Sunday, 29 March 2009

rabindranath tagore


Lady, you have filled these exile days of mine
With sweetness, made a foreign traveler your own
As easily as these unfamiliar stars, quietly,
Coolly smiling from heaven, have likewise given me
Welcome. When I stood at this window and stared
At the southern sky, a message seemed to slide
Into my soul from the harmony of the stars,
A solemn music that said, 'We know you are ours -
Guest of our light from the day you passed
From darkness into the world, always our guest.'

Lady, your kindness is a star, the same solemn tune
In your glance seems to say, 'I know you are mine.'
I do not know your language, but I hear your melody:
'Poet, guest of my love, my guest eternally.'

Monday, 23 March 2009

and stanza?

i'd suspected i'd maybe been being a bit curmudgeonly in my response to this years programme and so it proved to be. from the thursday all the things i liked were all in place and, if anything, i liked it even better than last year.

i didn't go to any of the main events. i've found that the daytime provides all the interest i could wish for and from scobie and mccarey onwards this was unchanged. i went to the poetry breakfast about 'young scottish poets' and while i didn't necessarily disagree with many of the points made there was a surprising lack of fireworks. perhaps, suggested the scotsman guy, whose name i forget, because it's a small country we lack the will or desire to criticise beyond a bland 'it's good' or 'i like it'. it was surprising how many times questions such as this resurfaced either at events or in the blethering.

jay parini certainly contrasted it in his highly entertaining homecoming chat when he described evening criticism sessions as a student. i liked his reminiscences re alastair reid and esp those in context of the visit of borges.

we saw young poets at roddy lumsden's session where we particularly liked jay bernard and adam o'riordan. o'riordan claims he's from manchester but it must be a strange polite and faintly posh bit i haven't come across! again tho, i was thinking about those young scottish poets and how they'd fit in. all this bunch were in it for the long haul and that fitted in with a view that poetry was somehow a career in which one would make money and in which validation came with publication which is fine but not a view i share.

listening to foreign poets is the bit of stanza i find i always come away with most from and this year was no different. i heard my first poem read in arabic, frustratingly can't remember who by, and never got the chance to speak to him. we heard lithuanian for the first time, t especially finding the sound of the language entrancing. not having any translations to read at the end of it was a real shame.

we met loads of people - sorlil was glowing (even when having to wait forever at the open mic), rachel attended with the whole family, claire was there and finally got a face and a name to put to the character of the boy. colin will looked very fresh for a man having to attend and organise so much and was especially resplendent at the market (we bought many things - of them, more later) in his kimono. it was good to catch up with robert alan jamieson even if, like so many others, there wasn't proper time for a blether

favourite session - stephen scobie
favourite thing - the syllabary. for me mccarey was hands down the most original and thought provoking thing i saw. never did get to ask him that queneau question tho!
favourite activity - barbecue on the beach listening to the radio
funniest moment - when rachel revealed her surprise that i wasn't a sixty year old woman
favourite reading - was some guy called john mackie (?) at the open mic reading about his late wife
favourite line - also at the open mic. one of the inklight squad called roddy reading a poem about an ex and combing sports trivia. he got most of the way thru it, then gulled us with the lines ' imiss her, i miss her...' i swear his voice cracked and then he said 'imiss her the way jimmy white missed the black in the 1994 masters final at the crucible...' genius.

so, another great stanza. i still haven't mastered pacing myself and was done by saturday. but, as before, what a great event

books i bought at stanza

so sorlil left us for places rankin but said to us before we parted, as we'd let her know that we'd missed browsing in barnardo's by about three minutes and had to content ourselves gazing fruitlessly thru the window - there's a second hand book shop just up the road.

as everyone knows there are second hand bookshops and then there are second hand bookshops. this was definitely the latter! i suspected as much as i browsed a book on moorish spain outside. once i got in tho, it was a whole different ballgame - this was what i'd been expecting in a second hand book store in a university town, marvellously quirky and full of treasures. my wallet hung heavily in my pocket and i only just avoided a major beckett buying spree by virtue of having selected the following...

nine horses by billy collins
selected poems and fragments by holderlin
the lives and times of archy and mehitabel by don marquis
the embarrassment of riches by simon schama
one art - selected letters of elizabeth bishop

i like billy collins and that's that. holderlin? my shelves feel bare without him and, as i've discovered, his german is just fun to speak. archy and mehitabel i've gone on about at length before but this is a copy, with illustrations, from the twenties and i wasn't going to leave the shop without it! embarrassment of riches i've been meaning to get for a while, mainly on the strength of citizens which, while it has its shortcomings, is still a favourite, along with his british history. so far it seems interesting and is more the schama that was than what we have to put up with now.

the pick of the bunch tho, is elizabeth bishop's letters. what a find! i was specifically interested in her correspondence with robert lowell and it doesn't fail on that front but it's all the rest, that vanished world, that provides the incentive to go back and back to it. the fact of the letters alone - she wrote so many - is difference enough. somehow i can't see the current crop of emails and blogs holding up as well tho distance and time will probably prove me wrong. she is not, as i've heard her portrayed, some sort of recluse but rather someone who's involved with her own time and space. given my own mode of life i can find some sympathy with this. i'm sure it will provide me with many happy hours of reading.

the woman in the shop was lovely. she didn't know elizabeth bishop she said but was sure they had something else. here, she said, a book of her paintings. perhaps, she suggested, bishop was a better poet? i smiled and didn't buy it, but certainly we'll be back across to st andrews sometime soon to buy something else. once we've made the shelf space....

Thursday, 19 March 2009

going to stanza

the sun shines and i get myself off to stanza, taking the covers off the bike for the first time this year and indulging myself as the moto poeta. despite not really being as much into the itinerary this year as soon as i'm there all my doubts evaporate. there seems more... poetry this year. people with books, people reading, people just sitting about blethering.

i go to see stephen scobie who reads from his latest collection at the world's end, which is sort of an exploration of robert louis stevenson. he's been living in canada for twenty odd years and you can hear it but as he reads his voice changes, different accents come through. i wasn;t convinced i was going to like it at first, then ended up beguiled

he was reading with peter mccarey, another expatriate who's now teaching in the department of language studies in geneva. i'd already been fascinated by what i took to be an installation called the syllabary in the byre beforehand and hadn't realised that it was him. his poetry was denser, more difficult to reach but i was loving it all the same. the syllabary functions, he says, as a grid
in which sounds are co-ordinates according to function. the syllabary generates these sounds and some half of the five thousand reference points have associated words or text. part of the deal is that it subverts the book - yes, i did mean to ask him about queneau but forgot - so that there's no linearality. all of it appealed to the old burroughs fan in me. cut ups, random-mess, imagination. i'll be back tomorrow to look at it again. in the meantime you can view it here

a note for attendees. if you're buying the cd it isn't compatible with vista and it isn;t the interface that you see at stanza or on the website

Monday, 16 March 2009

transformative assessment 5

from here

lady ise

A Flowerless Country

Lightly forsaking
The spring mist as it rises,
The wild geese are setting off.
Have they learned to live
In a flowerless country?

trans unknown


so this weekend off i go to see one of my oldest friends. i take one of the road bikes, just for the training, and a mountain bike because he says he's not done any cycling for a while and even if we don't go far i like to get out on the bike with him at least once a year. i take two kayaks. he's not been in the water for ages he says and i figure we might have a short jaunt to one of the islands. i brings spare life jackets. wetsuits, paddles, the works. even bring a spare guitar.he's had one left with him for months now. surely he'll have learned some chords?

of course none of these things happen. his guitar is still in its case untouched. we don't go out on the bikes. he doesn't fancy the kayaks it's too wet/windy/dangerous even if the nearest island is one i could probably swim to. to give him the benefit of the doubt in the end i just don't want the hassle of drying out the gear.

we don't get to bed until late. i'm still intending going out for a training run so little in the way of drinking goes on. still, he doesn't get out of bed by three! the weather is awful but i've still been up, done guitar practice for a couple of hours, gone for a wander, bought books, finished my william maxwell. more cooking for me then. surely we'll get out to the pub at least. no chance. i leave him in his bed the following morning and return home. how was it says t. i shrug, a waste of time.

we talk about ithaca, about journeys and destinations. we talk, a lot, about my friend, who does little except drink and smoke, rarely getting out and when he does the day must be completed with a bunch of drink, conveniently negating the following day. plus there's a negativity about him, a laziness, a contempt for others, for women in particular, an envy, a resentment that rubs off one me, that takes me days to get rid of. i see myself, i say to t, in a situation where i leave him behind, where we see each other less and less, tho this is already happening, then finally not at all and we become part of each others' pasts.

all relationships end but rarely neatly. my head is full of memories of the things we've done but in none of them did i anticipate the way things have turned out. very sad.

Friday, 13 March 2009

c. p. cavafy


When you set out on the journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road be long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
the raging Poseidon do not fear:
you'll never find the likes
of these on your way,
if lofty be your thoughts, if rare emotion
touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
the fierce Poseidon you'll not encounter,
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul raises them before you.

Pray that the road be long;
that there be many a summer morning,
when with what delight, what joy
you'll enter into harbours yet unseen;
that you may stop at Phoenician emporia,
and acquire all the fine wares,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
as many sensuous perfumes as you can;
that you may visit many an Egyptian city,
to learn and learn again from lettered men.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not rush the voyage in the least.
Better it last for many years;
and once you're old. cast anchor on the isle,
rich with all you have gained along the way,
expecting not that Ithaca will give you wealth.

Ithaca gave you the wondrous voyage.
Without her you'd never have set out.
But she has nothing to give you any more.

If then you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
As wise as you've become, with such experience by now,
you will have come to know what these Ithacas mean.

trans evangelos sachperoglou

off out in the kayak and on the bike this weekend so, as i'm still reading cavafy, ithaca seemed a natural choice. there's another translation here and if you're really a glutton for punishment sean connery reads it here. or in greek, here

Tuesday, 10 March 2009

all things irelandish

years of living with irish people was accompanied by the inevitable refrain - you've been to all these other countries but never to ireland? - so eventually i took heed of this advice, went and loved it. of course, i've never been back, but always meaning to and this time to do more than have a drink odyssey around donegal.

so a handy excuse appeared in the form of t, who also has never been to ireland but, it turns out, has a great grandfather who emigrated from cork. for me who is as scottish as a chunk of scottish that's been mined out of a lump of pure scots, genealogical speculation has never been something i've been up for but t's genetic inheritance is far more esoteric so a journey to somewhere she can actually put her finger on and say 'some of my people come from here' seems like a lark.

so a couple of weeks in ireland in june. now me, i'll be loading up the van with bikes, boards, kayak and fishing gear, all of which i'll be getting the use of, but the extent of my geographic knowledge of ireland doesn't extend much further than being able to point out about five counties on the map. advice is therefore required. what should we see, where should we go?
all handy tips gratefully accepted!

Monday, 9 March 2009


always the bridesmaid, never the bride!

is kind of how i feel about getting shortlisted for competitions and prizes. but, really, who cares? i've yet to come across some sort of poetry winning poem scale that all poems can be measured against. mostly, but definitely not all, a decision seems to be subjective and to be honest, i like that esp when, as with the award thing i was at last weekend, the judge is up front enough to say so. and at the end of the day i like my poem. i didn't write it for the comp, true, and while it's nice that it gets an airing, that it gets seen that i wrote it, that i like it, is the most important thing for me.

in the post award blethering although i say i'll be at stanza in the interim we've discovered an altogether more intriguing prospect in the form of the instal festival in glasgow. much driving between the two will no doubt ensue.

anyway, back to the reading. i roll out a few things that've been on elvis of late and that i haven't done before. i have to follow on from this guy who's done a blistering and hilarious long dialect piece. how do i do that!? i talk some nonsense and get into it. i can read a poem. stick to that! all goes swimmingly, esp the cake poem, which turns out to be lovely to read, the pacing is all good until the very last one when halfway through, someone's mobile goes off. the audience are into it by now so i sense their reaction and don't want to lose that vibe. i improvise, adding in a couple of lines on the subject of mobiles at readings, they laugh and i ease to the finish. nice.

more shortlisting action here. 'well boring' - if it isn't true, it should be!

elizabeth jennings

In Memory of Anyone Unknown to Me

At this particular time I have no one
Particular person to grieve for, though there must
Be many, many unknown ones going to dust
Slowly, not remembered for what they have done
Or left undone. For these, then, I will grieve
Being impartial, unable to deceive.

How they lived, or died, is quite unknown,
And, by that fact gives my grief purity-
An important person quite apart from me
Or one obscure who drifted down alone.
Both or all I remember, have a place.
For these I never encountered face to face.

Sentiment will creep in. I cast it out
Wishing to give these classical repose,
No epitaph, no poppy and no rose
From me, and certainly no wish to learn about
The way they lived or died. In earth or fire
They are gone. Simply because they were human, I admire.

transformative assessment - album no. 3

again from here

Thursday, 5 March 2009

transformative assessment - second album

transformative assessment's second 'difficult' album. creative commons use applies again - this comes from here

this collection

normally i'll maybe post a single poem, most likely be too lazy to post a link far less actually say anything about it.

so, for a change, here's one hundred poems, a fabulous poetic tour of the city of edinburgh.

congratulations to the massively enthusiastic claire askew and the others who've put this together - and this is just the start!

Wednesday, 4 March 2009

basil bunting

What The Chairman Told Tom

Poetry? It's a hobby.
I run model trains.
Mr Shaw there breeds pigeons.

It's not work. You don't sweat.
Nobody pays for it.
You could advertise soap.

Art, that's opera; or repertory -
The Desert Song.
Nancy was in the chorus.

But to ask for twelve pounds a week -
married, aren't you? -
you've got a nerve.

How could I look a bus conductor
in the face
if I paid you twelve pounds?

Who says it's poetry, anyhow?
My ten year old
can do it and rhyme.

I get three thousand and expenses,
a car, vouchers,
but I'm an accountant.

They do what I tell them,
my company.
What do you do?

Nasty little words, nasty long words,
it's unhealthy.
I want to wash when I meet a poet.

They're Reds, addicts,
all delinquents.
What you write is rot.

Mr Hines says so, and he's a schoolteacher,
he ought to know.
Go and find work.

i can;t quite understand why there's not any bunting elsewhere on here. you can hear him reading this at the ever fabulous poetry archive. there's more about bunting and poetry in the north of england here. i'm unsure how much longer the link will be active but you should definitely do yourself a favour and give it a listen as it's rather wonderful.

transformative assessment

snow has temporarily suspended my desire for bike so in the meantime the following caught my eye in the guardian. it may be my adobe skills are dreadful but i'm not afraid to use them. so my band's first album looks something like this.

what do they sound like? i'll leave it up to you. in my head there are pointy boots and a lot of sunglasses....
the picture is copyrighted under creative commons and can be found, with many other interesting images at superbomba

Sunday, 1 March 2009

c. p. cavafy


Ideal and dearly beloved voices
of those who are dead
or of those who are lost to us like the dead.

Sometimes they speak to us in our dreams;
sometimes in thought the mind hears them.

And for a moment with their echo
other echos return from the first poetry of our lives-
like music that extinguishes the far off night.

trans unknown

edward field

Cataract op

It felt so adult, at 83, going by myself to the hospital,
getting on the bus like others (all the young) headed for work
through the morning Manhattan streets
carrying umbrellas and newspapers, disappearing into subways,
lining up at carts for a (careless, cholesterol-rich) paper bag breakfast.

When the bus pulled up at the stop,
I got out and walked in, calm,
like I remember in the war flying into combat
with maybe a touch of nerves, but no great anxiety,
more like excitement.

Then it all went efficiently, the procedures of pre-op,
as I was passed from station to station, each technician doing his job,
like once the squadrons of silver bombers
in wing to wing formation roared through the crystal sky,
each of the crew busy, me at my desk with my instruments
calculating our course and noting in the log
wind drift and speed and altitude,
courteously calling "navigator to crew ... ,"
to read out our position and estimated time of arrival.

Our goal of the misson that day was the Ruhr,
a land of mines and furnaces, with a cataract of thick black smoke
rising from the factories cranking out anti-aircraft guns
like the ones lobbing up the deadly black bursts at us.

Now I was being wheeled into the hall outside the operating room
where I joined a line of gurneys waiting their turn at the laser,
as the squadrons in stately procession wheeled
in a wide circle around the city, lined up for the bombing run,
as the flak peppered the air thickly under us.

Finally, the moment, my moment-
and I was moved into the operating room under a spotlight,
my eye taped open, but my mind alert
as the surgeon went to work, the oh-so-delicate work, with his instruments ...

and the earlier moment—our squadron's turn.
We headed in tight formation right into the midst
of the bursting antiaircraft shells,
the bomb bay doors opening with a grinding whine.
Our wings were rocking perilously close to the neighboring planes,
while the pilot fought to keep the heaving plane on course

over the bulls eye of the target below,
and I too was busy, shards of flak rattling off the aluminum walls around me,
my hand jiggling as I recorded in my log
the burning buildings, planes going down, the exact time of...
bombs away-

now to get out of here!

It was over so fast. The nurse was already taping up my eye
and I was wheeled back into the corridor feeling happy,
as on that day of the mission, we turned on a wing
and wheeled west toward home
with the late sun lighting up the heavenly landscape of clouds,
brighter than I had ever seen it before.

i was so taken with when i read it via andrew's site i lifted it from poetry daily to here. there are so few poems i like about work, especially from a patient's eye view, that engage both the experience and the person. plus i was very taken with his poem homeland security not just because of the poem but because at 83, i;d like to still be making cheeky wee videos for whatever youtube is then