Posts Tagged ‘claire askew’

New poem: The flirt

Monday, August 29th, 2016

Night sky.
(Photo credit)

I’ve been writing loads of new poems on my Northwest Pacific Coast road trip, and I’ve been itching to share. This is the most recent! A sci fi poem! Also about manipulative men! And the erosion of women’s self esteem! Cheery, right? See what you think.

The flirt

Each instance of it hit me
like a hot rock, flung from some
deep reach of space, a place
I’d never charted.
I’d never seen such a man
up close, because
women like me aren’t usually
allowed. He had a face I knew
would improve with age –
a weapons-grade smile – his gaze
hauled me out of safe orbit.
This can’t be happening
I told myself, every asteroid
more devastating than the last.

I spent decades getting here.
I pushed the little craft of myself
out past the markered reaches,
followed star after star.
What I made wasn’t beautiful,
but god, it was strong – I’d built
a body I thought I could live in
without burning it down.
He had other ideas, though
I didn’t know them.
What did he want me for?
Target practice: the glare
of his attention a smatter
all over my radar.

I fell light-years in the wrong
direction. I spun out,
all my tools gone. Now
I can’t patch my rig
well enough to leave
as the stars harden
in the autumn sky.
I’ve become so weak
I can’t read them –
impervious, that’s
what I thought I was.
Now can’t even
lift my face
and look up.



I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here! You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques. Or if you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter.

Page/Stage: a conversation about poetry in performance, diversity in poetry and how we bring the two together

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Performance poet and promoter Freddie Alexander.  Photo credit Perry Jonsson Art.
Performance poet and promoter Freddie Alexander. Photo credit Perry Jonsson Art.

Hey friends,

So, back in April I saw that the juggernaut live poetry night Loud Poets were advertising an event where the performers were strictly forbidden to read off a piece of paper. This triggered a knee-jerk reaction in me, and I [sub]tweeted about it, expressing worry about the rule without naming the night — and without being desperately constructive either. Performance poet, live lit promoter and all-round perceptive individual Freddie Alexander called me out (via excellent use of Kermit The Frog meme), and helped me start a more productive online conversation about the whole thing. You can see some of the tweets from that initial conversation here, here, here and here. I’d advise you to have a look at these because they’re the thoughts of poets who live and work at intersections of oppression that I have never experienced — these are trans poets and disabled poets, speaking from perspectives which are (as the conversation below acknowledges) all too often ignored or erased in contemporary poetry.

Out of that Twitter conversation, Freddie and I decided to meet and chat properly. We had a vague idea that the resulting chat might be turned into a blogpost for public consumption — Scottish Book Trust had approached me about the possibility of creating an 800-word-or-so piece for them, for example — but in the end our conversation became too knotty to be easily edited down into one pithy blog. We decided we’d prefer to publish the unedited transcript of the entire conversation instead, knowing that probably no one but ourselves would ever willingly host this 3,000+ word beast! So here it finally is. We hope it’s thought provoking, and if you have comments we’d love to hear them, especially on Twitter, which promotes a more ‘living’ conversation than blog comments, I find. (I’m @onenightstanzas and Freddie is @fredralexander.) We’re especially keen to hear thoughts on this issue from poets of colour, disabled poets, and LGBTQIA+ poets — we’d like to know how performance works at a variety of intersections, not just the ones we personally experience.

Here’s the transcript, typed up verbatim from a digital recording (we didn’t release the audio simply because the background noise is awful and it’s fairly unbearable to listen to. Typical poets, choosing a busy coffee shop as their venue!) Enjoy!


Claire Askew: OK, the first thing I want to do is go on the record as saying – I’m really sorry for starting off this whole conversation with a subtweet…!

Freddie Alexander: That’s OK.

CA: It’s just – I say these things, I type these things – and I know this sounds really disingenuous, but I literally forget that I have nearly 4,000 followers, and then people respond and I’m like, ‘oh, people saw that? That was just me letting my gums rattle,’ as my gran would have said! So I really am sorry for the way the conversation was started!

FA: To be honest, I think that it’s the same on my side, it’s absolutely fine…

CA: Oh, I liked your response actually – good use of Kermit the Frog meme!

FA: I love it so much! And sometimes, I don’t know – people I follow – like Broderick Greer, who’s this big Anglican minister in the US – he subtweets like no one’s business. He’s very involved with politics and LGBT issues in Christian circles, and his subtweets are just perfect. So I highly recommend him if you want to read some good subtweeting.

CA: OK, Greer, subtweet minister, I’m writing down! I’ll check him out.

…OK, so I guess I kind of wanted to start with a question. And then – I don’t know, maybe I should figure out an answer first, but you might want to ask me why I’m so angry about this thing! This whole issue of setting up a system – or a night, or an event, or whatever – where the rule is you cannot read off paper – this is something I can’t get my head around. So my question is, what is the reasoning for that? I assume there have been people sitting down and saying, ‘right, we will impose this rule for a reason,’ so what’s the reason? Maybe when I understand…

FA: Yeah. I think that’s a really interesting one, because as far as my knowledge goes, there are two [events] in Scotland that have this rule: Sophia Walker’s BBC slam, and Loud Poets nights. Now, I don’t want to speak for either, because I am not the organiser of either, but I have lived with [one of the organisers of Loud Poets], and part of the reasoning behind it is, I guess – it is, I think, a discussion around how they want the aesthetics of their night to work. They have a particular vision in mind for what their audience is receiving – and I think maybe something that’s important and that’s going on in their head is that they structure their night from the perspective of trying to get an audience that is paying, and give them a product. So though it’s counter-intuitive from my perspective – because often I organise nights that are free, and largely for other artists, and if people come along that aren’t artists, that’s seen as good and exciting for us – but it’s different, organising an open mic night or whatever.

CA: That’s really interesting, I hadn’t thought of the onus being on the audience rather than the performers. I suppose that’s not something I’d ever really thought about – like, should your priority when organising a night be ‘how comfortable are your performers?’ or should your priority be ‘what’s the experience your audience is having?’ And I suppose the logical thing is that your audience are the people who’ve paid to come in the door, so actually…

FA: Well I think part of the difficulty around that conversation is probably twofold – it’s that if you’re cultivating an artistic community you have to make sure that your performers are still looked after and comfortable, so I think there’s definitely a thing with that. But also, at the same time, when you are paying your performers, how much is reasonable to expect of your performers?

CA: Right.

FA: If you – I mean, what kind of relationship is that? If you’re an organiser of a night that has a paying customer, and you’re paying your performer, is it then reasonable to ask your performer to provide a certain kind of performance? And how much pushback is reasonable within that relationship? I think that relationship is, necessarily, a thing that you have to be careful with, because within that you then would have the complicated relationship with other artists. But it is – I think it’s an interesting one.

CA: So, we’ve kind of just talked off the mic about a night like Shore Poets, and how it is becoming increasingly one of a kind to have an event like that, that’s still a traditional stand-up reading – the kind of reading where everyone reads off paper. But we talked about how that’s alright, upholding that tradition, because it caters to a certain audience who don’t maybe feel welcome at something more experimental. And similarly I think, nights where – the more experimental nights – they need to exist as well for that same reason – to create a variety of different types of events. So I kind of understand wanting to try new stuff and, like, ‘let’s impose this as a rule to try and separate ourselves out from the herd’. I don’t know if that’s part of the thinking behind it as well?

FA: Yeah, I think part of it is necessarily being new. Because there are a lot of nights within Edinburgh who often have the same performers, who have similar formats, and so how do you then have an audience come back to your night? I think the decision on Loud Poets‘ part was to say ‘let’s have this rule.’ And it’s not just that – they also have a live band, and they try to create a kind of high-energy fun experience for the audience. I think that’s what interesting is that from the perspective of people who organise that night, their viewpoint is that they feel like they’re the minority. Not like the in the political sense of the word…

CA: No, I know what you mean.

FA: But like, there are many nights in Edinburgh that – most nights in Edinburgh don’t impose this rule. And that’s almost the answer as to why they impose that. But I think that within that there’s almost a false distinction, because then we’re talking about the aesthetics of how this is influencing what we consider to be performance poetry.

Maybe I can ask a question of yourself?

CA: Go on then.

FA: How have you found the experience of going between different nights, as a poet who is comfortable with their relationship with their audience – in coming across this certain kind of structured night, what’s your response to them?

CA: Well, I mean I think part of the reason that I have quite a kneejerk reaction to seeing the no-paper rules is because I had a bad experience. At a night – I’ll name the night, I won’t name the person – it was at Colin McGuire’s Talking Heids night, which is sadly defunct now I think…

FA: Yes!

CA: That was a great night!

FA: It was really great.

CA: So Colin, start that night again! Yeah – anyway, I read, and then the next performer after me was a performance poet who I think is someone who is at the height of his powers, shall we say – someone who is doing very well and is very popular around the place. So I got up and I read my poems the way I usually do – this was before I had my book out, so I was reading off printed bits of paper, and – I mean I’m not someone who hides behind the bits of paper, it’s a sort of glancing-down-at sort of job, but I did my set and I thought I did pretty well. And I kind of noticed that the performance poet in question was in the back of the room texting all the way through my set, which I found mildly annoying, but I thought hey, well, you know – maybe there was an emergency or something! Anyway – at the break he got up and said, like into the crowd, ‘how unprofessional was that? That a poet like her got up and read off bits of paper.’ ‘That’s like’ – and I quote – ‘that’s like a comedian getting up on stage with a fucking joke sheet.’ End quote. So there was this attack on my professionalism – you know, the idea that reading off paper is unprofessional, and amateur, you know? And I thought – apart from anything else, respect your elders, you young whippersnapper! I was gobsmacked. [the recording was paused here at Freddie's request] So to pick up the thread, I suppose that has really coloured my feelings about that whole no-paper thing. Because it means I am coming at it with, in the back of my mind, the idea that it’s linked to your professionalism as a poet.

But I think I wanted to say before – I think there’s something about – it makes for – I imagine that absolutely no preambles, and no paper, must make for a very slick show. I mean, is that something that you think is…

FA: I think that is part of how [these nights] try to reflect their aesthetics, yeah – so even within that, the poets – they can rotate it so that the other poets go up and introduce the poet they’ve read before. So the poet can just come up on stage, do their piece, and leave, and not have to do any faffing. Now, I think what’s interesting about that is that – typically, I’m one of them – some poets aren’t very good at that [introductions and preambles]! I fumble – and actually, that way [of running a night] sometimes takes a bit of the stress off. I think on the contrary side to that, sometimes it’s difficult because when as a poet you design a set, there’s a story that you’re telling – you are taking poems that relate to each other and telling the relationship, and then to just remove that, come on stage, do one piece and leave – it can sometimes feel a bit clinical, as a performer. But I think it’s about the relationship that you have with your work. That’s definitely – within the slam circuit, that’s how your work is presented. Single piece, leave. But within a show, or Fringe show perspective, it’s very different.

CA: So I suppose it’s a melding of that kind of slam style, where they say ‘right, you’ve got two minutes, get on and do the necessary!’ And so, match that with the slightly more relaxed context of a night, you know –

FA: Yeah, without being judged, yes.

CA: So it’s interesting – the more you’re talking to me, the more my anger about that bad experience is kind of ebbing away. Which is good! Because I’m also thinking about nights where you go and there’s someone who – I mean, there are really famous poets who are terrible for this, too – like, Liz Lochhead, I love you, but sometimes your preambles are longer than your poems! So, poets who talk for a really long time before the poem, and there’s this tendency to say, ‘this poem is about this, this and this,’ to the point where in the end you don’t even need to hear the poem! And then there are people who are going ‘oh, which one shall I read, which one shall I read?’ – and they’re flicking back and forth through their book – and nobody enjoys that! So I totally appreciate the logistical removal of that, and how that facilitates a much more slick product – and a much more enjoyable night, because nobody enjoys that period of silence while the poet tries to find the page!

FA: I think that’s definitely so part of the process of designing a night – I think a big part of this goes back to if we imagine how slam came to be created. Because slams didn’t really exist, and then they became this weird way of judging poetry, and I find that really hilarious, because all they really are is a way of structuring a night in such a way that it removes the faff, and is just concentrated poetry. It’s true that it’s more efficient, and that makes it more enjoyable for the audience – more so than the poets! I think that was the thought behind the best slams and behind things like Loud Poets – it’s trying to get an audience that doesn’t engage with poetry to engage with poetry. However, maybe to argue on your side, to be my own devil’s advocate, I think one of the problems is that there is this whole subliminal perception of professionalism. One of the things that I would bring up in particular – so for the last three years, the Scottish National Poetry Slam, all three finalists have been people that don’t read off paper. Now, that’s really interesting, because that’s drawing from a range of different performers, usually a range of different people each time, different audiences, and different judges – so is there a commonality when you’re looking and trying to judge the poems? Is that judgement – is your snap judgement to someone reading off paper to say, ‘that’s less impressive than someone who has memorised’? And is that a form of aesthetics that maybe we’re progressing?

CA: Yeah, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head about one of the things that troubles me, which is – and I mean, I have absolutely no problem with one or two nights, which is kind of what’s happening in Edinburgh – having a bash at this kind of experimental thing to separate themselves out among these many, many, many poetry nights. And I mean, the point of experimenting is to see what it’s like, that’s how things change, and that’s interesting. But what troubles me is the idea that because the nights where this is happening are such a juggernaut, such a force – I’m now hearing poets saying to me things like, ‘oh you know, I’d be so much better if I memorised, that would make me a better poet…’

FA: And ‘that would make me get noticed,’ yeah.

CA: And you like of think well – I mean, the aforementioned Colin McGuire, I’m sure he wouldn’t mind me saying this – he’s said that to me a few times. Like, you know ‘oh, I should really memorise my poems, that’s what everyone’s doing now, I should really memorise’ – and I’m like, Colin, you’re an absolutely brilliant performer!

FA: Oh god, yes!

CA: Right? I mean, you really don’t need to do any more! And – I mean, the way Colin brandishes a poetry book, that’s part of the whole thing! So yeah – that’s kind of troubling that it’s becoming – I mean, this sounds terribly pearl-clutching of me I know, but I’m kind of worried that it’s becoming a trend…

FA: I would agree. And what’s interesting within that trend is that the organisers – like, the organisers of Loud Poets – they’re seen to be the keepers of this, and yet like, Katie [Ailes] and Catherine [Wilson] will read off paper. Not because they’re trying to perform less professional things, but because it’s just about the night they’re going to. But I think this a complex thing, and also – it is a case of assessing what is your position within the scene, and what kind of people are coming to your night? I mean, if performers are coming to your night and they feel like they can’t engage with that because they find memorising difficult, for various different reasons, then that’s a real problem.

CA: Yeah. I also feel like this creeping trend, it kind of – there’s an extent to which, whether it’s intended or not, it sort of leads into this – and I hate even saying it! The ‘page stage divide’ – the perceived divide between page and stage. And for me, what’s interesting and unusual and original and exciting is when people try and be on both sides of that divide. So you’re saying that people like Katie and Catherine are doing both – memorising, and reading off paper. You know, that’s the kind of straddling of different styles which I think is interesting and exciting. What’s worrying is when people feel like they have to pick a side, like either ‘I am a poet who memorises things and therefore I am a performance poet,’ or ‘I am a poet who reads off paper and therefore I am a page poet.’ It’s not that simple, and I’m worried that people are reducing it to that kind of binary.

FA: Or even – I think also following on from that is, how much of a recognition is there that there are other types of events here, that will support people who have different styles and that are attuned to that problem. I think we can say all we like as organisers of night that, ‘oh, it’s OK, there are ten other nights where you can read a poem,’ but for some people, they don’t know – they know that the only poetry night they have, that they go to, is, say Loud Poets – and they don’t know that TenRed exists, or places like Shore Poets. And when we don’t go out of our way to emphasise that as organisers, we limit the ability of new people to enter and access the range of the Scottish live poetry scene.

CA: Yeah, I think it’s true that when you’re inside it – you know, you as a promoter, or a seasoned performer – you are aware – I mean, I’ve been doing this now for twelve years, so I’m at a point now where I can lament, sadly, nights that used to exist that now no longer do, like the Golden Hour – that was so good! You know – but when you are, like let’s say you’re a first year Uni student, and you’re coming here in September and you don’t know anyone, you’re going to go to the night that has the biggest posters, and not necessarily know what else is out there. So I think you’re right, there should be, possibly – I mean, I think there is also a thing where people say, ‘it’s so annoying, I’m trying to organise this night and there are like, two other nights on in Edinburgh on the same date,’ whereas I think that’s quite exciting, that’s good – and we should be promoting those nights as well, but it’s tricky, you feel like, I’m having to share my audience with these other people. So I also understand not promoting other nights. It’s a tricky balance!

FA: Especially when you’ve hit that perfect kind of double spot that Loud Poets and slams try to do, where they pitch themselves as poetry nights for people who don’t go to poetry nights. So a lot of people that don’t go to poetry night and don’t know about poetry nights go to these particular nights and think, ‘that is what poetry is,’ and that’s it. Now, part of that is intentional, because you want to create that positive reaction to poetry – but at the same time, there’s a case of how accessible is everything else? There’s a really difficult conversation there, that, as organisers – is it simply a case of promoting other nights? Maybe.

CA: Or is it about – I mean, we’ve talked about how certain nights are for certain audiences. You know, I mean – I’m soon no-longer-to-be-a Shore Poets organiser [note added by CA: I left Shore Poets in June 2016], but as a Shore Poets organiser I have been aware that people will say things like ‘oh, you know, Shore Poets is for x kind of person,’ which I think possibly fair and true – but that’s problematic, because that shows that as organisers we actually perhaps have not done enough to welcome people who do not fall into that perceived group. But is that a whole other conversation?

FA: Well, we’re discussing how this relates to audiences, but in regards to performers, I think there’s another interesting conversation that can happen – so, most promoters want to cultivate the scene, circulate and keep people updated about their different nights, but when you draw someone [a performer] from another night into your night, and then suddenly there are different rules imposed, that can be a very disorienting thing. It could be potentially alienating – and also, could give the poet a bad experience like yours. I mean, if this was the first time you had to memorise poetry, and you’re suddenly thrown into a scenario you don’t know, in an environment you don’t know, and then you fluff your line, that can be incredibly traumatising as a live performer.

CA: Oh yes, it’s the worst thing!

FA: It is the worst thing, it’s very unpleasant!

CA: I mean, I am not anti-memorising, I have memorised pieces before, and I know only too well that feeling when you get to the place in the poem where you’ve said the line about five thousand times, and yet for some reason, you just have the wrong thought at the wrong moment, and it’s all gone…

FA: That’s the nightmare, yes!

CA: And then it feels like you’re standing there in silence for about five hundred years, when it’s probably only a couple of seconds actually, but it feels like, ‘just say something, say anything!’ It is – it does rattle you, even if you’re a seasoned performer. But I mean, now that we’re talking about performers, I guess we get to the meat of the issue for me, which is diversity. And something that I’m aware of is – there are poets and promoters and a lot of people in the scene generally, who trumpet that Scotland has this wonderful, diverse poetry community, like ‘look at how diverse we are, look at all this wealth of diverse voices!’ And I kind of look round and think – ‘okay, but I’m trying to organise Grrrl Con! this summer, and I struggled to find women writers of colour.’ It was really hard to come up with a list of female poets of colour in Scotland! So just that, as one example, suggests to me that the scene is not as diverse as we like to think. And I mean, this is where we get into tricky territory, because I don’t want to hurl accusations at any particular night, but this is the reason, mainly, why I’m worried about – not the nights, but about this no-paper thing becoming A Thing. It’s because, for me, it appears to not only not encourage, but actively discourage certain voices – namely, disabled poets, who are already very much not in evidence in the Scottish poetry scene – and also poets whose first language is not English.

FA: Absolutely. I one hundred percent agree with this. And I think also on top of that one of the problems is that when the – and this is one of my own personal gripes – so I am involved with Inky Fingers. And I really love Inky Fingers – band the thing with Inky Fingers is that it’s a great night that new people enjoy, and it’s an important night because of those new people. So we have a few performers now who have disabilities, whose first language isn’t English, or maybe they aren’t performing in English, and we have a few people who are performing in Scots. That’s really incredible – they’re great performers. It’s like – the successful nights are the nights that orientate towards audiences, in the belief that in order to get an audience in you have to be slick, professional, often no paper. And all this draws all the funding, and the ability to organise successful nights away from the nights that provide the first steps.

CA: Funding is something I hadn’t thought about, but yes, actually…

FA: And I mean funding not just in the sense of funding from Creative Scotland, but funding that the audience pay for – if the only we can host a night is by having a raffle that people opt into, so maybe we can pay our feature performer and try to get enough money, and we’re still trying to pay a venue – it’s a very stressful situation! As opposed to being able to have a night that you can get people to pay to come into.

CA: That’s a really interesting point, actually. When you have funding, the pressure is off in many ways, and then you can think, ‘oh, let’s do something experimental with this night!’ because you can afford to.

FA: And then within that we can talk about how axes of privilege can operate in access to money. To me – and I don’t know what your opinion of this is, and I don’t want to – I mean, I know I am able bodied, and male for that matter – but I think that, to me, one of the problems is that we do trumpet this idea that the Scottish poetry scene is diverse – but by virtue of its performers. And one of the problems is that we then don’t examine ‘who are our organisers?’ Because when we have diversity of organisation, that is what leads to diversity full stop. We had a great performer, Taylor Johnson, at Loud Poets – but she was an exchange student from America. And she had this great, important, powerful voice, and is a woman of colour, who was able to be here for six months. And that’s diversity in inverted commas, of performers. But when we examine the organisation of a lot of nights in Scotland, what we have is predominantly white. There’s a reasonable split between men and women, maybe still skewing towards men a little bit – almost entirely able-bodied, and – I can maybe name one night in Scotland that is organised by a person of colour, and that’s Seeds of Thought in Glasgow. And that’s it.

CA: And that’s a bit of a sad state of affairs, really.

FA: But then, at the same time, it’s not enough to just simply turn around and say, ‘go organise a night!’

CA: Yeah – ‘organise your own night!’ No…

FA: Yes, because then we’re nor acknowledging the privilege that we have. Like, people who organise Soapbox can tap into that University space. And the people who organise Loud Poets can tap into that – Loud Poet space! You can’t just create that out of nothing.

CA: And we’ve talked about Shore Poets, and how Shore Poets is a very established committee, with very established names – Christine de Luca is on the committee, I mean – she’s the Makar! And again, that kind of thing comes with [inaudible] – it means Shore Poets can do things that a brand new person who doesn’t have a name like that on their committee can’t do. There’s certainly a power differential there which is really interesting. I hadn’t really thought about organisers, but that is a really good point.

And, I mean, I think we’re getting to the issue that I really want to talk about now, which is the wider scene, because – as you say, we are both able-bodied people, we have privilege, we both move with relative ease through the poetry scene, I think – and so I am aware that we’re not the ideal people to be discussing this. But I did have a chat with a couple of poets and promoters whose experiences are more aligned with this stuff. So, Markie Burnhope is a trans woman and also disabled, and she said that generally, there is not enough accommodation for, in particular, her disability within the poetry scene – I think what she said was that if your nights need to appear a certain way, like, impose a time limit, or be in a venue that’s really fancy but is inaccessible – she was saying, if you place this above her comfort and well being as a performer, then there’s a problem there.

FA: Absolutely.

CA: And Sandra Alland kind of expanded on that and said that the no paper thing is really irrelevant, and even – all this stuff, it’s all irrelevant, because changes are the event, whatever event, is in a venue that she can’t physically get into anyway, as a disabled person. And she said, you know, before you even get to the stage, and the rules that are imposed on performers on stage, there are already a bunch of hurdles that the performer might not have been able to get over. So that raises a question about the wider scene, and whether we are having conversations about how do we just start to encourage performers like Sandra and Markie, other disabled folk, trans women, trans men…

FA: I absolutely agree. One of the things that I’d like to address is that – it would be naive of me to say that ‘we’ll make our nights accessible, you can read off paper.’ That’s almost like the most superficial thing you can say! That’s not to say that it won’t help some poets, but I think it’s a very serious issue. Many venues in Edinburgh that are used by live poetry nights aren’t mobility accessible, that’s a fact. And that’s a real problem, because then we have to look at – Edinburgh doesn’t have many venues for live poetry nights. Should we as organisers be looking harder for those venues? Because it shouldn’t simply a case of what’s the cheapest venue that you can find!

CA: That’s often the priority, isn’t it? And that’s again where funding is power.

FA: And also you need to think about it from different angles. If you’re thinking, ‘we can invite trans folk,’ is the venue accessible to them? If we have poets – or people who are not organisers – introducing other performers by name, can we be absolutely sure that they’re going to introduce them in a way that isn’t demeaning or insulting? This is all maybe something that we don’t currently address.

CA: I think what you’re pointing out very eloquently is that in order to make an event fully accessible, you have to take into account so many variables – and I think a lot of promoters just don’t have the capacity to do that. And I think that comes back to funding. It’s really interesting, I didn’t think we were going to talk about funding this much, but actually – I mean, I’m thinking about a night that I went to just recently, which was an anti-austerity event at Kinning Park in Glasgow. It was organised by these great women Heather McLean and Ealasaid Munro, and actually Sandra Alland was performing there with her band, the They They Theys, Harry Giles was performing – and there was this huge list of all the ways that they had tried to make things accessible. So Kinning Park is a mobility accessible venue, it has unisex bathrooms, they had organised BSL intepretation, organised people to guide folk coming in in wheelchairs to an accessible seat with space around it, all that – they had obviously done so much work to be able to do that. And you kind of think, if you didn’t have funding and resources, how would you do even one of things? I mean, I can’t think of one venue in Edinburgh that offers all those things in one place, so how do you do that?

FA: Maybe, off the top of my head, some of the University of Edinburgh spaces might do all that, but then that’s a whole other kettle of fish because often, the University live literature spaces specifically aren’t mobility accessible.

CA: So then there’s the issue of – should we be starting our own venues, or petitioning for more venues? Should we be raising money to build a venue from scratch? Not necessarily from bricks and mortar, but to create an ideal space?

FA: I know this is something that Harry Giles and Kat McMahon are thinking about.

CA: This is the Workers’ Theatre.

FA: Yes. Because to have ownership over your own space means that you’re able to make decisions that you can’t make as a renter, going in. Those are decisions that relate to using the space, to begin with, for money – being able to charge a fee or not – but also in order to provide accessibility in any way you want. And that – I think it’s – I know that a lot of nights in Edinburgh do make very serious decisions regarding ensuring that their nights have performers with a range of voices. People will turn down applications to open mics, because they’ll say, okay, we’ve got too many performers coming from this perspective, we need some more from this perspective, let’s advertise for that. And that’s brilliant, that’s really good work. But I think when we reduce diversity in our scene to the question of…

CA: Of ‘have we got a black woman on the bill?’

FA: Yeah – or have we got fifty-fifty white, cis men and white, cis women. That’s diversity…

CA: By numbers.

FA: By numbers! Yeah.

CA: We keep coming back to funding, and the fact that funding gives you the power to do things like making a night more experimental – so what is the place of the funder? Is a question maybe, are funders not prioritising attempts to make things more accessible?

FA: No. Funders look at how successful a night is. And success for funders is how many numbers do you have through the door, how much money are you raising? A small night that is organised with BSL interpretation, for example, for a small audience for whom no other night will provide – that’s never going to be as “successful” as a slam night that has twice the capacity of people. And that’s a really sad situation. I think one of the things that I’ve – that’s become one of my personal gripes – is that when we as organisers look for funding from the same places. When we do that, we start creating nights that all do the same things. We’re not looking for funders who specifically ask this of us. We should be being challenged by our funders to provide this – and our audience. We should be in a position where our audience is asking this of us. As organisers we have a responsibility to go to other nights, and – gently – help people to recognise that there are ways to do more.

CA: It’s really interesting that you say we should have audiences that ask that of us – I’m kind of sitting here thinking, this is a really interesting conversation, we’re basically brainstorming ideas and coming up with ideas about venues, thinking about funders – and to me, these all sound like great ideas. But I’m also aware that I am not a member of any of the groups that are not currently adequately represented. So what I’m thinking is, actually, really this brainstorming has to be expanded to include disabled poets, trans poets, poets of colour, so they can say things to us like, ‘oh actually, that’s not my priority at all, my priority is this.’

But I’m really interested in this idea of success that you’ve hit on – that funders see the key to success as how many people came through the door. And there’s this whole idea about legacy as well, and to me legacy is an often misued word Is the legacy of my night that a Deaf poet got their first opportunity to perform, therefore went on to xyz exciting things? Whereas actually legacy is often too much like, ‘my night is able to keep going because we raised x amount of money last time.’ So there are these two words, success and legacy – and I wonder, do we need to change what success looks like, what legacy looks like. And we can’t do that – that needs to be funders. And that raises the question: are funding bodies diverse? Do funding bodies do enough? And then we get into a whole other conversation!

FA: Yeah, and I think we can then almost bring this back to what our first conversation was, about how we present our nights. How we try to introduce people to poetry.

CA: So I suppose basically, the nights that we’ve started out by talking about – and maybe all the Edinburgh nights – all they’re trying to do is, do what they can to set themselves apart and welcome as many people as they can. You know I certainly don’t think there are nights where people are going, ‘no we don’t really want this whole diversity thing’ – you know I think everyone cares about it, they’re just limited in what they do, or can do, about it. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to do more.

FA: I also think that a really serious consideration is that we have these – I don’t know what the term is, but these nights that continue on beyond just one event.

CA: Yeah, I know the ones you mean!

FA: When we think about legacy for these nights, and we are passing on the mantle of these nights to other people – how are we doing this? Are we passing it among our friends? Who are our friends? Are they people who are in the same place in the scene? Are we looking to create difference, or are we looking to create something that’s the same? How do we want to be seen as being successful? One of the real challenges for me – like, one of the things I really want to advertise is, I think there’s a real problem with lack of persons of colour in the scene, because the problem is, I know those poets are out there. I’ve heard those poets before, I’ve seen those poets before.

CA: And why don’t they get booked as much as other poets?

FA: Right, why don’t they get booked, when they’re great? Why is their voice being used as ‘the token diverse voice’? Why aren’t they being given the agency to have more ownership over nights where they appear? And that’s, I think, a very serious question. I really question, when I see another person in poetry setting up a night, who is male, white, able bodied – and they’re booking people who are male, white, able-bodied – it’s like, I can name ten other nights that do that!

CA: So it’s like, why do we need you?!

FA: Yeah, why do we need you! What’s different about you? Is it just an ego thing for you where you want to have your own night, or are you contributing something new to our scene?

CA: Maybe that’s the note to end this on, that’s quite a powerful question. What are we all contributing? How can we each contribute more? We probably all could, right?

FA: Right.


That’s where we stopped the tape, but this is a conversation that needs to continue. As you read above, we’re particularly keen for it to continue in a way that doesn’t just include, but actively prioritises the voices of poets of colour, disabled poets and LGBTQIA+ poets. Please do tell us what you think, discuss among yourselves, and take the discussion out to your networks and peers and friends.

On a personal note, I’d just like to thank Freddie for expanding my viewpoint and for correcting my knee-jerk reaction. I am now much more open to ideas like the ‘no paper’ rule, though I still think that meaningful intent and context is everything! Thanks Freddie, for being patient and thoughtful as always.

You can keep up with Freddie’s work at his Twitter, and make sure you also support Inky Fingers, the night he helps to run!

Thanks for reading.

Procrastination Station #148

Friday, January 22nd, 2016

Four Panels 2
(Photo credit)

It’s been ages since I did one of these!

This was kind of sad for me to see, as a typewriter enthusiast… but it would also make a great short story! Two guys discover a derelict typewriter shop.

It’s kind of hip to hate on Malcolm Gladwell, no? Well, I like this books, and I liked this thoughtful response to the haters.

Lawrence Ferlinghetti talks about ‘minding the shop’ while the Beats all got high. Related: some footage of the Beats hanging out in New York.

You’ve probably already seen Men Explain Lolita To Me, but if not, read it, for it’s great. It will also lead you to 80 Books No Woman Should Read, which may be even better.

Oh my goodness. This deeply sad essay about the death of a whale is one of the most beautiful things I have ever read.

Also beautiful: this long piece about end of life care, by Atul Gawande. I can’t wait to read his book.

Want to know what excellent reviewer Dave Coates reckons were the best poetry books of 2015? ‘course you do.

66 bookstores on route 66? I sense a bookish roadtrip coming on!

This piece, on fairy tales, is absolutely gorgeous.

Speaking of roadtrips, I was really interested to know what stuff you need to walk across America.

I love street photography. I hadn’t heard of this guy, so I was pleased when Medium introduced us.

This essay defining (re-defining?) chivalry is absolutely wonderful, hilarious, and contains a lot of swears.

Sarah Millican: one of my heroes.

Check out 2016’s most anticipated films by and about women also known as my new To-Watch list.

Berlin has a shed hotel, which is… terrible and brilliant all at once.

Did you know there was a 17th century female painter who got even with her rapist by a) painting dudes being murdered and b) getting famous doing it?

I LOVE the Bealtaine Cottage blog, and really enjoyed this interview with its founder, about permaculture and why it matters.

Last year was a Terry Crews Leap Year. Yep!

Do you ever say of an item of clothing, ‘I could never pull that off’? Stop!

…also, eat peanut butter for breakfast.

& finally…

How good is this mash-up of loads of different movie nightclub scenes?!

Say what you like about the royal family, but this TV show looks gripping.

And RIP Natalie Cole. I loved you, and especially this record.



I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at] You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Where is Claire? Readings & happenings in Spring 2016

Thursday, January 21st, 2016

Me, reading at the Dark Horse 20th anniversary launch, Edinburgh

I have a book to promote, folks! So I guess that means I need to get out of my fluffy slippers and go forth into the world… here’s where to find me. (And yes, I’m counting late January as ’spring.’ I’m trying to be optimistic, OK?)

The Arts & Precarity: Forging New Solidarities (Cabaret)
Friday 22nd January 2016, 19:00, FREE
Kinning Park Complex, Glasgow
This cabaret, featuring a variety of writers, artists and musicians (including the brilliant Harry Giles) is part of a whole-weekend exploration of precarity in the arts. Most artists live precariously: they are precariously employed, precariously housed, surviving thanks to a precarious income, or some mixture of the lot. I’ll be reading poems from the point of view of individuals I have known whose lives might be called ‘precarious.’ There’s also a day of workshops on these themes the day following the cabaret.

Neu Reekie!: The Burns Belter
Saturday 23rd January 2016, 18:00, £16 / £14
Pilrig Church, Leith Walk, Edinburgh
Don’t panic! I won’t be reciting Burns! Burns will, of course, be recited… but not by a clueless Cumbrian bint like myself. I’ll be reading from ye olde collection. There’ll also be haggis and whisky and music and lots and lots of hip stuff. And it’s in the Republic of Leith!

This changes things: the launch (THIS IS MY BOOK LAUNCH BY THE WAY, JUST SAYIN’)
Friday 5th February, 18:00, FREE
Blackwells Bookshop, South Bridge, Edinburgh
Come and help me celebrate MY BOOK BEING OUT IN THE WORLD OMG!!!! There’ll be about a half-hour of free wine, cake, and book-buying, before my dear friend, the amazing poet Colin McGuire will entertain us with some great poems (because he’s ace and more people should know about his work, and also because I didn’t want it to be a solid hour of JUST ME TALKING). Then I’ll read some poems from the book and say some dorky things, most likely. Then there’ll be another half-hour of free wine, when I will be available to sign books, if you’re into the whole defacing of books thing. We all get kicked out by 8pm when the shop closes, so it should all be pretty painless. Come along?

World Book Day event with Scottish PEN - TBC!
Thursday 3rd March

University of Edinburgh George Square campus
The event’s TBC, so I can’t say much about it so far… but maybe pencil it into your diaries, because any event Scottish PEN does is worth going to.

Shore Poets APRIL: The Open Night, + little old me
Sunday 24th April, 19:00, £5 / £3

Oh! (The Outhouse), off Broughton Street, Edinburgh
I always really like reading alongside the Shore Poets open night. It is probably my favourite Shore Poets night of the year, because we welcome brand new voices to our stage and always hear such a great variety of diverse work. I’ll have a fifteen-or-so minute set in the midst of this, during which I will probably read poems from, you guessed it, This changes things. If you’re not sick of them by April, it’d be great if you wanted to come along! (Also, get in touch via publicity[at] if you’d like to be part of the open mic! But be warned — spaces fill FAST.)

Writing Poetry: Getting Started workshop
Friday 27th May, 15:00, £6

Dunbar Library, Bleachingfield, Dunbar
I’m really pleased to be delivering a workshop as part of the CoastWord Festival in Dunbar! For the past four months I’ve been working as the Creative Writing Fellow at Tyne and Esk Writers, and I’ve discovered that there’s a thriving and brilliant writing community all across Mid- and East Lothian. I hope you’ll come along to this workshop and meet some great local writers, and get started on a new poem with me.

NB: This is not an exhaustive list — more things will be added as they come up! So please check back!


I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at] You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

“This changes things”: my debut poetry collection, now on general sale!

Saturday, January 16th, 2016

My book!!!

Dear World: meet This changes things, my debut full-length collection of poetry.

Yep, after all these years, I finally published a book. This changes things has been in the works since 2008, when I started work on my MSc in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh. The book contains a couple of poems from my pamphlet, The Mermaid and the Sailors, and a lot of the poems that went into the creative submission of my PhD (also in Creative Writing, also at the University of Edinburgh). It also contains a few new pieces, written with the help of funding from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund*. The unpublished MS of This changes things was shortlisted for the 2014 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award, and poems from it have won the International Salt Prize for Poetry (2012), the Virginia Warbey Poetry Prize (2010), and appeared in a variety of journals and magazines. (Don’t worry — there are also some poems you won’t have seen before!)

The book has been available to pre-order for about a month, and I’d like to thank everyone who’s already reserved themselves a copy. Thank you! If you haven’t already bagged your copy, you can buy one right now and I will ship it out to you in the next day or two.

My book!!!

This changes things: FAQs

What’s the book about?
The collection is in two rough parts, which, if pushed, I might call “personal and confessional” and “travelling and spaces.” If that sounds too vague, you can have a look at the description I give at this link, and see what you reckon.

Is it any good?

Well… amazing poets Stewart Conn and Jen Hadfield also said nice things about the book. Check it out:

‘Claire Askew’s voice is arrestingly and distinctively her own, imbued with a sense of caring and inducing, in her more intimate moments, a scarcely bearable poignancy.’

– Stewart Conn

‘Askew’s is a humane consciousness, with a genius for communicating how people tick… She writes with an agenda compellingly, harnessing flashes of imagist brilliance.’

– Jen Hadfield

If you want to find out what other smartypants people think about my writing, you can click here.

Why should I buy direct from you?

A few reasons. Firstly, I can sign your book for you. Secondly, this is the way that I make the most money from selling the book. Thirdly, if you buy direct from me, you’re literally supporting your local friendly impoverished writer, and none of your money goes into the pockets of [censored! But imagine wording along the lines of 'multi-national corporations.' Only, yaknow, specifying which one].

How else can I buy the book?

The second-best way to buy my book, if for some reason you don’t want to buy direct from me (side-eye), is to order the book in from your local indie bookshop. This is a good thing to do because a) you local indie bookshop then makes some money, and b) if they’re ordering in a copy for you, they may order other copies and put them on their shelves.
(The book is also being stocked by Blackwells and Waterstones, which is very exciting and makes me feel famous. However, please note that when the book is being sold for less than the RRP, my publisher and I make less money off the sale. Support poets!)

Can I see some of the poems from the book before I decide to buy?

Sure! you can read my poems in various places by clicking right here.

Alright! Hopefully, you’re convinced! If so, you can click right over to the This changes things page, and follow the instructions. If you’re in the UK, the book will be posted to you first class, free of charge, and should reach you within two working days. Shipping costs and times vary for other locations — there’s info on all of this at the link!

Thanks so much for taking an interest in my book!

*NB: I was awarded Open Project Funding to work on my second collection, which is already nearly finished! But a couple of the poems I wrote during this period just fitted better into the first collection MS.

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at] You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

In 2015, I…

Friday, January 1st, 2016

Happy New Year !
(Photo credit)

This is my eighth consecutive year of creating a year-end round-up post, which is fairly amazing stuff! You can see my previous years’ escapades here: 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2014.

Not the easiest year, I will admit: my much-beloved grandfather (better known as Gampy) died in January. (My poetry collection is dedicated to his memory: he was the best and gentlest man who has ever lived.) The sequel project to Making It Home, which I was just starting to get excited about at the end of last year, was put on hold, as every member of our team suffered either a bereavement or a spell of serious illness during 2015 (it sucked!). And I spent most of the summer being very impoverished (but having lots of free time!) due to all the freelance work in the world apparently going dormant! I am including these details because I don’t want to give the impression that I lead some kind of charmed life where absolutely everything is rosy. THAT SAID, some freaking amazing things happened to me this year, and I am so grateful for every single one. Here’s the round up: in 2015, I…

* booked, and delivered, the first ever Write Like A Grrrl!: Edinburgh course. It sold out super fast, as did the March course, and the May course, and the September course. I’m now booking for a brand new January semester, and places are already being filled. Oh, there have also been two ‘Next Step’ courses to date, for WLAG! alumni who want to come back for more! Running WLAG! has been absolutely mind-blowing for me… I have met so many smart, talented women and felt privileged to be able to read their emerging fiction. At Christmas, we had a get-together where women from all four 2015 courses met up to drink prosecco and plot world domination. Rarely in my life have I felt such a warm glow as being at the centre of that room! Ladies, I love all of you. Thank you for a fantastic year.

* secured a small grant from Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund to allow me to work on my second poetry collection. At the moment, it has the working title of How To Burn A Woman, and it’s shaping up to have two themes: eco poems, and poems about witches.

* delivered a poetry performance seminar as a Visiting Writer for the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Creative Writing (Poetry). It was pretty great, five years after graduating from this course, to be back… teaching on it!

* went to see Frantic Assembly’s amazing physical-theatre-meets-dance mash-up of Othello in London. They re-imagined the play, chopping a load of it out (controversial!) and setting it in a contemporary Working Men’s Club in Yorkshire. It worked so well.

* went to see the Mark Lanegan Band play in Glasgow. I was chaperoning a friend and had heard not a note of his music before walking through the doors… yet I loved it.

* completed the “go on holiday with my brother” part of my 30 before 30 list, by spending a very lovely long weekend in our mutually beloved York… wandering around, thrifting, bookshopping, and drinking buckets of Yorkshire tea.

* went to see Stewart Lee at the Festival Theatre for Lovely Boyfriend’s 30th and my 29th birthdays. Laughed — and felt mildly uncomfortable — a lot.

* finished up my 18-month post as Adult Learning Project Co-Ordinator at Scottish Book Trust. This project absolutely flew by. Working with adults who struggle to read and write is incredibly humbling, very inspiring and really makes you check your own privilege. So many of the adult learners and tutors I met were an absolute riot, too! And I got to spend lots of my time creating bespoke educational resources from scratch… a thing I still miss from my FE college teaching days.

* was immediately taken on again at SBT as a freelance contractor! This year I travelled all over Scotland delivering bespoke training to adult literacy professionals, teaching them how to use a suite of adult literacy reading support materials which I designed. That was pretty damn cool. I went to — among other places — Ayr, Oban, Glasgow, Greenock, Dumfries, Stranraer, Aberdeen, and delivered a special session for folk who work with d/Deaf service users at Deaf Connections.

* went for posh afternoon tea at the legendary Midland Hotel twice in one year… one of the times was for my dad’s 60th birthday! Felt like an unwashed oik both times, but loved it all anyway.

* headlined the Inky Fingers Open Mic in April. Discovered the poetry of Oban-based Jamie Livingstone, who was also on the bill. That’s a name to look out for, trust me.

* had my poem ‘Bad Moon’ featured on the Scottish Poetry Library’s front page! I can now cross that one off the bucket list!!!

* performed at Aye Write! Festival for the second time. Those folks are so lovely. I got a goodie bag with beer and books in it, and I got to eat snacks a-plenty in the green room! (You can see where my priorities lie.)

* delivered an Open Workshop for the Poetry School entitled “Make New and Mend.” We read the poems of two of my all-time faves, Patricia Young and Dorianne Laux

* …and got hired as a proper tutor by the Poetry School, following that success! I was invited to create my own ten-week course from scratch, which I loved doing. It was called Creatrix: Women’s Poetries for the 21st Century, and it went so well. I worked with twelve inspiring and brilliant emerging female poets and felt awed that they allowed me to read and comment on their work.

* got a second half-sleeve tattooed — this time on my upper left arm. It’s a tattoo to remember my Gampy: as a young man, he was a Spitfire mechanic, and later did up and raced Aston Martins. He once raced against Jackie Stewart, no less! So the half-sleeve incorporated all those elements (you can see a photo later on in this post). As always, I went to my fav, Jim at Red Hot + Blue, and as always he did a bloody great job.

* demolished the crappy old shed in my back garden and erected a brand new potting shed, which I painted powder blue and white, like a beach hut. You may be wondering why the heck this is on this list, but let me tell you, my potting shed was one of the major highlights of my year. I grew so much tasty stuff… and I have big plans for 2016 shed activity!

* read at the official launch night of Hot Tub Astronaut on Election Night… to a wonderful, very disgruntled crowd of lefties.

* had a brand-spanking-new author portrait taken by the amazing Sally Jubb of Sally Jubb Photography. I hate having my photo taken but Sally really put me at ease, and I was so happy with the end result. If you’re a writer and you need one of these pesky photos of yourself, hire Sally!

* read at the launch of the Dark Horse: 20th Anniversary Edition, alongside Alasdair Gray, Vicki Feaver and Douglas Dunn. I sat next to Alasdair Gray all evening, which felt like sitting next to a massive rock-star (he was very sweet to me in my star-struck-ness!). Vicki and Douglas were also LOVELY people and really helped soothe my epic nerves. It was a night I think I’ll remember til I die.

* delivered a writing workshop with adult literacy learners at Crisis Skylight and reminded myself how much I love doing this sort of work!

* made a pilgrimage to Millom, home of one of my all-time favourite poets, Norman Nicholson. If you haven’t heard of Norman, seek him out. He’s great. He was writing eco poetry in the 1940s, way before Silent Spring. Check him out!

* spent a scorchingly hot summer week-or-so in Cornwall, where I have never been before, but which I loved… this was the cottage we stayed in, this was ten minutes’ walk from our front door, and the highlight of my trip was the utterly amazing Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft, which you should all visit.

* chaired the event ‘Women Writers Breaking Into Scottish Literature’ at Just Festival. Thank you to Theresa Munoz, Lucy Ribchester and Jenny Lindsay for being such excellent speakers… they made my job very easy!

* went to all sorts of amazing events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but by far the best was Mark Doty & Naomi Shihab Nye. I met Mark Doty after the event, and he asked me if I was a poet. When I said yes, he asked if I had a book, and I told him my first one was coming shortly and I was terrified. Without hesitation, he immediately went into Wise Elder mode, telling me to take comfort, be brave and celebrate. We talked about how scary it is showing your confessional poems to the world, but he urged me to take heart and said all sorts of nice things about how I must be a good poet if Bloodaxe took me on, and I was in good hands. He was so nice to me (and I had been so nervous about meeting him as he is such a hero of mine) that afterwards I had to go and have a wee cry! Shoutout to my excellent friend Esa for being with me in that moment, getting it, and not judging me!

* recorded a special podcast for Scottish PEN: in conversation with Iranian poet in exile, Sepideh Jodeyri.

* went on holiday with my brother again, this time to this absolutely magical off-grid 16th century fieldhouse on the North Yorkshire moors. We spent a lot of time wandering, paddling in the sea, and doing off-grid things like collecting eggs and getting up at 6am to light our stove so we could take showers… and not much time writing, which is what the holiday was supposed to be for.

* I celebrated five years with my gorgeous bloke, and nearly three years in the house we bought together and are (still) slowly doing up. Steve was the best thing this year — he’s the best thing any year.

* was hired as the brand new Creative Writing Fellow at Tyne & Esk Writers! T&E is an organisation that exists to champion reading and writing across Mid- and East Lothian, especially in the more rural areas. My job is basically to be a peripatetic Writer in Residence, working with eight (soon to be nine — welcome to the fold, Pathhead!) rural T&E groups to support reading and writing, to critique and encourage the work of local writers, and to produce creative work of my own. I absolutely love driving around, meeting lots of new folk, and getting to work in a different library each day. Plus: two groups in Haddington! So I’ve been able to spend a lot of time in the excellent charity shops there!

* was also selected to become Edinburgh’s very first Reading Champion! I don’t start til March 2016, but I’m including it here as I spent a really enjoyable time at the end of 2015 working with librarian Susannah Leake, who works at the gorgeous Craigmillar Library (where I’ll be based). Susannah helped me to write the proposal that eventually landed me the gig, and I can’t wait to become her official partner in crime!

* set up a Patreon, to support the various bits and bats of work that I do now that I am 100% freelance. Did I mention that 2015 was the year I became A FULL TIME WRITER? It’s so amazing being your own boss and getting to land gigs like the two above… but you also don’t get a pension, so it’s not all rosy. The Patreon is designed to just be a little bit extra that I can squirrel away for hard times. If you fancy supporting me, incidentally, you can pledge $5 (about three quid) a month and get all sorts of support for your writing. Have a look!

* absolutely SMASHED my goal for Edinburgh Vintage, my wee side-business! I wanted to make it to 1,500 sales by my 30th birthday in March 2016, and I’m already at over 1,600. It’s been my best year yet… best of all, I can afford to hire an accountant to do all my EV taxes! O happy day!

* secured funding to host Grrrl Con!Write Like A Grrrl!’s summer festival of women’s writing! It’s coming to the Scottish Storytelling Centre on 11th and 12th June, and will feature amazing women writers like Lucy Ribchester, Jackie Kay and Kirsty Logan. You could also be on the bill! We’re looking for workshop leaders right now, so send us your pitch!

* spent most of December in Cumbria, being rained on a great deal and trying to help out flood-stricken neighbours. If you can, please donate a bit to the Cumbria flood relief crowdfunder and help out — especially for those folks who can’t afford insurance. They need you!

* AND FINALLY!!!! I took delivery of 200 copies of my brand spanking new debut poetry collection!!!!!!!!!!! In case you’ve been living under a rock and I haven’t already yelled this at you, ‘This changes things’ is published by Bloodaxe Books and will be officially available shortly. You can pre-order your copy right here!

A few final highlights…

York March 15 (10)
Hanging out in beautiful York.

Write Like A Grrrl! lunch outing
Just a few of my Write Like A Grrrl! alumni, enjoying a quick lunch before going to see Alison, one of our number, read at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, no less!

I had a poem in Gutter!
I was published in Gutter and they called me “very hotly tipped”!

& yet more foragings... brambles and wild raspberries
I foraged tons and tons of tasty stuff this year.

Edinburgh Vintage at the Lou Lou's Vintage Fair, Sept 15, Edinburgh
Edinburgh Vintage had a great year.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh Jodeyri read at Shore Poets and was wonderful.

Autumn memories from 2015
Living off-grid on the Yorkshire Moors…

Autumn memories from 2015
…with my brilliant brother Nick, who I love a million.

October adventures (12)
Another Write Like A Grrrl! highlight: a bespoke seminar on writing and publishing from the wonderful Helen Sedgwick!

My new tattoo!
The new tattoo! It looks less wonky in person, when my arm’s not bent!

October adventures (39)
With my handsome man <3

Christmas 2015!
I spent a lot of time with this handsome man in 2015, too!

My book!!!
First look at my book! I admit, I cried.

You can see all the books I read in 2015 here, and you can click here to see the various places where I had work published in 2015 (and read some poems!). You can also check out my To Read list for 2016!

What did YOU get up to this year?


I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at] You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Things I Love Thursday #106: Christmas 2015 edition

Thursday, December 31st, 2015

For those of you who fancy a neb at my Christmas holiday…

Christmas 2015!
Early December, the tree goes up! I’m getting earlier and earlier every year. I just find winter so depressing, and a bit of sparkle helps a lot. (Die Hard on the TV, also.)

Christmas 2015!
The tree in daylight… this is about as tidy as my living room ever gets.

Christmas 2015!
Christmassy fireplace!

Christmas 2015!
We went to Keswick for our Christmas shopping this year, to support the recently flooded businesses. The Wild Strawberry (affectionately known locally as The Strawb) is open for business, and as excellent as ever!

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!
They may have been recently flooded, but Keswick’s shops still brought the Christmassy!

Christmas 2015!
If you’re ever in Keswick, get yourself to Treeby and Bolton’s cafe. (That is where I found this rather festive light.) Most massive cakes you’ve ever seen, I promise.

Christmas 2015!
I made mince pies. These have amaretto mincemeat and orange spiced pastry. I am very good at making mince pies taste nice, but I am terrible at making them not-ugly. Uniformity is NOT something I have mastered in baking, and is the reason I would be the first person voted off GBBO.

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!

Christmas 2015!
This is what my Christmas Eve looked like. My parents know how to do Christmas!

Christmas 2015!
I hope everyone had as happy a Christmas as Benny (pictured!) and I did. Here’s to 2016!


I wrote a book of poems! It’s called This changes things, and you can order it here!

You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at] You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

Things I Love Thursday 105: ALL OF AUTUMN edition

Thursday, December 3rd, 2015

So it looks like TiLT has become seasonal, as the last one of these I did was summer! Oh well. Here are some things I’ve loved over the past few months…

This was in my 30-before-30 list, and I think I’ve done pretty well this autumn on the Free Food front!

Foraged hazelnuts

Foraged hazelnuts

^ Hazelnuts from Canonmills!

Foraged salmonberries, raspberries and brambles

& yet more foragings... brambles and wild raspberries

First bramble haul of the foraging season!  Plus a few hazelnuts I found.

October adventures (52)

^ Salmonberries from Canonmills, brambles from all manner of places (so many brambles this year!)

Vegan eats

Another one from my 30-before-30 list

October adventures (2)

October adventures (3)

^ Have you been to Henderson’s Vegan yet? Go!

October adventures (53)

^ Lovely Boyfriend’s very best autumn stew.

Vegan breakfast nachos

^ Vegan breakfast nachos (yes, yes you read that right), also made by Lovely Boyfriend, aka personal chef.

Halloween 2015 (5)

^ Here’s this year’s pumpkin pie. (Yes, this one.)

October adventures (51)

^ Best present I ever bought my man? Possibly the waffle iron. OK, definitely the waffle iron.

Vegan peanut butter blondies (1)

^ He also made me peanut butter blondies this autumn. Yeah… I’ll never be thin.

October adventures (6)

^ …especially not since Sugar Daddy’s Bakery has opened only about four blocks from my house!


a.k.a the most excellent city ever.

October adventures (19)

October adventures (20)

October adventures (43)

October adventures (46)

^ The shops in my neighbourhood got well into Halloween!

October adventures (27)

October adventures (29)

October adventures (37)

October adventures (44)

October adventures (47)

October adventures (48)

October adventures (49)

^ I went for many a good autumnal walk in Edinburgh and its environs…

Botanic Lights (39)

Botanic Lights (36)

Botanic Lights (34)

Botanic Lights (24)

Botanic Lights (11)

^ …and that included the beautifully illuminated Botanics!


OK, I already spend tons of time there but you guys, I just want to live there. I’m sorry, Edinburgh… I’m starting to cheat on you! I mean, just look at the Gelt Woods (near Brampton):

Gelt Woods (2)

Gelt Woods (1)

Gelt Woods (3)

Gelt Woods (4)

Gelt Woods (7)

Gelt Woods (8)


What have YOU been up to this autumn?


You can now get more content from me — and help me pay the bills! — by supporting my Patreon. Get a monthly writing support pack for just $5 a month! It’s like buying me a pint.
You can also support me by checking out the many sweet and sparkly things at Edinburgh Vintage, my Etsy-based store for jewellery and small antiques.
If you just want to say hi, you can find me on Twitter, or email me via claire[at] You’ll get a fairly good sense of the kind of person I am by checking out my Tumblr.

In conversation with Sepideh Jodeyri

Monday, November 9th, 2015

Sepideh Jodeyri
Photo taken by Mehran Haddadi, used with permission from Sepideh Jodeyri.

A couple of weeks ago, I was very lucky to be invited to meet the Iranian poet Sepideh Jodeyri. You can read more about her remarkable life and work below, but the short version is, she’s an Iranian poet who’s been forced into exile in Europe. In order to keep writing poetry and literary criticism freely, and without censorship, she had to move to Italy, and then to Prague. Scottish PEN were able to invite her to Scotland for a brief visit at the end of October, to talk about her life in writing, and to perform at a few events, including Shore Poets October.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh at Shore Poets.

As part of her visit, Sepideh kindly agreed to record a podcast with Scottish PEN, in which she talked about the tradition of reading and writing poetry in Iran, about her own experiences as a poet, contest judge and literary critic, and about some of the problems faced by writers living in exile. I feel privileged to have been invited to be part of this podcast, too — I spoke about the ways in which living in Scotland is a privilege for writers; but also about the ways in which we can still extend freedom of expression to include better opportunities for minority writers, especially transgender writers.

You can listen to the podcast, which was ably chaired by the brilliant Sasha de Buyl, here.

In the podcast, Sepideh mentions that very few of her poems are currently published in English. I offered to rectify this by featuring a translation of one of her pieces right here on ONS. Here’s the piece she sent me. At the bottom is a bit of biographical info, to provide just a snapshot of Sepideh’s amazing writing life so far. Enjoy… and if you want to support the work of Scottish PEN, you can start by following their Twitter, or you can become a member at their site.


Fire, take a step…
A poem by Sepideh Jodeyri
Translated by Sholeh Wolpe

The newspapers will read:
That day

you will put your letters

in front of a gun

and then,

fire; take a step.


It’s hot,

the sun

shoves us away

and we know by heart

the farthest color in the rainbow.

Fire; then a step. 


(The newspapers will read:)
It’s hot, 

and God

shoves us away.

It’s as if your letters 

see double;

as if

fourteen colors?!


It’s hot, 

the letters 

shove us away.
Fire; then a step
towards the war!


Sepideh Jodeyri is an Iranian poet, literary critic, translator and journalist. She has published numerous books in Iran, including five poetry collections, a collection of short stories and an anthology of poems. Her articles and interviews have been published in Iranian newspapers and magazines as well as European ones. She has also translated poetry books by Edgar Allan Poe and Jorge Luis Borges as well as the graphic novel, Blue is the warmest color by Julie Maroh into Persian.

In 2008, Sepideh founded the Khorshid Prize, a feminist literary prize for Iranian women writers. The award included prize money equivalent to around 1,050 euros. The Khorshid Prize ran for four years until it was declared banned after Jodeyri left the country in 2011. The chairwoman who took over the prize, and one of their sponsors, were subsequently interrogated by Iran’s intelligence service agents.

In the aftermath of the highly contested 2009 presidential election in Iran, which resulted in the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2009-2013), Sepideh spoke publicly in support of the Iranian pro-democracy movement (known as Iranian Green Movement). Shortly after, her works were banned in Iran, and some of her close friends put in prison, forcing her to leave the country and move to Italy in February 2011. She stayed for two years in Italy as the guest writer of ICORN. Sepideh, her husband and her son currently live in Prague, Czech Republic.

Sepideh Jodeyri at Shore Poets October (9)
Sepideh at Shore Poets.

My involvement in this podcast was made possible by Creative Scotland’s Open Project Fund, who have allocated a small grant to allow me to develop my work during the period January 2015 to February 2016. Thank you, Creative Scotland!

Making a manuscript: seasonal affective poetics

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

This post is the fifth (and maybe last?) of a series I’m writing about the creation of my second poetry collection (the second post is here, the third is here, and the fourth is here). I am grateful to Creative Scotland for financial assistance from their Open Project Fund, which is allowing me to create this manuscript.


Cornwall Summer 2015 (34)
A photo from my summer holiday to Cornwall earlier this year… feels like a long time ago, now!

I love autumn… but every year when it gets to this time of year, I feel myself starting to hunker down for winter. An Edinburgh winter is hard to thole (I know — Shetlanders are rolling their eyes at me right now!), and although every year I try to start out with optimism, by February I’m desperate for an end to the darkness and sideways precipitation. Writing this poetry collection, I’ve realised how much I am — and by extension, my poetry is — influenced by the seasons. In fact, I think this might be something I’ve learned from poetry — to try and pay more attention to the details of what’s happening in the natural world around me.

During my PhD, which I completed at the end of 2013, I read a lot of Kerry Hardie’s poetry. I mean a lot: I read and re-read and re-read and re-read. I wrote a chapter on Hardie’s work that was eventually cut from my thesis — but I think Hardie ended up being my favourite of all the poets whose writing I analysed and wrote about.

Hardie’s poems are intimately connected to the changing of the seasons. She seems to write most in the autumn and winter — or perhaps she just prefers the poems she writes during those seasons, because there are more of them in her collections. She also writes a lot about being ill, or being ill-at-ease — and in many poems, the seasonal weather is foregrounded and the illness or unease is the subtext underneath it.

I’m realising with this new collection that I’ve pinched that idea — or tapped into it, or emulated it, if you want a kinder version. It wasn’t a conscious thing, but as I come towards the end of this collection-making process, I’m realising: I’ve written a book full of weather. Lots of ominous clouds. But underneath the weather is the unease the weather makes — specifically, the feeling that something’s coming. The way I feel about winter in Scotland, as we get into November. It’s coming. Brace yourself.

It was always my intention to write eco poems in this collection. In fact, I hoped I might write a whole collection of eco poems, and it’s actually turned out to be more of a mixed bag than that. But what I definitely have written is a bunch of poems in which, lurking underneath the (often freak) weather, is the sense that this is just the start. The something that’s coming in these poems is climate change, and coming it is.

Here, have some poems. They won’t help, but have them anyway.


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] I reply as swiftly as I can!