StAnza 2018

Here’s the blog piece I did for Erskine Writers’ group, just a snapshot with my impression of the event.


StAnza is an international poetry festival that takes place in St Andrews every year in March and runs for almost a week. Renowned poets like Liz Lochhead, Don Paterson, Miriam Gamble and Douglas Dunn mingle with newbies and poetry lovers from up and down the country, as well as from abroad. I treated myself to two days of poetic heaven, spending every last penny I had on poetry collections and anthologies (plus several coffees).
The highlight of the weekend for me was a workshop intriguingly billed as A Double-voiced Bird, which I had been invited to participate in after a selection process a few months ago that required me to describe my own poetic process involving bilingual approaches. Led by acclaimed Berlin-based poet Ulrike Almut Sandig, the workshop involved the creation of a kind of patchwork poem distilled from members’ prepared lines, complete with bilingual elements in German, Scots, Dutch and Italian. To say that I was surprised by the resultant piece would be an understatement. In just under two hours, a group of seven poets who had only just met – and one was a ten year old child! – spliced, diced, negotiated and rehearsed a brand new collaborative poem, which we then performed before a packed hall of poets, writers, visitors, publishers and editors, some stopping to take photographs and film us performing.
The feedback from audience members who approached us was startlingly positive and encouraging and I left the hall feeling overjoyed to have been part of such a refreshingly novel experience.


StAnza 2018

Off to StAnza in under an hour’s time, feeling oddly nervous. Looking forward to hearing Don Paterson tomorrow and soaking up the atmosphere of the whole festival. Will update this page on Sunday.


How many diversions, digressions and deviations can a writer cram into their day? I’m heading for a world record! And all because I have taken on the challenge of starting a young adult novel. It’s only supposed to be the first thousand words, plus a blurb, for a competition my writing group is doing. Easy, right? I’ve written short stories much longer than that. So why am I tripping over boulders in my head the minute I pick up my pen? I think I know the answer to that one: prose terrifies me!

It’s true. Poetry is like a bubble bath at just the right temperature, immersion in sheer pleasure, and hard to get out of. Prose is more like a freezing cold shower, exhilarating for a short spell but leaves me with a headache if I stay in it too long. Poetry moulds itself to me like a quality mattress, it knows and fits all my corners and hard to reach bits. Prose is a friend’s spare futon by comparison.

But now I really have procrastinated enough. I have conceived my heroine. I now need to give birth to her. Anyone got any gas and air?!



Feeling hungry…

(Just for fun!)


Sausages sizzling sexily
seem so slick, so slippery.
Some slide seductively,
squirting, spurting, splashing.
Some stay still, serene,
sating salivating supper seizers.


Online Auctions

Have you ever been stung on an online real-time auction? There are more and more of these sites springing up every day. I’ve yet to come across one offering genuine bargains. Some auctions last just a couple of minutes and, although you can click on items to read the details, you don’t really have time and you don’t get much detail anyway. The auctions are peppered with meaningless words like “genuine”, “real” and “authentic” to suck in the unwary.


I was struggling with insomnia as usual tonight, so I wrote this, for a laugh…


Wishful thinking

It’s genuine silver-plated plastic,
a bargain at the price!
The bloody deal’s fantastic!
It’s going once, it’s going twice!
Get in there noo before it goes,
nae time tae check the detail!
Cross yer fingers and yer toes!
It’s the best in online retail!

The other day ah won a jacket,
it was “genuine Armani”.
But the feckin fake cost me a packet
and ah feel like such a fanny.
The thing is, everybody’s bidding,
they cannae all be daft.
Ach, who am ah bloody kidding,
nae wunner ma pals all say ah’m saft.



Thoughts on silence…

Today, Björn of dVerse Poets has set the challenge of considering how poetry expresses silence in its own unique way. He got me thinking about a short story I read in my German class at school when I was sixteen. It was by Heinrich Böll and it was called Dr.  Murkes Gesammeltes Schweigen (Dr Murke’s Collected Silences). In it, a man records people speaking, then later cuts out and collects all the little silences between utterances to listen to later. I remember being mesmerised by the concept.

In my poem, Saturation, a young woman searches for the comforting silences of familiar childhood relationships, only to find that they’ve been ‘soaked up’, misappropriated, never to be heard again. Make of it what you will…



Where should I go
to find the silence
of back then
when Papa was still here?
Before I stopped believing
rain was angel tears?

Where’s the sound of snowfall
on distant mountains, of dew
settling on grass
like a flitting firefly,
while I still sleep?
Where’s the silent sound?

Why can’t I hear his silence
now that he’s gone, beyond
the place of whisperings?

I only hear
the noisy space
between his silence
and yours,
and I’m deaf with it.

Mama, I know
where the silence went
when Papa left.
He didn’t take it with him.
I see it when you look at me.
It’s right there,
in your sponge-like eyes.


Tinsel Tales

Had a very enjoyable afternoon at The FWS Tinsel Tales event at GOMA today. Makar Andy Jackson handed over the makarship to the wonderful Marjorie Lotfi Gill, who treated us to a wonderfully haunting reading from a long poem she wrote about her father’s journey as a refugee.

Such a variety of voices and themes, serious and humorous! A thoroughly refreshing afternoon!


At last…

It seems that my scrap of wallpaper was in demand after all. Three of my poems were accepted for publication in an American poetry journal called The Stray Branch. I’ll have to wait till next Autumn to see them in print but it was nice to have them accepted. I haven’t submitted much so I’m pleased with this result.



If I haven’t posted work recently, it’s because I’ve been trying to get some poems published and most publishers won’t consider previously published writing. Work posted on personal blogs counts as being published.

It’s been frustrating. You have to wait so long, months sometimes, just to get a ‘not this time, thank you’. Often, you don’t even get that. No matter how carefully you research the market and target certain publications, it’s soul destroying at times. I know I’m not alone in feeling frustrated but honestly, sometimes it feels like I’m sending out a scrap of old wallpaper in the hope that the recipient will have a damp patch on a wall the exact same size and shape of my scrap of wallpaper, in exactly the same pattern.

Maybe I should try the bloody Lottery…



I have never had to write a eulogy before. I am very sad that this one is for my father-in-law, who died last week.

for John Devlin

There was always mischief in your eyes,
a readiness to laugh and joke,
a kind man, though there were no flies
on you, you were a savvy bloke.

No problem ever was too big for you;
you always found a way around it.
When even Google didn’t have a clue,
by the time it loaded, you had found it.

An active man, you walked and cycled everywhere;
you put much younger folks to shame.
You wore the streets in Caldercruix threadbare
and now those streets are still, it’s not the same.

You wore your hair slicked back like Elvis,
whose every song you knew by heart.
And like the King, your humour was rebellious:
everybody knew that wit was your fine art.

If only I could have had more time with you
to set this world of ours to rights;
we shared a love of all that’s good and true;
we would have talked for days; we could have laughed for nights.

In life, you were an inspiration,
the way you faced each day without a care
and so take this, my dedication,
as a promise of remembrance, not a prayer.