Archive | November, 2009

Poetry in unusual places: Part 5

25 Nov

I’ve been listening to Marc Riley on the radio on and off since I was about eleven.  I first started listening when he was paired with Mark Radcliffe (now of the Culture Show) when they were known as Mark and Lard.  Even back in the early nighties Mark and Lard were championing contemporary poetry, various small preses and would sometimes even have poets on to read.  What may come as more of a suprise is that they were on Radio 1, and I imagine it was only becuase they were on very late at night that they got away with it

Marc (aka Lard) now has a show on BBC 6 Music , the radio station for “cool” people over 25.  While listening last night I was delighted to hear that this week he is interspersing his show with recordings of Ivor Cutler reading.  It is great to hear that Marc is still championing poetry, and expanding it’s audinces by placing in a truely contemporary setting.  Well done that man.


Poetry in unusal places: Part Four

24 Nov

So with out darkest days behind

our ship of hope will steer

and when in doubt just keep in mind

our motto PERSEVERE

It disna matter where she gangs

she’s always happy and gay

now she’s kippin it up with a navvy

at the fit o the sherry brae

The above two slabs of concrete are part of a set of five which can be found along the Water of Leith walkway, just as the walk meets Coburgh Street in Edinburgh.  I have walked past them for years, and I particular like the first slab, which includes the Leith motto, Persevere.  The motto reflects Leith’s past, as a docks for all kinds of international vessles.  However I am afraid to sayI know nothing about where the verses are from, who chose them and why.  I would be grateful if anyone could tell me.

Another reason why I like these slabs is because it’s great to see poetry being incorporated into public works like the Water of Leith walkway.  I wish we could see poetry used in this ay more, as it certainly becomes a talking point and can liven up a walk, as well as stimulating the mind.

Poetry Kit Reccomends

20 Nov

Regular visitors to my blog may notice the new button on the right hand side.  The Poetry Kit, have been kind enough not just to list my blog but also to award it a recomendation as a good example of a blog containing material of interest to poets.

The Poetry Kit has some massive listings on it, with events from all round the world, workshops, bookshops, blogs and calls for submissions.  You name it, and Poetry Kit will list it. 

As it is coming up to Christmass, please also be aware that if you want to order anything from Amazon, if you click through from the link on Poetry Kits page Amazon will pay them a small fee which goes towards their running cost.

Thank you Poetry Kit.

Poets on film: The Edge of Love

17 Nov

edgeofloveAlthough both poetry and film can at times reach pinnacles or artistic excellent they are not always the most interesting combination.  How many times have you seen a poem on television only to have it accompanied by a) a sunset/rise, b) waves crashing against a shore, or c) mist? However there does appear to be a growing cannon of films about poets or touching on the subject of poetry.

The first that I decided to investigate was The Edge of Love, which opened the Edinburgh Film Festival in 2008.  This poet that this film claims is Dylan Thomas.  When approaching the film I did not know that much about Thomas.  Under Milk Wood was one of my fathers favorite poems so I had read and watched it several times, and the phrases from it still stay with me.  But apart from that, his alcoholism, his nationality and the fact he had written for radio I knew little about him.

The film is mainly about the women in his life.  His wife Ciatlan and his first love Vera.  The two women deal with their own failings, marriages and emotional battles, childbirth and abortion in a background of the blitz and war torn Britain.  In the film, Thomas pretty much just carries on doing what he wants to do, and gets a bit sulky when one of them turns their attention away from him for five minutes.

Although the director has beautifully rendered some of Thomas’ poetry, and the film has disturbingly realistic portrayals of the London blitz, at the end of the day the most poetry comes in the form of Vera’s husband played by the fascinating Cillian Muprhy.  In his letters home, in his love for his wife, in the personal destruction he faces from the horror of war.  Although an officer, among the poet, night club singer and nymphomaniac he is the nearest the story can come to an everyman character, and as such it is his life, love and beliefs which tells us the most about that time and place.

Unfortunately this film did not satisfy any curiosity about Thomas the writer, how he came to writing, what inspired him, how he progressed.  I guess, I shall have to rely on reading a book.  His character is portrayed as a weak, selfish and vain man, and we are hown no redemaning features.

Is this a film about poetry – No.  Is this a film about Dylan Thomas – No.  It is however a film about difficult human relationships, with a touch of war thrown in.

Seven Days Left to Listen: A Season in Hell

15 Nov


Last night while falling asleep to BBC Radio 3 I heard a brilliant adaptation of Arthur Rimbaud’s A Season in Hell on Between the Ears.

Rimbaud was a prolific poet during his writing career, which finished at the age of 21.  Rimbaud wrote A Season in Hell during a difficult and destructive relationship with fellow poet Paul Verlaine.  It is a very intimate trip into the subconscious of someone who is reassessing their life, its contributions and its failures.

I had never heard Rimbaud before, and last nights version certainly impressed me and I will be looking further into his work.  I doubt that anyone could listen and not be challenged and moved, whether is is in a negative or a postive way is rather down to your own tastes.

Arts of Resistance

9 Nov


One of the main draws to me of the Edinburgh Independent and Radical Book Fair was a talk titled Arts of Resistance:  Poets, Portraits and Landscapes of Modern Scotland, by Alexander Moffat and Alan Riach.  Alexander Moffat is a former professor of painting at the Glasgow School of Art and Alan Riach is the present occupant of the chair in Scottish Literature at Glasgow University.  Their talk was about their book of the same title, and they authors began by explaining it’s birth.

Both on a trip through China with other artists and poets, they were asked by an Arts College to talk about Scotland as a cultural idea.  The hall, full at 9pm, had an audience that continued to grow throughout the night, and the two found themselves still discussing Scotland and its culture at midnight.  A quite amazing experience, and one I am sure you will not find in Scotland. This talk inspired Moffat and Riach to try to rebalanced the understanding of Scottish culture within Scotland.

The aim of the book is to bring the main figures from Scotland’s culture into much greater focus and it does not treat the arts in isolation.  The book looks mainly at visual art and poetry throughout the modernist period, with Hugh MacDiarmid as the catalyst of a cultural renaissance in Scotland, a renaissance that some may argue has not yet finished.

Moffat and Riach both felt that one of the main reasons why Scots themselves remain so ignorant of their own diverse and different culture is due to a lack of Scottish art, culture and history on the curriculum.  While I would in no way argue with this assessment I would also add that particularly in contemporary Scotland that the media is just as big, if not bigger influence.

As the UK media is in the large part London based, very little that we watch on television, listen to on the radio (apart from “regional” stations), or read in or papers acknowledges the cultural diversity in the British Isles.  The most recent condescension to regionality is on the news.  Presenters have started saying “in England and Wales” after every headline, which only serves to remind Scotland (and Northern Ireland) how badly they are catered for by “national” news programmes.  The BBC currently spends 3% of the license fee on Scottish programming while we have 9% of the population.  The very fact that there is Scottish specific programming i.e. no one outside of Scotland is interested in Scottish culture (similar for other “regions”), tells us a lot about the mindset behind these decisions.

However this complaint is not, as some would have you believe, a nationalist one.  I know plenty of people from the North of England, or from areas such as Devon and Cornwall, who feel equally frustrated about having their individual cultures at worst ignored, at best the butt of the joke.

I found the talk inspiring, and was slightly disappointed that the question and answer session had to be cut short, if only we were in China, it could have gone on until midnight.

Riach and Moffat managed to create a picture of Scotland in the last hundred of so years which was teaming with creativity and inspiration.  A Scotland which was much more than a small country in isolation, but included international influences.  And, more importantly, a country that can still mine this rich seam into the future, hopefully developing more talented writers and artists who are resistant to the homogenisation of culture.

With a head buzzing with ideas afterwards one comment has stuck with me.  Alexander Moffat, the visual artist of the two said that the artists were jealous of the poets, after all how do you pain in Scots.  However the conversation always started with the poets, because in Scotland’s culture it is the poets who have always taken the lead.

Poets of Scotland, you have a lot to live up to.  Start living!

Poetry in Unusual Places: Part 3

9 Nov


Today I spent a beautiful autumn morning in the Royal Botanic Gardens Edinburgh.  At the newly opened West Gate.  Among the many exhibitions is the Wych Elm Project.  The project takes a Wych Elm that used to grown in the gardens, and on display are some of the many beautiful pieces of furniture, musical instruments and even a yurt, which have all been made out of the one tree.

One of the exhibits are several off-cuts of the Elm, on with Susie Leiper, a calligrapher, has decorated the wood with excerpts from poems. The poems are

Twilight by Wang Bo

Shadows from the Greater Hill by Tessa Ransford

Spell of Creation, Northumbrian Sequence and The Moment by Kathleen Raine

Wych Elm by Valerie Gillies

The poems are complimented by a video shown in the yurt detailing the project and including Valarie Gillies reading from her own poem.  Well worth checking out.