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!