Archive for March, 2012

Procrastination Station #102

Friday, March 30th, 2012

036/365 - Reading Material

Lovely lovely links I have loved lately.

It’s hard to say whether this slam was so exciting just because it was an all-female slam. Certainly, a sense of purpose and solidarity united the audience behind every performer, and gave each performer a definite support and welcome to play to. Certainly, a slam setting out to improve diversity will always have a better chance of surprising us with something fresh. But in the end, the success is down to something much more basic: great performers, speaking directly to the audience with skill, style and originality. That’s something that every slam needs.

Huge, huge thanks to the great Harry Giles, for giving my slam this great write-up at Sabotage.

Which are the most studied writers, and how do we know?

Buildings vomiting books? You know you want to click it!

[There is] a dearth of female voices on the entry-level of slam/local scene which means less aspiring female poets in the audience. This also means poetry audiences/slam judges have to “get accustomed” to the female voice and experience. This is also why there is usually “the darling” of a poetry scene: the sole, doted-upon “girl” slammer who never gets to become an actual WOMAN slammer.

And speaking of slam: the utterly brilliant, wonderful Rachel McKibbens being utterly brilliant and wonderful on the subject of women in slam.

I am extremely, extremely excited about this event.

Are you a book fetishist? Book Riot has pretty things you will like.

I was consumed with doubt. Was it possible that I had found my calling only to discover that I really sucked at it? Could the world be that cruel? I was certain it could.

Eugene Cross on the power of doubt at Glimmertrain.

Beautiful writing machines (I have an Empire! Two actually…)

Super cool, often pretty bookshelves.

I loved this poem in Rattle — thanks Heather!

Publishers need to understand that “Author Care” is not a euphemism for “Care in the Community”. Authors who are valued, understood, appreciated, included, nurtured and spoken to like an adult will experience a phenomenon called Trust. Trust breeds loyalty; loyalty means longevity; longevity means sales.

In this unholy maelstrom: an agent’s manifesto.

How do you design a book cover when the book’s about genitalia…?

Ever get sick of gloomy weather? Next time, try this: it’s awesome!

Seth Casteel’s underwater dog photos make me super happy. Especially this one.

A big archive of literary tattoos, and their stories. Awesome!

Did I show you guys these super-cute bats? They will make you smile.

It’s the Boss, with some advice — great for writers (thanks Ryan)!

This is great (thanks Rachel).

This never gets old.

Have a great weekend, everyone!


One Night Stanzas loves mail. Say hello via NB: I am physically unable to reply to non-urgent stuff unless I have a free afternoon and a cup of tea in my hand. Please be patient!

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Call for submissions: an all-female anthology on “Truth” in honour of Adrienne Rich

Thursday, March 29th, 2012

Audre Lorde, Meridel Lesueur, Adrienne Rich 1980
(Adrienne Rich — right — with Meridel Leseur and Audre Lorde in 1980)

On 27th March 2012, modern poetry lost one of its true giants. Adrienne Rich — poet, essayist, feminist, activist, thinker — passed away at the age of 82 following a period of illness. Rich was one of America’s most decorated and celebrated poets, the winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, the Wallace Stevens Award and a Griffin Poetry Prize Lifetime Recognition Award, among many others. She was also one of the fiercest and bravest voices poetry has ever seen. Described as “a poet of towering rage,” she wrote for women’s rights, for gay rights and for human rights and confronted sometimes vicious challenges from the literary and political establishment. Her poetry is angry, graceful and timeless, and her writings on women artists and female literary tradition vital. I have no doubt that her work will continue to chime with writers — female or otherwise — for as long as it is read.

One of my all-time favourite essays of Rich’s is the pseudo-manifesto — which Rich referred to only as a series of “notes” — Women and Honor: Some Notes on Lying (1975). In this piece, Rich observes just some of the many lies women have been told over the course of history; she notes that many lies have been so socialised into women that we become willing vessels for them ourselves. She points out the unnerving result of accepting and socialising these lies.

To lie habitually, as a way of life, is to lose contact with the unconscious. It is like taking sleeping pills, which confer sleep but blot out dreaming. The unconscious wants truth. [...] This is why the effort to speak honestly is so important. Lies are usually attempts to make everything simpler — for the liar — than it really is, or ought to be.

Rich believes that only women can possibly take hold of the key to this problem of socialised lies. They must pass through what Virginia Woolf called the “dark core”, and speak the truth — the ugly, difficult, freeing, empowering truth.

When a woman tells the truth she is creating the possibility for more truth around her.

That is what Read This Press is asking you to do. We want to create an anthology of writing by women — women of all ages, nationalities, and walks of life — on the theme of truth. Tell us a truth you’ve never told anyone. Describe what it feels like to tell a lie. Write anything you want on this theme, and send it to us. There are no rules beyond these:

1. You must be female-identified. (We recommend that anyone who finds the concept of an all-female creative space in any way upsetting move quickly away from this blog.)
2. Your piece must be in some way recogniseable as poetry or short fiction. (We don’t want to impose word-limits, but bear in mind, this’ll be a chapbook publication, so if you send us something very long we may ask if you’d be willing to excerpt it or work on cutting it down.)
3. Please write on the theme. (The theme is Truth. Interpret that however you like.)

The final chapbook will be entitled Creatrix: Women Writers on Truth (for Adrienne Rich). It will be published as a limited edition chapbook by Read This Press, and edited by Claire Askew. Contributors will each receive one free copy of the chapbook.

To submit, please:

1) Email up to five pieces to claire [at] onenightstanzas [dot] com
2) Do this before midnight GMT on 1st May 2012
3) Include a few sentences of biographical information about yourself
4) Point out if any of the poems you’re submitting have been submitted or published elswhere

Please note that there may be a public launch for this book, or some other kind of promotional reading (or there may not — we’ll see), and we might ask you to read. Just a heads-up.

You can also email claire [at] onenightstanzas [dot] com with any questions. Please do pass on this submissions call to anyone you think might be interested in submitting — and feel free to spread the word on your blog, Twitter, Facebook or anywhere else you fancy.


One Night Stanzas loves mail. Say hello via NB: I am physically unable to reply to non-urgent stuff unless I have a free afternoon and a cup of tea in my hand. Please be patient!

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Things I Love Thursday #56

Thursday, March 29th, 2012


Stuff I love this week…

More gifts from the Universe.
I’ve had a pretty awesometastic week or so, I must say. Firstly, there was the really warm, loving and supportive response to my International Women’s Day all-female slam. It garnered tweets, Facebook mentions and other wee compliments from all over the place. Everyone who’d attended, it seemed — along with plenty who’d been unable to — wanted to tell me what a valuable event it had been. Harry Giles gave the slam a great write-up over at Sabotage Reviews, and Gayle Smith wrote a poem inspired by the event at her brand new blog, Tartan Tights. Thanks so much to all those of you who took a moment to tell me you enjoyed yourselves, or who made it known that you thought the event was doing something important. This is only the start of things!

Three weeks ago, it was my birthday. As it’s my Dad’s birthday the day after mine, I spent the day itself with my parents, sister and Lovely Boyfriend, having a spiffing time in the lovely Spring Lake District. We spotted lambs in fields, went for scenic drives and had amazing vegan food at Zeffirellis, which I’d advise anyone, no matter where you live, to go to, as soon as you possibly can! I had a great time, but missed the involvement of friends and fellow nutters, so the following weekend, Lovely Boyfriend helped me organise a “second birthday”, so I could include everyone (I know — how spoiled am I?!). I had no real idea what I wanted to do, other than “eat nice food and go out somewhere posh.” So, we returned yet again to my all-time favourite restaurant, David Bann, before heading to The Dome. I’ve never been to The Dome before — it was LB’s suggestion — but it is utterly lush, and I see now why folk go on about it so much! I drank several delicious French martinis and hobnobbed with a huge crowd of lovely folk who turned up to help me celebrate. I hadn’t seen some of the folk who turned up for over two years, so it was great to catch up. I had a really brilliant night, and want to say thank you so much to all those who came along, brought me gifts and bought me cocktails. You guys rock!

This week I’ve also received the very exciting news that my essay ‘”Hapless straight ladies”: pop feminism’s exclusionist tendencies‘ (click and scroll to read an excerpt) made the final shortlist of five in the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association’s 2011/12 essay prize. The piece will eventually be published in the Journal of International Women’s Studies. This is the first piece of feminist criticism I’ve put out there, and also the first time I’ve entered an essay prize, so it’s a great omen!

Finally, on the same day as I heard about the essay, I also had two poems accepted for publication at the brilliant Words Dance e-zine, run by creative powerhouse Amanda Oaks (look out for a Featured Magazines post on Amanda’s work very soon!). One poem, The typist, is already online, with another, Sadness, going up in a couple of weeks.

The Universe is continuing to be extremely kind to me right now… and I am grateful!

Literary Death Match Edinburgh, Episode 4

On Tuesday night this week I went along — in serious trepidation, I must say — to Literary Death Match Edinburgh Episode 4. I had been put forward for this terrifying ordeal by the lovely Lynsey May, and then talked into definitely doing it by the equally lovely Vikki Reilly. LDM is a kind of slam-meets-cabaret night — four writers perform, they are judged by a panel of celebs, and then two finalists go head-to-head in a truly silly, funny, totally-not-competitive-at-all final. Needless to say, I was freakin’ out…
Anyway, my fellow readers were a green and glittery Sara Sheridan, wordsmith extraordinaire Michael Pedersen, and the always-bloody-excellent short fic wizard Gavin Inglis. In the draw (decided by shooting the audience with Nerf darts), I ended up being paired to go head-to-head with Gavin, and I have to say, at that point a lot of my nerves left me, because I figured I had no chance of getting into the final after that! The Pedersen v Sheridan round was tight, but Pedersen came through victorious after judges Hannah McGill, Alan Bissett and Christopher Brookmyre had deliberated. I did what I never, ever do and changed my set in the break between rounds — terrified because Todd (Zuniga, LDM creator and total legend) had threatened to Nerf-dart anyone who ran over their alloted 7 minutes…

Anyway, my turn finally came around. Gavin read spectacularly as always, while I sat on a shiny chair on the stage behind and tried not to giggle too raucously at his brilliant short fic/short play mashup which envisioned two prim Morningside ladies discussing strap-on sex (utter genius). I’ll be honest: it sucked hard to have to follow that with my pretty poems, but I somehow got my butt to the mic and read a short set that included Typewriter and the now-infamous If You Don’t Want To Be In A Poem. Gobsmackingly, the judges picked me over Gavin (seriously, I think my jaw was actually on the floor), and I went into the final with the inimitable Mr Pedersen.

Our final was a ‘literary spelling bee.’ When Todd announced this, my heart sank — not least because I was under the influence of a heady cocktail of Innes and Gunn mixed with nerves, adrenaline and sweat (tasty), but also because I AM AN ENGLISH TEACHER and if I were to publicly fail at spelling, and the spelling of famous authors’ names, no less, I’d officially be unable to face any of my students ever, ever again. Among the names we were required to correctly spell were Chinua Achebe, Chuck Palahniuk, Jeffrey Eugenides and Alexsander Solzhenitsyn. It was DAMN CLOSE, I tell you — and at one point I had to drag poor old Lovely Boyfriend up to the stage as my “phone-a-friend”, to spell Thoreau for me (which he did, perfectly). I actually think it was LB who won me the darned thing… although I was also pretty proud of myself for correctly spelling Ondaatje in spite of my nervous funk.

So yes, the short version is: I WON LITERARY DEATH MATCH EDINBURGH! But perhaps more importantly, I had a bloody great night once I got over my terror. And my highlight, rather than winning, was actually Alan Bissett — who’s freaking awesome, by the way: do your brain a favour and go read Death of a Ladies Man — telling me that If You Don’t Want To Be In A Poem was the best poem he’d seen performed in Scotland in the past five years. I don’t know if that was just the drink talking, but holy crap… it made my night.

Some photos of the night, by the brilliant Chris Scott, Literary Paparazzo, are here. I particularly like this one of Gavin and I looking frightened out of our wits…! Thanks a million to Chris, and to Lynsey, Vikki and of course, Todd. This is what literary nights should all be like (and I don’t just mean me getting a medal). Keep up all your excellent work, folks!

What are YOU loving this week?


One Night Stanzas loves mail. Say hello via NB: I am physically unable to reply to non-urgent stuff unless I have a free afternoon and a cup of tea in my hand. Please be patient!

Six week creative writing course: “Getting to Grips with Poetic Form”

Monday, March 26th, 2012

I meet a lot of poets — I mean a lot — in my work as a lecturer and tutor, and in my own literary, writing-related travels. I like hearing and talking about other people’s writing processes, and in particular, their creative comfort zones. I believe that good creative writing teaching is all about encouraging students to venture into new, and sometimes intimidating, territory; encouraging them to use techniques they never thought they’d master. And something I hear again and again from the poets I meet is, “I wish I had a better understanding of form.”

Poetic forms can be intimidating. They can appear very tricky — and to some people, they also appear stuffy and outdated. But there’s more to poetry than just free verse. The use of a specific poetic form introduces a new kind of challenge into the writing process. Working in this way lends discipline to our creative practice. It also informs our subsequent writing, giving poets a newfound understanding about and confidence with rhyme and rhythm; even with the shape of the page and what it means.

Perhaps you’re like many of the poets I meet: comfortable working in free verse but intimidated by more fixed, traditional forms? Maybe you’re primarily a performance poet and the world of the page is a mysterious place for you? Perhaps you’ve already tackled sonnets but you’re curious about their strange cousins, the sestina and the villanelle? Or perhaps you just fancy meeting with like-minded writers and getting some feedback from an experienced, published poet and creative writing teacher.

This course is for writers who are already somewhat familiar with poetry, but who are looking for a new challenge. It is designed for a small group of six to ten people, and will be delivered in a sunny, book-filled flat in Tollcross, Edinburgh, just off the Meadows. Each week, you’ll learn about a different poetic form, from ancient haiku to super-contemporary vispo. Sessions last two hours, and a significant part of each will be given over to allowing you time to write your own poems using the forms you’ve learned about, and to experiment with new ideas.

The course costs a total of £96 per person, which works out at £16 per two-hour session. It will begin on Thursday 3rd May and run until Thursday 7th June. Classes take place on Thursday evenings between 6.30pm and 8.30pm.

For more information or to sign up, please contact

Course outline

Week One, Thursday 3rd May: THE SONNET
An introductory session focussing on the sonnet form, from Petrarch to Shakespeare to Billy Collins and beyond. Learn how to construct the perfect love sonnet, or expand on your sonnet-ish knowledge and learn how to use this old form with a new twist.

Week Two, Thursday 10th May: THE VILLANELLE
Find out why Dylan Thomas chose the villanelle to craft what must be one of the world’s most famous poems, and try your hand at choosing your own timeless refrains.

Week Three, Thursday 17th May: THE SESTINA
One of the trickiest forms out there — get this right and you’ll earn serious poetic respect. This class will challenge you but hopefully also delight and enlighten you as we de-mystify the six-headed beast.

Week Four, Thursday 24th May: CONCRETE AND VISUAL POETRY
Form isn’t just about counting syllables. Scotland is famous for its brilliant, innovative concrete poetry courtesy of Ian Hamilton Finlay, Edwin Morgan and others. Find out what all the fuss is about and build your own concrete pieces.

Week Five, Thursday 31st May: OULIPO AND THE LONG FORM
Never heard of Oulipo? It’s all about setting yourself challenges to see how your writing responds. Rather like choosing to write your own epic or book-length poem. Come and see how it’s done.

Week Six, Thursday 7th June: HAIKU AND THE SHORT FORM
Find out what the shortest poem in the world is, and see if you can beat its tiny word count. Learn about short forms from ancient haiku to the American Sentence. Write (and, if you want to, share) your own tiny, perfect poems.

Getting to Grips with Poetic Form is taught by Claire Askew. Claire is a widely-published and multi-award winning poet, whose work has appeared in The Guardian, Poetry Scotland, The Edinburgh Review, PANK and Popshot, among others. Her debut pamphlet collection, The Mermaid and the Sailors, was published by Red Squirrel Press in early 2011, and was shortlisted for a 2010 Eric Gregory Award. A poem from the collection also won the 2010 Virginia Warbey Poetry Prize. Claire was recently awarded a 2012 Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award.
Claire graduated summa cum laude from the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Creative Writing in 2009, for which she was awarded the William Sharpe Hunter Memorial Scholarship. She is now reading for a PhD in Creative Writing, also at the University, and she has a PDA in Adult Education. As well as teaching creative writing privately, Claire also tutors in the subject for the University of Edinburgh’s Scottish Universities International Summer School. In addition, she has worked as a Lecturer in Literature and Communication at Edinburgh’s Telford College for the past three years.
You can find out more about Claire and her work here.


“Claire is super helpful, friendly and very communicative… never a dull class. Very informative and easy to follow!” — Jules, illustrator

“The best thing was Claire, the teacher! I enjoyed the methods that she used. I thought she was awesome.” — Alan, trainee primary teacher

“Always constructive feedback!” — Persia, student

To sign up, or for more information on any aspect of this course, including payment, please contact

(Photo credit)

A few thanks: the International Women’s Day all-female slam

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Hayley Shields
The lovely and talented Hayley Shields, reading in Round 1.

So, this happened on Tuesday 6th March.

It almost didn’t. In the 72 hours prior to the event, I had three performers drop off the bill, which obviously threw everything into flux and got me in quite a flap. Luckily, I’m fortunate enough to be acquainted with two extremely classy, very brave and super dedicated female poets who were willing to step into the breach with less than 48 hours to prepare. They are Rose Ritchie and Elizabeth Rimmer, and without them the slam might well have been cancelled! Thank you so much, Rose and Elizabeth. You literally saved the show.

So cancelled it was not. We arrived at the Banshee Labyrinth to find our room beautifully set up for us: chairs set out, a projector screen with my hastily-felt-tipped poster glowing upon it, and even candles lit on stage to provide some ambience! Edd, who runs the Banshee, is the coolest, most laid-back, and most accomodating venue manager I have ever worked with. He’d even rigged up a TV link in the next bar, so folk who couldn’t get a seat in the main room could still watch the action and hear the poems — by my next event (which will almost certainly take place at the Banshee — I can’t imagine ever going elsewhere), he says the bar will have the capability to record performances, too. SO. TOTALLY. COOL. Thank you, Edd, and all the lovely staff at the Banshee. You, quite literally, rock.

It was evident that folk were pretty keen about this whole slam business, because by 7.15pm we were already running out of chairs and the space was full of excited chatter. All my performers showed up, some of them very nervous, but all with notebookfulls of great poems to share. As many of them were slam virgins, I’d emotionally blackmailed three brilliant male poets to volunteer as “sacrifices” — to read first at the start of each round, break the ice and warm up the room for our competitors. This was a pretty intimidating gig for these guys, I’d imagine: a room full of poetry feministas vying for prizes of wine and chocolate! But they stepped up to the plate with aplomb. Total pro Harry Giles went first, followed in the second round by Matt McDonald. Matt took the opportunity to declare himself a rape survivor ally, and his piece was poignant, quietly angry and beautifully hopeful. Many an audience member came up to me to say his was their favourite poem of the night. Finally, Colin McGuire came up to introduce the final and brought the house down, as usual. Thank you a million billion, guys: you are legends.

Then, of course, it was the turn of my wonderful bill of competitors. They’re all people I’ve seen read before, at open mics, stand-up readings or “quiet” slams, and they’re all people whose work I’ve been desperate to hear more of. I wanted the focus of the event to be the promotion of lesser-known female poetic talent first and foremost, and if possible, I also wanted it to be as intersectional — something that can be problematic in Scotland — as possible. I’m happy to say that I think the event succeeded on both counts — no thanks to me, but thanks to the bravery of the women who were willing to say “yes” to my invitations. The stage played host to explorations of such themes as nationality, sexuality, gender orientation, relationships, travel, writing and creativity, and of course, food! The poems we heard were by turns hilariously funny and deeply touching, seethingly angry and sweetly loving. Above all, the quality was consistently, breathtakingly high.
Thanks upon thanks upon thanks upon thanks to Gayle Smith, Hayley Shields, Tracey S Rosenberg, Rose Ritchie, Elizabeth Rimmer, Theresa Munoz, Katherine McMahon, Rachel McCrum, Sally Evans, Katie Craig, Camilla Chen and the last-minute ever-so-nearly-wildcard Lara S. Williams. You were all so excellent — the judges must’ve been tearing their hair out…

…and yes, the judges. Slam aficionados, all of them, and yet scoring these ladies’ words must have been a damn hard job. A great big tip of the hat to Kevin Cadwallender, Jenny Lindsay and Sophia. You did well, young Jedis.

Big thanks too to Stephen Welsh, who helped put up posters, carried things, calmed me down when I raged and fretted, made endless bar trips on the night, and acted as primary score-keeper. And to Helen Askew, who worked as secondary score-keeper, keeping Steve right, as well as taking photos of the event while I bobbed up and down to and from the stage all night. (She also carried some things.) You were INVALUABLE, you two.

Finally, last but by no means least — in fact quite the opposite — THANK YOU SO MUCH to everyone who sent words of encouragement, who promoted the event on their Facebook or their blog, who spread the word to other interested folk, and who came along on the night. Best of all were all the people who dropped some pennies into our fundraising bucket. From your small change, we managed to make £70 for Scottish Women’s Aid. THANK YOU A MILLION GAZILLION SQUILLION!

Rachel McCrum
The excellent and extremely deserving winner, Rachel McCrum.

Now… what should we do next International Women’s Day?


One Night Stanzas loves mail. Say hello via NB: I am physically unable to reply to non-urgent stuff unless I have a free afternoon and a cup of tea in my hand. Please be patient!

Procrastination Station #101

Friday, March 9th, 2012

to die by your side

Links I love a lot lately.

Tomorrow’s my birthday, BY THE WAY. If you feel like doing something to make me happy, you could buy a little something from Edinburgh Vintage or the Read This Press store. I also have an Amazon wishlist, if you’re feeling mega-generous!

Can you not then treat poetry as one vast department store, and pick and mix, guided by a sense of ‘craft’ or something else? Indeed you can, and I think probably you should, rather than throw in your lot with a singular option. The most culturally threatening aspect of the situation is that most of these camps claim a central position, from which all others are peripheral or negative. Not only do we then have a state of permanent internecine warfare, but… we no longer know what ‘the truth’ is. All we have is versions or opinions.

I agree with pretty much all of this.


I really like this wee concrete poem from Stephen Nelson.

forgotten / green teas cooling in the crush • the silver-brimmed / purse slinks out of sight • melt perfect spheres of ice / • cherry stalks idle in the bowl • every loaded thought / teased out

I utterly loved this poem from Amy Key.

Lovely Boyfriend specialises in newspaper blackout poems. Next step, this?

A tad creepy, and a very bizarre selection of characters, but… want to see an identikit picture of your favourite literary character? Go here!

It’s not a matter of as easily inhabiting the night-time as the daytime world; more that in the night-time world, the sleepless person is the sole inhabitant. If two insomniacs were to meet in that place of displacement, each would assume that the other was a ghost, or a creature peering in from the threshold of a parallel universe.

Lovely writing on insomnia from David Harsent.

A site dedicated to Liz-Lochhead-related media? I like.

Cool and compelling diagrams and scribbles by famous writers.

Did you know Terry Pratchett has launched a novel writing contest? Yes, yes — he actually just got more awesome.

In every comic novel of the 1930s, there’s a stock flighty female character with red lips and long beads who leaves her husband before the ink is dry on the marriage certificate and she’s always known as The Bolter. That’s me

dear John Travolta.

I just died and went to anti-love-poem heaven, thanks to Julia Bird.

If you click no other link in this post, I beg of you, click this one: Sharon Olds in conversation, with advice for young poets.

Like jazz? I guarantee you will like these t-shirts.

Barbie: The Princess Shoe Party Fashion Show and Cinderella: A Sparkly Royal Thanksgiving… [these books] are EVERYWHERE and are just as soul-crushing as they sound. While I hide those titles behind the periodicals at the local library, I spend a good deal of time searching for really engaging princess stories.

Tried-and-tested kickass princess stories for worried feminist mums. Brilliant.

Photos of the insides of musical instruments. Cooler than it sounds.

I don’t really believe in marriage, but it might be worth getting married just for this.

I simply cannot afford to continue mopping up after the trolls who crawl among us, itching to bring down the tone at every available opportunity.

It’s snark-tastic… and that’s why I love this Suspension of Comments notice.

Yesterday was International Women’s Day, so let’s celebrate some great women…

Breastless from Terrier TV on Vimeo.

This is so brave, beautiful, honest and poetic. I love it.

Lucille Clifton Reads ‘homage to my hips from on Vimeo.

I also love Lucille Clifton, with a burning fiery passion.

What a voice. What a heartwrenching shipwreck of a poem.

Have a great weekend.


One Night Stanzas loves mail. Say hello via NB: I am physically unable to reply to non-urgent stuff unless I have a free afternoon and a cup of tea in my hand. Please be patient!

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Things I Love Thursday #55

Thursday, March 8th, 2012

love, love, love

TiLT = I love stuff, therefore I blog.

OK, so… my promise to blog much more often through 2012 has been somewhat redacted these past few weeks, as I have been so busy my feet haven’t touched the ground. Having promised myself I’d reduce my academic stress, I’ve been up against (and, er, still am up against) some big deadlines for my PhD thesis. Having promised myself I’d have a quieter gigging year this year, I’ve been innundated with invitations to read my stuff all over the place (and you guys know how truly rubbish I am at saying “no”!). And having assumed that I’d have tonnes of free time after reducing my work hours… well, naturally I’ve just found loads of mystery Stuff to fill that time. C’est la vie. However, I finally have a few spare moments to catch up and let you know what, amongst the chaos, I have been loving lately.

Sharon Olds
OK, so my PhD supervisor doesn’t know this yet, and I’m not sure how he’s going to take it. BUT I’ve decided to veer off course a little bit with my thesis plan in order to be able to write about the poetry of Sharon Olds.
Over the past week or so I’ve been reading her newest collection, One Secret Thing, which deals with the death of her mother. Hers are the kind of poems that grab you by the throat and shake you til you see patterns… in other words, the kind of poems I love. And this collection is particularly brutal, heartfelt and moving. As always, Olds pulls absolutely no punches — every feeling is explored, every moment included. You literally live every moment of her mother’s last months, weeks, days and seconds with her. I cried in public reading this book. IT’S ONE OF THOSE.
As a result, I am defiantly putting Sharon Olds into my thesis, and have already written 4,000 joyous words (seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever written anything that’s come this easily) about her. I’ve discussed the her poetry’s fiercely autobiographical bent, but also her ability to take the most mundane moment from her life, a moment you’d think could only be interesting to her, and make it universally fascinating. I’ve talked about her love-hate relationship with the confessional mode — her great respect for Plath and Sexton and their definite influence on her own work, in spite of her determination to move off their well-trodden path. And I’ve talked about her as a “domestic” poet — writing about married love, childbirth, parenting and the nursing of her own ailing parents — how she makes poems that are most definitely about acts of love and nurturing almost violent in their honesty about how hard it can be, sometimes, to be a wife, mother, daughter, care-giver. Her poems are spectacular, in my opinion: she really is one of the greatest poetic talents America has ever produced. Seriously: for me she’s up there with Whitman.
But most of all I love the way she sees at the world, how unacademic she is about everything, about writing. Check out this audio interview, if you can — really, it’s great, and it’s short. She talks about how she uses Curious George (”oh, he’s a monkey in a children’s book!”) stickers to help her write poems and how she thinks life makes a sound kind of like a humming motorbike. Solid gold loveliness.

And her advice to aspiring poets? “Take your vitamins. Exercise. Just work to love yourself as much as you can—not more than the people around you but not so much less. Love, Sharon.” Brilliant.


The Melrose Literary Society

I’ve been dying to write about this for weeks now, but as I say, the busy-ness of life has until now prevented me. But about three weeks ago I spent a brilliant Tuesday afternoon and evening in picturesque Melrose, a guest of the town’s venerable literary society.
As some of you may already know, I grew up in the Scottish Borders: my family moved to the tiny village of Town Yetholm in the Bowmont Valley when I was nine years old (hey look — that white one’s my old house!), and I lived there until I flew the nest and moved to Edinburgh in 2004, aged eighteen. Yetholm’s a teeny-tiny wee place which as a teenager I both loved and loathed: my friends and I were free to head off up the valley and climb trees, swim in the Bowmont or climb the nearby fells. However, buses were very infrequent, we got snowed in most winters, and there was only one shop. In spite of my freedom I was also restless, and high-tailed it to the Big City at the first chance I got.
However, there are some really sweet places in the Borders, and Melrose is probably my favourite of all the region’s towns. It has a handful of excellent bookshops which is obviously a big plus for me, and I am a massive fan of the town’s big arts and antiques market, “The Whole Lot“, where I’ve found many a lovely vintage bargain in the past and which I always make a bee-line for before I do anything else! I’m also a fan of a well-baked scone, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned here before, and would highly recommend Russells to anyone similarly inclined. Melrose also has its own tiny, indie theatre, The Wynd — which in such a small place and in this day and age is to be saluted, as well as heartily supported.

But the real props here must go to the truly excellent Melrose Literary Society, a community group dedicated to the promotion and protection of good literature, founded in 1885 and still going strong. I was talent-spotted, for want of a better expression, by the group’s Honorary President, Professor Ian Campbell, who during my undergrad degree was one of my great heroes (I took his honours module “Fiction in the Age of the Machine,” a class which was always truly enlightening as well as fun) — not least because he bakes scones for his students (and they are lovely)! Professor Campbell recommended that the group invite me to speak, and the next thing I knew I was standing in front of a room full of very friendly and attentive (and, as the question-session afterwards showed, highly knowledgable) Melrosians, giving a talk entitled “Making Poems, Writing Histories, Excavating Myths.” The talk was a quick trek through one section of my PhD research and drew heavily from the ideas laid out by Margaret Atwood in Negotiating With The Dead. The questions I got were spirited, difficult, fascinating and enlightened. I was extremely nervous beforehand but enjoyed myself immensely. In short: long live the Melrose Literary Society! Here’s to the next 125 years!

Honourable mentions:
If you ever are in Melrose, nip down the road to Donkey Heaven. Steve sponsors one of their donkeys, Daniel (here, on the right — aint he cute?!), and he loves to have his nose scratched! (although NB: he will obviously not love you quite as much as he loves Steve). // My all-female slam! It went super well — watch this space for separate post in due course // Being vegan! I went vegan about two weeks ago and have been astounded by how easy it is. Currently it’s just a trial to see how I go, but I am pretty much loving it so far. Delicious vegan stuffs I have discovered include Booja Booja ice cream (the Maple Pecan OMFG!) and the amazing vegan-friendly chocolate products at The Chocolate Tree, only a few blocks from my house! // The Banshee Labyrinth — so supportive of poetry events. They — literally — rock. // Spring being everywhere: Spring flowers, the smell of earth, sunshine, it actually being light in the mornings as I head to work — at last!

What are you loving this week?

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Participate!: all-female poetry slam to celebrate International Women’s Day 2012

Monday, March 5th, 2012

No More Nice Girls

International Women’s Day is fast approaching, and I for one didn’t want to be caught unawares this year with nothing to do celebrate (like I was last year — the centenary year! — when all I managed was this post). So, I started thinking: what would I really like to do to celebrate International Women’s Day 2012? I reasoned that I should definitely keep up my tradition of giving as big a chunk of money as I can afford to a women’s charity… and that gave me an idea. Why not do something to encourage other folk to give their money to a women’s charity, too?

And thus, the International Women’s Day 2012 Edinburgh All-Female Slam (catchy, no?) was born.

At first, I wanted to hold a poetry slam simply because I know they never fail to get a good crowd through the door, and that would mean more pennies in the bucket for whatever charity I decided to pick (also, I just love a good slam). But then I realised that a poetry slam might also be a good place to raise awareness about women’s issues within the poetry community.

I’m not for a moment suggesting that female poets have it as bad as, say, the ladies in the photo above. Thanks to the pioneering work of ladies like Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, Adrienne Rich, Sharon Olds, Maya Angelou, Margaret Atwood, Carol Ann Duffy, Liz Lochhead and many more, these days being a female poet is considered no weirder, really, than being a male poet. Female writers — although we still have a lot of catching up to do — no longer have to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to write, publish, perform and be reviewed. Most of us, I think, just get on with it.

What’s more, my local literary community plays host to a vibrant performance poetry scene that boasts some of the UK’s finest female performance poets: among them Jenny Lindsay, Sophia, Laura Hainey, and numerous others. We’re in Scotland, of course, so things aren’t as intersectional as they are in, say, Leeds or London… and they’re perhaps not as intersectional as they potentially could be. But there’s still a lot of poetry buzzing around and a lot of ladies getting involved.

However: Scotland’s poetry slam scene does still seem to be dominated by men. Our current Scottish slam champion is Young Dawkins, and when I try to think of the really great performance poets Scotland has to offer, I find myself coming up with far more male names than female ones (to mention but a few, Scotland can boast the vocal stylings of Bram Gieben, Colin McGuire, Kevin Cadwallender, Harlequinade, Robin Cairns, Jim Monaghan, Tickle McNicholl, Tim Turnbull and Harry Giles). Furthermore, slam itself could be described as somewhat chauvinistic: the focus is on competition, on “knocking out” one’s opponents in “head-to-head” finals. What’s more, slam has gained a bit of an unfair rep among non-slammers as being all about shouting the loudest or rapping the fastest.

Understandably, this view of Scottish slam puts a lot of performers — and mostly, it seems, ladies — off. I know many a female poet who just “won’t do slams.” And I think this is extremely sad, given that a) slam is a super cool movement with a huge and growing audience and b) Scottish performance poetry is crying out for a greater variety of voices, and is, in my experience, always friendly and welcoming.

Therefore, this slam is about faciliating the female performance poetry that I know is out there. I’ve seen all the poets on our spectacular bill performing at open mics and at traditional stand-up readings (and sometimes at “quiet” or “friendly” slams), and each time I’ve thought, THE SCOTTISH SLAM SCENE NEEDS YOU, LADY! Contrary to what several poisonous detractors (now blocked, don’t worry) on the event’s Facebook wall have somehow decided, this event IS NOT about bashing men and it IS NOT about favouritism towards women. It is about welcoming twelve exciting performers a little further into the performance poetry scene, and providing them with the encouragement they need to get out there and take the world of slam by storm.

If you like the sound of a FRIENDLY, ALL-INCLUSIVE slam featuring poetry from both male AND female performers; if you like the sound of raising a ton of money for Scottish Women’s Aid while sitting in a pub and listening to some fine verse; if you like the sound of discovering some new poets you never knew existed but whose work is guaranteed to blow your tiny mind… well then, get yourself to:

7PM (doors) for 7.30PM (start)

Check out our Facebook event for more details.



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