities = less picky = more and better recycling!

4. Find new ways to use old stuff.
Every so often you end up with an item to throw away that you’re not really sure what to do with. A piece of particularly weird packaging, say, or a household item that’s come to the end of a long life. What do you do when you suddenly have, say, a shipping pallet or the bladder out of a wine box sitting in your kitchen? Answer: get thee to Google and look up [item] + “alternative uses.” I promise you, you will be amazed.
Examples? How many of you have a ton of wine bottles sitting around at home? (Don’t lie!) What about vinyl records too scratched to play? An old metal strainer, maybe? Binder clips? Or even — seriously — unused condoms and tampons! THE POSSIBILITIES REALLY ARE ENDLESS!

5. Stop buying new stuff.
I’m actually properly serious. When you buy new, you are almost always:
– Endorsing sweat shop labour
– Endorsing needless animal testing
– Endorsing the use of fossil fuels
– Endorsing dodgy business practices in general
– Paying a huge mark-up on your items
Sorry to get all heavy-handed hippie on your ass, but really. Second hand stores, vintage shops and flea markets are no longer the someone-died-in-this dives they once were. In fact, they’re trendy. Some of them are like boutiques, even! And then there’s eBay. And Freecycle and Freegle, where you get things FOR FREE! Or Gumtree, where you get them for super cheap! These days, 98% of my belongings are second hand and my lifestyle really hasn’t noticed — except I’m way less poor. Win-win, amirite? Pretty much the only things I buy new now are underwear (but only ’cause charity shops don’t stock it!), occasionally books, and stuff that’s local or made by small businesses or craftspeople (hello, Etsy!). Do I sound preachy? WELL GOOD, I AM PREACHING AT YOU. Stop spending money you don’t have on shit you don’t need — the planet will love you!

Got any particularly good DIY or upcycling tips? Recycling solutions? Want to call me a smelly hippie and pelt me with tofu? Head south for the comments box!


You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at] I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)