Archive for May, 2011

STARRY RHYMES: the launch! Friday 3rd June, 7.30pm, Forest!

Monday, May 30th, 2011



[HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLEN GINSBERG, Friday 3rd June, 7.30pm, Bristo Hall (Forest Cafe)]

Friday 3rd June this year would have been the 85th birthday of legendary Beat Generation poet Allen Ginsberg, and to celebrate the occasion, Read This Press are teaming up with Edinburgh’s Forest Cafe to throw a massive birthday bash in his honour.

Read This Press editors Claire Askew and Stephen Welsh have spent the past few months compiling an anthology of contemporary poems which respond to Ginsberg’s original works. Poets from all over the world got in touch to request one of Ginsberg’s poems to respond to, and the editors were overwhelmed with hundreds of submissions. From these, just 33 were chosen to be included in a limited edition, handmade chapbook of poems, named Starry Rhymes after one of the great man’s lesser-known poems. Poets whose works have been selected include Sally Evans, Kevin MacNeil and Eddie Gibbons, whose latest collection was shortlisted for the 2011 Scottish Book of the Year award.

The HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALLEN GINSBERG event will take place on Friday 3rd June, in the Forest Cafe’s cavernous Bristo Hall. As well as marking the official launch of the Starry Rhymes chapbook, it will also host a rare screening of Ginsberg’s 1967 London travelogue, Ah! Sunflower, and feature a solo set from the brilliant Withered Hand, taking time out of his UK tour to play for Allen’s birthday. Poets whose works are featured in the chapbook will perform their pieces alongside Allen Ginsberg’s, and other literary folk are invited to step up to the mic and offer their birthday tributes to the great man.

The event begins at 7.30pm and is totally free to enter. Forest operates a BYOB policy, and donations to the Save the Forest fund will be encouraged. Attendees will be able to purchase copies of Starry Rhymes at the event, and it will also be available for purchase online thereafter.

Loved by readers since his emergence onto the literary scene in the mid 1950s, Ginsberg was one of the foremost figures in the Beat movement, and as well as producing seminal works such as Howl and America, he was also responsible for the promotion and publication of some of the great Beat novels including William S Burroughs’ Junky and Jack Kerouac’s On The Road. His most famous work, the volume Howl and Other Poems, was the subject of a high profile obscenity trial upon its publication in 1955, and this trial and its eventual outcome was recently depicted in the movie Howl, which starred James Franco and David Strathairn.


For more information email Claire Askew via


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Procrastination Station #93

Friday, May 27th, 2011

Fly fly fly...

Link love!

Anyone out there recently rejected? Read Lionel Shriver’s tale of trying to place We Need To Talk About Kevin.

I LOVED Jen’s post on weird things customers say in her bookshop.

Thanks to Kirsty,I just discovered Robert Montgomery’s billboard art. I love this one in particular.

Books + cigarettes + minature = one serious dose of cute.

Penelope Shuttle’s lovely poem ‘Bread’ makes Guardian Poem of the Week.

Rob A Mackenzie reviewed my pamphlet! This is my first official review and I am very pleased! I think it’s fair and generous — see what you think.

Damn weird typewriters? Does this post have my name written all over it or what?

ONS fans and friends’ whereabouts this week: A new mini poem from McGuire // JF Derry missed out on STARRY RHYMES by the skin of his teeth, but you can see his sweet Ginsberg response here // I’m excited to see Mandy Fleetwood’s final designs for this ‘real books’ project! // Suzannah Evans has written about her experiences writing for STARRY RHYMES //

I love Dan Hillier’s artwork.

Amazing photos from Pete Eckert, a photographer who is also blind. Now that’s inspiring. (Thanks again to Kirsty)

More artwork for you to feast your eyes on: I love these Arbus-esque portraits by Hayley Brown

…and check out these intriguing liquid smoke photos!

A zombie-proof house? Shhh, don’t show Lovely Boyfriend!
I kind of really want this

…it would go so well with my new car.

Amazing footage of the recent Icelandic volcanic eruption — that thing had better clear out of the way in time for my trip in July!!

Volcanic Eruption in Grimsvotn, Iceland May 21 2011 from Jon Gustafsson on Vimeo.

Michelle Obama is MY HEROINE

Loving this stop-mo — feels like a poem I’d like to read.

Have a great weekend!


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Things I’m reading Thursday #28 redux: on anger and blogging

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

On Being an Artist

So, last week I devoted my Things I’m Reading Thursday post to the contest entries I’d been slogging through as the sole judge of the Swale Life Poetry Contest. I daresay a fair few of you read this post, which was written off the back of a long day at work followed by hours of leafing through countless anonymous poems. Many of these poems, I noted, had clearly been written by people who didn’t read any published poetry — and as you know, poets who see it as their divine right to write without ever having done any reading is one of my all-time personal bugbears. As you can imagine, the post in question was, as Lovely Boyfriend put it, “quite aggressive.”


At the moment, I am reading a truly excellent book of essays (expect a TiRT post on it very soon — probably next week) called The Bitch in the House, edited by Cathi Hanauer. It’s a study into the work, home and romantic lives of twenty-six women, all of whom have radically different ideas about sex, marriage, motherhood and gender identity. However, they all seem to have one thing in common: anger.

I’m a pretty damn angry person, and always have been. As a child, I raged against the great unfairnesses of my small world: my younger sister getting preferential treatment from my parents, the fact that I was blessed with a lumpen awkwardness that other girls at school didn’t seem to suffer from. I inherited a terrible short fuse from my father, and after learning at the age of about eleven that my ‘red mist’ was a) not something everyone suffers from and b) actually not a desperately appealing trait, I’ve spent my entire adult life so far trying to keep it in its box. I was relentlessly bullied throughout high school, for several reasons — I was 5′11″ tall by the time I was twelve; I was very bookish and a high achiever in most subjects; I had no idea whatsoever how to dress myself; I wasn’t particularly interested in boys (or at least, not the morons I went to school with). Rather than turning me shy and withdrawn, the taunts and thrown stones made me angrier and angrier. I knew I didn’t deserve this crap, but there was nothing I could do about it. The school did absolutely nothing to help me out — I was alone, and I was pissed off.

That pattern seems to have stuck. I have morphed from a pissed-off teenage girl into a fully-fledged angry woman. These days, I try to be angry about “more important things” — the rape culture and rampant sexism; my students coming into college with head-injuries having been mugged on their estate; political apathy. Elissa Schappell, whose essay in the book is about feeling angry and resentful towards her own children, describes this as “drawing a line in the sand” — knowing at what point your anger ceases to become useful, and making yourself stay on the right side. “When [my daughter] was small I was determined to teach her it’s OK for girls to get mad — that it’s normal, human, and not gender-specific,” she says. “And while it seems goofy and makes me feel self-conscious to hear myself parroting, use your words to tell me why you are angry. It’s fine to be angry, it’s good to express your anger… this actually works.”

I agree with her. I don’t see being angry as a necessarily negative trait — it’s one I’m stuck with, it seems, so rather than spend my time berating myself about it, I am going to do my damnest to try and use it positively, or at least keep it on a short leash. However, as Schappell points out, if you’re a naturally highly-strung person that’s not always easy. When you’re tried, preoccupied or stressed, it’s difficult to acknowledge that your short leash is starting to fray at the edges; it’s difficult to get into a headspace where you can stop, think, say to yourself “how can I use this feeling productively?” Sometimes, it’s possible to whip yourself into a frenzy of rage without even noticing you’ve done it.


That’s what happened to me last week, when I wrote the Swale Life blogpost. I sat on my bed, feet tucked into my blue feather quilt, cup of tea in hand, and ranted all my hard day’s anger and frustration into my laptop without even realising what I was doing. I sat calmly and comfortably, and typed evenly. I didn’t really have to think about what I was typing — it seemed to come naturally. And the fact that I was angry, the fact that I was writing in a decidedly confrontational and borderline unpleasant fashion, never occurred to me.

And it continued to not occur to me. A couple of days after I blithely hit the ‘publish’ button, I received an email from a reader (or maybe ‘passer-by’ is more accurate) who had found the post somewhat problematic. Her email was rather unfortunately worded: obviously written hastily and not particularly well, in a less-than-classy tone, and clearly with the basic purpose of chucking a stone at me from the moral high ground. I was mildly irritated that the e-mailer had seen fit to bring what I saw as her issue into my personal inbox (when the post’s public comment thread would — and I stick by this — have been a much more appropriate place), and as a result of all this, I chose to see the emailer as a lone, hyper-sensitive nutter, and carried on with my life. I still didn’t think twice about anything in the content or tone of my post.
Finally, another couple of days later, the contest organiser emailed me. Because he’s an excellent editor and a great all-round bloke, he wasn’t judgemental or unpleasant in any way. He simply told me that he’d received complaints about the blogpost from seven different poets, all of whom had entered the contest. He said he respected my right to blog my thoughts about the judging process and indeed the poems themselves, but said that in light of the complaints, and the fact that the results had not yet been announced, it might be a good idea if the post came down.
It was only at this point that the penny dropped. I looked back at the post and realised it was ranty, unprofessional, and yes, really very angry. I emailed the organiser back to say I would delete it immediately.


Since getting rid of the post — and good riddance to bad writing, may I say — I’ve been trying to fathom out why reading through the contest entries made me so angry. Yes, the standard of a great deal of the work was low, but that’s the case with any submissions call — I ran a literary magazine for the best part of three years, and have judged contests before. I knew to expect that. I also know that poets who read very little poetry other than their own generally have a disproportionately high opinion of themselves — after all, they have nothing to compare their work to. Finally, I’ve judged a contest very, very similar to this one before, only a year ago. I know the drill. The entries were pretty much exactly what I’d expected. How come I had such a severe, irrational reaction?

I think it’s partly to do with the nature of the beast. Probably as a result of my childhood and adolescent experiences, I like closure. As a magazine editor, I generally loathed having to let down submitters, and hated the afternoons I had to spend sending out rejection after rejection. However, if there was a poet whose work particularly smacked of I-write-but-I-don’t-read, or a poet whose bio note or cover letter was particularly arrogant or pernicious, I would take great comfort from sending them a letter explaining precisely why they had not been successful. In these cases, the act of sending the rejection letter was theraputic — being able to say “we’re saying no, and here’s the reason” drew a satisfying line under the whole intellectual transaction. But as a contest judge, you read the hundreds of pieces, pick out a winner, two runners-up and a handful of highly commendeds, pass the result back to the organisers, and you’re done. There’s never any contact with the poets — no chance to say “hey, I really liked the way you did x” or “the way you expressed y is why I won’t be taking this piece, but thanks anyway.” Looking back at the blogpost, I realised that was why I felt so angry. In spite of the fact that I had sole responsibility for the outcome of the contest, I felt frustrated, powerless and oddly surplus-to-requirements.

Clearly, I’m much more cut out for being an editor, and for being a teacher — for putting myself into a position where I can offer advice and give feedback — than I am for being a choosy but impartial, committed but distant contest reader or judge. I’m much less likely to get angry about something if it’s under my nose where I can see and interact with it. So if you’re a poet, please don’t be afraid of me — just strike up conversation. Let me get my bearings.


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STARRY RHYMES: the final line-up!

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011


So, after weeks of chat about this project, and having received over 140 expressions of interest and over 120 actual poetry submissions, I’m very pleased to announce the final line-up for the STARRY RHYMES: 85 YEARS OF ALLEN GINSBERG chapbook, edited by myself and Lovely Boyfriend. It was a damn hard slog, going over and over those 120+ poems, whittling things down to our desired target of “around thirty.” A lot of stuff we really liked had to fall by the wayside — a lot of top-notch established poets were turned away. But we’re confident that we’ve ended up with a really strong, varied clutch of poems from established names and young pretenders alike.

The chapbook will be launched on Friday 3rd June at the Forest Hall (upstairs at the Forest Cafe), Edinburgh. A good number of these fine folks will be performing their works, along with the Ginsberg poems they were inspired by. We’ll be screening some footage of the late, great man himself, and hopefully bringing you some damn good music into the bargain. Keep the date in your diaries — further details will be announced very soon! In the meantime, feast your eyes upon this excellent line-up, and keep a few quid aside to make sure you get your copy of STARRY RHYMES when it appears!

Alec Beattie, who responded to To The Body
Alec Beattie is the Edinburgh-based editor at Duality, a writer and fledgling performance poet.

Kevin Cadwallender, who responded to Improvisation in Beijing
Kevin Cadwallender is a writer who lives in Edinburgh but is a Yakker. His writing has appeared on telly, the radio, the internet, in books, in films, in songs, on tape, CD and DVD. He has a pathological dislike for biographies like this and would prefer not to blow his own trumpet as he is much more at home on the flugelhorn.
He is a vegetarian, atheist, romantic, with GSOH but doesn’t want a date with anyone. He is Red Squirrel Press’s Scottish Editor and had many children all of whom are his.

Michael Conley, who responded to Why Is God Love, Jack?
Michael Conley is a 26-year old schoolteacher from Manchester. He is currently studying part-time for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Metropolitan University. He was selected to read during Season 2 of “Carol Ann Duffy And Friends” at the Royal Exchange Theatre in 2011, and has been published in a variety of magazines an ezines including Cadaverine and Sentinel Literary Quarterly. He was the winner of the 2010 Weasdale Poetry Prize.

Morgan Downie, who responded to The End
Morgan’s first full collection, stone and sea, was published in March 2010. He is a poet, short story writer, artist, and a passionate mountain biker. He has had a varied career in healthcare, and he has written all his life.

Cal Doyle, who responded to Dream Record: June 8, 1955
Cal Doyle is a poet lives in Cork, Ireland. His poetry and criticism has appeared in various small print ‘zines, online publications and is forthcoming in Young and Restless, an anthology of younger poets published by Tumble Press. He can be contacted for work or general banter at

Sally Evans, who responded to America
Sally Evans is a poet widely published in Scottish and English magazines and has published several books including The Bees, The Honey Seller and Bewick Walks to Scotland. She edits the broadsheet Poetry Scotland and lives in Callander.

Suzannah Evans, who responded to Personals Ad
Suzannah Evans lives in Leeds and likes to travel on foot. She is studying for an MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University. She has had poems published in magazines including The Rialto, Iota and Brittle Star. She is poetry editor for Cadaverine, an online magazine for under-25s and runs writing workshops at the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery in Leeds.

Eddie Gibbons, who responded to Research
Eddie Gibbons openly admits to being more Ryanair than debonair.
Growing up on a Council Estate in Huyton, Liverpool, he didn’t have neighbours, he had witnesses. Being a Scouser, he had to learn English as a Foreign Language, which made his readings inadvertently entertaining due to his weird pronunciation of werds such as bewk, kewk and kewkbewk. In order to correct his speech defect, he defected to Aberdeen in 1980. That did the trick – he spiks affy fine nou, ken. Eddie works as a Draughtsman in a factory near Dyce airport, for a quick getaway. He’s also written a few poetry books.

Karen Head, who responded to In My Kitchen in New York
Karen Head is the author of Sassing (WordTech Press, 2009), My Paris
Year (All Nations Press, 2008) and Shadow Boxes (All
 Nations Press, 2003). Her poetry appears in a number of national and international journals and anthologies. Her most recent digital project was a collaborative exquisite corpse poem created via Twitter while she stood atop the Fourth Plinth in Trafalgar Square as part of Antony Gormley’s One and Other Project; her poetry project, “Monumental” was detailed in a TIME online mini-documentary. She teaches at Georgia Tech and serves on the Poetry Atlanta Board.

Joe Heap, who responded to Homework
Joe Heap was a Foyle Young Poet in 2004 and won the 2010 Alastair Buchan Prize from the University of Glasgow.

Colin Herd, who responded to Night Gleam
Colin Herd was born in Stirling in 1985, and now lives in Edinburgh. His first collection, “too ok”, was published by BlazeVOX Books in 2011 and a slim chapbook, “like”, by The Knives Forks and Spoons Press in 2010. He reviews regularly, including poetry for Chroma Journal, art for Aesthetica and fiction for 3:AM Magazine. He co-edits “anything anymore anywhere”, a poetry journal and small press.

Ryan Lamon, who responded to Written on a Hotel Napkin: Chicago Futures
You can see more of Ryan Lamon’s poetry at

Melissa Lee-Houghton, who responded to Prophecy
Melissa Lee-Houghton is the author of A Body Made of You published by Penned in the Margins. Her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Tears in the Fence, Poetry Salzburg Review, Succour and Magma. She is a regular reviewer for The Short Review.

Matthew MacDonald, who responded to A Strange New Cottage in Berkeley
Matthew Macdonald divides his time between poetry, film-making, becoming an Avenger and finding the time to distill some of the living essence of Neil Gaiman. This is his first submission to a poetry magazine - he blogs occasionally at

Aonghas Macneacail, who responded to In back of the real
Award-winning poet in English, Scots and Gaelic, Aonghas MacNeacail reflects that “being Gael rather than gay, I also grew up in a marginalising society. Ginsberg’s exuberantly affirmative defiance provides a wonderfully positive model as well as great poetry.”

Kevin MacNeil, who responded to Howl Part III
Kevin MacNeil is a multi-award-winning writer. A poet, novelist, playwright and cyclist from the Outer Hebrides, he now lives in London. MacNeil has held a number of prestigious international writing residencies and has taught Creative Writing at the universities of Uppsala and Edinburgh. His books include A Method Actor’s Guide to Jekyll and Hyde (Polygon), The Stornoway Way (Penguin), Love and Zen in the Outer Hebrides (Canongate) and These Islands, We Sing (Polygon).

Marion McCready, who responded to The Bricklayer’s Lunch Hour
Marion McCready lives in Dunoon, Argyll with her husband and two young children. Calder Wood Press published her debut pamphlet, Vintage Sea, earlier this year.

Alex McDonald, who responded to A Strange New Cottage In Berkeley
Alex MacDonald was born in Essex in 1986 and currently lives and works in London. He runs the blog SelectedPoems and runs the monthly night ‘Selected Poems at the V&A Reading Rooms’ which champions independent poetry publications. His work has been published in Clinic 2, No. Zine, OOXXOO and Talk Dirty to Me.

Colin McGuire, who responded to Howl Part II
A thin 28 year old Glaswegian man, touch giddy in the head, sometimes poet of mangled forms and dirty prose, sporadic drummer, drunken grammarian, waffler, painter using crayons, lover, hater, learner, teacher, pedestrian, provocateur, wanderer, confronter of shadows, irritating whine. ‘Riddled with Errors’ is his first collection of poetry and miniature stories which can be bought from Notes From a Glaswegian Immaturity, where you can also read more of his words and some reviews of other writers. He currently lives in Edinburgh and occassionally can be heard reading in pubs and cafes. Send him love or hate to his email -

Andrew McMillan, who responded to Stanzas: Written at Night in Radio City
Andrew McMillan was born in 1988. His work has appeared widely online and in print and a debut pamphlet, every salt advance, was published by Red Squirrel Press in 2009. October 2011 will see the release of a second pamphlet from Red Squirrel and a place in the upcoming Salt Book of Younger Poets.

Dan Mussett, who responded to Hymmnn
Dan Mussett’s poetry has been published by Read This Magazine and was Highly Commended in the Sentinel Literary Quarterly poetry competition in 2010. His poem “Anonymous” was adapted into a short film for the this collection project.

Stephen Nelson, who responded to Think Tank Rhymes
Stephen Nelson was born in Motherwell, Scotland in 1970. He is the author of Flylyght (Knives, Forks, and Spoons Press) and two chapbooks of visual poetry. He blogs visual poetry and other delights at afterlights.

Kenneth Pobo, who responded to A Supermarket in California
Kenneth Pobo has a new chapbook out from Thunderclap Press called Closer Walks. He teaches creative writing and English at Widener University in Pennsylvania . Catch his radio show, Obscure Oldies, on Saturdays from 6-830pm EST at

Tracey S Rosenberg, who responded to The Lion For Real
Tracey S. Rosenberg was recently awarded a New Writers Award from the Scottish Book Trust. Her debut novel, The Girl in the Bunker, is forthcoming from Cargo Publishing. She has previously published poetry in Chapman, Anon, Poetry Scotland, The Frogmore Papers, and New Writing Scotland. She likes cats of all kinds, not just lions.

Daniel Ryan, who responded to Research
Daniel Ryan was born in London to Irish parents, and he grew up in the Irish countryside. Daniel currently lives in Dublin. He studied Philosophy at Undergraduate level and Journalism at Postgraduate level. Daniel’s twin loves are music and writing. He has been writing poetry since his late teens, and volunteers at the Irish Writers’ Centre in his spare time.

Sarah Stanton, who responded to A Supermarket in California
Sarah Stanton is a birdwatcher, Sinophile, poet, translator and geek. She lives in China but dreams in English.

Sarah Quigley, who responded to Prophecy
Sarah Quigley is a writer, illustrator and graphic designer based in Dublin, Ireland. Her poetry has featured in publications and performances at home and abroad, and recently decorated Dublin’s streets as part of the Upstart project. Sarah has just released her first chapbook The Unfinished House, which she illustrated and hand-bound. Best of all, as co-founder of Milk and Cookie Stories, one of Dublin’s most successful regular arts nights, Sarah has brought cookies and stories to the people of Dublin.

Ryan Van Winkle, who responded to America
Ryan Van Winkle is currently Reader in Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library and Edinburgh City Libraries. He runs a monthly “Literary Cabaret” called The Golden Hour and is an Editor at Forest Publications. His work has appeared in New Writing Scotland, The American Poetry Review, AGNI and Northwords Now. In 2010 he won Salt’s Crashaw Prize and his first collection is Tomorrow, We Will Live Here (2010).

Francis Wasser, who responded to America
Born 1988, Dublin, Ireland, Francis Wasser is a Dublin based artist, poet and curator. Wasser is currently studying an MFA in sculpture at the National College of Art and Deign.

Gemma White, who responded to Dream Record: June 8, 1955
Gemma White is a Melbourne-based poet who creates and edits Velour magazine. She has been published in Voiceworks, page seventeen and Visible Ink. She had poetry included in The Green Fuse, The Picaro Poetry Prize’s 2010 publication. Gemma also offers a poetry manuscript feedback service, which allows poets to get constructive criticism on their work at any time of year for a small fee. For more info:

Jensen Wilder, who responded to To The Body
Jensen Wilder is 25, he currently lives in the North West in the little seaside town of Meols with two cocker spaniels. He enjoys photography but likes writing better. He has never completed a crossword or won a game of scrabble. Read him at When I Swear, I Censor Myself

Chrissy Williams, who responded to Those Two
Chrissy Williams is the coordinator for the Saison Poetry Library’s magazine digitisation project. She is also Joint Editor of Poetry Digest, the world’s finest edible poetry journal.


Claire Askew is the founding editor of Read This, a grassroots literary zine which ran from 2007 to 2010. She is also the editor of Read This Press, a poetry micropress which has so far produced two single-poet collections (You Old Soak, 2008 and Sharks Don’t Sleep, 2009), and two anthologies of poetry, Skin Deep: an anthology of poems on tattoos and tattooing (2008) and Masters: Poetry from the University of Edinburgh MSc Creative Writing Class of 2009 (2009). Claire works as a Lecturer at Edinburgh’s Telford College and tutors Creative Writing privately and at the University of Edinburgh, where she is also reading for a PhD. Her own poetry has appeared in Poetry Scotland, The Edinburgh Review and The Guardian, and her first pamphlet collection is The Mermaid and the Sailors (Red Squirrel, 2011). Her nonfiction writing has appeared in The Herald and The Observer. She blogs at and Girlpoems.

Stephen Welsh is a lecturer at Stevenson College Edinburgh, and also works with The Princes Trust in and around Edinburgh. He has a MA in English Literature from the University of St Andrews and has studied Creative Writing with Kathleen Jamie, John Burnside and Douglas Dunn. Stephen is a poet specialising in visual and concrete work. In March 2011, Stephen placed second in the inaugural this collection ‘friendly’ poetry slam. He is currently working on Revolution of the Sun, a current-affairs-meets-vispo project in which he creates one poem every day for a year using newspaper clippings. Revolution of the Sun will eventually become a trilogy of poetry pamphlets, due for publication with Red Squirrel Press in 2011 and 2012. Stephen is also currently working on a short play for the National Theatre of Scotland’s Five Minute Theatre project. He blogs at Concrete Void.

Copies of STARRY RHYMES will be available for pre-order very soon, and the chapbook will be officially launched on Friday 3rd June 2011 — watch this space!


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On partner-envy… but between artists, so you know, much worse.

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

ATTENTION! Because I am a mad woman, I have started a new blog. Yes, you heard me correctly — I now have a second (or third, if you count my silly Tumblr) blog to suck up even more of my already-precious spare time. It’s called Girlpoems, and you can read a bit about the rather nutty thinking behind it here. But in the meantime, have a read of this post, which is cross-posted over there, too. It’s about living with another writer and feeling envious, or not, of their successes. Enjoy…!

[Day 40]

A week or so ago, I came across Kathryn Chetkovich’s 2003 essay on Envy, featured at the Guardian books blog and excerpted from Granta’s Life’s Like That issue. It was mentioned in a not-very-interesting blog entry I was reading somewhere I now forget, and although I know it’s now nearly a decade old, I couldn’t help but have a reaction to it once I’d clicked through.

Chetkovich writes about a long-term romantic relationship with a fellow writer who, during the course of their time together, capitalised on his already noteworthy literary successes with the publication of a highly popular novel. At the time, Chetkovich says, she was struggling with her own work and desperate for even a fraction of the sort of recognition her partner received. She writes about the deep and devious envy that steadily engulfed her; she candidly describes the way she resented his successes and secretly willed him to experience major setbacks. Although she repeatedly describes him as “the man I loved,” she writes as if she is describing her most hated enemy.

I was initially stunned by this piece. My first reaction was to see Chetkovich as bratty and selfish, too consumed with jealousy over her partner’s work to a) identify and work on the supposed flaws in her own and b) realise that her relationship was obviously spiralling into oblivion as a result of her feelings. I saw her suggestions about the role of gender in the situation — that he was a man, and therefore the wheels were so much more greased for him to be successful; that her mother had disingenuously brought her up to believe she could excel in whatever field she wanted, etc — as desperate kvetching. Perhaps he’s just a damn good writer and you’re just not, I thought. It seemed that this was a possibility too horrifying for Chetkovich to ponder, at least for long.

These initial reactions arose, I think, based on my own current romantic relationship, which happens to be with another poet, and over which I could so easily drift into Chetkovich-type territory. On my very first meeting with S, I was blown away by the passion and dedication, but also the damn good sense with which he spoke about writing. It had been a long time since I met someone whose ideas on the topic were so in sync with my own — so I was shocked when S revealed that, “actually, I’m not really a writer at all.”

Turns out, of course, that he is. I have been writing seriously for nearly eight years; in that time I’ve edited a grassroots literary magazine, read for and judged literary prizes, led workshops and taught creative writing as a formal subject, both one-to-one and in a lecture/seminar format. I know a writer when I see one. And as my relationship with S grew, he started allowing me access to some of his “random scribbles” — brief synopses for plays, short stories, and the odd poem. We also began talking more and more about the numerous ideas he’d had for creative projects, most of which he’d been too self-conscious to note down, let alone start. And the more I got access to S’s creative thoughts, the more excited I got about his obvious potential — the potential to be a really great writer.

At this point, I could have got scared, or allowed myself to become envious. I feel that my own modest successes have been hard-won — when I started out I wasn’t a very good writer, but I made the mistake of thinking that I was. That meant that I spent a long time wallowing around in a mire of rage at editors who “didn’t get me,” at other poets who I hated for being better, or (I thought at the time) luckier than I was. It took me a while to realise that I needed to read, write and edit a hell of a lot more before I was going to be any good. I’m still in that process — I still need smacking down every so often, and I feel like my work could still be a damn sight better.

S, on the other hand, has a natural ability to craft a good sentence, a cracking poem. He has bloody brilliant ideas for creative projects — daring, original ideas, the like of which get arts council grants and column-inches in trendy lit magazines. He’s a natural performer (not so long ago I persuaded him to enter his first poetry slam — he came second out of sixteen contenders, many of them very established in the local and indeed national performance scene). He’s also truly, endearingly modest, refusing to believe that what he’s doing is even vaguely noteworthy, having to be coerced into referring to himself as a poet. What’s more, in spite of the fact that he’s only been writing seriously for a handful of months, he’s already been approached by a publisher who wants to produce not one, but a series of three, pamphlets of his poetry.

As you’ve probably already guessed, my feelings on the subject are about as far from Chetkovich’s as you can possibly get. I am over the moon for the man I love. My eight years of cack-handedly networking my way around the Scottish literary scene has given me a handy list of contacts, and I have been more than happy to pass on these, along with every hint and tip I have managed to pick up. Having never been in a relationship with another writer, I am loving the fact that we can sit and look over each other’s stuff; that he accepts my crit on his new pieces and offers me good suggestions for mine; that we can geek out about poetry and discuss our literary pipe dreams over pints in bars where the walls are lined with books. Whenever one of the magazine editors or CW teachers whose interest I sweated to earn remarks offhand “hey, I really enjoyed your man’s set the other night,” I glow with pride. After reading Chetkovich’s piece I examined every nook and cranny of my feelings for S for any shred of creative envy, but found nothing. I genuinely could not understand her position. How could she claim to love this man when she so obviously despised his success?

And yet, her essay has stuck with me. I’ve carried it around in my head, thinking it over and over like a tune I can hear, but can’t name. And the more I think about it, the more I realise: I was unfair on her. Of course, we are not in the same position. Of course it’s possible to love a man, but also resent him. Of course it is — I’ve done it myself. What girl doesn’t both love and, to an extent, resent her father, at least occasionally? And many of us, myself included, go further than that in our wider relationships with men. I have simultaneously loved and resented previous boyfriends, as well as good male friends. Of course, she’s right. What was wrong with me?

I started thinking about how I’d feel if the roles were reversed in my relationship. When I met S, he was a writer, but he was too self-conscious about his work to acknowledge it, and that crippled him — he couldn’t write. He had no real access to a creative community — his friends are all well read, and one or two of them might have scribbled the odd poem or article at some point in their lives, but none of them are active as writers. The few attempts he’d made to put his work “out there” (he had attended creative writing workshops for a spell during his undergrad degree) had been largely unsuccessful — he’d been rather unfortunately dismissed by workshop leaders who for the most part didn’t really get what he was trying to do. He was, essentially, the me of seven years ago — the me who was raging at editors and other poets and as a result, not engaged in the community; the me who was wilfully not working on improving my stuff the way I should have been and as a result, not really writing. I found myself wondering how I would have felt if I’d got together with a far more confident writer who thought they could tell me everything I needed to know about How To Do It, who was obviously more established and successful than I was and who seemingly took a shine to me. I know exactly how I’d have felt: I would have resented the hell out of them, love or no love.

So I realise I owe Chetkovich a pretty huge break. There I was assuming that I was in her position — because I’m the woman, because I’m the one who feels like I have to work hard while my talented partner makes it look easy. But in fact, it’s S who ought to be — and may well be — feeling envious, or at least resentful. I’ve come swanning into his life and demanded that he assert himself as a writer, without really checking whether or not he felt ready to do that. I’ve prodded and nagged him to make a start on creative projects that have lain dormant for years, entirely under the illusion that I was encouraging him to “follow his star”. I’ve shoved him into the path of other poets, of editors and promoters without really stopping to think about how intimidating that could potentially be for him. And I’ve been able to do all this entirely because of my own past efforts and achievements — my attempts to promote and encourage him have all been ever so slightly about me.

Fortunately, I don’t think S bears me any ill will. As you may have gathered from the descriptions above, he’s a fairly cool customer. He’s at pains to point out to me how grateful he is for my help with and support of his creative endeavours, and I’m at pains to point out that I just provided the butt-kicking he needed… his talent is doing the rest. But I’m pretty sure that, even just occasionally, he wants me to get lost and leave him to it thanks very much. And thanks to Chetkovich, from now on I am going to try.


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Procrastination Station #92

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Link lovin’.

Happy birthday, Eeyore!

Only today and tomorrow left to visit this collection at The Glue Factory!

Good quote.

Writers and their typewriters!

Michelle Obama: secret poet

When it is appropriate to kill off your lady character… I LOVE the Rejectionist!

Good riddance to

ONS fans and friends — your whereabouts this week: Stephanie Green gave a lovely mention to the STARRY RHYMES project! // I read at a milestone Poetry At The… (it was great), and as a result, have a poem here // new work from one-time Read This submitter Megan Pugh // Two new poems from Regina C Green

Why saying “don’t be so sensitive!” is totally not OK

Yes please.

A filmpoem! Check out this brilliant adaptation of Howie Good’s poem Dog Star Man, by Swoon:

Dog Star Man from Swoon on Vimeo.

If you click no other link in this post, CLICK THIS ONE. This little movie is sweet, moving, true, lovely:

Amen to that, Amiri Baraka.

And more George Watsky (guest-star: a very fetching goat)

Have a great weekend!


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Procrastination Station #91

Friday, May 6th, 2011

Heart Shape Strawberries

Links of love from the past week!

So, I joined the ranks of cool kids and set up a Tumblr blog. It should really be called “cool shit I found on the internet,” as that’s all it’s for. It’s like a 24/7 Procrastination Station, basically. Clicky clicky.

You have TWO DAYS LEFT to submit to the Allen Ginsberg: STARRY RHYMES chapbook, edited by Lovely Boyfriend (sorry, Stephen Welsh) and myself. Hurry up!

Why libraries rock.

I really liked this writing prompt from Rachel McKibbens

And this could make a good writing prompt, too…

Do you write in bed?

Neil Gaiman rocks my frickin’ socks!

ONS fans and friends: your movements this week: Cassandra Key has published a collection! Very excited to read this! // and there must be something in the water, because Marion McCready has also published her first book! // A new poem from Alex Williamson // Loved this new poem from Swiss — warning: you will need Kleenex // Stephen Nelson is published at BlazeVox // Check out Hannah Radenkova’s illustrated guide to Paris!

This is terribly sad.

But things that make Katie smile make me smile too.

Passive-aggressive students: this really rang true with me, sadly!


Why I love Glasgow.

I am really excited to be reading on the same bill as Tony Williams this Sunday as part of Poetry At The… . Tony chose one of my poems for his feature in the Guardian, which basically made my year, and I absolutely love his poems. Check out this videopoem and see if you don’t giggle:

I have been relatively ignorant of Andrea Gibson’s work until recently, though my sister has been nagging me to check her out for absolutely ages. Watch this. All the way through — it wallows a bit, in places, but watch it for the ending.

It’s Watsky again… very cool video.

Have a great weekend!


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Things I’m Reading Thursday #27

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

Peacock Blue Envelopes

I have a confession to make: I’m a terrible collector and a terrible hoarder. My sister, who is also my flatmate, once told me that my bedroom “looks like a junk shop.” I’m ashamed to say that she’s right. I have particular weaknesses for typewriters (duh), vinyl records and er, jewellery… but by far the worst is my weakness for books.
Lovely Boyfriend is also a bookworm, but he has far more restraint. He finds it hilarious that I literally cannot enter a bookstore without finding something that I want to buy. For me, there is no such thing as browsing or window shopping. I always, always buy. It’s bad.

Fortunately though, I am picky. I won’t just buy any old rubbish, and I’ll spend hours in the poetry section thumbing through volumes until I find one that really appeals – then I have to have it. If I don’t find anything in the poetry section, I’ll move onto Gender/Women’s Studies, then Literary Criticism, and then Prose.

My most recent purchase didn’t take me long to find, though – it practically leapt off the shelf of Oxfam books’ poetry section and demanded to be bought. It was and is John Stammers’ brilliant second collection, Stolen Love Behaviour, and it was a purchase I’m really pleased to have made.

I’ll admit, I wasn’t really aware of Stammers’ work until this point. I am friends with him on Facebook and have been for a while (!) but that was as far as my knowledge of him went (I know, I know, I am a web generation fashion victim, I’m sorry). However, it was enough for something to chime with me in the bookstore and that in turn was enough to make me pick up the book and have a nosey.

I have now read it cover to cover, and loved it – Stammers walks the line between being accessible and being ‘difficult’ with true panache. His poems are searingly original – literally, unlike anything I’ve ever read – and his language is vivid, varied and unashamed. It’s a long time since I’ve seen a poet use the word ‘c*nt’ so effectively, for example. I have just been blown away by the incredible imagery and the truly imaginative turns of phrase in so many of these poems. Rather than waffling, I’ll post some of my favourite lines below, and let you make up your own minds.

This is by no means the kind of poetry you come across every day, but it’s all the more worth reading for that. Check it out here.

“The first drops of rain detonate on the flagstones.
I beg your pardon, go outside to see the roses.
Look, don’t they remind you of something?”

— from Rosegarden

“Sometimes I see the open window:
in the variegated light that can occur in a room,
in cloud shapes observable after rain,
or when I talk with you of what you will come to do.”

– from Younger

“snowbound in the elbow of the big Columbia River;
heading west by night so as to stay unnoticed;
the ringing of the wires, the country songs of the truck drivers.”

— from Three Chüeh-Chü: Recalling Former Travels

“The intricate needlework on your boots
twinkles like pinpricks in black card
and the liquefaction
of your demin bolero
as it sidles to a bluegrass waltz
hits me over the heart like a high-calibre round.”

– from Prarie Rose

“A voided gin bottle, its final smear in your tumbler,
informs your blowsy mouth with its juniper come-ons.”

– from Why

What are you reading this week?


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This one goes out to my Dad…

Monday, May 2nd, 2011

…who doesn’t like me swearing on this blog.

“The material objects of poetry are base. The material objects of poetry are democratic. All words are available. Advertising is poetry. Saying fuck is poetry. Whispering is poetry.”

Caroline Crew


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Submissions for Starry Rhymes: one week to go!

Sunday, May 1st, 2011


Just a reminder: you have only one week left before submissions close on STARRY RHYMES — a pamphlet anthology to celebrate what would have been the 85th birthday of Allen Ginsberg. But a week is still plenty of time to submit! What to do:

1. Email to request a Ginsberg poem (any poet from any country can submit)

2. Receive a poem “blind,” and write a poem of your own which responds to this poem (so it doesn’t have to be about Ginsberg or the Beats, necessarily)

3. Respond via email, submitting your poem (copy/pasted in the email, or attached as a .doc) by midnight (GMT) on 8th May 2011.

4. Wait to find out from editors Claire Askew (me!) and Stephen Welsh if your poem has made the cut (we’ll be in touch asap after the deadline to let you know)

5. Attend the Allen Ginsberg birthday party bash/pamphlet launch on 3rd June 2011 at the Forest Cafe, Edinburgh (OK, this bit is optional, but we’d love you to come!)

Any questions? Just email

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