Monday, December 20, 2010

Happy Christmas Everyone

Too Big a Part

Last night the girls got their parts in the nativity.
Lydia is reprising last season’s triumph as the
Angel of Glory, all blondeness and glitter
looming like a valkyrie over star-struck shepherds.
Jasmine is to be Mary and distraught to
be pushed into the big time so soon.
We try and reassure her. Mary is the easiest, we say,
she doesn’t speak, all she does is follow Joseph
and stand around with a baby. There’s sheep, we say,
and you get to ride the donkey, but to no avail.
Jasmine stands at the window, tears mirrored
in the fat glass, as unsure of her place in the very centre
of the puzzle as presumably that woman then, turning
in her palm over and over, the luck of the world.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Oh Little Town of Penpont

Nativity Poem to follow nearer Christmas. Here's a pic of this morning's play. Lyd's the tallest angel, Jaz is Mary.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

In A and E

My knee and I have been here
for two hours:
I have a hankering to hide
my money in a shoe
and my bladder is nagging
but there is a strange affecting silence here,
apart from the girl calling
Mummy, Daddy, Mummy.

Perhaps I could limp to the toilet.
My zip has burst,
but who’s to see?
The corridors are sleeved in marble,
they stretch to vaults as white and cool
as the Hermitage,
though that girl is crying
Mummy, Daddy, Mummy.

Where are the health professionals?
This vast industry of making people well?
Surely my optimal waiting time has
been breached. I saw the figures
when I came in, by the room
where the girl is screaming
Mummy, Daddy, Mummy,
Mummy, Daddy, Mummy

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hurrah for Protest

Great pictures from the Boston Globe of the demonstrations in London. This one seems to sum it all up.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just been up the glen again. Some good photies which I will post separately. It's been a busy week. Nice evening in St Mungo's Mirrorball in Glasgow on Thursday night. Read with Kona MacPhee and Brian Whittingham. A reunion of sorts of my first ever St Jo's creative writing evening class which spawned talents like Evelyne Pye and Geoff Cooper and Angus MacMillan, all of whom have their own collections now and all of whom are fine poets. Geoff and Evelyn were both there on Thursday and it was great to see them. Found a brilliant cellar that served cheap and lethal cider, too. And saw a hare on the way home in the Dalveen Pass, as Shug Bryden was kindly driving me hame.

I see Scotland on Sunday have a haiku competition to celebrate new year's day, 1/1/1

Send entries to

I wrote the definitive new year haiku a few years ago, mind you.

"Scotland, New Year's Day:
two men in t-shirts converge,
to strangle each other."

Sunday, November 21, 2010


Can't shake of this bug: sure these last two poems are products of fever.

I Dreamed all Day

Clouds were embers in the morning sky.
The sun swooped like a bird
behind the tree line

on a land green as eels.
Against all prevailing inclinations
I was blown south

to a place with many people:
each step of mine broke
on their small smiles.

Night fell after that, like a drunk,
down through all the compass depths.
Only in the dark,

lights hung like silver. I stopped
the bus driver then, to make sure
your eyes were aboard.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Royal Wedding

Hotfoot from the annual Eric Booth Moodiecliffe Memorial Lecture at the Tartan Bonnet (this year’s address was given by Keith, Ulrike Meinhof’s hairdresser, and gave us such an interesting and off-beat insight into the hairstyles of the extreme left in the 1970s), I was delighted to receive news of the marriage of Prince William to Kate Middleton. What a relief it will be for all those folk, unemployed or forced to work till they’re 90, on pay freezes, or faced with the shrinking of public services on all fronts, to have a fairytale royal wedding to look forward to, with perhaps even a day off work if they’re lucky to have a job by then.

Didn’t they do this to us last time, too? Giving us Charles and Diana’s wedding at the time of the Toxteth Riots? How charming that they think we’re such gormless buffoons that we’ll all fall for it. Trouble is, we will: cue endless colour supplements and programmes on the ‘People’s Prince’ with old drabs, panto queens, court correspondents, Simon Schama etc droning endlessly on.

My only connection with Prince William is a conversation reported verbatim by my niece, one of whose friends was campaigning for a post in the student union and had the temerity to approach the People’s Prince for his support while he was with his pals in a pub. “Go away you dirty badger” he cried, to an approving chorus of braying from his peers. I still don’t know what that means, but it does illustrate an important truth about these people: they might as well be from Mars, and why we waste any time thinking they’re relevant in the least to our lives or worth a single thought, unless that thought be how to get rid of them and have a independent Scottish Republic, is quite beyond me.

Friday, November 05, 2010


Last night I was mobbed by crows,
felt like Tippi Hedren, less lovely though,
more lost. Today puddles will join together
and the world will be recast in water,
beautiful, bottomless, with a mirror view
of small clouds and aching blue.
In the meantime, I will try and wear you down
with substandard verse, look down on the town
from this long window, see wet tar
streaming all the way to Mars.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween: Reprise


My breath is white.
It’s wintertime:
more than weather
it’s the ghost of hunger,
small sounds in the night,
a strangling of light.

I walk through haar,
through the town’s cobbled crust,
past smeared shadow,
mirrors in green glass. As I go,
halos of lamp turn to will o’ wisp,
neon to bonefire.

Moon cracks cloud
and the clock face freezes.
I burrow in a guise
no wraith will recognise,
professional, of Dumfries,
out for an hour.

In my Apple-land
they quietly wait,
souls lost, souls gained,
finger tips on window panes.
I raise a glass to Hecate,
drink, ab ovo usque mala.

Monday, October 25, 2010


Back to Work, I fear. Hectic holiday in Majorca, followed by readings in Edinburgh and Stirling. Have some treats to share, particularly a video of the mini Euro-Disco Lyd and Jaz attended every night while on holiday. In the meantime, poorer fare, two poems that came out of that week.

Tuesday Night, Majorca

Fronds hung with water like rope.
The raindrops are fat and white as opals:
I see a face in them,
framed by sky the colour of iron
and shredded cloud.

It is good to be off your head
somewhere new, where even the weather
has a different slant, fast and loud
and desperate to get to ground.
No lack of words:

the sea has no end and talks long
into the night like a mother tongue.
I sit and drink and watch the rain
while my girls, happy in any migrating,
sing like birds.

Poetry Doubles, Lesbos
(After the painting by Lawrence Alma-Tadema)


Did you know Jimmy Hendrix pished on this lyre?
I’m behind it, hiding from those eyes of hers.
We’re in the annex of the Aesculapius Memorial Theatre
as Ovid’s got a translation of Rab Wilson next door.
No crowd in here, just some eco-poets from Santorini,
and my pal Alcetes at the back, drunk again.
Who’ll win the famous laurel wreath? Not me
with my smut: In Aphrodite’s Isle always,the girls win.


I’m hurling love’s bolt smoking like the sea,
but he’s got a sidestep like James McFadden
and he’d sooner kiss a glass than me,
claims drink’s part of his religion.
So’s love, I say, but he’s either steaming
or singing comic songs about boats,
talking of which, I note,
the last one’s gone. In Aphrodite’s Isle always, the girls win.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Happy National Poetry Day

And what better way to celebrate than with my hero, Iain Crichton Smith?

Two Girls Singing

It neither was the words nor yet the tune.
Any tune would have done and any words.
Any listener or no listener at all.
As nightingales in rocks or a child crooning
in its own world of strange awakening
or larks for no reason but themselves.
So on the bus through late November running
by yellow lights tormented, darkness falling,
the two girls sang for miles and miles together.
and it wasn’t the words or tune. It was the singing.
It was the human sweetness in that yellow,
the unpredicted voices of our kind.

Monday, October 04, 2010


Lots of stuff at the weekend. Firstly, read at Wigtown on Friday evening to a packed house in the MacNeillie Tent which was very good. I had convinced myself no-one was coming, to the extent that I'd even cajoled Theosyphillis Neill to risk arrest by crossing the county line, but I needn't have worried cos they kept pouring in. Reading for an hour is a hard business, though. Next stop launch at the Scottish Poetry Library on Wednesday October 20th, then reading at the Stirling Centre for Poetry on the evening of the 21st, then St Mungo's Mirrorball in Glasgow on November 25th.

Also rare visit from Andrew my son who took part in the Drumlanrig Demon 10k and came a creditable second place. Sisters delighted to see him, needless to say.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Carry on Alcaeus

Come, wet thy chest with wine: the dog-star now
Is rising high, the oppressive sultry glow
Of summertime brings parching thirst to all.
Now from the leaves the locust its loud call,
Its sweet shrill song, pours out from 'neath its wings.
The blazing heat, which withereth all things,
O'er all the earth is spread; the blooming thistle
Holds up its head; now womankind doth bristle
With passion most, and man is haggard worn;
For Sirius his head and limbs doth burn.

I always take Alcaeus' advice on drink which is nine times out of ten to get it down your neck, but to forbear if the state is in peril, as in his famous 'Cease Drinking, seize the rudders!" The state has not been in peril this summer and is unlikely to be through the Autumn, so that is jolly good news. The only Greek who gave me serious advice about drink told me to forbear even when the state was not in peril, but I prefer my advice to be of the ancient variety. Alcaeus was a contemporary of course of that frisky 'violet haired, pure, honey-smiling Sappho'. There they are at the top, Alcaeus fiddling as ever with his lyre and Sappho 'bristling with passion most'. They're obviously at some kind of poetry reading: you can tell this from the empty seats and the fact someone's asleep in the back row. That looks like an arts administrator just behind Sappho,too, feigning enthusiasm.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Castle

Smoke on water,
clouds and mirrors,
reeds like drowning arms.
You stir a painted toe in
the loch and light shivers,
last sparks of the summer.
It would be easy to be lost here:
we fall in and out of dreams,
and could die as easily as lose our way.
Night takes everything, you say,
and soon there is just voice, then less,
stars are sewn in gold at last,
and cold's a kiss.

Friday, September 03, 2010


Bad, bad blogger. Don't know why: work, maybe. Been writing lots as well, so that's maybe something to do with it. First of a wee run of appearances on Tuesday at Thomas Tosh in Thornhill, at 7.30 pm, then Glasgow the night after. Here's poem inspired by non-pupil day at school.


The windows frame the blues
that bank to the horizon,
throw up hints of the beauty
welled out there and
displaced by circumstance.

So the internal view too.
Our speakers have a screen
that swims with sentences like eels,
today’s terms of reference,
but words are everywhere

like air, and turn
to dread or desire more readily
than the curriculum:
that way, the sun on old wood like blood,
and there, that girl you could love.

Life is full of ghost measurings,
the gaps between what you pretend,
and what you are,
where you’re sitting now,
and where you really ought to be.

Friday, August 20, 2010


Stone Girl

Last night the stone girl smiled at me.
She has changed since coming here,
for the better. There were stone girls to spare
once, but the few left are in garden centres
with wishing wells and fishing gnomes,
their dreams gone to ponds and pebble dash.
The rain will course from their tunics,
their faces smudge with sausage smoke.
She was on a sculpted lawn in Nunholm,
demure with her water jugs. We took
her home to stand in wild vine and lemon balm.
She took root in the bedlam.
Now ankle deep in tansy
she sloshes back from the sanctuary
with wine, her bared breast no decoration
but a carefree accident, or come-on.
Xiape, the stone girl seems to say, be
yourself like me, be free.

Edwin Morgan

Sad news about Edwin Morgan, though of the dead poets this year his place in poetry is deservedly the most acknowledged and secure, and 90's not a bad age to go, is it? I liked the fact that while he was an obviously intellectual figure he didn't attempt to bamboozle or patronise his reader, one of the reasons he was so well loved by so many.


And if anyone should tell our adventures,
remember that the universe has spaces
as well as forms- abysses, deserts, niches,
distances without even time as pedlar
to bring you, if you waited, explanations.
No, we have seen what we have seen, but often
there is a blank you must not fill with monsters.
It is all for what is to come after.
It is for the duguth of firm intent, the voyage
he and she and they must take, and you quiet
but trembling in your chair, rising, following
the light you catch, swinging but never vanishing,
into great deeps, our helmet lamps, beckoning.

Edwin Morgan

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The End of (Holi) Days

Oh well the sun is creeping over the hills and time is remorselessly marching towards that point when I pretend it's not the end of the holidays at all and launch myself on a desperate breenge to the magnetic north.

As a restless needle held by the constant north we
always have in mind.
JF Hendry

Some readings coming up, at the Wigtown Book Festival, the Conference of Librarians in Glasgow, the Saltire Society's commemorations of Willie Neill, the Scottish Potery Library in October, St Mungo's Mirrorball in November, then Stanza in March. Perhaps more important than all these is, however, the launching of Thomas Tosh's literary salon on Tuesday September 7th. Thomas Tosh is a place of exquisite refinement in Thornhill and anyone in the remote vicinity should abandon all plans to do anything else and turn on that evening to hear the award winning poet Vivien Jones, the exquisite Romford wordsmith and pamphleteer JoAnne MacKay and myself. It will be an evening that will live in memory and legend.

Poems written? Two. One about text messaging and one about the magical land between the Nith and the Scaur.

Nith Stone

Leave the world between bridges: the narrow one
across the Nith with its sentry box and the old
crossing at Scaur squatting on its Roman haunch.
There’s a shaded cup of fields between the bridges,
moss and trees darkened on every side by hills.
The royal holm is here where Bruce camped on his way
to heaven via Whithorn, and Penpont, still scratched
on maps after seven hundred years. Penpont,
an island, and The Nith Stone, totem of this pagan space.
Rain has swept the dogma from its sides
and smooth as a grape it stares from a bright clasp
of weeds, sizing up visitors and their burdens,
daring them to stay for a night here
in the blaze between the bridges,
below our thin, bright slice of moon.

Friday, August 06, 2010

a girl
whose hair is yellower than
torchlight should wear no
headdress but fresh flowers

Thursday, July 22, 2010


Gin-scious (adj) a fluid feeling of sublime unity with the universal continuum; n, the part of your brain open to sudden mystical experience, religious or otherwise, by the frequent use of gin eg "The ginscious mind bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world."
John Milton

Ginned (adj) The state achieved through the continued and conscious development and stimulation of the ginscious part of the mind eg "Is it not passing brave to be a King and ride ginned through Persepolis? "
Christopher Marlowe

Monday, July 19, 2010

Then you walked off
and the rain began to bounce
ankle-high on cobblestones:
an opening at last
for umbrellas.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dwam and mair dwam

Completely crap blogger just now, too much in a dwam.

Popped in to the Tartan Bonnet last week to see what was happening and found the place alive with rumour and scandal as usual, all too exciting and lurid to appear in the public domain, apart from the King of Clatteringshaws appearing to be out of the closet and poor old Theosyphillis Neill being grilled by the social and having his bus pass taken off him. What a change in fortune: it doesn't seem any time at all since the man was sending taxis to collect cases of Chateau Lafite and spending a couple of grand on a night out in the Scandic Crown. Kizmuht, the Turks would say, and they are close enough to the Greeks for me to start all that again.

Reading the Magus, again.

When the wind blows
light breaks against the cypresses
and there is fire and marble,
a flame for the bull slayer
and shadows to dance the mystery.
In the temple
I take a little yellow flower
and, half embarrassed by my silliness,
leave some money by the altar,
just small coins,
but even from the car park
I see them glint from their fist of weeds,
picked out by the sun.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Romans and Greeks

Hotfoot from Roman fortlet in Durisdeer, situated on Roman road north. What contrasts between drookit wee bits of the Empire like this and the bleached Greece of last week.

Graeco-Roman Culture

The Acropolis, Lyndos.
Below, blue spirals between stalks of rock
and beyond, to backs of islands
inching above the lip of distance like whales.
What angles,
what spinning light to burn dreams on stone.
The men who built this dizziness
had eyes lidless, like the sun.

Hardknott Pass,
quarters carved from guts of granite,
grey slate and scrim, blown like sand.
Above, clouds knot like rope,
fill the gaps between broken shafts of mountain.
These little hard men,
leaving their slough of monuments,
built no temples.
They dreamed
of anoraks..

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Mythos, Muses and Mycenae

Still washing the dust of the Argolid from my sandals. Some say you never get rid of it. Occasionally trips leave an impression that can't be explained properly. This one did. I'll probably get round to making it sound rubbish by writing poetry about it, but till then, Greece will just stay in my head. It's a good feeling.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

tee hee

It's late...but I've been away.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Back from Greece. England out of the World Cup. Lots of good potery news.
So why this sadness interespersed with deranged bouts of dipsomania?

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Local Pub in Algeria Slur Shock

Members of the Algerian community in Penpont reacted with fury last night at the news that their flag had been banned from display at the local bistro during last night's world cup game between Algeria and England.

"This is clearly an infringement of our rights as temporary Algerians" said a community spokesman. "Dislike of the England football team is a basic human sentiment shared across the globe". "Scotland has always been a country welcoming to Algerians and many other foreigners like the English", he added.

The Algerian football team could not be contacted last night but a source close to the squad said "As soon as we heard the news about our brothers from Penpont, the boys were really fired up. I thought we had Wayne Rooney in our pocket from that moment onwards."

Concerns were being expressed this morning that members of the vast Slovenian community in Penpont may not be allowed to display their flags on Wednesday or even, should they get a result against a currently lacklustre England side, perform the ancient Slovenian gloating dance.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Ach weel never mind.

We were the funniest. But that doesn't butter any parsnips.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Poet and poet's daughter at sophisticated party

Alex Berry

Alex Berry was a fine poet and a very generous and entertaining companion to me in the few years I knew him. I was saddened by the news of his death and utterly shocked by newspaper reports today about what may have prompted it.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Crisis in Clatteringshaws

The 4th Clatteringshaws Foot and Mouth march past the Royal Sanitorium

Crisis gripped the Kingdom of Clatteringshaws yesterday after a woman tripped in the award winning Museum of Deer and sprained her ankle. Fears of a lawsuit caused a run on the Clatteringshaws Florint, prompting fears of as complete collapse of the fragile Clatteringshaws economy. "This is a disaster" said Finance Minister Theosyphillis Neill, "I have written to Angela Merkle for help, do you think you could sub me the cost of a stamp?" The cabinet met in emergency session yesterday and recriminations flew as members blamed Dean O Vaughan, Minister of Tourism, for having skimped on the cost of the original flooring in the museum. "I specifically asked for 200 year old pine to reflect the rich biodiversity of Clatteringshaws", he protested, "who put the dodgy laminate in, I don't know."

In such a crisis the King of Clatteringshaws plays a vital constitutional role. "I fully intend to follow the example of other tyrants and deflect criticism of the government by starting a war" he said this morning in a speech made from the balcony of his sanitorium, "I have therefore ordered a full scale nuclear strike on Dalbeattie". Taking the salute of the 4th Clatteringshaws Foot and Mouth on their return from peacekeeping duties in Auchinleck he announced "This is a glorious day in the history of Clatteringshaws. My troops are advancing on all fronts." "We do not know the meaning of the word prestidigitation" he added, truthfully.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

The Adamhill Horror: Part One

Strange calls in the middle of the night from Theosyphillis Neill demanding that I download an English translation of the Catholic ceremony of exorcism and bring it round immediately to his house in Lochside. Stumbling half asleep through the rubble strewn streets, avoiding packs of feral dogs and the bonfires round which crazed maniacs dance till dawn, I meet others summoned to the scene, Darren Vaughan and Jock ‘Maxie’ Maxwell, lapsed priests turned topiarists, and Neil ******, local porn star and Dumfries and Galloway’s most potent dog charmer. What strange fortune and diabolical circumstances have brought this dissolute company together?

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Mair News

No stopping the Roncadora team just now. Great news that 'Devorgilla's Bridge' a poem of mine combined with a devastating linocut by Hugh Bryden has been shortlisted for the 5 grand Michael Marks Pamphlet Prize, so the Shugs are hopefully off to the prizegiving in London on June 16th. Details here:
dev’s bridge

More good news in the's a secret again

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

On the Grass Cloud

Come and celebrate a new generation of Dumfries writers in the launch of 'On the Grass Cloud' at 7.00pm May 20th at the Midsteeple in Dumfries. All proceeds go to the Moat Brae Trusts to aid their attempts to restore Moat Brae House and its gardens as a 'living memorial to the creative imagination'. Entrance free. Some refreshments. Booklets minimum donation £3.

On the Grass Cloud

The day was yellow, orange and red
a bright autumn day by
the river’s vibrant murk
Here I was a child
though my memory’s as thin as the leaves
Fall next to me on the grass cloud
breathe in the branches
and sing their song
the last colour shed from the bud
the final colours
the day’s yellow orange and red

Sophie Tonnar

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Willie's Funeral

Willie Neill’s Funeral

The trees were pale and bare
like fossils framed in mud,
the sun a pulse in water.
The day eked out, long,
thin as old skin
or air too high in the hills.

I held a cord:
he wasn’t heavy to my hands.
A piper played
though it was fair to say
the blackbird was better.
At funerals the poets

grow more bald and scared
of death. They eat lunch
and leave, anxious
to court life again.
I was not ashamed
to cry, not for the Makar,

too spent for tears,
for myself I suppose,
the bleed of years.

Friday, April 30, 2010

This Creative Mularky

is taking over one's life. What happened to the care free days and long sunny afternoons drinking hunners of pints of guinness and worrying about nothing beyond how many goals Hibs were going to give away in the last fifteen minutes or whether Lydia's go-go hampster wasn't working because it had run out of batteries or because I'd just stood on it?

Just experienced 2 days of fevered creativity. The sort I do, of course, involving lots of stress and fuck all money.

1. The Tide Machine. You should visit this if you can. it's a crazy and original construction designed to operate as a performance space while simultaneously revealing the secrets of the universe. As you can see from the pictures, it attracted a lot of attention from wet children and fashionably dressed seafood.

2. Creativity day on Thursday at school involved me taking a small group of kids and encouraging them to write stories and poems about the tide. Not content with getting the work done by the end of the day I had the insane idea to get them to make their own books containing the work. I blame Hugh Bryden for this new and sinister instinct.

3. I also have been sewing 'Lost Gardens' on the bus, at the toilet, in my sleep.....
but the book is to be launched tamara at the Bakehouse in Gatehouse and at the Midsteeple on June 2nd. Anyone who cannot attend and wishes to get the book should contact Roncadora at roncadora or press the amended button on the top right. For God's sake add to your cart.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010


Light is lemon wrung
in slate cloud,
douce on children’s skin.
Their faces are bright
as film.
As time goes,
it’s hard to see them,
they are fast and sleek as fish.
They lurk in the hems
of eyelids with their gurgling,
lure you down
to long forgotten shirt sizes,
half remembered pain.
It is incorrigible
their endless trying
to make sense or nonsense
of everything,
the artifice of children
still conniving with the world.

Friday, April 23, 2010


Up and coming poets. Darcy Carson in the middle, Charlotte Singleton on her right, Naomi Temple on her left

This is a young person's game and no mistake. Spent yesterday sacrificing myself on the altar of poesy.

First of all took 4 charming young women on the train to the National Gallery of Scotland where two of them- Naomi Temple and Charlotte Singleton- were receiving prizes in the ICreate Competition. All the work was read out as the paintings that inspired it were displayed. Absolutely cracking stuff. My highlights were- apart from Naomi and Charlotte- a girl from firhill Edinburgh called Annie Forbes who wrote a stunning and powerful poem about a Tiger Hunt and who won the under 15 category, and Darcy Carson from Wallace Hall who won the 16-18 category. Most of the work, if you'd read it cold, you would mistake for a very gifted and experienced adult writer's. Naomi and Charlotte's poetry can soon be seen in an anthology of poems for the Moat Brae Trust entitled 'On the Grass Cloud'. Some of the young people in this anthology will be reading their work at Dumfries Academy on the Moat Brae Open Night (6.00pm Wednesday 28th April Minerva Hall)

I then returned to see the girls back to Dumfries before embarking on another train north to the Gutter Reading at the National Library in Edinburgh. This was very entertaining, I read and caught up with some old friends like Kevin Williamson of Rebel Inc. Some drink was taken then the 11pm train to Glasgow where, after a seriously painful curry ,I eventually got to bed about 2, got up at 6 and got the train to school. Once upon a time I would have taken this mularky in my stride but I must confess to feeling today like I've been run down by a train.

Two pieces of news: The Lost Garden is out and due to be launched at the Bakehouse on May 1st and the Midsteeple on June 2nd.
and.....the other? It's most exciting but I'm afraid I'm not allowed to tell you for another two weeks.

Monday, April 19, 2010


Following a recent poetry event I had a discussion with another poet from the Nith Valley who had spent the reading chewing the cuffs of his shirt because he thought the work being read was "not part of our culture". This followed something flattering (and probably quite untrue) that someone said at Willie's funeral and it got me thinking about whether we have a responsibility or imperative to write as part of a Scottish cultural tradition, or whether we're part of that tradition no matter what we write. I don't mean this in any narrow nationalistic way, in fact I subscribe completely to the view that Scottish poetry is at its most energetic when absorbing or reacting to different and fragmented internal influences in what someone once described as a "potent concentration of hybrid vigour". It's MacDiarmid's Caledonian Antisyzygy, or MacIllvaney's "mongrel nation" but the implication behind it is that influences are absorbed into 'Scottish' poetry and although that changes the dynamics the poetry remains identifiably Scottish. Does it? And will it always? "How many more reiki therapists from the Home Counties will it take to turn North Uist into a cultural wasteland?" a friend from Stornoway jokingly wrote recently.

People writing in Scots and Gaelic do not have this problem, of course, but those who write in English may. Especially those whose poetry is essentially mapping out an internal landscape. I'm reminded of the fact that many of his countymen choked when Dylan Thomas was described as being a 'Welsh' poet. I feel quite sensitive about this because linguistically I am one step away from Scotland's two languages (my mother was a native gaelic speaker and my father's family were miners from Auchinleck and Cumnock)but write in English.

Of course I write a lot about Scotland, its history, and my place in it. Maybe that does.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Willie Neill

Sad news that Willie Neill has died. Willie was born in Prestwick and came to teaching and literature after the RAF. He wrote powerfully in the three languages of Scotland and was for as long as I can remember the pre-eminent writer in Dumfries and Galloway and one of the best, though too often unacknowledged as such, in Scotland. If we had a Makar as they do in the big cities, Willie would have been in deserved possession of the title, not that he would have prized such a thing, as he said himself.

Such macho stunts a young man often tries
to win an option on the world's approval.
When Nemesis occasions their demise
the issue's hid from them by their removal.
Take my advice, accept the worst of bosses,
stick to the farm, the office, cut your losses.
Posthumous gongs are hardly worth the wearing.
In Hades, the pale phantom's past all caring.

Willie's was a great support to me when I started writing and he will be sadly missed by many. His funeral is in Castle Douglas on Tuesday 13th.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Abnormal Phenomena

A Rab Wilson over St Andrews

I am perturbed to note that the British Government is cutting the budget of the Department devoted to investigating paranormal activity, especially in the light of the recent rash of Rab Wison sightings.

The proliferation of Rab Wilsons is one of the great unexplained phenomena of recent times. Typically appearing in or near literary festivals, Rab Wilsons have been explained away as weather balloons but the resemblance is superficial.

Seamus Heaney recently described a close encounter:

"I was appearing at a prominent poetry festival when I began to get an eery feeling that I was being watched. I withdrew to the toilet and was shocked to find, when I opened the soap dish, Rab Wilson hidden inside. Running from the room my fear and amazement were further compounded when I saw Dennis O Driscoll with a Rab Wilson attached to each trouser leg. I am now scared to leave my house."

The origins of this phenomenon are vague but it is thought that Rab Wilson was a writer, originally.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MacDuff: An Update

The Kingdom of Clatteringshaws, seen from the Royal Blimp

It is time to address the concerns of the many people who are in daily contact on the subject of MacDuff, King and Spiritual Leader of the semi-autonomous mountainous region of Clatteringshaws. I last wrote of his exploits, you may recall, after his audacious plan to walk 4,6oo miles round the world equipped only with a child's play tent and a box of oxo cubes ended in disgrace and acrimony. The contest between macDuff and his acquaintance Sid, designed to prove who was the most deranged and emaciated ex-serviceman at that time in Dumfries and Galloway, ended, predictably, in a draw after both contestants passed out due to a combination of hunger and delerium tremens near Moffat. Macduff, if you remember the press coverage at the time, was repatriated by the 1st Batallion Semi-Automatic (Hand Wash Only) Garden Refuse Recycling Unit of the Clatteringshaws Militia, while Sid disappeared into the southern uplands pursued by the CID.

I am overjoyed to tell you, however, that after a short period in a secure nursing home in Dalbeattie, macduff has made a full recovery and is now back in his kingdom where he is currently undergoing a rigorous royal tour of the local bayous and sheep pens.

I wish I had such good news about Theosyphillis Neill, a man who is slowly evolving into the subject of some Hogarthian print about the perils of contaminated gin. Neill is now scarcely recognisable as the handsome rake who piloted the first Thistlemilk barge into the port of Drumsleet 120 years ago. Years of poverty, broken bones and bad luck have taken their toll. To make matters worse his cooker has exploded, meaning that he cannot even make tripe for himself and Terry, his cocker spaniel.

I am therefore beginning, as of today, a charity relief fund for the support of this wretched fellow and hope you will support this in the same spirit of benevolence and generosity which you showed when recently donating the sum of 18p and 3 pfennigs to me to finance my visit to Columbia.

Thank you in anticipation.

Breaking News: Neill awarded Emergency Needs Grant by Parish Council! two weeks to drink like fuck before worrying about the cooker.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Shug at Aye Write

A wee video showing part of the reading at Aye Write. I'm at the end after the real writers.

Shug hamming it up at Aye Write

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Very busy just noo. Resurrecting old poems, trying to finish Part 3 of Mac the Rabbit and plotting world conquest in the Autumn. Oh aye, and my work.

Went to 'Aye Write' a few weekends ago and read a poem at the Adrian Mitchell event before attending the Gutter launch on Saturday night. Went up with the very generous Mr and Mrs Titus. Good meeting some old weel kent faces and finding some new ones. Went back up on Sunday for the launch of Best Scottish poems 2009 which was very enjoyable, as was the Mitchell Library's Hospitality suite, the Green Room.

best Scottish pomes 2009

Only drawback was the last train from Glasgow Central, sodium yellow lighting, hot air belching from hidden blast furnaces and, of course, a male voice choir from south Ayrshire singing some trad songs about being up to their oxters in fenian blood.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Nebelgard Girl

Nebelgard Girl

I shone the iron wheels of her cart
as she bathed in the mere
with long necked birds.

My sisters necklaced me with samphire,
twisted tansy in my hair.
They sighed when they saw my breasts
just budded, but

my skin will not be jowled or scarred.
look at me as I leave my hearth,
smell the broom on my breath,
I will be the mother

no man has forced.
Mark it! When I am gone
flowers will seep through the earth like milk.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010


I'm rooting through my old stuff to try and select the best for a volume later in the year. Here's a poem about Jane from 'Horridge'.

Ideal Homes

You keep the Subaru,
compact as yourself,
white as the knuckles on the wheel,
snouting south over the Corinth Canal,
through the bleached bones of Greece.
I look into your eyes,
beyond the reflection of that farm truck
with brake problems.

Three days ago in the Cyclades
a huge sun sank on cue
and a breeze carrying all the hot bubble
of the Peloponnese fanned my cheek,
and I thought yes this is the place,
but now I look into your face
I see a darker climate,
but I am disposed to live there,
with all its squalls.

From roughly the same time, in response to Rachel's request, a poem by Jane. Jane was published in quite a few places, then got scunnered. Don't know why.

Four Seasons in the Blue Room

Let me breathe your name
like a sigh,
on nights when the moon
hangs like a tiny ear,
and the wind whoops
above our bed,
and the only way to go is up
out of the window:
dance in air.

Here I have fingered treasures:
smelt your skin like good food,
kissed the rose coloured lips,
moved under your careful hands.

Everything began on a night like this.
Today was warm on my cheek
like a familiar breath saying
open, come,
and suddenly that night,
when I knew I'd touched something amazing,
seemed no further away
than that breath
and those hushed words.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Stuart A Paterson

A plug here for Stuart A Paterson, Ayrshire born poet, who in the halcyon days of the 90s was Writer in Residence in Dumfries before emigrating to Manchester and a regular very demanding job. This relocation seemed to have the effect of nobbling his output. Stuart was, and is, a great friend of mine - I declare a partiality there- but the facts about his wrIting speak for themselves.

Stuart before moving south had already established himself as an important talent. He was a Gregory Award winner, a holder of a Scottish Arts Council Bursary, and possibly the most interesting contributor to the very important 'Dream State', Donny O Rourke's anthology of young Scottish writing. He also co-edited with Gerry Cambridge (current editor of the Dark Horse)the influential magazine 'Spectrum' which published all the big names of the time.

When his collection 'Saving Graces' was published by DieHard it seemed just the start to a big publishing career. Events intervened, however. The romantic notion of a Scottish exile is someone whose sense of country or place is of such integral importance that his identity in any other place is incomplete. I have a sense that Stuart's idea of his own poetical identity suffered in the south. He settled, typically, in an area of exile- Levenshulme, the Irish district of Manchester. The poetry seemed to dry up.

I don't want to carry on as if he's dead- he's very much alive and was slevering over the phone to me just the other night- but in a way that was obvious to me, and I suspect to him, part of him seemed to have slipped away. This was more than a shame: Stuart was my idea of a natural poet, not some superannuated bursary grabber or palm warmer, but someone who was more happy scribbling verse on the back of his rail ticket on the way to Oban than at any fancy antholgy launch or reading.

So it is a pleasure to hear that he's putting a new collection together, much of it gritty stuff based on his experience working in childrens' homes down south. He's also showcasing his poetry at:
Stuart A Paterson

Here's a glimpse of this new work:


Outside it's Manchester, as usual,

with you & half a million others sleeping

cold away. In here it's you as well,

on a screen, just your name that's keeping

me from seeing if I can get

to Whalley Range before the light slinks in

and lose my job & scare you half to death.

Six letters on a monitor, that's all

two syllables and you would think that I

might make it through a single night without

recourse to poems or phones or photographs.

Love isn't like that, is it? Love's the time

like air between two pairs of lips,

decreasing, heating to a point

where time is only ever this. A kiss.

It's cold outside in Manchester as usual where

it's you who keeps me here by being there.

Monday, February 15, 2010

The Lost Garden Pre-Publication Offer

Book's at the printers. Now comes the sewing!
Pre publication offer at:

Lost Garden