This weekend, Dunbar’s COASTWORD festival shall thrive once again in that glorious corner of the Lothians. The Mumble managed to catch a wee blether with organiser & poet, Hannah Lavery;
So where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking
I grew up in Edinburgh and moved to East Lothian ten years ago, settling in beautiful Sunny Dunbar.
So when did you first realise you were, well, a poet?
I am not sure I am there yet. I write. I have always been making up stories and playing with words and rhythm. Poet seems such an earned title or better a given one. I write poems, plays, stories- I am that. I do have a memory of composing a poem on a long car journey when I was about 10. I was with my Dad and as most children of divorce this meant not with my Mum, and I wrote about telling my missing to the star I could see out the window, but quietly so not to let my Dad hear. Writing poems, must have first been a place for me store my secrets.
Which poets inspired you at the beginning & who today?
I grew up with music played in every room and on every journey. My mum loved the theatre too and as a single mum she would bring me to everything. So Chekov, Shakespeare, Lorca, Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Paul Simon and then later I discovered Maya Angelou and then Jackie Kay. I eventually, became an English Secondary teacher and I loved teaching Dylan Thomas and the War poets but my love of poetry and I think my desire to write it, comes though from that early love with music and from Angelou and Kay and in all those poetry books and anthologies of feminist poetry I would save up for and buy from Word Power in Edinburgh.
Meeting you again
in all the photos
they brought like ashes to your wake
and whilst they cooed over the boy you were,
after khow and chicken curry
with a cigarette taken from my almost sister,
another from your almost third wife, a rum to go
and with a last look back, I took what I had had
and threw it to the wind.
It did not go but settled instead to be cinders on my back,
it followed me home.
What are the best conditions for you to write your own poetry under.
I am not sure, used to be wine and heartbreak but I am a mum and it is more in the spaces between all that duty- from beneath the washing pile. I walk a lot though, in the woods, by beaches- I am lucky to live in Dunbar. And I find that poetry and stories happen in my head – later it stumbles to the page.
You are clearly a family woman – a husband & three kids, right? – how do strike the balance between familial duties & poetic creation
I am mother to three beautiful wondrous children and my husband and I have this treasured busy and crazy full family life. And it is inspiration. And yes, it is obstacle too but I do have a corner of my own and a husband who respects and supports me. We are partners raising our family and in supporting each other to have dreams outside of them too but I crave more time, more silence, less housework and I have learnt to write in the noise and the bustle, in the untidiness. I have learnt to live with the guilt of being distracted. As a mother. As a writer. As a wife.
What do you like to do when you’re not being either a poet or a mother – for recreation
We have a campervan and there, of course, I am still mother and still a writer but a more spontaneous and free one. I sit and walk and play and fill up notebooks but I am never not one of these things. Never not. And this time is so fleeting and I love it- not the chores, but them and being a gang together. My writing is inspired and powered by them mostly.
at the edge of you,
covering with ease
Can you tell us about Coastword, its inception & its evolution
CoastWord started as the wee festival in words, and part of Dunbar Civic Week in 2013. It began as a conversation in the school playground. There is still much planning in the playground but over the years we have developed into a much bigger festival but still with the ambition to create something from our community which celebrates Dunbar and its folk and welcomes others to be inspired by our town and share their work in an intimate, friendly and supportive space. We have been lucky to have been supported by East Lothian libraries, The Dunmuir Hotel and Creative Scotland and have partnerships with Scottish Poetry Library and Dunbar Reads Together. CoastWord is a such special few days and something I am so proud of being involved with.
Who do you have in store for us this year?
We have loads! Poetry with Magi Gibson, Jenny Lindsay, Scott Tyrrell, Colin McGuire and many more in a special Spoken Word and Music night and in events throughout the weekend including a CoastWord Big Breakfast with Katherine MacFarlane and Julie Hogg. We have theatre with Village Pub Theatre and Jenna Watt’s award winning play, Faslane. Authors Val McDermid, Christopher Brookmyre, Janice Galloway and Shelly Day. Music from Faith Eliot, Kirsty Law and Dunbar Sings. Along with new work from our Writers in Residence 2016-17, Catherine Simpson and Kirsty Law.
What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Hannah Lavery
I have been fortunate to have received a Megaphone residency from Workers Theatre and will be sharing my work The Drift in June at their pop up festival in Glasgow. I am also proud to be part of the Writing Mums Anthology, Nourish Me, Sister, which will be launched at CoastWord. This year will also see me working on my first pamphlet of short stories to be published by Post Box Press in 2018.
I am also looking forward to working on some workshops with North Light Arts and the Ridge Project in Dunbar. And of course, I will be working on CoastWord 2018.
My hand reaches in.
It returns empty
retrieve sodden fluff,
biscuit crumb, keys-
he grabs them.
She needs a wee!
He opens the door,
the boys push and
we tumble in.
for loo, Xbox, fridge.
He comes at us
a trip hazard.
Bum and tail
I hold to
one of you
shoes and coats.
I am barely home
and you are before me
a knight, super -hero, turtle.
Coffee is being made.
I dodge an arrow.
Shift a gym bag-
THE MUMBLE : Hi Katharine, when did you first realise you were a poet
KATHERINE : Oh I’m quite wary of the word poet, as it’s not really a title I’d lay claim to. I’ve always loved the rhythm and flow of words and for as long as I can remember have had lines from poems, songs, stories intertwined with visuals – like a mini movie- running through my mind. I recently found a Spot the Dog Notebook from when I was in primary school that’s full of songs with a syllable count for each line so I was obviously interested in the rhythm and structure of pieces from an early age and I remember in P6 a headteacher from another school came to judge the Burns Federation competition; she’d told us a wee story and even as she was telling it I could hear it weaving into a poem, so I wrote it down & she sent me a lovely wee gift in exchange – I guess I learnt early that poetry pays!
That said, I stopped writing when I was 21 – a combination of lack of confidence and a feeling that it was time to ‘grow up’. I always felt like I’d Hartnett’s scars from his Necklace of Wrens tho and still thought in stories and poems. I only started sharing them again a few years ago. As I tend to construct pieces in my mind rather than on the page it’s been a total joy to be able to participate in a vibrant Scottish spoken word scene that has echoes of the traditional ceilidh house.
THE MUMBLE : Who were your earliest influences?
KATHERINE : Robert Burns. I struggled with the language but his metaphorical use of the natural world really chimed with me and then later, in secondary school, it was Gaelic songs and poems, Celtic and Norse myths and traditional ballads that influenced my thought process and in turn the content and style of writing. The first time I read Meg Bateman’s work was at school in a collection called An Aghaidh na Sìorraidheachd and I remember being struck by the clarity of her writing and the gentle delivery of multilayered, often challenging stories with so few words. There was a realness to her writing, it was passionate & strong without being over dramatic or angst-ridden and that appealed to me. John Glenday, Robin Robertson, George MacKay Brown, Norman Maccaig have all influenced the way I think about poetry as has landscape writer Robert Macfarlane. I’ve always been influenced by lyricists, most recently songwriters like Ross Wilson of Blue Rose Code & Georgia Ruth and now of course I’m influenced by the many amazing spoken word performers and poets that I hear reading at events across Scotland.
THE MUMBLE : What motivates you to write?
KATHERINE : Short answer? Everything. There are always words drifting through my mind, usually rooted in the language of landscape and often sparked by minutiae of the natural world (I can be distracted by seaweed at low tide or the way sunlight glints on silver birches all too easily!) but they’re just as likely to be triggered by stories, place-names, historical events or individuals (particularly those not well represented in traditional historical accounts) and they’re always driven by an emotional response. But what motivates me to shape them into longer pieces and share them is very simple; connection.
I enjoy that feeling of connecting directly with the audience during performances, in longer sets there’s usually some audience participation as I enjoy creating something together and love to hear about the connections people make between the pieces and their own experiences. The pieces with a historical or geographic connection seem to spark these the most – there seems to be a real desire to talk about our history, culture and landscape, even if it’s just reminiscing about places people went to on childhood holidays or stories their granny used to tell. I love hearing other people’s stories.
THE MUMBLE : You are a top natch slam competitor, what are the fundamental differences between poetry on the page & poetry performed
KATHERINE : Oh I’m a Slam Baby! I only went to my first ever Slam in June last year and loved the quick change nature of the evening – hearing all those diverse voices in just a couple of hours was an exhilarating experience. I always come away from Slams with adrenaline flowing whether I’ve been competing or just listening. But we’re incredibly fortunate in Scotland and there are a wide range of poetry events out with Slams from open mics to regular shows like Loud Poets, Interrobang or Flint & Pitch and longer form sets from emerging and established artists both from Scotland and further afield. This is due to the hard work of the many dedicated poetry promoters here in Scotland – it’s an exciting place to work but they are working extremely hard on very limited ,or nonexistent funding to try to deliver entertaining events that also provide diverse, accessible opportunities for performers, I think they all deserve some kind of poetry sainthood for their patience & commitment!
I’m slightly dodging the question about the fundamental differences between poetry on the page & poetry performed? Sorry! I suppose that’s because I feel that fundamentally there isn’t really a difference between poetry on the page and poetry performed. Or at least that there is no real requirement to make a distinction between the two. Until recently, ok several hundred years ago (!), poetry was always performed and, for me personally, regardless of whether a piece is performed or written, what matters is that it is true to the author’s voice and that it connects or resonates in some way with the audience whether that’s through the content, clarity of observation, rhythm, or beauty or unexpectedness of the language.
Of course, in a slam style situation where you have 3 minutes to connect directly with the audience and where you know they will be hearing lots of poems in quick succession it makes sense to speak more directly than you might if your pieces were contextualised as part of a longer form set or, I guess, if you were writing for publication where your audience can revisit them time and again. So yes, my Slam material is different from some of my other work in that it’s much more direct – but as I always compose material in my head and rarely write any of it down, unless I’m sending it to someone, I never really consider how it works ‘on the page’ …so I’m probably the wrong person to answer this!
THE MUMBLE : Can you tell us about your first solo show, Home Words, you performed at last year’s the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
KATHERINE : Home Words:Waulking explored themes of identity, violence, loss, survival and belonging with my own writing both inspired by and performed woven amongst traditional Gaelic waulking songs. Waulking was a means of processing tweed by hand, it was undertaken only by women and the full process was accompanied by song- some of them traditional songs that were passed down orally, others extemporised at the waulking itself. The waulking songs that have been recorded provide an invaluable record of women’s experiences from a time when women, particularly women from lower social classes and remote geographic regions, are not represented in traditional historical accounts. Much of the material contained within the songs is directly relatable despite the passing of often hundreds of years since their composition with topics such as; family life, motherhood, love, loss, sexual and domestic violence, politics and feelings of disempowerment in a patriarchal society addressed at times with poetic beauty and at others with an almost heart-breaking bluntness. The fact that a Waulking was a women only ‘safe space’ I feel lends an added profundity to the material. And of course I invited the audience to join me in Waulking the cloth and singing some of the songs with me…it was great fun, there was probably more giggling than singing from all of us and my goodness it was hard work! Those women must’ve been very fit!
THE MUMBLE : So what does Katharine Macfarlane like to do when shes not being, well, poetic
I’m a children’s librarian and mum of 2 story and song obsessed children. So life really is just full of stories, songs and poems all the time! I spend as much time as possible on beaches or walking out by the Loch or in the woods as that’s where the words flow easiest. Nights in are usually spent reading stories & songs that spark the writing and nights out are usually spent at poetry events…oh good lord…turns out I’m never not being, well, poetic!
THE MUMBLE : Can you tell us about the Voices from Ashes project
KATHERINE : Voices from Ashes is a collaborative art project with the wonderful visual artist Karen Strang. It blends word and image to produce a creative reimagining of women‘s voices.
The project was inspired by a shared interest in both the Scottish witchcraft trials and in the representation of women in the written historical record and the work has always been inspired by site visits, shared reading and a discussion of historical analysis. But from the very beginning there’s been an almost spooky, organic development of shared symbolism. Some pieces of writing are inspired by the artwork and other pieces of artwork have been produced in response to the written word. This year Karen will exhibit in Crieff, Milingavie and Falkirk with each exhibition incorporating original poetry composed specifically for each exhibition and reflecting local events.
THE MUMBLE : What is it about the Scottish Witchcraft Trials which made you want to turn them into art?
KATHERINE : Initially my interest in the project was driven by an exploration of the impact of the long term marginalisation of a specific sector of society to distract attention from and/or legitimise the actions of a detached ruling elite that was orchestrated through the means of mass propaganda, scaremongering and the exploitation of an inherently skewed criminal justice system. The echoes of these actions are still with us and reverberate through the written pieces produced for the project.
I originally studied history at university. I love the way that history is like a magic mirror that reflects our past actions and decisions back to us and allows us to fast forward to see what the results of those actions were…and I know there are always immeasurable variables between historic conditions and current situations but well, people are still people and much of the drivers and motivators are the same as they ever were I’ve always been drawn to the human stories, the individuals, it’s these voices that I find running through my work time and again. In the traditional historical accounts of the Witchcraft Trials the women’s personal experiences, emotions, feelings are notably absent but it’s not hard to hear their voices if you listen and so Voices from Ashes aims to redress in some small way the injustices of the SWT by giving back the herstories of the victims in images and words based on an emotional response to the facts recorded at the time of the trials and also to serve as a memorial to the women cited. We hope to create pieces that generate discussion around the Witchcraft Trials and in a wider sense how we, as communities, respond in times of uncertainty or societal change.
THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 hold in store for Katharine Macfarlane, the poet?
KATHERINE : I ❤️2017! It’s been an amazing year so far and there’s plenty more excitement to come including; Some Gaelic songs and storytelling at the Flint & Pitch Revue 5 at the Bongo Club in Edinburgh on 21st April, a breakfast show at Coastword Festival in Dunbar on 21st May, a special appearance as my alter-ego Bird Girl at Freak Circus as part of the Hidden Door Festival on 27th May, a performance at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney in June with Enterprise Music Scotland Artists in Residence – Alison McNeill & Sasha Savaloni and of course another Bella Slam at the Belladrum Festival in August.
Voices from Ashes is mainly about the fine art exhibitions this year but we’re planning to run some workshops in conjunction with the exhibitions in Crieff and hopefully the project will grow to encompass creative writing & painting workshops in other communities touched by the Scottish Witchcraft Trials.
THE MUMBLE : Hello Matthew, so where ya from & where ya at, geographically speaking
MATTHEW : Hi! I was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and was raised via Rathcoole (a housing estate outside of Belfast) and Islandmagee (a peninsula on the North East coast of Antrim), ending up in Carrickfergus, County Antrim, where I currently reside.
THE MUMBLE : When did you first realise you were a poet
MATTHEW : I don’t think i ever ‘realised’ I was a poet. I’m a little wary of folk who make claims to the art; which is to say, I believe it comes from ‘elsewhere’, as Ciaran Carson might put it. For a lot of years I felt I was just a reader, not a writer. Having said that, I came third in a short story competition for children when I was 10 years old, and I wrote little poems and such during those years also. I can tell you that I began to write poetry in earnest, as they say, when I was 27 (I’m now 36); the catalyst was provided by a visit with my father (himself a successful poet, Adrian Rice), to the WB Yeats exhibition in Dublin back in 2006. Although it must be said that I was probably absorbing poetry from an even younger age, given the amount of famous poets that came in and out of our house in Islandmagee, on account of my father’s involvment in the art.
THE MUMBLE : Which poets inspired you then, & who today
MATTHEW : Poets who inspired me when I started out were the likes of Seamus Heaney, Miroslav Holub, Elizabeth Bishop, Sylvia Plath, Michael Longley. The poets that inspire me now are the same, but with the discovery of the complexities of Paul Muldoon’s work a joy; and Don Paterson is a hero of mine also. There are a number of emerging poets that I very much admire. The likes of your own Ross Wilson and Stephen Watt being just two – I had the pleasure of reading with them in Glasgow last November, as well as the inimitable Magi Gibson – along with exciting new Irish contemporaries both in the North and South. The ever-presents are Heaney and Longley, though. And my father, Adrian, of course, has always been a mainstay and an inspiration, and is a brutally honest giver of poetic feedback, which is valuable to have.
THE MUMBLE : Being an Ulsterman, do you find the socio-politcal stresses strains of your native land coming out in your poetry
MATTHEW : To a certain degree they have done, in some of my work. Funnily enough I’ve written a few poems with strains of the WWII Holocaust in them; my poem in memory of the late great poet Primo Levi being one. If I have ever addressed that area in my poems it has always been from an angle of Greek or Roman mythology, or from a childhood perspective. This is nothing new, of course, but is how I feel I can get at what I want to say; and is probably also why it has featured sparingly in my poetry to date. Once you’ve read ‘Ceasefire’ by Longley, ‘Anseo’ by Muldoon and ‘Casualty’ by Heaney, it’s really pointless to think one can compete. Plus things are much improved in my adult lifetime
THE MUMBLE : What other forces drive your work
MATTHEW : Nature can be one. Dreams have also provided me with many a poem. And history. I enjoy linking historical events to events in the present, if possible. I think history can be a lens with which to provide a sharp focus on events in the present, and the recent past. The events concerned do not necessarily have to be of a political nature, either. Personal experience is another aspect that I like to represent, although I find most times the speaker in those poems is fairly impersonal, for whatever reason; I’m not sure myself…
THE MUMBLE : You have had poems published in magazines and journals on both sides of the Atlantic, how do you find both the American poetry & the British scenes of 2017 – is there any common ground
MATTHEW : I find that the American scene, judging from what I’ve read in the journals and from my father’s experience as a ‘poet in exile’ there for the last 12 years, is thriving, as it is in Ireland. The UK is producing some great stuff. I must say, though, there is something special in the air in Belfast… There’s a real poetic buzz about the city these days, and it’s exciting to be a part of it. As far as common ground is concerened, the experimentation on both sides of the Atlantic in verse is something I have noticed. Free verse is also alive and kicking across the water, though I have seen the sonnet form more prevalent on this side; Adam Crothers and Adrian Rice just two prime examples. But any form I love, if the poetry is good. It’s also great to get to follow names in America that don’t necessarily get big coverage in Ireland by being published in those US journals; the likes of Stephen Dunn and Fredrick Seidel, to name two.
THE MUMBLE : What to you makes a good poem
MATTHEW : For me, a good poem is one that is first and foremost honest; one that does not rely on what Raymond Carver might have referred to as ‘tricks’. A good poem comes from what Heaney referred to as ‘a genuine impulse.’
THE MUMBLE : What is the poetical future of Matthew Rice
MATTHEW : Well, hopefully poems continue to be given, as that is where the real work is done; that inspiration continues to hold, and that ‘genuine impulse’ remains clear. Other than that, I have been included in the upcoming anthology ‘The Best New British and Irish Poets 2017’, being launched in London from Eyewear Publishing on 2nd April, and in Belfast on April 20th. I also have a poem in a future anthology in Scotland. I have a few poems forthcoming in one or two journals, as well as some exciting news I just received that has yet to be officially announced… But working towards my first collection is where the focus lies in the immediate future, continuing to refine and sharpen that manuscript, giving it the best chance of becoming my first book.
THE MUMBLE : Hi Stephen, so where ya from & where ya at geographically speaking
STEPHEN : Dumbarton, born and sandwich-bred.
THE MUMBLE : Its clear Dumbarton FC is in your blood, how did becoming club laureate come about
STEPHEN : About four years ago, I had written a poem ‘Boghead’ which won 3rd prize in The Pride & The Passion Football Anthology – judged by Ian McMillan and in association with Derby Country FC. My poem was then published in Dumbarton’s match-day programme vs Hearts in October 2014. At the time, it crossed my mind that a poet-in-residence would be an interesting concept, uniting football with literature. Not long after this, Selkirk FC appointed Thomas Clark, who had also appeared in the anthology, as the first Scottish football club poet-in-residence – and then St Johnstone FC appointed Jim Mackintosh – both of whom are now friends and exceptional poets. After a bit of coercing, I was delighted when Dumbarton FC said that they were open to the idea of appointing their first poet-in-residence, and confirmed this appointment in September 2016 for the home game against St Mirren.
THE MUMBLE : When did you first feel yourself getting into poetry
STEPHEN : 1999. I was assaulted twice within six months and I was in a messy place attending counselling, the court trial, suffering from depression etc. I was lying on my bed listening to a bin lorry rumbling down the street when I began scribbling something down into a little notebook. Although I was 19, I had often written short stories throughout my teens and knew that there was a creative side somewhere in me having previously dabbled with charcoal drawings and cartoons before. Anyone can write poetry – it was something I didn’t feel that I had to be tutored on (although, of course, it’s hugely beneficial when one reads, listens to other poets, and works at their craft) and I was delighted when I had my first poem published at the age of 20.
(Appears on Neon Poltergeist EP)
appear to dissolve
the recondite dales
where only the hares
where the bodies are buried.
like extinct murmurs,
agitated by the demi-suns
of police torches
breath, blood, bone.
In prison, his soup
swills with broken glass,
but he cares little,
used to fasting
Beneath the peat,
a suspended child
stretches up to Heaven
but is primed
The light will find him.
THE MUMBLE : What were your earliest poetic inspirations & what inspires you today
STEPHEN : Carol Ann Duffy was, and remains, one of my biggest inspirations. She is brilliantly talented and has a system which captures my imagination every time. But social narrators have always been the lifeblood of what I write about – Irvine Welsh, Anthony Burgess, Nick Hornby… directors like Danny Boyle, Ken Loach, Shane Meadows… musicians like Jarvis Cocker, Mike Skinner, Kate Bush… and poets like John Cooper-Clarke, Charles Bukowski, Ian Dury… I also love gothic/horror, as shown in the macabre E.P 55.862670, -4.231142 (co-ordinates of Glasgow Necropolis) released with sound engineer/musician Gareth McNicol last year under the guise of ‘Neon Poltergeist’ and have to credit Mary Shelly’s “Frankenstein” with inspiring that part of my writing.
THE MUMBLE : You are an active member of the Scottish spoken word scene. Is at as thriving as it seems
STEPHEN : I had been writing for 11yrs before I first broached the stage in 2010, courtesy of Robin Cairns at his ‘Last Monday At Rio’ evening. In the past seven years, I have attended countless spoken word evenings, mostly in Glasgow but certainly across Scotland too, as well as festivals and fusion nights (cabaret, theatre, music, comedy, improv, spoken word, magic, etc) and met so many incredible talents that it is easy to forget how little there was to choose from at the start of the decade. What I am wary of is that poetry patterns demonstrate peaks and troughs, and that nothing lasts forever. There are good people involved, there are passionate people who are trying to get their message across, and that the upward trajectory in spoken word popularity (Nationwide adverts, Kate Tempest on Jimmy Fallon’s “The Tonight Show”, etc) shows that it is currently in vogue. Who can say when this will trail off but in the meantime, we are hugely enjoying the public’s approval.
THE MUMBLE : When it comes to OTHER poets, who should we be looking out for
There are so many exciting lights on the scene that it is difficult to whittle that list down to a few. Liam McCormack blazed out of nowhere and slayed the London BBC audiences…. Calum Bannerman remains a firm favourite… Loud Poets are the hardest-working unit in the country…. Katharine McFarlane is as beguiling as her character, a stunning writer (Katharine has supported me at both my ‘Optograms’ book launch and Neon Poltergeist EP launch)… and then there are seasoned campaigners who we all know are just wonderful additions to any bill – Jenny Lindsay, Kevin Gilday, Sam Small, Ross McFarlane. And then across in Ireland, Matthew Rice is captivating. I get more excited about seeing these guys in action than I do my own turn, frequently.
Mid-February, at a Jah Wobble gig in Nice n’ Sleazys,
watching a metallic-haired raver
wrap himself around one of the greasy
pink hard-boiled sugar poles
declaring it to be “ma best pal in the world”,
listening to a rendition of the Get Carter theme,
I slip into a gig-dream
back in your chic-shack
with the Get Carter soundtrack playing
as we shared a pack of cigarettes on a mattress
discussing how typically us
to be single on a Saturday night
savouring nicotine, Michael Caine, and our teens
No-one takes pictures at this gig
because it is an older audience
who know how to appreciate here and now
without the constant need to document
every tremor of a performer’s eyebrows
and I wonder how
you are getting on; whether or not
you would like the reggae-bass or steel drums
or call me a wanker for being out
enjoying this song without you.
My thumb presses record on my phone,
warrants the burn of all eyes around me;
tapes a handful of seconds to show you
in case you ever get in touch.
THE MUMBLE : You have just returned from performing at Stanza 2017, can you tell us about the experience.
STEPHEN : Oh. Wow. I was sharing the lunchtime bill with Katharine McMahon at the Byre Theatre. We had hoped to sell 20-30 seats and then we were advised by the Glasgow makar Jim Carruth that he couldn’t get in because we had sold out! It was a fun experience – very professional for what we are used to in ‘Poetry World’ (agendas, transport, registration – all very official) but a real treat to visit such a beautiful town and perform to such an attentive audience. I was supported by friends made at Bloody Scotland crime writing festival, former makars of the Federation of Writers (Scotland), the afore-mentioned Jim Mackintosh, but equally as wonderful was a new audience tuning in to my little insecurities that I like to pen down. I only wish I could have stayed longer, but I found StAnza to be a very warm, supportive, and poetry-passionate experience for which I am grateful to the director, Eleanor Livingstone, for inviting me to.
THE MUMBLE : You also chaperone your poetry into print. Can you tell us about your two collections.
STEPHEN : “Spit” was published in 2012. Looking back, it’s a farrago of punk, nostalgia, romance, and social commentary – but in the most favourable terms. I have incredible memories associated with that book – and it produced perhaps the strongest piece I have ever written, ‘Rubik’. “Optograms” was published in 2016 and is a lot darker – it certainly counters social issues with a helpline number attached beneath every title which is indexed towards the back of the book. Issues include homophobia, eating disorders, drug misuse, prisoners’ rights, noir, miscarriage, and more. I’m not trying to paint any fairytale ending to these poems – the helpline number is supposed to be the shining light at the end of the tunnel. I was fortunate that punk photographer Peter Gravelle agreed to produce the cover for the book, and I can only hope that it helps someone during a bleak period in their life.
THE MUMBLE : What does Stephen Watt do when he’s not musing into the aether
STEPHEN : Right now I am preparing for my wedding – less than 11 weeks to go. But usually I am planning – whether that’s my social life (attending Dumbarton games, friends’ birthdays, visiting my wonderful niece), working within the housing sector, or matters of a poetic-nature. I’m also a reviewer for The Mumble, Louder Than War, Pat’s Guide to the West End, and attend a number of music gigs which, in essence, is my first love. As soon as New York was chosen as our Honeymoon, I was straight online to check if any favourites are playing in the state when we visit. I’m also a fan of crime fiction and have read books recently by Sandra Ireland, Amanda Fleet, Craig Robertson, Chris Brookmyre, and several others which really get the creative juices flowing.
In the lapsed nugatory of space,
the milk of the moon melts into atoms,
gasps of stars
from aliens with green, rubbery faces
and kinky wit, eager to see what happens.
It transpires in slow motion.
to lustre, the sheen of the Milky Way
reflecting like false teeth
in a bedside glass of water;
the hypothetical future
toasting his lungs, heart and organs
towards where his wife and children
shelter their eyes from the sun
as the present rips their world apart.
THE MUMBLE : Will you be performing at any festivals/events throughout the summer
STEPHEN : I’ll be reading at Stowed Out Festival in August which will be an opportunity for the three football club PIR’s to meet together for the first time. I will also be appearing at various festivals as part of the Ten Writers Telling Lies project I am part of in association with musician Jim Byrne. If you want to see the perfect festival poet though, I recommend Mark McGhee of The Girobabies – but do toddle along to whatever stage I’m on if you find yourself between any bands and ice-cream.
THE MUMBLE : Hi Nicky, so where you from & where ya at, geographically speaking
NICKY : I am from Dalkeith, just outside Edinburgh & now live in the city.
THE MUMBLE : Edinburgh is quite a poetic city to look at it – is it as poetic to live there
NICKY : Well, it’s a great place for poetry these days, loads going on, much more than when I started. But anywhere would be poetic at the moment I reckon, cause, for me, poetry comes from what’s going on in the country and the world, and there’s lots of shit going on at a local and global level right now.
THE MUMBLE : When did you realise you were a poet
NICKY : When folk started to publish my work I guess, such as Jim Ferguson away back in 1997!
THE MUMBLE : What poets inspired you then & who inspires you now
NICKY : Believe it or not, but I was inspired to write poetry in the vernacular after reading Irvine Welsh – which is the point, I think, when I began to write stuff that was no longer teenage juvenilia. Not long after that I found the work of Tom Leonard, which was, and still is, a great source of inspiration and encouragement. I’m also inspired by Peter Manson, Pavel Büchler, concrete poetry, William Carlos Williams, EE Cummings, the artist Louise Hopkins and Charles Reznikoff. More recently I’d say Sean Bonney and Jo L Walton, who’s now on poetry strike, which is a shame. The state of the world inspires me more than anything now.
THE MUMBLE: One of my favorite pieces of yours was the book which contained short accounts of prisoners ritualistic days. Can you tell us about that project
NICKY : I was working as Writer (not) in Residence at Saughton and the book, routine, was inspired by the structure of the prison day. There are ten times when prisoners are mobilised, cells opened (7.30 am), the route (8.30 am) when the prisoners are moved to their worksheds, and so on. I created a template of these times and asked 15 prisoners to respond in any way they liked to what these times meant. I then removed the times, so it would just be 10 statements about their day, with each one isolated on the verso page of the book, just as the prisoners are isolated to a cell. I also used their names and numbers to make it more bureaucratic, or official looking, to reflect the rigid way that prisons work and how it treats prisoners. And it’s hand finished: I have to remove two names and numbers, as I didn’t get permission from two prisoners to use that info before they were released. I usually burn those two corners.
THE MUMBLE :You are just about to release, ABBODIES. Can you tell us about the inspiration
NICKY : As a poet and subject of the UK, horrified at the swing to ugly nationalism that was manifest in the country, both before and after the Brexit, I felt it was imperative to respond somehow. In my ruminations I thought of ABBA, perhaps because of their many associations with Europe, Waterloo, Eurovision, etc., and it dawned on me that many ABBA lyrics could be used to describe what had happened: ‘blue since the day we parted’ – unending Tory rule; ‘when you’re gone, how can I even try to go on,’ and so on. I worked on the poem on and off from June to December, adding new ABBA lyrics that seemed pertinent, and, of course, during that time Trump won the US election. The (il)logical extension to the shock of Brexit, it reinforced some of the things I had been thinking about as I listened to ABBA songs, over and over again, driving my partner demented in the process. I began to read other things into their lyrics, that some of the songs alluded to aliens, and it made me muse about who was running the world. Trump’s election surprise reflected these thoughts back to me in the poem’s themes of power and string-pulling and, indeed, leg-pulling, for I wasn’t being entirely serious was I? In some ways it’s easier to believe that the world is secretly run by aliens, than to accept the reality that the majority of people in the world are right-wing nutjobs. It’s a bit David Icke, I know, though I prefer to think of it more as Rowdy Roddy Piper in John Carpenter’s They Live. The alien theory is (probably, hopefully) nonsense, but given how crazy events were in 2016, it makes you wonder exactly what the fuck is going on and where we’re going to end up. ABBODIES is also partly a homage to Corpses by Chilean poet Nestor Perlongher, written during the dictatorship it features the refrain ‘there are corpses.’ Which, when I read it, made me think of the information you get on the tube when someone’s killed themselves: ‘there is a body on the line.’ This was a perfect line to my mind about the state of the country and this period of unnecessarily enforced austerity – many bodies are on the line – which is now magnified by the Brexit. Also, it’s more personal than my usual work – with some actual words out of my own head! – tied together by my kids, parents, partner and lifelong love of the bird of prey: buzzard!
THE MUMBLE : Can you explain your own personal approach to the writing process
NICKY : My work is typically political, targeting capitalism, politicians, marketing, business, bureaucracy etc. To do this I use various processes or treatments, such as erasing found text – junk mail or Burns’ poems for example – with Tipp-Ex, or extracting lines from political manifestos, to subvert the language of late-capitalism and its politics. I aim for it to be experimental, challenging, funny and accessible. If I make myself laugh when I’m making stuff, I generally feel it’s working and that audiences will usually laugh as well.
THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 have in store for Nicky Melville
NICKY : I’m in the end stages of my AHRC funded PhD. I’ve created a 365 page multi-form poem, The Imperative Commands, composed entirely from the language of instruction that guides society on a daily basis. Using material harvested over a calendar year, it’s a snapshot of how we’re controlled and manipulated by language. It’s been fun, but I’ll need to find some kind of gainful employment after that. I’ll also try to find a brave publisher to take on The Imperative Commands…
A review of ABBODIES
Dr. Jim Ferguson
Nicky (Nick E.) Melville has long been a wonderfully experimental voice in poetry in Scotland. His work explores political and personal concerns artfully and accessibly with wry, ironic humour. ‘Abbodies’ looks at the author’s childhood of the late 1970s and early 80s through the dual lenses of pop megaband Abba and D. C. Thomson’s Oor Wullie. Melville’s title combines the word ‘Abba’ with the end of the Oor Wullie by-line: ‘Oor Wullie! Your Wullie! A’body’s Wullie!’ That last part, ‘A’body’s Wullie!’ was always likely to invite sniggers, shock, perplexity, surprise and comment from many a Scottish child.
This is an autobiographical narrative poem which reflects upon itself, Scottish, British and European identity and what it means to be a human being living in the world now. Each page is like the miniaturised chapter of a novel only with far fewer words and highly adept technical and poetical skill. The narrative moves forward until we meet Melville as a father himself, reflecting on what his father meant to him, and what might be the way ahead for his own children in order to lead happy and fulfilling lives at a time of great political uncertainty.
and Trump is
master of the scene
can’t resist the strange attraction
from that giant dynamo
look into his angel eyes
and you’re hypnotised
don’t look too
deep in to
one day you’ll find
out he wears a disguise
a’body’s on the line
What’s really interesting here is Melville’s uncovering of how deeply the pop-culture of childhood ingrains itself in the memory and the effect it has on the emotional make up of adults. This would be a standard kind of pop-psychology except that it intersects with national and international political questions such as Brexit, the rise of Donald Trump and the so-called ‘migrant crisis’, producing a poetry that could not be more relevant or up to date. ‘Abbodies’ is a major contemporary poem: it is brave, honest, intelligent, darkly humorous writing and a really great read. It is also neatly packaged like a seven inch single with a picture sleeve. Definitely worth buying.
Sad Press Poetry
£6 (Including Postage)
THE MUMBLE : Hi Rosie, so you’re coming back to Edinburgh, what do you think of the city?
ROSIE : It’s a beautiful place. It’s really interesting to come up outside of August and see how peaceful it is at non-Fringe time. I noticed that when I was up for the science festival before.
THE MUMBLE : You have performed in an incredible amount of places over the years – you must love to travel
ROSIE : It’s part of the comedian’s life. I travel on the train so that I can work and write. The journey up to Edinburgh is an inspiring one as there’s that beautiful coastal section. It’s safest for the world if I don’t get behind the wheel of a car.
THE MUMBLE : You also have a literary turn, & last year you were the only UK writer selected for the 2016 LAMBDA writers’ retreat at the University of Southern California. Can you tell us about the experience
ROSIE : In 2016, I got myself a literary agent and a publisher. My nonfiction debut Is Monogamy Dead is out in July with Accent Press. It’s loosely based on the research I did for my 2013 Edinburgh show which I performed at Assembly Hall. I did a survey asking ‘what counts as cheating?’ The answers were intriguing and set me on a path of writing and thinking more deeply about love, friendship, sex and all of that tangly emotional stuff. I was delighted to get accepted on the writers retreat. I took what I thought was the opening of the book. It turned out to be the opening of the middle bit instead. I wrote the new prologue in my head whilst swimming up and down in the pool at University of Southern California – quite possibly the best pool in the world.
THE MUMBLE : What does Rosie Wilby like to do when she’s not being, well, creative
ROSIE : There’s not much time. But the normal things… I recently binge-watched Stranger Things with my girlfriend. I do love TV and films. I was always a big Homeland fan but I’m really undecided about this latest series.
THE MUMBLE : So you’re about to bring THE CONSCIOUS UNCOUPLING to the Edinburgh International Science Festival – how did that come about.
ROSIE : I love the festival. I was part of a panel discussion on monogamy in 2015. So when they did a callout for 2017, I thought ‘I’m in’. This is a special performance with the added bonus of a post-show discussion with my friend Qazi Rahman of Kings College, London. Can you tell us about the show It’s the final part of my trilogy of shows about relationships. So it made sense to look at endings. Rather than do a funny lecture format, I wanted to deliberately create an artistic piece of storytelling theatre that was subtly informed by all the things I’d read about the psychology of love. In it, I interweave sections of nostalgic memoir with breakup emails, comedy, Richard Hawley music and the visits of three ghosts from our romantic past, present and future. A nonlinear structure means that the section about the start of the relationship is bittersweet. We already know it ended.
THE MUMBLE : What inspired you to create such an interesting, quite cutting edge piece
ROSIE : I‘m glad it’s still timely in 2017. I wrote it in early 2016 but couldn’t do Edinburgh last year because I was in LA at the writers retreat. It was inspired by re-reading the breakup email I received in early January 2011. It stayed at the bottom of my inbox and I decided, five years on, to revisit it. As I say in the show, I felt better about it once I’d corrected her spelling and punctuation. And changed the font.
THE MUMBLE : You’ll be bringing it back to Edinburgh Fringe this August, what are the details
ROSIE : It’ll be in The Loft at The Counting House daily at 18.30 from the 3rd – 27th. I’m also hosting The Breakup Monologues in the same venue at 12.15 for the first week. It’s a chat show where I’ll be asking other acts about their breakup stories.
Mark Chapman is a bit of a geezer. An intelligent, well-dressed impartial sports journalist, whose soft spoken tones have entered the ear of millions of football fans across Britain, & more recently across the Pond examining the NFL. When he’s not doing all of these things, he’s actually a full-blown & passionate family man, who has instilled in his children his own thrilling engagement with sport, which has recently manifested itself as ‘The Love of the Game.‘ So, in the middle of his hectic schedule, he took time on a Thursday to come & speak about his book to Glasgow’s Aye Write Festival, up in the airy & spacious Annan room of the Mitchell Library.
Chapman read two sections from his book, both about cricket, the first from the introduction when his son, Ben, was eight, & the second later in the book when Ben was representing Cheshire at county level (U-14s). A perfect & poignant way to get the gist & guts of the book, it shows Chapman’s undeniable ability with words, interlaced with a genuine sentiment we can all bond with. I also enjoyed the Douglas Adamsesque digressions – as when he gave a detailed account of cricket equipment – but I did at times I find Chapman’s writing a little to florid, a little too miniscule, to superfluously pretty in its description; I mean do we really need to know the entire meteorological happenings surrounding each ball in a six-ball over. However, when it comes to humanity, Chapman has an excellent eye, & it is for these moments I believe the incredibly honesty & authenticity of his book shall be remembered.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen