Archive for June, 2009

The Opposite of Cabbage Tour — stopping at One Night Stanzas!

Monday, June 29th, 2009

Rob A. Mackenzie is a Scottish poet currently living in Edinburgh, and The Opposite of Cabbage is his first full collection of poetry. Published at the same time as Andrew Philip’s The Ambulance Box — and by the same publisher, SaltThe Opposite of Cabbage is currently on tour, and today One Night Stanzas is receiving a visit!
Rob was born and brought up in Glasgow, studied law at Aberdeen University and then eventually switched to theology at the University of Edinburgh. He has lived in various places including Seoul and Turin, and now lives and works in Edinburgh, where he is very active in the local literary community. Rob organises the Poetry at the Great Grog reading series by night and works as a Church of Scotland minister by day. His pamphlet, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005, and The Opposite of Cabbage was released by Salt earlier this year. You can find out more about Rob by visiting his Salt author page or his blog, Surroundings — if you want to get your hands on The Opposite Of Cabbage, it’s available here, and on Amazon.

Hi Rob, welcome to One Night Stanzas. As you know, this blog is all about ‘getting started’ in the poetry world, so I’d like to ask how you got into writing poetry, if I may. Was there something specific that inspired you to begin writing, did it just begin of its own accord, or have you just always written poetry?

Thanks for the welcome, Claire. An English teacher set my class the task of writing a poem in ballad form and gave me a good mark for my effort, ‘The Cat and Mouse Ballad’. I still have it in a notebook I scrawled poems in over several years at school. It’s dated 21/10/77, which makes me 13, and begins:

She crept up on the tiny mouse
Behind a straggly rose.
She got so close the mouse turned round
And bashed her on the nose.

She had a most terrific shock.
She ran right up the stairs
And seeing the mouse was chasing her
Began to say her prayers…

I formed a band with school friends and wrote lyrics for, literally, hundreds of songs. Lyrics took over from writing poetry for many years, although I enjoyed reading it. The sounds and rhythms Ted Hughes and Gerard Manley Hopkins could achieve made a big impression on me at school. I wrote a few terrible Hopkins-esque sonnets in my late teens, so heavy with alliteration they were almost unreadable. When I returned to writing poetry in the late 1990s, I couldn’t understand why so much poetry I read in literary magazines was ‘chatty’ and lacked attention to sound and rhythm. I began to think writing poetry was easier than I had thought. It took me a while to realise that these poems lacked sonic and rhythmic dexterity because their authors clearly had tin ears. Even bad poetry can be enjoyable for a reader, but it’s not at all good for a budding writer. Poets like Wallace Stevens, Seamus Heaney, Edwin Morgan and Charles Simic helped me get back on track.

Before publishing The Opposite of Cabbage, you released a pamphlet, The Clown Of Natural Sorrow. I also put this to Andy Philip — it seems that nowadays, releasing a pamphlet prior to a first collection is an attractive choice for a lot of emerging poets. Do you think this is a good idea, based on your experience? How do you think The Clown of Natural Sorrow informed and influenced The Opposite of Cabbage — was it a natural progression or a great leap from chapbook to collection?

Releasing a pamphlet is a good move, but I’d caution people against doing so too early. The Clown was published by HappenStance Press and I wouldn’t have been considered if I hadn’t published poems in good magazines, so building a ‘track record’ of work. A strong pamphlet collection can help bring your work to the attention of readers, readings organisers, and even editors and publishers, but a premature one will do none of these things and may even be counter-productive. Also, being published by Happenstance gave me the invaluable chance to work with a good editor. Many self-published pamphlets I’ve read, even ones which show genuine promise, make me want to get out my red pen and edit the thing properly.

For me, there was a definite leap from pamphlet to book. I’m always looking to move on. I don’t like the idea of finding a style or niche and sticking with it. I want to stretch and challenge myself. There is less straight narrative in the book than in the pamphlet, more absurdity, although there are poems in The Clown which point in that general direction.

Sorlil recently commented that your poems don’t often make references to faith or the church — this struck her as interesting, given your “day job” as a Minister of the Church of Scotland. I’d like to ask about this too — do you find that being a poet helps you to do your job, and if so, how? Does it ever hinder you?

I do write poems about faith, although not many of them made the cut for the book. It’s a critical subject and very hard to get exactly right. Poetry operates as a tug-of-war. The poem is the rope and it’s being pulled this way and that by the competing possibilities the poet is considering while writing the poem. The poem might go one way or might go another. The poet’s job is often to maintain the tension for as long as possible. That’s why there are no great fundamentalist poets. They pull only on one side of the rope which, apart from anything else, isn’t much fun. Writing poetry is a creative way of questioning the world, God, and everything, and it helps me think through issues I might otherwise just mutter something bland or prosaic about. Although I often have an idea on what I want to say when I begin a poem, that tends to mutate in the process of writing.

So poetry helps me in my job by forcing me to think about things. It doesn’t hinder me. It would be more accurate to say that my job at times hinders my poetry because it saps a vast amount of creative time and energy. On the other hand, it has fed countless images and ideas into my poems.

You’ve becoming quite an influential figure in the Scottish poetry scene, setting up and organising ‘Poetry at the Great Grog/Jekyll and Hyde’, among other things. What were your reasons for starting this event? Do you think there was a ‘gap in the market’ for good poetry events in Scotland?

I have been thinking about this issue of power and influence in the poetry world recently. Power is partly to do with perception. Your question suggests that I am perceived by some people to have influence, but I would say that I have no influence whatsoever in the Scottish poetry scene. The most I can do for anyone is give (or not give) them a reading at the venue. That will have no influence on either their poetic output or ‘career’. *

I started the event because, at the time, there were hardly any slots for people to read in Edinburgh (the Shore Poets was about the only regular poetry event happening). That’s all changed in the last couple of years. I now question whether there’s a need (and a big enough audience) to maintain the ‘Poetry at the…’ event. I am pleased to have done it. The standard has been consistently high, some nights have been quite brilliant, but funds are low. I don’t want to stop it quite yet though.

You also have a widely-read blog over at Surroundings, and I know you’re very pro-blogging in general. Why is this? Is it a good idea for writers to have their own blogs?

There are millions of blogs. It makes sense that only a small number are any good. That’s the same with anything from blogs to newspaper articles. Blogs offer an opportunity for writers to write about subjects that publication editors wouldn’t consider sufficiently contemporary or commercial. Bloggers can highlight poetry books and pamphlets that newspapers currently ignore and review books with a detail most newspapers wouldn’t appreciate, given that their audience is a general readership. And bloggers can write any old nonsense they want and no one can stop them – sometimes, that’s a great feeling.

A blog is a double-edged tool for writers. Some people view it as too much of an effort at self-publicity. It takes time and creativity, which might have been used for… I dunno… knitting a woolly jumper or learning the names of every star off by heart. As for bloggers with nothing much to say, enough said… But a well-written, interesting blog can build a loyal readership over time and can put the writer in touch with interesting creative people all over the world.

It’s just a phase though. My blog is a time-bomb. One day, not long into the future, it will explode and will be no more. People might swear they’ll miss a blog if it stops, but they won’t really.

Finally, I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about your two publishers — Happenstance, who published The Clown of Natural Sorrow, and Salt, who published The Opposite of Cabbage. What attracted you to these publishers, and what did they bring to the publishing process — and indeed to the books?

I had lived in Turin, Italy, for about five years and came to live in Edinburgh in 2005, a city where I knew no one, certainly no one in the poetry world. I heard about the launch of a new pamphlet press, HappenStance, in the Scottish Poetry Library and decided to go along. I didn’t expect much. In fact, I feared the worst. Instead, Helena Nelson and Andrew Philip were raising the bar for new Scottish poetry. I bought the pamphlets and really liked them. The poems were of obvious quality and the pamphlets were well produced. I really wanted to be a part of it and, a few months later, submitted a batch of poems. I was fully convinced that it would be returned a few months later with a typed rejection slip, but it came back a few days later as an acceptance. Helena Nelson turned out to be a superb editor, which was, in itself, an eye-opener for me.

The first Salt book I read was Tamar Yoseloff’s ‘Fetch’, which was excellent, and I then read several others. I didn’t have a manuscript to submit at that stage, but Salt were publishing so much poetry I liked that they were always on my radar. About a year later, when I did have a fledgling collection-to-be, Andrew Philip and I exchanged manuscripts and discussed submission possibilities. Salt were always one of our top choices. They were publishing poetry I liked, their cover designs were great, they weren’t in thrall to dominant trends, and they were (at the time) open to submissions from new authors. My book had been well edited due to manuscript exchanges with a few poets and though fierce comments by my friend and poet, AB Jackson, who is as tough a critic as anyone out there. Chris at Salt didn’t really have any editing work to do after that, but his cover design and the quality of the end product was first rate. Chris and Jen are always looking for new ways to get their publications into the public eye and they work tirelessly. In HappenStance and Salt, I have been lucky to work with two excellent publishers.

[*An afterthought from Claire re: the "influence" of the 'Poetry at the...' series -- I think Rob's doing himself down here. My own reading at the Great Grog was incredibly helpful to me in several ways -- I met heaps of people from the local poetry community, was invited to submit work to two large journals and got loads of new RT readers on board! So actually I think the "influence" of the 'Poetry at the...' readings is quite something -- whether Rob wants to take personal credit for it or not!]

Thanks for bringing your blog tour to ONS, Rob! I know the book has been a great success already — long may it continue!

Got a book to promote, an event to plug, or do you just want to write a guest-post for this blog? Just drop me a line to!

(Cabbage Photo by Tom Robbrecht)

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Procrastination Station #43

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

Sorry it’s late!! I’ve been on holiday and away from my trusty Google Reader (800+ messages waiting for me when I returned… after four days! Not to mention 1000 emails…) But this is a big one, to make up for it!

Michael Marks Pamphlet Award winner // Twitteraturecan YOU write it? // Literary threesomes!! // Poem of the week // The pain of publicity // The Hughes/Plath effect… // Fantasy readers are people too! // Why you should read Burroughs

Brand new bracelets in the RT Store — don’t miss them!

I absolutely love Classic Literature Reimagined

Andy P on poetry sales…

A cool writing exercise from Rachel McKibbens

Found online this week: I love this new piece from former Featured Poet McGuire // Phillipa’s been visiting some literary blue plaques… // A poetic miscellany from former FP Juliet // new poems from reader Lindis, and former Featured Poets Eric Hamilton, Ryan Lamon, Morganne Couch and William Soule // a great new poetry blog run by a young Kenyan poet // reader Annie responded to my What’s In A Poet’s Bag? post // Andy gave me a mention // so did recent FP John Ecko // so did the lovely and talented Lewis Young! Thanks guys. //

I recently became addicted to Rock’n'Roll Bride — some favourites here and here!

I also loved — and really appreciated — this article on starting out as a runner.

The trouble with young people today? Words printed on the ass of your jeans! So true!


Cassandra makes passes at girls who wear glasses!

More cuteness from Rare Bird Finds

Weird: find-a-note on Flickr

& finally… love this — creepy and well done!

Hope you had a great weekend, all!

(Photo by Superkimbo in BKK)

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a handful of stones needs YOU!

Saturday, June 27th, 2009

I meant to blog about this last week, but things got on top of me and I jollied off on holiday without having done it. But I am back with a cleared-out brain so here goes: your poems are needed, right here right now!

A few days ago, the lovely Fiona Robyn emailed me to say that she’s currently on the lookout for fresh submissions to her blogzine, a handful of stones. handful aims to showcase short works — poems that, like smoothed river-pebbles, are small and neatly rounded but which also have some weight. Fiona advocates writing at least one small stone every day, and posts her own at a small stone. She also posts other people’s small stones at handful, and that’s where you come in.

Do you write short poems? Do you ever come up with great lines that seem to sit beautifully on their own, without needing to be put into a bigger stanza or series? Are you a master of haiku? Do you just fancy having a go at writing your own small stones? If so, Fiona wants to hear from you. Send your little pile of pebbles (no more than five at a time) over to — for more info, you can see Fiona’s own guidelines here, or my write-up of the blogzine here. I follow handful every single day — there’s always something short, sweet and though-provoking there. Good company to be in!

If I see a ONS regular at handful, I usually give them a shout here, too — another reason to submit! Good luck!

(Photo by Jugger-naut)

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What’s in a poet’s bag?: Claire’s bag, 16/06/2009

Wednesday, June 24th, 2009

– The bag itself: a leather satchel I got recently from a fleamarket stall at Meadowsfest. Before I had this hideous mock-croc manbag from Topman because it was huge, and cheap in the sale. I’ve been looking for a cheap second-hand satchel with a shoulder-strap for ages, and this was only £3. Fate!

– Board pens for work.

– Spotty brolly for the Scottish summer.

Moleskine extra-large softcover 18-month planner, a.k.a my Bible.

– Writing notebook (with stickers pulled of lampposts and whatnot), the second of two bought in Canada last year.

– Kodak Advantix manual camera, plus a spare film, for snapshots. I sometimes cart my digital camera, a Canon Powershot G5, around with me too… but it’s huge, and annoying.

– Reading material: The latest copy of The Skinny // Brikolage zine // a copy of Skin Deep // a few of the latest Read This // the lastest Rattle, featuring Heather Bell // Women’s Work poetry anthology // Growling Softly from Blood Pudding Press // Heather Bell’s flash-fic pamphet FACTS of Combat.

Read This Magazine/One Night Stanzas business cards.

– Random bits: proximity card for work, huge bunch of keys, phone, MP3 player (i-scream) and headphones (Sony), Body Shop lip balm, wallet and change/bits-and-pieces purse.

What’s in your bag? Want to share a photo with ONS? Link me!

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The Ambulance Box Blog Tour: stopping at One Night Stanzas!

Tuesday, June 23rd, 2009

The Ambulance Box is the debut collection from Scottish poet Andrew Philip. Andrew was born in Aberdeen in 1975, studied linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, and spent a short while living and writing in Berlin in the 1990s. Happenstance Press published his first pamphlet, Tonguefire, in 2005, and in 2008 also released Andrew Philip: A Sampler. The Ambulance Box was published earlier this year by Salt, — now, it’s on the road, stopping at various literary sites all over the blogosphere. This week it’s One Night Stanzas‘ turn, and I took the opportunity to ask Andrew a few questions about how he became a writer, how he got from his first poem to his first collection, and why he thinks literary blogs are a good thing…

Hi Andrew, welcome to One Night Stanzas. As you know, this blog is all about ‘getting started’ in the poetry world, so that seems like a good place to begin. A lot of poets claim there was a “trigger” that started them off writing poems — an enthusiastic English teacher, a particular poem or book of poems they read and were inspired by — what was the trigger that got you writing poetry? Or did you just fall into the habit, as it were?

Many thanks for having me, Claire. Poetry was there from very early on. I distinctly remember standing up in play group making up a cowboy song on the spot. It was undoubtedly awful. Thankfully, it vanished in the performance! I also wrote little rhyming poems in my later primary school years. Somewhere, there might still be a video of an 11-year-old Andrew Philip reciting an anti-nuclear weapons poem at a Boys Brigade camp. Got a lot of stick for that, but it didn’t kill the urge.

My teens were the crucial time. I started writing songs, which gradually and naturally turned back into writing poems, which were more interesting and better than my song lyrics. The poetry we read at secondary school probably exerted some influence on that shift. I have vivid memories of reading Wilfred Owen, Jon Stallworthy’s “The Almond Tree” and, for Higher English, Norman MacCaig.

MacCaig opened me up to the idea of free verse. In sixth year, I decided I wanted to take this a bit more seriously and had to read more poetry for myself. I’ll never forget lifting my dad’s Faber Book of Modern Verse off the shelf and reading Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland” for the first time. I felt like I was swimming in colour. It’s the closest I’ve come to synaesthesia. And my dad hasn’t got the book back.

The most influential teacher was actually my history teacher, whose class was a general education in the life of the mind. He always said he was out to create a generation of poets, heretics and philosophers.

Before publishing The Ambulance Box, you released a pamphlet, Tonguefire. It seems that nowadays, releasing a pamphlet prior to a first collection is an attractive choice for a lot of emerging poets. Do you think this is a good idea, based on your experience?

It’s a very good idea. It means your name and poetry can reach a wider audience than would otherwise be the case. People take you more seriously when you have a publication to your name and invite you to do more things. (Not that it’s a deluge, by any means.) Some great opportunities came my way as a result, such as appearing at StAnza in 2006 and being chosen as a New Voice by the Scottish Poetry Library later the same year. I’m sure people have gone on to buy the book who bought at least one of the pamphlets.

Don’t rush into it, though; you need to be ready. That is, you need sufficient good poems to make it worthwhile. How you judge that is another discussion. People I respected had started suggesting to me that I should publish a pamphlet, which was perhaps a good indicator I was ready. Tonguefire came out in 2005, when I was 30. Part of me wishes it had been earlier, but I honestly wouldn’t have been ready much earlier than that.

The second pamphlet came about because I was appearing in a HappenStance showcase reading at the Troubadour in London; Tonguefire had sold out and we wanted something of mine to sell there. Helena Nelson, the editor of HappenStance, came up with the idea of the sampler and made me guinea pig, which I was very happy to be.

I’ve also made some good friends in other HappenStance poets, particularly Rob A Mackenzie, whose comments on my manuscript for The Ambulance Box were invaluable.

How do you think Tonguefire informed and influenced The Ambulance Box — was it a natural progression or a great leap from chapbook to collection?

A pamphlet gives you something to build on. In that sense, it’s a natural progression. Several poems from Tonguefire made it into the book, some of them revised and some untouched. I took the order of the pamphlet as my starting point for The Ambulance Box, but I also wanted to ring the changes a bit with the poems that made it from the pamphlet into the book. Working out what should go in a book and how to order the poems can be a daunting task, as well as exciting, but if it started to feel overwhelming, I could always remind myself I’d already done it successfully on a smaller scale.

Again, it’s a matter of judging when you’re ready to move on from a chapbook to a full volume, which is perhaps an even trickier call than knowing when you’re ready for a pamphlet. I went on an Arvon course aimed at those considering putting together a first collection, which was helpful. It was the encouragement of others I respected, including the tutors on that course, that really gave me the confidence to push ahead with it.

The Ambulance Box has been described as being about faith, hope, death, loss, discovery and what it means to be Scottish — among other things! I think these are all fair evaluations, but did you have an overall ‘theme’ or concept in mind when putting the poems together? Did you have a specific intention for the book while you were building it, or did it come together of its own accord?

Although I wrote with the aim of a full collection in the back of my mind for a while, the poems weren’t created to fit a pre-conceived notion of what that book would be like. The thematic threads are simply a natural upshot of what drove the poems. However, when I was putting them in order, I had a rough, overall emotional trajectory in mind. I knew that the death of my son Aidan would be one strong theme in the book, but I didn’t set out to create a clear narrative. Rather, I wanted a looser sense of journey. That also fitted with the “Pilgrim Variations” sequence, which I knew I wanted to be in the middle of the book.

Range is one thing that attracts me to a collection as a reader, so that’s what I hoped to achieve too. I’m pleased that people have remarked on the book’s range and coherence. I like themed books too — such as Michael Symmons Roberts’ marvellous, rich collection Corpus, Ciaran Carson’s For All We Know or Chris Agee’s remarkable Salt collection, Next to Nothing — but you don’t need a theme to make a strong collection. All you need is strong poems. Therein lies the challenge.

Whenever a discussion strikes up on the topic of young Scottish poets (and this seems to be happening fairly regularly at the moment), your name is pretty much always mentioned. It seems you’re a bit of an ambassador for the ‘new generation’ of Scottish poets. Does this feel like a big responsibility?

Yikes! I hadn’t thought of it in quite those terms. This isn’t something I’ve set out to become, but there aren’t many other Scots in my age group published by the leading poetry presses. Cheryl Follon and Jen Hadfield are about it, and some people wouldn’t count Jen as Scottish. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t others worth reading. Some are coming through the magazines and anthologies and are publishing pamphlets. Others are publishing with smaller presses.

Also, I think this “generation” is more diffuse in age. There are several poets in their mid to late 40s who seem part of it to me — Rob A Mackenzie, Gerry McGrath and AB Jackson, for instance.

If focusing too much on youth can miss some of the best new writing, we can’t ignore the fact that there’s also a strong group of developing poets in their late teens and their 20s. I’m really excited to see what comes out of that demographic in the future. People like Charlotte Runcie and Julia Rampen show immense promise, I think. Scotland seems to me to have been doing well in the Foyle Young Poets competition, which didn’t exist when I were a lad. Neither did blogs or social networking sites, which are very much part of the scene too.

I was wondering if we could talk a little bit about your two publishers — Happenstance, who published Tonguefire, and Salt, who published The Ambulance Box. What attracted you to these publishers, and what did they bring to the publishing process — and indeed to the books?

My involvement with HappenStance was serendipity to a great extent. I was chatting with Helena Nelson — Nell, as we know her — at StAnza 2005 and told her I’d got nowhere in the Smith/Doorstop competition the previous year. She expressed an interest in seeing some of my work, so I sent her the manuscript I’d submitted to the Smith/Doorstop. There wasn’t even a whiff of HappenStance at this stage. Much to my surprise, Nell wrote back to say she was setting up a pamphlet imprint and wanted to publish my MS. After quizzing her on the details of the deal and her marketing plans, I decided to go for it. And I am mightily glad I did. Tonguefire, which was largely the MS I’d sent Nell with only three or four changes, was the first HappenStance pamphlet after her Unsuitable Poems.

As to what attracted me, I liked the idea of being in at the beginning of something and it seemed the right time. Above all, I liked Nell and respected her as a writer. She turned out to be a fine editor too.

With Salt, Chris and Jen’s openness and creativity are great attractions. Those qualities are demonstrated in their “Just One Book” campaign to save Salt from its recent recession-induced cash crisis. The breadth of Salt’s list impresses and excites me too. And the books as objects. You know how so many poetry books have that foustie poetry look, even from the big presses? Not Salt books. The cover designs are stunning and even the covers for their small number of classic titles look fresh and contemporary. Salt’s website is still the best of any publisher’s I know and they keep expanding it, refining it, innovating. There’s a sense of dynamism about the company, and the fact that it’s small — run by a husband and wife team — means you have a personal relationship with the people at the helm.

Personality plays a strong part in a writer’s relationship with their publisher. You’ve got to be able to work together. Nell, Chris and Jen are all passionate about what they do and the writers they publish. That means a lot.

Finally, I’m an avid follower of your blog, also called Tonguefire, and I know you’re very enthusiastic about blogging and the blogosphere! Why do you think it’s a good idea for writers to keep blogs?

Visibility, for one thing. I don’t post my poems on Tonguefire. Some people post all their work on their blogs, but I wouldn’t recommend an emerging writer to take that approach. Why would an editor want to publish a poem if it’s already available online? I’ve only ever posted one or two drafts and removed them after a day or two. However, I know that some people have come across my blog and gone on to buy a pamphlet or a book. They’ve told me so. Therefore, it’s part of building a readership, just as placing poems in magazines and doing readings is. The blog also provides a good way of publicising those readings and publications and it allows you to interact with the audience regardless of geography.

That leads me on to another important strand to blogging: community. I’ve got to know other poets through blogging and reading their blogs. It’s exciting to see those connections grow across the globe. For instance, this tour will be dropping by Robert Peake’s blog and Poetry Hut Blog in the States, as well as Andrew Shields’s blog in Switzerland. Before the blogosphere, it probably took far longer to build such a wide network. That sense of community is important to me; I find it nourishing and stimulating artistically and personally. In addition, it can open up opportunities for publication and readings and so help to build the audience out in the real world.

I also value blogging for the space it gives me to bat around ideas, and not always literary ones, such as my series of posts on rhyme. It helps me to clarify my thinking, though I don’t get as much time for that as I’d sometimes like. Reviewing, either on the blog or for other outlets, could be part of the same process, but I wouldn’t really have time at the moment to do much review writing to speak of. I admire those bloggers who do, especially the ones who also manage to keep writing steadily and carry on a family life!

Thanks Andrew! You can buy a copy of The Ambulance Box directly from Salt’s website, and also from Amazon. As far as I know, Tonguefire is sold out, but you can still get your hands on Andrew Philip: A Sampler at the Happenstance shop — an absolute bargain at only £2.50, and well worth it. Be sure to add Andrew’s blog to your RRS feed for more information and updates on his writing.

(Photo by Gelchy)

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This week’s Featured Poet Kerri Ni Dochartaigh interviewed.

Saturday, June 20th, 2009

You can see Kerri’s other poems here and here — you should also visit her blog to see more of her work! But in the meantime, you can find out a bit more about her creative process and inspiration — there’s also another poem below!

Tell us about your poems.
My work is a bit like what happens when a crow falls in love with a girl after reading her mind. It is a locked box with invalid mathematics, bubbles being blown in an ancient place. It is a hauntingly dark shadow show, maps that you cannot read and a sky that cannot see. My work is yellow and it holds a kite. It lives on brown paper. It wears a diadem and it plays the ukulele, softly.

How long have you been writing?
“She weeps for all that she has wanted to be, for the words that run around inside her all day long but simply cannot fly, for the aeroplane that her paper wants to become. The birthday girl weeps for her paper aeroplane. And at that very moment, she lifts up her pen. The birthday girl writes.”
This was the way I started my writing blog. I have a very deep memory that I just cannot shift of sitting in bed on my eighth birthday (just after Christmas) dying with the cold and holding a beautiful brown book of coloured writing paper my mum had found for me. I remember being close to tears at having so much that I wanted to put down on my pieces of paper and not knowing where to start. So I made paper aeroplanes and wrote on them. There are words inside of me, deep down; on the inside of inside of that wee girl I still am. I still want my words to become paper aeroplanes and so I started my writing blog on my 25th birthday. I just need to re-learn the art of origami . . .

Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
I have had my words published by nth position, dash literary journal, The secret attic, Lyrical Ballads, Cutthroat magazine, Birds on the line, Blackmail Press, The Glasgow Review, seventytwo words and fondly sincerely. I still feel a bit like a wee girl at Christmas that has just been given a beautiful yellow typewriter when I read the list of places that have placed my words on a screen or down on pieces of paper. The next stage is to put some poems together and have a little collection; I hope.
What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
I am going to have two pieces in Caketrain this year which kind of/sort of/maybe had me jumping around the room with excitement as it is a journal I really love and never thought I would ever have work in. There is an image of a horse in woolies on their site which makes life make more sense; somehow. I also see me starting my writing blog as a great achievement as I feel like it is my own wee box and I can fill it with all the words that I never dreamt I’d have the courage to make my own.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
The best part is the feeling that you are creating your own life; your history is held in the wee teeny moments and what they brought out in you through your words. Hand in hand with that comes the fear that you are dredging up the past in all its darkness, walking alone along a beach that is filled with your own sadness and loss. But that’s what it’s all about for me. I am trying my hardest to interpret my life and our world in all of their kaleidoscopic, scary and mind-blowing colors.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
I would say that the best thing I have learned is to write what you know is real. I remember a lecturer that I deeply admired reading one of my pieces and saying he wished that he could read the real piece. One that he knew was darker, more disjointed, rawer and harder to stomach. It’s only been in the last year that I have allowed the real pieces to come out. Sometimes that ache that you get from words that only you could have written reminds you why it is that you are doing it, after all.

Who/what influences your poetry?
“I live in a blue room. Outside of this room there are trees that are brown and green in colour. When I first began to inhabit this place the trees did not have any green. I have watched the green come here-day to day; without even feeling the need to count its dotted numerals. The magpies outside have a somewhat tumultuous love affair and there always seems to be seagull in transit. All of these facts and figures could be recorded on a blackboard that we share the room with but I fear it is up to something dark and these thoughts keep me from covering its surface area with markings. Sometimes pigeons die right in front of the castle but they are still beautiful.”
Or- pigeons, seagulls, magpies, crows, bluebirds (this particular section of the list continues in a similar vein), trees, wolves, the seasons, time, water, an island I know, love, darkness, the ones I love, a certain castle, loss, grieving, identity, ee cummings, mathematics, Virgil, waves, Miranda July, colours, Wallace Stevens, secrets, Dorothy Parker, shadows, Arundhati Roy, histories, Dave Eggers, ornithology, Robert Frost, Sophocles. Mostly my poetry happens when learning to climb trees, though.

lists of collective nouns for birds
the crow watches her with a suspicion that does not acknowledge boundaries. in his mind he plays out
scenes in which they marry, he sings to her and then feeds her to the sparrows. He views her as
a threat to his kingdom; he holds her as close as a bird must hold their enemies in days such as these ones.
he lip reads her unspoken thoughts and is momentarily scared by their shared daydreams;
this girl must be kept within a very tight rein.

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More from Featured Poet Kerri Ni Dochartaigh

Friday, June 19th, 2009

Hopefully you’ve already seen Kerri’s first poem, and checked out her blog. Here’s another of her pieces — enjoy!

a type of crown

i stand with your head on a stick.
it brings me no joy and yet i cannot seem to
remove your severed body part
from my delicate tree branch.

i deserve all the feathers in the land,
placed upon my head in ceremony.

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Procrastination Station #42

Friday, June 19th, 2009


The return of Poster Poems! // Carol Ann Duffy get into politics with a new poem // Poets reporting the news // Happy Birthday Leopold Bloom! // The strangest places poets have done it… // How to get out of your library fines // RIP Harold Norse // Do you live in a sci fi city?

Jim on writers and rejection.

Interesting tales of typo errors…

“Grrrl” is in the dictionary?!

Folded Word press are looking for contributors and an Assistant Editor!

Colin’s very wise rules for submitting to magazines.

Are you a feminist if you prefer male writers?

Collective nouns — love this site! Thanks Peggy!

Can’t believe I’ve only just discovered Bookcovers Anonymous! Thanks Nubby!

Found online this week: a great new poem by Swiss — plus, he’s going on holiday and has promised to stop in here!! // Cassandra’s Rules to Live By // and a new piece from Morganne Couch

A typewriter a week? Heck yes!

I love the Fallen Princesses Project — thanks to The Boy for this recommendation!

OK, geeky motorsport stuff: Rubbish spoilers // Weird hotrods // Unfortunate car names (NSFW) // License plates for geeks…

And geeky tattoo stuff: Tattoos for geeks, part 1 // and part 2 // Awesome pin-up // I want this tattoo! // this is kind of cool // and I discovered Owl Tattoos! I particularly like this one, these, this one, this one and this great piece of blackwork!

I also just discovered Rare Bird Finds, which really makes me want to spend money on things like this and this — argh!

Speaking of which… want!

Really want to see this movie:

& this is pretty funny, but NSFW!

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by Salvajada)

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This week’s Featured Poet is Kerri Ni Dochartaigh

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

When she was small, Kerri used to write words down on paper aeroplanes and throw them at her Mum. Then she studied English and Classics at Trinity College, Dublin. She is now 25 and living in Edinburgh. Kerri still writes her words down but she is no longer any good at origami. You can see heaps of her poetry at her blog, She Writes From A Paper Aeroplane.


i remember you from a time long passed
me by.

you held your hands over my ears
in a market place
where men wrung
chickens’ necks
in a
foreign language.

as if
they were telling one another
the time/
discussing the price of saffron;
their unfamiliar vocabulary
falls outside of my dictionary.

when we first met
you talked to me of
the spice trail in
centuries long,

i remembered your chivalry.

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Things I Love Thursday #42

Thursday, June 18th, 2009

A random bundle of things this week!

Clearing out!
Because of a recent new addition to my household, I am feeling the need to clear out some stuff to make space! I have a huge collection of vintage and second hand clothing and so much of it never gets worn, so I’ve set up my own online vintage store to clear some of it out. Everything on there is pretty cheap — there are a couple of designer bits, but everything (except this, which is a bit special) is under £20! There’ll probably be more up there soon so keep an eye out!

Making mix-CDs.
I’m off on holiday with Boy next week — we’re going to stay in the Lake District, with my aunt, who has a shop in Grasmere (she now stocks the RT jewels!). We don’t have a car and usually when we go down there, we use public transport (I love the Lakes Rambler open-topped buses!), but last time it was so nuts with tourists, and so expensive, that this time we’ve decided to rent a car. Which for me of course means road trip: it’s only about a 2-and-a-half hour drive down, but that’s enough! I am making heaps of cool mix CDs (not as good as tapes, but hey), plotting possible stops for cups of tea and exploring, and getting needlessly excited about it. Latest CD? Helter Skelter — The Beatles // Immigrant Song — Led Zeppelin // Rough Justice — The Rolling Stones // Supernaut — Black Sabbath // Louie Louie — Motorhead // Just Fade Away — Stiff Little Fingers // Foxy Lady — Jimi Hendrix // Original Prankster — Offspring // Basketcase — Greenday // I Don’t Like The Drugs But The Drugs Like Me — Marilyn Manson (creepy video — not least because Marilyn looks eerily like Courtney Love!) // Suck My Kiss — Red Hot Chili Peppers // For Whom The Bell Tolls — Metallica // The Pusher — Steppenwolf // Freebird — Lynyrd Skynyrd (short version) // Oh Well — Fleetwood Mac (the ‘Mac, pre-girls!) // Jailbreak — Thin Lizzy.

The Simple Diary.
I am really excited about this and it isn’t even ‘out’ yet — so expect to see it on my TiLT list again when it arrives! It’s the brainchild of artist Phillip Keel, and it’s a way of journalling your day without having to write down the mundane details of your life and/or spend heaps of time scribbling. Every page asks you a question to make you think, gives you a weird and wonderful quotation, and tests your mood with quizzes and brain-teasers. I think it’s a great idea and I’ve pre-ordered three copies (the violent orange for myself, and a green and a blue for friends)! It’s also a gorgeous looking book… I can’t wait for the postman to get it here!

The lovely people over at The Cadaverine (see my write-up here!) have published three of my poems, and a photo of my funny face. I also have two poems forthcoming in brand new Edinburgh-based magazine Anything Anymore Anywhere… go check them out!


& this! One of the greatest songs ever, plus a cute video!:

Honourable mentions: The new baby // eating strawberries on my couch while watching Le Mans — hello summer! // excitement for the Silverstone GP! // finding out I am a vocab genius (I knew the correct meanings of all these!) // this poem at Bolts of Silk // holiday plotting, praying for nice weather // The Big Picture — always brilliant, I can spend hours there // What’s in my bag? photos on Flickr — I am so nosy, I love them! Going to do my own soon, watch this space!

What’re you loving this week?

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