Posts Tagged ‘books’

What I’m Doing Now. (In case you’re interested!)

Monday, September 1st, 2014

Ginsberg & typewriters

I’m not blogging all that much lately and this is a good excuse. I nicked it from Dorkymum, whose blog is excellent.

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Currently I am: sniffling. I’ve been off work sick twice in the past ten days, which is most embarrassing — firstly with what I thought was a migraine. Turned out it was sinus pain, and now I have full-blown snotball face into the bargain. I’m wrapped up in a cardi drinking tea and avoiding doing anything too taxing.

Reading: I just re-read White Oleander in a single Sunday. I think it was my fifth time reading it. I have never met another book so compelling, even when every word is familiar! Before that I read Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi… a novel that got a lot of hype and lists Andrew Wylie and Toni Morrison in the acknowledgements. I started it with a cynical eyebrow raised, I can tell you, but it really is very good. Takes a while to warm up, but you should read it.
(Of course, I always have some poetry on the go, too. Right now it’s Radial Symmetry by Katherine Larson — which is kinda bland, but with a few sparkly lines here and there.)

Listening to: Magpies. My street seems to be full of them at the moment, their monkey-like rattling. Supposedly if a magpie sings outside your window it means death.

Laughing at: Black Books. My bff Martyna — who was my undergrad housemate a shocking ten whole years ago — has just moved back to the UK from Poland and is crashing with us til she finds a flat. I have been introducing her to all my favourite TV shows (she loved House of Cards but shockingly does not share my undying love of The West Wing) and Black Books is her favourite so far. So funny, even if you’ve seen every episode a million times.

Swooning over: this flat, which Martyna, Lovely Boyfriend and I will be staying in when we head to Barcelona in six weeks’ time! I am very, very excited.

Planning: how I am going to use my extremely generous prize money from the Edwin Morgan Award. Right now I work three jobs — if you count Edinburgh Vintage, which I do — and I’m trying to think of a way I can give one of them up in order to use my time to write more. Not a bad dilemma to have, really!

Eating lots of: takeaway. Having Martyna around is making me feel 19 again, which is a good thing in all ways except I seem to have reverted to my undergrad diet of pasta, or takeaway if I can’t be bothered. Which may explain why I’ve recently got sick. Dear self, please return to adulthood now!

Feeling: conflicted, my usual autumn feeling. Autumn is my favourite season, I absolutely love it — but it is also a time that I use to steel myself for the long Scottish winter, which more often than not depresses the hell out of me.

Discovering: new places in my writing. I’m working on this brand new writing project that I have told only five people about (my parents, my sister, Lovely Boyfriend and Martyna), and I just can’t quite allow myself to tell anyone else what it is just yet. But it is proving to be hard and surprising and very fun. Watch this space.

Looking at: the trees. One of the things that really makes me depressed about winter is how bald the trees are, and for how long. They seem to be in full leaf for such a short period of time! So I am trying to look up as much as I can right now, and enjoy the last of the foliage.

Wearing: a cardigan I knitted myself! My first attempt! I made it way too big, because I didn’t follow a pattern (I’ve inherited my gran’s contrary knitter gene) and apparently I genuinely don’t know what size I am (I always just assume: huge). But it’s very cosy, actually quite neat and a great colour (this is the wool, in Blueberry). Mainly though, I am just proud I managed to make something that isn’t a hoop scarf for once!

Cooking: very little — see my “takeaway” answer earlier!

Wondering: how my garden will look next Spring. I am already excited to see things start growing again, as the growing season seems to be winding down. Eventually I want my front garden (an all-edible herb garden, except for two clematis which I’m training over my ugly porch and my uglier fence) to be really wild and fragrant and tasty.

Trying out: procrastination. This sounds ridiculous, but I am always doing something productive, even if it isn’t the thing I’m supposed to be doing. I procrastinate from writing by cleaning my house or listing new items on Edinburgh Vintage, or I procrastinate from preparing writing sessions for the Inside/Out Project by scribbling poems. Right now I am trying out real, not-getting-anything-done procrastination… drinking tea without my computer next to me, reading a book I’ve read a million times before, even (whisper it) watching TV. It’s actually rather good.

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. 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 #128

Friday, July 4th, 2014

Shine On

OK, before we get started…

EDINBURGH VINTAGE IS HAVING A HUGE SALE! This is for July only, so get in there and rummage! New items are being added all the time, too!

When you announce that you’re a ghost-writer, people look at you askance. Some say, “You’re writing about ghosts?” Others, with some condescension, ask you when you’re going to write your own book, the inference being that ghost-writing is for those who can’t make it up. And whilst there is a grain of truth in that, to my mind, ghost-writing is a skill and an art of its own.

I was fascinated by these confessions of a ghost writer, Sue Leonard, who does it for a living.

If you click nothing else in this post, click this fabby series of portraits: booksellers in their natural habitats. (As my collague Danny wrote when he emailed me about it “it’s a lovely series and it’s lovely.”)

This guy plants his self-published book in bookstores… and people buy it.

My loyalty to Levin in Anna Karenina is of an entirely different nature to my loyalty to, say, Paul Newman’s caesar salad dressing, which I like very much: it is not a preference but an affinity, an encounter so genuinely self-revealing that the relationship required me first to work and then to alter. My relationship with Levin cannot be improved upon or reproduced.

So I just finished reading Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries” [SPOILER: it is amazing, read it], and I am just as enchanted by this excellent essay she wrote about literature and capitalism. (Side note: I cannot believe this woman is only one year older than me. She is a total genius and makes me feel like a failure at life.)

As someone who works a lot with literacy learners, I loved this video of just a few learners describing their literacy journeys.

19 Dilemmas Every Book Lover Has Faced At Least Once

Not buying from Amazon is less a tactic of starving Amazon of a sale, they’re hardly going to miss it. Not buying from Amazon is taking those missed sales to other venues; Waterstones and independents. I’ve had people say to me off-handedly that they don’t expect Waterstones to be around in 5 years. That thought upsets me. So I’ll happily impulsively buy a nice hardback, a slightly overpriced cup of tea and cake as an investment. Please don’t squander my investment, Waterstones.

One woman’s vow to boycott Amazon: her end of year review!

And speaking of which… got a problem with Amazon? No matter what it is, here’s the cure.

Have you checked out Scottish Book Trust’s Opportunities for Writers page lately? Loads of good stuff there at the moment!

I drew plans of my protagonist’s house, her daughter’s house, her brother in law’s, and her friend’s houses. I also printed out, cut up and glued together images from Google maps to create my own picture of her local area.

Also at Scottish Book Trust this week: Novelist Emma Healy lists five practical ways to get to grips with writing your novel.

I can’t wait to read this.

Are you writing a book — fiction or non fiction — that’s somehow about medicine or health? The Wellcome Prize is now accepting entries!

I realise now that I am neither normal nor ordinary, and I become less and less ordinary as time passes. I don’t want to be told that I’m not allowed to react negatively to Paxman’s demand that I speak to everyone except people like me; people who have been historically excluded from poetry events by definition, by default; and who, when they raise that issue, get lumped in with a “pellety nest” by those who refuse to see their privilege

That’s the excellent Mark Burnhope, responding excellently to recently-retired, flailing-against-his-own-irrelevance Jeremy Paxman. (Buy Mark’s new book!)

Have you been to Looking Glass Books? You should go!

Poetry prize culture rewards “competent but unambitious verse lauded as the best our art-form has to offer”? Interesting reading in Poetry Review (via).

And speaking of poetry prize culture… the always-brilliant Dave Coates reviews John Burnside and Hugo Williams and, refreshingly, finds them wanting.

Going through some old bookmarks I found this great poem.

And this one.

There is an oversupply of PhDs. Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings. Meanwhile, business leaders complain about shortages of high-level skills, suggesting PhDs are not teaching the right things. The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes.

I first read this just as I was starting out on my PhD. Yesterday I graduated. Turns out, the Economist was kinda right.

Have you, like me, ever wanted to escape the tyranny that is hair care? Check this out!

Aaaand while trawling old bookmarks I also discovered this My Mad Fat Diary gif, which may be the best gif ever. (SHARON I LOVE YOU.)

HIPPOS ARE BETTER THAN HUMANS. The end.


…and people say animals have no feelings. (Look how when she falls, he’s like, ADULTS, ARE YOU DOING SOMETHING ABOUT THIS?!)

All by myself from Richard Dunn on Vimeo.

You guys saw this, right? A dude got stuck overnight in an airport in Vegas… so he single handedly shot an epic music video on his phone.


Finally, I kinda want to be friends with these weird guys. (Apparently, so do all the MRAs in the world, because they’re hanging out in the video’s comments. Weeeird!)

Have a great weekend!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. 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)

Procrastination Station #126

Friday, May 9th, 2014

scrap vomit, close up of quilting

In my workshop the default subject position of reading and writing—of Literature with a capital L—was white, straight and male. This white straight male default was of course not biased in any way by its white straight maleness—no way! Race was the unfortunate condition of nonwhite people that had nothing to do with white people and as such was not a natural part of the Universal of Literature, and anyone that tried to introduce racial consciousness to the Great (White) Universal of Literature would be seen as politicizing the Pure Art and betraying the (White) Universal (no race) ideal of True Literature.

Junot Diaz on the race problem in creative writing M[F]As, in The New Yorker. (Thanks, Freesia.)

This poem by a small child is amazing. What a last line!

Brand new zine! Seeking submissions! Get on it!

I remember one situation, when we lived in a village, when a woman asked me what I did in the prison and when I said I was a teacher she patronisingly asked what was the purpose if they were criminals. This view holds in general, sadly.

Prisoners — and those who work with prisoners — respond to Chris Grayling’s disgusting and utterly absurd ban on books behind bars.

Here’s Marina Warner being super smart and fascinating. You know, as always.

My book was the No. 6 bestselling title in America for a while, right behind all the different “50 Shades of Grey” and “Gone Girl.” It was selling more copies than “Hunger Games” and “Bossypants.” So, I can sort of see why people thought I was going to start wearing monogrammed silk pajamas and smoking a pipe.
But the truth is, there’s a reason most well-known writers still teach English. There’s a reason most authors drive dented cars. There’s a reason most writers have bad teeth. It’s not because we’ve chosen a life of poverty. It’s that poverty has chosen our profession.
Even when there’s money in writing, there’s not much money.

How much money an Amazon bestseller really makes. (Spoiler: not a lot.)

Hey, are you a teacher of literature, at any level? Scottish Book Trust has made you some reading resources that fit with almost any book imaginable! You’re welcome.

Edinburgh realised you can never have too many libraries: it now has a Library of Mistakes.

The literary novel as an art work and a narrative art form central to our culture is indeed dying before our eyes. Let me refine my terms: I do not mean narrative prose fiction tout court is dying – the kidult boywizardsroman and the soft sadomasochistic porn fantasy are clearly in rude good health. And nor do I mean that serious novels will either cease to be written or read. But what is already no longer the case is the situation that obtained when I was a young man.

Will Self: the novel isn’t dead, but it might be undead.

Yes & Yes is looking for travel writers!

I’m speaking at this event (& billed as “Scottish Book Trust’s Claire Askew”!) next week, and all are welcome. It’s free, too!

My writing devices are a laptop and a green Princess Standard typewriter and a variety of notebooks, each filled less than a third and then jettisoned in favour of new notebooks that will be The Perfect Notebook—the one that will inspire all the words to come.

Jane Flett feels the same way about notebooks that I do.

I just completed a day-long public speaking training with these folks, and I love this advice from them on fielding hostile questions.

Haven’t found yourself a typewriter yet? You can use this typewriter text editor in the meantime!

“How are you so confident?” “I’m an asshole!” Okay? It’s my good time, and my good life, despite what you think of me. I live my life, because I dare. I dare to show up when everyone else might hide their faces and hide their bodies in shame. I show up because I’m an asshole, and I want to have a good time.

Gabourey Sidibe is so freaking great. So great.

I loved these photos of Whitby Goth Fest 2014. Going there is definitely on my bucket list.

I’m obsessed with peeking inside these tiny apartments.

Universal veganism would reduce agriculture-related carbon emissions by 17 percent, methane emissions by 24 percent, and nitrous oxide emissions by 21 percent by 2050. Universal vegetarianism would result in similarly impressive reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. What’s more, the Dutch researchers found that worldwide vegetarianism or veganism would achieve these gains at a much lower cost than a purely energy-focused intervention involving carbon taxes and renewable energy technology. The upshot: Universal eschewal of meat wouldn’t single-handedly stave off global warming, but it would go a long way toward mitigating climate change.

So screw you, carcass-eaters.

Destroyed UKIP billboards… is what UKIP billboards were made for.

DID YOU SEE WHAT JANELLE MONAE WORE TO THE MET GALA?? So going to my high school reunion in this outfit.

& finally…

I hadn’t watched this for years, and I thought that was a damn shame:

(Photo credit)

I never really paid much attention to Adele… not because I didn’t like her or anything, I just sort of never got round to it. Then Sonia shared this with me the other day and wow, Adele is awesome!

Have a great weekend!

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Like shiny things? Check out Edinburgh Vintage, a totally unrelated ’sister site’ full of jewels, treasures and trinkets. 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!

Got five minutes? Help me create a magic book! (Please.)

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

wswmih

Hey ONS-ers. I have a big, big favour to ask.

I don’t often ask you guys for stuff. I’ve never run ads here, and I even took down my tip-jar ’cause I felt bad about it. But now I’m asking for your help, because I know you’re all super-cool individuals who know a damn good cause when you see one.

I’ve spoken a bit before, here (scroll past the inevitable cake pictures!) about the totally life-changing (really!) work I’ve been doing over the past year with a thing called The Making It Home Project. I won’t say too much about it here, because I want you to go and read all the details at this link instead, but I will say: this is the sort of creative work that I deeply, passionately believe in. Forget fancy book launches, forget big anthologies, forget even the humble poetry slam. This is what poetry ought to be doing with itself: opening up amazing new creative possibilities to people who might otherwise never have read a poem in their lives.

I’m being mysterious, so go see what I’m talking about! But first, listen to the following, heartfelt plea…

You guys all know the power of books — you wouldn’t read this bookgeek blog otherwise. You know there’s something about a book: they’ve got a special sort of magic that no other object has. And a lot of you know how much more magical a book becomes if it contains something that you yourself wrote… right? Well, we want to make a really, really magical book. It’ll be a book we can give to the incredible women we’ve been working with, so they can also experience how awesome (literally) it feels to hold and read and share a book that has your words in it. It’ll also be a book we can give to all of you — for free! — to show you the amazing work these groups of women have been doing.

I’d like to ask you to do three small things.

One: watch our video.

RST Poetry Film taster from media co-op on Vimeo.

Two: click on the link in the image below, go and read more about what we’re doing, and how we plan to make our book.

Three: if you can (and only if you can), donate a pound or two to our cause. Any donation over £5 gets a reward… the more you give, the bigger and cooler your reward will be. If you can’t afford to donate, that is totally OK. But I’d be super grateful if you could spread the word around to anyone you think can help us.

These three things will take you what? Five minutes? If that. But your five minutes will make a massive difference and I promise, I will be very, very grateful to you!

Thanks guys. You rock.

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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’m giving away a bunch of books and I want YOU to have them

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

UPDATE: guys, these books here in the photo? These aren’t the books I’m giving away — this is just a pic off Flickr! Scroll down for the full list in the blog text!

Things I'm Reading Thursday...

So guys, I’m likely moving house soon (VERY EXCITING), and between us, Lovely Boyfriend and I own at least a metric ton of books (really. I think this might be quite an accurate figure). Once I own a book, I am generally extremely loath to part with it again (hence the metric ton thing), but the prospect of carrying all the books we currently own down five flights of stairs and all the way across town has forced me to seriously consider the creaking, slightly-bowed problems that are my various bookshelves.

The list below is only a tiny fraction of my book collection, but it’s also only phase one: when my PhD thesis is finally finished, I’ll likely have a load more academic tomes and textbooks to offload. However, what little there is here I am throwing open to you lot before just sending it all to the charity shop. Would you like a free book? A bunch of free books? If you can come and collect them from Tollcross, they’re yours. Have a browse:

Poetry

GONE, SORRY!The Invisible Mender by Sarah McGuire (Cape)
GONE, SORRY!Looking Through Letterboxes by Caroline Bird (Carcanet)
Trouble Came To The Turnip by Caroline Bird (Carcanet)
Orphaned Latitudes by Gerard Rudolf (Red Squirrel Press)
GONE, SORRY!Cascade Experiment by Alice Fulton (Norton)
GONE, SORRY!Sensual Math by Alice Fulton (Norton)
On Purpose by Nick Laird (Faber)
Not In These Shoes by Samantha Wynne-Rhydderch (Picador)
The Janus Hour by Anne Stewart (Oversteps Books)
GONE, SORRY!Lyric/Anti-Lyric: Essays on Contemporary Poetry by Douglas Barbour
The Heart Aroused: Poetry and the Preservation of the Soul in Corporate America by David Whyte

Fiction

The Secret Agent by Joseph Conrad (Oxford World’s Classics)
Wieland: Memoirs of Carwin the Biloquist by Charles Brockden Brown (Oxford World’s Classics)
GONE, SORRY!Wetlands by Charlotte Roche (hardback)
GONE, SORRY!Ten Women Who Shook The World by Sylvia Brownrigg
The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos

Essays

GONE, SORRY!Wallflower at the Orgy by Nora Ephron
GONE, SORRY!Complete Prose by Woody Allen
GONE, SORRY!Mothers by Daughters edited by Joanna Goldsworthy (Virago)
The Bastard on the Couch edited by Daniel Jones

Women’s Studies/Feminism and Literary Criticism

Dropped Threads: What We Aren’t Told edited by Carol Shields and Marjory Anderson (2001)
GONE, SORRY!Flux: women on sex, work, love, kids and life in a half-changed world edited by Peggy Orenstein (2000)
Men Writing The Feminine: Literature, Theory and the Question of Genders edited by Thais E Morgan (1994)
GONE, SORRY!Is The Future Female?: Troubled Thoughts on Contemporary Feminism Lynne Segal (1987)
GONE, SORRY!The Female Gaze: Women as Viewers of Popular Culture edited by Lorraine Gamman and Margaret Marshment (1988)*
The Fragile Male by Ben Greenstein**
Critical Approaches to Literature by David Daiches (hardback) (1956)

Other

The Best of Cosmopolitan: The 70s and 80s (I know, wtf? I can’t remember when I bought it or why the hell.)
A Handbook of Games and Simulation Exercises edited by GI Gibbs (inexplicably, given to me by my parents, who’ve had it in their book collection — which makes mine look PUNY — since 1974, when it was published. Fascinating if you’re interested in the education system of 1960 & 70s Britain, I’m sure.)

I also have a bunch of 12″ spoken word LPs if you’re interested — mostly ‘great poets’ (Hardy, Pound, Robert Graves) and a few random kitsch things I bought on whims in thrift shops (an LP of the juicier scenes from Dracula, for example, and an LP of a totally trippy reading of Alice in Wonderland). Totally let me know if you’re into weird-literature-on-vinyl!

*Just to show what a small world Edinburgh is: I just noticed that this book has “Hannah McGill, Christmas 1994″ biro-d into the front flyleaf. It became mine via an Edinburgh charity shop.
**OK, this is a book by a Men’s Rights Activist, which I bought because I, stupidly, wanted to hate-read it. Thankfully, I never got round to it, but it looks HEINOUS.

Finally, NB: I haven’t actually read some of these books, so if you ask for a review first, I only might be able to provide one.

Drop a comment in the comments box or email claire[at]onenightstanzas.com to let me know if you’d like any of these!

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: what’s the deal with poetry readings?

Monday, February 4th, 2013

microphone

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

If you write poems, or if you’re interested in poetry, chances are you’re aware of the phenomenon of live poetry readings at some level. However, many young poets – even if they’ve been writing for ages – are fairly clueless about these events (because getting up and reading your own words to a room full of strangers can seem like total insanity!). If you’ve never performed at a poetry reading, and if you’re unsure about what they entail, take a look at this list and get yourself involved! The sooner you start reading your poetry to audiences, the better: fact. Why? Because live readings = four major advantages!

One: Live readings build better poems.
Reading your poetry to an audience can be extremely helpful when it comes to developing your personal poetic voice. Sometimes, what works on the page does not necessarily work when read aloud, so a reading can help you polish up a piece that you previously felt was finished… always a good thing! Reading aloud – and observing the reactions of your audience – also helps you to ‘inhabit’ a poem more fully; you’ll be better able to judge whether the poem’s tone or mood ‘works,’ for example, or whether your audience are convinced by a particular character you portray or a story you tell. Audience members will often seek you out afterwards to tell you what they loved about your stuff, too – make sure you listen to this feedback, because it can be extremely helpful! And even if you can’t use your audience to judge a poem’s ‘performance’ quality, you’ll often see and hear the best and worst bits of your poems much more clearly when you have to take them from page to performance. Reading aloud builds better poems and so I’d always encourage you to do it – audience or no audience!

Two: Readings help you conquer the world.
Reading your poetry in public – particularly the first time – can be very nerve-wracking. It doesn’t matter if you’re a daredevil extreme sports junkie or a budding thespian in your spare time; you’ll probably still find the idea of presenting your personal poetic creations to a potentially critical audience fairly terrifying. BUT! Don’t let the nerves stop you from going ahead with it, because once you’ve felt and conquered that fear, you can probably find the confidence to do anything! If you can step up onto a stage and read your stuff to an audience, then chances are a school presentation or daunting job interview should be a walk in the park! Reading your work builds your confidence massively, and gains you serious respect! The first time is always a scary prospect, but there are ways around this fear.

Three: You get your name in lights!
OK, so maybe not in lights, necessarily, but you get your name “out there.” In poetry, unfortunately, a big part of being successful is knowing and being known by the right people, so getting involved at readings can be the best way to make an impression. Even at small open mic gigs, there’s a chance you might run into a local magazine editor or poetry blogger, who might well give you a positive write-up or even ask you for a submission of work. Readings are fantastic for networking so make an effort to chat to people… and who knows? You could meet a future agent, editor, writing partner or publisher!

Four: Readings provide the three essential Cs.
Constructive criticism, contacts, and craic, of course! As I mentioned in point one, after you’ve got up and given your all, chances are you’ll get people coming to tell you what they thought. Don’t worry! You’ll rarely hear anything negative – even if you don’t feel like you did very well, you can guarantee that there’ll still be people who’ll want to tell you “that was great.” And why would they lie? This positive feedback is great for building your confidence, and improving not only your future performances but also the poems themselves. If you’re feeling extra brave, you can even ask people for details. Which poem did they like in particular? Which one was weakest? Was there anything they’d have done differently? Listen carefully to the answers you get, even if you don’t act on them.
The ‘contacts’ part doesn’t just apply to the editors and agents I mentioned in point three, either. Obviously, the people you’re most likely to meet at poetry readings are other poets! These are people who are into the same stuff as you, doing the same thing as you (and, you never know, possibly just as nervous as you, too!)… get talking to them, listen to their work, get their feedback. That’s where the ‘craic’ part comes in!

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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)

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: 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)

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)

Procrastination Station #118

Friday, December 21st, 2012

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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)