Thursday, December 14, 2017


From a chance teenage meeting
you became my first foreign friend.

Strained visits give way to
letters now and then.

Ever polite, I always write
not wanting to be the one to not reply.

Five years pass with nothing
but Christmas cards
signed in haste.

Now here you are on my doorstep
determined to visit

but nothing to say.

Previously published on The Pygmy Giant.  

I also today posted a poem on my Crafty Green Poet blog. You can read it here

Monday, December 04, 2017

Influential Poets

At the literary festival
the academic poet greets
like a long lost friend
the young poet whose first collection
is just out.

They talk ‘man to man’
(of course they’re both men)
about poetic vision.
Around them chat other poets,
perhaps not so young or important,
less fashionable or lacking confidence.

But it is one of the overlooked others
who tonight will go home
to write the poem that one day
will change the life of the woman
hiding just now behind the academic
trying to pluck up the courage
to ask for his autograph.

Previously published on Verse Wrights.

Meanwhile on my Crafty Green Poet blog you can read Weather Forecasting, which was also originally published on Verse Wrights.

Friday, November 24, 2017


Every Saturday night, she palely sits
in a dark corner, her kohl eyes
watch the dancers, a mysterious
smile on her lips.

Every Saturday night, a different outfit,
always elegant and black,
always glamour gloved, elbow length
velvet or satin, lace trimmed,
sheer with flowers up the arms
rooted to her fingers with heavy rings.

Every Saturday night, she goes home
alone, undresses slowly, carefully
unpeels the gloves
from her scars.

Previously published on Camel Saloon.

Meanwhile I've just posted another poem on my Crafty Green Poet blog, you can read it here

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Photographing Reality

(i.m. Eve Arnold)

Your untaught hands picked up a camera
and never put it down, finding
instinct for the picture
that carries the burden of history
so lightly it seems no burden at all.

Icons of stage and screen; children and women
whose lives are never seen,
all gently caught; held
in your gaze, your lens capturing
the essence of their lives and times.

Deceptively simple this art of yours,
framing faces in a view-finder
to create a pleasing image
that seems by accident to encapsulate
history, yet somehow magically transcends it.

I wrote this poem several years ago and it managed to find its way to Eve Arnold herself who sent me a lovely postcard to say how much she enjoyed reading my poem.

Eve Arnold was an American photojournalist who worked for the famous Magnum Photographic Agency. You can see a slideshow of some of her photos here.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

haiku for Catalonia

gathering clouds -
watching the news from

Read more on the Catalonian Independence Referendum and the violent response of the Spanish state here.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Don't Look at Me that Way (film review)

Hedi (Uisenma Borchu) is the Mongolian neighbour of Iva, a German single mother living with her daughter Sophia. Hedi meets Sophia first and the two become friends but Iva is a little suspicious until she meets Hedi herself and the two women become friends and then lovers. Both women have male lovers as well and unusually for film (where normally bisexuality is portrayed as a phase until a character realises they're really gay / lesbian) the relationships are all just an acknowledged and accepted part of the two women's bisexual identity (though it would be nice if cinema could one day also acknowledge that bisexual characters can commit to a monogamous relationship and still be bisexual).

The relationship between the two women is very believable, as are both their relationships with Sophia, who is a lovely character, a really cheeky, amusing six year old.  Hedi is also a great character, treated to some degree as a scapegoat because she is different in so many ways to those around her, but also envied because of some of the freedoms her cultural difference gives her.

The scenes in Germany are interspersed with vivid scenes of Hedi taking Sophia to meet her grandmother in Mongolia, which are probably dream sequences though this isn't obvious.

I really enjoyed the film up until the point where Hedi starts a relationship with Iva's father. The cinematic trope of the much older man and the much younger woman has been done to death in my opinion and from that point onwards the film significantly deteriorates.

The film is directed by Uisenma Borchu and in this interview she talks about the film.

Don't Look at Me That Way screened at Edinburgh Filmhouse for BiVisibility Day and is showing as part of the Scottish Queer International Film Festival which takes place 27 September - 1 October in Glasgow

Friday, September 15, 2017

Some thoughts about submission guidelines for literary journals

As a writer I know that it is up to me to read submissions guidelines for online literary magazines. I also know (as a former editor of an online literary journal) that it is quite easy to have one page of submissions guidelines and to up date that every time the guidelines change rather than to have a different page of almost identical guidelines for every issue of the journal (all of which are live and easily accessible from other websites) and only the page for the latest issue mentioning that the journal is now permanently closed to submissions. I am more than happy to read a lengthy page of guidelines, but not to then find out that it was the wrong lengthy page of guidelines and that I should have read one of the other many lengthy pages of guidelines.

Also although as a writer I am obviously aware of the need to check whether a journal is still open to submissions or whether it is closed for the next few months, on indefinite hiatus, or totally closed down, I am also aware as a former editor that it is quite easy to have 'Submissions Closed' stated clearly at the top of the home page rather than the potential contributor needing to scroll down a densely packed page in size 10 font before they find a wee note that says 'closed to submissions'. 

I also know that editors are generally not paid to edit their journals, I certainly wasn't, and I know that any updating of a website takes time and indeed some websites are set up in ways that make updating tricky, but on the other hand poets are generally not paid for their work and it takes time to research potential outlets.

So, editors please remember it's time consuming for both sides. Those of us submitting to your journal have lots of other things in our lives and how difficult is it for you to take those small steps to help make things easier for us?

Thursday, September 07, 2017

Statue of an Unknown Woman

Edinburgh has more statues of animals than it does of women, which is pretty shocking. This, in Festival Square, is one of the few statues of women in Edinburgh and she isn't even a named woman! The inscription reads:

On bronze plaque in front of sculpture (incised letters):'WOMAN and CHILD' / Erected by The City of Edinburgh District Council. / To honour all those killed or imprisoned / for their stand against apartheid. / Unveiled 22 July 1986 by Suganya Chetty. / Sculpted by Ann Davidson. / 'VICTORY IS CERTAIN' / .EDINBURGH. / THE CITY OF EDINBURGH COUNCIL.

I took this photo while photographing street trees as part of the Woodland Trust's Celebrate Street Trees campaign. You can read my blog post about this campaign here

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

From Commonplace Books to Facebook

This is a longer, edited version of a review I posted yesterday on Facebook. 

Today's talk by Juliet Shields 'From commonplace books to Facebook' was a fascinating insight into how online social media is in some ways a direct descendant from the commonplace books that people used to create to bring together quotes, recipes and other items from different sources and that were often re-read  and also shared between people so they could all add to the same book and share each other's knowledge and ideas. Commonplace books were most popular in the 17th and 18th centuries though some people still make them today.

The commonplace book was separate from two much more private books, which may seem similar - the diary (which would focus on listing and detailing events in one's own life) and the journal (which would offer a chance to write down one's own private thoughts and musings.)

One of the things that most interested me was how many writers used commonplace books as a source of inspiration, which in social media terms, for me at least, is a role most closely served by Pinterest (the visually based social media network, which is well worth checking out if you don't yet know it - you can find the Pinterest references to commonplace books here). 

We are usually aware that online social media offers us a way to present ourselves and create a public persona, but what I hadn't thought about before was how this is a natural evolution from one of the functions of commonplace books. Seen like this, online social media becomes a new way of doing something we've always done, rather than being a technological innovation that is often seen as time wasting and pernicious. Also social media in a sense returns us to a democratic sharing of information that was, apparently the norm, before mass media became the dominant media that we are used to it being. 

Juliet Shields is the Associate Professor of English at the University of Washington in Seattle and is currently the Fulbright Scholar at the National Library of Scotland.  The talk was given at the National Library of Scotland (which is one of the best places in Edinburgh for interesting free talks on a variety of topics related to literature) and drew on the library's collection of commonplace books and diaries. 

I have a book that I occasionally use to write quotes in, but I think I'll start doing this in a more organised way, possibly combining it with elements of scrapbooking. What about you? Do you keep a commonplace book?

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


family meal out -
everybody's eyes are glued
to their mobile phones