Okay, that heading may be a bit of an overstatement, especially at this moment as I sit before my laptop wearing pyjama bottoms and heavy fake-wool jumper, with runny eyes and nose, a sawdust throat, fits of sneezing regularly punctuating my out-of-season shivers.
The intended purpose of this over-dramatic exultation, however, is twofold: first, to apologise that I haven’t posted a blog for a while and promise that this will be the first of a more regular communication series; and second, to herald with optimism the rather belated start of steps I should have taken sooner to get myself and my work out there (wherever that may be!).
On that second point, I am grinding rather rusty slow wheels which, when properly lubricated and in motion, will make it a bit less easy for me to hide under a rock, a shaded spot which has proved attractive of late.
This will also be a mercifully short blog, mainly because it is virtually impossible to work with ‘Man-flu’, as any well-informed medical practitioner will testify. With each tap of the keyboard I am sweating metaphorical blood (which literalists would disdainfully insist resembles perspiration and snot).
So, initially, just a couple of brief updates.
The first relates to Social Media.
I’m sticking with Facebook and Twitter in the meantime though there may be one addition to that in the next couple of months. However, I have decided to open an additional Facebook Account, dealing just with writing and other creativity.
For many years I have been aware that many creatives have a specific account separate from their private account but had avoided until now the additional administration that would involve.
However, since 2019 there has been a particular personal reason why I decided that I did not want to communicate on my personal Facebook page from a date in February through to mid-April. This has occurred each year and I have finally realised that a creative page separate from my personal page would be a mechanism for continuation of artistic expression, while allowing me to show due respect by taking a break my personal Facebook page.
The framework of the new page has been set up and I’ll post a link to it when I have posted some content.
Well, if that first revelation hasn’t sent you to sleep, here’s the second.
I have now been added to Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Register. This does mean that libraries, schools, writing groups and others may chance upon my name on that Register and contact me to do readings, talks, workshops and other events promoting reading, writing and so on.
While there is an element of scariness about that prospect it is also something which (if called upon) I look forward to doing. Truly, quite excited.
If you want to check out my complete listing profile in the Register, here is the link:
As a follow-on from the Part 1 Blog, Art of Insomnia Revised for Reprint (Part 1) here are the details of the five revisals made in the reprint of Art of Insomnia, each explanation accompanied by a photograph showing the revised version of the poem as it now appears in the chapbook.
Revisal 1: ‘HELENIUM ONE AND ONLY (Helenium sui generis)’ is the third poem in Section 1 (BEAUTIFUL/TERRIBLE) of the chapbook. It is a tiny poem, written in response to a prompt to compose a poem of no more than 10 lines, describing a person/event as if describing a flower/plant in a seed catalogue. As you’ll observe from the photograph just one word was changed, replacing the word ‘warned’ with the word ‘aware’. The sole reason for this was to avoid unnecessary and pointless repetition, the word ‘warning’ having appeared in the immediately preceding line. Had I not had a much better reason for revisal [Revisal 5], I’d probably have left the poem as it was. This is the poem.
Like Revisal 1, the reason for the minor amendment in Revisal 2, to ‘NEARLY NOT GOING OUT SYNDROME’ is partly to correct unnecessary word repetition in successive lines. In the original version the word ‘effort’ appeared in lines 11 and 12 and worked fine but, as there was going to be a necessary revisal elsewhere [Revisal 5], I took the chance to replace ‘effort’ with ‘battle’ in line 12 because I think ‘battle’ better expresses what is going on in the mind, as well as avoiding repetition. This is the new version of the poem from Section 2 (FRENCH RETREAT) of the chapbook ‘Art of Insomnia’.
As with the previous poem in Revisal 2, Revisal 3, of poem PILGRIMAGE, is from Section 2 of the book (FRENCH RETREAT) and relates ultimately to a promise I made to myself. Unlike the two previous revisals, this one is not about removing an unnecessary repetition; it is about a decision to remove a phrase and, in replacing it, name the destructive demon ‘overthinking’.
Like Revisals 2 and 3, REVISAL 4 also relates to Section 2 of the chapbook (FRENCH RETREAT). Once again the original reason for the revision was the wish to avoid inappropriate repetition. I do very much approve of good repetition. However in this poem, ‘FOUND IN FRANCE’, I noticed that in the list of things my late wife would have found off-putting about the French place to which I had retreated I had unwittingly mentioned bees twice. I decided that I’d remove the first mention of them and emphasise the inescapability of the dogs by inserting the word ‘doorway’. Helen liked, but was afraid of, dogs and in the French getaway there were three dogs, usually present at one doorway or another! Just one revisal to go now. In the meantime here’s the revised version of ‘FOUND IN FRANCE’ as it appears in the reprint (over two pages).
Finally, there’s REVISAL 5, the one absolutely necessary revisal that led to the opportunity to make the other four less necessary ones which, though less necessary, do – I hope – clarify and improve what they replace. Anyway, Revisal 5 is the really embarrassing one. Originally, I loved the sound of the word ‘enervate’ as it originally appeared in line 25. I loved reading ‘energy to enervate’ and I thought I knew the meaning. However, some time after publication of the chapbook I saw a tweet in which someone referred to former Makar Jackie Kay describing in another poem a mistaken use of the word ‘enervate’. I checked and was distressed to find that the word meant pretty much the opposite of what I thought! Using ‘energise’ would not have worked with energy in the same line, and I did not like any of the synonyms I could find. So, I thought about a word that meant the opposite of being brought down and ‘elevate’ was ideal to convey that meaning. It also sounded similar to the word it was replacing, and that pleased me because I felt I was retaining as much of the sound of the original as possible while correcting the meaning and purpose of the line. This final revisal is of the poem ‘AFTER THE ENDING’ which appears over two pages in the chapbook’s Section 3 (RETURN TO WHAT REMAINS).
To purchase ‘Art of Insomnia’, this is the page with all the details Art of Insomnia
As some of you know, at the end of May 2021 my debut poetry chapbook Art of Insomnia was published by The Hedgehog Poetry Press, a matter of great importance to me, especially as it was dedicated to and largely inspired by my beloved wife Helen, whose unexpected death broke my heart exactly one week before Easter 2019.
I was grateful that the book resonated with so many readers and, as it proved more popular than I had expected, the matter of printing additional copies had to be considered.
By this time I was working on further chapbook ideas and preparing for a larger collection but decided, before going ahead with a further print run, to look at the poems afresh to ensure I was entirely happy with them.
Thankfully, I found that most of them conveyed their messages exactly as I wanted those messages to go out and I was content to leave those. However, I was disappointed to discover from a tweet I saw by chance on Twitter that one of the twenty two poems contained a word often used to mean the opposite of its actual meaning, and that’s an error I had made.
No one had brought this error to my attention, and I may have got away with it, but knowing that a reprint was in the offing made me look critically at the whole manuscript. As a result, I found four other minor matters which, if changed, might improve the work. Thankfully, my publisher agreed to all five changes which have been incorporated in the reprint currently available for purchase. This is the link for purchase – Art of Insomnia
I do have mixed feelings about all this.
On the one hand I am delighted that the copies now available at Scottish Poetry Library, and at a number of libraries local to me, contain these revisals. Similarly, this will be true for copies now being placed with independent book shops and those I take with me to poetry gigs in 2022 and beyond.
However, there’s a fair number of folk who have the original version, without the small changes to five poems, so I do feel it necessary to publicise the changes as widely as I can.
Coming up in Part 2 of this blog – ‘Art of Insomnia’ Revised for Reprint (Part 2) – you’ll find details of the five changes and the reasons for them, so I hope that lots of those who have purchased the original chapbook will find this helpful.
Further, all members of The Hedgehog Poetry Press’s ‘Cult of the Spiny Hog’ will be able to download an updated digital copy of the book free of charge.
I have also alerted followers on Facebook and Twitter to the changes, and will now link them to this blog (parts 1 and 2)
Finally, I am about to send out to those purchasers for whom I hold addresses a bookmark which contains details of the changes on its reverse.
By this means I hope to get the information out to anyone who may be interested.
If you already have a revised reprint, this blog and -link- will probably be of less significance, unless you have an academic interest in the rarity of a post-publication editing process.
Okay, I didn’t manage it. Did not publish 25 Advent blogs between 20th and 25th December, as I suggested I would, but I have three things to say in mitigation.
Warning: this post is devoid of arithmetic and logic. Its results cannot be relied upon.
Firstly the target was wrong. As discussed around the Christmas Dinner table when I was lucky enough to be with my ‘family bubble’ this Christmas Day, Advent calendars generally have only have 24 days. So, there is should not be and will not be an Advent blog day 25.
Secondly, life got in the way and that’s a good thing.
Thirdly, I am not defeated yet. I have given this blog the Advent Day Number 18 of the (exceptionally-belated) series. Though I have now run miles past the day we all call Christmas, every day is an advent to something new.
I realise none of this makes sense but just imagine I’m a politician attempting to fool you with lies, not to believe the evidence of your own eyes, and allow me to get away with it, as they invariably do due to our complacency.
Thank you in advance for agreeing to do that. This political chicanery is easier than I first thought!
Oh, and given the records of our most recent Prime Ministers to mislead and destroy the country, I leave you with my poetic reminder of one of the most efficient our country has ever known. This poem appears in the December (Thatcher) Issue of The Angry Manifesto, edited by Matt Duggan and Des Mannay.
Once upon a time in Britain
the very idea of a woman doing the job
would have drawn derision
Now I am neither misogynist nor Nostradamus sir
but all those years ago when the doorstep canvasser
presumed - We can surely depend upon your support We are the party for the upwardly mobile you sir -
I do not know what made me say -
Not with That Woman in charge, she’ll lead us to war -
but I did
The canvasser shook his head, smiled and said -
The old enemies have gone, with whom should we pick a fight? -
but she did
You can call it a Conflict if you like - a killing by any other name
still stinks of blood
She really made us travel for that battle
Bent and broke the rules to make it happen
Argie-bargie, mano a mano?
Ask the ghosts of the Belgrano?
The greatest PM of the century?
I think not.
Performing minor miracles?
The miners would disagree -
though she did black-magic all sorts of unexpected
from her blue handbag
Not just war in time of peace
Investors caught on bullish horns
Disappearing roofs in property booms
The loss of everything in pursuit of gain
Division of brothers on an industrial scale
Dominatrix seeks reward for sadomasochistic pain
No to milk and education
should have signalled things to fear
Weeks after a friend’s assassination
mention of that friend felt insincere
amid a wild-eyed selective rendition
of part of Saint Francis’ prayer
All these before are symptoms of an incurable condition -
Maggielomania or the delusion that you are a female God -
which made her go further than any male politician
to prove she was at least as flawed
As this is a very new website and I remain in the category of emerging writer, I have not previously had the opportunity to review what has happened in my year of writing. I hesitate to do so in case I fail to credit anyone who has helped or encouraged me in the last twelve months but I’ll just have to take that risk and now hereby apologise in advance to anyone I unintentionally omit to mention.
The first news I received in January was that I had a winning entry in Hedgehog Poetry Press’ Nicely Folded Paper – Trois Competition. I look forward to the publication of the resultant Art of Insomnia chapbook in the early part of 2021. Thank you Mark Davidson and Hedgehog. Thanks are also due to two women I won’t mention by name at this stage. The first is my late wife, my muse who was my inspiration for many things, including this work. The second is a poet whose work I very much admire and who very recently provided notes on the latest draft; both will be formally acknowledged for posterity in the published work.
Following this early success, things went rather quiet (three rejections) until March when Cheeky Besoms Productions accepted one of my favourite poems for an anthology which was due to be published in 2020 but has been delayed because of the pandemic. It will be published when there can be an in-person launch in 2021. Thank you Ruby McCann, Maria Marchidanu and all others involved with the anthology.
The only other acceptance in March was for radio airplay of an audio recording of a new version of an older poem the apocalyptic dj. It was played on the 2nd April 2020 episode of Express Yourself on the Radio. Thanks to Sunny G Radio and Carla Woodburn.
In April I submitted two poems both of which were accepted for an Anthology of Radical Scottish Poetry published by Culture Matters. The anthology was titled A Kist of Thistles. Thank you Culture Matters and Editor, Jim Aitken.
Also in April I was emboldened to submit the audio recording of the apocalyptic dj to an American podcast and they used it in their podcast of 23 April 2020. So, thank you Poetry in the Bar hosted by Eaton Rapids Poetry Club, Michigan.
In April, May and June I had lots of rejections but a total of four of my poems relating to the pandemic were accepted and placed in an online journal about Covid-19. Thank you Pendemic.
In May, a short story I had submitted in March, was accepted for publication by New Voices Press for Surfing, the 2020 anthology of the Federation of Writers (Scotland) which was subsequently published in November. The short story Taste was the first piece of prose fiction I had ever had accepted for publication. Thank you to Federation of Writers (Scotland).
In May I submitted two poems which were both accepted for the Poets Against Trump anthology. It was initially published online in October; thereafter in paper form in November. Thanks are due to Stephanie Lunn.
At the end of June I submitted an entry to a Hedgehog Press pamphlet competition. Though unsuccessful my entry was shortlisted. For that, thank you Hedgehog Press.
In July I submitted a poem for a Black Lives Matter anthology. I was delighted that it was published in Black Lives Matter – Poems for a New World in November. Thank you Civic Leicester and Ambrose Musiyiwa, Editor.
Also in July four poems were accepted for Words from Battlefield (launched 24 October) and a creative non-fiction piece was accepted for a World War II audio project. Thanks for these successes are due to Dr Linda Jackson, Finn’s Place Publishing and Langside Community Heritage.
Further, I was asked to provide a reading of one of my poems Carnival, which originally appeared in Poems for Grenfell Tower (The Onslaught Press, 2018), to be included in the Grenfell Soundwalk, a permanent geolocated audio installation. Thanks to Giovanna Iorio, the sound artist commissioned to complete the installation.
August brought success for an audio-visual reading of the apocalyptic dj for which thanks are due to Lesley Traynor and others at Scottish Writers’ Centre.
In the same month I submitted a poem about Margaret Thatcher which was subsequently accepted for and published in The Angry Manifesto magazine (Thatcher Edition) published December 2020. Thank you, The Angry Manifesto, Matt Duggan and Des Mannay, Editors.
Finally, in the same month, I contributed some words which former Federation Makar Andy Jackson weaved into his patchwork poem for National Poetry Day Theme, ‘Vision’ (video reading released on 1 October 2020). Thanks, Andy Jackson, for your your consistent creative skill in collating disparate poetic voices into these annual works.
Following a complete lack of success in September, in October I submitted, appeared in a shortlist of six, but ultimately was unsuccessful in yet another Hedgehog Poetry Pamphlet competition. Once again, thanks to Hedgehog for shortlisting me with such a talented bunch of poets.
Undeterred, in November I made a full collection submission to Hedgehog which was also unsuccessful, not even shortlisted.
However, in December I had the great joy of receiving acceptances for a total of eight poems spread over four themed chapbooks with Dreich. Thanks to Jack Caradoc and hybriddreich.com.
I should also say that during this unconventional poetry performance year, in addition to those audio/audio-visual performances previously mentioned I have contributed to a number of Zoom events including Cheltenham Poetry Festival, Dove Tales Scotland and Virtual Dragonflies. Thanks to Anna Saunders, Annie Ellis, Jean Rafferty, Darren J Beaney and Barbara Kirbyshaw, who host and administer these events.
It’s also been a great encouragement to take part in creative writing classes and workshops. Mentions for Dr Linda Jackson, former FWS Makars Finola Scott and Marjorie Lotfi Gill. And former FWS Scriever Charlie Gracie.
The people I have enjoyed meeting during all events are too many to mention but you all know who you are.
The year is nearly finished but I still have a submission or two to email. I also have one more live event to look forward to at 5.00pm on Boxing Day. It’s a You Call That Radio event Overheard in the Westend. Thanks to Mark McGhee for inviting me.
I have also been invited to submit audio recordings of some of my poetry to an Eat The Storms podcast to be relayed early in 2021. I’ll be recording those shortly. Thanks Damien B Donnelly for the kind invitation.
Given that this is developing into a longer post than intended, I’ll wind it up now by adding my thanks to anyone who has taken time to read any of my work or the random ramblings which appear in this blog.
[UPDATE POSTSCRIPT: as this is late publication of a proposed 19th December post I am able to provide this brief update.
As well as having my reading of a poem included as previously indicated in the Poetry in the Bar April podcast, a further two poems read by me were included in the open mic of the 30 December podcast. Thanks again to Poetry in the Bar hosted by Helen and Gav, Eaton Rapids Poetry Club, Michigan.
As well as appearing on the Boxing Day You Call That Radio event when I read five poems, I was invited back to the You Call That Radio Hogmanay Event to read my short story Taste. Thanks again to Mark McGhee – a great way to finish off the year!]