Archive for May, 2010

Procrastination Station #72

Friday, May 28th, 2010

Links that have kept me alive this mad week.

I’ve been reading about mondegreens! Check out these, these and more here.

Marvel’s Tom Brevoort speaks frankly about hiring writers (though I wish he could spell “the”).

Picador has launched a special prize for unpublished poets!

The bookfoxes reckon Poetry Still Matters

Wigtown Poetry Contest 2010 winners — some cool poems here.

To Kill A Mockingbird at 50

Cool quotes from Green Ink

Poster poems: ancestors

Why Hillary Clinton rocks.

Dolly Parton does too.

Great news for women in motorsport.

One bloody amazing gif.

My sister told me she saw this and thought of me! (so true…)

Animated albums = awesome.

Creepy. (Read this great article on 500 Days of Summer, by the way. Whether you made the mistake of seeing it or not…)

And I’ve been crushing on loads of new music recently, thanks to several sweet boys of my acquaintance, and their mix-CD-making skillz. Here’s a sample of my new discoveries…

(Weird-but-kind-of-awesome video. Great song. Thanks Richard.)

(Also weird, but I love The Books. Thanks Struan.)

(And Broken Records, brilliant little Scottish band. Thanks a million, Grant!)

(Think you can do better? I always love receiving mixtapes and mix-CDs. If you make me one, I’ll make you one! Drop me a line to!)

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by indee~trippin’)

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Things I’m Reading Thursday #15

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

It’s crazy time at work right now — assessment season is in full swing which means I have pretty much no time to sleep, let alone post to ONS! So this is a short one. However…

This week, I am reading The Witches of Eastwick by John Updike.

And it’s brilliant.

More soon! What are you reading this week?

(Photo by Jacob…K)

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Procrastination Station #71

Friday, May 21st, 2010


A brilliant essay from Germaine Greer on old wives’ tales and female storytellers.

The problem of being a self-promoting artist

The new Glasgow Review is live!

What if we are secretly a loser of no talent and no one loves us? (I love the Rejectionist!)

I just found One Magazine’s Poetspace. A great selection there right now.

The Dark Horse has a brilliant editorial on the subject of rejection…

A cool found poem/flash piece at Verbatim

I really, really want one of these.

What ONS fans, friends and readers have been up to this week: Another brilliant new piece from Heather Bell // Swiss on linoleum // Former Featured Poet Tom Rendell was published at a handful of stones // Stephen Nelson has two poems up at Shadowtrain // and a new piece from Howie Good at Greatest Lakes Review

Amazing sweet-related tattoos from Creamy Middles

…and OMG, a Lord of the Rings tattoo that’s actually really cool.

My necklaces were featured here and here this week! And you can buy one right here.

I just recently discovered Royksopp, and now I’m majorly crushing on them. Love this song off Melody AM:

I also love Improv Everywhere

And this ad CRACKS ME UP. Thanks Hillary for bringing it to my attention!

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by eyetwist)

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Things I’m Reading Thursday #14

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Stuff I’m reading. What I’m thinking about it. How about you?

Sum by David Eagleman
It’s a pretty rare occasion that my dear, devoted little sister presses a book into my hands and says “you have to read this.” Usually, it’s the other way around — normally she’s trying to do some freaking amazing painting or drawing or something, and I’m standing over her with a copy of Margaret Atwood’s ‘Good Bones’ yelling STOP THAT RIGHT NOW AND READ THIS BOOK, WOMAN. However, since December ‘09 when she first read Sum, she’s been practically throwing the book at my head every time we’ve been in the same room. And in the interest of avoiding a concussion, I’ve finally got round to reading it.
My sister isn’t the only person to sing the praises of this strange little book. It was published by Canongate, so the Scottish literary community went all-a-flutter over it when it first appeared, and it’s been recommended to me by many people across the Twitter- and blog- spheres. And don’t get me wrong — it’s a great book. It deserves all the hype and praise it gets. In theory.
What do I mean by that? I mean, this is a bloody fantastic amazing brilliant idea for a book. Forty different theories on what the afterlife might be like? Hell yeah! Who doesn’t want to read that? Who doesn’t wish they thought of that first? Who couldn’t write forty of their own? Buy this book now, everyone!

Except, I’m a nitpicker… I’m a poet, after all. So yes, the idea is great and I hate David Eagleman for having had it before I did. But what about the execution?
To be honest, the writing itself has not blown me away at all — in fact at times I’ve been frustrated by its wrong-headed plainness, its refusal to incorporate more than a few occasional flashes of linguistic interesting-ness (”velvety blue angel” was genius, Eagleman… why did it shock me in amongst the surrounding monotony?). I’ve also been frustrated by its repetition, and Eagleman’s over-dependance on clichéd ideas about the afterlife — seriously, I’m on page 90 (which is nearly the end) right now, and if I find one more reference to harp music, I’m going to scream. Some of the stories/chapters/theories are just plain confusing to read; others haven’t been thought through desperately well (an afterlife that builds a copy of you based on birth, marriage and death records… so oh yes, the afterlife didn’t really exist til records began a few hundred years back. What?!). Don’t get me wrong — some are brilliant. “Absence”, in which Heaven is actually a warzone reminiscent of the Vietnam jungle, is really poignant, a very clever satire. But all too often I found myself thinking “great idea! But I could have written about it so much better.” Is that arrogance? If so, apologies — I couldn’t help it! I just couldn’t bring myself to like Eagleman’s style. It’s sparse, and in places feels careless — but it’s not well-done carelessness, like James Frey’s loose rattle, for example. It just feels… average. Three stars out of five. I liked it, but I couldn’t love it. Which is a shame, because as an idea, this book is exceptional.

What did you think to Sum? What are you reading this week?

(Photo by DeanPeterson)

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Stay sharp: write more.

Monday, May 17th, 2010

My students are now well and truly bogged down in assessment season, and I’m currently handing out all sorts of hints and tips to help them stay sharp, use their time wisely and revise to the best of their ability… and hopefully pass with flying colours. The more advice I give out, the more I think I ought to apply it myself — a lot of it is good advice for writers as well as terrified students. I thought I’d share some of it here… so whether you’re a stressed-out writer or a revision-weary student, read on!

1. Sleep well.
Staying up til half past two in the morning because you’re on a roll (be it a writing-roll or a revision-roll) is all very well, but your judgement is often not what it should be when you’re totally wiped-out tired. You may think you’re writing at your very best but chances are you’re not really firing on all cylinders… and what’s more, you’re sabotaging the next day’s writing too. Better to find a natural pause, maybe write yourself some notes so you know where to pick things up tomorrow, and go get some shut-eye.

2. Start early.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am definitely not one of those writers who gets up at 4am and writes an entire academic thesis before the sun’s even come up. However, I do know that on lazy days when I sleep in til noon, I get nothing done. See point 2: go to bed at a reasonable hour, then you can get up at a reasonable hour, too. Knowing you have the whole day ahead of you to get some work done is a big motivation, whereas knowing you’ve wasted half of it slonking in bed will just make you feel guilty and tempt you to write the day off as a total loss. So if you’re reading this from under the duvet — get your butt out of bed already!

3. Eat breakfast.
Very few of my students do this, apparently — “breakfast” to most of them means a can of Red Bull and a cigarette in the five minutes before college starts. But whether you’re revising for your finals or sculpting the latest chapter of your novel, you need to fuel up properly in order to stay the course. A hungry brain is an ineffective brain — and a distracted one.

4. Take breaks.
If you’re lucky enough to have the whole day to write, that’s awesome… but don’t go thinking that you have to write solidly for twelve hours without stopping. Therein lies disaster: you’ll start to flag and your writing will suffer, you’ll get tired or bored and start to resent the task, and/or you’ll find yourself resorting to procrastination in order to break up the monotony. The human brain works at its best for around 45 minutes and then starts to need a rest, so make sure it gets one. I advise my students to split every hour into blocks of 45 minutes work and then 15 minutes rest… and rest means total rest, ie, not even thinking about your poem/novel/notes/revision/whatever. I advise making a cup of tea, reading the paper or going for a walk, but NOT potentially brain-numbing activities like watching TV (15 minutes can turn into an afternoon-long Sex and the City marathon really easily, trust me!) or playing computer games (just one more level just one more level oh dammit, it’s midnight, how’d that happen?) Take heed!

5. Hydrate yourself.
Very much like the breakfast advice: a dehydrated brain is an ineffective, easily distracted, fuzzy and tired brain. If you do not water the ideas-plant, it will not bloom, so drink some water already! I also advise my students to stay away from caffeinated coffee, nasty energy drinks and sticky stuff like Cola and Lucozade… water really is best. Or if you want to stay really razor-sharp, drink some ginko tea. It improves circulation and sends more blood to the brain, and also enhances memory. Works for me — I always drink it before an exam!

6. Use the time you have.
What seems to panic students most is fitting enough revision time into the day — they all have college classes, part time jobs and extracurricular activities, which seems to leave very little time for additional studying. I think this is a common writerly worry as well… when you have a full time job, family commitments and all sorts of other stuff going on, writing can get left behind. The best thing to do is learn to use the time that you have. Writers find this really hard — we all want to be able to devote whole days to just sitting and writing, but realistically it’s just never going to happen. Instead, we need to adapt so that we can scribble a few lines on the bus to work, or edit that short story while watching the TV of an evening (or alternatively, see point 8!). I see students sitting with their books and notes, revising in the canteen over lunch, or grabbing a few minutes in the stairwells between classes to look over their practice assessments. Writers can learn a lot from this ’study anywhere’ stance!

7. Do what you can.
But yes, I know… sometimes The Muse just isn’t there, and she just won’t turn up no matter how much you will her to appear. My students complain of the same problem — they’re reading the notes over and over, but the information just isn’t going in. In which case, say I: do what you can. If you can’t find the inspiration to write, do something else productive. I’d always say that if you can’t write, read. If you’ve got half an hour between appointments but you can’t get words out onto the page, grab someone else’s poetry book or get yourself over to Poetry Archive. Sample some ideas… it may make all the difference the next time you try to put pen to paper.

8. Turn off the damn TV.
I’ve said this so often here that I’m starting to feel like a stuck record, but the TV (and its evil cousin the games console) is out to get your creativity, and must be thwarted. Time spent watching TV is essentially time spent doing nothing, and although this is not always a bad thing, you should think carefully about your TV time before you sink into the sofa. Are you just channel hopping, or watching whatever’s on even if it’s drivel? If so, think: do I want to numb my brain like this, really? Do I care what happens to the people on this show I’ve never seen before and don’t really care about? Or could I possibly be writing, or doing something that might better facilitate my writing? I ask my students to choose: would they rather find out what happened to Crystabelle’s marriage in Soapland, or get an A in their exam? Is it a hard decision…?

9. Read this article.
Procrastination can be your friend… honest.

10. Don’t be afraid to give up and start again tomorrow.
Sometimes you have days where you get out of bed at 8am and the next thing you know, it’s 11pm and you’ve got nothing done. Everyone has those days, and they suck. You feel a total failure and it’s tempting to stay up til the wee hours of the morning cramming in revision or scribbling down the first ideas that pop up in your frazzled brain. Don’t do it: heed point number one and give up, get some sleep and try again tomorrow. At the end of the day, no one aces every single test life chucks at them. There’s always tomorrow!

Are you a student? Former student? Any novel revision survivial tips? Any sure-fire ways to optimise your writing? You know where the comments box is!

(Photo by Lost Star)

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Procrastination Station #70

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Link love!

The poetry of Derek Mahon

The photography of Allen Ginsberg

The spontaneous prose of Jack Kerouac (thanks, @JFDerry for both of those!)

A brilliant quote from Henry David Thoreau

A cool writing exercise from Rachel McKibbens

Gonzo “story-shirts” from I Love Boxie (via Kingdom of Style)

I just discovered Hot Guys Reading Books. What’s not to love?

This is most definitely on my to-read list.

What ONS fans, friends and readers have been up to this week: former Featured Poet Juliet Wilson launched her chapbook, Unthinkable Skies — and there’s a great review here! // a great new poem from another former Featured Poet, McGuire // former Read This poet Ariel Starling has started a blog! // more awesome new stuff from the lovely Heather Bell // and there’s loads of new stuff up at the Read This Store!

Inspiring stories from inspiring women: Laura Munson, Bobby Baker and Cynthia Nixon

More inspiration from Shakesville.

Crafters! This craft show checklist is invaluable. Don’t be clueless like I was at my first market!

I have been intending to make one of these for a while now…

I’d rather be dead and in my grave than have a son of mine married to an artist.


& finally…

Sweet and brilliant.

An oldie, but a goodie.

I am utterly obsessed with this song at the moment…

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by ▲Robbix)

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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Things I’m Reading Thursday #13

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

A little light reading this week… be sure to let me know what books are on your bedside table at the moment, too!

Listography: your life in lists and Music Listography: your life in [play] lists by Lisa Nola Less reading, more scribbling, really… but as a compulsive list-maker I was overjoyed to discover Lisa Nola’s Listography books. Beautifully illustrated, the former is a journal of your life so far (a pretty cool idea in itself), which offers up challenges like “list all your former addresses” or “list the most important friends from your past.” Not only does it get you wracking your brains, once filled in it will also serve as a nostalgic time-capsule to which you can return later when you’ve forgotten, say, the name of that girl you used to sit next to in Higher English. It feels rather odd to temporarily climb inside the cave of your memory and write down everything you can see — but odd in a good way.
Music Listography also hugely appealed to me, as a geeky vinyl-hoarder and creator of mix tapes. In this case the challenges are seemingly easier — “list your favourite jazz and blues”; “list bands that you do not like” — but in my humble opinion, they’re actually harder. I was driven into a frenzy trying to remember which side of 1980 The Pretenders’ “Brass in Pocket” fell on (the far side, by the way), and tied up in knots trying to pick just twenty all-time favourite records (I’m still deliberating, in fact). However, these books have given my bus journeys to and from work a whole new meaning — I’ve loved filling them in. They’re also things of beauty — each list is laid out on a lovely thick cardstock page with hand-drawn type and gorgeous (and sometimes weird) illustrations. If you’re a journal-writer, a list-maker or just plain nostalgic, you will absolutely love these books.

Sisters: An Anthology by Penelope Farmer

I’m also working my way through this strange little book, which (as the title may suggest) is a collection of writings on sisters, siblings and sisterhood (genetic, platonic, political, and so on). I bought the book for two reasons: one because I was in Sam Read’s bookstore in Grasmere in the Lake District, a bookstore so charming and fabulous that I find it impossible not to buy something every time I visit and b) because I thought it might be useful for my PhD thesis. I made the mistake of thinking this was an anthology of literary criticism. In truth, it’s just an anthology of STUFF, and it can never quite seem to make up its mind.
There doesn’t seem to be much in the way of structure. You get an excerpt from Antigone, in which Antigone scolds her hapless sister for refusing to help her bring justice to their slain brother; then on the next page you have a section of Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals in which she describes the fateful Spring day that she and her brother discovered the famous “host of golden daffodils” whilst out on a walk. Elsewhere there are ‘also-in-the-news’ type newspaper snippets — a Siamese twin who had to put up with her conjoined sister’s smoking habit for forty years — and extracts from scientific research papers on things like hymenopteran female bees who share more genes with their sisters then with their own offspring. Palmer interrupts occasionally to give her thoughts on what constitutes sisterhood, to talk about her relationships with her own sisters, and to speculate on what life must have been like for previous generations of sisters in her family and elsewhere. It really is a mental book… but’s it’s chock-full of gold. Every new page brings a new weird and wonderful fact or opinion, a new snippet from a book you suddenly feel the urge to go and read, a new brilliant stanza from a poem or verse from a song. My thesis is all about women’s voices, women speaking through other women, and the desire for female predecessors to show us how to go about things. However, I’m also a devoted sister, an aspiring feminist (it’s one of those things where I’m never sure if I’m doing right or not), a teacher and a writer… so this book captivates me on many levels. It was a chance find, it’s utterly nuts, and I’m only about a fifth of the way through… but I’m already glad this odd little book crossed my path.

So what are you reading this week?

(Photo by Brown Betty)

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Going postal.

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Poet and editor Nigel Holt on magazines who accept only postal submissions:

By accepting postal only submissions, you do not reduce the quality of of submission, but you do filter out according to ability to pay.

I have sent over 400 poems out so far this year: had I taken the postal route, 200 sets at around twenty dollars a throw would have set me back $4000. Considering the rewards in the poetry business, I think I might be excused for decrying magazines that make me pay that for no good reason when there is a technological and free medium that allows me to submit.

This is why I insist that magazines that do not take email subs from international poets are both limiting the quality of what they publish and punishing people, like myself, who do not have the wherewithal to pump money willy-nilly into what is a doubtful success rate anyway, no matter what the quality.

If you can’t sift through email subs, save a few trees and see the advantages rather than looking at the negatives, then you’re in the wrong business. You should be boiled in your own ink (poached, perhaps)!

via Facebook.

(Photo by Contrary)

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Procrastination Station #69

Friday, May 7th, 2010

Some lovely links from a pretty hectic week!

A truly brilliant article on performance poetry vs page poetry from the great Ms Jenny Lindsay

A look at alternatives to well-known book covers

DEATHMATCH between two of my all-time favourite science fiction phenomena…!

30 famous authors whose works were repeatedly rejected

Literary bad days

I just discovered the writing blog of Shaun Masterson

What ONS fans, friends and readers have been up to this week: beautiful new poems from Kerri Ni Dochartaigh and Heather Bell // and a fairly fantabulous one from Mr Dave Coates // Gareth Trew is at a handful of stones // Congrats to William Soule who just tasted his first poetry contest victory! // my sister took one of my typewriters out for a walk… // of all the UK election coverage, I liked Swiss’ best! // and finally HUGE CONGRATULATIONS to former Featured Poet Eric Hamilton who has a brand new baby daughter, Lucy! And she’s already starred in one of his music videos!

WHY YES, that is one of my necklaces worn by the great Star St Germain on Nubby Twiglet’s blog! Buy one here!

Facebook is evil, but Natalie Perkins is courageous.

Biro doodles are art too!

Jes Sachse and Holly Norris = my heroines. How cool are these photos?

& finally…

(I really want to be able to do this stuff!)

(My typewriter in its own movie!)

(I wish I had this much time on my hands…)

Have a great weekend!

(Photo by Jmeeee)

Don’t forget to visit The Read This Store, and its sister store, Edinburgh Vintage!

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Things I’m Reading Thursday (Friday!) #12

Friday, May 7th, 2010

So I didn’t make it yesterday… don’t judge me!

Firstly some final thoughts on the Sentinel Literary Quarterly poetry contest! The top three winning poems are now up at the Sentinel website, and I’m very pleased to announce that they are: The Real Red Riding Hood by former London Poetry Festival Poet-In-Residence Christian Ward, Acting Blackbird by Roger Elkin and Aquarium by Michael Conley.
Some of the Highly Commended and ‘judge’s choice’ entrants have been in touch to ask why their poems haven’t been posted — never fear, those have been saved for the next print issue of SLQ, which will be available in August. Keep an eye on the SLQ blog for updates!
Finally, you can read my judge’s report, which gives a bit of insight into why I picked out the poems I did, right here. I absolutely loved judging the contest so if anyone wants me to do another one…? I’m also thinking of running a One Night Stanzas poetry contest now I’ve had an insight into how it’s all done. All those in favour, please say ‘aye!’ in the comments box… I’d like to be able to sniff out how much interest it might potentially get!

So what else have I been reading this week?

Curious Pursuits by Margaret Atwood
If you’ve been here before you probably know by now that I’m a massive Atwood fangirl. My first experience of her writing was when I was about fourteen and had to write a book report for my high school English class. My high school library was pretty small and the selection was limited… there was also an age-band system in place (which I just accepted at the time but which now shocks me to the core), so some sections were off-limits to anyone under 16. I wandered aimlessly into the library and picked up the first novel whose cover design appealed to me… and that book was Lady Oracle (this particular edition had a picture of a woman’s long, bright-red hair with sunglasses tangled in it. I’d just dyed my hair red for the first time, so that’s probably what struck me). I utterly loved the book, and moved on almost immediately to The Blind Assassin, which had just won the Booker Prize that year, and I now count it as one of my desert-island, all-time top five novels.
My favourite book of Atwood’s (so far) though is Negotiating with the Dead, a series of lectures on writers and the writing process that later became a printed critical work. It’s the cornerstone of my ongoing PhD thesis and the best book about “being a writer” that I’ve ever read. I’ve been meaning for ages to write a post about it here, and would encourage you all to go out and buy a copy immediately. It was my much-read, much-creased copy of Negotiating with the Dead that Atwood signed for me when I met her (and greatly embarrassed myself) at Edinburgh College of Art a couple of years ago.
So, to cut a long story short, Curious Pursuits has been on my to-read list for a long time. It’s a collection of funny little bits and pieces of writing that Atwood’s collected up and stuck together to make a strange — and of course brilliant — collage of a book. Dating back to early writings, Curious Pursuits includes book reviews, obituaries, critical essays and articles of all shapes and sizes. My copy, which was pristine when I bought it only a few weeks ago, is now a well-used fan of post-it-note page markers. Atwood’s review of The Witches of Eastwick made me want to go out and read some Updike RIGHT THEN; her recollections of travelling in Europe and her relationship with her aunts suddenly made so much stuff from Lady Oracle slot into place, which sent me whirling back to the bookshelf like a dervish, wanting to re-read it. It’s a pretty special book that starts a chain-reaction of MUST READ THAT NEXT AND THEN THAT AND THEN THAT. So er, while you’re out buying Negotiating with the Dead? Better grab yourselves a copy of this, too.

What have you been reading this week?

(Photo by Jennnnyyyy)

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