Reel Iraq Events – Coming Soon!

April 27, 2009


“I have heard it said that, if you really want to understand a country and its people, you should watch its films. Against a background of the harrowing images of a war-torn Iraq that flood our media on a daily basis, Reel Iraq offers us the chance to begin to know the people of Iraq – their lives, their culture and their humanity. I very much hope that the people of Scotland will embrace this festival with the openness and warmth for which we are famed.”.

Linda Fabiani MSP

The writers Sinan Antoon, Hussain al-Mozany, Betool Khedairi, Gulala Nouri and Saadi Youssef will be performing a series of readings at the MacDonald Road Library at 5.30pm on the 19th of May and the Forest Café at 8pm on the 20th of May. Come for a rare chance to see modern Iraqi writers reading in Edinburgh!

The MacDonald Road reading will feature prose, poetry and story-telling from:

Sinan Antoon – Poet, Novelist and filmmaker whose novel I’Jaam: An Iraqi Rhapsody was hailed as “a novel par excellence.”

Hussain al-Mozany – Short stories from the effervescent novelist and journalist.

Betool Khedairi – Born in Baghdad to an Iraqi father and Scottish mother. Her first novel, A Sky So Close, had been translated into English, Italian, French and Dutch and is worthy of study.

Gulala Nouri – A magnificent poet with an subtle yet intrepid eye reading new works.

Saadi Youssef – Late 20th century Iraqi literature has been marked by writers such as Saadi Youssef whose poetry has been immensely popular since he started writing at the age of 17. He has published thirty-two collections, a volume of short stories, two novels, several essays, and four volumes of his collected works.

They will be joined at the Forest Café by:

Jane Flett – With her new chapbook!

Faith Nicholson – Spellbinding noises get eaten by bears.

Rob Hearne – guitar originals. Sounds you will like to hear.

For more Reel Iraq Details see:

Poetry is for Reading

April 26, 2009

Poetry Is For Reading Part 1 – An Explanation. Etheridge Knight.

Yes, it is grand to study a poet, to examine the mechanics, to see how the machine works, to admire technical brilliance and the resonance of influence and allusion. Yet I, like many readers, sometimes just want to enjoy poems the way I enjoy TV, a novel, a comic book or a new cd.

wirePoetry, like all of these mediums, comes with the risk that if you just dive in – you’re going to sink into limitless depths of banality, rubbish, or things you just don’t like. TV is an evil glowing devil box full of people trying to get famous and comic books are for kids. But we, the discerning ones, we know better. We find Mad Men. We know Brian Michael Bendis‘ run on Daredevil. We share these things amongst us as part of, and perhaps as measure of, our enjoyment of them. We pass DVDs of The Wire to each other, make mix tapes. We don’t de-construct or analyse. We get excited.

Many months ago my friend Morgan asked me to recommend some newer books of poetry to him. Books I had gotten excited about. Sure, he’d read what he’d had to read in school and had gone through some classics at his own pace but felt he had no foothold on more current work. Somehow we got side-tracked, however, talking about insane things Mike Tyson has said and I’ve felt guilty ever since for allowing the conversation to degrade and for  not giving him a thorough list of readable books.


The troubling thing is that there is a lot of accessible poetry out there. Poetry that doesn’t require one to be a poet nor a scholar. Poetry that sparks and crackles and is as good as the new Decemberists album. But, there are an awful lot of books in that dusty cannon, ones taken like pills or praised by people who never liked AC/DC, or are simply competent or technically proficient.

In reading a New Yorker article about two of my recent poetic obsessions, Matthew and Micheal Dickman, Joseph Millar said, “They talked about poetry the way that young people used to speak about rock and roll, or surfing, or cars.”

Now, I’m not going to compare poetry to rock and roll or surfing but, in this little series, I intend to gush. I’ll recommend books to sit down and drink a beer with, poets you may or may not have heard of whose work you can ingest like your favourite cd, work you’ll want to share with your friends, books you might want to read all of, borrow or buy.

Of course, these are just my opinions based on my own travels, my interests and peccadilloes. Everything is individual, but please let me know if I switch you onto anything that you like. Similarly, feel free to share your opinions with me.

knightI’ve already gone on too long talking about the conceit of this concept and now, nervously, recommend a poet:

Etheridge Knight.

Knight found his way onto my love-shelf thanks to Michael Burkard who gave me a cassette of a Knight reading. I  knew nothing of Knight beyond his threadbare voice on that cassette. I learned from his poems that he’d been incarcerated at Indiana State Prison, that he was African-American, and was addicted to heroin. His voice sounded lived in and just about on the right side of cozy. His poems were rhythmic, brutally sensitive, funny, and honest. His poem Hard Rock Returns To Prison From The Hospital For The Criminal Insane had the eerie feel and humour of One Flew Over the Cukoo’s Nest.

You can hear him read it hear at about 1.30 minutes in:


And then he read what is just about one of my favourite poems. It has a vulgarity to it, sure, but it has a cut and beating heart too.

Feeling Fucked Up

by Etheridge Knight

Lord she’s gone done left me done packed / up and split
and I with no way to make her
come back and everywhere the world is bare

bright bone white crystal sand glistens

dope death dead dying and jiving drove
her away made her take her laughter and her smiles
and her softness and her midnight sighs—

Fuck Coltrane and music and clouds drifting in the sky
fuck the sea and trees and the sky and birds
and alligators and all the animals that roam the earth
fuck marx and mao fuck fidel and nkrumah and
democracy and communism fuck smack and pot
and red ripe tomatoes fuck joseph fuck mary fuck
god jesus and all the disciples fuck fanon nixon
and malcolm fuck the revolution fuck freedom fuck
the whole muthafucking thing
all i want now is my woman back
so my soul can sing

There is a bio and a selection of poems available at

·You can find Etheridge Knights work at the Scottish Poetry Library in The Vintage book of African American Poetry.

·You can buy the Essential Etheridge Knight (University of Pittsburgh Press) here.

·Read about another poet – Hayden Carruth.

·Cartoon by Dan Meth. My voice is in it.

New Classic Poem Choice by Poor Edward!

April 19, 2009

boat350Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter Sam Siggs, the man behind live music act Poor Edward discusses his favourite classic poem, “Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat)” by Arthur Rimbaud!

Check out the tale of his encounter with the wild young writer at the SPL Reading Room here.

Golden Hour European Tour — Tell Everyone!

April 16, 2009

flyerForest Publications presents…

The Golden Hour is a literary cabaret which has played to sold-out audiences at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It is poetry and prose, original eclectic songs and visual amazement. It is physical and mental. It is a reading. It is a gig. It is stunning puppetry. It is a party. It will be in english.

Readers / Writers:

Ryan Van Winkle – poems & stories from the Reader in Residence at the Scottish Poetry Library.

Nick Holdstock – short stories which grow inside you like golden crocuses.

Ericka Duffy – hot new prose from her hot new chapbook called The Succubus!

Benjamin Morris – Poetry and life lessons from the number one gentleman.

Jason Morton – stories that can eat bricks.


Jane Flett – seamstress of most fetching stories.

Music / Song Writers:

Billy Liar – Acoustic + infectious punk.

Hailey Beavis – subtle guitar, a bed for a voice, both personal and touching.

Jed Milroy – singer songwriter and hunter finally back from the Woods.

Withered Hand – intense, eccentric, bittersweet and very wry original songs.


Jonny Berliner – Joyus songs about crustacaens, exhaustion, and gluecose.

Visual Amazement:

Paper Cinema and Kora

A cast of hand-drawn marionettes are magically brought to life. This is what happens at the accidental meeting of inkblots, photocopies, cardboard, angle-poise lamps, the occasional table, video technology, a laptop and a banana box.

Special Guests

Joining us in Berlin will be the amazing all-dancing Exploading DJ & DJ Dirk Markham

Duets: Withered Hand with Hailey Beavis

Duets: Withered Hand with Hailey Beavis


Please tell everyone you know in these cities. We hope to see you there!

29 April – Amsterdam, Cafe Sappho – Vijzelstraat 103 1017 HH (+31 6 17140296). 3 Euros Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 8pm – Late

2 May – BerlinStudio54, Oranienburger 54 at Tacheles – 3 Euros Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 9Pm – Late.

4 May – ParisShakespeare and Co – 37, Rue Bûcherie, 75005 Paris, France? – 01 43 25 40 93? – Free! 7pm

5 May – LondonThe Camden Head – 100 Camden High Street, (020 7485 4019) – ? 8pm – £3 Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 8pm – 11pm

6 May – CambridgeCB2 – 5/7, Norfolk St, Cambridge – £3 Entry + Free Stolen Stories Book! 8Pm – 11pm

Three New Nothing But The Poem Dates!

April 15, 2009

nbtp_ecl_Nothing But The Poem: A relaxed and informal way to meet and discuss a poem. Moderated by ECL / SPL Reader-in-Residence Ryan van Winkle.

Where: Edinburgh Central Library

When: 6pm on April 23rd, May 21st and June 9th.

How Much: Free Free Free

What is it?
* We read a poem
* We discuss the poem
* Only the poem we’ve read.
* No Jargon
* No experience needed
* Nothing to fear
* Nothing but the poem.

Edinburgh Central Library, George IV Bridge.
There’s a little sample of what a NBTP session is like here.

Sunday April 19th – Gig at the Great Grog!

April 14, 2009


I will be reading at the the Jekyll & Hyde Pub (the ‘cellar bar’) alongside Nigel McLoughlin, Claire Crowther, and Edinburgh’s own Kevin Cadwallender. Poetry at the Great Grog is a relaxing and intimate poetry night run by Rob Mackenzie, and held, as you might have guessed, at The Jekyll & Hyde Pub. Find the venue at 112 Hanover Street, on the left hand side of the road, between George Street and Queen Street. It all starts at 8pm, please come along. I’ll be doing about 20 minutes which is the longest reading I’ve done in a long long time. Only 3 pounds for a night of great poetry.

Golden Hour! Golden Hour! April 22nd! 8pm! FREE

The Golden Hour is back in the Forest Café for a another massive evening of mind-expanding words and feet-moving beats! This month is gonna be HUGE.gh_apr_09

When: Wednesday April: 22nd, 8pm

Where: The Forest, 3 Bristo Place

Cost: FREE

Booze: BYOB

Andrew Philip – An answer to the question: “What’s Good About Poetry?” – launching his new book The Ambulance Box.

Chris Lindores – Poetic co-editor of Read This! Magazine takes the GH by the horns, selling his skanky new pamphlet “You Old Soak


Sandra Alland: Releasing her new chapbook!

Earl Grey and the Loose Leaves – A brawling bar-room  blues band that sounds like Captain Beefheart oan the train over tae Howlin’ Wolf‘s hoose fur a bevvy and a brace with Sonny Terry and the Mississippi Sheiks. Contagious.

VadoinmessicoLondon based multi-instrumental pop geniuses come to Edinburgh to unfurl their magicly epic and cinematic vibe upon us. A treat to behold.

Mellow Mood –  Not so mellow.  Bang!

G.P.S – Global Poetry System A-Go-Go!

April 6, 2009

dscn0330So, I found this poster in London the other day. It reminded me of a kind of Richard Brautigan poetry which I’ve always liked. Poems so simple they don’t even really feel like poems. The kind that read a little like a cheap newspaper ad or, indeed, a clever poster like:

I Feel Horrible. She Doesn’t

I feel horrible. She doesn’t
love me and I wander around
like a sewing machine
that’s just finished sewing
a turd to a garbage can lid.

I was on my way to the South Bank Centre where we were having an exciting and shadowy meeting about the future of G.P.S. (that stands for Global Poetry System which may or may not end up being the name but – try to remember this – I’m only writing it once). About a dozen other people from around the country all involved in literary projects in one form or another were there. We were gathered to help get this hyper-local interactive web 2.0 project off the ground. (I think that sentence might only make sense to me.)

Fittingly, we started the day by each sharing a poem we related to. I had seen a really good Stephen Spender poem in the Guardian and had brought that with me. I’ve always liked Spender though I’ve never read much of his poetry because once, a long time ago when my opinions on these things were being formed, I read a line from him which broke my heart: “For the world is the world, and it writes no histories that end in love.” Brutal.

Anyway, the point is he also wrote a beautiful poem about Pylons which, it seemed to me, was relevant to the whole G.P.S. idea and testified to the unique ability of poetry to honour sometimes unnoticed beauty which otherwise would fall through the cracks.

This is how the poem begins:

The Pylons

The secret of these hills was stone, and cottages
Of that stone made,
And crumbling roads
That turned on sudden hidden villages.

Now over these small hills
they have built the concrete
That trails black wire:
Pylons, those pillars
Bare like nude, giant girls that
have no secret.

Edward Weston - Abandoned Shoes, Alabama Hills

Edward Weston - Abandoned Shoes, Alabama Hills

Bare like nude, giant girls that have no secret! Not blights on our landscape, not monsters of metal, something more like the Eiffel Tower, or a photograph by Edward Weston. (You can read the whole poem on the Guardian website here)

Other people shared some great poems too such as Basho’s haiku:

A cold rain starting
And no hat —

You can find more of Basho’s haiku here. And Will from the performance poetry group Apples & Snakes brought along this great poem by Pablo Neruda:

Your Feet

When I cannot look at your face
I look at your feet.
Your feet of arched bone,
your hard little feet.
I know that they support you,
and that your sweet weight
rises upon them.
Your waist and your breasts,
the doubled purple
of your nipples,
the sockets of your eyes
that have just flown away,
your wide fruit mouth,
your red tresses,
my little tower.
But I love your feet
only because they walked
upon the earth and upon
the wind and upon the waters,
until they found me.

And there were many more. Someone said it was nicest way they’d ever seen a meeting commence and it put us in the right frame of mind to talk about the G.P.S. project (remember, I was talking about the G.P.S. poetry project). The goal of G.P.S. will be to “map” poetry as we, as in the public, find it. So, you might find poetry on a sign like the one I posted above or you may find it in graffiti sprayed across the dank underside of a bridge, you may find it etched into a tombstone or a monument, and you might find it in your head as you look at the pylons on the hill. Now, I can’t get into the specifics of how this will work (literally, I can’t I have no idea how the interweb magic ninjas make a website happen) but I’m pretty sure that it is going to be worth following as everyone in the room, from all over the country, was as excited to work on and develop the project as I was.

lemnsissayI like to think it is because we share an appreciation of what good poetry, and good writing, gives us. And as readers and writers we know that poetry, or something like it, exists all around us if we bother to look. People say poetry is dying and they say it is dead. But, if poetry dies, they’d probably read a poem at its funeral. Lemn Sissay, the South Bank Writer in Residence, made the point that poetry is commonly what we turn to when our hearts thump with grief or love, it is what we write on our tombstones and monuments, it is what we memorize and carry with us, it is what we send our ex-girlfriends, it is an inextricable part of our emotional landscape. And with that idea, I leave you with a rough quote brought to our attention by Lemn:

“Metaphor is as close as a human being can get to his environment”

John Burnside

(I should say that I can’t source this quote and wrote it down from a memory based on Lemn’s hopefully better memory so if you are an academic or doing an essay, you should try to find out where it came from and tell me. Thanks.)

Forest Publications — Ericka Duffy’s, “The Succubus”

April 1, 2009


The Succubus is a story set in Southern Ontario that follows a group of friends through small-town malaise and beyond, where they discover the ties that bind can easily unravel.

Available to buy from the Forest Café (3 Bristo Place) and Word Power Books (43-45 West Nicholson Street), and online at, all for a bargainous £2!

Here’s how it begins!

Annika absentmindedly inspects the tear in the center of the cushion. She trails her fingernails down it, feeling, abstractly, as though the vinyl is skin, and the sponge inside guts, when she notices a crumpled piece of paper wedged down the side of the booth. She pries it out. It resembles a white carnation before she smoothes the page against the tabletop.”

Office Hours at The SPL – April 7th – 4 – 6pm


If anyone would like to have a sit-down in the Scottish Poetry Library with me – I have my regular office hours on Tuesday the 7th of April. I’ll be in the poetry library from 4 – 6 and will be available to talk about poems, poetry, the library, future events, Dark Side of the Moon, writing or whatever. Please just pop by if you fancy a chat or a browse through the aisles with a little help from me.

For your diary: I’ll be in the SPL from 4 – 6 on the first Tuesday of every month so feel free to come down for a chat and biscuits.