Archive for March, 2009

The young Scottish poets “problem”: some possible steps.

Tuesday, March 31st, 2009

If you’ve been reading recently, you’ll have heard me banging on about StAnza Festival, and in particular the now-infamous Poetry Breakfast, at which the “problem” of Scotland’s current lack of poets under the age of 40 was debated. For those of you who are new to the issue, the overview is this: no Scottish poet (and the definition of ‘Scottish’ is a slippery thing which doesn’t help matters) has won an Eric Gregory Award in the past 15 years. Few Scottish poets under the age of 40 are currently published by major UK publishers. There seems to be a general lack of young, upcoming poets showing their faces on the Scottish poetry scene. Of course, this might just be a ‘dry spell’ for Scottish poetry… and a fair few people are suggesting this as an explanation. However, over the past couple of weeks I’ve been mentioning this to some of the young poets I know, and they all seem to think that there genuinely is a problem, and there are things which need to be done to provide help and encouragement to them and their peers. These are some of their suggestions, and my thoughts. They are not all logistically workable, and they are perhaps not all totally sensible… but this is what young Scottish poets reckon needs to happen. It makes for interesting reading — see what you think.

1: A series of pamphlets by young Scottish poets, hopefully produced by a major Scottish publisher.
This suggestion was made by Colin Will and has been seized upon by a lot of his readers, myself included. I think it could be incredibly successful, and show younger Scottish writers that attention is being paid to them! However, I have mentioned this to some of my MSc classmates, and they all seemed to be of the same mind: fine, but how open would it be? Would you need to have a glittering CV already? Would a major poetry award be a prerequisite of being accepted? Would there be open submissions? They all reckoned that a pamphlet should be something for poets who are ‘just starting out,’ but wondered whether any major publisher would be willing to gamble on such ‘unknowns.’ The young poets I know all seem to dislike the idea of publication-by-invitation, and wouldn’t be interested in this kind of pamphlet series if it were produced 100% on that basis.

2: More help for young writers from Scotland’s Universities.
The Poetry Breakfast panel spent a lot of time discussing the place of Universities in the Scottish poetry scene and arguing that they needed to do more to encourage young writers — the Writer in Residence scheme was praised but the general opinion was that it was no longer as accessible or effective as it once was. I am just completing an MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and could not agree more: Universities need to do much, much more to help and encourage the writers housed within their walls. I can only speak from experience (and I hear that the Glasgow MLitt is actually excellent in this regard), but my MSc was 100% geared towards ‘how to write x type of form’, coupled with workshopping — great for just-starting-out writers, but with little emphasis given to progressing into the publishing world, getting your work “noticed” or keeping the writing spark alight after the course finished. Something else being discussed over at Colin’s place is a general negative attitude among University tutors towards pamphlet publishing.

3: More (and cheaper) help for young Scottish writers outwith University.
Something my MSc friends have suggested — which rather surprised me — was that they would prefer to have more mentoring, workshopping and reading options outwith University to explore and take advantage of. Andy Philip has suggested setting up something akin to the Poetry School on this side of the border and this suggestion met with enthusiasm among my young poet peers. They said they’d definitely be interested in paying a per-week or per-month fee for workshops if they were led by a reasonably major poet or someone who could steer the proceedings. They also said it would be nice to have some kind of mentoring or critiquing service available in Scotland — something more accessible and more affordable than the Poetry Society’s Poetry Prescription or the occasional pricey services offered by poetry editors. Accessible services like this are surely a good idea — apart from anything else, many young writers choose not to take the creative writing qualification route, and therefore don’t have the opportunity to take advantage of University Writers in Residence or the like.

4: More (accessible) funding for writers.
Right now if you’re a young writer and you want to access funding in Scotland, you have to be willing at the very least to fill in a heck of a lot of forms, and deal with the fact that you only have a miniscule chance of being rewarded for your efforts. At present, financial help — in the form of grants, bursaries, scholarships, prizes or writing retreats and the like — is nearly always reserved for writers who already have a collection, or at least a pamphlet with a reasonably-well-known publisher to their name — that, or for writers involved with complex collaborative projects which “benefit the wider community.” There is little in the way of grants or bursaries for young writers who just need some financial help to allow them to put a first collection together, or who want to pursue a creative writing qualification but can’t raise all the funds required. In fact, the University of Edinburgh’s English Literature Department was recently awarded millions of pounds of additional funding from the AHRC, but when this was announced, the press release carried the disclaimer: “please note that this funding is available for scholars of English Literature only” — this basically meant that Creative Writing students need not apply. One suggestion was that even small amounts of funding be made available for young writers — sometimes £100 can be enough to pay for travel to a writing retreat or to attend a few writing classes. This seems pretty sensible and not totally impossible, either.

5: A more open poetry community and less who-you-know stuff.
A lot of the young poets I’ve spoken to have said that they feel Scotland’s poetry scene is very close-knit, and — whether this is actually the case or not — they feel a little excluded because they don’t “know” the right people, and don’t know how to get integrated. I have to say, I used to feel a bit like this, but have discovered that the blogging community is a great way to find out about events happening in Scotland… and attending these events is probably the best way to get to know people and start getting noticed. I think more effort could be made in parts of the poetry scene to make young writers — who are not always the ‘target audience’ for poetry readings and events — more aware of what’s going on and when, but a lot of events organisers are now starting to use Facebook and Twitter which does bring them a wider, younger audience. Blogzine and magazine editors could also make young and unknown writers feel more accepted by devoting the occasional issue to entirely new writing, putting out open submissions calls and judging work anonymously or solely on merit.

6: More attention on young poets who publish mostly online.
Desmond recently raised the point that there are a lot of young poets out there, but established poets, critics and editors are perhaps not looking for them in the right places. This is a point that has been raised by others here, including Juliet and H. These days, many young poets begin their publishing careers on the internet, through blogs and online zines, many of which get little to no exposure. More praise and attention for online zines like Pomegranate (one of the few which is properly acknowledged by Big Literature) could be really encouraging for young writers and may well make the difference between them continuing to improve and publish their work, and chucking in the towel!

These are just a few thoughts I’ve had, and discussed with friends. You don’t have to be Scottish to enter this debate — if you’re a poet, and particularly if you’re a young poet, I’d love to hear what you think. What encourages you to keep writing? What changes would you like to see in your local/national literary community? Your responses on this topic would be much appreciated so please do leave a comment!

(Photo by Mick_brown)

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Favourite poets from YouTube: Part 3, George Watsky

Monday, March 30th, 2009

OK, I know all the favourite poets so far have been men… but keep watching! For now, enjoy the fabulous vocal stylings of George Watsky, upon whom I have something of a fangirl crush.

V is for Virgin:

See also: Drunk Text Message to God, Carry the One, So Many Levels Redux (worth it for the audience responses! Fangirls like me!), the Blah Blah Blah series (OH GOD Harry Potter geeks at 0:29… evil), F*ck the MC Name (with Invisible Inc. Warning… this is silly, but brilliant spitting), and If I Were President (”yo America — wanna go get a pizza and go to war?)…

Have a favourite poet from YouTube? Let me know!

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Featured Poet Cindy Emch Interviewed

Saturday, March 28th, 2009

So hopefully you’ve already checked out Cindy’s poems in my previous posts, and her site. Now you can find out a bit more about her creative process… and she has some great advice for those of you who are just starting out, too.

Tell us about your poems.
My poetry tends to be about capturing a moment in the visceral. Words that bring up the smell, touch or the deep in the gut feeling of something. We all walk in the world in such different ways, poetry gives me a window into someone else’s experience I love to lose myself in that. I tend to write a lot about intersections. Where urban meets rural, sacred meets profane, how these things that seem to be such extremes actually hold so much of the same passions in them. Bringing together the commonality of our unique human experiences and those magical moments out in the world that are so perfectly different and universal all at once.

How long have you been writing?
I wrote my first poem when I was seven years old. I found a book of poetry and fell in love with the words and so started trying to writemyself. From that point forward I used words and the poetic form
specifically to get my experience across.

Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
I’ve been featured in Outsider Writers, Lodestar Quarterly, Cherry Bleeds, and a few other places. Mainly I get invited to feature as a performance poet around the Bay Area with folks like Sister Spit and a variety of regular lit events. The next stage? I am still writing and have just started two bands, Rhubarb Whiskey & Vagabondage, so a lot of my creative energy is going there right now. I’ve got an offer on the table for a publisher to put out a collection of my work so we’re moving forward with that too, but you know, sometimes these things move slowly.

What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Reading with Sister Spit and then being featured at the Radar Reading Series at the SF Public Library were both huge honors and put me in some poet company that I found very humbling.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
Best thing about poetry is that moment when a piece is finished and you do (what some friends of mine call) the underwear dance. You know you nailed it. You got the moment just like you wanted and it’s the best high ever. Only slightly less is when you read a piece to a room and you can feel the audience in your hand and you finish and you just know, everyone there Got It.
Worst thing? people assuming that because you’re a poet you rhyme a lot. Or folks always needing to remind you that poets don’t make any money. Yea pal, me and ramen are well aquainted. I am very aware of how much poetry pays. That isn’t really the point. Art. Art is always the point.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
Don’t be afraid to perform. You aren’t as good or as bad as you think and you’re bringing something new to the mic so just try it. And if you feel like there is no reading that fits you, no place where you
fit in, start an open mic. Really - just talk to a cafe and start one. You’ll get a crash course in both who your local writers are, and what the challenges of both running a performance and what common pitfalls people hit when they’re performing. It’s more information than any class could ever give you plus it helps build a writing community around you.

Who/what influences your poetry?
Hayden Carruth, Sharon Olds, Li Young Lee, Gwendolyn Brooks, Mark Growden, Daphne Gottlieb, Leah Lakshmi Piepzna Samarasinha, Charles Mingus, Ali Liebgott, Audre Lorde, Garrison Keiller, Langston Hughes, John Zorn, Michelle Tea. I am hugely influenced by music as well as other poets and storytellers. I can write for hours if the right Charles Mingus album is on. It’s unreal actually. I feel like the words just come together with the right music. Lately as I have been improvising more with my own instrument I find the way I think about words and their lyrical nature within poetry changing and getting very very exciting.

A Flower’s Grave
For Mel

You died two months after
you stopped being my best friend

I helped you sneak tobacco
while we ditched church and watched bowling
in a room that smelled old with wood paneling
in a two year old trailer
we set our cokes
on flowered and rickety TV trays

I wasn’t supposed to know
why you moved here
to be closer
to family

I didn’t know
the doctors had already told you
everything
it was 1979
and there wasn’t a lot they could do

So you came to the rural subdivision trailer park
all you could afford
in those golden days
of fall leaves and hot cider

I sat on your lap
strong and safe
i sneak your cologne
and wear it on the really bad days
to remind me of you

Two months before you died
you went into that hospital
where six year olds were not allowed
i never said goodbye
i don’t know how
i still wonder if they’re hiding you
in that old brick monolith
with white coat walls

I hold onto you
a tight knot I hide
under my right lung
held like a secret
fed you with tobacco
the family gift of addiction

i mostly want your pipe
so i can kiss you goodnight
and never let go.

Get featured: drop me a line and a few poems to claire@onenightstanzas.com. Give me a while to respond, and your poems could be here!

(Photo by Kayleesea)

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More from Featured Poet Cindy Emch

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Remember you can also see Cindy’s work at her website. Interview tomorrow!

Meet Me at Three

Meet me at the second hand record store at three
we need some new tapes
some gas
maybe
a map.

sweet baby– oh my baby
how this moving keeps us moving
miles of pavement of asphalt of
american history
of our history

miles miles and miles of fucking and fighting and loving
from Nashville to Memphis to the great
long Panhandle of North Texas and we never stop moving

we switch role to role
driver navigator rivers lakes
water over and through
we
beat the heat
the words
the blister lust of our love
and this need
to wander and explore and find
and love and love and love

the road is wearing wrinkles into your laugh
the mix tape is stretching out
as we drive past the roadkill of our friendship
moving into primal
in sweatsoaked clothes that freeze and chill and sharpen
the farther north we drive
I will race the buffalos in South Dakota
you will shield me from snow in Seattle
before we run down the California coast
redwoods and confederate flags blowing past our dust

And we never really get lost
And we never really get home
this roadtrip doesn’t end
not in a mad flourish with guns and car chases and cliffs
not in a safe collapse on a familiar bed
we are too full of our own futures

Meet me at that second hand record store at three
we need some new tapes
some gas
and maybe
a map.

Want to see your poems featured here? Drop me a line to claire@onenightstanzas.com!

(Photo by Wolfgang Staudt)

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Procrastination Station #31

Friday, March 27th, 2009

Linklistoflove.

Lovely love poems // farewell to poster poems (I am sad) // do you really want books to be life-changing?! // weird etymology // stormy weather // & I am so so so so looking forward to this!!!

In conversation with Ferlinghetti (well worth a look!)

The Syllabary — a poem started in the mid-90s, and still going!

I am still not happy about this guy ripping off my hero…

Writing inspiration, + sparkle.

So you want to be a writer?

Found online this week: a lovely new poem from Amanda Oaks // Smoky stuff from McGuire (+ comments debate!) // at a handful of stones: Skin Deep contributor Christian Ward; former Read This contributor Chloe Waterfield; & former Featured Poet Tom Rendell // Praise for former Featured Poet Morganne Couch from Green Ink // and (very exciting) former Featured Poet, the fantastic Eric Hamilton, spitting some of his spoken word over at the 10K Poets Open Mic under his pseudonym “broken-english” (about 4/5 of the way through, after “The Word Machinist”) — worth finding/listening and waiting for. Killer performance…

…oh, plus: the SPL called me “hip.” Sweet!

100 things to do when you’re sad.

Want to know what $1,000,000,000,000 (one trillion dollars!!) looks like? (via)

Don’t forget to check out my SPL podcast…

and here’s something silly (but impressive!) for you: (via)

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by Che-burashka)

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This week’s Featured Poet is Cindy Emch

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Usually, Featured Poets come to me — I get loads of emails from people interested in having their poems featured here (in fact, I’ve had a big surge of interest recently, so if you’re waiting to hear back, please be patient! It’s taking me a bit longer than normal!). However, when I discovered Cindy’s work, I just had to get in touch and ask her to send some stuff. She’s a writer of fantastic poetry and prose-poetry, and it’s right up my street — quirky, irreverent, beautiful, poignant and funny. Here’s her bio and one of her poems… be sure to check out her site too. More later!

Cindy Emch likes to drive. She currently lives in San Francisco. She is also the lesbian lovechild of of Sally Bowles and Marlena Dietrich, with the heart and laughter of the former and the sophistication and mysteriousness of the latter, and also with just a little naughty undercurrent of the Big Bad Wolf.
She is addicted to road trips and muscle cars, has driven through 43 of the 48 landlocked states and has been in 13 car accidents - none of which were her fault. She can often be found writing highway poems and love letters to her adventures on a daily basis.
Cindy is a writer, accordion player for the bands Vagabondage & Rhubarb Whiskey, and pop culture nerd. She has in the past worked as a park ranger, dog grooming scheduler, pirate radio DJ, college radio DJ, telephone operation, queer open mic host, fry cook, accountant, film festival programmer, film reviewer, hot dog cooker and much much more.
Cindy’s writings have been been published in the Can I Sit With You project, LodeStar Quarterly, There Journal, Tough Girls 2: More Down, Dirty Dyke Erotica edited by Lori Selke, It’s So You: 35 Women on Fashion, Beauty and Personal Style edited by Michelle Tea, and numerous chapbooks. She believes that art can create change in the world and that it’s not so hard to be nice to people. She also thinks that dirt smells like magic and gets lost in the woods on purpose.

Drunken Mermaids

The soundtrack starts with laughter.
It’s always laughter. The full throaty of it. There is no control or contrivance in it. Life pouring out of and back into our lungs. Stories and landscapes of the hearts stitched beneath our skin. I sit in front of an ashy campfire with you. The sky sits close above our heads, stars fogged out by whiskey clouds, our laughter cutting past all of the smoke.

We step foot step foot wander away to clear our eyes, cabaret dancers set to stumble under a sky of magic. There is no careful in this freedom. No fear in our dare. We run with sense asunder, arms locked together hunting for nightswimming.

Clothes hit sand. Flesh hits lake. We gasp in stereo. Sudden intake shock the lungs and the whiskey clouds roll away. Our sounds and songs are quiet the way drunken sailors in alley are quiet. We’re telling our secrets in this water. The stars shudder silver glitter on the water and it’s black dark wonder of safe and mystery all around. Suspended in space and grounded by slippery skin. I hold you up still laughing. Swallowing night water. Swallowing night itelf in long gulping laughs and stories that sound like siren songs.

Goosebumps and fire pull us back. The land reclaims us and takes its price. The beach throws us down and around as we ride sand dune rollercoasters leaving trails of blood between our scattered clothes. We’ve lost your shoes. We’ve lost our balance. Stronger sober arms pull us back to the fire where adventure dries on our skin. The stars shudder more glitter down and I build the fire bigger. Whiskey clouds roll back in. Laughter rolls out. Waiting to seduce us again.

Want to see your poetry featured here? Send a couple of poems and a quick ‘hello’ to claire@onenightstanzas.com — it might take me a little while to respond, but respond I shall!

(Photo by The owls go)

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Things I Love Thursday #31: StAnza special!

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Brilliant StAnza events.
Well, my very first visit to Scotland’s International Poetry Festival was a definite success! The Boy and I got up super-early on Friday morning to get the first bus — the only bus that would get us there in time for the Poetry Breakfast at 10am. I was glad we did this, despite being knackered by the end of the day — the subject of the Breakfast (which took the form of a panel discussion) was Scotland’s current lack of young (under age 40) poetic talent. I didn’t agree with everything, and, if I’m honest, took exception to some of the stuff that was said (by, er, one particular member of the panel, who I won’t name, but who at one point said “young Scottish poets really need to start going against Edwin Morgan’s aesthetic” — er, which one?! — and later, “the young Scottish poets that are out there don’t make the cut, they need to be more dangerous.” Well thanks! A definition of “dangerous”, a seriously ambiguous word, would have been nice, but I guess we’ll all just have to carry on being “safe,” which was what you implied. GRRR). However, loads of really good points were raised, and I could happily have sat and listened to the discussion continue for hours and hours.
Next, we went to see Roddy and the PilotsRoddy Lumsden introducing five of his young proteges and their pamphlets. Again, if I am totally honest, I was a little disappointed with this event — not because of the quality of the poetry, which was generally excellent, but because of the quality of the readings. I feel I’ve missed a trick here — is very serious, monotone reading a new trend? These were young, vibrant poets reading beautiful, sad, funny, sparky poetry… but there was so little emotion in the performance (with the exception of Adam O’Riordan, who read really well — and who you should check out! — though sometimes he was a bit overcome by The Poetry Voice!). I came away really wanting to buy the books and read the poems myself, but not because I was totally sold on them — more because I felt I wanted to experience them “properly.” I’ve heard many a blogger complain that all too often, writers aren’t good readers of their own work, and this really brought it home to me. I suppose these poets are all young and perhaps not too experienced, which does excuse it a bit. Of all their stuff, far and away the best poet among them (for me) was Jay Bernard, whose poetry was poignant, honest, brutal and beautiful. Her reading was actually OK, just very quiet!! Check her out, though — she’s brilliant.
Totally the opposite in terms of reading: next we went to have a pie and a pint with Kevin Cadwallender (for reals! We got a free pint and a Scotch pie! Boy was pleased), who is just downright awesome. He read a fantastic variety of his work, from his very first book — which I have never seen, but I loved the stuff from it and will have to seek it out! — up to his brand new one. His work really bridges the boundary between page and performance like no one else’s, and his pieces are observant, funny, touching and true. You really, really ought to grab one of his books if you can — I’d highly recommend either Colouring in Guernica (from Red Squirrel Press, who are publishing my pamphlet soon!) and Dances with Vowels, his latest from Smokestack.
We spent the afternoon listening to Alan Gillis — first of all, lecturing on Wallace Stevens (with Jenny Bernholdt lecturing on Lorine Niedecker at the same event), and secondly reading some of his newer work alongside Julia Copus. I know Alan is my tutor and so I have to be nice about him, but I really do love his poetry, and I’m absolutely in awe of his ability to hold the attention of an audience, even when reading really long poems or sequences of poems. I heard some of his sonnet sequence, which I’ve heard before and absolutely love — I don’t think it’s in book form yet, but the sooner the better! Alan’s a master of sound and rhythm, and you really have to hear him read to fully “get” the nuances of his work, I think. Really brilliant stuff. A word on Jenny Bernholdt too — her lecture on Lorine Niedecker was brilliant. I haven’t seen a lot of Niedecker’s work, but what I have seen, I really enjoyed. Like a good lecture should, it left me really wanting to find out more about Niedecker and read some more of her work.
The Boy and I also paid a quick visit to the open mic at the end of the day, although I’d totally forgotten about it and (thought — I later found some poems in my bag!) I hadn’t taken anything to read. Nancy Somerville read her brilliant Bucket of Frogs poem from Waiting for Zebras (another Red Suqirrel book), and Swiss also took to the stage and read a great piece. Being absolutely shattered, we left by about 11 (we also didn’t want to wake up the other guests at the very swish B&B we were staying at!)… but it was a really fantastic day, even for the only-slightly-poetically-minded Boy!

One Night StAnzas
On Saturday, Read This Magazine, Read This Press, this collection and One Night Stanzas set up shop at the StAnza Poets’ Market (after Boy and I had spent a lovely morning wandering around an unseasonably hot and sunny St Andrews…), which was great fun and incredibly successful! We were offering free back-issues of every copy of Read This Magazine so far, as well as the brand new this collection special issue (which is coming out for general consumption soon!), and just requesting voluntary donations for all copies of RT. We were also selling Skin Deep, You Old Soak, ONS pins and my literary jewellery, including special edition, especially-for-StAnza typewriter bracelets. I was absolutely shocked — I sold ALL of the bracelets within the first twenty minutes of the stall opening… people kept coming up and saying “OK, I’ve just run out to get cash, now I’d like to buy one of your bracelets”, and I had to say “sorry, they’ve gone!” The interest was phenomenal… as a result, there will be a new batch of jewels in the RT store very soon –watch this space!
We also sold a fair stack of Skin Deeps and You Old Soaks (23 books in all) and received so many compliments on the appearance of all our publications, which was lovely. When we checked our final tally sheet, we realised we had put nearly 150 units of hot, fresh literature into the hands of the StAnza visitors. Not bad for a day’s work… and takings into three figures! That’s a lot of paper and card and contributor-copy postage… so thanks a million to everyone who came by, chatted, bought and donated. We love you!

You can read more StAnza accounts from Rachel, Swiss, Rob, Andy and Sorlil. Want to see some pictures of our poetic weekend? Check them out here!

Were you at StAnza? Did you visit the RT/ONS stall? What did you go to? Get in touch!

(Photo by Cara Allen).

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I’ve been podcasted.

Thursday, March 26th, 2009

It seems I am podcast woman right now… just a few days ago I recorded a podcast with Fresh Air radio on the subject of this collection, and I’ll let you know when that’ll be “aired” and where you can hear it. Then in the past two days I’ve been featured in two other podcasts, which I thought you might be interested in listening to anyway, not just because I’m in them!

The first is an on-the-spot podcast from StAnza, put together by the fantastic Anon Magazine team. They actually did a series of StAnza podcasts, one for every day of the festival, and all are really worth listening to. I’m featured in the “Day 4″ podcast, towards the end — it begins with a run-down of a discussion about poetry and song lyrics which features the fine voice of Ian Rankin, and then moves on to various readings by people like Robert Crawford and Roddy Lumsden. I’m towards the end, talking about shifting copies of Read This at the Poetry Market and also giving a bit of info about this collection. You can also find out a bit about Magma magazine by staying tuned after I’ve shut up, and hear some cool haikus too. Check it out here.
(I’d also recommend checking out the “Day 3″ podcast for snippets of the ‘Young Scottish Poets’ debate that got me a bit hot under the collar, and to hear the fantastic Kevin Cadwallender reading his now-legendary Dalek poem).

The second podcast is one I recorded ages ago for the Scottish Poetry Library,
recovering from a chest infection and shivering in front of a microphone in the Forest basement. It’s actually come out really well, I don’t sound like too much of a maniac — I chat to Reader in Residence Ryan Van Winkle about Lewis Carroll’s ‘Jabberwocky’ (which I also read in a very ill-sounding way), about my experiences teaching creative writing and about my fixation with Allen Ginsberg’s “Kaddish.” My part of the podcast starts at around 8:50 but I recommend listening to the rest as well — Ishbel McFarlane reads some Robert Burns poems absolutely beautifully, and there’s a load of inside info about the Scottish Poetry Library and their recent Noisy Day to listen to once I’ve shut up. Check it out here.

Questions? Suggestions? Drop me a line to claire@onenightstanzas.com!

(Photo by Dinerdog)

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Some tips on reading your poetry aloud.

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

While I was at StAnza this past weekend, I went to some great readings and heard loads of brilliant poems. However, all too often great poems were spoiled by poor reading — sometimes from poets who’ve been around long enough to know better! It got me thinking, and I decided to put together some tips to help those of you with reading troubles (or those of you who just aren’t sure what makes a “good reading”). Check them out… hope they help!

1. Be loud enough.
Seems like a no-brainer, doesn’t it, but I’m always surprised by the number of poets I see who don’t seem able to recognise or master the importance and art of voice-projection! Not being able to hear everything you say can really make or break other people’s enjoyment of your poems… and if they miss a vital line, it might even affect their understanding of what you’re trying to do and say with a piece. Yes, getting up in front of people to read your work is daunting, but the more confidently you deliver, the better it will go. And don’t go assuming that just because you have a mic in front of you, people can hear you. Audiences are annoyingly polite, and often won’t make it obvious if you’re not loud enough. There’s nothing wrong with taking a minute at the beginning to do a quick soundcheck — just do a spot of preamble or begin with a short poem, and then ask the audience if they can all hear OK. If you see any shaking heads, speak up a bit.

2. Sound interested!
Again, it seems obvious, but for goodness sakes, sound interested in your own stuff! I heard some really great, dynamic poets at StAnza, but not all of them convinced me with their readings — some of them just sounded plain bored with the words they were saying. I’m not sure if this is a “style” right now, but I promise, it doesn’t work! If you read in a monotone, disinterested way, your audience will find it really hard not to drift off — they might also not see the true quality of your work. You don’t have to crack a joke every other line or go into slam-performance mode… just remember that if you make your words sound interesting, your audience will want to listen instinctively. If you’ve been reading the same poems for so long that you can’t help but sound bored with them, find some new ones to read. If you’ve got into the habit of reading your poems in a monotone way, practice by reading someone else’s poems aloud to yourself — inhabiting other voices and rhythms can really make a difference. And if you’re not sure how to read your poems in the first place, get out there and listen to other poets. Note what they do well, and what they do badly. Apply this learning.

3. Don’t put on “a poetry voice.”
OK, I’ll just contradict myself for a second here — everyone has a special voice they reserve for reading their own work. Apart from anything else, this is essentially public speaking, so you’re not going to use the same voice as you would if you were ordering a pizza (probably). However, far too often, you’ll hear poets (often inexperienced ones, because somewhere along the line they hear that this is what you’re supposed to do!) reading in an obviously put-on way. Elongated vowels and exaggerated consonants (particularly ’s’!), overlong pauses and lines going up at the end are common things. And OK, sometimes this can sound alright, but all too often it sounds unnatural and sometimes just downright funny. Basically, you should find a way of reading that you feel comfortable with, but you should also make sure that it doesn’t put your audience off, or make you sound daft! If in doubt, try your reading voice out on a brutally honest friend.

4. Involve your audience.
This is a bit tricky, admittedly… but when reading, it helps to try and “involve” the audience to some extent. I don’t mean panto-style audience participation or anything — you just need to acknowledge the fact that people have shown up and are sitting (hopefully) in silence listening to your work. Preambles are always a good way to get the audience involved and interested in what you’re saying, or you can do a quick “thanks for listening” either right at the beginning or right at the end of your set. It’s a good idea not to get too engrossed in whatever you’re reading off, too… let the audience know that you remember they’re there by looking up at them every so often. This might seem daunting but you should get used to doing it sooner rather than later — if all else fails, focus on a friend every time you look up, or look at the back wall or some other spot just above and behind the audience. Try not to look at your feet or the ceiling! If you’re new to the whole poetry reading thing, it might seem like a good idea to just get onto the stage, reel off your poems and then get the heck out of there as fast as possible, but the more you acknowledge the people listening to you, the more likely they are to acknowledge you — that means enjoying your stuff, remembering it, coming up to you afterwards to offer tips and encouragement, and possibly even spreading the word about your work.

5. Know when to stop.
Particularly when you’re reading with other poets, you need to stick to the amount of time you’ve been given — and if you haven’t been given a specific amount of time, pay attention to the audience and try to stop as soon as (or preferably just before!) you realise they might be flagging. This isn’t just out of consideration for your fellow readers, it’s also out of consideration for your listeners. If you get all the first four of these points down, but end up talking the audience into a coma, all your good work will be undone! Know when it’s time to go, and get out of there!

Questions? Suggestions? Drop me a line to claire@onenightstanzas.com!

(Photo by Mr-traraw)

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Favourite poems from YouTube: Part 2, Rives

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

Thanks to Miss H, I discovered Rives a couple of years ago. I have been hooked ever since!


See also: Kite, a three-minute story of mixed emoticons, Sellout, Op Talk, Compliment, Rives touring his artist’s colony, and (possibly my favourite) If I Controlled The Internet:

Got a favourite YouTube poet? Share!

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