Archive for April, 2011

Typewriter geekery: news roundup

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Underwood Typewriter II

A lot’s been going on since my appearance in the Observer last Sunday. It spookily coincided with the very last manual typewriter rolling off the very last production line, and as a result I’ve been inundated with emails from folk wanting me to geek out about typewriters at their blog/publication/event, etc. It’s been fantastic. Oddities pending right now: an opportunity to speak on South African public radio, an interview for a major Polish newspaper, and quite a long piece on typewriters vs blogs for the Poetry Society. I’ve also had heaps of emails from people telling me their typewriter stories, wanting to know what models I have, wanting to gift me their old machines/ribbons/typewriter accessories, asking me for advice/giving me advice about typewriter restorers, good eBay stores for typewriter related stuff, the correct use of carbon papers and so on and so forth. I have absolutely loved getting involved in all these weird and wonderful projects, hearing from everyone and striking up so many interesting conversations.

I thought I’d do a wee round-up of all the stuff that’s gone on so far. Some interesting stuff here!

My typewriter poem (previously published in The Guardian) and interview were featured at Writing Ball

I was interviewed by BBC Radio Ulster (listen here) and BBC Radio Wales — you can hear me on the Good Evening Wales programme (available til next Wednesday), about 54 minutes in, geeking out about Underwood 5s and fighting off cheeky comparisons to Hemingway.

I was quoted in the Daily Express (gulp) as part of their obituary for the typewriter.

Exibart included me in their news round-up.

I got Magpie Writes thinking about the nature of anonymous commenting, vitriol and vexatiousness.

I loved this visual typewriter obituary.

More to come!

And in other news…
Chris Scott took a brilliant author photo of me — I absolutely love it.

I’m reading at The Store (as part of Poetry At The…) in May, and loved what The List had to say about my “razor-sharp wit”!

I now have a very pretty profile at A-Gender (thanks Jim).

The Allen Ginsberg blog gave a shoutout to the Starry Rhymes submission call (still seeking poets)!

Want me to geek about about typewriters at your blog/zine/wedding/bar mitzvah/funeral/etc? I’m available! No seriously.

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Things I’m Reading Thursday #26

Thursday, April 28th, 2011


It’s been a while since I’ve done a Things I’m Reading Thursday post, primarily because — cue the sad violins — I’ve had very little time to read anything other than thesis stuff, and no one round these parts wants to hear about academic papers with titles like “Who Killed Feminism?” (I shouldn’t think).

However, for the last two weeks I’ve been on holiday for Easter, and had chance to catch up on some much-needed reading. One of the best books I’m currently nosing through is True and False: Heresy and Common Sense for the Actor, by David Mamet.

I only recently discovered Mamet’s prose. Although I’m interested in theatrical writing, dramaturgy and whatnot, I never thought my vague interest would lead me in the direction of formal criticism on the subject. However — in keeping with the theme that seems to have developed in my reading — I got interested after Lovely Boyfriend recommended Mamet’s Writing in Restaurants on our very first date (expect a Writing in Restaurants post here sometime soon, incidentally)! Naturally, wanting to impress my gorgeous love-interest, I devoured the book and absolutely loved it. So when I spotted “True and False” in a great bookstore while on holiday in Amsterdam, I decided — even though I have very little interest in acting — to give it a go.

And I’m really glad I did. Mamet writes in such a brilliant way — concise, brutal, to the point, but also really enjoyable prose. And although the book is supposedly “for the actor”, the vast majority of it can be easily extended to apply to any creative person — writers in particular, as Mamet frequently draws from his personal experiences as a playwright to illustrate his points.

There was so much great advice in here, advice that really struck a chord with me and made me think “I have to share this with the writers I know!” So, courtesy of “True and False”, check out some words of Mamet wisdom, and see what you think!

On choosing writing as your “career” rather than your “hobby”:

“You will encounter in your travels folks of your own age who chose the institutional path, who became the arts administrators rather than the actors, the casting agents rather than the writers. These folks chose to serve an institutional authority in exchange for a paycheck, and these folks are going to be with you for the rest of your life, and you actors and writers and people who come up off the street, who live without certainty day to day and year to year are going to have to bear with being called children by these institutional types… [but] it is not childish to live with uncertainty, to devote oneself to a craft rather than a career, to an idea rather than an institution. It’s courageous and requires a courage of the order that the institutionally co-opted are ill equipped to perceive.”

On seeking fame and approval, and being competitive:

“We’d all like to be well thought of, to do noble things, to do great things, and to be respected. But is it worthy of respect to act in a manner we ourselves feel is trivial, exploitative, demeaning or sordid? How can that command the respect of others; and would we value the approval of someone who is taken in my behaviour which we know to be shoddy, grasping and mercantile?
And yet our truly noble desire to do good work, to contribute to the community, can become warped into an empty quest for something which we call success — that quest where many of you andmany of your peers will squander your youth. [...] The Stoics would say ‘act first to desire your own good opinion’.”

On performing well:

“Such remarks as ‘I am a fraud, I am no good, I was terrible tonight’ are the opposite of effective self improvement. They are obeisance to an outside or internalised authority — they are a plea to that authority for pity for your helpless state. You are not helpless. You are entitled to learn and to improve and to vary… [but] generally, the ‘I’m garbage’ and ‘I was brilliant’ performances were the same.
[...] The purpose of the performance is solely to communicate to the audience. If we bear this in mind, we will be less likely to go around berating ourselves.”

On editors, agents and other cultural gatekeepers:

“How will you act when you, whether occasionally or frequently, come up against the gatekeepers? Why not do the best you can, see them as, if you will, an inevitable and preexisting condition, like ants at a picnic, and shrug and enjoy yourself in spite of them. Do not internalise the industrial model. You are not one of the myriad of interchangeable pieces, but a unique human being, and if you’ve got something to say, say it, and think well of yourself while you’re learning to say it better.”

On keeping on writing:

“Perhaps no one in a situation demanding courage (that is, in a situation that has frightened him) can believe it — when the ramp comes down on the landing craft on D-Day, when the baby is ready to be born, when the time comes to address the court, or plead with the spouse for a second chance, or ask the bank for an extension — when the time comes, in short, to act, it becomes apparent to these people, as it should to you, that no one cares what you believe, and if you’ve got a goal to accomplish then you’d best set about it. To deny nothing, invent nothing — accept everything, and get on with it.”

What are you reading right now?


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The Observer: haters are, apparently, gonna hate. And then some.

Sunday, April 24th, 2011

New baby_closeup
My Litton Imperial Safari.

The good news: there’s a piece in today’s Observer featuring me, talking about my typewriters. It’s part of a wider feature on folk who also like/collect/make use of analogue technology in their day-to-day lives. I was approached out of the blue by the lovely Gemma Kappala Ramsamy, who works on the Guardian/Observer, and asked if I’d fancy doing it, so I said yes. The article also features a very lovely photo of me (and a rather fetching 3-bank Underwood), shot by Murdo McLeod. (Big thanks to both Gemma and Murdo, by the way.) If you want to see the article in the flesh, it’s on pages 12 and 13 of the Review section. Otherwise, you can read it online here.

The bad news: some (in fact, most) of the comments on the article are personal, judgemental and deeply hurtful. There are also — pretty much every one of them — anonymous.

Of course, I know only too well the sort of dross that comment threads on big-hitting websites generally tend to attract. I know only too well that the Guardian/Observer pages seem to play host a particularly nasty breed of commenter — I’ve seen the holier-than-thou brigade hanging around many times before, particularly at the books blog, which really seems to get it bad. These aren’t your standard Youtube-style trolls, either — these commenters are educated, they know what they’re talking about and are at pains to tell you so; these are commenters who know how to blockquote, who’ll recommend you “do your research” by recommending some great-but-obscure book they know (using the Harvard referencing system to give you the link); commenters who have statistics to back up their arguments, and who all have terribly dry, witty screennames behind which to hide while they spit out vitriol. They are, in short, self-righteous — but cowardly — killjoys.

I know all of this, as I say, only too well. And actually, in comparison to some of the other folk featured in the article — the girl who collects vinyl and DJs using gramophones, for instance — I’ve got off pretty lightly in the slagging-off stakes. However, I’ve never been one to just sit back and allow myself to be picked on, so I thought I’d take this opportunity to respond to some of the comments. Many are, of course, just inane and/or ignorant — of the “you’re all hipsters”, “you’re all precocious/pretentious”, “you’re artsy tossers” school of thought. I have the same thing to say to this entire band of sad individuals and it is as follows:

OK, I’m a hipster/wanker/tosser/pretentious bitch/yadayadayada, if you say so. But look, The Observer sought me out to write about, because I am doing something interesting and saying something people might want to read. The only way you can get in The Observer is by parading your sour grapes in the comment thread, with the rest of the folk who are content to use their lives sitting on their arses and bitching. And there aint nothing new about what you’re doing, and there aint nothing interesting about what you’re saying. Finally — my name is in print, right there. You’re hiding behind a screenname and an avatar. Would you say that stuff to my face, if you saw me at a poetry gig or the like? If the answer is yes, you’re a f___ing arsehole. If the answer is no, you’re a f___ing arsehole. So frankly, I’d rather be the most precocious, pretentious, liberal artsy hipster tosser under the sun than one of you.

However, some of the commenters do seem to want to genuinely engage with what I’ve said — albeit, in some cases, in a rather aggressive way. See their thoughts — and my responses — below:

24 April 2011 4:20AM
No I wouldn’t want to go back to using a typewriter - I remember all the fuss with ribbons and somehow never getting it just right, and the hassle of keys getting jammed - and imagine having to retype a whole document for a couple of errors. And banging down hard on those manual typewriter keys. No I love the soft touch of my lap top even though in the sixties I was overjoyed when someone lent me a typewriter and totally embraced it as ‘new technology’.

Fair dos Kenneth. I agree — sometimes typewriters are a massive pain in the butt. Ribbons are messy and smeary, sticky keys can make any document look scruffy and amateurish, and making an error when you’re three quarters of the way through something can sometimes be the worst feeling in the world. My main problem with them (although this is perhaps only a problem because I have a few, rather than just one) is moving house. You have to really love the bastard things in order to put up with all their foibles. I’ll freely admit that part of the appeal of a typewriter for me is probably in the fact that I get to choose to use one as and when I feel like it — I don’t remember the days when your typewriter was your only means of word-processing and some people slaved for hours every day over such a machine. I realise I’m fortunate — and a little weird.

24 April 2011 6:41AM
There’s some art in vintage equipment but it really doesn’t work that well (and its in very poor taste to vandalize old stuff to make something “new” IMO).

It depends what you mean by “working well.” A typewriter is a slower (and heavier, and noisier) word-processing machine than a PC, and yeah, editing is much easier on a computer. But it does the job — and, as I say in the article, has a much longer lifespan. You can spill your coffee on the keyboard and just carry on typing; you don’t need to find a free plug socket or download any upgrades to keep it going. Powercut? Give me a candle and I’m good to go. And I agree entirely with the latter statement. I’m very, very much against people who rip up sought-after typewriters to make daft steampunk-style laptops, for example.

24 April 2011 8:16AM
Whether analog or digital, they’re only tools and only any use if the person wielding them has something worthwhile to say. Nostalgia does not produce good art any more reliably than an obsession with newness.

Good point that man. Check out some of my poetry, then you’re actually equipped to decide whether or not I’m just some nostalgic hipster, or making something worthwhile. Yippee!

24 April 2011 8:59AM
[Part of a longer comment]
Incidentally, writing poetry on a typewriter is no big deal. Some authors write their entire manuscripts longhand, such as Neal Stephenson, many of whose works are over 900 pages long. Perhaps he has his favourite pen, but the pen isn’t the point.

Thank you, sir, for writing a comment using what appears to be your real name. I like the way you operate. Now, if you could show me exactly where in the article I said a) that writing poetry on a typewriter is a big deal, or b) that using my favourite typewriter is totally the point of anything I write, I’d be super obliged. Thanks.

24 April 2011 9:01AM
[Part of a longer comment]
Bollocks to the 20 year old artists. I’m not arsed with “artists” who are not born of the age of vinyl who use it as a gimmick for their own work. To me, a collector is an artist. Anyway, I will never surrender my Mac and my ability to listen and watch stuff on Youtube. Technology is good.

Agreed — I say so myself in the article. Now, have you ever heard the expression “horses for courses”? And collectors — I collect typewriters. I also collect vinyl records. I don’t believe I use either of these things ‘for’ (what do you mean? To promote?) my work. Are you saying that simply because I am in my twenties, my interest in these things is not legitimate?

24 April 2011 9:09AM
Lord look down. Somebody whose ‘art work’ (oxymoron) is so unrecognisable as such that they have to use a cheap gimmick to get noticed actually gets noticed. Who pays for you bunch to eat?

I do. As well as reading a totally unfunded (i.e., I pay for it myself) PhD, I work full time in further education, higher education and community outreach. I have never asked for or received money from a funding body and when I do poetry gigs I’m lucky if I get my travel expenses paid. What do you do? (Oh, and you spell it Jekyll.)

24 April 2011 9:40AM
Re: Claire Askew. The poetry is somehow improved by using an old fashioned typewriter?

I have vellum screeds prepared by an ancient, toothless farmhand from Kincardine. These are pigskins which are soaked in a mixture of brine and manure for 6 months and then scraped to wafer thin with a rusty knife. I commission a fellow to kidnap geese at night; I select the stiffest feathers, order a young lad to trim them and fashion nibs. With a mixture of soot and the crushed shells of certain crustaceans, my ink is made by a phalanx of blind beggars from Banff.

Now, even my most post-modern brutalist tracts read like they have come from the 18th century, and are much improv’d.

I said my poetry is improved by using a typewriter. Obviously, I would never dare make generalisations on the writing process of poets or writers in general — everyone’s different. But since you bring it up, I think I can safely say just from looking at this comment that you can vellum screed yourself til you’re blue in the face (in fact, I wish you would)… but if you think this shit is funny, you’ll never be a decent writer.

24 April 2011 1:32PM
It’s interesting that they all seem far more interested in the technology than in the end product, which does seem to be very much a contemporary phenomenon. I’m fairly sure that all the thousands of writers who used typewriters - or quill pens or papyrus or tablets going back - didn’t find the tools themselves interesting, but what they could be used to create. Technology, from stone tablets to the latest gizmo, is only ever the tool of production, not the creativity and not the product.

Shockingly, because it’s an article about analogue technology I was asked to talk specifically about the technology. Had it been an article about just my work in general, typewriters would barely have featured. Yes, I find typewriters fascinating — and beautiful — but I am primarily interested in producing good poems. And actually, I think I talk a fair bit about my actual writing and the ways in which using a typewriter facilitates (rather than dominates) my creative process. But it’s an article about the technology. I was asked to talk about typewriters, so I did. You’re essentially saying “why are they all talking about what they were interviewed about? I want them to talk about something entirely different!”

24 April 2011 4:36PM
This is very frustrating. It appears that these people are not choosing alternatives to digital because of any apparent benefit, although I would argue that certain analogue objects do have their merits when compared to their modern-day counterparts, but from a shallow desire to appear ‘rad’ or somehow different to the ‘plebs’ using perfectly decent modern equipment. Thanks to these people everyone else who occasionally dabbles in the past (I for instance like using old cameras, but purely out of enjoyment for the process and fun of it, I hold no doctrine that my methods are superior to those using digital cameras) is branded in the same category as these pretentious hipsters.

Imagine, if you will, having numerous snide and personal assumptions made about you, based on about 600 words of (heavily edited) text; having someone put quote-marks around words you never actually said; having someone accuse you of holding views you absolutely do not in any way espouse. Imagine this happening to you in a public forum, in which your identity is exposed, but in which your attacker is able to remain anonymous while passing judgement on you. You think you’re frustrated? Give me a damn break, baby.

So, now you’ve seen some of the stuff I was greeted with when I raced to my computer to get a first peek at the article this morning, after weeks of waiting. I daresay some of you may think me infantile for responding in this fashion. I daresay some folk will go away smugly thinking “well, we obviously upset her — she’s devoted a whole post to us.” Infantile? Maybe — but as I say, I’ve never taken being picked on lying down — particularly not when the bullies in question are ignorant cowards who’ll chuck stones from a safe distance but not come out and actually square up to me. And upset? You’re damn right I’m upset. Thanks to these ignorant commenters, my excitement at being involved in the piece was quite severely dampened, and yes — for a while, I felt pretty darned hurt.

HOWEVER. I was and still am chuffed, flattered and humbled to be asked to comment in The Observer. I was really happy to get the chance to talk about something I’m genuinely passionate about, and to collaborate on the piece with such fabulous people (thanks again to Gemma, and to Murdo for the photo). I’m still really proud of the fact that I’ve been featured in a national newspaper (again), and I’m really pleased with the job Gemma did in cutting down the contents of our hour-long interview into (I think) a tight, snappy article. And the best bit: in the twelve-or-so hours since I went and picked up my copy of the paper, I’ve received heaps of emails and messages from folk I’ve never met or spoken to in my life. People have emailed me to tell me stories about their own typewriters, to show me their typewriter poems or to share their thoughts on the writing process. Some people just seem to want to geek out, asking me which makes and models I have and telling me about their collections. I couldn’t let the small minority of comment-thread wankers slide by unanswered, but I am now quite happy to give them all a great big screw you and forget about it. I’m off to forge some positive new working relationships with the awesome folk flooding my inbox. What — “Drust”, “TomTomSweeney” and friends — are you doing right now?

Are you an angry Observer commenter? How about you drop the wanky screenname and fight like a man. Alternatively, maybe you think typewriters are awesome and trolls are stupid and you’d like to say hello. Either way, I can be found at

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OPENING NIGHT: this collection at The Glue Factory

Wednesday, April 13th, 2011

Glue Factory

Come and join Edinburgh-based community arts project this collection as we make our first ever journey west and open an exciting fortnight-long event at Glasgow’s infamous Glue Factory artspace!

At: The Glue Factory, 22 Farnell Street, Glasgow, G4 9SE
Starts: 7.30pm
Finishes: 1.00am


+ BLOCHESTRA: innovative and experimental noise-makers — “a band to turn the conventional music experience on its head.”

+ ZORRAS: poetry-music-video weirdness fusion. With megaphones.

+ DJ SET/SPECIAL GUESTS TBC: tunes inspired by this collection poems


+ breathtaking images from renowned graphic designer Ming Tse

+ a huge and stunning mural by illustrators Helen Askew and Laura Mossop

+ this collection’s ‘top 100 poems’ and the plethora of creative, collborative responses they have inspired so far


Honeymede will be on hand to supply their delicious home-brew ale at a mere £1 per pint!

TBC: this collection hope to provide a minibus to ferry faithful Edinburgh followers over to the event and back from Glasgow afterwards. Seats on the FilmPoetry Magic Schoolbus will cost a mere £3 and be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis. The bus is not yet 100% confirmed but if you think you would like a ride to the event, drop a line to to register your interest.

Click “attending” on our Facebook event!


this collection began life as a modest bouquet of 100 short poems on the subject of Edinburgh. Authors included all manner of Edinburgh residents from high school kids to University professors, and over the course of the past two years, their work has acted as a foundation upon which artists and creatives from all walks of life have built collaborative responses to the poems. Thus far, the project has primarily attracted short films, but more recently the artistic responses have included works as diverse as street art installations, handmade zines and improvised music scores.

this collection has hosted a plethora of community art events in Edinburgh, too – including a memorable poets’ and filmmakers’ speed-dating night, a huge multi-media showcase in the cavernous McEwan Hall, and an experimental ‘friendly’ poetry slam. Now, this collection is coming to Glasgow to seek out a whole new community, and to inspire new responses to the artistic works already produced under its umbrella.

The project will adopt The Glue Factory – an abandoned industrial space turned community arts venue – as its temporary home from 30th April to 15th May. Glasgow residents and visitors will be welcomed inside to peruse a wide and vibrant showcase of creative work inspired by the original this collection 100 poems.

We hope to see you there!


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Call for submissions: ‘Starry Rhymes: 85 Years of Allen Ginsberg’

Tuesday, April 12th, 2011

As you may already know, I am a huge Beat Generation enthusiast and I am particularly interested in the poet Allen Ginsberg. Friday 3rd June this year would have been Ginsberg’s 85th birthday, and I would really like to do something to mark the occasion.

Taking inspiration from Rob Mackenzie’s excellent ‘Norman MacCaig at the GRV‘ centenary event, I would like to gather a bunch of poets together who’d be willing to write a poem (of any style, form, and — within reason — length) inspired by Ginsberg. Each poet will be given a different poem by the great man himself, and asked to write a response to that poem (no prior knowledge of Ginsberg’s work required!). The climax of the project will be twofold.

Firstly, I’ll gather together all of the response poems, and publish them in a limited run (probably 100 or 150, depending on the number of poets) of handmade chapbooks (via my Read This Press micropress). Poets involved will each receive one free copy of this publication (entitled Starry Rhymes, after AG’s 1997 poem of the same name).

Secondly, I have booked out the Forest Hall (the space above Edinburgh literary landmark, the Forest Cafe) for the evening of 3rd June for the chapbook launch. I am hoping to screen archive footage of Ginsberg, play some recordings of the great man reading, invite academics and creatives to come and speak about Ginsberg’s life, work and influence, and to host performances by some of the poets whose work appears in the chapbook. There may also be live music/other delights. Poets who read at this event will be able to sell books/CDs/other merch — the event will be free but donations will be requested.

If you would like to be involved in the project, let me know asap by emailing and I will send you your mystery Ginsberg poem to respond to (sorry, I’m making it a rule that you can’t pick your own — otherwise I’m pretty sure I’d get 25 ‘Howl’ responses! But if the poem I choose for you is really not to your taste, let me know). Once responses are in, my editorial team (currently TBC) and I will select the poems that will make it into the chapbook, and let you know asap.

We’re looking for a diverse mix of writers for this project, so we’re happy to hear from spoken word and performance poets, visual and concrete poets and sound poets as well as those who write in more ‘traditional’ forms and styles. All are welcome to submit, so please do get in touch.

Deadline for final submission of responses: Sunday 8th May.

Let me know asap if you’d like to be involved, or if you have any queries!, as always!


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Procrastination Station #89

Friday, April 8th, 2011


It’s the Easter holidays! Wheee! Time for some link love.

So glad these guys have covered the Jacqueline Howett dramz so I don’t have to (if you don’t know what this is, read on: it’s basically How Not To Be An Author)

But does poetry + attention-seeking = success?

Why you should buy small press books straight from the publisher.

Writers and their instruments…

…and speaking of which, thanks so much to Peg for sending me this typewritery goodness!

The Poetry Book Society has lost it’s funding: and why that sucks.

Maya Angelou is great.

Why you should keep your love letters.

Check out My Unfinished Novels!

Female superhero outfits = sexist and stupid.

Stan Reeves: Edinburgh legend.

Save the Forest: give your art.

One Night Stanzas fans and friends this week: Lovely Boyfriend (sorry, poet Stephen Welsh) posted his first ever poem at his blog, Concrete Void! // Swiss (he’s writing again!) on his notebook // Stephen Nelson is doing NaPoWriMo! // Harry Giles handed out some free poems at his blog // Ryan Van Winkle featured by Poetry At The… // a lovely new piece from Cassandra // the Best Scottish Poems of 2010 are live! //

How ‘Independence Day’ promotes positive messages about sex work. Inneresting!

This is a brilliant photopgraphy project.

Whereas these photos (while amazing) are just plain weeeeird…

The much-circulated fake Smithsonian ads are damn brilliant.

Well hello there.


And I know I posted this before, but it’s getting to feel summery again, and well — it’s brilliant:

Wizard Smoke from Salazar on Vimeo.

Have a great weekend!


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Everyone loves a troll.

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Vintage 1964 DAM Troll Doll

It’s been a while since I’ve been trolled, and a long, long time since I’ve had a classic example like this. It was just too good/tragic not to share with you…

Shortly after posting about the Swale Life Poetry Contest (which I am judging, folks!), I received the following amusing message from a male commenter who shall remain nameless:

You are charging an entry fee????
Isn’t that illegal … ????
I won’t enter a contest that I have to pay for…
I am already poor enough…
I am a freaking artist…
I have no money…

I had a bit of a giggle at this message but did nothing about it and thought no more of it. I assumed that hey, if he was so offended by my “illegal” contest, he just wouldn’t enter and everyone would be fine. But no. When I did not respond, I was bombarded by further messages. Check this one out:

I will never pay to enter a contest involving my art.
I think it is in poor taste for you to promote this event.
You have been a friend of mine for a long time. [NB: I do not know this person at all.]
But I sense that this will soon change.
No artist should EVER have to pay a fee to enter a contest.
I was you [sic] friend but soon may not be.

Oh Mr Troll. In what lovely rose-tinted world do you live? I want to visit.

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Being a good poet.

Thursday, April 7th, 2011

Hidden Talent

“I despair the distinction made between “page” and “performance” poets. A good poem is a good poem, it matters not one jot what style it is. If the writer is also able to give a verbal delivery that is enjoyable to an audience then surely that is a good thing. I fail to see how it could be other. Being a good poet does not mean one cannot be an equally good performer. And vice versa! Also NOT being a good performer has absolutely no bearing whatsoever on one’s ability to write good poetry. Anyone who writes good poetry, is able to deliver said poetry well, and WISHES to do so in public, should — to my mind — be encouraged to do so.”

Fiona Lindsay, Edinburgh-based, barefoot, slam-winning poet.


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this collection FRIENDLY POETRY SLAM: the fallout

Wednesday, April 6th, 2011

Cat Dean
Slam virgin Cat Dean wows the slam crowd at the Banshee Labyrinth.

I’ll admit – I was worried about how this event might go down. My aims for the slam were manifold. Firstly, I wanted to drag a few more “page” poets (i.e., poets who are normally more at home publishing in journals and books, and reading at traditional stand up readings) kicking and screaming into the performance scene – mainly to show them that hey, it’s really not that different or scary and look, there’s good poetry to be found here. Secondly, I wanted to get the message across to the performance crowd (although they do tend to be more receptive to stuff outside their own field of literary experience) that page poets can be fun, and that they can – sometimes, at least – perform. Mostly, I wanted to try and narrow the divide that – in spite of the best efforts of fabulous folk like Jenny Lindsay, who has been organising very open and approachable performance events for years – still stubbornly exists between page and stage in the Scottish poetry community.

As I say, this was by no means the first friendly slam that’s ever taken place. Indeed, I’m proud of the fact that Scotland seems to be at the forefront of new and innovative thinking when it comes to slamming and other performance poetry events. Over the past few years there have been one or two “sotto voce” or “quiet” slams about the place – the now-sadly-defunct VoxBox held a “quiet” slam specifically for page poets, and the Scottish Poetry Library also did a sotto slam in 2009, which yours truly here somehow managed to win. Working in this tradition, I wanted to further mess around with the traditional slam format, and by doing so, I hoped to chip away at some of the myths and misconceptions surrounding the phenomenon.

The main difference was in the scoring of the poems. I’m defiantly against the “traditional” slam scoring method, which involves the audience getting involved in rating each poet. In the US, where slams are always well-attended and often patronised by folk who are not either a) poets or b) friends of poets, I can see how this system could work… but in Scotland, where almost everyone in the crowd is a friend/enemy/editor/publisher/workshop buddy/love interest of at least one of the performers, it makes for skewed results. The poet with the most mates wins, to put it simply. The other traditional slam scoring option is the use of a judging panel. But this was a this collection event, and this collection is very much anti-hierarchy, anti-quality-control, anti-curation. To gather a panel of “esteemed judges” for the poets to impress was really not our style.

Instead, we decided to let the poets score each other. Each poet received a personalised score-card, which bore the names of all the poets performing, except for their own – so they could not award points for their own performance. Scores were out of 30 (10 for content, 10 for delivery, and 10 for that individual’s particular “overall opinion”), and recorded at the end of every poet’s performance. At the end of each round, all the scorecards were collected up and the scores anonymously tallied. Poets with high scores progressed through the ranks; poets with lower scores fell by the wayside – but everything was on a democratic, peer-review basis, and thanks to the wide variety of poets performing, we were confident that there would be little-to-no bias.

The scoring system did throw up some issues. Most obviously, it was a logistical nightmare. It wasn’t until I received the first batch of scores at the end of the first round that I realised: I was going to have to add up sixteen sets of scores out of 30 for sixteen poets within fifteen minutes. In round one alone, poets were competing for up to 580 points… that’s a hell of a lot of adding up. Fortunately, I had the help of two glamorous calculator-wielding assistants (my poor, long-suffering flatmates), and we managed, but if I were organising another event of this type, a more simplistic scoring method would have to be devised!

Secondly, several of the poets told me afterwards that they’d found the quick-fire nature of the scoring rather tricky. With only about 30 seconds or so between poets, they had to make snap decisions about the numbers they entered for each. Some said they appreciated this – it prevented them from getting bogged down in thinking and re-thinking their decision, and it meant that their responses were instinctive. Others said they found the whole thing rather stressful, and would have liked a bit more time to reflect on what they’d heard in order to give a score that they felt was reasoned and fair. Next time, I just need to spraff a bit more between performers, I think!

Finally, a couple of people said afterwards that they felt the poets-only scoring left the audience a feeling a little bit surplus-to-requirements. I was really pleased with the enthusiasm the audience were willing to give for each performance in spite of it being quite a long night, but I did note that things cooled off a little in the middle. I’m now thinking that perhaps a compromise of some scoring being done via audience reaction and some done by just the poets may be an interesting avenue to explore.

Otherwise, I was really pleased with the outcome of the scoring experiment, and really interested to see how poets reacted to other performances. Some folk were clearly being very harsh across the board, with some poets scoring certain performances with a big fat zero and never venturing into figures much higher than 6. Others seemed more than happy to dish out perfect 10s across the board to poets they really liked, and – my favourite part of the adding-up process – many of the scorecards came back with doodles, marginalia or explanatory notes decorating their margins. Overall, scoring was extremely close. Numerous folk have noted in their feedback about the evening that poets like Andrew Philip and Dave Coates deserved to move up to the second round, and I agree on both counts. However, it was literally the odd mark here and there that separated 10th place from 11th and 11th from 12th, etc. It was almost too close to call in some cases, and at one point my glamorous assistants and I actually did a re-count to ensure that the right person was getting the correct score. Poets who came lower than they would have liked – or perhaps lower than some of those in attendance felt they deserved – will hopefully be ever-so-slightly placated by the fact that it really was very close indeed.

The main discussion taking place in the aftermath of the slam – and may I take this opportunity to say how happy I am that so much healthy discussion has been generated by the event – concerns the old chestnut of performance vs page. Who had more of an advantage on the night? Who in attendance counts as ‘page’, and who counts as ‘stage’? Did one camp score the other unfairly – was there a bias for or against either side? And so on and so forth. Personally, while I am watching these discussions with interest, and chipping in every so often (of course), I’m kind of sad to hear these questions being raised. As I said above, my aim for the evening was to temporarily erase – or at least blur – the dividing line that exists between page and performance poets; to see the two sides of the poetry world come together and yes, compete… but also to listen to and acknowledge each other. And it felt like this happened on the night itself. In many cases it was difficult to ascertain who belonged to which camp – over at Tonguefire, commenters are scrabbling to define poets like Alec Beattie (whose set was decidedly performance-esque, but read from a book and something of a departure from his usual work), Colin McGuire (a poet who performs with great gusto but who normally shies away from performance-heavy gigs and whose stuff works brilliantly on the page too) and Emily Dodd (a poetry slam virgin… but one who embraces audience participation). I think it’s only later that the feeling of never-the-twain-shall-meet has begun to slink back in, which perhaps is inevitable. For me, the night itself did exactly what I wanted it to: it picked up the traditional make-your-own-slam kit and gave it a bit of a shake, and it got page-folk and stage-folk up to the same mic, and forced them to rate (or, indeed, slate) one another… all of which involved everyone listening carefully to everyone else. The array of talent on show was refreshingly varied and – if you ask me – of excellent quality, and everyone seemed to have a damn good night. It might take a few more of these things before folk really start thinking differently about how poetry is performed and received in Scotland, but for now, I’m really quite pleased.

Responses to the this collection slam:

“A great learning experience for us novices and some wonderful poems and performers.” – Alec Beattie

“It was a great success, with consistent quality and entertainment, from a controlled crowd of temporary human beings and poets…I think there may be more this collection SLAM nights to come. I hope so. Let there be mic!” – McGuire (more here

“I loved that Claire did something new with slams, and particularly that the ‘friendly’ tag encouraged folks to take part who usually wouldn’t touch slam with a barge pole. A couple o the scores raised my eyebrows - but that’s always the case with competitions isn’t it?” – Jenny Lindsay

“stand-out poems of the evening were Colin McGuire’s “Wrap the children in white”, Mairi Campbell-Jack’s “The Book of Antonyms” and Stephen Welsh‘s newspaper poem in the last round. Colin’s poem set me in mind of some of Neruda’s work, with its combination of surreal imagination, incantatory impetus and political edge. Mairi’s poem seemed to me to mark a significant and exciting step forward in her writing, and I was really impressed with how well she read. Stephen had cut up a Sunday Herald report of the weekend’s protests in London and blanked out certain portions, creating a beautiful, strange, quirky, lyrical, powerful poem — perhaps not so much found poetry as released.

Hearing those poems alone would have made it a worthwhile evening, but there were others. I particularly enjoyed “Scotland as an Xbox Game” by Andrew C Ferguson — just the sort of witty, imaginative examination of the hame nation that appeals to me. Dave Coates also read good work but unfortunately joined me in the junkyard after the first round; that’s just the risk you run at these things. And I liked the sci-fi poem that Russell Jones read in the second round.” – Andrew Philip (more here)

“I know what you were trying to do [at the slam] and there is movement in that direction we can see in the quiet slams that have been held. It’s fair enough and I really liked the poet judge thing.” – Tickle McNicoll

“The night was an enjoyable one, though, holding a friendly atmosphere and quick pace that kept things interesting. If you didn’t like a poet you only had to put up with them for 2.5 minutes, much like my love life.” – Russell Jones (more here

You can find photos of the event here.

Anyone else want to offer feedback? If so, link me to your thoughts or drop a line to All comments welcomed!

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Swale Life Poetry Competition: judged by me!

Monday, April 4th, 2011

Estimating the airspeed velocity of a laden swallow
So you may well remember my first foray into the world of poetry contest judging — I wrote quite a bit about my experiences as sole judge of the Sentinel Literary Quarterly Contest, including a piece on the contest for Anon Magazine. Anyway, I enjoyed the judging process so much that I have agreed to judge another contest — this time, the Swale Life April 2011 Poetry Contest. And I would like you guys to enter! Please see full T&Cs below. The deadline is soon, so get submitting!


Poems must be in the English language, but can be on any subject or in any style. The contest is open to any poet from/in any country.

Poems must not exceed a maximum length of 40 lines.

IMPORTANT: Poems entered MUST NOT have been previously published, or posted to a website or blog. The poems must also not be under consideration for publication anywhere.

First Prize £100.00
Second Prize £50.00
Third Prize £30.00.
Two Highly Commended poets will also receive £10.00 each.
The three winning poems and the two highly commended poems will receive first publication in Swale Life Magazine on 25th May 2011

Entry Fees:
£3.00 per poem, £12.00 for 5 poems. [A third of all entry fees goes to the charity Diversity House – publishers of Swale Life] All entrants who send the maximum of 5 poems will receive a FREE Sentinel Champions #4 e-book courtesy of Sentinel Poetry Movement.

Results will be published in Swale Life Magazine 25/05/2011
Competition Administration: Eastern Light EPM International (Organisers of Excel for Charity competitions)

An online entry form and Paypal link can be found here for online entries.
Click here and scroll down to download a postal entry form and read further submission instructions.

Good luck, everyone!


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