Monday, 31 August 2009

poetry course Lumb Bank

A couple of weeks ago I did an Arvon course at Lumb Bank, which I found a very challenging, but ultimately extremely rewarding experience. It was very odd to be in a house with so many other people - even Nunraw, which isn't silent or peaceful any more didn't make the same sort of social demands. It was also odd to be with so many people taking poetry so very seriously. You'd think the Callander poetry Festival would be the same, but it isn't - there's a relaxed, festive atmosphere, something to do with so many of us being friends, or with the atmosphere Sally and Ian King create, which was quite different from Lumb Bank.

I don't mean that it was competitive or pompous or elitist - on the contrary. Most of those who had been to Arvon weeks before remarked on how well we were getting on, and how nice everyone was. But it was very serious, and this was both strange and liberating compared with more mainstream environments where poetry is at best peripheral, if not downright irrelevant.

Being in what felt like a very foreign country, poetically speaking, did bring out major differences between the English and the Scottish poetry scene. English poetry seems more high-brow - downright academic, in fact, at its worst, dreary, cold, contrived and cerebral. At its best it's powerful, elegant and exquisite. It's a sort of climax culture.From here it looks as if there's a consensus about what they like and want from poetry, and they have evolved a system to make it more and more like that.

Scotland, on the other hand feels like second growth scrub. Lots of weeds, lots of vigour, much more diverse and sustainable, original, slightly renegade, very much more experimental. We have much more language to play with, more different kinds of publishers and readers, much more confidence - but we could do with a bit more intellectual rigour. We have stopped looking to England for approval quite so much, and the independent voice is coming through, but our poetry needs the sort of development that traditional music has had - an awareness of the enormous potential within the form, a respect for craftsmanship and technique, and a refusal to settle for less than the best.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

poetic adventures

On Saturday I read at Word Power Books in Edinburgh, at a do organised by Understanding Poetry magazine. It was a very interesting night, for two reasons. One was the work of a dynamic young poet called Michael Pederson who read from his first collection, a chapbook to be published the very next day by an outfit called Koo Press, based in Aberdeen. You can see the poems he read on his web-site, and there's a link there to Koo press, as well. Very well worth a look.
The other one was the bookshop. I'd never been there before, and never even knew of its existence until I got the invitation. It had a brilliant selection of poetry, including magazines and pamphlets, which put even the Glasgow Borders to shame, plus the sort of radical politics of all dimensions, mythology, history, cooking and gardening books that make my teeth water. I had forgotten how exciting a radical mindset can be!

Friday, 21 August 2009

at the Fringe

I have finally confirmed that I will be reading at the Book Fringe Festival in Word Power Books (43 West Nicholson Street) on Saturday (i.e 22nd August). Event begins at seven o'clock and admission is free.

Tuesday, 4 August 2009

National Deaf Youth Theatre

I hope you enjoy this clip from the National Deaf Youth Theatre. People who know my poem Word to Sign: Translating Swallows will get some idea what it is all about now!