The Scottish Poetry Library is delighted to welcome on to its Board the poet Nuala Watt.
Nuala Watt was born and lives in Glasgow. She is recognised as one of Scotland’s leading young poets. Watt studied for a PhD on the role of partial sight in poetic composition at the University of Glasgow. In 2009-10 she was a member of the Clydebuilt mentoring scheme run by St Mungo’s Mirrorball, where she was mentored by Liz Lochhead. Her poems have appeared in Magma and Gutter, as well as on BBC Radio. Her work is included in the new anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back.
The SPL Board is engaged in an ongoing effort to diversify the backgrounds of its members. With the addition of Nuala Watt and the novelist Jenni Fagan, it is improving the representation of young women. We welcome the contribution of these writers and poets to give voice and influence to our future strategic direction.
Asif Khan, Director of the SPL, says, ‘The Scottish Poetry Library welcomes the addition to its Board of the voice and influence of a poet as well-regarded as Nuala Watt. Like Jenni Fagan who joined the board in February, Nuala will bring another fresh, young female perspective to our present and future cultural offer.’
Annette Bruton, chair of the SPL, says, ‘I am delighted to welcome Nuala Watt to the Board of the Scottish Poetry Library. Her own work is vibrant, dynamic, and exciting and she brings her academic experience and talent as a further asset to the library. Nuala will be a welcome new talent to the board.’
Watt says, ‘I’m delighted to join the Board of the SPL, and grateful to have been asked. I look forward to contributing to the SPL’s work, particularly as I am a poet myself.’
George W Colkitto
72 pp. £5.00
If you are a lover of nature you will love this book. If you are a lover of poetry you will love this book. George W Colkitto’s beautifully observed lyrics cover a year in the life of Castle Semple Loch at Lochwinnoch. The location is one of Scotland’s few remaining wetlands and is also home to an RSPB visitor’s centre and bird sanctuary. It is a place of retreat, contemplation and recreation, all of which and more are captured superbly in the poetry.
The poems run from November 2015 through to October 2016. There is, inevitably, an awful lot of rain in these poems, although wind, snow, ice, mist, fog and sunshine also have their roles to play. The wetness of the location is perfectly described in two short lyrics from April –
uncorked clouds pour
another generous measure
the loch drinks on
haar smothers hill and tree
courts the somnolent loch
rain puckering with wet kisses
The changing of seasons, the human activity, birdlife, the light and shade, all are captured in words; as are sunsets, sunrises, mornings, evenings, afternoons and the depths of night. A neat trick here is that the poetic voice both observes the landscape while at the same time placing itself within the landscape: this renders the experience for the reader highly vivid, almost like being inside the poet’s head.
In its content this work may seem to be a million miles away from Kerouak’s ‘On the Road’ but it is by no means too distant from the beat writer’s ‘Big Sur’ or the work begun by The Black Mountain poets in the 1950s: the latter being very concerned with the role of humanity in the natural world and giving rise to a wider movement of ecological poets in more recent times. The work of Gerry Loose or the late Ian Hamilton Finlay relates to this ecological view as does much of what Colkitto does in this collection. In ‘Rottweiller’, a humorous piece of observation in itself, some of the complexity of the relationship between humans and nature is given voice –
warning cries from the geese
a rottweiller approaches
walking a woman
birds retreat to the water
moving through white strewn grass
feathers like a dusting of summer snow
two swans refuse to abandon their nesting place
sit by the water’s edge in studied nonchalance
broken by the dog’s unwavering eye
they shuffle reluctantly into the loch
prospect of kill gone
the dog heads back to its car
owner in tow
Overall, a wonderful depiction of a beautiful place, written with care and attention.
Reviewer :Dr Jim Ferguson
I made my pilgrimage up through the countryside to St.Andrew’s for the 20th anniversary of the StAnza poetry festival. Its quietness and charm lends itself perfectly to days dedicated to poetry, and there’s a special thrill to slipping through an archway, down a cobbled lane to the beautiful, warm and very modern Byre Theatre. The warmth continued inside, with an almost family-like informality among the audience; everyone mildly teasing and joking with one another. The last reading of the festival, with such prize-laden heavyweights as Vahni Capildeo and Elaine Feinstein should have been a sell out like the others had been over the past four days, but it was late on a Sunday evening after all. Others’ pilgrimages were longer than Edinburgh.
It made sense for the two women to be reading at the same event. Both poets are published by Carcanet, both winners of prestigious prizes, both trailblazers, both writing from a place of complicated and multilayered identity; fighting back against any marginalisation or categorisation by firmly and triumphantly taking the centre in life as well as in their work. Capildeo’s readings took us back and forth across oceans, to reflect the Caribbean experience; creating a web of experience from Trinidad, India and the UK. Feinstein, of Russian Jewish descent, and twice the age of Capildeo at 86, read us poems spanning the world, decades of social change, and the trajectory of love and loss over a long, rich life. Feinstein, anchored us with her intimate yet more familiar observations of marriage, family, ageing and loss. Comforting, after Capildeo had taken the ground from underneath us by quietly severing any sentimental attachments to preconceived notions or worn out power structures with her precise and powerful poems of politics, identity, migration and love.
Capildeo, the Trinidadian-British winner of the 2016 Forward Prize for Poetry, won for her exquisite fifth collection on matters of migration and identity, ‘Measures of Expatriation’. She read from this of course, but mixed it up with poems from a 2013 collection, ‘Utter’. She kept the audience close; by throwing out some dry meta-comedy beloved of people blessed with great intellect and a sense of mischief, gently teasing the audience while encouraging them to stay with her, lifting the listeners with laughter before dropping the next brick of a poem. A huge range of subject matter: from Molasses, about slavery, a spellbinding reading of Possum, about ‘personal’ identity, Laptop Blue Screen Realization bringing recognition, laughter and claps, and ending with Felt Pen, a ‘commentary on the commentary’ of a fellow artist’s creative process. A very Caribbean tradition in fact; lightening up the heaviness of life and a painful history with a joke or two. Capildeo uses similar searing precision in the choosing and placing of words as fellow Caribbean poet and Forward Prize winner Kei Miller. Capildeo delicately guides us through with the power and responsibility of acknowledging layers upon layers of history when writing for oneself, and whoever else should understand it, but also the liberty of inhabiting a creative space free from the burdens of history.
Unfortunately for Feinstein, as mesmering and wonderful as it was having a full hour with Capildeo, the interval cut into her time slot significantly. A winner of too many prizes to mention, we were enjoying the friendly sharing of the snapshots of her life; the explanatory stories sandwiched between poems rather like the ones you’d share over tea with a close friend; her bittersweet marriage and subsequent widowhood. Poems about her marriage and widowhood were particularly poignant, especially as she recited her elegy to her late husband by heart. Slightly flustered as she realised how little time she had left, she made sure to finish with an elegy each to both parents, leaving us with touching snap-shot portraits; of her father, ‘to the end you were uncowed’ and mother, with Mirror Talk, as she has forged her way to ‘be the life she never lived’.
Both poets met with great applause and warmth. Knowing how exuberant even middle-class, intellectual Caribbean audiences can be, I wondered if the lack of call and response from the crowd had bothered Vahni Capildeo. “I thought they were a responsive audience,” she said, as she graciously signed my copy of ‘Measures of Expatriation’. “A Trinidad audience might have given me a lot more backchat.” Both of us half the age of Feinstein, I hope I’m around to hear what she has to say in another forty years’ time.
Reviewer: Lisa Michel Williams
Like some dandified arriviste in the throes of burgeoning womanhood, StAnza retains a sprightly ebullience every year. I think this is down to the policy of not asking poets back to perform or lecture until years had passed. This helps keep the festival al fresco fresh, & tho’ the faces may seem familiar, one is always guaranteed a certain newness to the bill. So a second slice of StAnza for me this time round would be rather like sampling one of the splendid Taster Menus at the Castle Terrace in Edinburgh, where plate after delectable plate is served up full of aesthetic glory & supreme tastes. Rather like a very good poem.
It was the weekend & so the wife was free, & off we pottered on the Saturday night, a thick haar covering both East Lothian & Eastern Fife. Inbetween, of course lay the clearer Forth Bridges, but it wasn’t a long drive at all, arriving just in time for the slam in the main auditorium of the modernistic Byre’s Theatre. Ten poets had two minutes each to impress the judges, all ushered into place & eventual silence by the brilliant Paula Varjack, a young, internationalist poet who set the scene & dictated both pace & rules with the elegance of Virginia Wolfe at some High Tea soiree. ‘This is how it works, & we’re gonna have fun doing it,’ was her mantra, & we were all hooked from the off. The winner was Kevin McLean, one of Edinburgh’s famous ‘Loud Poets,’ who’d saved his best piece for the final, blowing the opposition with his speed of thought, his philosophical realities & intrinsically musical wordplay. A close second was Jill Abrams , who chose something with more pathos for her final piece, at which end an ‘O My God,’ from the audience reflected how deeply she moved us.
It was midnight by now, & me & the wife parked our car up a few miles down the coast by the sea. We’d taken the seats out of the back & stuffed the car with duvets, & it was comfy enough for a pleasant night’s sleep by the sea. On waking, we parked up at the local leisure centre for a jacuzzi, swim & sauna, & when we found ourselves upstairs at the Byre’s Theatre at 10AM drinking coffee & nibbling on some fruity pastries for the morning’s breakfast lectures, our B&B in St Andrews had cost us £7 each. The sixteen-year-old Rimbaud would have been proud. There then followed a delightfully informal, but highly informative talk from four translators on the nuances of their chosen aspect of poetrology.
Asterixesque Jean Portante & the well-preened Zoe Skoulding are bosom-buddies. Jean is from Luxemburg, whose native language is Italian, & whose chosen linguamedia is French. He explained how he was importing the smooth-flowing Italian river-phoneticism into his French verses, with Zoe explaining how her English presentation of his poems were trilingual, having to accommodate Italian rhythms & French vocabulary into the register her own native tongue. Equally fascinating was Aurelia Lassaque, a speaker of the rare Occitan tongue, who spontaneously creates her own poetry in both French & the language of her mother, writing a single poem in tandem between the two languages, letting them flow into & bounce off one another.
Finally, we had the most erudite Jacques Darras, who could have talked for hours, & indeed wanted to, but instead gave us an anecdotal sweep through his time with Ezra Pound’s Cantos, finishing with a moving pilgrimage to Pound’s secretary, Basil Bunting, living in a shed near a pub, a couple of months before he passed away. “Translation, basically,” said Jacques, “is an act of love… you have to love, you have to be in love, with a poem you happen to chance upon,” a statement which perfectly captured the essence of the hour.
It was now potter time; a meaty cappuccino at Costa Coffee, photo-ops with the wife in the time-capsule streets, before buying a translation of all of the Gawain Poet’s works (if indeed he did write them all). Then it was back to the Byre’s for a pie a pint & Mr Steve Pottinger, a gentle though political soul, who glided through his lunchtime recital with a perfect rectitude to his muse. The West Midland accent never sounded so good, as the breeze of Parnassus blew through his poems, all of which ended with an epithetical flourish & an almost Elizabethan bow. Yes, Mr Pottinger was good, very good. Both before & after his performance, I’d noticed the morning’s translator posse were sat in the Byre’s, pontificating & all that, & I am sure that on our exit from Mr Pottinger’s pearly sphere, Jaques was telling the same story I heard him begin when we first went upstairs for our pies.
Our final port of call was in the cellar-like confines of the intimate Undercroft at St John’s House, where two ‘Border Crossings’ poets would read through their work. The first was Tess Taylor, a Fulbright scholar & direct descendant of Thomas Jefferson. Reading with poise, posture, & the occasional touch of humour, she delivered excellent renditions from her folklore-laden, landscape-littered work, especially the long poem which had her exploring her ancestors house, peering into his copy of Virgil, & displaying an oboe-pitched sentiment which tweaked & twanged with effortless grace on the listening sensibilities. Finally, we had Michelle Cahill, a young Australian of Indian heritage in love with Scotland, who eked out the vibrancy of the land in her recently acclaimed book, The Herring Lass. I especially liked her sonnet to the heroine Black Agnes, defender of Dunbar Castle a long time ago, & a place we headed in the direction of at the climax of her deliciously engaging readings.
StAnza… fino alla prossima volta
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
Next week sees the launch of the Scottish Poetry Library’s international season of events taking place this spring. Featuring poets from Russia and Australia, the season also finds space for a rare Scottish appearance by ‘the godfather of psychogeography’ Iain Sinclair, and a reading by rising star of Scottish poetry William Letford. Three of Russia’s leading poets – Grigory Kruzhkov, Lev Oborin and Marina Boroditskaya – will visit Scotland in March for a series of events in Edinburgh (14 March), Dundee (15 March, part of the Dundee Literary Festival), and Glasgow (16 March, part of Aye Write). They will be reading alongside the Scottish poets Jen Hadfield (winner of the 2008 T.S. Eliot Prize) and Christine De Luca (Edinburgh Makar).
The Scottish Poetry Library is delighted to welcome two of Britain’s most original writers, Iain Sinclair and Brian Catling, on Friday, 24 March. This special event marks a rare Scottish appearance by Sinclair, London’s ‘radical laureate’ and populariser of ‘psychogeography’. Sinclair and Catling have collaborated on a number of books and projects, which they’ll discuss at this event at the SPL, as well as their latest books and how poetry informs their work. The SPL’s commitment to Scottish poetry remains strong. We’ll be hosting a reading on 23 March by acclaimed Scottish poet William Letford, who returns to Edinburgh to read from his acclaimed second collection Dirt (Carcanet). Letford was a roofer before writing full-time, and his poems often reflect on his background in construction.
March 2nd 2017
It has long been mooted, out East Lothian way, to restore the ancient ferry route across the Firth of Forth to Fife. Still lost in idle burearocratic musings, I had to instead spin all the way west to the Queensferry Bridges, zip high over the waters, & hang a right into Glenrothes. From here, the modern road system tapered into something from the 50s, as the one-lane roads wound me to the ancient & most reverend ecclesiastical capital of the Scots. Fife was as lovely as ever, a maroon landscape of recently ploughed fields under a crisp, blue sky. Crisp would also be an understatement – as would brisk – for the infernal furnace of cold which bit into my face & through my clothes as I arrived in Saint Andrews. Still things were hotting up in the poetry festival, I found, as I arrived at the towns refined town hall for my first sampling of this year’s StAnza festival. Like bees to the first crocuses of the year, poets & poetry lovers from Scotland & beyond were flocking to the fragrant blooms planted over the winter by Madame Eleanor Livingstone, including Harry Giles, who the Mumble had recently interviewed.
The first hour was to be filled under the monicker of Past & Present, two talks on members of the pantheon within living memory & long since ceased. We began with Neil McLennan – not a poet per se, but historian & historical detective with an ambitious passion to discover as much as he could about Wilfred Owen, admitting that this noble war poet had become almost a part of his family. For me, a poet’s life is just as vital to the account as their works. Poets are like ornate fountains, out of whose mouths gurgles the spiritus of an age – & it was quite an age in which Wilfred Owen found himself.
2017 sees the anniversary of Owen’s 6 months stay in Edinburgh’s Craiglockhart, which during WW1 had been transformed into a hospital for officers who’d been turned crazy by the horrors of the trenches. ‘Craiglockhart is my Oxford,’ wrote Owen, who loved to roam the nearby Pentland Hills, the routes of which have been traced by McLennan & shall be revisited with a party of keen Owenites later this year. Mclennan also described his international search for information, including finding Owen’s poems scribbled down on the back of Edinburgh Café company bills, & delighted in telling us how he believed Owen made the near-final draft of Anthem for Doomed Youth a few hours after he had taught English Literature to 39 boys at the Tynecastle School: a remarkable rumination. He also left us with a cliffhanger, saying that yes, Graves, Owen & Sassoon all met on a golf course in Edinburgh that year, but not on the course everyone thinks they did. He has actually discovered the true belt of blasted green & will be revealed in his book on Owen in Edinburgh later this year. I, for one, was not that bothered beforehand, but after witnessing McLennan’s infectious banter I cannot wait for the answer.
Following McLennan was the reputable Alice Oswald, a contemporary poet with a classical mind, she is the creator of some of our own epoch’s truest poetry. A few years ago she produced an amazing condensing of the Iliad called Memorial, & so was perfectly placed to sing her love of Homer to us. Her introduction in that book reads; ‘Matthew Arnold praised the Iliad for its ‘nobility’, as has everyone ever since — but ancient critics praised it for its enargeia, its ‘bright unbearable reality’ (the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves.
Oswald’s patter was purely poetic, abstract in places, keen as a Danaan spear in others, flowing through her talk as breathlessly as the wind she described in both Santarini’s Minoan frescoes & the works of Homer himself. Her dreamlike, metaphysical mind conjured up phrases such as, ‘the Beautiful silence of the Minoans,‘ while at the same time she made a pleasant attack on the stuffy cloisters of classical academe. A Classics student herself, one found as she went on that Oswald had found her own paths through Homer, & was delighted to share them, pouring great disdain on the monotone & sterile translations of Homer – including the one by her hero, Ted Hughes – which had turned the Grecian Swan-words into flightless Dodos. I especially enjoyed her vivisection of Homer’s use of colour, which he had presented in a more intensely descriptive than factual fashion. Dark blue, for example, was used to describe a crowd helmets in battle. She even took time at the end of the talk to point my own studies in the direction of Gladstone, who made the first formal accounts of Homer’s colours.
A couple of frothy coffees later, among the students with faces as fresh as St Andrews in early March, I took my seat in the local parliament, where just like in Estonia one steps in off the street. It was time for the day’s ‘Five O’Clock Verses,’ where from oak-paneled wall provosts from the past looked down on our proceedings painted in their military garb or haughty civilian regalia. Two Bloodaxe Poets were the order of the day, AB Jackson & the highly esteemed Catalan poet, Joan Margarit. First up was Jackson, who read at first from his new book on St Brendan’s voyage across the Atlantic in a little coracle boat, a vividly crafted cycle full of devious literary allusions – ‘Godless cynocephali’ springs to mind – & portrayals of sea-sick priests. Listening to the rest of his poetry it seemed as if puff clouds of description were floating across the mind’s canvas, such as golf balls being truffles waiting to be picked up on St Andrews golf course.
First Love (Primer Amor)
In the dreary Girona of my seven-year-old self,
where postwar shop-windows
wore the greyish hue of scarcity,
the knife-shop was a glitter
of light in small steel mirrors.
Pressing my forehead against the glass,
I gazed at a long, slender clasp-knife,
beautiful as a marble statue.
Since no one at home approved of weapons,
I bought it secretly, and, as I walked along,
I felt the heavy weight of it, inside my pocket.
From time to time I would open it slowly,
and the blade would spring out, slim and straight,
with the convent chill that a weapon has.
Hushed presence of danger:
I hid it, the first thirty years,
behind books of poetry and, later,
inside a drawer, in amongst your knickers
and amongst your stockings.
Now, almost fifty-four,
I look at it again, lying open in my palm,
just as dangerous as when I was a child.
Sensual, cold. Nearer my neck.
Reviewer : Damian Beeson Bullen
THE MUMBLE : Hello Bob, so can you tell us where you’re from & where you’re at, geographically speaking.
BOB: I am speaking to you from Middlesbrough, where I was born and raised and have spent most of my life. I moved to Crewe for in 1989 to do a degree in Creative Arts, specialising in Creative Writing, but moved back to Middlesbrough in 92. Middlesbrough is supposed to be the worst place to live in England. It has its problems, serious problems but there is a lot of good things here too. For one, it has a thriving arts scene and a lot of very talented people. It does tent to be ignored though on a regional and national level.
THE MUMBLE : So what got you into poetry in the first place
BOB: I wrote stories as a child and a teenager but it was attending a community creative writing workshop at a local library run by Trev Teasdel that gave me the encouragement to take it seriously, and I had a few short stories published in local magazines. Trev encouraged me to apply to do the degree at Crewe and Alsager College of H.E. It was there that I was exposed to poetry, e.e. Cummings, the Beats, the Black Mountain Poets, and realised it wasn’t what I’d always thought it was.
THE MUMBLE : What inspires you to write
BOB: I am quite prolific because it is such a part of my way of perceiving the world and myself within it. If I don’t write regularly I start to fret and become irritable, so it is important to give myself the time to work creatively. I become quite obsessive over things too so I enjoy working on projects like Leasungspell and The Seer Sung Husband which require a lot of research and slow chipping away at an idea.
THE MUMBLE : Who have been your greatest poetic influences, in both early & present days
BOB: My greatest influences are Derek Walcott, Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Bishop, Brendon Kennelly, Tony Harrison, Pablo Neruda, Allen Ginsberg, but I was very much inspired by some of the regional poets I’ve met and worked with like Andy Willoughby, Paul Summers, Tom Kelly. Andy Willoughby and I have been running an exchange scheme with poets from Finland for over 15 years so I have been heavily influenced by the Finnish poetry scene, which often has a shamanic Beat quality to it, poets like Esa Hirvonen, Kalle Niinikangas, Katariina Vuorinen and Riina Katajavuori.
THE MUMBLE : Your work has been translated into ten languages : can you tell us a litte more about this
BOB: Because of this connection with Finland I have been involved in a lot of international poetry projects and translation projects as well as quite a lot of international touring and performance work so I have had poems translated and published in other languages such as Swedish, Russian, Karelian, Estonian, Urdu, Danish, Dutch, Spanish. The collection I wrote with Andy Willoughby ‘Sampo: Heading Further North’ which is inspired by the National Finnish Epic ‘Kalevala’ was published in three languages in three different countries during 2015. I consider myself a European poet and think that poetry, and creativity in general, can act as a bridge that is able to span cultural and linguistic boundaries. The act of translation is a process of reaching out, a tentative grasping of potential meanings to be carefully examined and carried back into one’s own language, and enrich it. This process seems more important than ever given the rise of xenophobia and right wing ideologies over the past few years.
THE MUMBLE : You are a senior lecturer in creative writing at Teesside University, what are the key tenets of your teaching
BOB: As a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Teesside University my approach to teaching is to encourage experimentation, creative play, to use your words as a vehicle for reflective practice, to strive to write beyond the habits and perceptions of the ‘self’ in a process of continual depersonalisation. That is not to say you shouldn’t write out of direct experience or a grounded idea of ‘self’, it is essential to do so but it is also vital to recognise that this idea of ‘self’ (authorial or not) is itself a discursive construct. Once students realise this through their creative practice they find it extremely liberating as writers.
THE MUMBLE : You are a founding member of the experimental music and spoken word experiment Project Lono, how do you feel the soundscape assists the spoken worD
BOB: I’ve collaborated with many musicians, both live and recorded, and it definitely brings another dimension to the spoken word, carrying layers of added meaning that can work conjunctively or disjunctively with the words. It doesn’t always work and its not for all audiences but when its right it can create a truly mesmeric and transformative affect. It also attracts and engages different audiences, many people who are not really interested in poetry can be hooked into it through a more integrated or combined arts approach. Someone once said after listening to a Project Lono track, ‘I’ve never liked poetry but hearing it with the music helped me really appreciate and understand the words’.
Project Lono is an experimental collective on Teesside that encourages collaboration and cross fertilisation of the arts. I also think it is important to remember that poetry in tribal times was always accompanied by music, sound effects and its physicalisation through dramatic movement / dance. Meter is measured in feet because it relates to the ritualised steps that accompanied the words.
THE MUMBLE : What are you bringing to the table at this year’s Stanza festival
BOB: I am delighted to be taking part in the Stanza Festival 2017 as part of the National Tour of Leasungspell: A Fool’s Tale, which is a performance of parts of the epic poem that was published by Smokestack Books in 2016 with live music and sound effects by lutenist Peter Lagan, singer Sara Dennis, with Kev Howard playing Dordeseal (ancient Celtic horn and various percussion instruments and Tuvan throat singing, and Stewart Forth on percussion and keyboards and recorded sound effects.
THE MUMBLE : What does the rest of 2017 have in store for Bob Beagrie
BOB: Throughout the rest of the year we will be touring the show, with performances lined up in Bamburgh Castle, Durham Cathedral, Whitby, at the Castle keep in Newcastle and at Bristol Poetry Festival. Wyrd Harvest Press will also be publishing a new collection of poems I have written with Jane Burn, titled ‘This Game of Strangers’ which is inspired by the Gwynevere & Lancelot legends so hopefully we will be holding some readings and launch events across the country.