Inspired by Adverts…?

January 28, 2011

Passing this along, from our friend Andy Jackson:

Andy Jackson is looking for contributions to an anthology of new poems inspired by TV & Film to be published by Red Squirrel Press later this year. In particular, he’s looking for short poems inspired by adverts and commercials. If you’re interested in writing something for the anthology and would like further information on how you can contribute, please contact Andy via email at by February 28th 2011.


In Addressing the Bard, we asked twelve contemporary poets to respond to Burns. We got an elegy on an otter, a view of the credit crunch, a celebration of friendship, a political satire… Writing in Gaelic, Scots and English, the poets comment on Burns’s poems, and how each chose to respond to the bard. An exciting and provocative new anthology. A Scottish Poetry Library exclusive! You can buy Addressing the Bard from our shop.

We reprint Liz Lochhead’s contribution, on ‘To A Mouse’, below.

To A Mouse – though it’s about a dozen or twenty years before its time – arguably could be the first poem of the Romantic era. It’s easy to see why Wordsworth and Keats – and Byron – admired Burns so much. It’s also a very ‘green’ poem. For our time. It was the first Burns poem which, fifty years ago, when I was ten, I learned off by heart, reciting it at the 200th Anniversary Burns Competition in the Miners’ Welfare Hall. ( See, I wasn’t a good enough singer to be allowed to do ‘Ye Banks and Braes’ or ‘Ca the Yowes’ or ‘Flow Gently Sweet Afton…’) Our village – an old mining village turned into a scheme, post-war housing for the nearby industrial town of Motherwell in Lanarkshire – had lots of what they always called ‘Burns Afficionados’ among the working men, the steelmen and the miners and the joiners and the shopkeepers, great enthusiasts for ‘our national bard’ among our teachers and our parents.

My poem ‘From a Mouse’ (in Addressing the Bard, edited by Douglas Gifford) is a parody, the sincerest form of flattery, a wee bit of fun. But I was trying to laugh at myself and my own hypocrisy at loving the mouse in the poem and being so afraid of the wee creatures in real life – I do stand on chairs and scream like a woman in a comic! And I wanted to do this in a very imperfect  version of ‘Burns Stanza’ – or ‘Standard Habbie’ as it’s known. I wanted this mouse to see through human beings and, in its own voice, talk back, take the mickey (aargh – no pun intended) out of Scotsmen – and Scotswomen – who sentimentalise Burns as a simple ‘heaven-taught ploughman’. Whereas, although he was always poor and did work long and hard and unsuccessfully at farming, still he was very thoroughly, if largely self-educated, incredibly widely read. And I especially wanted to satirise our partial and prurient interest in his life and loves and personality rather than concentrating on the words he wrote. Which are the whole point. So varied in tone and register, they go brilliantly swooping, sometimes within the one poem, from high to low, from posh English to intimate Ayrshire dialect with such sophistication, confidence, brio, tenderness, intimacy, humour — and, whiles, frankly relished coorse-ness.

Dear all,

here are instructions for tomorrow (Tuesday 25 January)’s flash mob, in which we will get lyrical, alongside the fine folk of Let’s Get Lyrical, in the name of Robert Burns!:

We’ll be bellowing out ‘A Man’s a Man for a’ That’. We reached this decision by popular vote, but also by tentatively attempting to sing ‘Ae Fond Kiss’ and ‘A Red, Red Rose’. The pitfalls of the range of those songs quickly became apparent, and besides, you can almost mosh to ‘A Man’s a Man’!

We’ll be congregating outside St Giles Cathedral on the Royal Mile. Here’s a map.

We’ll aim to kick off at 1pm.

If you can bring lyrics, by accessing them on your phone or by writing them out – and here they are – that would marvellous, but we will have spare copies to hand out.

Here’s a wee taster of me, Peggy, singing the first stanza, having been recorded by our man with the camera, Chris Scott, and snuck onto Youtube.

Please don’t be deterred if you aren’t a confident singer; we’d love to see loads of you there, with the whole family and the dog, to mouth along and jump up and down, and we don’t mind if we’re a bit out of tune. We think Robert Burns would have approved! Thanks so much for sharing across your networks, especially to the likes of Katy Evans-Bush for blogging so gorgeously here; please do keep spreading the word to your friends.

We can’t wait to see you all!

Having noted the tiny number of subscribers to Ambit Magazine in Scotland, following the celebration of the 200th issue at the CCA Writers’ Centre in Glasgow last Thursday, HappenStance publisher Helena Nelson has cooked up a plan to give them a helping hand: she’s giving away three subscriptions for free, which would increase the subscriber base in Scotland by 60% overnight.

You should read Nell’s full post on the HappenStance blog, but in short:

“If you live or work here, and you’re reading this, email me ( with up to 150 words about yourself and why you’d like a gift subscription. You don’t have to apply as an individual. I’m particularly interested in members of reading or writing groups, who might read and pass round a copy.”


January 21, 2011

A Man's a Man, taken by Chris Scott during Carry a Poem 2010

We’re Getting Lyrical for Robert Burns on Tuesday with a flash mob! Please spread the word. We want a nice big crowd in fine voice…

What: | we’ll be congregating to sing a song by Burns. We’ll find out, via Facebook, Twitter, this blog etc, which song is favourite and send a link to the lyrics and music of the chosen song the day before. Having said that, depending on how much fun we have, we may not stop at just the one…

When: Tuesday 25 January, 1pm

Where: outside St Giles Cathedral ( (As the learned Anna from UNESCO Edinburgh City of Literature pointed out, it is very close to where the ‘Anchor Tavern Howff of the Crochallan Fencibles’ would meet, including one Mr Robert Burns, as well as being close to the Writers’ Museum, which houses, among other treasures, Burns’ writing desk.

Be there! And please tell your friends!

Liz Lochhead was today named as Scotland’s National Poet at a special event at the National Library of Scotland. She succeeds her friend Edwin Morgan, who held the post from 2004 until his death in August 2010.

Liz Lochhead said:

“I am as delighted as I am surprised by this enormous honour, which I do know I don’t deserve! Nevertheless, I accept it on behalf of  poetry itself, which is, and always has been, the core of our culture, and in grateful recognition of the truth that poetry — the reading of it, the writing of it, the saying it out loud, the learning of it off by heart — matters deeply to ordinary Scottish people everywhere.”

As she wrote when accepting the post of Poet Laureate for Glasgow,

All praise to poetry, the way it has
of attaching itself to a familiar phrase
in a new way, insisting it be heard and seen.
Poets need no laurels, surely?
their poems, when they can make them happen — even rarely —
crown them with green.

Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, says:

“Liz Lochhead is a splendid choice as the second National Poet for Scotland, with a large and affectionate following here, delighting audiences wherever she goes. Her work runs the gamut from classical to cabaret, while retaining its Scottish accent. As she is Honorary President of the Scottish Poetry Library, we are particularly pleased that her new post will enable us to work more closely with her over the next five years.”

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy said: “I am filled with professional, poetic and personal joy to hear today that Liz Lochhead is Scotland’s new Makar. Since her early work in the 1970s, she has been an inspirational presence in British poetry – funny, feisty, female, full of feeling; a fantastic performer of her work and a writer who has tirelessly brought poetry to the drama and drama into poetry. Like her wonderful predecessor and pal, Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead possesses the deeply Scottish qualities of independence, inquisitiveness and inventiveness. It’s sad that Liz’s beloved husband, Tom, is not here to see her appointment as Makar, but all of us in the poetry world will be right behind her in this fabulous, fresh new chapter in her writing life.”

The National Poet for Scotland was chosen by the First Minister and two previous First Ministers, Lord McConnell and Henry McLeish, at a meeting last week, with advice provided by a literary panel chaired by Dr Marsack.

The National Poet will be contactable by email address through the Scottish Poetry Library: Specially commissioned photographs by Norman McBeath are freely available for media use.


Last week, I flew to Brussels to chair a reading by Jen Hadfield at Scotland House. (Oh, I do like saying that…)  This sounds most glamorous, and indeed it was, rather: Jen was booked as one of the Scottish Writers series of readings, arranged by the Scottish Government EU Office.

We had arrived at our incredibly chic hotel the night before, sans the odd item of missing luggage and unglamorously dripping wet because I’d wanted the adventure of getting metro and walking, rather than the sensible option of a taxi.  Brussels residents not only seem inured to scruffy, wet waifs appearing out of the dark and flapping maps, but have clearly taken a city-wide vow to offer directions in the language of your choice, set you on the road a little way, and beam fondly as you squelch off down the right street. We liked Brussels.

We were completely restored in time for the reading;  scooped up, smoothed out and cosseted by Jenny Gibbons and Julia Brown and the deputy Head of Office Ian Campbell, we had the luxury of all the setup and arrangements being taken care of – microphones! lecterns! lunch! – while we simply had to think beautiful thoughts and compose a running order. The Scottish Writers series are lunchtime readings and discussions, and the audience is made up of EU workers, expat Scots and others whose many languages include English.

I surveyed the location, weather and timing with a cynical eye, and decided that we could expect a very small and stoic audience, but there were a good 50 packed into the 8th floor room, of the charming sort who laugh nicely and murmur encouragingly and ask just one, interesting, friendly and well-judged query per question.  (Phrases like ‘So I suppose I’m actually asking three questions of the speaker’ are on my list of all-time heart-sinking utterances, along with ‘To be fair’, ‘Well, where did you lose it?’ and ‘Try not to scratch, you’ll make it worse’.)

Over some very messy mussels and chips the night before, we’d decided to talk about origins and Jen’s first collection, Almanacs, with influences from Scotland and Canada; then take a tour through the second collection, Nigh-No-Place, which is more influenced by Shetland, and talk about what she’s looking for in poems, her own and others, just now and how she works.  This included a pleasing show-and-tell section with a small, bone-coloured porcelain ‘limpet’, which Jen has become fascinated by making, each one by hand, with a slow hollowing-out, thumb-pressing technique. There’s not an obvious connection between porcelain modelling, small and inscrutable shellfish, and the process of writing poems;  but as people thoughtfully handled and turned the limpet, passing from hand to hand round the room, and as Jen talked about how the very unglamorous limpet selects its rock and gradually carves channels into its chosen home, connections appeared in plenty.

The Scottish Writers series continues with James Robertson on 26 January, and Jackie Kay on 11 February, which Robyn will chair; then finishing with Alan Warner in March.

~ Lilias

Interview with Jen here on our blog
Jen speaking to Ryan on our podcast