Ted and Tunnock’s

March 31, 2009

To have swallowed a Crocodile/ Would make anybody smile/ But to swallow a Caramel wafer/ Is safer

To have swallowed a Crocodile/ Would make anybody smile/ But to swallow a Caramel wafer/ Is safer. Spotted and snapped in the Museum of the University of St Andrews

Here is a rather delightful poem, penned upon a Tunnock’s Caramel Wafer wrapper, by none other than Ted Hughes. Poet Laureate from 1984 – 98, he came to put pen to Tunnock’s wrapper and we can only ponder why? Of course, the muse can strike at any time, perhaps particularly post-prandially. Is that what napkins are really for?

Speaking of the Poet Laureate, ‘Spring 2009 sees the launch of a landmark commitment to literature with a pan-BBC season dedicated to poetry’. Whee! This is to include such gems as Ian Hislop welcoming the new laureate ‘with an entertaining history of one of the oldest and, he argues, oddest offices in the British establishment’; Griff Rhys-Jones on ‘Why Poetry Matters’ (preaching to the choir, Griff!), and ‘Off By Heart’ – primary school children across the country take part in a nationwide recitation competition (like the wonderful film Spellbound, but with poetry?), culminating in a grand final, compered by Jeremy Paxman. What could be better!

Speaking of Tunnock’s, it’s time for tea and Julie’s bought a lemon drizzle cake.

A poem a day…

March 30, 2009

This weekend the Ullapool Book Festival launched its programme for 2009 with a reading by Ali Smith served with stovies (yum) and prosecco. Their Poems Aloud event, 11pm on the Saturday night, is always chaired by an SPLer.  After driving through all manner of weathers, featuring 4 rainbows, a snow blizzard and blazing sun, Ullapool stretched out before us in a gentle smirr. It was lovely to see one of our SPL outposts in the foyer of The Ceilidh Place, bristling with  poetry goodies such as postcards, our Poetry Readers, and our Ideas Box. All that parcelling up was worth it!

Poetry aplenty at Ullapool's Ceilidh Place

Poetry aplenty at Ullapool's Ceilidh Place

Robyn made a discovery at a London meeting last week, concerning poetry’s vital role in our well-being: ‘Darwin is much mentioned in this anniversary year, and I found the Poetry Society’s Director, Judith Palmer, quoting him in the PS newsletter: ‘If I had to live my life again I would have made a rule to read some Poetry and listen to some music at least every week, for perhaps the parts of my brain now atrophied might have been kept active through use.’ But we could make that resolution now, in the middle of life (or wherever we find ourselves). The listening to music bit is much easier, obviously, than in Darwin’s time: the reading of poetry, though, doesn’t take much effort either. Be ambitious – a poem a day rather than one a week! And it has been demonstrated by research (in Dundee, as I recall) that reading poetry does keep the synapses busy.’

Stave off atrophy with poetry!

The week’s Happenings having already been conveyed (lock-in, car chase and Gaelic pigeon etc) we thought we’d leave you Lost for Words instead. Lizzie gets asked for help finding poems on an almost daily basis – these range from the easily trackable to the very obscure.

A fine example of the latter began: ‘It was a poem I read in a magazine at the dentist in 1954…’ Our Lizzie eventually tracked down the elusive poem, an anonymous piece that had apparently been composed upon the wall of Ryvoan Bothy. ‘Fortunately copied before lost’ – it somehow made its way into that magazine in the dentist’s waiting room in 1954, and eventually into an anthology, Poems of the Scottish Hills (Aberdeen University Press, 1982).

But sometimes, some enquiries elude even Lizzie. And that’s where our Lost for Words section comes in. If you’re not familiar with it, this is the page where we post up any requested poems that we haven’t been able to find. The idea being, of course, that a little bell will ring with someone, somewhere, and they’ll get in touch to point us in the right direction. It does happen, and when it does, it’s great – last month we were able to reunite an American pastor with a poem he had been searching for since his time spent studying in Scotland in the 1970s. Only this year it hasn’t been happening enough, so we’d like you all to browse through the Lost for Words postings  and see if that little bell rings for you!

Some vital components of Lizzie's problem-solving kit

Some vital components of Lizzie's problem-solving kit

Next week In Our Sweet Old Etc, we’ll be chatting to SPL’s Team Education, catching up with our Ryan in Residence, and we’ll start to meet some of the fine faces who frequent the SPL on a regular basis, as well as the usual cakes and whimsies. Till then!

Double trouble

March 26, 2009

Unsuitable Poems by Helena Nelson, Folly by Mike Stocks, daffodils by Lizzie

Unsuitable Poems by Helena Nelson, Folly by Mike Stocks, daffodils by Lizzie

Last night Mike Stocks and Helena Nelson read at the library, the closing double-hander for the Poetry Association of Scotland‘s (PAS) Spring programme, 2009. Mike, novelist (Down Deep and White Man Falling) and translator as well as poet, and Helena, poet as well as editor of chapbook press, HappenStance and Sphinx Magazine, read over two halves, with a break for wine and book browsing and a Q&A with PAS chair Joyce Caplan.

On his blog (he’s the Elephant House blogger in residence) Mike said, “Helena’s poetry – like mine, I hope – is approachable and appealing. In fact some of it – like mine, I fear – is said to be “quirky and satirical, not for the faint-hearted or under-10s…”. The mood in the SPL was high, and their set well-received; Mike read from Folly, his celebration of the sonnet in all its forms, and Helena from her pamphlet Unsuitable Poems. There was even, at one point, an appreciative roar from some Crichton’s Close drunks going about their business. You can borrow both collections from us.

Mike is about to embark on a trip to Buenos Aires to research his latest novel, The Melancholy School of Tango, while Helena’s How (Not) To Get Your Poetry Published  is an invaluable, enjoyable aid to those seeking publishing advice. A trip to the Tolbooth Tavern and a chat about Sedoka (not to be confused with Sudoku) with Rod Burns rounded the evening off nicely.

His name is Ricoh…

March 24, 2009

Ricoh  is our new colleague. We’ve just had an intensive getting to know you session, and this guy has got some serious bells and whistles up his sleeve. He can do all the usual tasks and more – make brochures, offer six different kinds of stapling, store data to your computer from a photocopy, and he can turn scans into pdfs.

You may have guessed, Ricoh is our new photocopier. In the words of Tennyson, ring out the old, ring in the new. Here’s Ryan using Ricoh’s skills to prepare for tonight’s Nothing But the Poem session. Doesnt he look happy to have Ricoh on his side?



All SPL deckhands are back on board after a StAnza hiatus. When asked what banter had occurred in our absence, Lilias said just the usual – a ceilidh band arrived for an impromptu session which ended up in a 5am lock in, an epic car chase squealed down the close causing two minutes pandemonium and a pigeon flew in and recited Sorley MacLean’s Dàin do Eimhir agus Dàin Eile word perfect from start to finish.

Just another few days at the office then.

Hardeep is your love

March 22, 2009

Just seen Hardeep Singh Kohli in conversation with Alastair Moffat. Siobhan Redmond had to pull out but the StAnza machine ground into action and snagged Hardeep, and beautifully entertaining he was too. The conversation broadly concerned itself with Scottishness and coming home, with Hardeep’s favourite poems woven in between. He read and talked about John M Caie’s  ‘The Puddock‘, Burns’ ‘Such a Parcel of Rogues‘, and Milton’s ‘On His Blindness‘. His fourth baffled the hardcore poetry-going StAnza audience – The Everthere, a song by Mercury prize-winning Elbow’s Guy Garvey, reckoned by Hardeep to be a poet of our times; it turns out our Robyn has her finger well and truly on the pulse – they’re already on her iPod!

His thoughts on poetry’s inherent orality, his inspiring schoolteacher Mr Ronnie Renton and the fact that Tam O’Shanter gave him nightmares (‘and only a really good poem can do that’) were refreshing and personable, and he revealed that Twitter has turned him into a poet: haiku for our times?

The poetry of Alastair Moffat’s face was dwelt upon briefly, and quite rightly – he proved to be a lovely co-conversationalist. Their chat wittily embraced other territory, including Hardeep’s penchant for corduory, the loneliness of the goalkeeper (his role in St Matthew’s ‘world-beating under 11 football team’) and his top ten favourite dishes featuring pork belly.

The mood is still high in the Byre Theatre; we’ve bidden farewell to many of this year’s participants (Jenny Bornholdt’s skirt safely stowed, to my disappointment), but there are still plenty of folk around, attending Martin Newell‘s bracingly lovely evening, and Peter Porter and Helen Dunmore for our last poetry centre stage reading. Keep an ear/eye out for our last festival podcast – a lovely mash up of last day interviews and soundbites. Tonight’s the party with Heeliegoleerie promises to be a right knees-up…

Jenny Bornholdt's fabulous skirt

Jenny Bornholdt's fabulous skirt

A Dalek Love Song (which Kevin Cadwallender shouldn’t do on doctor’s orders!) courtesy of lunchtime poetry cabaret. Hear it here while you can. Have you ever heard a Dalek in love? Us neither). Jay Pirini in the StAnza discussion reminiscing to a full house about Borges and Alasdair Reid; sound poets, Trio Pas Lundi,who broke minds with their rich blend of French, German and English. These are some of the things you can hear on podcast four of our series.

The things you can’t hear are the wonder of Jenny Bornholdt‘s red tweed skirt, upon which/ were stitched/ a tea pot and cup. The open mic which featured 38 poets and the irrepressible wit of Jim Carruth. Neil Astley perching in the sound box because Bill Manhire and Simon Armitage was utterly packed in the Byre main auditorium at 8pm. Eleanor’s PA Sarah and I hitting Janetta’s for an ice cream run for venue volunteers on yet another fortuitously beautiful day – like all good firefighters, playing cards till the phone goes. Till a poet has gone astray down Market Street, or a train’s delayed, or a pamphlet has been mislaid in the wrong bag and one needs to be pressed into hands in time for a reading which happens in 5 minutes and is 10 minutes sprint away.

As I speak, Ian Rankin, Simon Armitage, Martin Newell, Stephen Scobie, Marco Fazzini are being chaired by Roddy Lumsden upstairs, asking the question, can song lyrics be viewed as poetry. Angus Peter Campbell and Robert Crawford will descend at 11.15am. The Poets’ Market is creating a buzz, with small presses and magazine publishers from all over the country vying to ply their wares. Oh yes, the banter should be good.

Carol Ann Duffy and Patience Agbabi are completely sold out, then later this evening, the StAnza Slam, moved to the main auditorium as tickets for the Studio Theatre sold like hot cakes. Elvis McGonagall, of the fine tartan jacket and world champion slam title under his belt will be our host. Who will win the StAnza StAtuette…

More, and pictures, later! Hope we’ll see some of you!

Thursday evening…

March 19, 2009

Dispatch from the Byre Theatre again. In the bar. Kate Clanchy is chatting to me. Apparently the Mac becomes me. Kate says she can’t believe how beautiful the weather is. Rare indeed to see St Andrews somewhere between the haar and the harsh wind, basking. She’s about to read with Robert Crawford tonight. She has just revealed she plans to read all of Newborn. We wait with breath that is bated.

Today’s delights included the StAnza discussion on Homecoming, one of this year’s key themes. David Mach told stories of returning to Fife after years away, and Thomas A Clark cautioned against the sloganisation of the term Homecoming. Is it different from simply ‘coming home’, to familiar gates and armchairs and slippers? He thought so.

Ooh, Robert Crawford’s just arrived for his sound check. Behind me, Jim Carruth, Lorna Carruth, Colin Fraser, Colin Will, Sarah Broadhurst and Alan Gay are having wine and chat, Eleanor is deep in conversation to my right, and the foyer is beginning to crest with people. Later this evening, there’ll be the StAnza jazz and jam. What’s that? Poets jamming to jazz. Shall report back after that.

But first: pies were distributed by Brian. Our Robyn accepted happily. NB: this picture is not posed.This here is unbridied joy.

Robyn and Brian do three cheers for Stuart of Buckhaven's pies...

Robyn and Brian do three cheers for Stuart of Buckhaven's pies...

StAnza continues…

March 19, 2009

The air is alive with the sound of twittering – not the StAnza team, but the wood pigeons outside the window. Poetry aside, St Andrews is rather gorgeous of a morning… There’ll be much more from StAnza later when events begin, including a chat with SPL’s Robyn and Julie who are both here taking the poetry.

StAnza begins…

March 18, 2009

We’re in the Byre Theatre; the Inklight Poets are roaring below, we’ve just had a night of Burns and sex, and the launch went off with a blast. I don’t think we’ve ever seen so many people crammed into the Byre; we tried to count, but got lost at 160 heads. There was poetry from Kate Clanchy and Bill Manhire, A Few Words from First Minister Alex Salmond, and welcomes from StAnza directors Brian Johnstone and Eleanor Livingstone. David Mach took to the outdoor stage to set light to the heid o Burns with a lit cigarette. It was all very magical. Do follow us on twitter, and listen to our lovely podcasts, which feature much chat direct from the scene, including an incendiary interview with David Mach, and a direct account of the festival launch…

Festival Director Brian Johnstone, Robert Burns, First Minister Alex Salmond, Artistic Director Eleanor Livingstone. Photo kindly donated by Madras student Bryndis Blackadder

Festival Director Brian Johnstone, Robert Burns, First Minister Alex Salmond, Artistic Director Eleanor Livingstone. Photo kindly donated by Madras student Bryndis Blackadder

In other words, we’ve had a very lovely encounter with the Poetry Theatre people, aka Ruth Frame and David Campbell, who performed Hamish Henderson’s flichting on life and death: lovely chats with Kate Clanchy and Samantha Wynne Rhydderch (whose Not In These Shoes featured in our New Books group) and had a grand lasagne courtesy of the Byre Theatre.