Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Written Scots

I recently read The Smiling School for Calvinists, a book of short stories and snippets from life in Broughty Ferry near Dundee in Scotland. It's full of surreal adventures and insights into urban Scottish life but also there are moments where the narrator takes time out to lie on the roof of his multistorey block of flats and watch the geese fly by.

What I didn't like about the book was the Scots. I love the Scots language, but it annoys me when a writer just uses variant spellings of English words to make us think we're reading Scots. Where are the real Scots words in this book? I think I counted four or five. No dippit, or glaekit, no haar or stramash. The value of Scots is surely in its unique, characterful and colourful words (see the sidebar links for Scots Language to find some of these words) not in the variant spelling of the words that are spoken by everyone who speaks English, particularly as there is no standardised form of Scots spelling, even within this one book there are two variant spelling for some individual words.... I know that using too many real Scots words would potentially put off a lot of readers outside of Scotland, but then so does the variant spelling and its always possible to include a glossary.....

What do readers think?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Museum of Unconditional Surrender by Dubravka Ugresic

This is a stunningly beautiful book focusing on the experiences of a group of women from former Yugoslavia as their country falls apart and they become exiles. It's a novel but not a conventional one as it has no actual narrative but is made up of fragments and stories woven together to make a patchwork of feelings and insights on ageing, identity, loneliness, homeland, belonging and loss. Certain images and snippets of stories appear again and again within the pages, making connections between different episodes. The whole book is wonderfully reflective and moving.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Arvon Foundation 2009 Brochure Competition

The winners of this competition, to write a piece inspired by a photo, have been announced and I'm totally delighted to be one of them! You can see the inspiring photo and the winning poems at:

Sunday, December 06, 2009


The underground room is full of people my parents would not approve of. Young men in make-up and bondage trousers. Young women in corsets and stilettos with eleborate hair and spiky jewellery. Leather and pvc.

Industrial noise fills the air; then loud German rock then Radiohead's Creep "I'm a creep, I'm a weirdo" gets everyone onto the dancefloor.

This is where I feel at home. I can dance by myself and no-one hassles me. I can hold my man's hand and kiss a girl and no-one looks askance at us.

It gets crowded in here but no-one ever makes trouble. If someone bumps into you on the dancefloor, you exchange smiles. If someone knocks over your drink they buy you another.

Leaving at 2.30am we hear the sounds of brawling in the regular bar next door.

Weird for Sunday Scribblings

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

The relaunch of the Book of Hopes and Dreams

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams is a charity poetry anthology, featuring Simon Armitage, Margaret Atwood, Carol Anne Duffy, Alasdair Gray, Edwin Morgan and many others, including me!

The Book Of Hopes And Dreams has been re-launched as an e-book and is available for a minimum donation of UK £1 or US $2 (though larger donations will be gratefully received). For more information on how to buy the book, please visit:

All funds raised will go direct to Spirit Aid, a volunteer run charity that works in Afganistan. To find out more about Spirit Aid go to:

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friend / Unfriend

How did our long bilingual discussions
about literature, culture and philosophy
become your unending monologue about boredom
at work, 'nightmare' flatmates and the awful weather?

You had picked me out with several other women
to shower with gifts and good conversation
to groom as minions and then to manipulate distance
between us and you; sneering at those of us
you drove to tears.

One rainy day you sent me away
at the end of your latest monologue
then removed from me
my assigned best friend duties.
Now you've unfriended me.

I only wish I'd got there first.

Unfriend is the Word of the Year for the New Oxford American Dictionary. You can read more at Writing Companion here.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

North Merchiston Cemetry

Edinburgh Council took over the management of North Merchiston Cemetry as the previous managers had let it fall into a state of disrepair. It still looks very uncared for, but there are some lovely monuments and trees.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Effect of Living Backwards - Heidi Julavits

This is a strangely compelling novel, in which two sisters are involved in a plane hijacking. Each of the passengers has a 'story of shame' of their own and not all is as it seems. It is a novel about terrorism and how it poisons modern life and relationships, about paranoia and about how we are manipulated in the 'war against terrorism'. Some critics have described it as very funny, which apart from occasionally I didn't think it was. Some people hate it, but I think its a very timely, must read novel for today.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

More American Sentences

American sentences? Just lazy haiku for lazy poets!

An invitation is always more effective if it includes dates

Ignore me for ten years? It won’t be easy to rebuild our friendship!

Friday, October 16, 2009

American sentence

On my deathbed I won't be thinking: 'oh i wish I'd done more housework!'

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Il Vizio dell Agnello - Andrea Pinketts

'Milano è una città di pazzi e di cani.'

Mi ho piaciuto molto questo libro magnifico e stranissimo. E surreale, divertente e buffo, con molte interessante osservazione alla vita moderna. Anche è un libro che mi ha confonduto molto.....Mi ho piaciuto anche il stile da questo scrittore. Spero forse, altri libro da Pinketts a leggere .....

'Milan is a city of crazy people and dogs'

Actually my substandard Italian entirely fails to do this book justice. I didn't understand everything in it, I have to admit, it was very confusing in parts but that didn't stop me from thoroughly enjoying it! It is a surreal, sometimes hilarious journey through a rather seedy Milan, full of strange people, bizzare events and telling observations on modern day life in a major city. A city where people can die unnoticed in the main railway station, a city where parents can treat their children as children even when they are fully grown..... Pinketts has a wonderful writing style.

I would recommend this book highly, but have no idea whether it has been translated into English....

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Shadowy Wings

stone seat in Drumlanrig Country Estate, near Dumfries, Dumfries and Galloway. You can read more about Drumlanrig over on Crafty Green Poet here. I also posted another Shadow Shot on Crafty Green Poet, you can see it here.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Happy National Poetry Day

Calder Wood Press have announced their chapbook line up for 2010 and I'm delighted to be included in the list. You can see the full list over at Colin Will's blog. Thanks Colin!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Conference reflections

Point Conference Centre and Hotel, Edinburgh

for Weekend Reflections

more reflections on Crafty Green Poet here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Friday, September 18, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Dance Dance Dance

I am a great admirer of Haruki Murakami's work and was very happy to read this novel as part of the Japanese Literature Challenge.

This is a novel set in 1980s Tokyo, full of the music and rampant consumerism of the era. The narrator is obsessed with the old Dolphin Hotel and returns to the site, now a shiny new hotel L'Hotel Dauphin. His odd, surreal adventures lead him to meet various bizarre characters, who may or may not be connected to each other. His old school chum who has become a famous actor now is desperate to both rekindle their old friendship and to try to move into more interesting roles. A thirteen year old girl obsessed with Talking Heads sulkily accompanies him around Japan and to Hawaii as she tries to make sense of her relationships with her famous parents. This is a world where even the services of prostitutes can be written off on expenses, but where there is a shadowy 'other world' hidden on the 16th floor of L'Hotel Dauphin. And just who or what is the mysterious Sheep Man?

The result is an engrossing surreal murder mystery, written with Murakami's stylish, quirky prose and insight.

I have written more mini-reviews of Japanese books, which you can read by following the links below:

Hard Boiled Underworld and the End of the World (my favourite Murakami novel)
The Three Cornered World by Matsume Soseki

The review site for the challenge is here, where you can find links to all the reviews written by the participants!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Japanese Literature Challenge

I love Japanese literature so was delighted to find this challenge over at Dolce Bellezza. I'll be reading somehing by Haruki Murakami, either Dance Dance Dance or Sputnik Sweatheart and a book of his short stories as well. Meanwhile here's a link to an earlier review of a Murakami novel and, over on Crafty Green Poet, a brief review of The Three Cornered World by Matsume Soseki.

The review site for the challenge is here, where you can find links to all the reviews written by the participants!

Sunday, August 09, 2009

bad friendship American sentences

you ignore me in real life but then demand to friend me on Facebook


you ignore my letters but then phone to demand that i visit you

Saturday, August 01, 2009

Meditations on a Letter

For Wolfgang

I remember the letter you wrote to me,
After so many years of silence,
Four times A4 in fancy font
With drawings and photographs.
Your humour shone from every page,
Your love for your friends and their children.
I read each word and dwelt on it,
Remembering four summers ago.

I remembered the trip you took me on
Through the Antrim countryside –
Frm Ballycastle to Dunluce Castle
And the Carrick-rede rope bridge.
The motorbike sped along country lanes
As we roared our way down the beautiful coast.
We used any excuse to stop the bike
There were so many things to explore.

I remember now, hearing the news
That you had killed yourself,
Silence set in, a sense of shock
And a terrible feeling of loss.
You were always so alive,
More alive than anyone.
I find myself ask myself
What stops the rest of us?

reposted for Weekend Wordsmith

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

changing the world
in the charity sector -
glued to computers.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


(Morecambe Bay, February 2004)

Grey skies, cold and bitter wind
a share of a damp mattress
in an unheated room.

You follow orders from the brother
to the man who let your cousin die
in a truck approaching Dover.

Your parents wait back home
with nothing but pain and a photo of you
smiling through the English rain.

Shells held to your ear
murmured promises, but they are empty
here in devil’s beach.

Treacherous sands shift
impossible to know where is safe
where will suck away your life.

Speaking freely for Read Write Poem

reposted for Refugee Week

Friday, June 05, 2009

What does Home mean to You?

From film festivals to football tournaments, comedy nights to carnivals, exhibitions, workshops, parties and much, much more, Refugee Week Scotland (15-21 June 2009) is an exciting programme of events happening across the country to celebrate diversity and raise awareness of refugee issues.

This year the theme of Refugee Week is HOME. For many refugees and asylum seekers, a new home in Scotland means safety from persecution and a life without fear. But what does home mean to you?

Home for me is Edinburgh, Crafty Green Boyfriend, goth clubs, the Filmhouse bar and of course the natural environment. You can read more about that last over on Crafty Green Poet, which is my natural blogging home.

I'll be posting poetry on the theme of Home during Refugee Week.

Meanwhile what does home mean to you? If you're in Scotland and want to include your thoughts on home in your blog, please include the first two paragraphs and link to Refugee Week Scotland 09 in your post.

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Scots in Malaŵi

I recognised my student Rose
by the Bank of Scotland t-shirt she chose
to wear to class before her uniform arrived.

I found my way around the map
by following traces of a certain chap
called Livingstone as we have presumed.

From Mzuzu to Malindi
the place is full of Scots of inde-
pendent spirit and enquiring mind.

Even Banda was a Scot
by formation as near as not.

But the shops sell Coca Cola and never Irn Bru.

previously published in my pamphlet Bougainvillea Dancing

for more about the connections between Scotland and Malawi, visit the Scotland Malawi Partnership website.

Hyperlinking my poetry for Read Write Poem. The best idea is to read the poem all the way through and then follow the links to find out more. I'm not sure how much creative, rather than informative value there is in adding hyperlinks to poetry, but i think its worth looking into. What do you think?

Sunday, April 19, 2009

St Cuthbert's Churchyard, Edinburgh
More photos from the same walk on Crafty Green Poet here.

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn

This is a wonderful book, extremely clever in both concept and execution! It is set in a fictional island whose residents are gradually deprived of the use of certainl letters of the alphabet. The story is told through letters, written by residents of the island, which naturally don't contain the banned letters. The language therefore becomes more and more restricted. The whole narrative is a reflection on the insidiousness of censorship and the way that censorship and wider political repression affect people's lives, how people react and how they adapt to censorship. A vital and entertaining read for our times.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Skin Deep - an update

I got my contributor's copy of Skin Deep yesterday and it's beautiful! I mean even if you never read the poems in this book, its a work of art to treasure. Even better, the poems are excellent too!

You can buy a copy here!

Many thanks to Claire, for producing such a gorgeous book and for including one of my poems in it!

Monday, March 16, 2009

gallery quiet -
shattered by loud opinions
of old ladies.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My Life as a Mafia Widow

It's something about the Italian shape of your nose
something that lurks in the shadows in oddly compelling Mafia films
the unexpected gia visto of Sciasca's sentences
that I absorb untaught in the original

old nightmares of being chased down cobbled streets to my death
start to make some kind of sense

and my face on my passport photo
looks like some Sicilian widow
as I was when Cosa Nostra stole you away
in our last life

and still in this one
you never speak to me
while your girl
practices mourning,
Mafia style

gia visto - deja vu

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Skin Deep - poetry about tattoos

Skin Deep, the anthology of poetry about tattoos, edited by Claire Askew, is now available to pre-order here. It will be available in tattoo shops and other outlets in Edinburgh from the beginning of March. £4 only!

Yes, I do feature in it.....

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

picking at the scabs
of unwanted memory -
insistent questions

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

New Poems, Chiefly in the Scots

This evening I was at the Scottish Poetry Library for the launch of this anthology of commissioned poetry in Scots along with its companion selection of the poetry of Robert Burns Best Laid Schemes. There were readings of Burns' work, including a long poem of his about America, nicely timed for today. There were also readings from some of the poets featured in New Poems, the highlight of which for me was David Kinloch reading from his poem about Eugene Montale (the great Italian poet) addressing a cuttlefish in Scots. Kinloch has a wonderfully observant humour running through his poetry and this was a very entertaining poem.

Best Laid Schemes, edited by Robert Crawford and Christopher MacLachlan
New Poems, Chiefly in Scots, edited by Robert Crawford
both published by Polygon.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Koolaids by Rabih Alemeddine

This is a wonderfully inventive novel, made up of snippets of letters, press articles, diaries and narrative from various characters, who may or may not be related. Two main themes run through the novel, AIDS and war in Lebanon. Both themes are treated with sensitivity, insight, thoughtfulness and humour. The result is a novel that is gripping, moving and hilarious.

A one minute review for The One Minute Writer

Friday, January 09, 2009


I've read some interesting books about language recently, you can read briefly about the environmental aspects of these books over on Crafty Green Poet here. Reading these books and started me thinking about dialect and the languages of the UK. Whether Scots is a language or a dialect is an argument that has been discussed for many a year and no doubt the discussion will continue for a long time yet, though I suspect that if Scotland ever achieves independence, then on that day, Scots will become emphatically and without question a language - just look at Norwegian, Danish and Swedish, three mutually comprehensible languages that I guess would be defined as dialects if they were spoken in different parts of one political state.

I've lived in Scotland for many years now and have a lot of Scots words in my vocabulary (which I use in my poetry too) but i would never consider myself to speak Scots. It's the accent, people from the south of England may mistake my Scottish intonation for a Scots accent but no-one around hear would ever allow that my accent is anything other than English. And ye cannae speak Scots wi' an English accent. Incidentally I thought it was strange that my Scots dictionary that i got for my birthday, doesn't have the word dippit in it. (Dippit is a fine Scots word meaning silly or stupid).

If you feel like writing poetry in dialect or that includes some dialect words, why not hop over to Read Write Poem and take part in my latest prompt over there.