Four poems published this August

I’ve had four poems published this month – if that seems a high success rate, you should see the number of rejections on my submissions spreadsheet! My success rate ain’t that great, if you look at the bigger picture. The trick is to keep sending poems out, as advocated by Jo Bell . Keep writing new poems, and keep sending poems out.

So this is the first in an occasional series of posts How I came to write …

Scrabble deluxe, which you can read in The North 60. This is one of my party pieces, and I’m delighted to see it in print. It harks back to my teenage years in the 1980s and painful inter-generational family games of Scrabble, in which we passive-aggressively mirrored our political stances. This was Nottingham in the 1980s, at a time of the miner’s strike, AIDS iceberg leaflets, and the News of the Screws taking a homophobic agenda. My family was divided on a number of those subjects. For the record, my grandmother (UDM, homophobic) played quim on a triple word score and completely nonplussed my father (NUM, homophobic at that point in time).

(Yes, this is the actual scrabble board, and tiles are really this worn.)

Scrabble board reading "quim" and "cold war manoeuvres"

Intrinsic, which you can read in Gutter 18 (and which comes bundled with the must-read Freedom Papers). I’m so pleased that Gutter has not only survived but is flourishing, so I’m thrilled to be in this particular issue among so many excellent pieces. I wrote Intrinsic initially to take to Edinburgh’s God Damn Debut Slam, at which you have to perform something written in the previous month. The germ of the poem was a horrible moment at work where I found I completely lost the word intrinsic in a meeting where I really needed to NOT experience memory failure. It’s an occasional side effect of my anti-cancer medication. Usually I have strategies to deal with it but on this occasion, late on a Friday afternoon, I was too tired (another post-cancer phenomenon). Awkward as it was, there was a poem in it. My father is in this poem too.

Cowrie, which is available in issue 4 of the excellent online journal of LGBTQ+ poetry, Impossible Archetype. Cowrie is an Iona poem, superficially…

And last but not least Night walker, published in the first issue of the new Scottish zine Nitrogen House. This poem was also first drafted on Iona, and it’s about a transformative night walk in the pitch black of the island, when I met a cat and we, well, melded …

The land’s wild magic

St-Euny's-Well
Looking into St Euny’s Well

Earlier this month I had the great privilege of attending Roselle Angwin‘s retreat in Cape Cornwall, The land’s wild magic. As with her Iona retreats, I found this a rich and productive week of reflection, writing, walking in silence, and convivial company in liminal places and ancient sites.

Roselle set out to create a week where we could explore our inner and outer life and where they meet – through a mix of slowing down, observation using all senses, free writing, silence, walking. I went hoping to immerse myself in an ancient landscape to see what new writing might emerge. I filled pages of my notebook with raw material, which is now composting. Batteries recharged, I’m back in the fray in Edinburgh. A few poems from Cornwall have already found their way onto my laptop…

notebook-wildflowers
Notebook and wildflowers at Boscawenun Circle

INTERROBANG: Live And Let Die‽

I’m delighted to be part of INTERROBANG: Live And Let Die‽ at Summerhall on 14 May 2018, which is part of Good Death Week, 14 – 20 May 2018. The aim of Good Death Week is to promote the positives of living in a society where people can be open about dying, death and bereavement. How could I resist? I’m appearing with Stuart Kenny and Rachel Rankin, and I’ll be reading a range of poems from Wristwatch (appropriately enough). There’ll be some new material too – I’ve written three new poems on the theme of (in)famous deaths. I chat with Ricky from Interrobang in a Death Cafe kinda way here.

Tickets here…

 

Platform @ Off the Rails Arthouse

What a lovely evening Platform Poetry is. The Platform attendants are so attentive, the venue is intimate (with an open fire!) and it feels more like a conversation when you’re up doing your turn.

It was an absolute pleasure to be part of the evening, along with fellow Cinnamon poet Jane McKie, reading precise, delicate, thought-provoking poems from Kitsune and From the Wonder Book of Would You Believe It? and Platform’s own poet Steve Smart, who read from his ‘Drawing Breath’  collaboration with Edinburgh based artist Tansy Lee Moir. All that and flamenco music! A great night’s entertainment, expertly hosted by Lindsay McGregor.

Putting it out there – reflections on launching Wristwatch

I’ve written a guest blog over at Cinnamon Press about the Wristwatch launch back in October …

“I had written a collection of poems wrung from personal experience, many in response to the death of my late partner and my own subsequent treatment for cancer. Even as I celebrated the news that Cinnamon Press would publish Wristwatch, back in January 2016, I had a classic post-cancer reaction — will I live long enough to see it in print? … Even though many of these poems were previously published, and I’ve read many of them at open mic or at readings, this was a very public statement of what happened to me and the sense I tried to make of it. A celebration of resilience (mine and others) and of life. With bonus nuns and a selkie.”

 

Oh Hippopotamus

utility_piece

Utility Piece is a poem addressed to an ugly sideboard that was part of my life for years. I’m not talking about a mid-century modern sideboard, the sort you see in lifestyle mags or boutiques in Leith or Bruntsfield. This sideboard was utility furniture, and belonged to my late partner’s parents.

I wrote it when I realised (some years after Morag had died) that there was no need for this piece of furniture to stay in my life. I sat down with my notebook aiming to write a letter to the sideboard (yes, I love all such self-therapy) and ended up with a poem instead. The early drafts were pure invective, but later versions calmed down somewhat, and it’s become a meditation on my relationship to the stuff I inherited – and the shared history bound up in said stuff.

Utility piece

It’s time to rehome you,
Hippopotamus,
squat in the corner
scuffed veneer
the colour of the eighty a day
you absorbed for decades.

I never liked you.
I can say that now.
You came when I married
the youngest daughter.

No-one else had room for you
so we took you home,
fed you a terrible diet —
crammed you with board games
a tangle of connectors, adapters, chargers.

You belch booze-reek when I open your doors.

And now I’m widowed.
I wonder why I tend you,
oxpecker-busy.
You were part of her childhood, not mine,
yet you’ve outstayed flat-pack and two sofas.

Oh Hippopotamus, handles chipped,
bulbous gnarly legs, too heavy to lift –
do you remember
after her funeral, in our home for the first time,
her brother said, outraged
How did YOU get that?

And I, the unhappy inheritor,
retold our story.

 

I enjoy reading Utility Piece at open mic and readings, and I’m delighted people respond so positively – it’s fun to find myself at the bar having chats about other legendary, sometimes resented items of furniture.

Reading at Maggie’s Edinburgh

I’m joining my fellow Other Writer Angus Ogilvy in a reading at Edinburgh’s Maggie’s Centre on Thursday 16 November, 1800-1930. I’m planning to read the whole Risky Breasts sequence – not something I usually do, but it seems appropriate in the safe, welcoming place where I went on courses, retreated to wait for appointments and results, and where I’ve met so many other people affected by cancer.  Do join us!

maggies

 

To absent friends

I’m looking forward to the To absent friends festival on 7 November, when I join other poets and storytellers taking part in the Marie Curie event Telling stories to keep memories alive. I’ll be reading some of my poems written in response to the death of my late partner (there’s a whole sequence in Wristwatch) and more importantly, I’ll be chatting to people about writing to celebrate and commemorate their dead.

To absent friends sets out to be a Scottish version of the Mexican Day of the Dead – I love this idea! As the website says, “People who have died remain a part of our lives – their stories are our stories…” Which is exactly what my poem Utility piece is trying to say.

 

Risky breasts

It has not escaped my notice that my debut collection Wristwatch, which contains a sequence of 16 poems about my breast cancer treatment, launches in #BreastCancerAwareness month (October).
 

Risky breasts is the title poem of the sequence. I wrote it because I was told that my family history and a few personal factors mean I have what’s known in the medical profession as “risky breasts.” The phrase tickled me, and a poem followed.

 

There is no pink in this post. It’s really not my colour. But please, everyone, including men, keep an eye on all your dangly, wobbly bits. Be breast aware.