Sunday, 26 December 2010

Gillian Clarke, Ceridwen of Wales

Congratulations to Gillian Clarke, who has been awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.

Long overdue. Selected by a committee recommended by Carol Ann Duffy, this is another example of Duffy's generous drawing of attention to poets other than herself. The plethora of wonderful modern carols (poems to be set to music) published in the Guardian pre-Christmas,is another example and her invitation to poets for war poems, also published by the Guardian, which marked the beginning of her poet laureateship. But back to Wales' poet laureate or Welsh National Poet as they call it there.

You can read Gillian's biography, about her tireless work visiting schools promoting poetry writing, her work for Ty Newydd, the Welsh residential writing school, her public work as Welsh National Poet and listen to her mellifluous voice on the Poetry Archive or read some poems online via her website. (See links below.) The full story via the Guardian:

I want to add some personal memories here in my journal/blog.

Gillian was the first poetry tutor who taught me how to pare down my poems. From a scrambled, rambling mess of notes, I spent several days drafting and redrafting the one poem until a tight, tiny version of itself emerged. It was during a long weekend in Southern Snowdonia in a former hunting lodge owned by the National Trust, built entirely of wood, with no electricity, cooking on gas and lit by candlelight, the day spent in poetry workshops or sitting in the window-seat with one to ones with the tutors or redrafting looking out over the solitary landscape of upland moors below Cadair Idris and the cloud shadows trailing over the mountains and lake, Llyn Cregennen.

They say about Cadair Idris that if you spend the night on it, you will come down mad or a poet.
Cadair means 'chair' and Idris was a giant. We were full of the Welsh myths and legends and the Tales of the Mabinogi (which I learnt is more correct Welsh since 'The Mabinogion' is a nonsense, an anglicization by Charlotte Guest who translated these epic poems in the 19th c.) I had already read Guest's versions and was fired up by the myth of Ceridwen, the witch or alternatively the goddess of poetic inspiration who left her servant, Gwion in charge of the cauldron where she was brewing a magic potion which would give the gift of wisdom to whoever drunk it. Intended for her ugly son, Bran (which means 'raven'), it is, of course Gwion who, being spattered by a drop as he stirs the cauldron, licks his finger and so gains the knowledge. ..after a long story he is eventually reborn as Taliesin (which means 'He of the shining brow) and became the first known Welsh poet. No wonder my idea of Ceridwen and Gillian with her long flowing silver hair got mixed up in my poem!

Amongst other writers there were Helen Simpson (the short story writer), and poets now making their mark: Angela Morton and Gwyn Parry who has now moved to Ireland and is published by Salmon Press.

This was back in the 80's, before Gillian was as well-known as she is today. My friend and colleague at Pimlico comprehensive, Barry Simner, (now poet and TV script writer) who was then Deputy Head of the English Department, asked me if I would like to spend the Easter break in the wilds of Gwynedd, Wales on a residential poetry writing course to be run by Gillian Clarke, Gerard Benson and himself. Gerard and Barry had run similar courses together before but they had decided they needed a third. A poet with mud on her wellies was the obvious candidate, since Barry who was a keen outdoor type, and mountaineer, wanted to incorporate walks and visits to beauty spots or places of historical interest to inspire poetry writing.

To get to the isolated hunting lodge (which to the shame of the National Trust has now been pulled down) we were met at Fairbourne Station by a landrover which would transport our luggage. We then walked several miles to the lodge over the upland moor and via a tunnel through rock which led to 'the blue lake'. Emerging into day light and the gem-like blue of that water (some kind of chemical - I can't remember what) was an extraordinary experience. (A bit of drama foreshadowing Barry's career as a TV drama scriptwriter?)

I went on a second course run by Barry and Gillian at Celmi (Welsh for 'sheltered place'), a 16th century manor house overlooking Cadair Idris from the other side of the mountain but from a valley floor, the Dyfi valley near Llanegryn, Tywyn (Gwynedd, Mid-Wales). This time we went on more walks including Llewellyn's castle in that valley. Hearing Gillian recite her first draft of her poem about that visit was a salutory lesson in itself - comparing hers to my paltry efforts. One of the most memorable of her poems was about a peregrine falcon swooping for the kill. I had not been on that particular walk but I heard everyone talking about it and so it was magic to read the poem later when it was published. The fact that you could start a poem on the spot about what happened to you, a direct experience, was new to me.

My third experience of Barry and Gillian's residential course was at Llanthony (near the Breckon Beacons) in South Wales. We stayed in the former smithy and visited the abbey. A very different setting from the open skies of the upland moor below Cadair Idris. This is a narrow enclosed valley overshadowed by woods and also with the mystical feel of an ancient holy place, but the shadow of violence: the destruction of the abbey, the burning of Walter Savage Landor's house by the locals (he was seen as an English colonial upperclass interloper) and the weird enclosed artists' community founded by Eric Gill with incestuous goings-on. The poet, David Jones was also a visitor here.

Again, a workshop assignment meant we were all writing about the same experience - details I also included in my poem, also appeared in Gillian's but again with what a contrast! I was not silenced by this experience, though possibly humbled - on the contrary, I had experience of early drafts, what was left out, what was developped and so this was enabling. OK. So how is it done, has always been my reaction to others' wonderful poems. That is a credit to Gillian (and Barry) as tutors. The idea of going out in the landscape, writing poetry almost as a journal experience, the physical, sensuous image capturing the felt experience but also harking back to memories or history, this is something I learnt on these trips and which I try to recapture still in my own poetry and when running my own courses.

On an even more personal note, I have Barry and Gillian to thank for introducing me to the area surrounding Cadair Idris, for this experience is the reason why my then partner (husband yet to be) and I when debating where to live together, decided to settle in a nearby valley- and thereby hangs a tale (13 and a half years in Wales).

Gillian Clarke reciting some poems:

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Seven Words for Winter in Greenlandic (Kalaallisut)

The most original, fantastic Christmas card I have received this year has been from my friend, Nancy Campbell which is in the form of a poem using Kalaallisut, the Greenlandic language, (a language facing extinction). With her permission, I quote it here for you:

Seven Words for Winter

ukiigatta last winter.
ukioq the winter; the whole year.
ukiukkut in winter; during the year.
ukiuuppaa the winter came upon her before she
reached home, or finished building her house.
ukiorippoq she has a good winter; it is a good winter.
ukiorpoq the winter has come.
ukiortaak the new year.

Nancy Campbell
Nancy was writer in residence in Greenland last year and you can read a fascinating account on her blog. More about her poetry and artist books

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Happy Birthday Dave Brubeck

Brubeck is 90 on Monday (tomorrow).

Great documentarylast Friday on Arena BBC4 which is on playback until 10th Dec

Apart from loving his music, my husband and I have great memories of listening to Brubeck and his band playing on board a ferry plying back and forth betwen Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty all evening in 1989 - part of our honeymoon. Unforgettable.

Friday, 19 November 2010

A Man in Assynt - video re the MacCaig Festival

Charming video on the Norman MacCaig festival up in Assynt, featuring the poet, the competition winning poem, and inspired by MacCaig the work of local artists and the poetry and illustrations by local school children. Some great shots of Suilven too.

Sunday, 14 November 2010

Norman MacCaig Festival, Assynt, 2010

On the Alchmelvich road from Lochinver.


What a nice bit of serendipity. As you know, Norman MacCaig wrote lots and lots of frog poems,
so it was magic to find this sign by the road whilst up for the NMcC festival. (The sign above is a toad, not a frog, but never mind.) Here is one of his frog poems posted on his birthday centenary day:


Frogs sit more solid

than anything sits. In mid-leap they are

parachutists falling

in a free fall. They die on roads

with arms across their chests and

heads high.

I love frogs that sit

like Buddha, that fall without

parachutes, that die

like Italian tenors.

Above all, I love them because,

pursued in water, they never

panic so much that they fail

to make stylish triangles

with their ballet dancer's


At the festival main reading in Lochinver, Liz Lochhead read this poem amongst other MacCaig poems and as she said, ever after hearing this poem, you will never see a frog without thinking of Italian tenors and an Italian tenor without thinking of frogs. These were interspersed with some of her own including the poem (about a bull) she had read, with great nervousness at being on the same platform with him when she was starting out as a young poet. Liz recounted how as she writes mainly urban-inspired poems, MacCaig once said to her 'The trouble with you, Liz, is you were born in a laundrette.'

From Alan Taylor, we had reminiscences of MacCaig the 'two cigarette' poet, (how long it took him to write a poem), and MacCaig the man, the school teacher, the poet in residence at Stirling University (not quite fitting in with the academics), his love of whisky, holding forth in Edinburgh bars , his acerbic comments about other poets, but quiet and a listener up in Assynt in the company of fishermen and locals and further reminiscences from locals who had known him, ( a propos MacCaig acerbity, Wilma quoted 'a silver dirk' - mentioned in George Mackay Brown's poem re the poet), all this bandied about in bars, or up at the Lodge, or on poetic walks to the places MacCaig had written about, the vast tome of the Collected Poems passed round by Mandy Haggith for each of the walkers to read at strategic spots - all interspersed with ruminations about MacCaig's poetry and poetry writing in general.

For instance, how 'zen' like his poetry is - MacCaig's son, Ewan, apparently thinks not. I asked Colin Will, who is much inspired by zen poetry in his own work, to explain on the Glencanisp walk what zen poetry tries to do: write about Nature as itself, directly, not through anthropomorophism or through the poet's eye, he said. Much debate amongst us walkers as to how this applied to MacCaig and whether it is possible not to write through your own perception.
Rody Gorman, who is poet in residence at Sabhal Mor Ostaig, the Gaelic college on the isle of Skye, strode around the room at the main reading, musing about whether there was a MacCaig link with Gaelic culture - his mother was from Scalpay, and tho MacCaig did not speak Gaelic, he had tried to learn it and must have had some knowledge - but the mother's inheritance was justification enough, he said to claim some influence. Rody read some of his own translations into Gaelic of MacCaig poems. Apparently, this has started a trend and others, such as Aonghais MacNeacail are busy writing translations now.

We also heard the first prize winner of the competition, Pippa Little's complex poem about the female perspective on Border Reivers (Scottish/Northumbria borders) and the second prize winner, Nancy Campbell's superb poem inspired by her writing residency up in Greenland.

I was privileged to get to read my commended poem too, inspired by my visits to Shetland. So what with Rody's Gaelic, Liz's Glaswegian, Northumbria, Greenland and Shetland, quite a variety of Scottish and Northern culture was celebrated. (The poems can be read on Top Left corner's website eventually - when they've recovered from clearing the hall, packing tables away, washing up from preparation of sandwiches, late nights, and maybe (no!) surfeit of poetry readings.)

Winning and commended poems can be read here: The winning poems are all at

So a wonderfully inspiring festival - with lots of other aspects - local involvement with school children writing MacCaig inspired poems and a wee booklet, 'Assynt's Casket' printed of their poems, illustrated by the children and the title poem read at the ceilidhe. An exhibition of local artists' work inspired by MacCaig and also an exhibition at 'An talladh solas' gallery in Ullapool. Great outreach - locals and visitors from all over involved. Well done, Mandy and all the other locals who worked tirelessly back stage.

Now, let's see, I've experienced Assynt in brilliant sunshine, autumn colours and mists in October, snow in January and now in November with gales and rain one day and the next snow-topped mountains, brilliant blue lochs, with snow falling on one mountain and the other graced by a rainbow simultaneously...hmm, let's look in the diary...Glencanisp Lodge/Top Left Corner has some writers' retreats coming up. And now they've put in central heating and double glazing, it's extremely cosy and beautifully redecorated, there's no excuse.

See Great blog from Nancy Campbell re MacCaig Festival but also about the itinerant librarian. ...and fascinating older posts re her residency in Greenland and Greenlandic words for snow, leaning on one elbow (fishing I presume) etc

Postscript: And if one can take yet more Norman MacCaig celebrations in Edinburgh tonight at the GRV, organized by Rob Mackenzie: many poets reading their favourite MacCaig poem and then one of their own MacCaig inspired.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

A Hoolie in Assynt: Norman MacCaig week

Summer Farm by Norman MacCaig
Straw like tame lightnings lie about the grass
And hang zigzag on hedges. Green as glass
The water in the horse trough shines.
Nine ducks go wobbling by in two straight lines.

A hen stares at nothing with one eye,
Then picks it up. Out of an empty sky
A swallow falls and, flickering through
The barn, dives up again into the dizzy blue.

I lie, not thinking, in the cool, soft grass,
Afraid of where a thought might take me - as
This grasshopper with plated face
Unfolds his leg and finds himself in space.

Self under self, a pile of selves I stand
Threaded on time, and with metaphysic hand
Lift the farm like a lid and see
Farm within farm, and in the centre, me.

To celebrate the centenary anniversary of the birth of Norman MacCaig this week, I post my favourite poem of his above. He is one of Scotland's most famous poets, along with his other contemporaries, Hugh McDiarmid, Sorley MacLean, George Mackay Brown and MacCaig's influence has been widespread amongst contemporary Scottish poets.

As you can see from the example above, MacCaig's poetry is lyrical, acutely observed, paired down but emotionally affecting. Known to school-children throughout Scotland are his poems about frogs and the 'slounge' of a monster (a basking shark) he encountered- there is a sort of zen philosphy informing his Nature poems but also an intense socialist vision of a fair community - the buy-out by the Assynt community of the land and several mountains, including Suilven, would have pleased him.

The place to be this week is Assynt (North West Scotland or as Mandy Haggith puts it 'top left corner') this week: where there'll be a MacCaig poetry fest, celebrating his work with walks to places which inspired his poetry, beautiful white beaches like Achmelvich and the isolated rocky landscape round Glencanisp, readings of his work and by visiting poets such as Alan Riach, Roddy Gorman and Liz Lochhead and by the winners and commended poets of the poetry competition organized by Top Left Corner, (that is run by Mandy Haggith, John Bolland and others). The local school children have been involved, writing poems and illustrating MacCaig with their own artwork. The whole week will be a hoolie, with plenty of good craic, and, no doubt, whisky. To round it all off will be a ceilidhe.

I cannot recommend it highly enough. I have been lucky enough to have already experienced some of the walks and views on three different trips I've made to Assynt. The first visit was a holiday with my son, the other two, staying at the former hunting lodge, Glencansip Lodge, now owned by the Assynt community: the second visit, on a writing retreat, where I did, co-incidentally, spend a lot of time studying MacCaig's Collected Poems (Polygon, 2005) which had recently been published and trying to write poems in a similar manner. (Maybe not such a good idea. NmC said to Andrew Greig on being shown his poems when G was 19, that he like them very much. 'But then I would. They're quite like mine. Perhaps you should write some quite like your own' . My third visit was co-tutoring with Mandy a poetry course for OLL students where we took the students to the aforementioned MacCaig places, to inspire their poetry too.

God willing and the creek don't rise, (as they say in the MidWest) I shall be there.

But if you can't make it to Assynt, today,(Sunday) there's a programme on MacCaig on BBC Scotland Radio which can be heard on playback for a week.
Andrew Greig can be heard talking about his pilgrimage to the Loch of the Green Corrie (MacC's favourite spot) at the Scottish Poetry Library on Wednesday - and if you miss that, there is also a podcast of Greig on the same topic, on the SPL website 'Reading Room' interviewed by Ryan van Winkle.
Monday, there is also a TV film, 'Fishing for Poetry' charting a similar pilgrimage by Aly Bain, (the internationally known Shetland fiddler)Billy Connolly (no blurb needed) and poet/novelist, Andrew Greig at 9pm on BBC 2 (Scotland only.)

Tuesday, 5 October 2010

Poetry on the Lake Festival, 2010

Photo near Omegna taken from the ferry on 'the Poetry Cruise', part of the Poetry on the Lake festival : poets reading poems in the anthology 'Reflections on Lake Orta' published to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the festival. A local singer and accordianist also regaled us on the journey.

A rather misty festival this year but all the more atmospheric for it. Main stars were Carol Ann Duffy and James Harpur.

I couldn't resist going as I had the chance to read my poem in the anthology and a commended one in the competition so got to read on the cruise and in the pallazo, Salle Tallone on the island - and then again on the Sunday on Sacro Monte two more poems. Phew.

James Harpur is an Irish poet, whom I had met before at Strokestown and it was a great pleasure to meet him again. He had had a 4-week writer's residency in Monaco and came over to Orta to give a talk, 'The Poetic Journey' which wore its erudition lightly and was illuminating and very engaging. He compared the via negativa and the via affirmata of the mystics with poets' journeys: in love with words (like Dylan Thomas) or spare and minimalist. Poets tend to fall into one or other category mainly. He did clarify ideas I have had in the back of my mind - mainly about what inspires poets - 'Identity' (your roots) and the 'Other' (what takes you beyond yourself). The latter became a buzzword over the weekend for all those who heard the talk - semi-humourously but of course, something we took seriously too.

Unfortunately James did not give a poetry reading, apart from his lovely 'Roscommon Rain' which he chose because it was raining on the last day when everybody gets a chance to read one poem in one of the chapels, part of the 20 chapels on Monte Sacro above Orta - another journey (the chapels were built as a way of prayer in honour of St Francis and became popular for pilgrims.)

On Saturday we ferried across the lake to the island of San Guilio to hear the winners and commended poets and for the prize-giving. This year, the first prize of the Silver Wyvern was given to Emma Harding, whose poem was about a slave who is thrown over a cliff for some minor transgression displeasing the Emperor Tiberius. The poem is the last thoughts of the slave as he 'reflects on inevitability' and finally 'the blue.' His watery death summed up in one word - masterly! (I'd say that was a wonderful example of the 'via negativa' .) You can read the full text of her poem, and that of the other winners in Orbis magazine, Summer 2010 edition (152)

Carol Ann Duffy also read four poems, followed by readings in Italian by her translators. One of the poems was 'Valentine' and she had brought along a real onion which she presented to Gabriel Griffin, the organizer of the festival, as a mock present to mark the 10th anniversary.

On the Sunday, (when James read his poem) we were in for a surprise as the owners of one of the apartments in the converted Conventino, next to the main church on Sacro Monte, invited us in to what had once been the monks' refectory. Now filled with ornate carpets, frescoes and Venetian pale blue and pink chandeliers, the only reminder of its holy past were scrolls on the wall saying 'Obediencia' and 'Silencio' , the benches round the walls and the wooden border where the monks' feet would have rested as they worked on their manuscripts. (Wood being warmer through their sandals than the tiles of the central area.) Several poets, including myself, gave readings here in these splendid surroundings before we set off for the chapel readings which, this year, were held in only one, due to the rain. It was so misty it was impossible to see the view of the lake and its jewel, the island but never mind...

I was fortunate that I had been before in 2008 when mist was followed by blue skies and shining red berries and ivy. This year the colours were muted, the ivy was still green, the frescoes in the village faded, the atmosphere melancholic but in some ways, it is good to see a place in all its moods and it was certainly almost more romantic.

It was great to meet and hear fine poets I met last time: Caroline Carver (who won the Silvern Wyvern in 2008, and incidentally has won the National Poetry Prize)and Elizabeth Rowe (whom I'm delighted has found a publisher for her new MS (her former publisher Peterloo having become defunct). She is now with Oversteps. Also to meet and hear new, to me, poets, especially the urbane and witty poetry and person of Christopher North (who runs the well-respected and delightful sounding Alamassera writing courses in Spain).

A special pleasure was discovering the poetry of Victoria Field, who with Penelope Shuttle and Caroline Carver (all three Falmouth-based) had toured N.Y. and Canada reading their poetry together and produced a pamphlet to celebrate the trip. Victoria's poetry is intelligent, and accomplished and I hope she'll soon have a new collection out. Her first one is sold out. You can hear her read (and/or read the text) in the link below .(Also Caroline Carver).

Pat Borthwick is a poet whose name keeps cropping up in all the prize winning lists of competitions, so it was good to meet and hear her at last. A new, for me, Italian poet of interest was Tiziano (I discovered the anglicized form of his name is Titian!)Fratus whose work is translated into English and who has toured the States. A trip to Britain is surely in order.

Victoria Field:

Caroline Carver:

Alamassera writing courses

You can see more photos of Orta SG following the Photos link on my Home page,
and read about the 2008 festival on my blog for 21st Oct, 2008. Stephanie Green's Blog/Journal: Poetry on the Lake Festival, 2008

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Poetry on the Lake Festival, 2010

Off to Italy for the Poetry on the Lake Festival, Oct 1st-3rd, 2010

Isola San Giulio, on Lake Orta.

It must be something to do with the autumn chill waiting for a bus on the corner of my road, but one last jaunt before I hibernate for winter has become hugely enticing. Especially to Orta San Gulio and its enchanting small poetry festival of three days held in various venues in OSG and on the island, Isola San Guilio. Think terracotta, yellow and rose coloured stucco walls, the arcaded piazza with one side open to the lake framed by forested mountains and a glimpse of snow-capped Alps peering over.

It may not be warm. Last time I went (2008) mist swirled down from the mountains over the lake for several days. In the market braziers roasting chestnuts did a good trade. Then the sun came out and we had blue skies and vibrant colours, bright red berries and ivy and the poetry, of course.

This year, along with the winners of the competition, the fine Irish poet, James Harpur and the splendid Carol Ann Duffy will give the last night reading in a 17th pallazzo on the island.

I'm thrilled that I will also be getting a chance to read - a poem selected for the 10th Anniversary of the festival's anthology 'Reflections on Lake Orta' and the poems will be read whilst sailing round the lake! I also had a poem commended in the competition and will be reading that at some point during the festival, possibly when everyone climbs the nearby mountain, Sacro Monte and readings are held at various chapels on the way up.

Festival website:
For more photos, see:
and for an account of the 2008 festival see:
Stephanie Green's Blog/Journal: Poetry on the Lake Festival, 2008

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Iona Sense of Place 2010

The Sense of Place poetry writing course on the Hebridean island of Iona tutored by myself and Mary Gladstone was a great success, as ever.

Blue skies, white sands, turquoise seas. Some on the boat trip to Staffa even saw a basking shark and an acrobatic display by dolphins.
Photo taken by Shirley Blacoe

For more info see

Monday, 6 September 2010

Makkin wi Wirds, Shetland and Fair Isle

Jen Hadfield 'makkin' at the St Magnus Hotel, Hillswick.

This is the second year running I have attended 'Makkin wi Wirds' the poetry writing course tutored by Jen Hadfield up in Shetland in August. As well as being a wonderful poet, Jen is an inspiring tutor and not only that, the week combined an experience of Shetland that I would never have managed by myself and provided subject-matter for more poems. Enough to blow you away (and it's windy up there). I can't recommend it highly enough. This year a special long weekend on Fair Isle staying at the world-famous Bird Observatory was added on for the poets.
Wow. Not that I am a bird-watcher sort of person with binoculars and passion for ticking off rarities but if a bonxie happened by, well.

I was particularly lucky in that the Scottish Arts Council gave me a grant to cover my trip and the course towards developing my poetry for my collection in progress. And having just had a hip operation a few months ago, it gave me the incentive to do my physio exercizes to ensure I would be strong enough to cope with it. Without that carrot, I don't think I would have been so disciplined.

It was an amazing week. It is part of the 'Fiddle Frenzy' run by Shetland Arts which runs classes in traditional fiddle-playing but also includes a course for painters and in Shetland knitting. Everyone has their separate classes in the enormous, baronial castle-like Isleburgh Centre in Lerwick but on two mornings the workshops are held in different parts of Shetland, involving an early start for a coach and/or ferry trip to various islands or remote areas of Shetland where the workshops are held on arrival. Village halls, kirks, primary schools etc are commandeered for the workshops.

But the week is not just workshops. Afternoons are free to dabble in one of the other subjects on offer if you want or go on coach trips with story-tellers as guides to places of historical, geological or other interest in the areas (a croft house museum, a water-mill, a seal sanctury, a mussel farm, lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stevenson's relatives, and Shetland ponies of course).

Evenings are spent listening to concerts by the fiddlers, both students, locals and professional groups. Last year I heard the incomparable Aly Bain. There are also ceilidhes, all ages dancing together from 4 to 90 year olds. There's a late night Club for more fiddle-playing, a wee dram or two and a quiet room for more story-telling: Davy Cooper, Lawrence Tulloch and Elma Johnson are the residents, hotly contested in late-night competitive sessions by visitors from New York to Penicuik.

Interior of Sodom, McDiarmid's cottage, Whalsay

Last year we went to Whalsay (which the locals pronounce Whalsaa) and visited Christopher Grieve, (better known as the poet Hugh Mc Diarmid)'s basic cottage where he lived in dire poverty with his wife and small son for 7 years before WWI ; it is now let as a rather basic hostel and the current occupants let us in to have a look round.

On another trip last year, involving two ferry trips, we visited remote Fetlar, the second northernmost island (after Unst). This year it was to Yell and Hillswick, workshops at the atmospheric wood-pannelled rooms of the St Magnus Hotel (a wooden structure brought over from Norway). Both years incorporated visits to the dramatic wild cliffs with their blow-holes and geos of North Mavine at Eshness. A must.

It is a great way to experience the varied landscapes of Shetland and also frustrating, as it is just a taster and made me long to go back and experience it for longer - or to see yet more areas we
did not cover.

View from Yell in the early morning haar.

But I have some wonderful memories: driving through the haar (sea-drift) rising off the sea between islands and taings (tongues) of land appearing through them in the morning, the silvery light on the voes and sea when the mist cleared, and standing on the open deck of the Hendra ferry on the way to Whalsay having my head brushed by a squadron of gannets flying past with their six-foot wing-span.

And the add-on weekend in Fair Isle was the most exciting trip I have had for years! The ferry crossing from Grutness in Shetland to Fair Island is notorious: vast tides down from Iceland and from Norway either side of Shetland meet due south, just where the ferry crosses, then there's the 'Roost' of local riptides round Fair Isle itself. I met a F.I. local who warned me that even on a calm crossing it can be bad. Total panic. We rushed off to Boots and bought Traveleze and acupunture bands. Well, all was fine. But the return crossing which was rough, well, nuff said.
All I can say is, fly if you can afford it - also if the plane flies. On the day I left it was too misty for the plane to land and people were stranded for 3 days. Not so good if you have a connection to New York to catch....though actually I would miss the chat with the Skipper, Neil, if I did not take the ferry.

Ah, but the isle itself. I see why the Vikings called it Fridarey - island of peace. After that crossing it did indeed seem like heaven. Life in an isolated island (it is actually the most remote inhabited island in the UK) is fascinating - I met everyone in the first few hours - the skipper (or Master) of the ferry, the Good Shepherd, having invited us to a ceilidhe (the non-dancing kind) that night - so we met all the locals and heard a few of the members of the folk group, also called Fridarey, playing in the Puffin House (a bothy owned by the National Trust) - the whole group are members of the same family, but that night we heard only the skipper, uncle Neil Thomson, Lise Sinclair (fiddle-player and singer) and Lise's father. Fridarey are well-known at folk festivals. A special treat to hear them on their own patch with a small group of locals, N.T. volunteers and us listening, whilst the children played football outside in the still half-light of simmer dim at 10pm below the South Lighthouse (one of RL Stevenson's relatives of course).

South Lighthouse football at 10pm.

Members of Fridarey: Neil Thomson, Lise's dad and Lise Sinclair.
Hear some tracks of Fridarey's album 'Across the Waters'.

As for that bonxie (the Shetlandic name for a Great Skua) - I had heard tales of this brown menace, the pirate of the north, the size of a buzzard (probably bigger) that eats other birds such as kittiwakes, or by forcing other birds to drop or regurgitate their meals. It lives out at sea except when breeding when it nests on the moors. The B52 bombers of the bird world, if you approach too near they will attack. And yes, I was shadowed by one. Out walking on the moors on the way to the North Lighthouse (yes, RSL's dad) it felt like being in a Film Noir, stalked by a secret agent. Every time I looked round it sank out of view but there it was again out of the corner of my eye. I was lucky. My friend Jean was attacked as she crossed a field - 10 different strikes. Luckily she had a hat with a deep brim on and kept her head down.

Staying at the splendid new Bird Observatory was an interesting collection of individualistic people - not all bird-watchers (because as you'll know if you are a twitcher that August is not the best month - puffins have left, and the autumn migrations have not started) but a Danish writer researching his next novel, 3 yachts-people who were sailing from Norway to Cornwall (to Rick Stein's Padstow restaurant to be precise), several PhD students working as volunteers for the bird-ringing, Americans and Norwegians. Tales of the Faroes, Iceland and Norway. Hmm.
Once you're up in Latitude 60 degrees North, those places feel so close, your neighbours in fact, only a Viking long-ship journey away.

The coast of Fair Isle from the North lighthouse - showing pretty obvious reasons for the need for the lighthouse.

Oh, as for the hip. Yes, it did hold out. Despite falling down a rabbit-hole - I was too busy looking through my camera. And I have a pocket-full of new poems!

Thursday, 15 July 2010

Poetry on the Lake, 2010

My poem 'Imago Mundi' has been commended in the Poetry on the Lake competition, part of
a festival on and around the Italian Lake Orta and the atmospheric and romantic Isola Guilio San Orta 1st-3rd October.
See my blog on the 2008 festival.

Monday, 21 June 2010

Loose Tongues at Edinburgh Festival Forest Fringe

From L to R: Stephanie Green, Patricia Ace, Janie McKie and Mandy Haggith

Loose Tongues,
4-5pm, Friday 27th August
at Forest Fringe
Forest Cafe, 3, Bristo Place, (nr George IV Bridge), Edinburgh EH1

Loose Tongues: Mandy Haggith, Janie McKie, Patricia Ace and myself (Stephanie Green) will be performing at the Forest Cafe. Free. What better way to have a break from the Festival whirl, a cup of tea/coffee, or refreshing fruit juice and a wee spot of poetry to set you up for the onslaught of the rest of your festival evening?

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Brigid Collins, StAnza 2010

Photo Below: Brigid Collins

One of the many pleasures at StAnza are the art exhibitions inspired by poetry. This year the one that entranced me was that of Brigid Collins. I knew her work already as a few years ago I bought the wee black pamphlet illustrated with gold ink, 'A Place Where Thought Happens', by the poet Larry Butler with Brigid's art work, on show at the One Eye gallery, Edinburgh in 2006, along with other work by Brigid in collaboration with jewellery designer, Teena Ramsay.

The StAnza exhibition included some of those art works and many others also inspired by various poets including Kathleen Jamie, John Burnside, Kirsty Gunn, Raymond Carver, Billy Collins, Gerald Manley Hopkins, John Donne and Seamus Heaney amongst many others.

As Heaney was appearing at the festival this year he was able to visit the exhibition which was a nice bit of serendipity - no doubt planned. Collins has collaborated with Heaney previously and a lovely book of her art work illustrating his poems was on show 'Room to Rhymne' published by Dundee University Press, 2004.

Inspired by 'In the Blue Boat' - Kathleen Jamie

'Pied Beauty' inspired by G.M. Hopkins

I love the intricacy and delicacy of the work, incorporating wire, gauze, goldleaf, fine threads and metal embossed with fragments of poems, a 3 D response to a poem which she calls 'a poem house.' A 'stanza' is a room, of course and a poem has many rooms or spaces. Perhaps I shall think about inhabiting spaces when I next write.

Sunday, 14 March 2010

Assynt Writers' Retreats

The Assynt Foundation has put up a list of Writing Retreat dates on their blog
I've been there twice and highly recommend it: isolation, beautiful views, delicious food and other writers to share writing or chat about writing in the evenings.

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