Monday, 31 December 2012

Putting Yourself in Hope's Way

I've had a weird year. I'm not going into it. Some things have succeeded beyond my wildest dreams, somethings have crashed and burned, some things drag dully on till you don't know if you can go on dealing with them (the post about the central heating fiasco will probably appear in the New Year when I've calmed down some!). But I'm looking forward to something better in 2013.

I'm not a big fan of the kind of self-help book that assures you that you can build your own fantasy world, live the dream, achieve success in anything you set out to do. So much depends on stuff you can't control, skills you're born with, or not, people you meet, or don't, the places you just happen to be, books you happen to read at the right time, even sheer dumb luck. On the other hand, however, you can even the odds a little.

In my youth I was a folk singer. I really thought I could have been a contender. And maybe I could, if I'd found a club, joined a band, met a musician who could have pushed me beyond my amateur level, maybe --- maybe --. But I didn't. And the reason is that I didn't go out and about in the folk scene often enough, or ask for enough help and advice or learn enough skills or take the whole thing seriously enough. And so you could use the shorthand and say, truthfully, I didn't want it enough.

Wanting doesn't guarantee success. But if you're having enough fun trying, it won't do you any harm. And if you protect yourself too fiercely against disappointment, don't put yourself in hope's way, you can pretty much guarantee failure. So next year, I'm going to be working hard, polishing some skills, taking chances, trying experiments. I'm going to be putting myself in hope's way. Happy New Year everyone!

Monday, 24 December 2012

Happy Christmas Everyone

Welcome to our clean, tidy and very cold house. After much angst, time on the phone and three visits from our engineer, we still don't have reliable central heating, but we do have an open fire, a working cooker and an immersion heater, so we will be counting our blessings and enjoying each other's company for the next few days.

There'll be food, presents, glitter and music, and the smells of pine and spice and citrus. It will be lovely - we'll eat a lot, watch silly television and forget all our responsibilities for a while. It is good to take a moment to celebrate the joys of being embodied every now and then, and not be put off by the puritans or the social, intellectual or spiritual snobs who would like to tell us it's all a bit naff really, and shouldn't we be more serious, less self-indulgent or in other ways above all that. Well, I guess sometimes you have to. If you are medically overweight or adicted or suddenly realise the cruelty and injustice that goes into the production of whatever your pleasure is, you do have to make a stand sometimes, no matter who calls you a kill-joy. But let's not forget who, and what we are. If you're a Christian, this holiday is about remembering that God is not above the experience of bodily life. We have to remember that people who despise the pleasures of food, comfort and affectionate gestures for themselves can be dangerously callous about the needs and rights of others to enjoy them. And a little honest enjoyment can be the first step in recognising our duty to share.

I know, there are less Christians about these days. many of the people celebrating the holiday week ground their happiness in other traditions, other rituals, and many don't have a religious reason to celebrate at all. But I hope you are all having a happy holiday, without guilt or or grumpiness. I hope you are warm, healthy and with people you love, and that the food is good and the presents just what you wanted. If you are ill or grieving or anxious, I hope there is someone who remebers youand shows you they care. And I wish you all light and love and hope for the new Year.

Monday, 17 December 2012

The Thistle Rose and Shamrock Night

Around this time of year my life gets silted up with cooking, cleaning, wrapping, carols, nativity plays and some or other getting ill. I mean to post, and don't. I mean to email people and don't. I mean to get things wrapped up and cleared away, and who am I kidding?

So this year, before I get utterly Christmassed, I just want to say a few words about out poetry evening. We don't get many in Stirling - apart from the lovely mix of music and performance work that is Junk Jam anyway, so it was quite a scary thing to organise one. However, with the backing of some very fine poets (Stirling definitely punches above its weight on the actual writing front) and the excellent Burgh Coffeehouse who were so kind and so helpful, we took a deep breath and dived in.

I won't say we were packed to the rafters, because we weren't. But we did have a genuine audience, and some really great poetry. We had great tea, and rather wonderful cake (most of us will be back again for that). And the Burgh said they'd have us back. What more could you ask?

Besides myself, our poets were:
  • Hazel Buchan Cameron(published by Red Squirrel)
  • Anne Connolly (published by Red Squirrel)
  • Richie McCaffery (published by Happenstance)
  • Chris Powici (published by Die-Hard)
  • Sheila Wakefield (published by Talking Pen)

And will we do it again? Watch this space!

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Week of Starting Over

It's done. Everything clean and fresh and full of light.

Books and pictures back.

Some things moved around a little.

And some things back where they were. It's not so different, but it's calmer, simpler, more serene. As I hope next year will be.

A few new followers have recently joined up - you are very welcome, and I hope you will enjoy what you see here. And can I just remind anyone in the Stirling area about the Thistle Rose and Shamrock poetry night in the Burgh Coffeehouse on King Street, this Thursday from 7-9pm. Poets reading are Hazel Buchan Cameron, Anne Connolly,Richie McCaffery, Chris Powici, Sheila Wakefield - and me.

Tuesday, 4 December 2012

Two Winter Haikus

fifteen long-tailed tits
trapezing on the birch stems
catching December sun

dark wings against the snow
two buzzards circle, harvesting
the dead of winter

Monday, 3 December 2012

The Week of the First Snow

These are old photos, taken about this time of year, but two years ago. That's because the last couple of weeks have been taken up with family things - our son's graduation (in nursing - with distinction - which is an enormous pleasure) my mother's move into residential care, and absorbing the outside school responsibilities of looking after our grand-daughter into a busy life - and cooking up a poetry night at our local coffee house. But I think you can take it that the territory of rain still looks pretty much like this!

We got the roof fixed just in time before the rain, and the central heating pump replaced just before the frost. And the upgrade to the broadband went without a hitch, so I can now listen to the radio on my laptop without it having to pause for breath every five minutes. Now we are having the sittingroom and the hall decorated. We have had to move four bookcases to accommodate this, and it's not a big house, there are books everywhere! There is dust everywhere too. I knew I was a B- housewife but really, there are places behind bookcases where finding the original carpet is like archaeology. But it will be done by Christmas, and there are new bookcases (larger!) coming, so everywhere will be not only cleaner and fresher, but tidier.

Outside the only vegetables flourishing are the brassicas - kale and cabbage and early broccoli seem unfazed by all the wet. And the birds are back, drawn in mostly by the frost. I've seen redwings and fieldfares, there are swans on the river, and the Scandinavian starlings are here in force. And I've just seen a greater spotted woodpecker on the top of the birch outside my window. I thought it was a starling at irst, but it's too big, and piebald. Other people have told me we have woodpeckers, but this is the first year I've seen them regularly for myself. Also blackbirds. I know blackbirds are supposed to be territorial, but in winter they seem to move about mob-handed, and there are about eight of them bobbing about the garden, knocking each other off the patch below the feeders where the small birds scatter the seed.

We are coasting towards the end of the calendar year, and we are already in Advent, which is the start of the liturgical year, so it's a good time to be quiet, review and assess things before we make a new start. So I'll be doing just that in the next few posts

Monday, 26 November 2012

Thistle Rose and Shamrock

Thistle Rose and Shamrock was the name of a ceilidh band who played at barn dances in Liverpool in the seventies. They mixed English Scottish and Irish dances - even included a Welsh one or two now and then, and a good time was had by all. There were even a few weddings among the folk who were dancing (ahem!).

This time however, we are having a poetry reading to celebrate the reprints of my Wherever We Live Now, Anne Connolly's Love in a Mist and Sheila Wakefield's new chapbook Limerance. And we also have Richie McCaffery, Hazel Buchan Cameron and Chris Powici, so it should be a great night. It will happen in the very lovely Burgh coffe-house in Stirling, 13th December from 7 to 9pm, and everyone is most welcome.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

To Infinity and Beyond

A quiet week on the blog, life's complicated. And today we are being upgraded to infinity and beyond, so no internet access this morning. Back soon!

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

The Week When No Birds Sang

After going on for ages about how the birds have been all over the garden, eating us out of house and home and hawthorn berries, last week was eerily quiet. I topped up the feeders, and they stayed full for days, much to the chagrin of the woodpigeons, who depend on small birds to knock the seed down for them. I watched my neighbour's garden enviously - she is more efficient and more generous than I am, and her feeders are always busy, but no, her garden was empty too.

I did see the sparrowhawk a couple of times, and there's a grey squirrel and a couple of visiting cats, but they don't visit often enough, I'd have thought, to put all the birds off so completely. The fields are ploughed and the winter wheat is already sprouting, so they can't be in the stubble, and almost all the berries along the river have gone, so they can't have found alternative food sources. So where are they? and why have they gone?

I wondered if the birds I had seen were migratory, and they've just pushed on further south, ahead of the bad weather. I've never noticed this before, but maybe I should have. I was getting anxious, wondering about diseases or pollution that hadn't registered on the human scale. A silent spring didn't seem out of the question.

However, in the last day or two activity seems to have picked up. There are small flocks of starlings about now, and I can hear the cross 'ticking' sounds of blue tits in the hedges as I go out in the mornings. Either the sparrowhawk has moved on, and resident birds are more confident, or new arrivals from northern parts have arrived to fill the gaps. There are crows and magpies calling, and a robin territory-marking the garden from his post on the gate. Even trade on the feeders has picked up. Good.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

On Not Having a Dream

On the Lúcháir page, there's a heading Heart Mind and Spirit. In permaculture terms this area is known as Zone 00 (0 is your house, 1 is garden 2 is where you keep animals, 3 is arable crops 4 harvested woodland and 5 conservation open ground) or, sometimes, the 'controversial Zone 00'. Permaculture is an eminently practical discipline, and some folks just don't see the heart mind and spirit stuff as practical. I do. I wrote :

The more I go on the more it becomes obvious that redressing the ecological balance of our lives is not only a practical scientific or an economic task, but it is also social, psychological and most importantly, spiritual.

A permaculture design requires vision, and vision comes from the Zone 00 - your core of values, insights, desires and assumptions about life. And whether you articulate your vision through the prism of a faith community or thought system, it's there, like your own personal centre of gravity, and if you fail to understand it, stray too far from it or let it degrade to the point where it doen't sustain you, you are in for trouble.

Some times this shows itself in practical ways. If you bought your smallholding but have to pay for it by long office hours or a killer commute, you aren't going to be happy. If you come up with a brilliant resilience-building community project but have to implement corporate working practices and structures into your management so as to attract funding, people are going to be confused at best, alienated at worst. If you find a campaign you really believe in is being run by a rascist/ sexist/sectarian bigot, you are going to find yourself seriously conflicted about being involved.

Sometimes it results in waste of energy, frustration, anxiety, burnout, over-commitment, failure to reach goals or despair. We had a dream and couldn't achieve it, or, even worse, we did achieve it and the dream didn't deliver.

Lately, I had a radical thought. What if I didn't have a dream? It was aa bit scary. Not only is it disappointing - having a dream generates a lot of dopamine which is a)quite fun and b)what some of us rely on to get out of bed in the morning. How on earth could I structure my life (working from home, children grown up, husband working long hours) without the pull of the dream to give me the plan. (If you only knew how much time I spend on THE PLAN ---.)

Then something clicked into place. You don't always need the pull of the dream. You can work with the push of mindful experience. The first permaculture principle is 'observe and interact' and it applies just as much to Zone 00 as to all the rest. Don't start with what you want. Start with what you've got. What are you doing? Why are you doing it? Where is the fun? What feels like pushing at an open door? What feels like jumping off a cliff? Most instructive are the things that aren't working, or are horrendously difficult but you keep doing them anyway.

You notice patterns. In my own life it works like this:
Whatever I aspire to do, I default to writing, gardening, caring for my family, getting involved in social justice issues. Because that's what I really want to do. I work on a computer because it can adapt to my rapid-moving thought processes, and I use notebooks because they give me permanence and accountability. I don't drive because the process of learning would be miserable, expensive and unproductive. I write poetry because it works and not novels because they don't. I work from home although I often feel like a crow in a mist because I've developed a random and crazy way of working that won't happen without quiet.

You might call it 'reflection'. Our tradition calls it 'discernment', and there's a lot written about it, not all terrifically helpful. But in a world which looks increasingly as if it's being run by advertising people telling you to 'live the dream' so you'll buy stuff, watch stuff, believe stuff, I think it might be time to question the logic. You don't need a dream. You need a territory, and an orientation, and a permaculture design for your Zone 00.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

The Week of the Maple Leaves

At the bottom of the road is a japanese maple outside a cottage (Maple Cottage, would you believe?). It is the last tree to change colour, and almost always the last tree to lose its leaves. But there's a very blustery westerly gale outside, and the leaves are coming off in bucketloads. This weekend I'll be gathering them to make leafmould for next winter, but for now I'm just marvelling at the difference in my perspective. The garden seems smaller now, and much more exposed - not just to the wind and rain, but to my neighbours and the people using the village hall behind our house. It doesn't bother me, as my neighbours are nice people, but it's very different.

The birds seem to feel differently about it too. The great spotted woodpecker which I first saw in the garden a fortnight ago, is much more conspicuous, and as there aren't so many places to shelter while you're eyeing up what's in the feeders, the sparrowhawk has begun to hang about in a meaningful manner. Fortunately our privet hedge is very thick and will keep its leaves over the winter, so the coal tits and sparrows are reasonably safe.

The blustery weather has brought in winter migrants. There was a fieldfare on the birch tree this morning and a flock of waxwings in the trees by the railway station yesterday, noisily finishing off all the cotoneaster berries. I hope they will find enough to keep them going. As far as I can see, only the hawthorn has anything like its usual crop. I can see myself putting out a lot of supplementary food over the winter.

In the human community, my family celebrated the christening of our youngest member, my great-neice Niamh, a very happy occasion which meant that there were more of us in one place than there has been for years. And now I am home, I am going through the submissions for the second issue of Stravaig. They look very promising so far! Submissions have closed and we hope to publish on-line in the new year, so watch this space.

Another space to watch. Art Angel Dundee are holding a fund-raising event this weekend. This is a brilliant project, producing some high class art as well as excellent results for their service users, so please, if you are in the area, pop in and see what's going on.

Wednesday, 31 October 2012

The Week on the Threshold of Winter

This pottery witch was made a long time ago by my youngest daughter, so it's just right to start a post on Hallowe'en!
My grand-daughter and I made this lantern yesterday. I know it was a small cultivar - wee be little - but this is ridiculous. It's a testament to how poor the summer has been. On the other hand, said grand-daughter took it into school today and everyone thought it was 'so cute'. One of the mothers said she was going to go to Tesco to see if she could buy a small one like that, and I didn't have the heart to tell her!
Other things like the wet. There's nothing wrong with the kale:
or the cabbages and the chillis don't seem to mind it either.
But this is the reality of this week. In the wind last Thursday there was a sudden rattling on the roof as leaves in their thousands left the trees. I can see the railway line through the trees, and even as far as the windfarm on Sherriffmuir from my window. The world is opening out as if the orchard had drawn back a curtain. For all the shorter days, winter here is the time of vision.

Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Shreds and Patches

My head is full of the random wispy ends of things I've been doing lately, places I've been, people I've met, books I've dipped into. Thus:

  • By Leaves We Live - the Scottish Poetry Library's Bookfair, which features some of the most beautiful independent publications you are likely to see anywhere. I met several friends, caught up with the gossip and bought Colin Will's latest book The Propriety of Weeding (which looks so far to be a serious advance on previous work) and picked up ten copies of the new imprint of Wherever We Live Now.
  • Started reading Beyond the Lyric by Fiona Sampson on the grounds that I could do with a birdseye view of all the things happening in British poetry, and already I can see why it has caused so much irritation. Judgement is suspended however until I see how well she has met her own brief.
  • A gig by Aly bain, Ale Moller and Bruce Molsky which introduced me to the concept of 'troll tuning' - open tunings for the fiddle which lead to some tunes which are not only difficult to play, but darker and stranger and a bit renegade. I'm thinking I should play with some troll verses.
  • Discovering a creature called the huldra who lives in Nordic forests, has a fox tail and a tree-bark back, but is otherwise beautiful and seductive. The Norse word 'huldra' means hidden or secret - so the 'huldra-folk' are the elves or trows of folk-tale. The story is that Eve had a lot of children and when God came calling she was ashamed that some of them weren't washed, so she hid them. God decided that what was hidden should stay hidden. Huldra herself has affinities with the English Seelie or Hookey or Ainsel or the Celtic Gruagach who features on Tairis this week. Fascinating.
  • The new issue of Earthlines, which seems to be getting the feel of where it's going, and gets better all the time. Also Where the Air is Rarefied by Susan Richardson and p\at Gregory - a beautiful book.
Where this will take me I'm not entirely sure, but the notebooks are filling up with fragments and ends and breadcrumb trails. It feels right for the week of Hallowe'en and the start of indoor time. As Kenneth White says - 'Poet, use well the winter'!.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Week that Kindled Autumn

Abbey Craig

High on the grey rock
autumn lights a burning torch
oak among alders.

It's like watching a slow fire from my window. The beeches are turning coppery, the birch yellow, the maples red and the sycamores every shade of flame from sepia to bronze. Bringing Lucy home from school is complicated by leaf scuffling and walks 'in the forest' - the avenues of lime and cherry trees that were planted on the river bank only thirty-five years ago, but which have always been part of my acquaintance with the territory of rain.

On Sunday we went further afield, to Aberfoyle, where we saw this amazing stagshorn fungus. We go there often, and I've written three poems about it, for spring, summer and autumn.

Naming the Autumn

A mite in the hills' green folds,
I walk, naming the autumn –
coal tit, oakmoss, bracket fungus.
I mark the whiskered outgrowths
of blaeberries and whin, and hollows
where primroses will flavour spring
with sunlight and honey. I know
which woods are good for burning
and where the Highland fault line cuts
the ancient metamorphic rock
from fertile sandstones in the south.
A net of sweeping birch twigs sifts
the wind, and catches strands of lichen,
ice-green and hairy. Taxonomy
fails me. I cannot bring to mind
its name, or whether it’s the sort
I need to make a winter pot-pourri.
No matter. The art of knowing
is knowing when to let things be.

Now I feel I should do one for winter!I can't say I like it so much since they put in the zipline, but it's hard to grudge people an experience that they obviously enjoy so much.

One new thing I do like, however, is the wildlife hide, where we saw this irresistibly cute resident.

I am glad to know that the squirrel and bird populations are going to be supported this year, because I've been shocked to see how few berries and acorns there are. Last year, I know, was a 'mast year' when trees bear heavily, so I expected a certain falling off, but the weather has been so poor that wildlife is going to struggle if we don't help. The good people at the Loch of the Lowes were only saying yesterday how many underweight hedgehogs they've seen, so the plan Lucy and I have made for a hedgehog house looks very timely!

Can I just give a last call for submissions fro the Stravaig magazine? We'd like artwork or filmclips as well as poetry or essays if anyone has them, on the theme of 'coast to coast'. Submissions to, please, by 1st November.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

The Week of the Wild Geese

This is pretty much the view from my window just now.It's grey and wet and the sky is heavy with featureless cloud. The leaves are turning, thanks to all the frosty nights and clear bright days we had last week and the last apples, too high to pick, are like copper buttons on the trees in the orchard. But the most significant event in the territory of rain is one I can't photograph.

Morning and evening, every day for the last week, hundreds of geese have passed over heading west and a little north,(mostly right to left as you're looking at that photo),towards the fields of the Carse of Stirling and Flanders Moss. They are mostly pink-footed geese, as you can tell from their cry ('pinks wink' as the saying goes), but there are also some greylags (greys honk), and once a skein of whooper swans strung out along the shoulder of Dumyat like a silver necklace. Some fly high and look like those m-shaped scribbles children use to draw sea-gulls. Some fly low and the sun catches on their wings and turns them to silver and black. But the noise is incredible, a peal of bells, a playground of rowdy children, a pack of hounds in full cry.

It's no wonder that stories grew up around the flight of the geese. You can hear them at night too, when it isn't just loud, it's as eerie as those vixen cries or screech owl calls they use on television programmes to indicate the isolation and terror of the countryside. People believed that it was the 'Wild Hunt' or the 'Gabriel Hounds' hunting for lost souls, or the souls of those about to die in the coming winter, and I'm not surprised. I love it. As human life retreats indoors to firelight and storecupboard cooking, it's good to hear the clamour from outside and remember that the winter landscape hasn't been abandoned to the wind and frost.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Poetic Justice 11th October

An evening of singing, story-telling and poetry (from fellow Red Squirrel poet Anne Connolly and myself) in Lauriston Hall, Lauriston Place Edinburgh, 7:30. Please come along if you are in the area - it should be a great night!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The Week of the Indian Summer

For the last few days, the nights have been cold and frosty, and the days bright, clear and warm. The work on the roof has gone without a hitch, and it should be finished today. It's been lovely. The flowers are doing their final fling.

The leaves are turning. We haven't had too many blueberries, and what there was, the blackbirds will surely steal, but what we get is this fantastic colour.

I'm really thrilled with this, however. The wet summer has provided me with the ideal conditions for this cranberry - well, bog, to be honest!

And this is what I got this morning! Not much, I admit, but maybe next year---

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

The Week the Roof Came Off

This is not a re-run of Hurricane Bawbag. After thirty years, the slates are breaking up, every wind lifts a few more, and rain and condensation is getting into the upstairs rooms, so we are having the front of our house re-roofed. There is noise and dust everywhere and I'm camping out in the kitchen (nice and warm, though but) writing reviews and correcting the proofs for the new print run of Wherever We Live Now.

The picture, however, is not of our house but of the dig at the Abbey. This wall, they think, is what is left of the old watergate. There isn't too much to see, because a lot of the good stone was robbed out to make fancy buildings up beside the Castle. But there's enough to encourage the archaeologists to come back in the spring, and when they do, I hope I'll have the first draft of a bunch of poems about it.

On the Great Road of the Four Abbots
two monks come ghost-walking
from St Ninians to Cambuskenneth.

This is a reference to some friends of mine, American Benedictines, who came to visit the Abbey and pray there,so that there would be monks there again. And after that there was a story going round the village about ghosts haunting the place!

The thing that intrigues me most is the continuity. People have been here since Pictish times. The first Abbot may not have been the Augustinian Canon whoename is in the histories, but Cainneach, a friend of Columba, whose family, like mine, came from Waterford. And the last, one Alexander Mylne, renewed the connection between our abbey and the Abbey of St Victor, which later became the sorbonne. This is a connection for me too, as the author of The Cloud of Unknowing which is one of the key texts in my life, was heavily influenced by Richard of St Victor - who turns out to have been Scottish.

Monday, 24 September 2012

The Week of the Glasgow Weekend

I missed the trip to Flanders Moss which opened the Callander Weekend this year, so on the first day of the Glasgow Weekend, the Senior Partner and I went out there, taking advantage of what was possibly the best day of the lot.

Other creatures seemed to think so too. The raised edges of the walways had a great many of these beautiful newts basking on them,

and there seemed to have been a mass hatching, or fledging of these -

which I believe are black darters. We had hoped to see geese coming in, as we are beginning to hear them in greater numbers flying overhead, but we were too early, and we had to beat a hasty retreat as a sudden shower blew in on us from the shoulders of Ben Ledi.

The wind is here in earnest now; the day-time temperature has dropped significantly, and the rain is starting. Life is beginning to settle more indoors, and I am writing a couple of reviews - one of the new Dark Mountain anthology, and one very exciting one, which I'll talk about later, for the Scottish Review of Books. I'm hoping to get a fair amount of reading done during the winter quiet, and to move into a new kind of writing. We'll see.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The Week of the Harvest

The barley and wheat were harvested last week, and the garden went quiet as all the seed-eaters disappeared into the fields for spilt grain. Now the straw has been baled and the calves are browsing in the stubble. The first greylag and pink-footed geese have begun to fly in, the winter starlings are mustering in the orchard, the cormorant has taken up residence in the river, and yesterday nine goldeneye came up with the tide. The swallows were still here yesterday, but gone this morning, and I'm looking for my gloves.

This is cheery, though. A stray violet, growing just beneath the frame of the greenhouse has come into flower. Apparently this happens often, and they set seed more readily now than in spring too, but I don't remember ever seeing one here before.

I spent Saturday tidying up. I ripped out the spent beans - a very disappointing harvest this year - and weeded and mulched with the contents of the growbags for tomatoes - also disappointing. I'll never try to grow Marmande again, though the few fruits I got cook really beautifully. so now, all I have to do is to keep the slugs and the pigeons off the cabbages!

I did a bit more clearing, too, to make storage space for all the canes and posts I won't be using for a few months, and came across this fungus growing on the log-pile. I'm hoping that this will be a good overwintering place for invertebrates and small mammals, so I haven't tidied here too much.

Looking forward to next year, I have created a small patch for my grand-daughter to have a garden of her own. It is going to be filled with 'fairy' flowers - candytuft (fairy series) lupin 'the fairy' and 'thumbelina' zinnias - plus the fairy rose in a pot. It's going to be very pink and frilly, but as the Flower Fairy books were my original inspiration to garden I don't reckon it will do her any harm. And, finally, I found that the honeysuckles I raised from cuttings last year have borne their first flower.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Readings for Refugees

I finished my last post with a poem which, although about the Callander Poetry Weekend, was dedicated to my friend Iyad Hayatleh, who was at that time an asylum seeker. he got leave to stay (eventually) and last Saturday he and Tessa Ransford launched their book A Rug of a Thousand Colours at the Scottish Poetry Library.

Most asylum seekers aren't so lucky. For many years the senior partner and I have joined Ayshire Friends of Refugees at Dungavel in protest at the injustice meted out to them, and on Monday I went to Irvine at the invitation of my good friend Margaret Donnelly to participate in an event called Readings for Refugees. I read the Dungavel poems, of course, but also poems about our own migrations stories, the Irish Famine and the Highland Clearances, and the importance of speaking up for yourself, in your own voice. It's a great privilege to be able to use poetry in this way. It's often said that poetry makes nothing happen, but I'm not sure I believe it.

It was a good evening, including many interesting readings and messages of support from some of the authors whose works were read.

It wasn't well attended, however, not too surprisingly, as the Dungavel protests are attracting less and less attention too. I want to pay special tribute to the members of Ayshire Friends of Refugees and to the Eurydice choir, whose persistent speaking out for a cause which seems so unfashionable I find completely inspiring.

I'd also like to draw attention to an event run by Ayrshire Peace Group on the international Day of Peace (21st September). It will take place in the Grand Hall Complex, London Road Kilmarnock at 7:30 pm, and it's FREE.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Callander Poetry Weekend

This is my friend Angela Topping reading at the Callander Poetry Weekend this year. It was slightly later than usual, running from 7th-9th September, but was full of interesting poets, most of us returning so often it feels like a family reunion, but including new visitors and new poets, poetry and poetic forms. This year the theme was film, and we had an excellent reading from many of the poets included in the Split Screen anthology, plus a showing from Alastair Cook's Filmpoem project.

Fiona Moore writes in her wide-ranging and intelligent blog Displacement about the Free Verse Book Fair, and its excellent service to the poetry community. Callander Poetry Week does all this and more, including a poets' market, many, many excellent readings, an opportunity for new poets to try reading their own work for the first time (and they'll take you outside and give you tips on how to do it if you're nervous), and lovely food. And it's all done by Sally Evans and Ian King for free - with contributions from friends and visitors. One year someone went out early and picked wild mushrooms for Saturday lunch. Often people bring strawberries and cake or wine and chocolates.

Indulge me a little if I include my Callander poem. It's going to link to my next post, which is about a reading I did on Monday:

Orpheus Plays 1: Callander Poetry Festival 2006
For Iyad Alhaiatly, a Palestinian poet, finally granted political asylum in December 2006 Poetry in the Garden starts
when Colin strikes the small Tibetan bowl.
The warmed and singing bronze awakes
A humming clarity, which sounds
through noise of knife and fork, book sales,
poets checking one another out,
and gathers stillness from the rainy night.
Later, Gaelic, Arabic and Greek
will take the song from tongue to tongue
goltraighe, geantraighe, suantraighe. It seems
presumptuous to claim
that poetry has power to move
much in the grinding moneyed world,
but Ayad, remember Orpheus
playing before the Faerie King,
on bagpipes, lyre or Breton harp,
the notes of sorrow, notes of joy and notes
of peace, while Hell falls silent.
All the cruel and unusual pain
stops for one moment, the lifeless courts
and derelict halls resounding
with the music, with the chance
for respite, wisdom, hope.

I had a bit of exciting news, too. The first printing of Wherever We Live Now is sold out! Red Squirrel will be reprinting very shortly, but in the meantime I have the last few copies, so if anyone would like one, send me an email, and I'll post one to you.

Friday, 7 September 2012

The First Week of the Dig

Guard Archaeology, from Glasgow University, are digging in the field next to Cambuskenneth Abbey, and they very kindly allowed me to go in and talk to them. They are looking for traces of the Battle of Bannockburn, which isn't too far away. It is said that survivors fled to the Abbey, so there might well be something to find. They are also looking for buildings surrounding the Abbey, including a medieval settlement nearby.

So far they have discovered some pottery, both medieval and modern, the sole of a shoe, and the end of a wall, which they believe to be the old gate.

They have been very kind and friendly, explaining everything that is going on, but there will be an official open day tomorrow (Saturday 8th September) from 10-4, when there will be metal detectorists on site, and they confidently expect to have finds to share, so if you are in the area, why not visit?

That is, unless you are going to the Callander Poetry Weekend. I'll be there, taking part in the FilmPoem event on Saturday afternoon, and reading on Saturday evening. I've posted about this event in previous years, and this year looks set to be just as exciting!

Monday, 3 September 2012

The Week of the Blue Moon

It's been a quiet week here, as I get used to the routine of taking my grand-daughter to and from school, but there have been a few highlights! You can tell it's autumn now the anemones are in flower.

When I first saw this from the bedroom window on Saturday morning, I wondered who had been throwing rubbish away! I couldn't work out what had happened. These look like gull feathers, but for a hawk to have caught it just there would have been a very tricky stoop, even if the gull could have been enticed into the confined space of our garden. However, The Collins Guide to Animal Tracks and Signs (which looks like an ex-library copy and is dated 1974), indicates that an owl may have been using our fence as a plucking post. the more ghoulish might be able to spot that there are bits of shredded gull there too!

But the big thing was the blue moon. It fell officially on Friday, but that night was cloudy and wet. Fortunately the senior partner had persuaded me to go for a walk on Thursday, which was rather wonderful - if cold. First, looking west, over the barley field>

Then eastwards. You'd never think Grangemouth and Longannet were over that way, would you?

This one, looking through the grass stems at the roadside, was a bit tricky!