Posts Tagged ‘writers’

You should read this: The Naming Of Cancer by Tracey S Rosenberg

Monday, January 19th, 2015

Hospital

The Naming of Cancer by Tracey S Rosenberg
Neon Books, 2014

I’m going to do a Dave Poems style disclaimer here and say that Tracey is someone I know well – she’s a fellow SBT New Writers Awards alumna and a fellow Shore Poet! I have also been following her work for a good few years now, since her novel, The Girl In The Bunker, was published by Cargo in 2011. Since then, she’s also published a debut poetry collection with Stewed Rhubarb, who specialise in giving performance poets a space on the page (that collection was called Lipstick Is Always A Plus – it was published in 2012 and comes highly recommended by me). She and I see each other pretty regularly at poetry events – usually, Tracey is kicking butt onstage and I am in the rapt audience. But I promise I did try to read The Naming Of Cancer (a slim pamphlet published in November last year by Neon) with an open mind and a critical eye.

This is a skinny wee collection weighing in at just fourteen poems, none of which go over a page – but they’re poems that really pack a punch. The book follows the myriad journeys that people go on when their lives are affected by cancer – I say affected, because there are poems in here from the point of view of partners, offspring, friends and doctors as well as poems more directly about the patient herself. This is one of the pamphlet’s great strengths. By looking at this devastating subject from many different angles, it avoids many of the potential pitfalls that come with writing about sickness and human mortality: it avoids melodrama and sentimentality, and steers also steers clear of motivational, life-is-short cliché. It’s a poetry collection that says it like it is.

Take, for example, ‘The Oncologist’s Nightmare,’ a poem that pops up to mess with your expectations just as you’re feeling “settled in.” This poem – in which the oncologist replays all of the frightened and angry questions that have been thrown at them that day – is a stark reminder that doctors’ lives are also affected by exposure to terrible illness, albeit in a slightly different way.

A couple of pages later, ‘Touch’ examines the strange and intimate relationship between doctor and patient. This small poem of only seventeen lines pulls into its clever web the doctor, who must work with extreme care as he invades the patient’s privacy; the patient’s lover, recalling his own worries that “she might find him intrusive” when he touches her; and finally the patient herself, waiting for “the blade: it will remove her.”

Several of these poems deal with the more mundane aspects of living with and alongside cancer: the fearful boredom of waiting around in hospitals is captured beautifully by repeated references to hospital trappings: “a six-bed ward,” vending machines and posters in faceless corridors. This sense of constant and perhaps doomed repetition is also captured in the form of several of the poems: the opening poem is a villanelle in which “needles plunge” in almost every stanza, and elsewhere, echoes and refrains abound.

The book opens with a snippet from TS Eliot’s Four Quartets (“East Coker,” to be precise), and there’s something rather Eliotean about the whole thing – I don’t think it’s a coincidence that “Cancer Vilanelle,” the opening poem, comes hot on the heels of that epigraph with its refrain, “consultants come and go.” Certainly, many of these poems exist in a space of isolation, fear and decay that calls to mind the anguish of Prufrock.

The Naming Of Cancer is not a cheery read, but it is by no means depressing or hopeless. Rather, this is a collection in which hope is faint and distant, but not gone. For example, in the final poem, “Bait,” the scraps of a dead body are used as bait on a fisherman’s hook. It’s a stark and violent image, but there is the promise of goodness in it: the body is not only still useful, not only luring a new, live catch. It is also being “restore[d] to the ravenous sea” – a thought that, after the long, grey corridor of illness, seems truly comforting.

The Naming Of Cancer is available from neonbooks.org.uk for the bargainous price of just £4.

(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!

Need a writer? Book a writer! (& pick me!)

Monday, January 5th, 2015

StAnza 2011 Preview
Photo by Chris Scott.

Yep, it’s that time once again… time to get your application in to the Live Literature Fund! What, I hear you cry? Well…

Have you ever fancied:

- organising a poetry reading?
- organising a reading of fiction?
- inviting a writer to come and speak at your community group?
- getting your youth group involved with creative writing?
- organising a talk about writing?
- having an author come and visit your book club?
- finding a really good judge for your slam?
- hiring a professional writer for just about anything at all?

Scottish Book Trust can help!
Right now, SBT is open for applications to its Live Literature Fund. This amazing, one-of-a-kind fund enables individuals and organisations to source a poet, author, storyteller or illustrator to take part in an event or events, and helps to pay them a proper fee. The Live Literature Fund has its own database of vetted writers and artists, each of them bringing a different skillset to the fore.

Applications for the latest round of Live Literature Funding close on 16th February, so if you fancy doing any of the above, get in there quick!

…and, if you’re stuck for a writer to invite, you could always pick me!

To date, I have:

- visited high schools and talked to students about all aspects of poetry, reading and writing
- worked with vulnerable adults (in settings like women’s support groups, homeless and vulnerably housed groups, and groups for intravenous drug-users), using poetry as a way to voice, share or move on from traumatic stories or experiences
- worked extensively with adult literacy groups to engage those who struggle with reading
- worked extensively with ‘reluctant readers,’ especially young men
- worked with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to help them tell stories of home and homecoming
- judged many a poetry competition, and many a slam
- competed in many a slam, and won a few!
- taken part in panel discussions on all manner of things
- given talks on all sorts of stuff, from my PhD research into contemporary women’s poetry, to the strategies we need to adopt to get vulnerable individuals more involved in Scottish culture and the arts
- given hundreds of poetry readings to audiences ranging from four people in a field to an Edinburgh International Book Festival crowd!

I’m always up for a challenge, too, so if what you fancy doing doesn’t sound like anything you see listed there, that doesn’t mean I won’t be up for trying it. So if you successfully secure LLF funding (or even if you don’t, and find the funds from elsewhere!), feel free to drop me a line via claire [at] onenightstanzas.com, or you can follow my antics on Twitter. You can also read my profile on the Live Literature Database itself.

Good luck!

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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!

Almost all the books I read in 2014 and the things I thought about them.

Tuesday, December 30th, 2014

So, for the first year ever, I actually kept a book journal, and wrote down in it almost every book I read throughout the year. I say almost, because towards the end I got really bogged down in — and vexed by, as you’ll see — DeLillo’s Underworld, and forgot to document some of the poetry books I read. But this is about 98% of what I read this year, along with some often-bitchy miniature reviews. Hooray, books!

#58 of 365
(Photo credit)

JANUARY

Fiction
Patrick deWitt The Sisters Brothers
(Didn’t expect to like this. Loved it. But then, I loved Ablutions, so…)
Terry Pratchett Soul Music
(Re-read for about the one millionth time. This book is like an old friend.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
Rebecca Elson A Responsibility To Awe

Gossip from The Forest - Sara Maitland
(Photo credit)

FEBRUARY

Poetry
Patricia Pogson The Holding
Patricia Pogson A Crackle From The Larder

Non fiction
Sara Maitland Gossip From The Forest
(I abandoned this halfway through. I feel guilty, but sorry, I found it a bit dull.)

93/365 American Wife
(Photo credit)

MARCH

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife
Christos Tsolkias The Slap
(I abandoned this because it is a book that seems to be entirely about men walking around objectifying women and getting angry erections. Literally the most misogynist book I have ever read… and the few women characters who are allowed to have any kind of meaningful narrative are so badly written it’s painful. I actually dumped this book on a train. I didn’t want the charity shop folks to even know I had read it.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver Thirst
Dorianne Laux Smoke
(Re-reading)
Kathryn Simmons The Visitations
Kerry Hardie Selected Poems
(Re-reading. I am a mega Kerry fangirl.)
Patricia Young More Watery Still
(Re-reading)

wild geese
(Photo credit)

APRIL

Poetry
Michael Conley Aquarium
(I also reviewed it!)
Mary Oliver Wild Geese
Patricia Young Summertime Swamp Love
(OK, I love this woman. I have read everything she’s ever written. I was so excited that she had a new collection out, pre-ordered it, waited impatiently to get it from Canada… and was so utterly disappointed. It’s a book where every poem is about the sex life of a different animal… and you can tell she got really caught up in the gimmicky concept and let the writing slip a bit. Or in places, a lot. Sad times!)
Karen Solie The Living Option
(Thank goodness for Karen Solie! The best poetry book I have read for years. Everyone, go out and get it and read it and marvel. She’s amazing.)

Copies of The Luminaries being prepared.
(Photo credit)

MAY

Fiction
Roxane Gay An Untamed State
(Beautifully spare, very harrowing, utterly amazing. Read it.)
Nina de la Mer Layla
(Most inventive use of second person I have ever seen, but… let’s just say I’m curious to know what real sex workers make of this book.)
Eleanor Catton The Luminaries
(Ugh. She’s so talented it’s obscene.)

#100HappyDays Day 148: Enjoyed hearing Eimear McBride talk, upon winning the Bailey Prize, about how this should be a wake-up call to publishers to take more risks after receiving years of rejections not because they didn't like it but because they didn't
(Photo credit)

JUNE

Fiction
Curtis Sittenfeld Sisterland
(Yeah, I love Curtis.)
Eimear McBride A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
(I hated this. I’m afraid I ditched it halfway through. Am I broken?)
Hilary Mantel Beyond Black
(My first foray into the world of Mantel! I liked it! Though it could have been 150 pages shorter.)

Talye Selasi, Author of Ghana Must Go
(Photo credit. Taiye Selasi is stunning.)

JULY

Fiction
Paul Auster Man In The Dark
(Meh. Auster is Austerish.)
Taiye Selasi Ghana Must Go
(I was ready to hate on this with all the hate I could summon… this woman was helped to publication by her personal friends Toni Morrison and Andrew Wylie, but it turns out? Not nepotism. She actually deserved the hype! Mind you, I agree with the reviewers who said it didn’t really hit its stride til Part 2.)

Poetry
Mary Oliver West Wind: Poems and Prose Poems
(Yep, re-read it in the same year.)

& Sons
(Photo credit)

AUGUST

Fiction
Janet Fitch White Oleander
(Re-reading for about the fifth time, because I just love this book.)
David Gilbert & Sons
(I expected this to be really macho… and it is, but in a brilliant, self-aware way. One of my favourite novels of the year.)

Poetry
Jean Sprackland Sleeping Keys
Colin McGuire As I Sit Quietly, I Begin To Smell Burning
(I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: McGuire is Scotland’s most underrated poet. Read it. Read it now.)

Gone Fission
(Photo credit)

SEPTEMBER

Fiction
Jennifer Egan The Keep
(She is the writer I would like to be. That said, this was not quite as sublime as Look at Me or Visit from the Goon Squad.)
Don DeLillo Underworld
(Holy crap this thing is a slog. Notice how I only got round to one other novel all year after this?! And sorry not sorry: it is so not worth it. It’s like Infinite Jest. The length of it is just male posturing (as is the dudebroish waxing lyrical about how this or Infinite Jest is like the totes best evar. So you read a long, smartypants book. Big whoop). Male GANs (Great American Novelists) have an obsession with size which just isn’t healthy. Stop it DeLillo, DFW, Franzen! You’re just showing off, dammit! My advice? Skip this one and read Cosmopolis. It’s the stunning DeLillo prose without the bullshit.)

Poetry
Katherine Larson Radial Symmetry

Reading Blue Horses by Mary Oliver
(Photo credit)

OCTOBER

Poetry
Austin Smith Almanac
(A poetry collection all about farms. Shouldn’t be good. Is amazing.)
Nancy Kuhn The Wife of the Left Hand
(This was less accessible/more abstract than I usually like, but this collection actually made me think differently about poetry. Gobsmacking!)
Mary Oliver Blue Horses
(New collection! And it’s delightfully “IDGAF” in tone. Mary Oliver, be my surrogate auntie?)
Matthew Dickman Mayakovsky’s Revolver
(Hipstery poems about Portland! Read it while drinking artisan espresso and twirling your moustache!)
Dionisio Martinez Bad Alchemy
(This dude has the best name ever.)

Untitled
(Photo credit)

NOVEMBER

Fiction
Michael Chabon Wonder Boys
(If you hate the fact that male novelists dominate the world of SRS LITERATURE and are often pompous windbags, then this book is for you. It’s about one of them getting a series of hilarious come-uppances. I actually LOLed in public at this book.)

Poetry
Thomas Lux Selected Poems
Kerry Hardie The Zebra Stood In The Night
(Another new collection I waited impatiently for… but this one did not disappoint.)
Alan Gillis Scapegoat
(I second what Dave said about this one.)
Leanne O’Sullivan Waiting for my Clothes
(I did Leanne O’Sullivan wrong. I had never heard of her and read The Mining Road, liked it well enough, but didn’t know til last month that in the early 2000s she’d been this 20 year old writing prodigy genius person. Holy wow.)

Marie Howe
(Photo credit. That’s Marie Howe, btw.)

DECEMBER

Poetry
Melissa Lee-Houghton Beautiful Girls
(Once upon a time, I published Melissa in my tiny, Xeroxed poetry zine Read This. I am so chuffed to see how far she’s come since then… she deserves all the praise, her poems are great.)
Marie Howe What The Living Do
Mary Oliver Dream Work
(I am an Oliver addict.)
Tiffany Atkinson So Many Moving Parts
Helen Dunmore Recovering A Body

Non-fiction

Robert Boice How Writers Journey to Comfort and Fluency: A Psychological Adventure
(This is long-winded as hell, out of print and a hard copy will rush you at least £60. But holy wow, it’s very, very, very useful.)

A few final stats:

Total fiction: 17
Total poetry: 32
Total non-fiction: 2

Books by men: 16 (7 fiction, 8 poetry, 1 non fiction)
Books by women: 35 (10 fiction, 24 poetry, 1 non fiction)

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What did YOU read this year?
(Related reading: my top 10 independent bookstores of 2014)

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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!

My Top 10 Independent Bookstores of 2014: a northward bookish road trip!

Monday, December 22nd, 2014

PhD grad weekend adventures (12)

Withnail Books, Penrith

Range of books? Excellent for such a small place.
Specialism? Lake District related, and all things Withnail & I.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Not really. A bit off the beaten track and hidden away in an antiques/restoration salvage yard! You’d be better off looking for Booths supermarket… it’s across the road from there!
Accessible? Accessible-ish… it’s ground level but in the middle of a salvage yard so there may be obstacles.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? There’s a vintage clothing store upstairs, and this aforementioned antiques salvage yard right outside which is also brilliant for a poke about in!

Beckside Books, Penrith

Beckside Books, Penrith

Range of books? Again, excellent for such a wee place.
Specialism? Lake District.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes, it’s in the centre of Penrith and well signposted.
Accessible? Partly — it’s on two floors with stairs to the first floor.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? It’s a place to find hidden gems… and it’s a very, very cute building.

Bookcase Books in Carlisle.  Place of dreams.

Bookcase, Carlisle

Range of books? Massive. This place is absolutely huge. You want it? They have it.
Specialism? Being unapologetically huge and maze-like.
Prices? Cheap (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes, although not signposted it’s two minutes from Carlisle’s market square and any local could direct you there.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No, but there’s a tea and coffee machine and lots of posters encouraging you to make use of it!
Best bit? I have been four times and still not seen it all. It’s that big.

Word Power Books

Word Power Books, Edinburgh

Range of books? Great. If I can’t find a book anywhere else, I can usually find it here.
Specialism? Politics, and Scottish writers.
Prices? Almost all the books are new, so RRP or above.
Easy to find? Yes.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Marshall, the friendly Rottweiler-cross who follows you around as you browse and appreciates a good scratch behind the ears!

Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh

Looking Glass Books, Edinburgh

Range of books? Modest, but carefully hand-picked. (I do sometimes find them hard to browse, though… there’s a funny categorising/display system going on!)
Specialism? Scottish writers.
Prices? All the books are new, so RRP.
Easy to find? Yes. Well signposted from Middle Meadow Walk!
Accessible? Fully! Go LGB!
Cafe? Yes.
Best bit? Vegan flapjack. Sorry not sorry!

Glasgow Aug 14

Alba Musick, Glasgow

Range of books? Surprisingly wide for a bookshop that calls itself a music shop!
Specialism? Music.
Prices? About right (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Nope. It’s in a yard behind some flats. Although if you know where the similarly-weirdly-placed Glasgow legend Tchai Ovna is, start there… it’s one yard over.
Accessible? Yes… although the yard outside is cobbled and sometimes cars park across the doorway.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Surprisingly excellent poetry section!

Glasgow Aug 14

Voltaire & Rousseau, Glasgow

Range of books? Very wide… but this bookstore is famous for having absolutely no logical cataloguing system whatsoever. If you’re looking for something specific, be prepared to rummage. For a long, long time.
Specialism? Intimidating, haphazard piles of books!
Prices? Cheap (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? See above. This one’s in the same yard as Tchai Ovna. Get off the Subway at Kelvinbridge and then ask someone!
Accessible? Theoretically, yes. Realistically, no.
Cafe? No, but the aforementioned Tchai Ovna is a couple of doors down.
Best bit? Rummaging.

Inverness 2014 (8)

Leakey’s, Inverness

Range of books? Huge! Although surprisingly little fiction and poetry in comparison to other stuff.
Specialism? Scottish travel/antiquarian.
Prices? A bit on the dear side (all the books are second hand).
Easy to find? Yes.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? Yes.
Best bit? Just hanging out in this place is really cool. It’s a converted church and every surface is covered with books. There’s also a woodburning stove!

Gairloch 2014 (2)

Hillbillies Bookstore and Trading Post, Gairloch

Range of books? Amazingly great, considering this place is down a 60-mile-long, single-track cul-de-sac in the Highlands.
Specialism? Politics / social science, book-related geeky gifts, and really, really good coffee.
Prices? All the books are new, so RRP.
Easy to find? Once you’re in Gairloch, yes. But first you must gird your loins and drive to Gairloch!
Accessible? Yes — although it’s split-level with stairs, both levels are accessible via their own outside doors.
Cafe? Oh hell yes.
Best bit? The place is papered with political slogan posters, and the cafe’s coffee is great. This place is basically like a little piece of North Beach, San Francisco… in Gairloch.

Thurso 2014

Tall Tales, Thurso

Range of books? Modest. It’s a wee place!
Specialism? None… but lots of Scottish titles.
Prices? Super cheap.
Easy to find? Yes, it’s in the middle of Thurso and Thurso is, well, pretty tiny.
Accessible? No.
Cafe? No.
Best bit? Tall Tales is the best thing about Thurso (although Thurso also has a surprisingly cosmopolitan health food store). Hooray!

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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!

My top 5 recommended Book Week Scotland events!

Wednesday, November 19th, 2014

FREE TO USE - BOOK WEEK SCOTLAND 2014 LAUNCH
(Photo by Ann Giles)

Book Week Scotland is only DAYS AWAY, you guys! It starts on Monday 24th November and has the power to fill your whole week with exciting reading-related fun and games! Does this sound like something you want to get involved in? Why, of course it does! But in case you feel overwhelmed, here’s a handy guide to my top 5 Book Week Scotland events of 2014:

1. Waverley Care’s Inside/Out exhibition at the Traverse Theatre Bar, Edinburgh, free to access from 25th November

In a nutshell, it’s: an open exhibition of art and writing by people affected by HIV and/or Hep C. For several months, Waverley Care has been engaging its service users with photography and creative writing, and the participants have been using these to respond to the question, “what is it like to live with a blood-borne virus?” This amazingly rich, eye-opening exhibition of photographs, poems, stories and journal entries is the result!

2. Creative Skills Exchange at Scottish Refugee Council, Glasgow, 10am on 26th November, free

In a nutshell, it’s: an opportunity for people with a background in the creative industries who would like to share their skills with others. Says SRC, “whatever your specialism, we would love to welcome you to our community.” For one half of this particular session, myself and some colleagues from Scottish Book Trust will be coming in to talk about creative map-making, so if that sounds like your cup of tea, please do come and join us!

3. Christine de Luca at Taigh Chearsabhagh, North Uist, 7.30pm on 27th November, free

In a nutshell, it’s: a poet you should absolutely go and see if you possibly can. I am a huge fan of Christine’s and always love to hear her perform her own work. Don’t be put off by the fact that this reading is “in the Shetland dialect,” which, says the event listing, “is a blend of Old Scots with much Norse influence.” Christine imbues her performances with such power and emotion that you understand perfectly even if you’ve never heard a word of Shetlandic in your life!

4. Scottish PEN Banned Books Club: Edwin Morgan’s ‘Stobhill’ poems, Project Cafe, Glasgow, 5.15pm on 28th November, free but ticketed

In a nutshell, it’s: me, leading a book-club-style discussion about this famous poem sequence. The poems tell the story of a young woman who is raped, and then has a late-term abortion. In the 1990s, a group of campaigners tried to have the poems banned from schools, calling them “pornographic.” We’ll be chatting about the poems themselves (it just so happens that I read them in school in the 1990s myself), as well as about the banning of literature and censorship in general. Places are limited, so sign up quick!

5. The Shore Poets vs Be The First To Like This Quiet Slam!, at Henderson’s at St John’s, 7.15pm on 30th November, £5/£3

In a nutshell, it’s: a smackdown between a few poets who were featured in recent anthology Be The First To Like This, and a few poets from elsewhere; an epic competition for fame, glory, and book tokens! OK, not really — it’s going to be a fun, silly, slam-style event where shyness, reading off paper, speaking quietly and making mistakes are encouraged, and slam virgins are warmly welcomed. There’ll be a merch table groaning with exciting books and Book Week Scotland freebies, a raffle in which you could win books, CDs, or our infamous lemon cake, and of course our usual warm Henderson’s welcome. I’ll be resuming my erstwhile role as Scotland’s Most Socially Awkward Literary MC, and hope to see you there!

You can easily search through all the events across Book Week Scotland by clicking right here! If you can’t attend any events but fancy getting involved in some online activities, you can do thinks like make a reading pledge, write a love letter to a library, or vote for your favourite Scottish literary character! Have a great week, and be sure to share what you’re up to by using the hashtag #BookWeekScot!

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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 should read this: “Be The First To Like This: New Scottish Poetry”

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

001

Forgive the dullness of my photographs, everyone. I am having a totally jam-packed week — working six and a half days — so the only time I could find to take pictures of this rather excellent book was about 7.45am. The sun was only just starting to come up so the light was crap, but I’d just got back from a wee holiday and was so excited to find this book waiting for me, I just had to share it asap!

003
^ Look! Robert Crawford has heard of me!

I was present at the StAnza Poetry Breakfast in 2009, when Stuart Kelly announced that the reason Scottish poets weren’t winning Eric Gregory Awards anymore was because Scotland didn’t have any poets under thirty who were talented enough. I was 23 at the time and halfway through my MSc in Creative Writing (Poetry) at the University of Edinburgh. I was also utterly baffled by his statement. At the time, I was surrounded by talented Scottish poets under thirty — and I was aware that my knowledge of the Scottish poetry scene wasn’t even that in-depth. Back then, I’d never heard of the Eric Gregory Award, but I got the gist that it was apparently the only yardstick worth using to measure a young poet’s potential. (A yardstick invented by the literary establishment south of the border, natch… though of course I drank the Kool-Aid anyway and subsequently entered it.)

002
^ Look mum, I’m famous!

Since then, Niall Campbell has of course broken the no-Scottish-poets-winning-the-Gregory streak, bagging one in 2011. (That guy sure does know how to write a ‘yardstick approved’ poem — in their Edwin Morgan Award judges’ report, Jen Hadfield and Stewart Conn called him “a safe pair of hands.” Thank goodness one of us Scots knows how to do this stuff!) But I still contend that Stuart Kelly was wrong in 2009. He mistook “young Scottish poets aren’t being noticed by the London-based literary establishment” for “young Scottish poets aren’t that good.” If only that were the reason, Stuart — if only.

In fact, young Scottish poets are great — and there are loads of us. We may not be doing the sort of work that wins Coveted Prizes from Established Institutions, but if anything, that makes us all the more exciting. Be The First To Like This, edited by Colin Waters and published by Vagabond Voices, is a hugely varied, deliciously riotous gathering-together of Scotland’s fearsome gaggle of new and upcoming voices. I’m utterly delighted and genuinely humbled to be part of this colourful crowd — and guess what? All the poets I’m joined by in this volume are SUPER FREAKING TALENTED.
(Pardon the swearing. It had to be done.)

004
^ Thanks to my talented baby sister for taking my classy author photo!

Some of my all-time faves are here. People whose writing careers I’ve been keeping an eye on for years, watching their stars slowly rise: Colin McGuire, Ryan Van Winkle, Marion McCready, Theresa Munoz. Some of the people here are not only talented poets but also, like me, gobby fighters for the rights of minority poets: I’ll admit, I’m thinking especially of the excellent Jenny Lindsay. Some folk I only discovered more recently, but I’m loving the fact that BTFTLT gives me chance to see more of their work: Nuala Watt, Sam Tongue, Billy Letford. And there are also names here that I didn’t know at all — I’m excited to make brand new discoveries!

Be The First To Like This proves for me, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Scotland is in fact a land rich in talented young poets. As the product description itself says, throw a stone in Edinburgh or Glasgow and you will hit one. Believe me? Buy the book. Don’t believe me? Still buy the book: you clearly need to be educated.

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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 should read this: “Furies, A Poetry Anthology of Women Warriors”

Monday, September 29th, 2014

Furies Poetry Anthology #FBSFuries

2014 is the year of the #ReadWomen2014 campaign. It’s sad that such a campaign exists in the twenty-first century, to be honest… how the heck can it be that we still live in a world where men who write are “writers,” but women who write are “female writers”? Just the other day, a friend of mine asked their Facebook friends for recommendations of poetry to read… and the first fifteen or so recommendations were all for male poets. When I queried this, one of the commenters responded, “well, [person who requested poetry] has just been through a binge of reading women, so I didn’t recommend any!” It’s a weird attitude, but it’s alarmingly common: most of the time you read, and then sometimes you read women.

It’s because of these bizarrely 1950s-style attitudes (and this is all before you get to the really depressing stuff, like the VIDA count or this, by the way) that I am always keen to get involved in projects that promote and encourage the work of women writers. Furies, the first ever poetry book from the brilliant all-female book-geek’s dream that is For Books’ Sake, is very much one such project.

This is the poetry of wronged and revolutionary women, the new verse that emerges when poets take a sinner and spin her anew. Here, Furies arise from history and myth to set the story straight once and for all. For many, the Lazarus trick spans only the space of a verse in which they tell their tale. The rest of the resurrection, the living on beyond the page, relies on the reader to keep telling and retelling, and then telling once more. Traditionally, ghosts haunt because they still have something left to say. This is their stage.

FURIES is the first poetry collection from For Books’ Sake, compiled following an open call for submissions that attracted over 700 entries from across the globe… all profits from the collection (a minimum of £5 per copy) will be donated to Rape Crisis England & Wales.

Furies Poetry Anthology #FBSFuries

Furies Poetry Anthology #FBSFuries

Furies features my poem Poltergeistrix, which you can also hear a recording of right here — and I get a rather lovely mention in the introduction. Always a little anthology bonus! If you want to read the whole poem — and of course, the many other fine poems by other women warriors! — you can order your copy of the anthology here.

Furies Poetry Anthology #FBSFuries

This is what a woman warrior looks like.
Apparently.

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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!

Need a writer? Book a writer! (& pick me!)

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

StAnza 2011 Preview
Photo by Chris Scott.

Have you ever fancied:

- organising a poetry reading?
- organising a reading of fiction?
- inviting a writer to come and speak at your community group?
- getting your youth group involved with creative writing?
- organising a talk about writing?
- having an author come and visit your book club?
- finding a really good judge for your slam?
- hiring a professional writer for just about anything at all?

Scottish Book Trust can help!
Right now, SBT is open for applications to its Live Literature Fund. This amazing, one-of-a-kind fund enables individuals and organisations to source a poet, author, storyteller or illustrator to take part in an event or events, and helps to pay them a proper fee. The Live Literature Fund has its own database of vetted writers and artists, each of them bringing a different skillset to the fore.

Applications for the latest round of Live Literature Funding close on 30th September, so if you fancy doing any of the above, get in there quick!

…and, if you’re stuck for a writer to invite, you could always pick me!

To date, I have:

- visited high schools and talked to students about all aspects of poetry, reading and writing
- worked with vulnerable adults (in settings like women’s support groups, homeless and vulnerably housed groups, and groups for intravenous drug-users), using poetry as a way to voice, share or move on from traumatic stories or experiences
- worked extensively with adult literacy groups to engage those who struggle with reading
- worked extensively with ‘reluctant readers,’ especially young men
- worked with refugees, asylum seekers and migrants to help them tell stories of home and homecoming
- judged many a poetry competition, and many a slam
- competed in many a slam, and won a few!
- taken part in panel discussions on all manner of things
- given talks on all sorts of stuff, from my PhD research into contemporary women’s poetry, to the strategies we need to adopt to get vulnerable individuals more involved in Scottish culture and the arts
- given hundreds of poetry readings to audiences ranging from four people in a field to an Edinburgh International Book Festival crowd!

I’m always up for a challenge, too, so if what you fancy doing doesn’t sound like anything you see listed there, that doesn’t mean I won’t be up for trying it. So if you successfully secure LLF funding (or even if you don’t, and find the funds from elsewhere!), feel free to drop me a line via claire [at] onenightstanzas.com, or you can follow my antics on Twitter. You can also read my profile on the Live Literature Database itself.

Good luck!

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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!

Seven pieces of writing advice from the speakers of The Business

Monday, May 26th, 2014

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (1)

Last week, I was extremely flattered to be invited to speak at The Business, an event run by the University of Edinburgh and hosted by their Writer in Residence Jenni Fagan. The event was designed for budding writers who were keen to know more about the ‘business’ side of being a writer. I was asked to speak alongside publishing megastars like Francis Bickmore and Jenny Brown (!!!), and my topic was, essentially “is a Creative Writing PhD right for you?”

I think my talk went OK: the best part about it was definitely making my supervisor, Alan — who was hiding at the back of the room — blush quite a lot as I talked about what a brilliant mentor he’d been. But much better than my barely coherent ramblings were the talks of the other speakers. I hand-picked some useful advice from each of them for your reading pleasure…

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (4)

1. Jenny Brown of Jenny Brown Associates, literary agent:

“Don’t write to trends.”

I’ve seen Jenny Brown speak on many occasions, and she always manages to make her advice to writers fresh and relevant to what’s going on in the book world at that very moment. However, this piece of advice is always in there and I think it’s something a lot of young novelists (in particular) need to hear. “You can never get on top of a trend,” she says, “because by the time you get your novel out there, you’ll have just missed it.” Instead, she advises, you should concentrate on writing a great novel that you love, and that your agent will love. “I don’t pick books based on genre, or based on whether or not I think they will be commercially successful,” Jenny said. “I mean, those things are factors, but at the end of the day if I love your book, that’s the main thing. All the books I’ve picked to represent, I have loved.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (6)

2. Chris Hamilton-Emery of Salt, publisher:

“We need more narrative non-fiction.”

Did you know that the market for non-fiction is far larger than the market for fiction? “Fiction is declining,” Chris revealed, and he picked up on a point that Jenny had made about her love of nature writing. “Jenny said she was disappointed not to see more nature books. I agree. I wish more young writers would break into non-fiction earlier.” He said that for every fifty novels that landed on his desk, he’d see only one non-fiction work. (He also mentioned poetry’s market share: less than 1% of the entire book market. But then, we knew that, right?)

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (8)

3. Francis Bickmore of Canongate, publisher:

“The hair shines with brushing.”

Francis gave his own seven rules for writers, all of which were great, but this was by far my favourite. He said it came from a friend of his, another publisher, who’d been listening to one of their writers moaning about how many edits they were needing to do on their novel. “The guy’s response was, ah yes, but the hair shines with brushing. The hair shines with brushing. I think it’s Flaubert or something, and it’s so true.” In other words, edit, edit, polish, edit, polish and then edit some more. Make your writing shine.

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (9)

4. Stuart Kelly of The Guardian and many other places, critic:

“If you’re not interested in writing a novel that changes what the novel is capable of, get out of the business.”

This was probably my favourite piece of advice from the entire event. It’s something I might nick, except I’d replace the word ‘novel’ with ‘poem.’ What Stuart was saying is that the best novels are the ones that really push the boundaries of the form: one of the audience members gave the example of Jennifer Egan’s Visit from the Goon Squad, which happens to be my favourite novel ever, and really does do what Stuart’s talking about. “It’s not enough to just mention Twitter here and there,” Stuart said. “I’m talking about really experimenting with what this form can do.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (10)

5. Peggy Hughes, of Dundee Book Festival, promoter:

“Perform your work in public.”

Peggy, aka the most-loved person in Scottish arts administration (no joke, she’s awesome) was in attendance to talk about the role of literary festivals in the writing business. She revealed that she routinely attends poetry readings, open mics and other literary events in order to scout for potential talent to book for her festival. “Go and read at these things,” she said. “You never know when someone like me might be sitting in the audience thinking, I should book this person.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (11)

6. Kevin Williamson of Neu! Reekie!, promoter:

“Embrace the improbable.”

Kevin’s talk was mostly about his whirlwind experience at the helm of the Creative Scotland-funded cabaret sensation that is Neu! Reekie! He talked about having his face put on a new whisky brand’s label, meeting Richard Hell and somehow managing to get Primal Scream to play at one of his gigs. But it wasn’t just half an hour of how cool Kevin Williamson’s life is: he also talked about how rewarding community work can be for writers, talking a bit about his experiences teaching the poetry of Robert Burns in Scottish prisons. “All the things that have happened to me have been pretty improbable,” he said. “When Neu! Reekie! started we had no idea where it was going to go. So just embrace it, just go with whatever comes to you.”

The Business writing event at Pleasance Cabaret Bar (12)

7. Jenni Fagan of the University of Edinburgh, writer:

“Pace yourself… and get off Facebook.”

Jenni is in the middle of developing her novel The Panopticon (which is good and you should read it, by the way) into a film script, so she fielded a lot of questions from the audience about that side of things. However, she warned that “98% of all films never get made,” and pushed the importance of focussing on the writing first and foremost. “I got off Facebook because I found that I was looking at things like the best way to peel a banana, and then from that I clicked on to a really cute photo of a koala bear… and then before I knew it I’d spent a whole hour and all I’d done was surf a bunch of crap.” She says writers ought to focus on removing anything from their lives “that takes you away from words,” but she also noted the value of pacing yourself, and knowing that everything does not happen at once. “I have this idea for another novel,” she said, “but I am pretty sure I won’t start writing it for maybe another five or ten years. You just have to let things take their course.”

Incidentally, if you have any questions about Creative Writing PhDs, keep an eye out for a post on the topic in the next little while!

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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!

One Night Stanzas Poetry Contest: the winners!

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

I’m very proud to announce the winners and runners-up in the 2013 One Night Stanzas poetry contest!
Grab a cup of tea, get comfy and have a read…

G-VLIP

RUNNER UP:
Branson’s Brother
by Joshua Seigal

Have you heard of Branson’s Brother?
He lives on an estate in Southgate, London,
owns no car nor hint of a career,
and scratches a living from a part-time job
in the grounds of a local school.
Branson’s Brother doesn’t have a wife
and, whilst not quite a virgin, enjoys
no intimacy with any other living soul.
He lingers awhile reading books at night,
quoting Kafka to the kids
in the playground the next day,
and stops to tie his brown suede shoes
on the steps of the local kebab shop.
From the window opposite his bed he sees
pigeons in the morning trees.
Branson’s Brother considers these:
flight means nothing and everything to him.

Aileen: Deep Blue

RUNNER UP:
Village of the Mermaids
by Penny Shutt

They come in droves, flopping
out of fearful waters;
smooth bellies against the shore
of the village.

In lustrous gowns, their salty tresses
combed out, they wait
for sailors,

their boats guided inland
by the eternal flames of the chimaera
ablaze against the darkening mountainside.

They sit, uniformly lining
The village’s only street,
hands primly folded
on gowns that hide the glint of scales.

Enfolding their fish-flesh
as they stare ahead,
hoping to be chosen
by sailors made uneasy

by the scaly replications
of their lustre.
Not knowing which mermaid to take
to the room behind, to be lain

like a pike on a slab;
globular eyes pointed at blank ceilings.
Except they will not flounder or thrash,
or bare jagged teeth.

But will lie disquietingly still
in silent pursuit of a soul,
to later return to the glistening waves,

as silvery water rises to immerse
opalescent eyes
whilst unreturned souls
burn bright on the hillside.

Shimano

HIGHLY COMMENDED:
My Bike Squeaks Like an Old Bridge
by Dan Dowe

My bike squeaks like an old bridge,
some wooden planked arch,
that drivers must pray while driving over.
And the clack when I shift gears,
just like the old typewriters when the keys,
tired from years of striking,
would bind up together in a metallic jam.
But it’s red and shiny, a Schwinn,
like the one my brother ditched in the cellar,
only this one is new, from L.L. Bean.

I have difficulty riding it slowly.
My legs always want to pump faster.
I want wind and yards passing by,
like I’m always late for supper,
and I’m still blocks from my mother’s voice.
My hands leave the steady handlebars,
With a teenage casualness or summer confidence.
With arms like a crucifix, I’m balanced,
a graceful cowboy or skier,
Leaping off a jump into blazing whiteness.

Rabbit Run

SECOND PRIZE:
Running
by Tracey S Rosenberg

When the dog ran past
we were in my front yard –
Jimmy, Lizbeth-Ann, Ketchum and me.

Jimmy was standing on his head, forcing
the world upside-down with ground for a sky.
Lizbeth-Ann’s skirt hiked up as she bent over
to plant blades of grass in a dirt garden.
I kicked and kicked the porch steps
wondering if you could make a road stretch forever
by making your feet never stop.

The dog loped by, tongue flapping,
a stinky happy goldeny kind of dog.
It never looked at us, just swung its matted tail
like it was running to be someone’s dog
and if it was one minute late they’d know it was a deep down bad dog
and beat it with a wooden spoon
so hard they’d splinter
the spoon across its back.

Ketchum started to cry.

Jimmy flipped himself up, grabbed his hunting knife.
Was that Old Man Graham’s dog?

Naw, I lied. Old Man Graham’s got a mean old dog with three teeth.
Two more teeth than Old Man Graham’s got.
I never saw that dog before.

Lizbeth-Ann stumbled out to the road – a little slow, like her mother.
She stared like she stares when she thinks
maybe her daddy’s coming home.
Someone make that dog get back here right now.

Jimmy pointed his knife.
It’s my dog.
I’ll kill anyone who hurts it.

We all squinted till the shadows down the road
stopped looking like a dog.

Lizbeth-Ann decorated her garden with stones.
Jimmy stabbed his knife into the dirt.
Ketchum dropped down on all fours and howled.

I watched the road,
praying that dog would never turn around,
wondering how it ever got away from Old Man Graham
and when it would ever stop running.

260 creepy woods

FIRST PRIZE:
We Find A Severed Thumb In The Woods
by Michael Conley

The thumb nestles
in a pile of wet leaves,
real as a joke thumb.

Lying either side of it,
we play
who dares get their tongue closest.

Interesting, this cleanly carved flesh,
this pea sized dot
of crosssectioned bone.

It mightn’t be a thumb after all;
could be a stubby finger.
It’s hard to tell

without the context of a hand.
You are winning; your tongue
is practically touching it. Why

do we always end up
competing like this?
We are grown men.

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(Photo credits: one, two, three, four, five)

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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!