Monday, 15 July 2013

Carrying the Songs Moya Cannon

Reading this book was like coming home. The subject range is very familiar - landscape, language, home, emigration, music. There are a good number of poems I wish I'd written - Carrying the Songs, First Poetry, To Colmcille Returning, and even one, Pollen, that I swear, I was just about to write. But it wouldn't have been as good.

Moya Cannon is a more thoughtful poet than I am, more orderly, less fidgety and compressed. And there's more personality - by which I don't mean self-disclosure, but more of a persona, a sense of a fully engaged mind and heart, not just observing, but responding to her observations. Her poetry is more informal and irregular than mine:
Have I stooped so low as to lyricise about heather,
adjusting my love
to fit elegantly
within the terms of disinterested discourse?
whihch meant I had a hard time with the metre until I read it aloud, and then was won over completely.

A sense emerges throughout the book of an irrevocable change through a rational education and emphasis on abstract thought, of a loss of capacity for faith, which leaves us withdimished means to articulate the power of landscape, home, heritage and community exerts upon us. Moya Cannon's poetry is a magnificent attempt to redress this. Landscape and sea dominate the book - hills, wells, nests, shells, and the survivals of bones, nuts and pollen. Migration, loss and persistence shape many poems, the movement of birds, of people, of songs, and of language. The loss of language is the loss of identity (Forgetting Tulips, Murdering the Language) or relationship(No Sense in Talking). But words are carried, transformed, persist and re-emerge in place-names,(Oughterard Lemons) in local idioms(Banny), and in loan-words to other languages(Augers).
There are small unassaible words
that diminish Caesars;
territories of the voice
that intimte across generations
how a secret was imparted -
that first articulation,
when a vowel was caught
between a strong and a tender consonant
when someone, in anguish
made a new and mortal sound
that lived until now
a testimony
to waves succumbed to
and survived.

Sunday, 30 June 2013

A Quick Round-up Before the Holidays

School's out for summer! So I will be looking after Lucy a lot, and posts will be when I can get around to them. But beofre I disappear into the cake-making, flower-pressing, music-learning, story-reading, picking up and delivering to activity classes over the next weeks, I thought I'd catch up with what has been going on - there was more than I thought!

I was at the launch of the Stirling Fringe Festival on Thursday night. This has been unaccountably below the radar up till now, but it looks like a truly inventive and wide-ranging mix of artistic activity, and I'm hopeful that a new era of the arts in Stirling is about to dawn. And not before time, either. The most exciting thing about the night, however, was meeting a local artist who will be having an exhibition during the fringe, Tamsin Haggis. We had a long discussion about creativity and geo-poetics, so I am really looking forward to seeing more of her work.She has a fascinating website, which you can see here, and I'll be posting a link in the sidebar shortly.

Creativity was also on the agenda at a reading and discussion I went to in the Scottish Poetry Library on Friday, with Christian McEwen, who wrote the very popular book World Enough and Time. She is a very nice woman, and has a lovely voice and reading style,but it did leave me rather thoughtful. Every now and again I find myself up against something that just doesn't work for me, although everyone around me seems to love it.I don't do well, I discover, with the notion of 'slowing down' and 'wasting time' to liberate creativity. I don't have any bother with generating creative ideas. I do have bother turning them into useful working projects. My brain goes in fits and starts, often buzzing with way too much to do, sometimes spinning its wheels in a depressing morass of exhaustion and frustration. The trick, I've found, is a steady pace, enough to keep up the momentum, not so much that I lose the plot, and (horrors!) engaging the much-maligned intellect. Shifting my left brain (always a Cinderella in discussions like this) up a gear gives a project a bit of traction, and rewards the dullness of structure and habit with a satisfaction that I find genuinely liberating. Nimue of Druid Life discusses the same kind of thing here, but I'd be interested in other readers' comments.

In addition to keeping up the momentum on the transaltion of Virgil's Eclogues (feel a tub-thump coming on about the relationship between the state and ownership of land, but that will have to wait a week or two)and Bernard Lonergan's Insight (I've hit a hard bit, there'll be nothing about that for a good while, till I get my head round it) Cora Greenhill introduced me to the poetry of Moya Cannon. That was a real revelation. Her poetry is on much the same ground as mine, but in many ways could not be more different. I'll be reading and re-reading Carrying the Songs a lot over the summer, and reviewing it some time in the autumn.

I haven't been walking the territory much this year, but today I noticed that the wild roses and the elder flowers were in full bloom. My hayfever is too bad this week to be outside much, but the garden seems to be getting along without me. We are harvesting lettuce and gooseberries, and the strawberries are filling out nicely, though there's none ripe yet. The roses are in full bloom, and the lavenders are just beginning.

The house martins nest that was raided by the gulls is full of cheeping again, so I hope that brood#2 has better luck than the first one! I was weighing up this year's nesting season, and it doesn't seem too bad. I've noticed fledglings of sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds, greenfinches, jackdaws, great tits, mallards, goldfinches, crows and magpies - and the gulls, of sourse, now very large and mousy brown, but still roof-bound. And ospreys, though these weren't actually on my patch, but at Aberfoyle, where you can see live pictures from a webcam in the mini lodge.

And this brings me rather breathlessly to a stop for a while. I hope to be posting over the holidays, if rather erratically, but otherwise, I will be back in august. Happy summer, everyone!

Monday, 24 June 2013

The Flight From Understanding

Every so often I want to get on my high horse and rant about this, but here's a guy who has done the job for me, back in 1957, without any of the slang and swearywords I'd have to edit out.
Bernard Lonergan writes:

For concrete situations give rise to insights which issue into policies and courses of action. Action transformsthe existing situation to give rise to further insights, better policies,more effective courses of action. It follows that if insight occurs, it keeps recurring; and at each recurrence knowledge develops, action increases its scope, and situations improve.

People who have looked into permaculture theory will recognise the imperative for observation and responses, feedback loops and spirals of abundance. On the other hand, Lonergan writes about the opposite, the spiral of degradation which he calls 'oversight' or 'the flight from understanding':

The flight from understanding blocks the insights that situations demand. There follow unintelligent policies and inept courses of action. The situation deteriorates to demand still further insights, and as they are blocked, poloicies become more unintelligent and action more inept. What is worse, the deteriorating situation seems to provide the uncritical biased mind with factual evidence in which the bias is claimed to be verified. So in ever increasing measure intelligence comes to be regarded as irrelevant to practical living. Human activity settles down to a decadent routine, and initiative becomes the privilege of violence. The preface to Insight,The collected Works of Bernard Lonergan Volume 3, published by University of Toronto Press.

This applies to so much I have been seeing over the last few years, and I'm sure everyone can come up with their own examples. Here are three of mine:
Food is short, and the situation is too desperate to stop and think about lasting solutions, so we have to resort to GM technology. Don't be emotional, says the government. But look at the science. OK GM food hasn't been proved to have killed anybody, and 'frankenfood' is a particularly unhelpful term of abuse, but look at the actual results. It doesn't deliver on yield. It doesn't deliver on pest resistance. It hasn't cut down the use of pesticides and herbicides. It has cross-fertilisied with non GM crops. It has escaped from cultivation. On every level it has failed to do what it was supposed to do. It is an experiment that has failed. Move on.

The same can be said for nuclear weapons. They are too terrifying to use.They are expensive to maintain or replace, to the point where their possession compromises the standing of a conventional army. And they haven't kept anyone out of war. They are a failure. Let's cut our losses and move on.

And now there's the looming energy crisis. We are so tempted to fly from understanding this one. If we are bounced into allowing fracking - which will only happen if the companies involved are given large subsidies and allowed to relax current environmental safeguards, we can't guarantee cheap abundant energy. we can guarantee higher taxes, envirinmental devastation, and some years down the line when shale gas runs out, the exact same problem we have now, and less opportunity to rectify our mistakes.

There are moral issues here. But prior to the moral responses come the intelligent insights. And before the intelligent insights, the patient and unself-serving attempt to be still and observe, not react out of panic. I see a lot of division between the spiritual people and the intellectual, the practical and the moral, but it does seem to me that the good and the clever should not be at odds - or we're all screwed.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Pastoral Poetry

One of the many upheavals in the cultural world over my lifetime has been a reappraisal of pastoral poetry. In my youth pastoral poetry was regarded as an artificial and rather sentimental construct - all these highly cultivated (and presumably rich) people pretending to live the simple life and envying the happy peasant his careless poverty. The Romantics, of course were regarded as different, seeing engagement with nature as a spiritual or intellectual adventure, with no sense of wish-fulfilment or nostalgia. It was all a bit macho then, and we went in for the hidden violence in Ted Hughes' animal poetry (that thrush, for instance, a mechanical murderer, like something out of Terminator - what were we thinking?)

Well, we weren't entirely fair to the pastoral as a genre - though there's something to hang onto in there; it's awfully easy to slip into something that sounds as if it belongs in Country Living - pastoral poetry has a serious job to do, and we are in just the situation where we need it. Pastoral isn't really about playing Marie Antoinette - a bucolic holiday for spoilt or disappointed urban readers. It is almost always written in response to a time of social and political upheaval. It is almost always about renegotiating what's really important about human life, our place in the universe as individulas and as a species. And there is no doubt that this is what is driving so much of our writing and thinking. From geopoetics, eco-poetry, permaculture and transition, the revival of interest in crafts and slow food, to the upsurge in nature writing and deep ecology and earth-based spiritualities, we are really open to questions that pastoral poetry invites us to consider.

I've written before about this in Wilderness Poetry, but I've just started working on a translation of Virgil's Eclogues. It will take me ages. I've forgotten so much vocabulary, and I was always a bit slip-shod in my translations even when I was doing it all the time,but it's fascinating to take so much time to concentrate on the weight of each word.

Take 'lentus' in the fourth line of Eclogue 1, for instance. If you look it up quickly, you get 'slow' like in music, or 'tough' which are both a little bit weird in the context. If you go on (I got an enormous dictionary very cheap in a booksale at the Scottish Poetry Library) you get words like 'fixed', 'inactive', 'lingering'. Are we insulting our rustic shepherd - slow-witted, inert, a bit thick? No, not really. Although Meliboeus is comparing his hasty flight into exile with Tityrus' contented stay-at-home idyll, he is also talking about resilience, roots, belonging. To Virgil, as to many of us these days, stability comes with engagement with the earth; it is the foundation of a proper human life. Whether it is pleasant or peaceful or happy is not the point. There aren't any guarantees or illusions about it. But as we get into the Eclogues we realise that in more than one way, we are 'grounded'.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Coming into Flower

There's a whole lot of progress and change going on in this territory. The herbs are full and lush, and sage and thyme are drying in the kitchen for the winter.

The iris border has come magnificently into flower, all at once this time, instead of spreading itself out over a month.

The lavenders I bought last summer are bulking up, and beginning to show their true colours.

The pond is midge heaven this week - very annoying for me, but rather delightful for the tadpoles who are beginning to rise to the surface to catch them. And maybe this is what I have to thank for the large numbers of swallows, martins and especially swifts I am seeing in the early morning. I'm sure there are many more than last year, although the picture isn't uniformly good, as I'll tell you later.

Closer to the house the first rose is in flower.

And the vegetables are beginning to grow with a will. There are no lettuces from seed, nor spinach, as the slugs have had the lot, but peas, beetroot, leeks, sprouts, broccoli and courgettes are doing well, and in the greenhouse the tomatoes and the cucumber have made the most of last week's good weather.

On the riverbank, there is still a lot of feeding of baby birds going on. Blackbirds, wrens and dunnocks, are especially busy. The black-backed gull chicks have hatched, but not even the sight of the endearing balls of fluff running around the warehouse roof on their disproportionately long legs can reconcile me to the fact that the martin's nest I spotted two weeks ago is silent and abandoned. The gulls had the lot. I had hoped that the martins had just moved in under the roof of the tenement, but no, that is the starlings on brood#2!

There is also some exciting geopoetics news. We now have a facebook page and a twitter account @SCGeopoetics. I hope a lot of people who read this blog will like the page or follow the feed, and get all the news as it happens!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

Thinking Like a Tree

These are pictures from last year, and choosing them really showed me how late everything is. This time last year the alchemilla looked like this: and it does, just about!But in my May folder there are pictures of my iris border in full flower, and it's only just in bud now, and all these aquilegias - barle a twinkle in the border's eye!

Things are beginning to move very fast now. I still have the very last daffodils, the cowslips, the lily of the valley and the tulips, while the rowan and cow parsley are in flower and the sweet rocket - which may well go on all summer is begiining to show. The housemartin nests under the eaves across the river are full of noisy chicks already, though they only came back at the beginning of the month, and the first birds - the sparrows, starlings and chaffinches have fledged, and there are young greenfinches on the riverbank, while the black-backed gulls are still sitting tight on eggs.Tadpoles in the pond are large and very lively, and the magpies are courting disaster trying to fish for them - mostly without success. All the vegetables are planted out now, and the window-boxes are ready to go into place.

On the writing front, things are maturing nicely, mostly thanks to the conversations I have having with a poet I met at Wiston Hall - Cora Greenhill, which have not only moved me in a new direction, but made me more aware of the complex and multi-layered processes that go into my work - all of which should mean a bit less thrashing about in all directions trying to get moving, and a lot less settling for the quick and empty image-grab. If I've been a bit quiet lately, that's mostly why. I'm having a moratorium on the whole jumping-in-with-both-feet thing, becoming less of a magpie-mind and a bit more grounded, persistent and nurturing to my ideas - more like a tree, maybe? It's rather a pleasant process!

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

New Blog Links

I've just added some new blogs to the list, following the Dark Mountain Weekend. Go check out, Graftage, The Poetry Pile, The Salt Road and Weaving Poetry - you won't regret it!

Sunday, 12 May 2013

The Merry Month of May

As I look out of my window, May doesn't seem so very merry. There is a mass of thick grey cloud away to the north, and a cold wind blowing intermittent rain showers at the window. Moreover, I've been out of action with a bad headache, and not feeling disposed to be merry at all---
However, we do seem to have turned a corner. It's much warmer than it was, and there was at least one day of welcome sun. All the trees, even the ash and oak, are in leaf, the pear plum and cherry trees are in full bloom, and I've just seen the first apple blossom on my neighbour's trees. The swallows and martins are busy, I've seen the first swifts, and the birds are all carrying food, not nest materials. Every time I look at my garden, I feel happier.

The productive bit of the garden is beginning to shape up too. The vegetable seeds are in, and coming on nicely and there are blossoms on the fruit bushes. Because of the current anxiety about bees,I am trying to take photos of all the bees I see in my garden, and there certainly seem to bee a lot more about this week.

They aren't very bright! This one was trapped in the greenhouse for ages, as unlike wasps, they don't seem to understand glass. Butterflies aren't much better. There was a peacock trapped in there last week, as I tried to waft it towards the vent or the door without success. The warm weather brought out a lot of butterflies. I've seen tortoisehells and peacocks and the first whites.

And I've tried my hand at a more complicated sourdough mix, this time including rye and barley flour. I was really pleased with it - I can see that I'm going to have to make a lot more sourdough in the future!

On the poetry front, I've been working on some of the poems I started in April, and I'm very excited by it. Having to produce so much in such a short time pushed me out of my usual range, and meeting so many good poets at the Dark Mountain Writing Weekend really helped me raise my game.

Wednesday, 1 May 2013

NaPoWriMo - the score card

Well, April was a busy month! As well as Easter and the Dark Mountain Writing Weekend, there was the Easter holidays and the spring garden work to contend with. All this, and NaPoWriMo too! Unsurprisingly, I didn't make a poem a day, but I did manage 24 poems. Most are still in first draft form, and a lot of them are haikus, but still---.
Here they are:

  • About to Get Lost
  • After Visiting Time
  • And So Today
  • Anda Union
  • April Rain
  • Border Fells
  • Buzzard Poem(s)
  • Change in the Weather
  • Chant for a New Start
  • Dum Y At
  • Grey Mug
  • In the Fields
  • In the Woods
  • King of the Birds
  • Land-Chant
  • Murmuration
  • Nettle Shirt
  • Plantation
  • Primroses
  • Ruined Abbey
  • Starling Walk
  • The Way We Live Now
  • Wind Changing
  • Wood Violets

Some of them will probably be combined to form longer pieces, and at least one poem will probably develop into at least two, so the final total may be as few as fourteen, but really, that's not bad for a busy month! The experience of doing NaPoWriMo has been a very good one, not only providing me with a lot of material to work on, but also a great confidence boost at a time when I was beginning to falter. I think the Dark Mounatin Weekend which I blogged about last time was crucial in this - I came home with the bits for ten poems out of three days! I'll put up some pieces here, but the longer ones will be saved so I can submit them elsewhere, as even the most limited appearance here can be counted as 'previous publication.'

Anyway, thank you to the people who organised the whole project, to the poets and family who encouraged me to take part, and especially to Jo Bell, whose prompts were unusual, imaginative and truly inspiring!

Friday, 26 April 2013

Dark Mountain Writing

Last weekend I was at the Dark Mountain Wriiting Weekend at Wiston Lodge, organised by Susan Richardson and Em Strang. Sue was someone I'd got to know via the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics, and you can read some of her poetry in the new issue of Stravaig, and I'd come across Em's work in Earthlines so that was encouraging. Then the good people of Wiston Lodge coped easily with my awkward dietary requirements, so it was aways likely to be a good experience. It was better than that, however. The peace and the structure that was set up gave me a chance to forget all the stuff happening at home, and just write; the workshops and the conversations they generated were inspiring, and I met some wonderful writers and made some excellent friends. What more could a person ask?

This is the campfire we had on the Saturday (that's Sue in the photo). Some very exciting ideas were hatched and there will be more about them over the next few weeks and months. Several of us have blogs, and I'll put links to them in the sidebar.

But now I'm home, and busily catching up on the garden work, the housework and all the dealings with medical services which are making up a large part of life just now. But at least spring has happened. Every day there is a new flower, a new bird (swallows arrived on Wednesday!) or new leaves of another tree. Even the hail this afternoon doesn't seem to have stopped it. These are the latest - cowslips in my tiny woodland garden.

And I have finally achieved a long-standing ambition. I've baked our own bread since I was married, but sourdough has eluded me. This is my first edible sourdough loaf, and it was lovely. There are so many recipes I'm going to try now!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Most of the garden seems to have been in suspended animation lately.I've been looking at the rhubarb for a month, saying "Another week will do it!" with no result. On the other hand, the primroses are thickening up nicely,

and the whole spring border seems to have made a step forward.But everything was getting very dry - an odd thing, after all the rain last year - and despite the gathering cloud, the dropping pressure and the humidity, it never rained. The wind remained in the east, and it was cold.

This morning, though the wind remains easterly, it has rained - half-hearted drizzly mist at first, but now genuinely wet stuff. I've just been out to water the greenhouse, and it smells wonderful!

There's been very little gardening lately, what with the frost, my arthritis and my daughter's illness, but I've been keeping up with NaPoWriMo - more or less, and so far I've written:

  • Nettle Shirt
  • Dum Y At(haiku)
  • Ruined Abbey
  • MurmurationHaiku)
  • Opening Autumn
  • You Will Get Lost(from a prompt from Jo Bell)
  • Primroses(haiku)
  • Chant for SpringPrompted by Jo Bell, again
And the new issue of Stravaig is now online. I don't have any poetry in it, but there's an essay about my territory, and a review of last year's Dark Mountain anthology - a beautiful book, with an awful lot to say.

Friday, 5 April 2013

NaPoWriMo Day#5

Anda Union

Music from the grasslands.
Thousands of horses
will gallop through my dreams.

I never meant to write so many haikus this month! But we've had to deal with an acute episode in a family health situation, and I feel very fortunate to be able to grab some quiet time to write anything at all! Anda Union is the name of a Mongolian band we heard during Celtic Connections. It was a wonderful night, not least because it took place in the Gllasgow Art Club, a venue of unbelievable elegance. Do check out the website - there are clips of their amazingly rich and complex music on it. Ever since then I have wondered how Scottish music relates to our landscape and our sense of home - wind music? rain? the sea? What do you think?

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

StAnza Spring and Other Such Commotions

Back in January, I booked my tickets for the big events at StAnza, only to discover, three days later, that the Byre Theatre had gone into administration, and would close at once. What heroic efforts took place behind the scenes I do not know, but thanks to the team lead by Eleanor Livingstone - including many of the Byre staff who lent their help voluntarily to sort things out, Scotland's premier poetry festival went off without a hitch. I was there for two and a half days, long enough to hear Gillian Clarke talk about the Goddodin and give an excellent reading, Tessa Ransford and Iyad Hayatleh read and talk about their collaboration The Rug of a Thousand Colours, a furiously and filthily witty re-enactment of The Flyting of Kennedy and Dunbar, performance poetry by Rachel McCrum and Harry Giles, and an excellent discussion about engaging with nature at Saturday's Poetry Breakfast. These Poetry Cafe events are a fabulous idea, as the meat pies at lunch time and the danish pastries at breakfast are superb, and if I hadn't had the world's biggest breakfast at my digs, I'd have really gone for it. Add to this, a fish supper from the superb Tail End takeaway,some fortuitous book buying (including The Triumph Tree edited by Thomas Clancy, which I got on a hint from Gillian Clarke's lecture), a long session with my fellow-judge Anne Connolly working on the Red Squirrel competition, and the quiet open mike run by Jim Carruth, and you can see that a great time was had. I met old friends and made some new ones, and even bought a dress I've had my eye on in the Ness sale. You can read more about StAnza on The StAnza Blog - and mark 5th-9th March 2014 in your diaries, because that's when the next one is happening.

Meanwhile, the house is now more or less sorted out, and all the things set aside to go to charity shops have in fact gone. We still have two crates of books I don't quite know what to do with (yes, I am going to keep them!)and a whole lot of cartons that we can't get rid of because we'll need them when youger daughter moves out, but we can at least use all the house now without shifting a ton of stuff first, and we are all settling down quite comfortably.We have just heard that our newest grandchild - due in the summer - will be a girl, and Lucy read me the whole of Cinderella this morning and then said "You bring me one of your books, one with colourful pictures in, and I'll have a bash at it!"

Meanwhile spring is happening. In the garden the first flowers are coming through:

The weather has been so dry lately that the river has been very low at low tide and very still at high tide. There are a lot of ducks here just now, goosanders and goldeneye, mallards and little grebes, and even a moorhen, which I haven't seen for a while. The best sight of all, though, was the otter. Forget shy and elusive, forget the state of the tide, this character was swimming about in broad daylight in the middle of the afternoon, just above our bridge where everyone stopped to look. I think the river must be in better health than I had imagined!

All the ducks are paired now, the black-headed gulls have their summer plumage, and the chaffinches and blue tits seem suddenly much brighter and more colourful. Magpies and blackbirds are obviously building nests and robins and wrens are visibly competitive. Birdsong in the early morning is louder and more various, and last week I heard the first song thrush. Even the snow and hard frost doesn't seem to have slowed them down. There are catkins on the hazels and sallows and daisies in the grass. Let the weather do as it likes, everything else knows it's spring!

NaPoWriMo Day #2

It's the second day of the NaPoWriMo challenge, and so far I've kept up. Yesterday's poem Nettle Shirt is a bit shambolic to share, and anyway, as I think about how to fix it, new possibilities for development occur to me. Today's however, is shorter, and closer to being a finished piece. Seems a bit like cheating, but my grand-daughter is due any minute, so it's all the time I have!

Dum Y At

Round the hill's shoulders
a string of silver beads -
five wild swans in flight.

Monday, 1 April 2013

The Tentative Spring

Although it is now April the wind is still easterly and the temperature is low enough to deter gardeners. I have a lot of seeds waiting to go, but blimey, what's the point? And yet -- here are the first flowers in Lucy's garden, so something's happening!

I have my first daffodils too. These are the native species, the wandered-lonely-as-a-cloud type of daffodil, which I planted last year. They didn't flower at all then - this is usually the case, in fact, but this year they are doing well, beating the cultivated ones by weeks, and much more delicate and subtle too.

Some of the herbs have started too. The one I always worry about is tarrgaon, as the French variety is supposed to be tender. Not a bit of it. It is romping away, while the rosemary and purple sage look very sorry for themselves. This is angelica, very green and vigorous already.

The birds are all well into nesting. The magpies were the first, but the sparrows have a whole tenement in the privet hedge, and blue tits, wrens and chaffinches are making themselves very obvious. Blackbirds are chasing each other round the pond and the colony of black-backed gulls has returned to its residence on the warehouse roof. They are very noisy and aggressive and it occured to me to wonder if they are the reason why I haven't seen any mallard chicks for the last year or so.

We have had a good Easter, when all the family came together. Lucy and I made hot cross buns, pains au chocolat - which are not like chocolate croissants, but rich soft bread rolls with a lump of chocolate baked inside, and cup cakes, and decorated an Easter tree for a big dinner. Most of us have had to struggle so far this year, whether professionally or with health and relationship issues, so it was nice to take a break and enjoy each others company.
And by way of getting back to work, I have signed up to NaPoWriMo this year, hoping to quickstart some creativity, and I'll post some progress reports as I go

The final photo is of my favourite flower. We have two (2!) in the garden, after years of cosseting and moving them to better places. I see photos from other people's garden showing great swathes of bloom, and see recipes for all sorts of violet concoctions from herbalists - where do they get them from? How do you get violets to flower so prolifically? I think this is going to be the next project!Have a very happy holiday, everyone!

Monday, 18 March 2013

Enough for Everyone

On Saturday we went to lobby our MP about the Enough Food If Campaign, run by a lot of charities in order to abolish economic and political practices which keep poor countries from being able to feed themselves. I got to it via one called Progressio which runs projects (including permaculture schemes for land reclamation) aimed at empowering communities in developing countries to become more resilient and end poverty, but Christian Aid and Sciaf are in it too.

The charities claim that we could end hunger and feed everyone on the planet

  • IF we use land for food not bio-fuel andend the land-grabs by large multi-national companies
  • IF richer countries paid the 0.7% of GDP we promised to help poor countries feed themselves
  • IF all multi-national companies paid the taxes due to the countries where they operate
  • IF all multi-nationals were totally transparent about their trading practices

As well as our MP, Anne McGuire, our MSP Bruce Crawford, and our local councillors were there, and I'm pleased to say they all spoke in favour of, and signed, our open letter to the Chancellor calling on him to honour our pledge about British aid. Anne McGuire pointed out that although we are in a time of austerity, and the Daily Express that very morning, was calling for cuts to fall on the aid budget, the people of Britain are actually very willing to help poorer countries (having raised a record total only the night before for Comic Relief). This was backed up by the speaker from the newest organisation present, who said that her group, Stirling Aid had started becasue they had found the people of Stilring to be so generous. Stirling Aid began in our local mosque, but it reached out to include all the local churches, who work together to raise funds for disaster relief. I've found it to be the case, too. We are very good at giving money.

But please, do give some time, too. Go to the campaign web-site. Sign up to get newsletters. Join the thunderclap. Let's get some permanent changes made.

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Pause for Thought

I have finally accepted that life round here is getting the better of my good intentions, and there won't be another post here until the week beginning 18th March. I'm hoping by then to have been to StAnza and made good progress judging the poems for the Red Squirrel competition. See you all later!

Monday, 11 February 2013


Things are happening in the garden.It's light now when Lucy and I leave for school. Birds are obviously claiming territories and checking out nesting sites. There has been sunshine today, and I have the washing out for the first time this year. We've had the smallest possible helping of the very first broccoli.

In the greenhouse the endives are beginning to put on leaf, and the herb cuttings that have overwintered are perking up nicely.

The rhubarb looks encouraging, and buds are swelling on the fruit bushes.

There are new shoots in the flower garden, on the valerian

and the peonies.

The blog has been quite slow of late,because things have changed a lot round here. We finalised the content of the latest Stravaig, and I finished a set of Huldra poems. And then my younger daughter moved back home to start a new job, and we've been to reconfiguring the house to accommodate her, and in readiness for the visits of number 2 grandchild - due in the summer. It's meant a lot of clearing, cleaning and repurposing, several trips to charity shops and to the tip, and a lot of rethinking how I use my time and space.Gardening is about to start in earnest, too. One project that I have planned is a 'fairy garden' which Lucy and I are going to plant, with soi-disant roses and candytuft, zinnia 'thumbelina'and 'ballerina' poppies, and snapdragons, so I'm gearing up for sowing those seeds, as well as peppers, tomatoes and rosemary.Poetry seems to be taking a back seat, but I'm eagerly waiting for the entries to the Red Squirrel Competition - due any day now! The snowdrops are just hitting their stride, and so, I hope, am I.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Birds Were Singing in the Dawn

Cold Winter Blues

I woke up this morning,
cold winter blues all round my head.
Woke up this morning,
cold winter blues all round my head.
If you don’t leave me woman,
I’ll make you wish that you were dead.

I woke up this morning
snow was lying all around.
Woke up this morning,
snow was lying all around.
Until the ice is melted
there ain’t no road back to town.

I woke up this morning,
birds were singing in the dawn.
Woke up this morning,
birds were singing in the dawn.
If you ain’t careful, woman,
you’re going to wake and find me gone.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013


The word 'huldra' means hidden, or cloaked, and the huldra-folk of Scandinavian mythology are the elves or trolls which live in the quiet places on the fells or in the forests. There are roads in Iceland which bend to avoid elf-rocks.Once upon a time I wrote a novel in which a charismatic but ruthless poet wrote a collection of poems which he called Huldra-Folk. I think this was his equivalent of G.K.Chesterton's 'silent people'- the working class -("We are the silent people/and we have not spoken yet"). The novel was set in the seventies, and this guy was not above using a fashionable political motif to get publicity, though his actual politics were laissez-faire to the point of callousness. However, I gave up writing novels long ago, and it recently occurred to me that I should probably write the poems myself.

They aren't going to be left-wing poems, at least not on purpose, and I think some people might not see them as political at all, but just as the Feminist movement of the 80s used to say that the personal was political, we might want to think nowadays that the environmental is political. Certainly issues about food security, land use and ownership, energy generation and conservation are all going to become overtly political in the next few decades. But I'm looking in a wider, but more subjective way, at what's 'hidden' in our environment - the secret wildlife in our gardens, in our cities, in our thinking. It's fascinating. And I've just finished the first few poems.

I can't show them here, not even in draft form, because I want to send them somewhere, but I'll let you know how they get on.

Monday, 7 January 2013

The First Territory Walk of 2013

This mild weather has brought out the yellow flowers of winter. Who knew?

I started a spring cleaning in the herb patch and the greenhouse.

And I brought the tiniest possible sprig of wirchhazel into the house. It smells amazing - a cosmetic, slightly medicinal smell, incense and primroses and maybe soap.

I made the first territory walk of the year, just about dusk, and a skein of pink-footed geese was heading over the fields and down the Hillfoot Road towards Alloa. The Ochils looked serene and peaceful as the quiet night came in. I am hoping this will be the first of many walks this year, and lead to a lot more poems!

If you were thinking about entering the Red Squirrel Poetry Competition and didn't get round to it, you now have another month to do it. The closing date has been extended to the 31st January. Good luck, everybody!