Friday, 29 October 2010

where I'll be tomorrow

The Radical Book Fair, run by Wordpower Books at the Out of the Blue Drill hall in Edinburgh, is one of the most exciting of the year, and this looks like one of the most interesting events this year.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

biulding resilience

This year is a "mast year" when some trees - particularly oak and beech - suddenly produce massive amountsof seed. It doesn't mean there's going to be a hard winter, it's just a dodge some trees employ to make sure that every so often there's more seed than the local predators can cope with, and therefore more chance that some of it might germinate.

It's a form of resilience building which is a concept I got from learning about permaculture and which I'm quite interested in just now. The thing is, it's easy to be green when things are going well. Organic is worth the price, you have time to walk instead of driving, it's not cold enough to miss the central heating anyway and the garden is coming along quite nicely, so there's lots of lovely food to cook with ---- you know the score.

But what happens when things get ugly? You default to the car and the junk food, that's what. Or I do anyway.

So here's what I learned about resilience.

Start slow and get it right. I'm going against the drift of my whole personality here, as I'm a great one for the clean sheet and the big picture. But don't do that. Make small, well-thought out changes, and let them bed in. Habit and experience are your friends.

Make your life as easy and efficient as you can, within your green parameters. It's difficult enough going outside the mainstream; if you add elaborate schemes and gadgets to the mix you are asking for trouble.

Expect to fail. Build in fall-backs, like freezing meals in batches so good food is as quick and easy as a carry-out in a crisis. And think of what might go wrong. Can you still cook if the electricity is off? or the water? What happens if there's a flood (we won't get inundated in our village, as the water will flow onto the other bank of the river, because it's lower, but we might well be cut off) or heavy snow?

Don't see green options as an extra, or a choice, because if you do, it will become a burden and expendable. Stop thinking you are doing the world a favour.

Make it fun. Build in beauty and joy and peace. Do what you love.

This post was inspired by what happened around here when life got crazy, but there are many people out there who are busier and even more up against it. How do you build in resilience?

Monday, 25 October 2010

Africa in Motion - Poetry

On Saturday I went to the Poetry in Motion event at the Scottish Poetry Library which forms part of the Africa in Motion film festival. Five poets were there, mostly from Zimbabwe, but including Yinka Ekundayo from Nigeria, as well as Mara, a story-teller from Kenya who compered the event and contributed some thought-provoking stories between readings.

It would be easy to be side-tracked by some of the issues raised by these poets. 'Diaspora' turns out to be one of the main concerns of the poems in my forth-coming collection (it wasn't my intention, but that's what happened), and it was fascinating to see the take of the new generation on the themes of extended family, exile, ("When did soon become a decade?" to quote from Kennedy Madhombiro), and homesickness - "We sleep with eyes open/ we dream in tears" (Emmanuel Sairosi).

I can't help comparing Luka Bloom's Chicago
In the city of Chicago
As the evening shadows fall,
there are people dreaming
of the hills of Donegal.

which conveys nothing more than a rather faded nostalgia, compared with the writings of men who live their family lives on the phone or the internet, who remember the smell of roast mealie and long for the sun in a grey country "where colour is like sin" (Emmanuel Sairosi again).

But really I want to introduce the poets. They were excellent, especially Emannuel Sairosi, and Tawone Sithole who co-founded Seeds of Thought in Glasgow ("a non-funded urban poetry group, hosting regular poetry and acoustic music events in Glasgow, and beyond. Not your average kinda fluffy cloud poetry, its a fusion of beat / comedic / urban and Conscious poetry"). This pretty much describes his poetry, which was rhythmic, wittily rhymed, upbeat and confident. Seeds of Thought is a group I'm going to be following up.

Special thanks for this wonderful event should go to Stefanie van der Peer of Africa in Motion and Richie McCaffery, who organised it all.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

The brilliant poet Nalini Paul is organising a weekend residential writing retreat on the island of Westray - which sounds like a fabulous combination to me! The cost is £250 all-inclusive, per person, covering accommodation, meals and workshops. See; and click on "What's on at the Manse" for more information.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Wittins Sheena Blackhall

This lovely book was launched at the Callander Poetry Weekend, one of the Die-Hard Metallic series. It is a collection of the recent poems of the terrifyingly prolific Sheena Blackhall - she produced a whole pamphlet of childrens' verse on a flight to Vietnam for a wedding - and includes poems in Doric and English, poems written in song and in ballad form as well as in less structured forms, poems about animals, landscape, language and poetry and a lot of poems about death. Death is the big topic this year and almost everyone at Callendar had at least one poem about it.

Sheena's poetry is both lively and thoughtful, profoundly reflective, lyrical and comic. And sometimes all in the one poem. She is hard to categorise - and would resent the effort to do it, as the witty New Cottage Industry points out. She us popular and accessible; her pamphlet The Win and the Rain which was written for the Tsunami appeal in Aberdeen, sold out completely. But there is nothing superficial or ephemeral about it. A poem from it, The Birth of Death is included in this collection, and still moves even after other catastrophes have pushed the Tsunami out of the headlines.

The picture below shows two of my favourite poems, but it also shows one of the features of the Metallic design - the 'trip to Jerusalem ' binding which allows the book to open flat. The publisher Ian King gave us a demonstration of this process, pointing out that it was cheap and easy, and if you can make your own books, no-one can stop you writing what you like. But I'm afraid the longer he talked, the more convinced I became that it is actually very difficult, highly skilled work requiring a more than the average amount of dexterity, dedication and good judgement, and will not be attempted by me any time soon.