Posts Tagged ‘literature’

Procrastination Station #135: Halloween edition

Friday, October 31st, 2014

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What if instead of asking what characters are running toward, we ask what they’re running from? What deep fears motivate our characters? Perhaps this focus on fear and character is even more helpful when looking at the power of the quiet novel, which is more likely to focus on intense, everyday anxieties. A character may not be able to describe what love they wish to move toward, but they are aware of a deep-seeded unease that pushes them away from the status quo.

Go on, inject a little fear into your writing…

I love that this list of ghost stories for babies and toddlers is entitled Hallo-wean. Nice one, Scottish Book Trust.

SBT also have great suggestions for scary books that are safe for 8-11s, and books that are much more frightening than their film counterparts!

I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.

You basically have to read Anne Sexton on Halloween, those are the rules. & The Poetry Foundation have put together this list of other Halloween poems, too!

Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heartas told via random gifs.

9 DIY feminist Halloween costumes, in case you’re still looking for inspiration! (I love The Notorious RBG!)

They’re easy to please, just feed them some brains,

They’ll sit quietly hour by hour,

Waiting for you to replenish their bowls,

But if you don’t, it’s you they’ll devour.

Bless… Darren Shan wrote a children’s poem! About er… brain-eating zombies.

…and if you want more Halloween-y poems for kids, I recommend tracking down that Josh Seigal fella. He’s got loads, including this one!

These literary jack-o-lanterns are so good, they look Photoshopped. But they aren’t. I know.

There’s more to scary stories than goblins, ghouls, blood and your general horror — here there be monsters of many kinds, existential and literal, extraordinary and everyday. And remember: like beauty, fear is in the bloody eye of the beholder.

Flavorwire have helpfully picked fifty scary short stories that you can read to scare yourself silly this evening.

Quiz: can you judge a scary book by its cover?

What the society’s mission means is that its members are “a community of like-minded people who . . . enjoy the history, culture, & poetry associated with the lives and deaths of poets, their gravesites, and their poetry related to death,” and who are committed to “documenting and resurrecting the dead poets of America” by visiting and archiving as many poets’ graves across the country as they can.

The REAL Dead Poets Society

Not strictly Halloween themed, but here are ten poems about death. Very cheery!

Fancy a Halloween-y desktop wallpaper? You’re welcome.


This is super cute. Thanks to Alice T for sharing!


That’s my [Halloween] jam! Every year.


…well, that and THIS.

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: Chrisdonia)

Where is Claire? Events, readings, happenings for Autumn 2014

Monday, October 27th, 2014

Literary Death Match
^ That’s me with Gavin Inglis, about to win Literary Death Match in 2012! (Pic by Chris Scott)

Talking Heids: Sam Small & Claire Askew
Wednesday 29th October, Sofi’s Bar, Edinburgh, 2000-2200
Free entry

Talking Heids is one of my favourite monthly poetry nights in the whole of Edinburgh, partly because it’s run by my old favourite Captain McGuire. Also, it happens in the cozy confines of Sofi’s Bar, a tiny Leith local bedecked with fairy lights and welcoming to cute dogs!
This month, I am stepping in at short notice after the real star act, the lovely Alice Tarbuck, had to drop out due to scheduling clashes. I will try my best to be even half as awesome as she is. I’m appearing alongside Sam Small, who I was lucky enough to see in action at the BBC Slam during this year’s Fringe. If you like your poems earnestly political, come along. Sam and I definitely have that covered!
(There’s also an open mic, which you sign up for on the night by nudging the aforementioned Mr McGuire. You should sign up for it.)

Writers at the Pleasance
Thursday 30th October, Pleasance Cabaret Bar, 1900
Free entry

Hosted by The Edinburgh University LitSoc, with appearances from UoE Writer in Residence Jenni Fagan, and Lecturer in Creative Writing (+ excellent TS Eliot Prize shortlisted poet) Dr Alan Gillis. This is mostly going to be a night of readings by exciting new up-and-coming poets, including some who are travelling from south of the border to mingle with us wild northerners. I’ve been invited to provide some advice and guidance to these dewy-eyed young’uns, and maybe read some of my work into the bargain. The Pleasance Cabaret Bar is a great venue, and LitSoc always manage to pack it to the rafters. It’s going to be a great night, I know already! Hope to see you there!

Guest editing “We The Humanities
Week beginning 17th November 2014

I’ll be honest, I have no idea why I was approached for this. I feel totally unqualified to talk to THE WHOLE OF TWITTER about important issues in The Humanities today, and yet that is exactly what I am going to have to do! Things I am mulling over for possible inclusion: diversity and intersectionality in the Humanities, all things poetry-related, and maybe some specific thoughts and questions about the value of postgrad creative writing qualifications. Think that sounds good? Join the conversation at WeTheHumanities, starting Monday 17th November. Think that sounds rubbish? Get in touch on my personal Twitter and tell me what you’d LIKE to hear about!

Scottish PEN Banned Books Club for Book Week Scotland: Edwin Morgan’s Stobhill poems
Friday 28th November, Project Cafe, Glasgow, 1715 - 1830
Free but ticketed

A few months ago the lovely people at Scottish PEN contacted me and said, “we want to run two events around banned books, each with a different author. Cory Doctorow is doing the Edinburgh one. We’d like you to do the Glasgow one.” Cue me nearly dying of shock — Cory Doctorow and… little old me?!
Even better: the discussion I am facilitating is about Edwin Morgan’s “Stobhill” poems — a sequence of poems that many people wanted to have banned in the 1990s. Why? Because they explored the topics of rape and abortion against the backdrop of working class Glasgow.
I read these poems in English class back in the 1990s, and not only was I in no way corrupted by their supposedly “pornographic and licentious” nature, but they helped to make me the passionate intersectional feminist I am today. They were my first introduction to the topic of abortion, and I found Morgan’s handling of the subject fascinating, honest and beautiful.
So come and join me! We’ll be chatting in a cosy, intimate venue and I want to hear YOUR ideas about these important poems — and about what it means to ban books or to call for them to be banned. Come and tell me what you think.

The Shore PoetsBe The First To Like This‘ friendly Book Week Scotland slam!
Sunday 30th November, Henderson’s at St John’s, Edinburgh, 1915 - 2200
£5 / £3 concessions

For our FIRST EVER poetry slam, Shore Poets are teaming up with two powerhouses of Scottish Literature: the all-new shiny anthology Be The First To Like This, and the legendary uber-festival of reading that is Book Week Scotland. We’ve decided to make this a quiet slam, so we warmly welcome self-identified ‘page’ poets, slam virgins and poets who’ve always fancied slamming but think it just looks a bit too scary. Six of our slammers will be BTFTLT poets, and four will be brave citizen authors, picked at random from our open submissions call hat! Prizes will include: oodles of book tokens, free books, free poetry CDs and of course, to the winner of the raffle, our famous-for-a-reason lemon cake. Plus! The overall slam winner will go through to the Scottish Slam Championships! Oo-er.
I’ll be your excitable, probably forgetful, ultimately highly awkward host for this event. Everyone who attends will get Book Week Scotland freebies, so it’s worth every penny and more!

10Red DECEMBER
Wednesday 3rd December, Persevere Function Rooms, Leith, 2000 - late!
£3 entry, includes a free raffle ticket

10Red is one of Edinburgh’s most reliably excellent poetry nights. It is also super laid back and friendly — I’ve read there at least twice before and am chuffed to be going back. Come along and hear from ten very different poets in the comfortable setting of the Persevere Function Rooms. Bring a friend, grab a pint… oh, and prepare to leave with an armful of books! The raffle prizes are all bookish things and there tend to be lots up for grabs!
I am not sure yet who else is reading besides me, but you can keep an eye out on the Facebook page.

Want to book me for YOUR event? Email claire{at}onenightstanzas.com!

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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 by Chris Scott)

Procrastination Station #134

Friday, October 24th, 2014

Untitled

I know all of that like the back of my hand. But that doesn’t mean I’m stiff about rules. I do love to start a sentence with a conjunction,that’s for sure. And I’m awfully fond of the emdash — a little too fond, maybe! But (and there I go again!) those are all purposeful decisions. Here’s what I know now: once you’ve learned the rules, it’s quite fun to break them.

Writing rules: and how women writers break them all!

Do you have an “interesting, engaging and challenging” playscript that you’d like to have rehearsed by real actors? The Trav’s Words Words Words programme is currently open for submissions!

Booktrust (England) is looking to recruit a bunch of bookish people — are you one of them?

I start at the first sentence of a novel and I finish at the last. It would never occur to me to choose among three different endings because I haven’t the slightest idea of the ending until I get to it. [...] Micro Managers build a house floor by floor, discretely and in its entirety. Each floor needs to be sturdy and fully decorated with all the furniture in place before the next is built on top of it. There’s wallpaper in the hall even if the stairs lead nowhere at all.

Have I posted this before? I don’t remember. Anyway, I love it because I love Zadie Smith and because I am also a Micro Manager.

Wondering what you’ll be reading in the next few weeks? Don’t worry — Oprah can tell you.

When the Nobel Prize for Literature was announced recently, everyone on my Twitter — including me — responded with, “who?” Here’s the reason you’ve never heard of Patrick Modiano.

Some of the strongest poems here are those which take a more conventional poetic subject and do something fresh: Claire Askew’s Bad Moon, Russell Jones’ poem about not seeing the stars, Marion McCready in whose poem daffodils “spread like cancer”, Charlotte Runcie’s Pope, Telescope, a complex, controlled approach to a big, timeless theme.

Lookie! I get a nice mention in this review of Be The First To Like This! (Have you got your copy yet? It is STUNNING I tell you!)

Two of my favourite ever libraries are recruiting right now! Do you fancy being Glasgow Women’s Library’s new Museum Curator

…or the Scottish Poetry Library’s new Senior Library Assistant? (I am not even vaguely qualified for either and I am gutted about it!)

“I was just absolutely obsessed with this stuff I was writing, and showing people there was more going on inside me than they would have imagined,” says Tempest. “People have underestimated me all my life. They still do, because I’m unassuming, because I’m a girl, so I had this desperate urgency. I’d go to a gig and instead of watching the person on stage all I wanted to do was get the microphone off them. That feeling lasted for years. It was just blind desperation.”

KATE TEMPEST!

Do you have a finished — but unpublished — debut novel? Enter it into the Caledonia Novel Award and maybe win £1000!

These images and stories from New York’s ‘endangered bookstores’ are really stunning.

What Amazon possesses is the power to kill the buzz. It’s definitely possible, with some extra effort, to buy a book you’ve heard about even if Amazon doesn’t carry it — but if Amazon doesn’t carry that book, you’re much less likely to hear about it in the first place.

Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly: it’s much more sinister than that.

This one goes out to all my librarians!

Hey, writers? Quit buying things and go on holiday… it’s good for your brain!

“If Beast were a chap, he would be a part-time rugby player smelling of Ralgex who’s trying to tell you he’s deep and thoughtful, even though he’ll later be implicated in an incident involving a traffic cone and a pint glass of his own urine.”

I don’t normally read restaurant reviews, but I utterly loved this one.


“People that have difficulty reading are often capable of thinking in ways that others aren’t.” So, this guy is utterly brilliant.


Come on Scotland. Let’s have our wolves back!


And it’s nearly Halloween, so you OBVIOUSLY need this.

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 #133

Friday, October 10th, 2014

Subtle graffiti

For the average book, you figure $7 will go to overhead, and that leaves the last $1.50 as profit. For the average book, the expected contribution to overhead could be $50,000 to $150,000. That’s why most editors have a minimum number of copies they have to aim for with any book. (At some imprints, that’s 10,000 copies. At others, it’s 25,000 or even 50,000.) Random House can’t sign up a thousand $3,500-advance novels because each of those books has to carry the weight of all that overhead.

An excellent answer to the question, “why did Random House pay $3.5m for Lena Dunham’s stupid memoir instead of paying 1,000 novelists £3,500 each?”

Cool signs outside independent bookstores.

Struggling to find time to read? Read this.

Chris Abani once said in a workshop that readers will always wonder if your characters are you–even if your main character is a Chihuahua. There’s not much to do about this wondering except write the characters you want to write with complexity and empathy.

Your characters are all you. Here’s how to make it less obvious.

Reading makes you happier: fact.

What’s the difference between riches, wealth and success? Might be interesting to penniless writers!

Part of the reason it took Fitzgerald so long to finish Tender is the Night was Zelda’s worsening condition. But you’d think that his haphazard, alcohol-fueled creative process wasn’t doing him any favors, either.
Yet recent research has shown that messy, dark, noisy, booze-filled environments like the one Fitzgerald cultivated at La Paix can, in fact, help stimulate creativity.

Good news, writers! Writing in the pub is a good idea!

I really like Kanye West (or aspects of him… please read this before coming to kill me), so I really liked this.

I’m a sucker for literary tattoos.

You should probably spend a lot of your twenties doing art from the time you wake up to the time you go to sleep, and turning down a lot of unnecessary commitments in service of that. First, because that’s what you need to do to be good enough so that when you have inspiration, your inspiration will lead to something; and second, because it’s almost fucking impossible to make a living drawing pictures, writing words, or playing music. Just the fact that we think we can do these things for a living is an intense act of hope and arrogance. If you want to be able to do that, if you decide to stake your claim on that path, then oh, my God you have to do such hard work! If you’re the sort of person who fucking whines about being motivated, like some of the art students I lecture, then just fucking stop. I’m not interested in speaking to anyone who wonders how to motivate themselves. If you need to talk about how to get motivated, then go get a normal job in the normal scheme of the world and just do art as a hobby so you still love it. Stop clogging up the field for the people who need this like a drug.

Molly Crabapple is great.

Here are 16 photos of Margaret Atwood looking like a badass and saying super smart things. You’re welcome.

My reading speed is 236 words per minute! Find out yours.

I don’t think writing the truth makes you strong by default. I think it makes you vulnerable, which in turn can make you strong. It’s a naked feeling, both writing about yourself and writing about those you once loved, still love, and some you never loved at all. And though we may highly value the opinions of our loved ones, that doesn’t always mean we must ask their permission to write our stories in full.

If, like me, you steal details from real people’s lives for your writing, you should read this.

Hey, authors? Don’t be this desperate.

I genuinely enjoyed this: 50 Facts about Sex and the City you probably didn’t know.

Today, in politically correct 21st-century Britain, you might think things would have changed but somehow the Great White Male has thrived and continues to colonise the high-status, high-earning, high-power roles (93 per cent of executive directors in the UK are white men; 77 per cent of parliament is male). The Great White Male’s combination of good education, manners, charm, confidence and sexual attractiveness (or “money”, as I like to call it) means he has a strong grip on the keys to power.

Grayson Perry is a bloody legend.


Why we need poetry. (More literary TED talks here!)


HOLY SHIT Danny MacAskill!!!

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 #132

Friday, September 26th, 2014

tea for me

These dismally low numbers provide a reminder that “access” to education is more complicated than simply throwing open the digital doors to whoever wants to sign up. So how can we turn the mere availability of online instruction in STEM into true access for female students?

Are girls under-respresented in STEM classes because they learn differently?

Poetry books to buy in September. (I have poems in both Be The First To Like This and Songs of Other Places, so definitely get those!)

…and Be The First To Like This now has a Twitter!

She will tell you about how, when she was small, she could lose herself in a novel for hours, and now, all she can do is watch the tweets swim by like glittery fish in the river of time-she-will-never-get-back. You will begin to chafe at what sounds like a humblebrag—I was precocious and remain an intellectual at heart or I feel oppressed by my active participation in the cultural conversation—but then you will realize, with an ache of recognition, that you are in the same predicament.

Reading insecurity: it is a thing. (I loved this article!)

Bad Book Cover Redesigns, as skewered by Flavorwire (I’ve always felt a little uncomfortable about those ‘Murakami is Japanese!’ covers).

It’s very interesting to see what a publication like the Metro thinks are ‘ten books you need in your life.’

The more reading moved online, the less students seemed to understand. There were the architects who wrote to her about students who relied so heavily on ready digital information that they were unprepared to address basic problems onsite. There were the neurosurgeons who worried about the “cut-and-paste chart mentality” that their students exhibited, missing crucial details because they failed to delve deeply enough into any one case. And there were, of course, the English teachers who lamented that no one wanted to read Henry James anymore.

Related to reading insecurity: what online reading is doing to us.

Marina Warner (aka The Woman I Would Most Like To Have As An Aunty Except My Actual Aunties Obv) just quit her teaching position at the University of Essex. She pulls no punches in telling us why.

Zadie Smith reckons there are two types of writers.

If the hero is police, then he’ll be the departmental maverick, too honest and decent to engage in office politics yet laser-focused on nailing his perp. Often there’s a murdered relative, almost always female, to juice this crusader’s motivation. His marriage will have fallen apart because he’s too stoic and too devoted to the Job to sustain a real relationship. But he’ll be devoted to his kid and a one-woman romantic at heart, even if hardly anybody ever gets near that heart. He’ll brood a lot and go home alone. He’ll have a temper, but a righteous one. He might drink too much or be too ready with his fists, but that just makes him a bit of antihero…

Rebus, much?! If you’re sick of cookie-cutter crime fiction, the answer is simple: read women.

Indie bookstores are on the rise again… yay!

The 7 stages of falling in love with reading.

Several times a year I am the recipient of emails or phone calls from friends, colleagues, parents, or complete strangers in search of writing guidance. Often the messages begins, “Hello, my name is Barbra. My daughter wants to be a writer. She’s very talented. Jill Matthews said you might be able to . . .” What follows ranges from, “give some advice” to “edit her trilogy.” These types of messages leave me sighing, not because I don’t enjoy cultivating new voices, but because how those people perceive the writing community and the writing vocation is often vastly different from actuality.

Do you get these emails? (I do!) Here’s a toolkit of things to send back in reply.

Press and PR… but for writers.

I LOVED this article about ‘life after the MFA.’ (Applies to other creative writing qualifications, too!) In it, one writer shares her “dream” back-of-the-book biography, then her real one…

One of the biggest mistakes I see in queries is what I call data-dump. This is when a query is too wordy or too long and is trying too hard to describe the world and/or fantasy elements.

Sending out your novel? Writer’s Digest have a great series showing successful query letters from real authors. Here’s one recent example!

This, also from Writer’s Digest, on applying for grants and residencies, is great.

The power of reading someone else’s words… and seeing yourself.

I’ve always been confused by this new found fetishisation of Scotch eggs and pork pies, with so many flash new pubs selling them at the bar.
I mean, I like Scotch eggs as much as the next Englishman, but I can’t help but think this kind of ancient casual bar snack cuisine they’re nodding to never really existed. Pork scratchings, yes, but Scotch eggs? You buy those from Saino’s, not from pubs. To me, pub cuisine will forever be associated with steak flavoured McCoy’s and the occasional reheated beef pie.

I’m not from London and actually don’t know London at all well, but I LOVED The Great London Gentrified Pub Crawl.

Cakes that are books… or books that are cakes? (I want the Hunger Games one!)

Celebrate Banned Books Week: read these books!


I’ve always loved ELO (sorry not sorry) but only discovered this song with the movie and now can’t. stop. listening.


I’ve posted this before but the video is so beautiful and very autumnal.


& I just discovered The Chin Review and haven’t laughed so much in a long time. So silly.

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)

Featured Magazines #17: The Bugle

Monday, May 5th, 2014

The Bugle

Most of the work I do is with “reluctant readers,” and I am used to having to warm up my audience, convincing them that poetry is not a scary thing and actually, anyone can write it. However, the Bugle team were way ahead of me – several of them regularly write poems for inclusion in the magazine, and reading the creative writing pieces intended for the Bugle’s pages is an important part of the editorial process. In a world where arts columnists are mourning poetry as a supposedly “dead” artform – while poets themselves bemoan the lack of dedicated readers – The Bugle is wonderful. Its editorial team are not only reading and writing poems – they’re also helping to keep this supposedly-dying breed of writing alive, by putting it into their publication and sending that publication out into the world for free.

I wrote a blogpost for the great social action blog Common Good Edinburgh last week, all about the amazing work being done by the team of The Bugle, Bethany Christian Trust’s Edinburgh-based zine-style magazine. It’s made entirely by homeless and vulnerably houses BCT service users and it’s brilliant. Click here to find out more!

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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!

Dear poetry newbies: you need a mentor!

Monday, April 28th, 2014

from "Asphodel" by WIlliam Carlos WIlliams

My advice to new and aspiring writers has always been: read, read, and then read some more. Wanting to be a writer without first being a reader is like wanting to be a Formula 1 driver without ever having sat in a car. And yet, time and time again I’ve heard new writers – my students; the people who used to submit to Read This, the magazine I edited – say that they don’t read because they don’t want to be too heavily influenced. They don’t want to feel like they’re “copying.”

This is garbage, of course – you sit down and try to write like Allen Ginsberg, or Emily Dickinson, or Sapphire, or any other writer with a distinctive style that might creep into your writing. You’ll always end up with a pale facsimile. Whatever you write will always contain more of you and your voice (however much that voice still needs to develop) than anyone else’s. And believe me, it’s much better if your voice sounds authoritative and well-read than if it sounds green and uncertain – which it will, if you don’t study other people’s good writing.

However, I do know what it’s like to feel afraid of “being influenced.” Almost exactly two years ago, I was lucky enough to win a 2012 Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award – a prize that offers a full year of creative mentoring along with its nice wedge of cash. Obviously, I was hugely grateful that my work had been selected, and very glad of the money, which I used to fund a brilliant writing retreat on the island of Hydra, Greece (to this day, I have never been so productive). However, I’ll admit: I was uncertain about the mentoring. Having had creative writing tutors in the past whose style of critique I totally disagreed with (no one learns anything from soul-destroyingly negative notes), I was worried I might not get on with whoever was picked to mentor me. And just like those new writers whose refusal to read had exasperated me in the past, I started to realise I was also worried about influence. What if this mentor was also a poet? What if they had their own ideas about what poetry ought to be like? What if they were an amazing writer, and I found myself changing my own writing in order to impress them? Reader, I was worried.

However, that was nuts. It turns out? Creative mentoring is utterly amazing, and everyone – I mean literally every creative person – should do it, if they get the chance. I mean sure, you have to find a mentor you can get along with as a person, but I’d like to believe that most people who are willing to take on the role of mentor are probably pretty nice. (There are roughly a dozen SBT New Writers Awardees every year – I have now met many of them, and so far none of the various alumni have had a bad word to say about their mentor.) Otherwise, all you need to do is find someone who’s an expert in your field, and who – of course –wants to take on the job.

I hadn’t actually thought about it this way, but I’ve had a writing mentor of sorts for the past eight years. In 2006, I hit the third year of my degree in English Literature, and one of the Honours courses on offer was Creative Writing (Poetry), taught by Alan, contemporary poetry specialist, writer-editor of huge academic tomes, and established poet. Turns out my first Creative Writing seminar was the first class Alan taught in his new post at the University of Edinburgh, and from that class until I finished my PhD a few months ago, I was the one pesky student who just refused to go away. When I finished my MA (Hons) and went straight on to the Masters in Creative Writing (Poetry), Alan was my course tutor. When I leapt straight from the Masters into my PhD, he was my first and most obvious choice for a supervisor. Alan has seen more of my creative work than anyone else (more even than Lovely Boyfriend, who’s only been around a measly four years; more than my parents, who only see the poems that don’t have swears in them). If Alan isn’t a creative mentor, I don’t know who is – he has shaped the way I write more than any writer I’ve read or workshop I’ve attended. And I mean that in a really good way.

(NB: Do I write like him? Absolutely not. I mean obviously, he’s a billion times better than me – and in both form and content we’re kinda like chalk and cheese. Again, I tell you, folks: the whole “fear of influence” thing is total garbage.)

Then last year, I was assigned my SBT Award mentor. Although it’s taken me until now to realise that I already had one in the form of Alan, I was a bit worried that the two might contradict one another. I was still under Alan’s supervision for the PhD, after all. However, I needn’t have worried. Apparently, the only thing better than one creative mentor is two creative mentors.

I was assigned to a lovely freelance editor named Sarah – a poetry specialist who’d mentored many a new poet before I came along. It became apparent pretty quickly that Sarah wasn’t interested in doing the same job as Alan was doing. I’d spent the last three years writing poems and having Alan help me to make them better. Sarah’s job was to take the huge pile of largely-finished material I had lying around as a result, and turn it from a random stack into that truly mystical and terrifying beast: a manuscript.

The best thing about working with Sarah? She totally got what I was trying to do. In fact, she “got it” far better than I did. She told me that in order to tie my manuscript together, I needed to think about the major themes that ran through my poems. I panicked, telling her I hadn’t really written the poems with any larger themes in mind – I just wrote what wanted to be written. “Oh, there are themes in there,” she assured me. “Print out all your poems, spread them on the floor, and start putting them into piles – put the ones that speak to each other together.”
Sarah said she’d do the same thing, and then we’d compare results. I found the exercise hard-going. I had a lot of poems about women and written in women’s voices (my PhD thesis is about contemporary female poets using the confessional mode, so this was a no-brainer), but it turns out, that’s not a theme. Seeing the poems Sarah had put into piles, however, was genuinely eye-opening. “Your main theme is place and space,” she told me, as my jaw hit the floor. “Look how many of your poems take place in domestic spaces. Look how many of them are liminal, travelling poems. This is a collection about trying to find your place in the world.”

It is. Loads of my poems are about ghosts – about the hours and days immediately after death, as they try to find out where they belong now. Loads of my poems are about travel, but never fun travel – they’re about being lost or getting robbed or generally being a clueless white middle-class person who doesn’t really know where they are. And so many of my poems are about women in houses – but scary houses, houses that are “wrong,” in some way. All my poems are about trying to find a place or space to belong, and I had never even noticed that. That’s the epic power of the mentor: when they’re really good, like Sarah is, they can make you see your own work objectively – a thing I always thought was impossible.

Other great things about working with Sarah? I wanted to make a book, I didn’t know how to do that, and she taught me. She taught me how to put my poems into an order that both showcased each one nicely on its own, but also created an arc across the manuscript for the reader to follow. Like Alan before her, she pulled no punches when it came to making me edit – she explained clearly why I needed to lose that line, switch those stanzas around, come up with a better title or even ditch that poem from the manuscript entirely. Perhaps most importantly, she made me write. She recognised early on that I’d come to the end of the creative section of my PhD, that I was focussing on slogging through the last part of a thesis I’d long since grown weary of, and that I was using this as an excuse (a good one, I’d thought!) not to write new poems. She set me a deadline, created a public Google Doc and then made me post in it every day to show her what I’d written. It turns out, she didn’t check it every day – but I didn’t know that. It sounds cruel, but it was so utterly what I needed. Like I say, she just really “got” my writing.

What I have to show for all this mentoring is a manuscript that I am happy to send out to publishers. It’s out there somewhere, right now – hopefully not in a bin or on a slush pile, but I really have no way of knowing. It may well be that it gets nowhere, that no one else thinks it’s all that good. But that doesn’t really matter. When the lovely folks at Scottish Book Trust (now my colleagues!) asked me what I’d like to have achieved at the end of my mentoring year, I said, “a manuscript that I feel proud of.” Thanks to Sarah – and to Alan – that’s exactly what I’ve got.

My first full length poetry collection manuscript is entitled “This changes things,” and is currently out on submission. If you would like to find out more about it, you can email me via claire [at] onenightstanzas.com

(Image credit)

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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 #124

Friday, April 25th, 2014

Untitled

“Leave the TV alone, don’t get on the Internet too much because there’s a lot of crap there — it’s mainly male, macho crap. We men like to play with toys. You get yourself a good typewriter, go to the library —live there. Live in the library.”

Thanks, Ray Bradbury via Flavorwire. I may get this tattooed on myself, so badly do I need to remember it.

The secret to self-publishing? Do whatever a publisher would do, but do it better.

Did you know Scottish Book Trust are seeking Readers in Residence? This may be the coolest job ever, so apply now!

…and speaking of Scottish Book Trust, in response to a recent study indicating that men don’t exactly love to read, our very own Danny wrote this great piece on why reading is super, super manly.

It is exhausting that we are still trying to convince a certain segment of the population that women are equal to men, that women deserve respect and fair consideration in all professional and creative and personal realms. It is especially frustrating in the literary community, because I am part of this community. These are my people, or at least, that’s what I would hope.

I cannot believe we need to count and point out worthy women writers like we’re begging for scraps at the table of due respect and consideration.

Roxane Gay being right on, as usual.

Do you live in Scotland? Are you committed to our nation’s “common wealth”? Then YOU should apply to be a speaker at TEDxGlasgow!

And speaking of exciting events — if you’re in the North of England this weekend, you should head to the Scarborough Flare festival. Especially this event, happening tomorrow – you’ll hear one of my poems included among “the finest British Poetry written by authors of the last century”! How chuffed am I? Pretty chuffed.

Cosmo are talking about poetry! & it’s not bad!

Want a private library but think your house is too small? THINK AGAIN!

How to feel better about travelling alone as a woman, from Bust.

Can you be a feminist and wear makeup? Can you be a feminist and eat creamcakes? Can you be a feminist and unicycle to work every day wearing a teacosy on your head and singing the entire Guns ‘n’ Roses back-catalogue? YES YOU CAN NOW SHUT UP ABOUT IT, says Stavvers. Only more eloquently than that.

Thought Catalog have once again proved themselves to be a shower of assholes. Happily, xoJane’s internet superhero Marianne is around to school them.

Why hello there, every single time I try to talk about gender on the internet!

The Mary Sue has a good selection of these hilarious movie posters featuring snotty Amazon reviews (I apologise for the ableist wording in TMS’s headline). Warning: if you click through to the original Tumblr, prepare to lose a lot of your Friday.

& finally, here’s a mellow tune to start your weekend, from ONS favourite Simon Herron:

Have a great weekend!

(Photo credit)

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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 #123

Friday, April 18th, 2014

Have I really not done one of these since Christmas? Well, OK then…

Seattle gum wall

Have you guys heard of the Seattle gum wall? It’s right around the corner from Pike Place Market’s iconic neon sign, and Lovely Boyfriend and I visited it by accident while we were there. I could only get a crappy phone pic, so I liked scrolling through these cool shots on Flickr… US road trip nostalgia!

“If you’re a woman, writer of color or queer writer, there are probably more barriers. Know that. Be relentless anyway. Strive for excellence.”

If you read nothing else from this post, read this: How To Be A Contemporary Writer, by Roxane Gay.

Sleeveface, only with book covers.

A Lawrence Ferlinghetti poem, anyone? (More US road trip nostalgia!)

“The rape joke is that you were crazy for the next five years, and had to move cities, and had to move states, and whole days went down into the sinkhole of thinking about why it happened. Like you went to look at your backyard and suddenly it wasn’t there, and you were looking down into the center of the earth, which played the same red event perpetually.”

This poem by Patricia Lockwood carries a trigger warning, but it’s completely brilliant.

Scottish Book Trust’s Young Adult Team (which includes me!) have just finished work on this super cool graphic novel: “John Muir: Earth-Planet, Universe.” You can read a free PDF copy — and if you’re a teacher, download lesson plans and support materials — right over here.

Speaking of SBT… they were kind enough to feature one of my poems on their site! You can also submit your story of home.

Flavorwire’s “50 Essential Poetry Books” makes a pretty good to-read list, as I’ve only read 14 of these! Hooray!

Are you a female poet? You should submit poems to this cool anthology.

I enjoy the struggle of making a new object to present to the world, a gift made from scratch—whole, unique, edible as bread. And I want that gift to travel well, packed into an old boat on calm water or hidden inside a greased body diving into a blue pool, a sleek arrow that leaves a feathered silence and wonder in its wake. I like moving, word by word, toward a sense of discovery, toward an awareness of self—a curious, energetic, intelligent, sacred, baffling, depthful, heartful self. I work to find my subject, something I can sink my teeth into. I live for that flaring up of language, when the words actually carry me, envelope me, grip me. And all the above is why I read poetry, to hear the truth, spoken harshly or whispered into my ear, to see more clearly the world’s beauty and sadness, to be lifted up and torn down, to be remade, by language, to become larger, swollen with life.

The utterly brilliant Dorianne Laux, everyone.

There are some pretty sweet things listed at Edinburgh Vintage right now, if I do say so myself. A stunning estate ring, an unusual 1950s powder compact, and some classic pearls in their original display box, to name but a few…

I agree with barely anything Caitlin Moran says. But I agree with this.

The Unfollowed Pie.” Funny, accurate.

If the Earth had rings like Saturn. Cooooool.

I am kind of obsessed with A Single Bear on Twitter. The story of the baby bird a few days ago made me genuinely sad.

Just some rather amazing photos of the world.

WORLD! LONG HAVE WE NEEDED THIS ITEM!


This video of a reviewer playing Goat Simulator is one of the funniest things I have seen in a long time.


Kevin Cadwallender saying it like it is.


This woman is so excellent. Just watch.

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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!

You don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you.

Monday, January 13th, 2014

A version of this post first appeared at One Night Stanzas in November 2008.

I’ve just revisited this article on the Guardian Books Blog, in which Stuart Evers talks about his seemingly rather misguided admiration for the protagonist of George Orwell’s Keep The Aspidistra Flying, Gordon Comstock. He notes that Comstock is really not a nice guy… and the fact that he truly admired this man when he first read the novel makes him feel rather uneasy. Evers admits that upon finishing the novel for the first time, he actually started to emulate Comstock - he started smoking the same cigarettes, spending his money on the same things, and getting interested in the same politics. He ends bitterly, sending out a “thank you so bloody much” to Orwell and Comstock, as though realising with hindsight that, by getting so “involved” with this not-actually-real person, he has somehow done something wrong.

Has he done something wrong? Are we only supposed to like, admire and emulate the “good guys” in literature? Sure, there are a lot of admirable goodies out there - I’d be the first to stand up and say that I truly love and admire Atticus Finch, for example. But surely, as normal human beings, it’s OK for us to be drawn to the “bad guys” - the flawed characters, the dishonest characters, the downright nasty characters… right? Hamlet, for example - arrogant, selfish, murderous and slightly insane, and yet he’s a big favourite. I personally rather like Milton’s Satan, and perhaps even worse, Alex DeLarge. I know for a fact that the normally sugary-sweet Gala Darling has a dark side - she’s forever in love with Patrick Bateman. It’s not necessarily logical - you don’t choose your literary heroes: they choose you. They reach out to something within your personal being and speak to you. Just because they happen to be a “baddie,” that doesn’t necessarily make you one too!

At the end of Evers’ article, I felt like standing up and cheering, because the other day I experienced exactly the same discomfort that Evers feels, talking with some friends about Beat-Generation-era literature.
As many of you will know, I am a huge Allen Ginsberg fan. I first encountered Ginsberg about halfway through my four-year Masters degree, when I had to read “Howl” for class. My first reaction was “what is this absolute rubbish?”, and when I read some background information about Ginsberg, I was even less impressed. Loud, arrogant, misogynistic… he did not seem like a nice guy at all. Who does he think he is, I thought, this man who wrote this epic, spiralling, meaningless poem that everyone seems to love? It’s garbage!
But then I had an epiphany - I heard a recording of dear old Allen reading “America.” I loved the poem, and his reading - with all its humour and seriousness and liveliness and weariness all at once - and decided to give him another chance. I read about Ginsberg’s life, I read his annotations on “Howl” and discovered what every cryptic line really meant (and every line really does have some correlation to his life, things he experienced, or things that were going on at the time), and probably most importantly, I read “Kaddish.” I bought an album of readings which included all these poems, and more, and listened to it from beginning to end, which exhausted but thrilled me. By now, the poems had turned on me, and they’d convinced me that this man - who I’ll freely admit was still loud, arrogant and misogynistic - was one of the greatest American writers of all time. He was not always nice, he was not always fair, and he wasn’t even always all that good. But he was brilliant, and in spite of myself, I will love him forever and ever.

So imagine my horror when, at a party a few years ago, a friend of mine came out with this:
“I don’t get it with Ginsberg. I’ve read ‘Howl,’ which was… ridiculous, and then everything else just looks like a poor imitation of ‘Howl.’”
I won’t lie to you - I felt like I’d been slapped. I couldn’t believe the enormous feeling that welled up in me. This was my friend, and I found myself wanting to grab him and shake him and scream, “why don’t you read ‘Howl’ properly and then you’ll see it’s not ridiculous, like I did?! How can you say everything else is a poor imitation of ‘Howl’?! Have you even read anything else?! Have you read ‘Kaddish’?! And how can you say that anyway?! The man wrote for 50+ years in a million different style on a million different subjects! Saying you don’t like Ginsberg because of ‘Howl’ is like saying you don’t like the Beatles because of ‘Hey Jude.’ Aaaargh!”
Obviously, I did not do this. I tried to express myself in a quieter way, and just said that actually, Ginsberg was my all-time favourite writer and I loved him very much. All I got was (quote), “well, good for you,” which didn’t make me feel much better.

My desire to shake my friend and scream in his face rather troubled me. After all, I knew all this stuff, and I’d thought it and said it myself once upon a time. But it also brought home to me the fact that you really can’t choose your idols - and when they choose you, they can really cling on, dig in. I’m sure the friend in question has literary heroes he’d gladly defend by shaking and screaming at me, if I were to criticise them. I know one guy who deeply loves Iago, and gets the same strange rage when people try to tell him “but Iago’s a really bad guy.” I know someone else who is a big fan of William Carlos Williams, and nearly had to walk out of a seminar recently when one woman in the group said “but it’s all just rubbish really, isn’t it? The Red Wheelbarrow - my children could write poetry like that!”
The fact is, Stuart Evers seems to be worried about admiring Gordon Comstock. Why? Because he’s worried that he’s going to be judged, probably. But I’d be interested to know what his reaction would be if anyone were to actually turn around and say “Comstock’s the worst character I ever came across,” or “that book’s crap, Orwell couldn’t write to save his life”. Personally, I am not worried about admiring Ginsberg for fear of judgement. It’s the defensive rage that’s the truly worrying thing…

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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)