Archive for December, 2008

In 2008, I…

Tuesday, December 30th, 2008

So guys, if you’ve been following this blog with any kind of regularity, you’ll know that I am a HUGE believer in the power of positive thinking — and KARMA! I genuinely reckon that if you focus on the positives and make time to say thanks for the breaks the Universe hands you, you’ll not only be happier, you’ll automatically get more of those good breaks. Call me insane if you want, but this is the thinking behind my Things I Love Thursday posts… and here’s some “thanks, Universe”-thinking on the grand scale. This is basically my Things I Love 2008 list, so without further ado, here goes! IN 2008, I…

— Wrote a huge, spiralling dissertation on the early works of poet and personal guru Allen Ginsberg… which got a first!

— Became a tutor of English, Creative Writing and Drama, and had the priviledge of guiding nine smart, sweet and talented young people from bad grades to brilliance in the space of one academic term… I was so, so proud of them all.

— Won three writing prizes: The Grierson Verse Prize, The Sloan Prize for Writing in Lowland Scots Vernacular, and the Lewis Edwards Award for Poetry… totalling £1,900.

— Performed at my first ever poetry reading… in front of a room full of terrifying academics at the University of Edinburgh!

— Went on to do a huge tour of the Edinburgh poetry readings, appearing at Poetry at the Great Grog, Golden Hour (twice!), MeadowsFest, the Scottish Arts Club, Voxbox and the West Port Book Festival.

— Turned 22 and celebrated at my sister’s house in Newcastle (Italian food, pub, vintage stores, late night chattering), then went on holiday with The Boy to a tiny remote cottage on the plateau above Scarborough, cold, windy, wild and amazing.

— Kept my literary magazine running, celebrated the first six months with a huge and fabulous poetry reading

— Sat my final exams

— Started learning the art of poi!

— Spent a sweet long weekend in the Lake District with The Boy, exploring bookstores, drinking great beer, buying records and crazying about on open top buses.

— Attended a huge end-of-degree bash at which all my tutors got riotously drunk and several risked some serious impropriety! Hilarious!

— Graduated with Honours from my MA in English Literature… dress-buying, first haircut in seven years (!!), robe fittings, huge ceremony in the devastatingly grand McEwen Hall, photoshoot, afternoon tea at the Balmoral Hotel, sunset champagne on the beach = the. best. day. ever.

— Went to see the amazing Mr Eric Clapton at a one-off gig in the grounds of Harewood House… a beautiful balmy summer evening, The Boy and his lovely Dad at my side, a beer in my hand, and 200,000 other crazy fans all singing along… perfect.

— Spent a month living in Victoria, Canada with my Boy. I met the beautiful and talented Miriam Parker, swam in the Pacific Ocean, slept under the stars in a field full of elk, ate the most amazing food, drank loads of great beer, got tattooed for the first time (and started a lifelong love affair, I reckon!), read a huge stack of books, wrote some great poems, loved every minute.

— Went on an awesome road-trip / caravanning extravanagza with my poet besties… campfires, castles, hiking, lake-paddling, beer-drinking, marshmallow-toasting, song-writing, poem-writing, mixtape-making, open-top-bus-riding, up-late-staying loveliness.

— Won the William Sharpe Hunter Memorial Scholarship for Creative Writing… worth £4600!

— Was Poet in Residence at the 4th Annual London Poetry Festival; read at and compered the event for a run of three nights.

— Made my first ever trip to London (really!); spent a long weekend there with my sister, being crazy on the Tube, bouncing on hotel beds, eating sandwiches and being mobbed by pigeons, exploring Leicester Square and falling in love with Camden Town.

— Enrolled (thanks to the scholarship!) on the University of Edinburgh’s MSc in Creative Writing.

— Set up my own blog (you’re reading it) with loads of support, brilliant submissions, great reviews and incredible reader-contributions. I love you guys so so much! Thank you!!

— Teamed up with gorgeous artist Lizzy Stewart for the “Two Heads” creative writing/illustration project… more info soon!

— Was interviewed by Jim! Hardest interview questions EVER, but worth it!

— Worked as a Poetry Terrorist for the opening week of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Scottish Poetry Gardens.

— Spent Halloween stalking the Newcastle suburbs dressed at Medusa, alongside Black Frost, Sweeney Todd and a very vampish Helena Bonham-Carter!

— Celebrated the first birthday of Read This in huge style with an amazing poetry-and-music bash and a special, beautiful anniversary issue!

— Watched on in joy and with huge pride (up until 6am, and so worth it!) to see Barack Obama elected as President of the United States.

— Watched on in further joy as the truly legendary Lewis Hamilton became the first black Formula 1 Champion, the youngest ever Formula 1 champion, and basically the luckiest ever Formula 1 champion… nail biting! (yep… closet motorsport geek!)

— Became Poetry Co-ordinator for forthcoming poetry-and-film festival “this collection.”

— Was employed as a Fiction Reader for the James Tait Black Memorial Prize… a stack of free books to read, and paid to do it? Hells yeah!

— Was offered a book deal by the lovely Kevin Cadwallender of Red Squirrel Press… and accepted! My first collection will be available soon! Eeee!

Publications in 2008: Pomegranate Issue 3 // The Journal // The Herald Newspaper // Poet’s Letter Magazine // The Delinquent Issue 5 // Dash Literary Journal Issue 1 // Snakeskin, May ’08 // The 4th Annual London Poetry Festival website The Edinburgh Review 123 // Scottish Poetry Library Reading Room // Poetry News Summer ’08 // Gloom Cupboard Issue 43 // Bottom of the World Issue One // Textualities // Bolts of Silk // BBC Radio Scotland: Days of our Lives // Poetry Scotland Issue 57 // Spark Bright Issue 1 // The Positivity Blog a handful of stones // The Scottish Poetry Library’s 20 Best Poems of 2008 Anthology

I seriously recommend that you make a huge long list of all the cool stuff you’ve done in the past year. It can be something as trivial as writing a poem you were really proud of or something as massive as winning the lottery. Everyone’s list is different but we all have things to celebrate and be thankful for… so try it! It’s seriously cathartic!
(and, of course, link back if you can. I am Little Miss Nosy!)

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Featured Poet McGuire Interviewed.

Saturday, December 20th, 2008

You can see McGuire’s poetry here and here, and I hope you’ll also visit his blog. Here, you can learn more about his life, work, and creative processes… plus, scroll down for another of his poems.

Tell us about your poems.
What: I am a playful poet but also a dark artificer. I write about everyday life, the hundreds of characters we meet, as well as psychiatric darkness. I write informal poetry, filled with flights of fancy, keen observations, philosophy — so anything that snags on my muse or strikes out to me in curiosity or unexpected coincidence. Erratic and temperamental, what I write is ignited with an almost nervous, kinetic energy, if my poems could jump or dance or be drank down in one gulp they would.
Why do I write: because I once went into my mother’s underwear draw and discovered a letter at the bottom which revealed family secrets, real and true. This embodies to some extent need to write and my long literary obsession with secrecy and honesty. I want to write what has been left unsaid, what has been hidden from sight; I want to find private letters beneath underwear smothered in private truth.
How do I write? Dare, I say, I take notes. I write rather slapdash and sporadically. That’s how I approach most of my writing. Write first, think later. I write in bursts of nervous energy, frenzied sessions of typing and diatribe, followed (perhaps days or weeks later) by precise reform and edit. I don’t like to butcher the poem with correction. As Sir Walter Scott reminds ‘many a clever boy is flogged into a dunce and many an original composition corrected into mediocrity.’ I’m not saying I’m great or original simply that I like the unpolished feel of my poetry, down to earth, never seeking professionalism. I like my poetry like my prawns – raw.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve been scribbling for decades. The first story I wrote was in primary school, titled, ‘The Giant Bigg Bigg’, it was a short story about a Fox trying to outwit and evade capture from two large intimidating giants. After writing it, I got out the yellow pages and phoned the first publisher I came too, needless to say, when my call was answered, I was left hanging on the line in silence for quite some time. I’m still holding.

Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
I have one publication to my name and I produced it with the help of a man named John Couzin. I was bound at Clyde Side Press. John Couzin is an informative guy from Glasgow who is a self-made anarchist historian; a fountain of knowledge on political individuals and movements in Glasgow. I’m glad I met him when I discovered one of his books in Borders books.
The collection of some 90 poems and short stories was written over the last six or seven years. I call it my ‘juvenilia’ because it is quite simply that. I don’t mean to rubbish it; simply that it contains most of the poems I wrote in my formative years, before maturity, dare I concede. I mean the first thirty copies were riddled with errors (in fact, that might make a better title) but that didn’t annoy me, it seemed highly appropriate. I write about errors as well as being in error. I have much to write about, much to learn, much to live, and crystallise the word with the intention.

What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Creating my first book ‘Important Nonsense: Scraps from a Glaswegian immaturity’; I had been threatening to do it for years. It was encouraging to finally combine my young poems into an appropriate book. It’s a modest little number. But a good start.
I also managed to get my poem ‘Pancakes’ accepted into the ‘Ranfurly Review’ next year, and I hope that comes to conclusion.
I would like to get involved in reading poetry (God forbid), even just to give it a try, it’s the next stage. I’m a slow burner. I could have jumped into reading poetry but I’ve always stayed clear of it. Partly out of cowardice, partly because I’m not ready yet, I still have to get a lot of ‘doggerel’ out of my system.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
Variety! You can write about anything in a poem, you can write a poem in which ever way you see fit, approach a poem any way you like, and then sculpt from there. It’s lightness of touch as a form, its quickness. To say in a few verses or stanzas, what many say in three hundred pages. But, I’m lazy; I want to write in a way that is approachable, dishevelled, yet engaging.
I also like the confessional aspect of poetry, the confessional box, where you tell it all in various disguises and masquerading. Be shameless and startlingly honest. As well as, simply writing to record life, people, city, sky; all that madness. It’s a great thing to read all these lives opening up before you, in secret.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
Someone said it better perhaps: ‘if you’re going to go, go all the way, if not, don’t even start’. I don’t think I’m wise enough to spout advice to anyone but I’ll try in note form: Write about what you experience. Experience what you write. Be brutally honest. Do not avoid learning craftsmanship, form. Keep taking notes. Avoid confirming your own bias, seek criticism, and do not dismiss perspectives which are in opposition to your own.

Who/what influences your poetry?
Everything can influence it, wherever the muse may take me, Amen. Privately, as I have a thing for secrets, the private hells and skeletons-in-the-closet, the human shadow. I am fascinated by the human shadow, what darkness lurks in the mind. As a Scottish poet, Thomas A. Clark once question, ‘Who has the courage to go into the dark places where there is nothing but feeling?’ Naively, I imagine, I have a certain amount of courage to face dark places.
Moving away from the psychiatric, I love to write in affirmation of life, as lofty as that sounds, in comic or absurd manner, (lending from the Dadaists or the Surrealists, dare I say, irrationalists). I love to indulge in whim, word play, mock seriousness, farce and scribble. There is a duel edge: psychiatric darkness and seriousness juxtaposed with the spirit of e.e Cummings.
The lives of all the people I encounter in Glasgow in many ways influence me; encourage me to keep on writing, about everyday life, and the chaos and absurdity in the average person.
The poets that influence me are equally important. I started off reading the War Poets. Perhaps odd beginnings really, most discover Ginsberg or Blake or Robert Burns. But, I was sucked in by Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, and a whole host of unknown war poets. I had a typical boyish fascination with war (private secret wars, whether across the globe, or at home, in the wardrobe). I dabbled in imitating the war poets when young and that’s were it all began; in war fantasy!
Years later, as I grew away from being a teenager, I was soon awoken on earth by the almost conversational poetics of (Mainly American) Bukowski, e.e. Cummings, Walt Whitman, Charles Simic, Roger McGough, Pablo Neruda to name only a few. It amazed me. It was so readable, approachable, and understandable. (And, I was never one to shun so called ‘difficult’ poetry). They wrote in a way that seemed to deal with the ‘six inches in front of your face’. And that ethos of ‘everyday poetry’ for the commonality of life has stuck with me and informed all of my writing.
What is left to say? I’m young. I’m determined. I want to put the words to use. I want to read aloud. I have a long to way to go. I’ll see you in the future.

As we see it

My brother and I used to pull down
large writing pads from the shelves
and he would draw a precise earth
and I would scribble bright colours
over the page. We were both drawing
the world in different sizes.

If YOU want to be a Featured Poet, send me an email, and include no less than three of your poems, to

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More from this week’s Featured Poet: McGuire

Friday, December 19th, 2008

You’ve already met McGuire and read one of his poems, and you can find out more about his creative processes when I interview him tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s another of his poems…

Summer Biscuits

Five children sun about in the sun,
searching for their mother
who has fallen asleep in the
back garden with slight sunburn.
They will sneak into the kitchen
and steal three biscuits from the biscuit tin.

Want to see YOUR poems featured here? Send me an email with a sample of your work — no less than three pieces — to!

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This week’s Featured Poet: McGuire

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

McGuire: “A thin 26 year old Glaswegian man, touch giddy in the head, sometimes poet of mangled form and dirty prose, sporadic drummer, drunken grammarian, waffler, painter using crayons, lover, hater, learner, teacher, pedestrian, provocateur, wanderer, confronter of shadows, irritating whine. Studied global politics at Caledonian University, has worked a colourful mish mash of menial jobs(postman/salmon farmer/), been writing articles for freepress for years, but now focuses most of his time teaching TESOL in the city of Glasgow. Has been writing poetry for best part of twenty years. He has just produced a book of poetry and short stories called ‘Important Nonsense: scraps from a Glaswegian immaturity.’
He intends to start reading when he gets over his fear.”
McGuire blogs at Notes from a Glaswegian Immaturity.


Little bird
upon the branch
you have no
National Insurance
number and that
is beautiful.
You fly, live die
and cannot be arrested.

(This poem also appeared in Read This Issue 13)

Want to see YOUR poems featured here? Send me an email with a few poems — no less than three — to I always like to hear from you so get scribbling!

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Featured Poet Lucy Baker: Interviewed!

Monday, December 15th, 2008

(OK, Lucy was actually last week’s FP… I’ve been away doing my Christmas visit to all my relatives. My apologies! Normal service will now be resumed!)
Lucy is a former Read This editor and a California-based poet with a Beat Generation obsession. You can see her poems here and here… now learn a bit more about her creative process!

Tell us about your poems.
I suppose I’m a bit of a narcissistic poet. I rarely write from anyone’s point of view but my own. Many poets are like that though, so at least I’m not the only one! I think my writing process explains a lot about the type of poetry that I write. My poems are never pre-meditated. I am usually walking down the street or sitting in a café and some crazy line pops into my head, and I formulate my poem around that. Sometimes when I’m done editing, the line I started with isn’t even in my poem anymore, but I need that burst of inspiration to actually get down to the business of writing. Because of this my poems tend to be about what I’m doing at the time, or a memory that I’ve been mulling over for a while. I’m not very good at writing from other people’s (or inanimate objects’) points of view.

My poems are quite flowery, and they are the sort of thing that look much better written in my big curly writing. I think that you can never have too many adjectives (which is such a poetic faux pas in so many people’s books), but I think they make everything sound better. English is not a hugely expressive language, so I like to create strings of adjectives, and then substitute different words, until I get the exact meaning I want.

My poems are fairly unstructured, and I love playing around with words much more than meter or stanza length etc. Experimenting with combinations of words to create new meanings is usually a part of my writing process. For example, I think ‘winterpavement’ sounds a lot cooler than ‘icy sidewalk’…although I’m sure lots of people disagree! I write poetry because I love the beauty of a poem on paper, and the extra meaning that a poem creates with line breaks and the shapes of stanzas. While I enjoy prose just as much as poetry, reading and writing poetry is such an experience, because of the many different factors that go into creating a poem.

How long have you been writing?
I’ve only been writing for a short time, about two and a half years. I wrote quite a lot of funny little poems when I was very young, but I gave that up as we stopped learning about poetry in school.

Do you have any publications to your name? What’s the next stage for your work?
I’ve been published in Read This, of course, as well as Edinburgh University’s Journal, and I was Poet in Residence on Poet’s Letter in May of this year.

I’m not really sure what the next stage is going to be for my work. As much as I love writing, I am much more interested in the editing side of things, and so have been concentrating much more on that recently. My work is suffering as a result, I haven’t written anything new in ages!

What do you think is your biggest poetic achievement to date?
Probably managing to read in front of a huge rowdy crowd at Read This’ six month anniversary. Also, showing my work to my family and other friends who don’t read poetry very much. I think poetry still has a stigma of being a bit of an ‘uncool’ thing to do, and it is also intensely personal, so it’s a bit scary to show your poems to a friend who is not really interested in that type of thing, and find that they actually enjoy reading them.

What’s the best thing about writing poetry? And the worst?
I think the best thing about writing poetry is that feeling you get after completing a poem. When you feel golden, like you’ve somehow managed to take a little slice off the world and pin it onto your paper.

And the worst…writer’s block! Definitely. I hate trying to write a poem and having everything that I write down be utterly horrible or being completely unable to write anything.

Got any suggestions for young, upcoming poets?
READ! Please! Pick up everything you can get your hands on and read it, write down bits you like, whatever, just take it in somehow. Jack Kerouac (and a million other writers I’m sure) used to carry a little notebook with him everywhere, and write down good lines that came to him, interesting things that people said, lines from books, etc. If you really like a certain song lyric, write it down. Then, write a poem about it, or why you like it, or what it makes you think of. The amount of times I’ve had some amazing burst of poetic inspiration and not been able to write it down have been too many to count. Allow inspiration to come to you from any source and go with it.

Also, don’t get too bogged down with ‘rules’ about meter or words or whatever. If everyone did that, poetry would never move forward. Write what makes sense to you, and stick with it. Of course, listen to suggestions that friends, teachers, and workshop mates have to make about your poetry, but don’t do anything to your poems that you think will change their essence, or are really against what you’re trying to achieve.

Finally, join a workshop or read your poems to friends. The best thing you can do is get your poems out there for other people to see. Workshops are also a fantastic place to get inspiration for your own poems, as you will be exposed to tons of different writing styles.

Who/what influences your poetry?
I have way too many favourite poets to name, but as a group, my favourite writers are the Beats, specifically Diane di Prima. Her poems really changed my idea about what poetry is. Her word choice and conversational style create incredibly haunting poems about her experiences of being marginalized by society and other writers in the fifties. I think it is encouraging that she was successful in a generation when she was doing something different from all of the other poets, most of whom were male.

However, I think the biggest influences to my poetry are my peers, the friends who write poetry. Being part of a supportive group and having an outlet for my poems has been the greatest factor in improving my poetry.

Small Town Life

We lived the clichés
of football games on
Friday nights, Cougar
cheerleaders shivering in
exhilaration and the players’
steely concentration as we
huddled together beneath
blankets, sharing each
other’s warmth.

Of creeping to the drugstore
to buy condoms for the first time
with your then-boyfriend,
and meeting your neighbour
or psych teacher at the checkout.
Steamy cars on Mulholland Ridge,
evidence for gossips the next day.
It’s true what they say about
everyone knowing your business.

Of Friday nights at
Nation’s Diner, french
fry missiles and coca-
cola straw wrappers
wriggling on the table.
And Loard’s ice cream
in the summer, peppermint
stickiness dripping on toes,
sugary grins shared
with the best.

Of dancing under the
tangerine fluorescence
at the Rheem,
blacktop slick with
rainwater and our
disco ball reflections
scattered in car mirrors.
Huddled hugs under the lights,
dizzy kisses exchanged.

Of fireworks from Tijuana,
set off in the JM parking
lot with only giggles for
company. Laughter that
turned to adrenaline shrieks
as we ran through beer
bottles and used blunts in
the creek, escaping the
sirens of the Mo-Po.

Of scooters and running
shoes, wings at midnight,
Of grass flecked memories,
the world tumbling over
the hill at The Commons.
Of friends who have known you
Since spandex and side-ponytails,
Of Easy-Mac nights and
sticky sweet Johnny’s mornings.

This is what small town life is really like.

Want to be the next Featured Poet? Drop me a line and include some poems — no less than three — to!

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More from Featured Poet Lucy Baker

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

You’ve already seen one of Lucy’s poems, and hopefully you’ve checked out her deviantART page, too. I’ll be posting her interview in the next couple of days, but in the meantime here’s one of my all-time favourite poems of hers…


I want to curl myself around you fetus-like
a sad approximation of your lost child
I’ll lead him from the turtle depths
to show you his eyes his ears he’s healthy
living, grooving somewhere
I’ll pull him from the bloody deep
hold him in your palms your womb
I’ll try to show you it’s alright to live
(though you know well enough yourself)
take you to the difference where the heart beats
our woman hands entangled I will try to hold you
knot us together with faerie strings
of cerise gold hair
You’ve forgotten him but I remember
I’m waiting for you to speak.

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This week’s Featured Poet: Lucy Baker

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008

OK, the Featured Poet posts are back! And I’m really excited to introduce you to the poetry of Miss Lucy Baker, former Read This editor, San Francisco Beat babe and dear friend of yours truly.
Lucy and I met about three years ago on a creative writing course, and I loved her poetry from the start. Lucy is an expert on the female writers of the Beat Generation, and her work is very much inspired by the likes of Joyce Johnson and particularly Diane Di Prima. She injects a shot of pure California sunshine (Lucy is a native of the Lamorinda suburbs of San Francisco) into everything she writes and her descriptions and word choice are always sweet and elegant. Lucy’s work has featured in The Journal newspaper and she was also a Featured Poet for Poets Letter Magazine. You can check out more of her work over at her deviantART gallery.

Lake Windermere

We are sometime tourists,
forever wanderers
in open topped buses
tie-dyed amongst Mercedes’.
Stringy haired,
smelling of campfire smoke,
our pockets filled with menthol cigarettes,
tin whistles,
and skipping stones.
We find ourselves
basking in the glow of laughter
under the dripdrip
of cave music.
Beers and sticky chocolate bars
fill our tattered canvas bags,
alongside leather flip flops,
discarded for bare footed expeditions
amongst spiders
bloodchilling streams
and daisy chains.

Want to see YOUR poems featured here?? Send a few — at least three — to, with a little ‘hello!’, and I’ll consider ’em!

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