What I’m Reading

I’ve always had a thing about wrens. I think it may have had something to do with being small myself, and the fact that wrens were usually known as ‘jenny’, which was something of a rarity in the macho bird-watching culture I grew up in. Later I rather liked the fact that they are pretty loud for such a small bird, though this was somewhat damped by the revelation that it is the male who sings, claiming his territory. I like the effrontery of the ‘king of the birds’ story, where the wren hitches a ride on the eagles back so it reaches the highest flight, and I love the association of wrens with druids and bards.

Michael Hartnett has a wonderful poem called The Necklace of Wrens, which you can hear here, and which inspired this lovely piece of music by The Gloaming.

But what I’m reading just now is a monograph, The Wren by Edward A Armstrong, a summary of the extensive research Armstrong carried out over several years from 1943-48. It is an exhaustive study, explaining a lot of what has puzzled me about the wrens I see and hear, and with a lot of information about territory, nesting behaviour, and why I’m hearing wrens singing now. Wrens are going to be significant players in the long poem, so it has already paid off.

But also, while I’ve been running about getting to readings and so on, I’ve been catching up on other things. Common Ground by Rob Cowen was pleasant, if slightly heavy, but covered familiar ground – a man’s personal growth reflected in his engagement with an area of wild land.

More interesting, though a slightly frustrating read, was the twin volumes of poetry by Sean Borodale Bee Journal and Human Work. There’s something about a man discovering the inner meaning of jam making and stewing apples that is going to be a bit irritating if you’ve put in forty years of domesticity to the accompaniment of people telling you your perspective is too narrow and over-familiar. And yet, I nonetheless found myself fascinated by the focus of poems written in the middle of the process – what Borodale calls ‘lyrigraphs’. Physically the manuscripts are marked with splashes and pollen and mud and flour, but more importantly, the lines are shaped by the pauses and rhythms of the work in progress, and the perspective – very close observation, but without the baggage of repetition, tradition or the many other conjoined tasks of a kitchen – made me think again about the possibilities of writing – the capacity of poetry to transform and re-engage with received wisdom.

The long poem is taking me into strange places and making many new discoveries. I have a lot of research to do, but the first twenty lines are written!

Lavender’s blue


Well, you’d think, wouldn’t you. But sometimes lavender can look like this – lavender stoechas, possibly ‘Avignon’


or this

Pink lavender

Which is lavender rosea, or this

white lavendar

which is lavender alba. They are all flowering their lovely heads off, and I’ve taken cuttings. With luck there will be some to share with poets at the Callander Poetry Weekend, which falls this year on the 2nd to the 4th September. Usually I would be encouraging people to sign up for a reading slot, but it seems that the word is out already and there is a wonderful programme in prospect, with the usual mix of readings, book launches, performance pieces, discussion groups, and a lot of good food and conversation.

The weekend got plenty of publicity at the Callander Haiku readings last night, as many of the contributors had met, or learned about haiku at previous weekends. I can’t recommend this weekend too highly, particularly as all the events are free, so if you are new to poetry readings, it’s an easy way to dip your toe in the water.

But in the meantime, I’ve been gardening, harvesting gooseberries and redcurrants, drying oregano for the winter, and beginning to cosset the first tomatoes. The roses are in full bloom and the honeysuckle is just beginning to flower – I think the combination of warm weather and torrential rain which we’ve had this week has really suited the garden! And there are flower buds on the myrtle bush for the first time.

In the quiet of the school holidays, I’ve taken time to rethink the next phase of this blog. I have a couple of poetry projects cooking – some translations from Old English, and a LONG poem dealing with land ownership and exile, environmental neglect, femininity, wildness and poetry. I’m getting sidetracked by research into wrens, fairy tales, folk music and early monasticism, but if I can bring it off, it’s going to be enormously satisfying. I may post scraps of it here every now and then. And I’m focusing my reviews to come up with a poetics of inhabitation – more human than eco-poetry, but less anthropocentric than pastoral. But I have no doubt that there will be the same mix of territory walking, domesticity and comment as usual. I hope those of you who are kind enough to read this regularly will enjoy it.


Callander Summerfest

callander haiku poster

As part of Callander’s Summerfest festival , Die-hard Publishers (Sally Evans and Ian King, who also run the wonderfull Main Street Bookshop) have organised the launch of Callander Haiku

haiku book

a lovely book,  about Callander and its stunning surrounding landscape. The launch will take place in St Kessog’s Kirk Theatre, the Square, Callander at 8:00, on Thursday 21st July, and there will be several of the poets who have poems in the book. I’ll be reading a couple of haiku, and two or three other poems about the area. For more details, please see


Summer in the Garden


The gallica rose is in full bloom, but it is soaking wet. After a lovely fortnight, the summer is cold and rainy, and the whole garden is lush and dripping. The strawberries have all been eaten by the sparrows and starlings, but there are gooseberries and blackcurrants aplenty. The angelica is setting seeds in flower-heads like great chandeliers, and there are marigolds and borage in flower. I have been drying sage and thyme, and taking cuttings, some of which have struck, but not as many as I might have expected. The tomatoes are beginning to set fruit, but they are looking chilled, and I’ve shut the greenhouse door for a day or two.

On the verges the cow parsley is going over, but ox-eye daisy and willow herb are going strong and the thistles are just feeling their strength before they flower. Usually there are clouds of clover and vetch, but not so much this year. On the other hand, the wild roses and elder flower have been magnificent.


The young birds have done very well, apart from the black-backed gulls. They took up residence among the rubble of the warehouse they used to nest on, but surveyors seem to have disturbed them at the wrong time, and I haven’t seen any chicks this year. I am sure that the smaller birds will benefit, but gulls (although they seem so prevalent, not to mention annoying) are endangered now, and I miss the racket they usually make. I’ve seen more kestrels, however, and the first bat, and this morning I saw a juvenile great spotted woodpecker on the birch tree in the garden – it’s an ill summer that doesn’t favour some species!




This blog hasn’t been getting too much love lately, because I have been so busy. There are several anthologies in the works, including one for the rather beautiful Corbenic Poetry Path. I don’t have a poem on it yet, but it is on the way, and the poem in question, Ivy, from Wherever We Live Now, is going to be in the anthology. Jon Plunkett, the creator of the path is a very fine poet in his own right, but this lovely combination of poetry and landscape is absolutely outstanding.

Then, I posted about this project earlier

Poetica Botanica

and I’m delighted to say that I’ll be reading my poem, Melissa Officinalis, at this event, as part of Ledbury’s Poetry Festival. It’s one of a sequence called Herbs for the Three Musics, which I’m hoping will form a significant part of my next collection. The three musics are the three modes of music in Celtic tradition, summed up in the ballad Orfeo as ‘the notes of joy’, ‘the notes of noy’ (i.e. sorrow or pain) and the notes of healing. Melissa, or lemon balm, is well note for lifting depression, so it will fall under the notes of joy, which tradition says are so merry that no-one who hears it can resist dancing.

Saturday 9 July

Poetica Botanica: Making Words from Healing Herbs with Adam Horovitz

Saturday 9 July |  11am–12noon | The Walled Garden | Free

Herefordshire poet in residence Adam Horovitz was commissioned to write ‘February in the

Physic Garden’ at Hellens, Much Marcle. This inspired the Poetica Botanica. Contributors will

read their poems at this delightful event.

Vernal Equinox Prize Giving

I’ve had this notice from the Federation of Writers (Scotland).

The AGM will be held on Tuesday 28 June 7pm (please note later start from the one projected in the last newsmail) with the prize-giving to follow at 8.00pm at the Victoria Bar Tron Theatre. Prizewinners who are also Federation members are urged to attend the AGM first. Friends and family of prizewinners are also most welcome to attend as non-voting members.

If you value the work of the Federation, please do try to attend.

I don’t yet know who the prize-winners are, as the entries were anonymous, and I’m dying to find out!

Summer News

peonies and rocket

The news should be that we have summer – a whole fortnight, it seems, of glorious sunshine, warmth, swallows and swifts scissoring up the sky. It’s only June and already we’ve had gazpacho four times – here:

garden furniture

But I haven’t been idle. There are some new poems, some of which are in exciting places. I hope to have news of an anthology of Edinburgh poems later in the year, but sooner than that, there will be  a pamphlet produced by Marjorie Lofti Gill of work by women responding to this dazzling beauty.dazzle ship MV Fingal

This is MV Fingal, a ‘dazzle ship’ painted by a group led by artist Chiara Phillips. There will be a community event as part of the Edinburgh Art Festival on the 19th June, which will include a reading of some of the poems we have written. I won’t be able to be there myself, unfortunately, but there are about twenty poets included in the project and all the poems I’ve seen so far are brilliant.

And then there’s this:Fed anthology

This is the cover for the new anthology from the Federation of Writers Scotland. It is currently with the printers and copies will be available by the end of June. There is a lot of outstanding work here of all kinds, and also includes my Stand in the Light, which so many people said kind things about when it was first published on And Other Poems.

The back cover reads:

This anthology, the seventh from the Federation of Writers (Scotland), has more than fifty percent greater content than any other year. A massive three hundred and twenty four pages of fascinating fiction, non-fiction and poetry from fifty contributors’ works, selected anonymously by our editorial board from members’ submissions, plus eighteen  prize-winners from six open international competitions run by the Federation. This reflects the exponential growth of our membership, now almost a thousand, from under two hundred when our first anthology, Catch the Tide, was published with only seventeen contributors’ works included.

Readers will find both new and established writers’ works within these pages and subjects as wide-ranging as classroom shenanigans and Native American pow wows. If you love a varied literary diet, you’ll love this book. It’s a veritable feast.

And if that doesn’t make you want a copy, I don’t know what will!


Merry is Maytime

culinary patchOr it was. The last few weeks have been delightful, warm and sunny. This week has been cooler and cloudy, and today the only word for it is dreich. But the garden has bulked out, and I’ve already harvested and dried sage and thyme for the winter. And I’ve achieved an ambition I’ve had for forty-five years, in that I’ve candied angelica stems.

angelicaTo be exact, I’ve cracked how to candy angelica stems, just not why. They smell fresh and sweet and inviting when you cut them, but the after-taste is definitely weird.

knot garden

Many birds have fledged in the last fortnight. One day there were blue tits everywhere, then the lawn was full of squawking starlings. There were robins and dunnocks hopping among the herbs and fruit bushes, and yesterday some new and shiny goldfinches on the greenhouse roof. And I’ve already seen  more butterflies this year than last, including orange tips, which are extending their range into Scotland as the earth gets warmer.

I haven’t been out and about as much this year as last. Some of this is down to family events – illness, house moves, a ballet exam and an escaped snake (don’t even ask, it’s been re-homed now) – but some of it has been actual poetry. I’ve had poems accepted for four anthologies and for the on-line journal Interlitq, which will be out shortly. I’ve written a couple of reviews, and there’s another in progress. The results for the Vernal Equinox Poetry Competition which I’ve been judging are in and will be made public as soon as the winners are notified. I’m very excited to find out who they are, because the standard of entries this year has been very high. And the Federation of Writers (Scotland) very kindly gave me this:


I am so honoured and so grateful.

Also, two new writers’ groups have been started in Stirling, one for writing poetry and one for supporting and promoting creative writing, which will meet some long-felt needs. After a long period of turbulence and transition, I’m beginning to feel that my writing life has some solid foundations, and it is such a satisfaction.

So, in spite of today’s drizzle and the wall to wall grey outside, I’m looking forward to the summer!

peonies and rocket

Federation of Writers (Scotland)

I’ve been a member of the Federation for several years. I’ve read at open mikes, I’ve been to meetings, I’ve engaged with the facebook page, and, as I’ve mentioned once or twice, I have the honour to be this year’s makar.

I wrote about the Fed in March 2011 – you’ll find it here. That was a great night and summed up what this organisation has meant for me. Although I’ve been writing something or other most of my life, there was a long time when poetry wasn’t happening, and when even the live-the-dream self-help books tell you no-one will publish your poetry unless you have a ‘story’, you don’t have much hope it ever will. And yet —

Last time I started writing, I didn’t know what contemporary poetry was like. If I hadn’t found Kenneth White’s Bird Path, I wouldn’t have thought I could even write it. I certainly had no idea whether I was any good, or whether anyone would be interested. Three things happened. The first was the friendship of Sally Evans, who was my first publisher. Once you know Sally, you gradually get to know everyone, because she will invite you to everything that is happening (poetry writing group this morning!), and I began to realise that writing is a very live, active and diverse thing here in Scotland. Then there was Stirling Writers under the tuition of Chris Powici (now editor of Northwords Now). It didn’t matter how raw and unfinished your work was, he could find the three good words on the page, and help you to see why they were good, and what you could do with them to make something work.

And the third was the Federation. This organisation is FREE to join, and completely open access. Here you could meet writers of all genres and at all levels, from the people who had just joined their first writing group to people with several publications and prize-winning careers behind them. You’d get all the news, all the contacts, a chance to present and advertise your work, your events, your projects, and make some good friends. I found it was a safe place to try my wings,  a grounding, supporting and encouraging experience, and it was enormously helpful to me.

This year, as Makar, I’ve judged the poetry competition, and it has been a delight. We have so many good creative, truly inventive poets here, as well as a lot who are still perfecting their craft (but who will be pretty exciting in a year or two) and some who are still feeling their way.  There is so much to be proud of.

But the organisation is showing signs of strain. The newsletter, which goes out to over 1000 people, comes out every fortnight, and must take enormous amounts of work. The facebook page has over 2000 people engaged. There is a website which has to be maintained and updated, and there is a committee which has been holding the whole enterprise together, and which depends on members to keep it running. This year several committee members have to stand down, and volunteers are urgently needed. If you can give any time, any admin, financial or social media skills, please think about standing. The details of the AGM are here:

AGM and Open Mic Wednesday 25 May 7-9pm
McTurk Room
Waxy O’Connor’s
44 West George Street
Glasgow G1 1DQ
Please make a note of the AGM date. It’s really important to come along and have your say which this year you can do in two ways: by voting on issues raised and by reading a poem or two in the open mic slots we’re having this year. 
The McTurk function room is downstairs from the main bar. Anyone who cannot manage stairs please use the Buchanan St. Entrance and let a member of staff know that you require the lift. Someone will assist you on the staff lift.


Bookings for slots at the open mic should be made through Finola Scott. finolascott@yahoo.com

 And I hope to see you there.

Settle by Theresa Munoz

This book, Theresa Munoz’ first full collection, is published by Vagabond Voices, and has been attracting a fair bit of attention in the wider media, because of its timely dealing with the theme of migration. Theresa Munoz was born in Canada, but became a British citizen in 2014, and the first section of the book focuses on the process of migration and commitment to a new country. There are poems about the process of becoming a British citizen – the interviews, the vetting procedures, the infamous citizenship test (after 62 years living here, I’m not convinced I would pass it, and honestly, does every good Brit know who discovered the DNA molecule?). But the ones that speak to me are more personal – the bond with her sister renewed on a visit to the zoo, or her changed relationship to her childhood home. The Way talks of the family values that provide a continuity you desperately need as you push into unknown territory,

            my Dad and I were never late,

never slept in —-


it was our way

back then, to measure our worth.

Her parents share memories of similar experiences – Twenty Two draws comparisons with her mother’s  experience of leaving the Philippines at the same age Theresa Munoz came to Scotland, in  Alma Mater she discovers that her father had attended the same college when he moved to Canada. And there are new connections to be made, discovering nuances in the Scottish use of language in For Me, or taking a gamble on a new home in On Arthur’s Seat,

                 what would happen

if I strode along stamped grass


peered over the edge

into emptiness


trusting myself to the town’s tiny lights.

The second half is concerned with the way our lives are changed by the internet, emails, facebook, selfies, google. Our network of friendships may be preserved or extended by facebook or emails, but our loneliness is reinforced  – No emails from you when I check.  (Wait).  We have access to so much information, but also to a vast array of lies and fantasy. Our identities can be made more malleable, but perhaps less authentic. Or perhaps our laptops contain the ghosts of our real selves. These may seem bleak poems, but they have a quite humour, as in Junk, or How.

Some of these poems first appeared in the Happenstance pamphlet Close which I reviewed here. Some of them have been revised, (there are fewer very short lines) and they have gained a quiet serenity which brings their acute perception into focus. This is a mature first collection, and bodes well for Theres Munoz’ future.