Posts Tagged ‘you should read this’

You should read this! Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism anthology

Monday, April 6th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be invited to Glasgow Women’s Library’s brilliant Mixing The Colours Conference 2015. Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism is a groundbreaking project, which has been running for about two years now, funded by the Scottish Government and designed to get women talking about one of Scotland’s most taboo subjects. The conference was an amazing day of discussion, performance and ideas, but importantly, it was also the launch-day of the project’s amazing anthology of women’s writing.

I’ve also been working on a project designed to tackle sectarianism: until just a few days ago, when the project reached completion, I was the Project Co-Ordinator for Scottish Book Trust’s graphic novel project Walk The Walk. I worked reasonably closely with staff from Mixing The Colours throughout that project, and so came to see clearly the various ways in which women’s voices have traditionally been erased from discussions about sectarianism.

Think about it for a second. When you read a newspaper article about a story relating to sectarianism, what is the accompanying photo usually of? Chances are, a stand full of male football fans. Perhaps a line of police personnel in their yellow jackets. There might be the odd female face or two if you squint closely, but traditionally, sectarianism in Scotland is considered a “men’s issue,” and all too often, seen as synonymous with football. I’m sure you’ll agree that this hurts men as well as women.

Thankfully, we now have the truly amazing Mixing The Colours: Women Speaking About Sectarianism anthology to add to the conversation. It features poetry, memoir, fiction and drama, all exploring individual women’s responses to their experiences of sectarianism. My favourite story is ‘Paddy,’ written by Ethyl Smith — a bittersweet tale of a young girl who is unwittingly caught up in the sectarianism that exists between two of her adult neighbours, all because she wants to be friends with a wee dog. But every piece in the book is brilliant, and important, and merits reading, re-reading and sharing.

You can get a look at the book by heading over to Glasgow Women’s Library’s stunning new(ish) home in Bridgeton, Glasgow. GWL is located in what was once the Bridgeton Men’s Reading Room, which I find rather delicious. The Mixing The Colours team have also been steadily gathering a collection of other resources that examine women’s reactions to sectarianism, so while you’re there, you can browse the whole lot.

Finally, the Mixing The Colours film gives a taster of what’s inside the book, and as you can see from my conference notes above, gives plenty of food for thought! Here’s a trailer:

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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: Hallelujah for 50ft Women

Tuesday, March 31st, 2015

Content note: discussion of sex essentialism.

If you know me at all, then you know I like a good women-only space. I’m currently teaching on the brilliant all-female fiction writing course Write Like A Grrrl!; Making It Home was an almost entirely all-female endeavour; and although I love working with folks of all genders, there’s something a bit special about getting a room full of self-identifying women together and seeing what they can achieve.

For that reason, I am pretty excited to have a poem in the brand new Bloodaxe anthology Hallelujah for 50ft Women, which is edited by the [in]famous female performance troupe Raving Beauties. It’s a pretty stunning looking book, as I’m sure you’ll agree — I’m loving the purple colour, and the typefaces!

The theme of the book is ‘women talking about their relationship(s) with their bodies,’ and my poem, ‘High School,’ is kind of about body dysmorphia, kind of about female competition, but also kind of about the fact that I knew a bunch of really bitchy girls when I was a teenager. I was pretty gobsmacked that it got picked, and even more gobsmacked when I saw it included alongside such truly legendary poets as Lucille Clifton, Jean ‘Binta’ Breeze, Sharon Olds and Grace Nichols. Also in there are Warsan Shire, who’s everywhere at the moment and seemingly exceptionally cool, and Patricia Lockwood, of the brilliant — and mega-viral — poem Rape Joke.

I’d really encourage you to buy this book for the truly wide-ranging variety of poetic voices therein. The poets in here are some talented women and their work deserves reading. However, I feel I must apologise to my trans, genderqueer and non-binary friends for some of the content from the introduction. I’m sure it wasn’t intended to be read as essentialism, but I did feel a bit queasy about the “all women have c*nts” overtones in there. I mean, yay for female bodies, and yay let’s not be squeamish about them! But had it been my introduction to write? I’d've been underlining the important fact that not all women’s bodies look or behave in the same ways, or have the same bits.

Happily, I believe the poems themselves make it only too clear that women’s bodies are all different, and all awesome — in fact, they’re awesome in their differentness to one another. Have a read! You might well discover a new favourite female poet!

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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: 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!

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

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

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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!

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^ 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.)

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^ 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.)

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^ 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: “Aquarium” by Michael Conley

Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Aquarium

OK, that name sounds familiar.

It should! Michael is a ONS regular — I’ve been a big, big fan of his work ever since I first saw it years ago in my submissions pile for Read This Magazine. Since then, he’s had work appear in Read This Press’ 2011 anthology Starry Rhymes: 85 Years of Allen Ginsberg (and read at our launch!); been a ONS Featured Poet, and won the inaugural 2013 One Night Stanzas Poetry Contest. (I promise it was anonymously judged… just in case this all feels a bit too much like favouritism!)

So who is this dude?

He lives in Manchester, where he works as a teacher. He recently finished his MA in Creative Writing from Manchester Metropolitan University, which is, I think, the department where Martin Amis teaches, meaning Michael here is pretty brave. He lists Kurt Vonnegut, Selima Hill, Elizabeth Bishop and John Berryman among his writing influences.

Aquarium

And what’s so great about “Aquarium”?

Well, as I say in the wee blurb that appears on the back of the book (look Mum, I’m famous!), Michael’s poems can be incredibly dark — but they’re also, at times, extremely funny. Usually both at the same time, which shouldn’t really be possible and clearly takes a heck of a lot of skill. One of my favourite poems, “Cartoonist,” tells the story of a political cartoonist, living in the midst of some unnamed conflict, listening to her door being beaten down. “Last time, they broke almost all of her fingers,” the poem tells us, whilst also letting us know that the cartoonist’s most famous work is called “The Emperor Of The Soiled Underpants. / The Insurgency had them printed on t-shirts.”

There’s also poignancy in these frightening-but-funny vignettes: in the pamphlet’s title poem, I found myself actually feeling sad about the fate of a goldfish. The poem is about a man whose stomach somehow turns into an aquarium, complete with “a tiny sandcastle.” One of the resident fish, Sylvia, disappears through a crack that opens up: “He is sent home with a roll of masking tape.” It’s hilarious, but also genuinely tragic.

OK, you’ve convinced me. Where do I get this book?

Right here! I believe you can also contact Michael directly via his Facebook to request a copy.

Aquarium

So I suppose you’re going to tell me that young Michael here is the Next Big Thing In British Poetry, aren’t you? A Distinctive New Voice? One Of The Most Exciting Voices In Britain’s Latest Crop Of Blah Blah Blah?

I hate those icky soundbites as much as the next person, trust me. These days, I see them on the backs of people’s books and wince — or laugh, depending on how good a mood I’m in. And yes, they get attached to poets whose work doesn’t really deserve it, or to poets whose work is only so “promising” because they went to Cambridge and made friends with all the right people. However! Mr Conley is the real deal. There are no airs about his poetry. It’s not trying to be trendy, it hasn’t been in Poetry Review, but that’s what makes it awesome. It’s genuinely original and properly engaging — it’s poetry that pretty much anybody could enjoy. It’s also deftly edited, thoughtful, and self-aware. And if you ask me, that makes it Rather Freaking Special. There. Take that soundbite and stick it on something.

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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!