Archive for December, 2012

A To Do List For 2013: Why, how, and what.

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in December 2008.

OK, as regular readers might have noticed, I am an obsessive list-maker. I make time for a Love List and a Link Love List every week, and New Year is my favourite time — it’s all about wishing and hoping, planning and dreaming, as Dusty would’ve said (or rather, mimed hideously!). I’ve been reading a lot of articles recently rubbishing this kind of thing, but forget it — I am a typical dreamy Pisces, and I need to organise myself well in advance. So I will still be making New Year’s Resolutions (though only ones I know I can keep!), and I’ll also be writing a 2013 To Do List.

Why should I write a To Do List for the whole year?

Well, everyone writes To Do Lists from time to time, no matter how well organised they are… usually when they have a lot on, and it’s important that they get everything done. Well, apply that kind of thinking to a whole year — how much stuff will you have to deal with between now and December 31st next year? Surely it’s a good idea to have a bit of a plan before you start, in order to hit the ground running. You can never be too organised.
Also, a year might seem like a long time but as we all know, you get to Christmas every year and inevitably find yourself commenting on how it only seems like five minutes since it was January. This is why it’s not only important to write down all the achievements of the past year, but also to get ready for the next one, to make sure that the 365 fleeting days are well-spent. Here’s a fact for you: if you write down your goals, you are more likely to achieve them, so To Do Lists are NOT a waste of time. If there’s something you really want to achieve in the next 12 months, write it down now… it could make the difference between success and failure.

How should I do it?

Prioritise: Maybe you have some goals that you’re desperate to achieve — getting really good exam results, for example. Maybe there are others that aren’t so vital — you’d really like to get your poetry published in a certain place, for example, but if it doesn’t happen you won’t be totally devasted. And maybe you just have some odd little whims that you can take or leave but might try out at some point…
A good idea might be to write three separate lists, or divide your list into three ’sections’ according to your priorities. Don’t sweat the small stuff — but at the same time, don’t forget it either. Put the biggest want for 2013 at the very top of the list in big letters, and keep the airy whims for the end.

Be realistic: Don’t clutter up your To Do List with things that you know aren’t achieveable in the next year. If you start too big you’ll end up disappointed with yourself at the end of the year when you find you haven’t reached you goal — remember, as I said, a year isn’t as long as it seems! If you have a big goal like saving up for a house or writing and publishing an epic six-part novel, you might want to make a separate list for the next five years, ten years or whatever. You can also put slightly silly goals like “note to self: win the lottery” on a fantasy To Do List if you like… just keep them off the serious list!

Expand: If you have a goal but aren’t sure how you’re going to achieve it, you can turn your list into more of a plan. If your goal is to travel for six months, for example, you can note down the steps you think you’ll need to take to get there… “get job / open savings account / save up and stop buying notebooks obsessively (confession!) / book flights in advance” etc. A great big goal can seem a bit scary and unrealistic, but break it down into smaller steps and it will seem less intimidating and easier to achieve.

Share: You might not want to let other people in on your cunning plan for world domination, but showing your To Do List to someone else can make you more likely to get where you want to be. Proving to someone else that you can do it gives you added incentive, and having someone to talk to if the going gets rough is always useful. If you’re feeling shy, just show your best friend or a family member who won’t snigger at the fact that your ambition for the year is to become a professional Cliff Richard impersonator or whatever… or if you’re more confident, get thee to your blog, or better still, spread the To Do List idea around your friends. If they also draw one up you can compare notes and keep one another going!

Display: Once you’ve written your To Do List, don’t just stuff it in a drawer or squirrel it away in a dusty old file on your computer desktop. Put it somewhere you’ll see it often, and make sure you check back every so often to see how you’re doing. It may sound daft, but crossing another thing off your list brings a real sense of achievement, AND if you get to the end of the year with everything crossed off, how awesome is it going to feel?? If your To Do List is out in the open you can also update it as more ideas and ambitions hit you during the year… and this humble piece of paper will serve as a cool memento of the fabulous 12 months you’ve finally put behind you once you get to New Year 2010!

What should I put on my To Do List?

Anything you want. The important thing is that, if you think you can achieve it in a year, you should put it down, regardless of how daft it might seem. If you’re worried about other people thinking you’re nuts, you don’t have to show the list to anyone… and if you end up not achieving the big goal for the year, you can transfer it to next year’s list instead. Nothing is too small for the list, and nothing is too vague. “Finish reading the last Harry Potter” is just as acceptable as “Conquer Finnegan’s Wake,” and “be more confident,” might seem very general, but putting it down on paper is the first step towards getting it done.

Note! The To Do List you make is there to be scribbled all over, torn to bits and stuck together again or chucked on the fire if you so wish. Don’t write it and then assume it’s set in stone. You can add things at a later date, remove things if you change your mind, and tear it up and start again in August if you find your priorities shifting massively. You’re not writing a personal Bible or anything, you’re just visualising goals, which is the first step on the road to achieving them. If, halfway down that road, those goals don’t seem as appealing anymore, no worries. The whole point of the To Do List is that it can — and probably should — evolve. Happy listing!

What’s on YOUR To Do List for 2013?

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

In 2012, I…

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

2012 journal... nearly done!

You may remember my admission here, in January, that 2011 had not been a very good year. I wrote here — and in my paper journal — that I wanted to reclaim my life from work-related stress and insomnia. I also wrote in my paper journal that I wanted to extricate myself from the politics and cliques of the poetry community (locally and online), and just write. It took a while — nearly all year, with the latter — but I feel like I can now say I managed to do those things. 2012 was a good year, all told. Here’s some of the stuff that happened.

In 2012, I…

* worked as a reader for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for the fourth year running.

* won a Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award, and am about to begin — quite belatedly, which was my choice — my programme of creative mentoring.

* spent two great weekends in York early in the year, and remembered how much I loved it. Going back soon!

* moved from a 0.7PTE contract at work to a 0.5PTE contract, as part of my “reclaim my life!” challenge. Less teaching hours, less office politics, more free time, less stress (also less money, obv, but that’s OK).

* moved into the third year of studying for my PhD in Creative Writing. Switched to a brand new thesis topic for the third time. Probably drove my supervisor crazy.

* delivered a lecture, “Making Poems, Writing Histories, Excavating Myths”, to the Melrose Literary Society.

* went vegan, and I love it.

* scored an amazing haul of SEVENTEEN antique typewriters on Freegle! (Still haven’t got round to starting restoration/reclamation work on most of them…)

* organised an all-female poetry slam to celebrate International Women’s Day 2012. It went really well!

* celebrated my 26th birthday with not one but TWO birthday parties: one a nom-tastic vegan dinner at Zeffirelli’s with my family, the other a fabulous few rounds of cocktails at The Dome with friends. Yay!

* attended the Scottish Women’s Aid Feminist Day School at the University of Edinburgh, and was inspired.

* was shortlisted for an Eric Gregory Award for a second time (first time was 2010. I forgot to enter in 2011).

* competed in Literary Death Match (Edinburgh, ep 4) AND FREAKING WELL WON!

* spent a week in beautiful Barcelona, and totally fell in love with the place.

* spent a weekend training to become a Scottish Women’s Aid Community Champion. Possibly the most empowering weekend of my life so far!

* performed in “Dear Glasgow,” directed by David Grieg, at the Traverse Theatre.

* read poems in a magical launderette in Durham!

* spent a long weekend in gorgeous Whitby — surely the most literary seaside resort there is? — with Lovely Boyfriend.

* was introduced to The West Wing, fell in love, and watched all seven series in the space of a few weeks.

* spent ten days in Greece while One Night Stanzas was on hiatus. Visited Athens, and spent a week in a one-room cold-water whitewashed cottage on the tiny island of Hydra. Here’s the view from our room! We went swimming at daybreak, befriended donkeys, made lots of delicious vegan food, and spent tons of time writing, writing, writing. It was great.

* taught Creative Writing at the Scottish Universities International Summer School for the third consecutive year. My wonderful students were Dan, Linda, Sarah, Joanna, Daniel and Jill. You guys were fab!

* had a poem shortlisted in the Mslexia Women’s Poetry Contest.

* went to see George Watsky on the London leg of his Nothing Like The First Time tour. Also spent a fabby weekend hanging out in London!

* organised and hosted One Night Stanzas presents Watskyx2 — definitely my biggest and scariest moment as a poetry promoter! But it went SO WELL, yay!

* went to a ton of great stuff at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, including Louise Welsh, Andrew Keen, Alice Oswald’s Memorial event (OMG!), Daniel Franklin launching Megachange, Billy Letford & Sean Borodale and Marina Warner (who I also saw at the International Festival, ’cause I’m a fangirl).

* read poems at Blackwells: Writers at the Fringe.

* attended a discussion that included the amazing Jean Kilbourne, personal superheroine of mine, and met her afterwards! Swoon!

* was employed as a creative facilitator with a local women’s community support group (details redacted!), and I am loving working with these amazing women as they read poems, share stories and unlock their creativity!

* joined the Shore Poets committee and became their blogging/tweeting/Facebooking person, among other things!

* survived root canal surgery!

* got tattooed (again).

* went to beautiful Paris for the weekend with Lovely Boyfriend to celebrate our two-year anniversary!

* helped run Scottish Women’s Aid’s I GET IT campaign, spreading positive messages about healthy relationships to young people aged between 16 and 25.

* wrote articles and reviews for The Skinny, xoJane (two, in fact), the Edinburgh Review (again, two! One’s online here) and The Scottish Review of Books.

* had three poems included in Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poetry from the UK

* spent an amazing day at the Maryhill Integration Network in Glasgow, meeting incredible, inspiring women, and being treated to a crash-course in filmmaking, a fashion show, a dance recital and a ton of delicious food!

Favourite photos from this year:

Vegan Noms (1)
Just one of the many millions of photos I took of delicious vegan breakfast/brunch food. I obtained this book upon becoming vegan and it changed my world!

Lovely Boyfriend
Lovely Boyfriend being lovely.

Hooping in the Meadows
I will remember summer 2012 as the summer of hooping in the park with my sister!

Rainbows over Tollcross
I love living in Tollcross — and my top floor, bay-window view! — so, so much.

My SUISS class of 2012
My fantabulous SUISS Class of 2012!

Watsky x2 performers
All the lovely performers from One Night Stanzas presents Watskyx2! Such talent!

Lit 101 students' work
Just when I’m feeling down and crap, along come my amazing students to make me feel inspired again.

Parisian adventures
♡ ♡ ♡

Insane family portrait...
A loopy family portrait.

Poetree
Visiting the jaw-droppingly gorgeous GiftED sculptures.

Glitterowl
& Christmas comes to ONS Towers!

It’s been a great year. I feel I am a million miles away from the place I was in this time last year — phew! I am also extremely excited about 2013 and all that it holds for me. I plan to finish my PhD, put together my first full-length poetry collection (at last!), get more tattoos (yeah!), and start work on a ton of exciting new projects. Wish me luck!

If you want to see what I got up to in 2008, 2009, 2010 or 2011, just click on each year!

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You can also visit Read This Press for poetry and typewriter paraphernalia! Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Monday, December 24th, 2012

My All-Time, Top Ten Movies of 2012

Monday, December 24th, 2012

…in chronological order, are as follows:


The Magic Trip: Ken Kesey’s Search for a Kool Place
Actually a 2011 movie, but it didn’t get to the Filmhouse til January 2012. It was amazing to see so much film footage of the mystical Neal Cassady who stars in so much of my most beloved Beat Literature.


Margin Call
Incredible cast, incredible script, incredible everything. Watch this trailer and see if you don’t instantly want to go and buy the DVD.


Apart Together
I saw this amazing movie as part of the Take One Action Festival at Filmhouse. Unfortunately I can’t find a trailer with English subtitles, but hopefully you can get an idea of how beautiful and poignant the film is from this video. The story follows an exiled nationalist soldier who fled mainland China in 1949. He returns an old man to see if he can find his then-girlfriend, who was pregnant when he left. It was made with support from the Chinese government, which is really quite something given its strong political message. I loved it.


The Muppets
Again, a 2011 movie that didn’t get to The Cameo til 2012. Do I need to go into why I loved this, really? Jim Parsons’ cameo was my favourite moment, for sure.


The Artist
Another 2011 movie, but I put off seeing it for such a long time because I was so afraid it would disappoint me. It didn’t. All the hype is totally deserved. I’m now just kicking myself for not allowing more time to see it over and over on the big screen!


The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists
I’d have enjoyed this film much more had I not been sitting with my odd sister, who kept squealing throughout about how much the little dodo totally looked like me. THANKS.


Moonrise Kingdom
This is the first Wes Anderson movie I’ve seen, and this, I’m told, is a very important moment in a young girl’s life. It has so much stuff in it I love. Bruce Willis! Frances McDormand! SWINTON! A cute dog! Whimsy! And so I loved it very much indeed.


Leave It On The Track
Easily the BEST MOVIE EXPERIENCE I have ever had. I was at the world premiere of this movie at the Edinburgh International Film Festival and the audience was about 90% derby girls. The film was hilarious, poignant and super, super empowering, and being in such a passionate, loopy audience was just fantastic! This is a low budget movie about roller derby made by one guy for his Film Studies thesis. See this instead of Whip It… or if you loved Whip It.


Brave
Before I went to see this I made the mistake of reading a comment thread on a blog I normally like, where folks were talking about all the various ways this movie was “problematic.” These were mostly “Scots-American” commenters (as in, my great-great-great-great aunty Mavis lived in Galashiels for a bit and I went there once for half an hour on a coach trip), who were taking umbrage about the film’s portrayal of Scotland and Scottish people. They’d all seen it, so I was led to believe that Brave was an hour and a half of mocking stereotypes and Celtic twilight twee-ness. Turns out, that was bullshit. It was actually GREAT to see a huge Hollywood film that starred so many Scottish actors, actually speaking with their actual accents. As a proud Scot, I loved it, and so did all the Scots I know who saw it.
PS: Er yes, I go and see a lot of kid movies.


Looper
My favourite movie of the year. I love Rian Johnson’s work, especially Brick, and I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis and Paul Dano, so I was extra-super-excited to see this. It was the only movie I saw twice and I’ll fight anyone who thinks it’s anything less than freaking excellent. Top class sci-fi actiontastic fiery explosive goodness.

What were your favourite movies of 2012?

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

I wrote some stuff you might like to read.

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

My review of Kerry Hardie

So, I mentioned last week that I wrote a review of Kerry Hardie’s most recent collection, The Oak & The Ash & The Wild Cherry Tree for The Edinburgh Review Issue 136. You can now buy the issue online! BUT, you can also read my review free and gratis — the folks at Gallery Press liked it so much that they put it on their website. Thanks folks!

The UFOlogists podcast

You may also remember me writing a few weeks ago about the launch of sci-fi poetry anthology Where Rockets Burn Through: Contemporary Science Fiction Poems From The UK? I was super-chuffed to have three poems in it, and I’m even more super-chuffed that the folks over at Nature picked one of them to go in their “Where Rockets Burn Through” podcast this week. Thanks again!

Scary

Aaaand this is a bit of a scary one, but I am proud of myself for writing it and chuffed that it was published at xoJane, which is rapidly becoming one of my all-time favourite sites. I’ve written here before (but then destroyed the link in post-publication-panic) about my teenage struggles with a rather extreme form of thanatophobia. It seemed pertinent to write about it in a rather more serious way, given the recent OBSESSIVE APOCALYPSE HYPE that I’m sure you’ve all noticed. Of course, the world didn’t end yesterday — hooray! But I wanted to draw attention to this anyway. And for the first time ever, I connected to a fellow thanatophobia sufferer (in the comments), so double hooray!

Happy holidays!

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You can also visit Read This Press for poetry and typewriter paraphernalia! Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Procrastination Station #118

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Untitled

Lovely lovely links to keep you stimulated and inspired this chilly Friday!

Stephen Nelson is just on a roll with his new vispo at the moment! I love these two, and this Zen garden inspired piece!

I CANNOT WAIT to read the debut novel from Sarah McCarry (aka The Rejectionist!). CANNOT. WAIT.

I also really want to read Dora: A Headcase, which may well be in the same vein…

The moral cores of the series are Vimes and the witch Granny Weatherwax, characters to whom Pratchett has returned again and again. Both are feared –Weatherwax’s nickname from the trolls is “She Who Must Be Avoided” and to the dwarves she is “Go Around the Other Side of the Mountain.”

Terry Prachett is a total badass, basically.

In my post the other day I mentioned the GiftED book sculptureshere are some more fabby paper sculptures for your eyeballs to ogle!

Books just never stop being useful. They make excellent insect-homes!

Fan of The Feminist Press? Here’s a cool interview with its lovely founder, over at the City Lights Bookstore blog.

You never know what you might learn about your nearest and dearest if you convince them to be your poetry groupies. I once brought a reluctant friend to an open mic, promising her I’d buy her a pint afterwards. She was so taken by the atmosphere of come-and-have-a-go creativity that she penned her first ever poem during the interval and read it on stage in the second half.

I can’t remember if I posted about this before or not, but hey… along with Harry Giles of Inky Fingers, I helped the great Charlotte Runcie of Toad & Feather to draw up some open mic tips for noobs. Hope it’s helpful!

Can I just say: minature fairy book scrolls.

DO NOT HAVE SEX IN THE LIBRARY, PLEASE.

Have you guys seen these portraits of famous writers “in their own words”? SO COOL!

Walden, or Life in the Woods: UPDATED!

Make a notebook… out of your old coffee cup.

“I wonder what real life wizards think of Harry Potter?” …and other stupid things commercial artists hear from clients!

And speaking of artists… the wonderful Mandy Fleetwood now has a shop! And I particularly love this print, which combines two of my favourite things: tattoos and Joni!

I just jettisoned about 70% of my Facebook friends because of stuff like this!

What if your friends acted like your pets? So funny, so true.

I totally love small builds, tree houses and all other innovative living spaces. So of course, I couldn’t resist including this!

The January issue of Cosmocking is out! Kinda more depressing than funny, though… sadface.

This is one smart seventeen year old.

The evolution of mobile phones (in pictures!) is pretty fascinating.

I am so not a habitual napkin-using kinda gal. But OMG, these!

I plan to look like this when I am 60.


I’m not 100% sure what’s going on, but I really enjoyed this wee stop-motion. Thanks Mandy!


Not as good as the Tumblr, but I still love Texts from Dog.


The Hobbit… BUT WITH CATS!!!


I finally watched Anita Sarkeesian’s TED talk. SHE IS AN INSPIRATION, PEOPLE.


And if you click nothing else in this post, click this. Hilarious, political and important. THIS is how you tell rape jokes, assholes!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Things I Love Thursday #73

Thursday, December 20th, 2012

Glitterowl

Sparkle.

Scruffy presents

Festive typewriters

Cute cards (thanks!)

Best self-portrait ever?

So happy I didn't sell this.

Vegan mince pies!

2012 journal... nearly done!

What are YOU loving this week?

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

Guest post: why I don’t give in to submission by Mark Antony Owen

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

pile of magazines

The other day on Twitter I was chatting with Mark about a poem he’s written recently, and he happened to mention that it’s his policy never to send his poems out for publication in magazines. As this is a bit of a break from the usual poetrythink, I was intrigued to find out why… and thought you might be, too. So I invited Mark to write a guest post! Enjoy…

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The thinking goes like this: if you write, you write to be read. And as a poet, I certainly want to be read. So why don’t I submit my work to respected journals and sites? Or rather, having had five poems accepted for publication and only one rejection, why did I stop submitting? My thinking goes like this …

Poetry journals, in print or online, can be a great way for readers to discover new writing, new poets. At their best, they’re a platform for excellence – a filtration system that keeps the ‘bad’ writing from the ‘good’.

But journals can also skew one’s view of a poet or their work – as I discovered by accident.

Having read some print and online journals, I found several poets whose work I admired and whose collections I went on to buy. What was shown of their work was, I found, representative of their style and subject matter. Bottom line? One happy reader/customer. But there were also poets whose output I initially rejected as a result of seeing their work, in isolation, in journals. Poets whose collections I later dipped into in bookshops, only to find I actually quite liked other of their poems.

Frankly, I felt a little bit misled.

Now of course, it would be terribly unfair to journal editors to castigate them for having their own literary preferences and choosing to publish only those works which they deem to have merit. And anyone who reads a particular journal for long enough will surely get to know an editor’s tastes and can then decide whether or not these match their own. But the fact remains that journals can only showcase a poet’s work as a ‘slice’ – at first, anyway. And that slice may not cut it for everyone.

So we come to my reason for not submitting. Is it fear of rejection? Is it fear of the agonising wait for a response that might be a rejection? Is it artistic arrogance? It’s none of these. It’s simply that I don’t believe my own poems stand up well individually. By which, I don’t mean each poem isn’t readable or even rewarding in its own way. I mean that I conceive my poems as details in a larger canvas. Yes, you can appreciate them close up. But I prefer them to be seen within the context of a collection. I just think they work better that way; and it’s completely unreasonable of me to expect them to be seen this way if they’re being published in ones and twos across various journals.

Let me be clear – I’m not knocking (or rejecting) journals. I’m simply saying they’re not for me or my work. At least, not now I’ve found my style and have a broad creative vision for my writing. You might think: ‘If you don’t submit, how will you be read?’ Good question – and one to which I don’t have a good answer. All I know is that I’m not about to give in.

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Mark Antony Owen is a poet who writes exclusively in syllabic metre. His poetry draws on that world where the English countryside bleeds into ordinary suburban living – a world he refers to as ‘subrural’.

Mark builds around details of subrural life to create economical poems; each obeying one of nine self-developed forms or variations on these – his subjects often painted a little darker than they really are.

From autumn 2013, Mark will self-publish ‘Subruria’: a multi-volume collection he describes as part sketchbook, part journal, part memoir.

You can find out more at Mark’s website or follow him on Twitter.

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Want to write a guest post for One Night Stanzas? Email me a short, informal pitch to claire [at] onenightstanzas.com and we’ll talk!
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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Dear Poetry Newbies: how to write a poem RIGHT NOW

Monday, December 17th, 2012

At the rehearsal 02

An earlier version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

Writer’s Block is every poet’s worst nightmare. It takes advantage of the times you’re too busy or happy or miserable to think about sitting down to write, and then it digs its claws in. Sometimes, it only lasts a week or so before it gets bored and wanders off to find another victim – other times it sticks around for months, preventing you from putting pen to paper in any kind of meaningful way.
As you can probably tell, I like to visualise Writer’s Block as a small, annoying, fanged, furry creature. Why? Because that way, I feel more like I can beat it, squash it, call in my imaginary pest-control. I can get rid of it any time I want – and so can you. In fact, if you want to, you can write a poem – and a good poem – RIGHT NOW.

Read poetry.
I say this all the time – in fact, everyone says this all the time – and it may sound like a cliché, but it is the most important thing you can possibly do as a poet. Reading other people’s poetry teaches you to write better stuff, but it also gets you fired up and gives you inspiration when you need it. When I want to write but can’t find the ideas, I read other people’s poems until I find a line that makes me think “I could expand on that,” or even “I could’ve worded that better.” When I want to write but nothing sounds any good, I turn to poems I really enjoy and admire, to ‘remind’ me how it’s done. Using other people’s poetry as a jumping-off point for an original work is not plagiarism, and poets do it all the time. Can’t find a poem that inspires you? Get to a library, bookshop or thrift store and look around until something leaps off a page at you (it will, eventually, honest). You can even try looking online – check out this page for some great online poetry sites.

Read poetry you don’t like.
I got this one from a former creative writing tutor, and funnily enough, it works. Everyone has a poet they really, really hate – often one whose work they’ve been forced to analyse in school. Who’s yours? Maybe you have a few? And probably the last thing you want to do when you’re feeling creatively challenged is look at the poetry of someone whose very name gets you foaming at the mouth with loathing. Well, try it. Drag out Wordsworth’s Daffodils or Keats’ Grecian Urn or whatever your least-favourite poem happens to be, and read it over once again. This time, ask yourself: why do I hate this poem? Is it because it’s actually a bad poem, or is there another reason? Do I hate it because I don’t fully understand it? Because I associate it with something negative? Or is it just not to my taste? Think about what puts this particular poet on your personal blacklist… and then do the opposite. Try to find good bits in the poem – is there a particular line that stands out from the rest? Does the basic idea of the poem appeal to you? Has the poet used any unusual words or created an interesting metaphor? Analyse the poem fairly – and from a personal point of view (none of this textbook-style, “what are the hidden meanings?” stuff). Once you’ve worked out why you can’t stand this poet – or once you’ve realised that actually, maybe they’re not a total imbecile – you can start to think about your own work. Write the antithesis of a Wordsworth poem, or try putting yourself in Keats’ shoes and writing in his style. Reading your most hated author really can inspire you, honest. Try it!

Read absolutely ANYTHING.

Noticing a pattern here? That’s because reading = writing: fact. The more you read, the better you write, and although obviously poetry is the best thing to get you into a poetry-writing frame of mind, just about anything that involves the written word can inspire you. I once wrote a poem inspired by a Louise Welsh novel, and another inspired by a newspaper cutting about a grassfire. Hundreds of people have written poems inspired by letters they’ve read, sent, received. I know one poet who wrote an ode to her telephone directory when she realised it was out of date, and started reading through it. Reading other people’s words can be really inspiring – no matter what they are. Try grabbing whatever written thing is nearest to you – be it a novel, a how-to book, a pamphlet or an instruction manual. Read it over, pick a line you like, and imagine it is the title of a poem. Write that poem.

Freewrite.
This is something I do with my students when they’re feeling at a loss for words. If you ask me, all words are good words, and just about anything can be a poem or story if you’re willing to shape it into one. Basically, you start with a blank sheet and a pencil, you count to three, and then you start writing. You write anything, and you keep writing without stopping until the page is full. No stopping to think, no trying to turn the writing into any kind of coherent shape – just write. One pupil of mine, a twelve-year-old boy who found creative writing “really hard,” started free-writing about what he’d been up to at the weekend (camping in the woods with his mates, apparently), and ended up with the first few paragraphs of a great adventure story. Another, Lisa – fourteen and very shy – was mad with her sister and free-wrote a letter to God asking why He’d decided to make the two sisters so different. It became a weird and wonderful poem for her school portfolio. Many students (me too) find it hard to stop at just one page. Freewriting is writing, after all, and when you’ve been struck by the pesky Writer’s Block, it feels brilliant to be putting pen to paper.
NB: Freewriting is NOT about trying to make ‘a poem’ or ‘a story’ or even a ‘good’ piece of writing. It could turn out to be garbage, and you have to let it, and not be annoyed with yourself if it does. But chances are, it won’t – I bet you find that something emerges.

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!

(Photo credit)

Things I Love Thursday #72

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

Beeswax

The amazing GiftED book sculptures at the Scottish Poetry Library.

I’m guessing that, since you’re reading this blog, you like books really quite a lot. Therefore, you’ve probably heard about GiftED, the series of sculptures made out of old books and gifted to various literary landmarks around Edinburgh. But just in case you haven’t, here’s the lowdown: over the past eighteen months, these beautiful, intricate book-based paper sculptures have been popping up in places like the Central Library, Filmhouse Cinema and the SPL itself. Nothing is known about the uber-talented creator of these objects, except that she’s a lady. Oh, and she’s on a valiant one-woman crusade to save libraries and keep people reading. In other words: this person is my heroine.

GiftED has been on tour around Scotland over the past few months, much to the delight of every bookish Scottish person ever. It’s just ended its run with a few days on show at the Scottish Poetry Library, and I was lucky enough to be able to go along twice to see these ten wonderful pieces on show all in the same space. Here are some photos of just a few:

T Rex

T Rex

After two visits and I-don’t-know-how-many circuits of the exhibition, I finally, painfully, picked a favourite — and it’s the T Rex. As with all the sculptures, every time I looked at him I saw something else: the words interlaced between his jaws, the tiny men in the page-forest trying to take him down, and — my favourite part — his wee tail sticking out of the back of the book! Magic.

Dragonbaby 2

DRAGONBABY!

I also loved the dragon-baby. I thought it was such a nice physical metaphor for a book being born! He’s super cute, too. On my first visit to GiftED I was accompanied by the ladies from the women’s community support group I’ve been working with, and they were utterly enchanted by the whole thing. A few of us spent a while speculating over whether the dragon is nestled inside a real egg or not — is it an ostrich egg, maybe? It looks so real, we just couldn’t be sure.

Casquet

I love the words that are carefully highlighted inside the gramophone… “towards dark.” This sculptor definitely has a penchant for the eerie and unheimlich!

Lost in a good book

Lost in a good book

This was the one my group picked as their definite favourite. Over the past few weeks, we’ve been discussing poetry and the ways in which it can be used to help us understand the world, work through difficult times, celebrate happy times, etc. Many of the ladies in the group had never read a poem before in their lives, and therefore were understandably nervous at the start. But they saw this sculpture and loved it. One of them said, “that’s how I feel about books now — like you can be sheltered by them.” Result!

Poetree

Poetree 2

This — the Poetree — was the first sculpture, the one that started all the (totally deserved) hype. The exhibition (and its accompanying promotional book) contained an illustrated guide to making your own poetree! My favourite instruction: “inconsistencies add charm.” A good motto for life, methinks.

Teacup

“Nothing beats a nice cup of tea (or coffee) and a really great book.” She speaks the truth! If you want to see the other sculptures (and er, much better photos of the ones featured here!) you can head over to the photostream of the wonderful Chris Scott, who, quite rightly, has become their de facto official photographer!

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Having an ethical, hopefully-Amazon-free Christmas

I don’t want to sound too judge-y here, but you guys… is it me, or has Christmas become a time for assholeish behaviour? This assholeishness is weird, since Christmas is supposed to be all about being selfless and nice! It seems that, at Christmastime, some people become weird Mr-Hyde-type versions of themselves as far as all things greed and consumption are concerned. Christmas is the time of year when we do things like stuff a bird into a slightly bigger bird and then stuff both those birds into a slightly-bigger-again bird, roast, and then scoff so much of the resulting Frankenbird that for the rest of the day we can’t do anything more taxing than occasionally nibble the edge of an enormous Toblerone. We spend a bazillion pounds each on a bazillion presents, usually from massive high-street and internet conglomorates who dazzle us with their sparkly TV ads (if I see that goddamn awful Brad Pitt Chanel No. 5 ad again I may smash Lovely Boyfriend’s beloved UberTV to bits). We buy presents for people we don’t even like because we feel like we have to. We send 1.5 billion Christmas cards TO LANDFILL for chrissakes. Sorry to sound like the world’s biggest Scrooge, but it’s effed up, y’all. It’s time to OCCUPY CHRISTMAS!

OK, maybe that’s a bit radical for the moment. But still — this year I have been trying to stick to the following Christmas rules:

– Buy second hand wherever possible
– Buy local wherever possible
– If you can’t buy local or second hand, at least buy from an independent business or charity org
– No sweatshop labour
– No animal cruelty
– No waste
– No Amazon purchases

I’m now pretty much finished with my Christmas shopping, and I know I’ve broken my rules a bit already. For example: I bought a box of chocolates for some of my workmates that I know has dairy in it, so animal cruelty (*cries*). I can’t go into more specifics right now without giving away what other presents I’ve bought, but I might do a re-cap post-Christmas and evaluate how I did! In the meantime, I’m doing crafty, waste-free stuff like wrapping my gifts in old brown paper bags and pre-used wrapping paper (see photo above — I’ve been saving all year from birthdays etc!) and making present tags out of last year’s Christmas cards (see photo below). I’m feeling super righteous, very crafty, and really unusually rich for this time of year as a result!

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The new issue of The Edinburgh Review: #136, aka No Shouting Out.

This isn’t just making the list because I have a review in it, but, well… I have a review in it! This is my fourth contribution to The Edinburgh Review in twelve issues, and I’m really happy that they keep accepting my work! I love the publication, especially since Alan Gillis took over the role of Editor-in-Chief — he’s doing fantastic work. Look how pretty this issue is!

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My review is on Kerry Hardie’s most recent collection, The Oak & The Ash & The Wild Cherry Tree. Hardie is hands-down one of my all-time favourite poets ever ever ever, so needless to say, my review is pretty glowing. You should all seriously buy this book straight away, because it is brilliant. It’s about ageing and death and nature and birds and skies and trees and memory and it’s GREAT! Get it, get it one and all.

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Want to read more? Well, you’ll have to buy The Edinburgh Review, then! Except the issue’s so new, it seems to be not-available-online-yet. It will be, though — keep an eye on the site. There are a million other (better!) reasons to buy a copy too, of course — Hannah McGill has a GREAT short story in here, and the fantabulous Jen Hadfield has written a highly right-on review of William Letford’s Bevel. Hey, why not go the whole hog and get a subscription?! So worth it, trust me, and they’d love and appreciate your support for sure! If you’re in Edinburgh, you can also keep an eye out for the issue in bookstores, including the wonderful Word Power.

What are YOU loving this week?

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). Alternatively, check out Edinburgh Vintage, our sister site. If you want to get in touch you can follow OneNightStanzas on Twitter, or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com. I reply as swiftly as I can!