Archive for January, 2013

Featured Poem, ‘Song,’ by Stephen Nelson (also, a review!)

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

Banjo

Song

1.

Pu oot yer banjo, boy, n strum
at yon fu moon

till ye nip the prood violet’s
wheezy reek

fae teeth n nose n mooth.

2.

Pu oot yer banjo, boy, n pluck
the fucker

till ma hert strings snap n whip
the raw rank erse ae the wirld

wi memory like the putrid seas ae Jupiter.

3.

Pu oot yer banjo, boy –

lazy bam in yer lazy bed wi yer
sweetened songs n yer honey dream rhymes.

Ah wull dance, dammit! - n let the rollin waves
spill oan the frozen shore,
till midnight wirds
ir whisperin tendrils ae shivering
ecstasy nae mair.

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If you’ve been reading this blog for any decent amount of time, you’ll know I love the work of Stephen Nelson. One of the best and most prolific concrete/vispo poets working in Scotland today, Stephen’s been published in a wide variety of places, including the wonderful anthology The Last Vispo, which I’d highly recommend to anyone (especially if you’re not sure what all this vispo fuss is about, but you think you’d like to try it). Most recently, he’s brought out a collection with the wonderful Knives Forks and Spoons Press, who are soon to close their doors — sad times, indeed. But they’ve really gone out with a bang by publishing Lunar Poems for New Religions, a collection which, prior to publication, was shortlisted for the prestigious Crashaw Prize… and I can see why.

Lunar Poems for New Religions is a book inspired by the moon, in every sense. Its second section, Crescent, mimics the rhythm of the lunar cycle, beginning with a very simple concrete piece:

mo( )on

Thereafter, the poems wax and wane. Some are sparse, concrete pieces that use the white space of the page to great effect; interspersed among them are short, prose-style poems that seem lush and full alongside their neighbours. Stephen has arranged — I almost want to say timed — all of this to perfection, though, as it never feels jarring. Rather, it is smooth and organic. And the poems are filled with confident, powerful lines. In ‘Ask Tracey’, for example, I was struck by, “Whenever I touched you who felt the shock but us.”

The first section of the book, The Moon from my Windowless Heart, is a totally different beast. ‘Song’, the poem above, is the first to appear in the section, and it is followed by ‘LOOK UP!’, one long, two-part poem that in places is almost theatrical monologue. This section is in Scots, which I found surprising and wonderful. ‘LOOK UP!’ reminded me very much of poems from the Beat Generation — lines like:

Next mornin up tae tantric storms aboot ma heid,
dark mind clouds explodin brain sparks ae lightnin,
cartoon hero cut fae technicolour dream cloth,
rinsed oot & hung in the sky like a sinkin moon.

The whole collection pulses with a weird and brilliant energy, combining Stephen’s expert knowledge of the page’s potential as shape, as canvas, with strong, rhythmic phrasing and pin-sharp imagery. It’s only January, but I’ll be shocked if I find a more original, enjoyable collection to top it this year. I’m calling my Top Poetry Read of 2013, folks! And you can buy it right here!

(You can — and you really, really should — also visit Stephen’s great blog, afterlights, to see more of his work.)

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Want to see YOUR poem featured on ONS? Read this post first: submission guidelines are at the bottom. Good luck!

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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!

Dear Poetry Newbies: how do you know when you’re ready to send out your work?

Monday, January 28th, 2013

A previous version of this post appeared at One Night Stanzas in September 2008.

A while ago I received an email from an uncertain emerging poet, asking if I could help him figure out whether or not he was ready to start sending his poems out to magazines. As I looked at his stuff, I realised that — although I could see his work definitely had potential — I had no way of knowing either way. Unfortunately, no one else can tell you when it’s time: YOU have to be truly ready before you send your poems out to be seen by readers and editors.
I do realise that this leaves a lot of people frustrated - how do you know when you’re ready? Well, here are some tips. Try these, and then see how you feel about your poetry. Hopefully, it’ll help you reach a decision.

Shelve your work.
A ONS reader happened to mention once that this is something he always does before sending work out for publication, and I think if you’re uncertain about the quality of your stuff, it’s a really good idea. Say you’ve written five new poems that you think would work really well for a magazine, but you’re not really sure if they’re good enough. Print them out or type them up, and hide them away somewhere safe. Stick a reminder in your diary for a date, say, a month or two down the line, and don’t read those poems again until that date. It seems like a long time, but it’s necessary to leave them for that long to make yourself “forget” them. Read them over again, and you’ll see them with totally fresh eyes. You’ll be able to see typos and mistakes more clearly, and you’ll also have a better feeling for lines that work and lines that don’t. Read the poems aloud, and see how they sound. Sit down and edit anything that feels a bit clunky - and don’t be afraid to edit as much as you need to until you’re happy. Also - though it might feel like you’ve wasted a whole load of time - don’t be afraid to chuck the poems in the bin and start all over again if your fresh eyes tell you they’re not all that good. And if you make a rewrite, or any changes that you’re not sure about, repeat the hiding-away process. Yes, it all means that it takes a while for your poems to reach publication stage, but it also means you’re submitting stronger poems which are less likely to be rejected.

Read other people’s work.
This is my standard answer to any poetry-related question: if in doubt, read. In this case, seek out literary journals, creative writing publications and online zines. Don’t just look at the big obvious ones - nose around for little niche websites, small-scale hand-stapled chapbooks and blogs that accept daily poetry submissions from unknowns. Read as many poetry publications as you can get your hands on, and support the ones that publish stuff you like. Check out poems by hugely successful poets, and poets you’ve never heard of before in your life, and don’t be afraid to emulate any of them in your own writing. Pay attention to the kinds of things magazines tend to publish - often you’ll see that patterns emerge. This magazine likes alt-lit-type poems with heaps of pop-culture references, while that one likes traditional poetic form and meter, etc. Read submission guidelines, too - take note of the things editors don’t like to see, and ask yourself: do your poems do any of these things? Paying attention to what magazines like and don’t like, what published poets do and don’t do, can really help you edit your work into a publishable shape. Make a list of any publication you come across that you think might like your work. Once you think you’re ready, start sending your work out to them… and keep reading, always. Keep adding to your list.

Go cliché-spotting!
Something that puts off pretty much all editors is the old cliché. Clichés are so abundant in our everyday speech, so everywhere, that we often slip them into our writing without noticing… I do it, famous poets do it, we all do it. Have a look. Have you put “beady eyes” or “pitch black” or “back of my mind”, or anything else that makes you think ‘I hear that all the time’? Whip it out and put something more imaginative in there… and remember, editors are looking for originality, so don’t be afraid to be a bit wacky.
It’s not just common phrases that constitute clichés, either - you need to be on the lookout for more subtle things. Using terms like “bleeding heart” etc can make your work sound rather ‘emo’ (even if it’s not supposed to be); and to an editor, that can be shorthand for ‘immature.’ If they come across something that makes them think ‘cliché!’, it can make the difference between the ‘yes’ pile and the ‘no’ pile.

Join a workshop.
Workshopping can work wonders on your poems — so often, total strangers see things that you’d never see, no matter how much shelving, reading and editing you do! You get to find out how your work looks to an impartial reader without having to go through the whole submissions process, and having a couple of people in a workshop say “I don’t think this is ready to be sent out” is way less stinging than getting a rejection letter from an editor. Workshops are also a brilliant way of meeting other writers and like-minded people, and you can often do some networking, too. My very first magazine publication came from chatting to someone in a workshop group, for example.
Be careful though: workshop members won’t critique your work in the same way that your friends and family will. Because they don’t know all your foibles, they’ll just give their honest assessment of your work, regardless of your personal feelings. OK, people are seldom rude, but they can be very direct, and if you’re new to the workshopping progress, it might come as a shock. Remember, your workshop group are doing you a favour by saying “this part doesn’t work for me” - they’re giving you feedback which you can use to improve your work. If you do go along to a workshop, don’t let it knock your confidence - be polite, take feedback on board, and offer critique of other people’s work in return. Workshopping is a really beneficial exercise and it can also be loads of fun too… try it!

Seek advice from a pro.
If you’ve got a poem you’re really proud of and you think you want to send it off to a magazine, try asking for the opinion of someone in the know. Perhaps you have a writer-friend who’s had their work published already? Maybe one of your teachers or tutors seems to know their stuff? It might be a bit embarrassing, but try asking them - the worst they can say is “I don’t know”, or “sorry, I’m too busy.” Chances are, they’ll be happy to give your poem a quick read and to give you some feedback… which you should always try to take on board, even if you don’t actually act on it.
You can also send your poetry off for professional critique, but beware! There are a lot of scam artists out there offering critiquing services on creative writing, so be careful who you go to. You almost always have to pay for this kind of thing so first and foremost, make sure you can afford it… and before you send anything, read all the small print (if there is any) and make sure you’re not committing yourself to paying more than you bargained for. If you decide to go ahead with it and pay for critique, make sure you check out the person or company who’s providing the service. If you’re even slightly unsure about it, walk away. The Poetry Society offers a costly but reputable feedback service, for example. Alternatively, you can seek feedback via free sites like deviantART, but beware: the kind of feedback you receive on these sites can sometimes be more harmful than helpful. The best option is undoubtedly to seek advice from someone you trust and respect, if you can… so don’t be shy — ask!

Hopefully these tips will help you to seize the moment when you finally feel ready to publish. The last thing I’d say is: if you’ve tried all these things and you think you’re ready, the don’t be scared; just go for it. Be ready for the rejections, because they’re inevitable, and when you get them, keep going. It doesn’t matter as long as you keep reading, writing, editing and improving. If you do that, you’ll get there eventually! Good luck!

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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!

Things I Love Thursday #75

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

Vegan cupcakes

Isa Chandra Moskowitz

So, I’ve waxed lyrical about this lady a good few times already, but I am going to do it again, because she so totally rocks my world. For Christmas, Lovely Boyfriend bought me her Vegan Cupcakes Take Over The World (co-authored with Terry Hope Romero), along with a bunch of cupcake-baking equipment, and I have been cupcaking like a mad person ever since. Those starry babies in the photo above were my first effort: they’re the most basic chocolate cupcake in the book, but they came out beautifully, so I thought I’d get more ambitious. Next, I made the maple and candied walnut variety you see below, as a ‘birthday cake’ for Lovely Boyfriend’s brother. They were so good that he requested a second batch! So, for a family gathering (pressure!) I moved onto pistachio and rosewater (second photo down). These are super cool, because the cake is green and the icing is pink (excuse the weird orangey photo — it’s my kitchen light, not an Instagram filter)! I was kinda flu-filled on the day, so I couldn’t really taste my creations, sadly… but I’m told they were delicious. My most recent offerings were the double chocolate truffle cupcakes you see in the bottom photo. These are a variation on the basic chocolate, but with gooey ganache on the top and a Booja Booja truffle for decoration. FREAKING LUSH. What next, I wonder…? I am officially a cupcake addict!

Vegan cupcakes

Vegan pistachio and rosewater cupcakes

Vegan double chocolate truffle cupcakes

(PS: I made a Flickr set for all my vegan baking — and some of the vegan food regularly rustled up for me by the Lovely Boyfriend — so if you fancy following my spoon-lickin’ exploits, check back here!)

'Heritage Without Borders' Project

The Making it Home Project

I’m really excited that I’m finally able to talk publicly about my involvement with this amazing project! I keep mentioning this mysterious women’s community project I’ve been working for, but I’ve been unable to go into much detail until now. I’m happy to announce that we’ve been able to go public, thanks to an injection of much-needed funds from Creative Scotland. So, what’s it all about?

Poetry is an extremely powerful educational and social tool. It has all sorts of amazing uses — I’m sure that if you follow this blog, I don’t need to convince you of that. Making It Home was born when, a little while ago, the Refugee Survival Trust decided to harness the awesome power of poetry and use it to do cool stuff in some of Scotland’s local communities. They got in touch with Glasgow’s Maryhill Integration Network, Edinburgh’s Women Supporting Women (part of the Pilton Community Health Project), and the wonderful folks at the Scottish Poetry Library, with the aim of creating two poetry-reading groups for women. Through the poems read, discussed and shared in these groups, the women present would explore ideas about home: belonging, nationhood, community, family and everything else the word ‘home’ conjures up.

I feel incredibly lucky and blessed, because I was approached to be the creative facilitator at Women Supporting Women. My group of incredible women have given me a whole new understanding of what poetry is, and what it can do. They’ve discussed poems I’ve read probably hundreds of times, and made me see them in totally new ways. They’ve learned tons about poems and their ever-so-slightly magical powers — and so have I!

Oasis Women's Group Textiles Project

Even better: thanks to the funding injection, the project has grown a new arm. As of early January, the Making It Home groups teamed up with Media Co-Op, a brilliant independent film-making co-operative based in Glasgow. These guys are now working with the groups of women, teaching them how to translate their many, many great responses to the poems into short films detailing their personal journeys. It’s early days yet, but already it feels like a whirlwind of brilliant ideas and inspiration. I’m so happy to be part of the ongoing project, and feel really lucky to be able to witness the creative process behind what will, eventually — we hope! — become a full-scale film installation that all of YOU can come and see and support!

(Both these photos are from the Maryhill Integration Network’s amazing Flickrstream.)

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!

The Next Big Thing: my first collection

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

huge_typewriter

You’ve probably seen this meme/questionnaire thingy doing the rounds of literary blogs lately? I have, and was kind of dreading my inevitable tagging. However, I found that filling in the answers below actually made me feel quite uplifted and hopeful about the scattered, half-finished MS that is my forthcoming first collection of poems (it has a working title, but it has a kind-of rude word in it. I’m not sure if I’ll have the bottle to keep it, or if a publisher could stomach it, so I’ll keep it secret for now). Thanks very much to Andy Philip for the nudge! You can see his answers here, at his blog Tonguefire.

Where did the idea come from for the book?
It’ll be my first full-length collection, so I feel a bit like I’ve been working towards it ever since I began writing. However, the central themes that are coming to define the working MS really started to emerge last summer, when I did a writer’s retreat on the Greek island of Hydra. It was July, and much too hot for me to be outside between the hours of about 10am and 5pm, so I was almost literally walled inside this one-room cottage with the Selected Poems of Adrienne Rich, and a notebook. I think it’s the most productive I’ve ever been.

What genre is the book?
Poetry. I’ve been experimenting, writing much longer poems than my usual, but I’m still not sure of them. They may yet end up on the cutting room floor.

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
I’d love to see a poetry collection — though not necessarily mine! — become a series-of-vignettes movie, like Jim Jarmusch’s Coffee and Cigarettes, one of my favourite movies ever. Like The Mermaid and the Sailors, this book is going to contain a lot of strong women. I can totally see Annette Bening “playing” one of these poems, she’d be great.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Oh dear, I’m really crap at this. I remember people sending blurbs for The Mermaid and the Sailors that said things like, “these are poems about x, y and z,” and I thought, “are they? Oh yes, I suppose they are.” So you may have to wait until the book exists properly, and ask someone who’s read it. The closest I can get right now is, “a collection of poems about women… and maybe anger.”

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
See my first answer! There are some poems going in here from as long ago as 2010. But there are also still some to write. I never, ever think anything’s finished. I’ll probably need someone to prize it out of my hands at some point and say, “for goodness sakes, it’s done.”

Who or what inspired you to write this book?
In the past two or three years, I’ve widened the focus of my life. I’ve forced myself to get out of my comfort zone in my work, in my slowly-growing activism, and also in my cultural intake: what I read, watch and attend. I always used to tell my own stories — old family anecodotes nicked and turned into poems, experiences I’d personally had. Now I want to tell stories about bigger things. I’m really interested in class now, and privilege. I feel a real desire to write more about those things.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The MS isn’t finished yet… I’m still not sure what’s definitely staying in, and what’s going. But there might be a poem about donkeys. There’s a poem about Allen Ginsberg’s mum. There’s a poem where I answer back, quite cheekily, to Carol Ann Duffy. I’ve also written a series of haiku set in the knicker department of Marks & Spencers in Carlisle… but I’m pretty sure I’ll chicken out with that one!

Will your book be self-published or represented by a publisher?
That remains to be seen! To be honest, getting a first collection placed at the moment seems to be a bit of a nightmare, so I’m not really thinking about it too much. I’m keener to end up with a collection I can be really proud of.

The writers I have tagged are:
Colin McGuire
Helen McClory
Char Runcie

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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: quit procrastinating!

Monday, January 14th, 2013

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

Procrastination. You know, that thing where re-cataloguing your record collection or washing all the skirting-boards in your house suddenly seems really important? Here’s how to beat it.

1: Start.
When you have a task or tasks that you’re avoiding, for whatever reason, it’s often just the thought of getting started that’s daunting. It may be hard to do, but just sit down, shove everything else out of your mind, and start. Even if you can only write a title, or the first sentence, it’s something… you’ve given yourself something to work from. Get something done; knowing you’ve started can make all the difference, because that task is no longer “to do”, it’s “in progress” instead.

2: Make a timetable.
When I had my PhD thesis to write, I found I couldn’t empty my head of all the other stuff that I “should” be doing — laundry that I’d previously been happy to leave spilling over the top of the washing-basket, sorting out my bank-statements, writing to people I hadn’t been in touch with for years, etc. Of course, none of these things were essential, but my brain wouldn’t let me focus on my essay-writing until I’d removed these distractions. In the end, I made myself a timetable. I wrote up a mental list of all the “other stuff” I needed to do, and then spent a full morning completing these tasks. At 1pm sharp, forced myself to start writing. And eventually, I’d get into it… or maybe I just ran out of “other stuff.”

3: Unplug the internet.
Just about anyone you ask will tell you that the internet is one of the worst distractions there is. It doesn’t just eat into your writing time… all too often it disguises itself as a writing “aid”, so you feel justified in surfing when you should be working. If you’re reading writing blogs or other people’s poems, then surely that’s just research, right? That’s just helping? But you know, deep down, that it’s just not true.
Stop it! Pull the plug! Disconnect your internet… or move to another room, the garden, or anywhere out of range! If you don’t need the internet to do what you’re doing (and chances are, you really don’t), then there’s no reason for it to be accessible. For some people this feels like severing an arm, but try it, and see what a difference it can make!

4: Bitesize it.
As a tutor, I constantly get pupils complaining that they can’t concentrate for long enough to get their revision done properly, and I always send them in the direction of Bitesize. You can browse it by a subject - say, English Lit - and it will break your subject down into its modules: in this case, Reading, Close Reading, Speaking, Writing etc. The students find that it makes their essay-writing and revision sessions so much easier, because they are given managable amounts of work to do at once.
When you find yourself procrastinating, you have to do the same thing. Think about your task. Do you need to write an essay, put together a poem, do some editing? Think about how you could split the task into several smaller tasks. Could you edit a stanza at a time? Write your essay paragraph by paragraph? Doing something slowly is better than doing nothing at all.

5: Don’t go it alone.
You might think that having other people around would be even more distracting, but in fact, working in someone else’s presence can really focus you. Get together, have a cup of tea, talk things over, and then get to work. If someone else is keeping an eye on you, you’re less likely to leap up and say “I think I might just wash the car / clean out the kitchen cupboards / bake a cake” or whatever… and if the other person is working away diligently, you’ll feel the need to keep up. If you can’t concentrate with someone else sitting next to you, or if you can’t find anyone who’s willing to come and work too, just get your partner to look in on you every so often to see if you’re still working, or get a friend to text you for a word-count at the top of each hour. It might feel a bit like being in detention, but it’ll keep you going!

6: Take breaks.
I nag and nag and nag my students constantly about this. Your brain only works at its best for 45 minutes at a time… after that, your concentration starts to flag and the task you’re working on gets less and less of your attention. For that reason, you should only ever work for one full hour maximum before you take a break… and your break should be a proper break, where you set aside at least ten minutes to do something other than the task at hand. Not taking breaks can encourage procrastination, because if you work and work until you’re sick and tired of working, eventually you’re going to get to a point where you walk away from your task and don’t go back to it.

7: Go against your habits.
You may not like working in the evening (or in the morning, afternoon, whenever), but that’s tough luck if your deadline is looming. Your favourite library or internet cafe may be closed, your favourite writing pen might have run out. Deal with it! Don’t let these things become excuses not to complete your task! Procrastination is pressure enough without you placing further limitations on yourself. Even if you do have to work in the evening / in your living room / with a different pen, you’ll be glad you soldiered through once the task is finished!

8: Give yourself an incentive.
For some people, just the idea of getting a project finished is incentive enough. However, telling yourself that “eventually I will have a finished poem” or “some day I will get paid for this commission” or “perhaps this poem will get into a magazine once I edit it” might not be enough to get you worked up to the task. If so, you need some incentive, so think of a way to reward yourself once you’re done. Resolve to treat yourself to a takeaway, a long soak in the bath, a new book or whatever you think will make it all feel a bit more worthwhile. Sit down to work with your reward in mind, and you may well find that you suddenly feel more like putting your nose to the grindstone. No cheating though - don’t let yourself dial for a pizza or step into a bookshop before you’re done. Get the task finished… and then you can mix the relief of finishing with the sweet taste of a celebratory tub of Ben and Jerry’s!

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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)

Featured Poem, ‘Reducio Ab Absurdum,’ by Colin McGuire

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Poetry @ The Rag Factory 14/12/12

Reducio Ab Absurdum

Shakespeare’s more a performance poet
a throat poet, a fire and tongue type.
A poet of larynx, a diaphragmatic breathing poet
Not a serious poet in a gentleman’s jacket.

I’m a page poet; a take the time and consider
the exact length and breadth of the line poet.
I am an architect with form but never formulaic.
I am a master of design but not mastered by design.

Heaney’s more a performance poet;
a wave-your-arms-and-gesticulate-wildly-and-know-it.
A show it all and throoooooow it at you poet.
Not a serious poet who reads the classics and shows it.

I’m page poet, a literary allusions and allegorical conclusions poet.
A lay subtle structure which unravels a slow-burning conundrum poet.
I take the time to make something so delicate even a breath could break it
yet it withstands that breath, and you cannot fake it.

Sexton is more a performance poet; a shout at the top of your soul poet.
A rant in the mirror solipsistic I-alone-exist-and-will-prove-it-poet.
A should have been an actor instead but never knew it poet.
I wrote this on the loo and you can whiff it poet.

I’m a page poet with stable demeanour and quiet composure.
I build poem liners out of the thin matchsticks of words
and they set sail quietly on calm waters across oceans of eyes.

Rimbaud is more a performance poet.
A of the internet-attention-deficit-quickly-type-it-with-no-edit-poet.
A scribbler of slapdashery, a knee jerk reactionary bound to be burned
as waste under the well read eye of reality.

I’m a page poet. An on the crusade poet. Here to explode
the false dichotomy of page and perform it, show and tell it poet.
Let the words carry the weight we carry. Let tastes divide.
Quality lingers upon the shelf life longer than the debate will have it.

(In the jungle the soul’s wild eyes glare white in the shadow.
The cauldron of the heart sounds like a warm drum.
We continually reach out to that which is comprehensible.)

McGuire: A thin 30 year old Glaswegian man, touch giddy in the head, sometimes poet of mangled form and dirty prose, sporadic drummer, drunk grammarian, waffler, painter using crayons, lover, hater, learner, teacher, pedestrian, provocateur, wanderer, confronter of shadows, irritating whine. He mines the darker regions of Scottish Culture and Psychology. McGuire has produced a collection of poetry and short stories, printed by ClydeSide Press called - Riddle With Errors - and is currently working on a pamphlet due for release in 2013 with Red Squirrel Press. He reads regularly in Scotland and England. Find out more at: http://a-glaswegian.blogspot.co.uk/

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Want to see YOUR poem featured on ONS? Read this post first: submission guidelines are at the bottom. Good luck!

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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: 10 Poetry Myths You’ll Probably Have Heard

Monday, January 7th, 2013

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

When I was a just-starting-out poet, I used to avoid telling anyone what my hobby was. Why? Well, because whenever I told anyone, all I ever seemed to get was negativity and disbelief. (”You write poetry?! Why?!”) Later, I realised that people react this way because over the years, they have come to believe in a whole load of poetic untruths… strange myths that have built up around the craft of creative writing, and poetry in particular. You’ve probably encountered some of the poetry myths below, so read on to see how you can beat them.

1: All poetry is boring.
You hear this all the time, and OK, it’s partly right - yes, some poetry is boring. I mean, I’m of the view that even the most notoriously “dull” poets (even my less-than-favourite, Mr Keats) were and are still capable of producing brilliant work, but that’s beside the point. The point is that most poems - and I mean at least 85% of all published poems - are far from boring. Some poetry is interesting because it addresses an issue, some because it uses language, form, rhythm etc in original and fascinating ways. Some poetry is interesting because it’s funny, some because it’s experimental. Some poetry is interesting because it’s just plain bad (check out William McGonagall’s greatest work, for example - it’s gained a reputation for being a really good bad poem… if that makes sense). But no one will ever know how interesting poetry really is unless they get out there and read it. So here’s a challenge: go forth and read poems, until you find one - any one - that you think is really interesting, for whatever reason. Buy the book, copy the poem out, or print it. Next time someone says to you “why do you like poetry? It’s boring!”, show them your ‘interesting’ poem, and explain why you think it’s awesome. Hopefully, it’ll open their eyes a bit!

2: Poetry is difficult.
When people say this, what they generally mean is that they’ve found a lot of the poetry they’ve encountered hard to understand. This may well relate back to their English class experiences, where pupils are generally taught to break down and analyse a poem, rather than just enjoy it. When people don’t know any better, they assume all poetry has hidden layers which need to be ‘de-coded,’ and that poems are designed to be a challenge. I like to point the ‘poetry is difficult’ crowd in the direction of Philip Larkin’s “This Be The Verse” (warning: strong language!), because it’s one of the most plain-speaking poems I’ve ever come across… I mean, what’s difficult to understand about that?! You might also want to keep a straightforward, what-you-see-is-what-you-get poem to hand, so you can easily bust this myth when you hear it!

3: Poetry is full of “deep meanings” and stuff.
This one is really popular, and can be tricky to bust. Because poems are so strongly associated with this process of studying and analysing, people don’t realise that, when they’re written, they’re supposed to be like any other piece of art - something for the reader to enjoy, essentially. There are a lot of poets around today who deliberately write poems that require no ‘analysis’ whatsoever - ‘accessible’ poems, where you can take just about everything at face-value. (The most high-profile writer and promoter of ‘accessible’ verse is probably Billy Collins, who writes poems about smoking cigarettes, forgetting things and listening to “Three Blind Mice”, among other things!) But you don’t necessarily need to hunt out a simplistic, accessible poem in order to bust this myth - any poem can be interesting and enjoyable, whether you know its deeper meanings or not. T S Eliot’s epic The Waste Land is stuffed with weird references and metaphors. If you don’t know what some of them are, that certainly doesn’t make you stupid… but it also doesn’t make the poem a total dead loss either. It is fine to read poems simply in order to enjoy the weird and wonderful sounds, words and phrases they make (”The corpse you planted last year in your garden, / has it begun to sprout?” or “at the violet hour” or “what the thunder said”, for example), even if you have no idea about the meaning. A poem is supposed to be enjoyed, so don’t sweat it!

4: Poems aren’t relevant these days.
I’ll admit that when people say this, I generally want to stamp my feet and yell ‘no no no no no!’ at them. This is a blinding untruth - there are heaps of poems which are so relevant to today. In fact, there are poems which even transcend time and space (no, really) - they’ll still be relevant in a million years time!
Firstly, there are loads of poets out there who write about our world and its happenings as they are right now - even as they happen. There are hundreds of poems about major recent events, and loads of poets inventing new styles for the 21st century (how about poetry based on Google searches?!). There are also poems out there which have been around for decades or even centuries, and which can still speak for all of us when we need them to. The film Four Weddings and a Funeral used a poem by WH Auden (written in 1938) to express grief at a modern-day funeral, for example (simultaneously making it one of the most popular funeral poems around), and that’s only one example of thousands and thousands of poems that can still communicate with a 21st century audience, regardless of when they were written. And thanks to the internet and other resources, poetry is more accessible, experimental and relevant than ever before… fact!

5: Writing poetry is a waste of time, because you can’t make a career out of it.
Er… what? Yes you can make a career out of it… people do. OK, not millions of people, but still, it’s not impossible. And not many people make a career out of, say, playing hockey, or knitting, or skydiving… but some people do. And we still play hockey, knit, skydive, and do a million other things, even though we know we may not make a career out of any of them. Would you tell a bunch of guys playing football at the park that they should stop doing it because they’ll never make a career out of it? No - so why is poetry different? Why is poetry only worthwhile if it generates income?!
I can’t answer this question - but I can tell you that it is 100% OK to write poetry, regardless of your reasons. Maybe you need a theraputic outlet for your feelings; maybe, like many people, you just can’t not write. Maybe it’s just a hobby you have… or maybe you do eventually want to try and make a career out of writing. As long as you set realistic goals for yourself and don’t allow other people to pressure or distract you, writing poetry is as natural an activity as playing sport or driving a car or being a compulsive shopaholic. It is never a waste of time. Ever.

6: Writing poetry is “emo.”
Personally, I don’t tend to dignify this kind of thing with a response. It comes in two forms from two different types of people. One: those who reckon that anyone (of any age) who writes poetry must also be histrionic and hyper-sensitive, and two: those who think that any young person who writes poetry is a nitwit, because “youth poetry” is for some reason associated with sobbing goths writing in their journals. Both of these standpoints are equally ignorant and ill-informed.
Basically, saying all poetry is “emo” (whether you mean “emotional” or “to do with emo pop-culture”) is a massive generalisation… and it’s a meaningless one, too. It’s like saying writing poetry is “gay” (even more ignorant!) or, I don’t know… “tall.” Does everyone who falls into a certain category write poetry? Nope. Does everyone who writes poetry fall into the same category? Er, nope. Is applying daft made-up categories to poetry something only done by idiots? You decide.

7: All poems are about love or death.
Or nature. Or war. Or space travel. Or animals. Or ghosts. Or crazy made-up creatures in their own fantastical world. Busted? I think so!

8: Poetry is for old people.
I’ve had cheeky students say this to me a time or two, and, although it’s not quite what they meant, they are sort of right. Sadly, there are people out there in the poetry community who don’t see younger poets as ‘real’ poets… TS Eliot once said that you can’t be a serious writer until you are at least 25, and lot of people believed him.
Viewing age as a deciding factor in how good someone’s poems are is prejudice, plain and simple… it is NOT something you should pay attention to. Poetry is an artform that’s open to everyone - regardless of age, gender, sexuality, nationality or anything else. You do NOT need to be on the planet a quarter of a century before you can write a poem (or understand one). Anyone can write poetry and anyone can read it, and I’m convinced that there’s a poem out there to suit everyone… not just old people!

9: All poetry has to rhyme.
I think this myth is less common than it used to be, but you do still encounter people who genuinely believe that if it don’t rhyme, it aint poetry. People who say this are similar to those who say things like “poetry is just prose with line breaks” (though a bit less annoying), and, as with the “poetry is difficult” myth, the best way to bust this one is just to produce some examples. Find a poem you love that does not rhyme. Tell the myth-confused person in question why it’s a great piece of literature. If you have to, find a dictionary definition of ‘poetry‘ for them to go with it!

10: No one reads poetry anymore.
OK, I saved the best til last. People LOVE to do this whole “poetry is dead” speech. Martin Amis even went so far as to say that poetry had died, been buried and had its obituary written. It’s probably the most common myth you’ll encounter on your poetic travels - it’s all over the press, and spun out by just about every miserable, procrastinating writer under the sun at some point. But guess what… it’s not true!
Heaps of people still read poetry. People still buy it, listen to it, go and see it live. And I mean thousands of people. Problem is, a lot of them are all the same kind of people…
Poetry has not died, but it has become a bit enclosed. The people who still take an interest in it tend to be poets, editors or publishers themselves, or people involved with academia - students, tutors and other scholars. Your average bricklayer or bank manager or nurse doesn’t tend to read poetry too often… and why? Because of the other nine myths, of course! People really do believe them!
But it is possible to get more people reading poetry. One: read poetry yourself. Buy poetry books, go to poetry readings. It helps the poets, the publishers, and your own writing, so what’s to lose? Two: keep writing. The more poetry there is, the more choice there is; the more evidence to contradict the myths that poetry is difficult, limited, boring, etc. And three: introduce people you know to poetry. Got a friend who’s fed up at work? Find a short, funny poem and text it to them with a quick ’saw this and thought of you.’ Email your partner a daft love poem. Make up a print-out of a load of your favourite poems as a present for someone you know. Write a poem to scribble in your granny’s birthday card. Hold a poetry reading in your living room and get all your friends to bring a poem each - be it one they wrote, or just one they like. Test people - ask them if they think these myths are true, and be prepared to bust any they say ‘yes’ to. You have the power to poem-ify people’s lives… just squash the myths!

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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)

Edinburgh Vintage is BACK! with a great big supermassive sale.

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Christmas gift time!
This cool sterling silver owl is on sale.

For sale right now at Edinburgh Vintage!

Christmas gift time!
These cute kitty cats are on sale.

Sale!
This magical sweater is on sale.

Christmas gift time!
This set of sweet trinket boxes are on sale.

Sale!
This cosy alpaca hat is on sale.

Sneak peek
This breezy striped dress is on sale.

You get the gist, right? EVERY SINGLE ITEM AT EDINBURGH VINTAGE IS CURRENTLY ON SALE OR IN THE FINAL CLEARANCE SECTION! See something you like? Snap it up!

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You can also visit Read This Press for more poetry (and typewriter paraphernalia!). 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!

Things I Love Thursday #74: Christmas & New Year edition

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Skelelove
While I was home for Christmas, I stayed in my sister’s room. Her interior decor is super cool!

Christmas times

Christmas times

Christmas times
My parents always decorate the house in a sweet, traditional way. The decorations are a big part of Christmas for me!

Christmas times

Christmas times

Christmas times

Colours!

Christmas times

Christmas times

Christmas times
My mum is a teddy bear collector — they’re perfect if you need a cuddle!

Happy New Year from One Night Stanzas!

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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!