Friday, 14 December 2012


...updates on when the installation will be open to be posted soon.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Next week is Book Week Scotland!

To celebrate, I'll be giving a reading of new poems at the Shetland Library on Tuesday 27th at 7.30pm (we're doing an open mic too) and taking primary pupils from Dunrossness and Happy Hansel to perform poetry to clients at Overtonlea and Wastview care-centres. Hoping Roald Dahl's 'The Crocodile' is going to feature in there at some point...

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Julia Copus' tour of the Poetry Archive

I love the Poetry Archive. I love their attention to detail in compiling a playlist of poems, in the recording process and in writing the poet's biographies that accompany each entry. It is one of the places I am most proud my work appears, and the resource I turn to most often when I'm asked to share something of my poetry and that of the poets I admire. (I think my most-played clip is Edwin Morgan's The Loch Ness Monster's Song, which I play to primary schoolchildren as often as I get the opportunity: it makes them laugh their heads off). So I'm dead chuffed to be represented on Julia Copus' tour of the Archive, which you can join her on here. Thanks Julia!

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

It's been a busy week...

Back home for a few days before returning to Edinburgh to talk about 'Fresh Voices' with Jamie Jauncey, Lawrence Rhodes and Richard Holloway. I'll be speaking about the importance of encouraging creative writing in schools, and presenting the voice of upcoming talent Peter Ratter, who writes poetry and prose in Shetland Dialect and in English.

Monday, 13 August 2012

'My Favourite Place' on Woman's Hour this week

An interview in Shetland by Liz Leonard, with new poetry commissioned by the Scottish Book Trust, aired on Woman's Hour this morning - listen again here - including cameo appearances by some tirricks (arctic terns) and The Nordic Fiddlers' Bloc, whose album I am still loving to pieces. We sat for three hours at the edge of my favourite boulderfield to record this piece...a world of difference from hasty interviews down a telephone line.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

A foraged tea...

field mushroom on toast with puffball fried in butter, on a favourite plate...

Saturday, 4 August 2012

'Particle – Things Unseen' by Anne Bevan

Anne Bevan turned the Bonhoga Gallery into something like a laboratory for her exhibition 'Particle –Things Unseen'...

with a poem by me on the near right...

from a sequence about forams written for Anne's exhibition and book.

'Ghost' – Anne's 3D model of a Shetland foram

Monday, 30 July 2012

Edwin Morgan Poetry Competition

totally delighted that a new poem, 'The Kids', has made it to the shortlist of this year's Edwin Morgan Poetry Competition.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Things Unseen

Ooh – I've been a bit slack in my blog updates for a bit. Mostly because I've had my head down to commissions and getting my emerging poetry manuscript 'Byssus' ready to be seen by a few folk. Some of it – a sequence of poems about microscopic marine life – is included in Anne Bevan's new exhibition, which opens this Friday at the Bonhoga Gallery in Shetland. I've put a different head on this weekend: it's that happy time of year where Mary Blance (of BBC Radio Shetland's Books Programme) and I get to judge the Shetland Library's Young Shetland Writer competition. Some wonderful pieces of poetry and prose in there, and I'm excited as ever to see so much strong writing in Shetland Dialect. I'm interspersing my reading with renovations to a broken creel I found in the skip, and possibly some rope-making later.

Friday, 13 July 2012

I love

my new crocodile sweater, which is by the fantastic Shetland designer Nielanell...

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Creative Writing Course at Wordplay 2012...

This year I'll be co-tutoring Shetland Arts' annual Creative Writing Course at Wordplay 2012 with Pam Beasant, a previous George Mackay Brown fellow in Orkney. We've honed our double-act at the St Magnus Festival for the past two years and are really looking forward to working together again in September. Trundle along to for more details...

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

'This is how amoebas move'

A nice triad of commissions has come my way. At the moment I'm researching plankton for a piece of writing for Anne Bevan's upcoming exhibition 'Particle' (about foraminifera) in Shetland this August. (See her extraordinary form above. I'm so chuffed to be collaborating with her.) Some happy discoveries already: the Greek origin of 'plankton' means 'errant' or 'wandering.' If something is defined as 'planktonic' it means it is incapable of swimming against the current. And I found this very pleasing youtube of a questing foraminifer...

If you can't swim against the current you have to trust in where the current will carry you...

Friday, 8 June 2012

Just back from Berlin & Bordeaux...

Despite some trepidation, I enjoyed being part of the Berlin Poetry Festival's 'Parliament of Poets' last week. 28 EU poets were asked to comment in a renshi on the state of Europe and the economic crisis: an alarming responsibility, and a difficult commission.

The renshi is a sort of poetic herman. In groups of five, each of us created a poem using each other's last line as a starter. I followed Latvian Arvis Viguls, whose poem ended with the line 'faith will make us stand facing the wall.' I was afraid of getting mired in gigantic abstracts. In the end, the work emerged from the concurrence of three synchronistic experiences: reading Hilary Mantel's 'A Place of Greater Safety' (where she explores the role of the price of bread in the French Revolution), an unexpected visit to a working grain mill in the Shetland South Mainland, and revisiting the idea of Cockaigne/the Fool's Paradise, in which excess beyond imagining is explored by Pieter Brueghel in 'Luilekkerland'.

We're now experiencing the very tangible consequences of the Crisis – and many of the poets I met came from countries who will have a harder time of it than the U.K. However hard I find it to make sense of the enormity of the numbers, it was an inexplicable comfort to see and hear that mill in action: chaff and ground corn accumulating around the churring millstones.

Faith made us stand facing the wall.
But to visualise debt on this scale we had to climb it

and confront bankrupt LuilekkerlandPaís Cucañathe Bankers' Paradise
and witness the mass exodus of the lamed hams –

the pounds melting off them,
carving knifes dropping from their clove-studded crackling – as they cantered

the shattering flats of sour curd. Someone hoisted a greasy pole,
crowned it with a cottage loaf, and it was idolised – it started a riot.

When we'd seen the bonus-trees bust, shrink and canker,
we'd seen enough – we climbed down peerie-wyes

to open the sluice-gate above the little mill –
the sober, brown water clasped the wheel,

a nutritious crater began to accumulate
around the susurrant millstones.

And downstream, this one excess – swans flocked to the inundated pasture,
and up-ended there, flickering –

it wasn't worth anything, but looked just like a bowl
of liquid flame.

peerie-wyes (Shetland Dialect): gently, cautiously

Friday, 27 April 2012

Pop-up Sculpture at the Dam(n) Hotel

Here's my contribution to the Bruck theme. (You'll want to turn your speakers off.) Hope nobody redds it up... 

Friday, 20 April 2012

Sleep Begins in the Mouth

with kind permission of Adam Dickinson, I'm posting his poem 'Sleep Begins in the Mouth' from his collection Cartography and Walking (which you can get hold of here). I stumbled over it again yesterday, and it resonates with all this breath and bone stuff from the 'Freeing The Poet's Voice' course I've been posting about.

Now I think of it, I think I remember learning this poem while I waited at the bus stop nearest the New Westminster Public Library, and I seem to think it played a part in pressing 'Paternoster' out of me...something in the imagery and shape and rhythm...

Anyway, I love it.

Sleep Begins in the Mouth

We've discussed this half-asleep;
our tongues like piled cottonwood
in the dry, open field.
It's hard to know how to give
yourself to someone.
It's the astonished snow
that returns in May as cherry blossoms;
how for weeks the branches had committed
to a brown indolence.
It's the baritone groan of river ice,
a decision without warning to disband,
to dash its bones.
When you let your eyes droop,
the air comes into you
like into a grassland deep in the neck.
Here the horses eat from your hand.
The lump in your throat is flowering grain.

Adam Dickinson

Thursday, 19 April 2012

My Bright Green Uncle

just heard Walter De La Mare's 'Song of the Mad Prince' for the first time and it sounds weirdly kin to the half-conscious chatter I've been collecting at the brink of sleep. 'Who said 'Ay, mum's the word [...]' etc. Love it...

Monday, 16 April 2012


as the bog and the plover
and the ebb and the eider
dictated it
to me.

(I've already changed it quite a lot)

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

OK. Fragments of bone wash up on the shore, on which survive the remnants of a lost language (coded in pigment, gesso, sgraffito).

Fragments of language wash up in the semi-consciousness between waking and sleeping, which the watching brain scrambles into near-sense and non-sense.

Fragments from a lost valley society...that much was clear. Perhaps sea-levels rose to demolish and digest a midden of these mostly inconsequential missives. No, not letters. More, stories...perhaps a coming of age gift would be a bone book of these ordinary stories of the people.

'Tying a ribbon on his shoe – 'well, we're not quite sure about those two.'

'What it's like to be addled with...[lost or illegible]'

'My old lass and my extinction...'

'I'm not as old as I sound I was...if you cut me trunkwise and count the rings.'

'It happened one day, God's country...'

'My bright green uncle...'

'''It happened one day'', I said it screwingly...'

'She must be looked at like a person!'

'It'll be the first one though – jeeez.'

'I don't mind king paper and the calf paper.'

'He needed all the necessary darts.'

'People were lifting that noisy ogg (?) [indistinct/illegible]

Monday, 9 April 2012

Bye Gai-Gai!

Day 4 and departure

I'm missing my Cove Park pals with their newly-freed voices. I'm usually very keen to get home to Shetland but I was prised out of the Party Pod with reluctance on Saturday morning. We'd gathered on the balcony to watch a submarine pass up the loch: exercised our vocal range at it and dispelled its spectre, as much as you can, with pancakes.

On Friday we performed our own poems to the group, with Kristin making a series of challenges to stance, muscles, expression, content as we did. Many of us have never performed a poem hanging over with our bums in the air while being shook out like a blanket, but most of us have now. We heard each other's poems come clearer, sometimes deeper, big messy currents of breath and sometimes weeping passing through...I don't want to dwell on the tears really, which seem to be the natural consequence of removing muscular blocks and tensions in the resonating parts of the body, of relaxing and opening the throat. Having done so invariably changed the quality of the poems we were speaking. Most of us experienced our poems as we had felt about them when we first wrote them and I think most of us shucked off something that had been bowing us down or compressing us. And as an audience we often heard a poem that had sounded 'difficult' or impenetrable reveal itself and become a live, emotional thing...

I've been waking up the last couple mornings with a different face. Maybe I wake with this face every day but it stiffens and clumps throughout the morning. I practised 'throwing my arms away' and 'shaking the flesh off my bones' between Glasgow and Edinburgh and caught myself resettling my weight as I waited on the tarmac at the airport. The week's work has certainly challenged the tendency to body dysmorphia that I think most of us suffer to some degree or other. I'm not really thinking much yet about how Kristin's course may affect my public readings, although I'm slightly more open-minded about giving any than I have been for a long time. But I've got resolutions, of course: to learn more poems by heart, to continue to try and connect imagination and breath and bone, and to test out what I've learnt on singing and speaking and...well, being...

I'm grateful to Creative Scotland for Professional Development funding that allowed me to attend this course. And also to the excellent Cove Park and Bloodaxe folk for administering strategic prods that persuaded me to go through with it...

Well reunions are tricky things, but I figure if it's going to work anywhere it might work in Shetland??

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Day 3

Chicken's in the oven in the big communal kitchen, we've mixed grape and grain and argued the best way to cook rice, and here are the impressions of Stevie and Mike on Day 3...

JH: How's it been so far?

MK: Today was a milestone for me - we started getting into our own poems, rather than just doing exercises, and I felt we were probing deeper into the psychological element. I spent some time working on one of my children's poems and after a few goes through it, found some new psychological elements to it that I didn't even know were there.

SR: Revealing, tiring, interesting, exciting, not at all what I expected, emotional, wonderful, relaxing, inspirational, instrumental, educational, sociable.

JH: Have you found any of it difficult?

MK:Apart from Stevie skipping behind me, I've found some it it physically demanding - trying to let newly found muscles relax. Also, I think that I've found that I have a naturally strong voice, but that in a weird way its strength is a bit of a defense mechanism, so I've been challenged to try and let it be a bit softer and more vulnerable. It's actually all really challenging...

SR: I've discovered prejudices that I didn't realise I had and that's been difficult. We've been made aware of our bodies and the emotional impulse that lies behind our writing. Anything that messes with a poets relationship with sound and language on such a fundamental level is very difficult to face up to. There's a great deal of trust in the room and even though I've only just met most of the people here they have been tremendously supportive. I'm not sure it would have worked without a functional group dynamic.

JH: Right, grub's up! (Thanks for the interview, Stevie and Mike!)

I'm grateful to Creative Scotland for Professional Development funding that allowed me to attend this course!

Days 2 & 3

No posts yesterday. Too much happening in head and body. A rebellion of mind and body in the morning. Making sounds and opening and closing different parts of the vocal apparatus was fine. Placing the mind in a raised arm and then withdrawing it, was fine. And the exercises that were hard and confusing on Tuesday were easier yesterday. Kristin asked us to call right across the loch and this turned out to be, for me, muscularly impossible. A big muscular 'no way, Jose', which of course originates in the mind. Now, up to this point I'd been very deliberately willing to try every exercise and see where it took me. Over the last three days most of us have baulked at some point or other. At that point it's amazing how quick you feel like a. you've been left behind and b. everyone else is a different species. Very childlike fears. I bolted for my Cube and bit raw mushrooms in half and dipped them in salt and alternated dark chocolate with salt-grained cheddar and drank tea and went to bed for 3/4 of an hour and collected some subconscious chatter. More about that another time. We're all at a very different place today, and where my body and I are today is nowhere they've been before. Kristin is an extraordinary tutor. We're all wondering if we can retain this information, if we can take what we've learnt away from here. You know what it's like when everyday life reasserts itself.

Here's a link to Kristin's book.

I'm grateful to Creative Scotland for Professional Development funding that allowed me to attend this course!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

'Freeing the Poet's Voice' at Cove Park with Kristin Linklater, Day 1

A morning of voice visualisation and organ-jiggling. We unbuttoned each others' spines and stacked them up again. We experienced antigravity. We sighed a lot. We struggled to leave our mouths hanging open. Setting us the task of plucking our muscles from our bones, Kristin gave me a savage nip in the shoulder-muscle, and was not abashed when tears squirted out of my eyes. In fact I'm always glad to be enabled to cry. I'm interested in this notion of tension and unhappiness getting salted away in our muscles, and the possibility of releasing it physically. If we learnt to make ourselves cry like this in a convenient hour once a week, what might we revert to?

Further questions arising (related and unrelated to today's two 3 hour workshops):

- where does the voice come from?
- if I could free up the physical voice, what might happen to my writing?
- what might be the social effects of freeing the physical voice?
- what might be the effects on my teaching?
- what would happen if school-bairns did these exercises before I asked them to write?
- is a smile always an expression of tribal fear?
- is friendliness always an act of submission?
- could I stand up and teach for three hours like this, without experiencing any self-doubt at the confusion or suspicion of the participants?
- will I see a submarine this week, passing up or down the loch to/from Coulport?
- could I stand up and teach for three hours without projecting my own tension and fear?
- why have I broken out in spots? I blame readership development. It puts me in the path of more chocolate.

I'm grateful to Creative Scotland for Professional Development funding that allowed me to attend this course!