Speech Impediment

Free Raif

I joined the Twitter campaign to raise awareness of Raif Badawi’s case, and, perhaps, get him out. I know it’s not enough.

Like most westerners I believe strongly in freedom of speech.

By which I don’t mean the ‘right’ to hurt others with words, as the term seems so often to be interpreted; but freedom to challenge beliefs, certainties, assumptions, values, the government and other powers? yes, I mean that. We can’t flourish without it. As individuals; as families; as groups; as cultures; as states, we all need our ideas to be challenged or we stagnate. We’d still be sending children down mines if speaking out against it got you imprisoned and tortured.

So how is it ok to eulogise about freedom of speech (and human rights) at home, but to snuggle up with a blind eye turned to another whom we know practises abuse of both?

I’m talking, of course, about Raif Badawi, currently imprisoned with a flogging sentence hanging over him in Saudi Arabia. For blogging.

And all the while our government is happy to do business with Saudi. We sell them the weapons they use to spread their particular, violent form of fundamentalism throughout the middle east. The type that thinks it’s fine to strap bombs to ten year olds and send them into market places.

And Nabeel Rajab awaiting trial in Bahrain for tweeting this:

“Many #Bahrain men who joined #terrorism & #ISIS came from security institutions and those institutions were the first ideological incubator.”

Bahrain, a state that tortures doctors for treating pro-democracy protestors. And we have just done a deal with them for a naval base in the Gulf. 

How can we live with ourselves? And if we can’t, what can we realistically do?


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Reading: A How

How to read  poems

Dead? How?

How do you read poetry?

I ask because I’ve made a discovery, I think. I have always read poems as individual entities. I read them one at a time, out loud, and interrogate them until I feel I have a grip and can move on to the next. This makes reading a new book of poems, or a new poet, very slow, not least because I get weary, and can end up reading a whole novel between each poem as solace. Or, I can have several books of poems on the go at one time, dipping in and out of each as my nerve allows. I’d never thought of reading a book of poems in the way I’d read a novel or a text book.

About half way through university I discovered that reading a text book quickly, without puzzling over every little thing actually aided my understanding. I’d read them as if I was doing so just for the fun of it, right to the end, stopping only to look up the meaning of ‘teleology’ for the umpteenth time. I’d then take a break and start again for a ‘close’ reading a couple of days later. It made the most enormous difference to my student life because second time around it was like having a conversation with an old friend. I read cookery books the same way: the whole book, often in one sitting, before attempting the recipes which, miraculously, feel like a breeze. But it took an interview with Louise Glück on her book Faithful and Virtuous Night to make me even consider the possibility of using the same technique with poems.

“I thought I’d never resolve the issue of this structure, never be able to give shape to these poems,”

she said. And went on: “which usually means there’s a piece missing, as was true here. […] I had thought that the long poem would be a whole that moved roughly chronologically from section to section, but it seemed lifeless when I put it together that way. I tried rearranging the sequence but that wasn’t the answer. [… the] shape didn’t really find itself until the end – when I wrote prose poems, which I’d never done before – they were written in a tide of exhilaration at the thought that maybe I could finally finish the book.”

This intrigued me so much I bought Faithful and Virtuous Night. Yet I still tried to read it in my usual way, labouring over every poem. And I didn’t get it.

The first thing about a poem that makes sense is, usually, the sound:

‘I ordered this, this clean wood box
Square as a chair and almost too heavy to lift.
I would say it was the coffin of a midget
Or a square baby
Were there not such a din in it’*


‘The spinner fluchters,
but falters not
in its bee-line for the shore,’**

Both these have strong rhythms (read them aloud), and imagery (second sense maker), but I couldn’t hear Glück’s rhythms, or see her vision. For example:

‘It came to me one night as I was falling asleep
that I had finished with those amorous adventures
to which I had long been a slave. Finished with love?
my heart murmured. To which I responded that many profound
awaited us, hoping, at the same time, I would not be asked
to name them. For I could not name them. But the belief that they
surely counted for something?’

When I read poetry the question: “What makes this a poem?” is always in the back of my mind, but here the question started wailing at me like a starving hyena. And I couldn’t begin to answer it. I kept reading: another, then another, always trying to make sense of one before moving on to the next, until I wanted to throw the damn book out the window. But I had ordered this, this clean cool book, paid for it out of my ever diminishing bank account, and Glück is a prize winning poet, I needed to work it out.

I gave it a break.

Then I remembered the problems she’d had putting it together, and that it was more than just one poem after another, so I tried reading it as if it were a novel. And by the time I came to the end I felt it. I heard her rhythms, and, thus, had some purchase. By the end of my second reading I was faintly in love with the poems’ personae, and Glück’s writing.

Trying just now to find an example to show how unrhythmic the poems were I struggled. So from now on I will read any new book of poems like a book, not just a bunch of random verses, without trying too hard to make sense of its individual elements.

So, I ask again: how do you read poetry (if at all)?

On reading poetry

Leadhills: desolate, but lovely.


*From ‘The Arrival of the Bee Box’ in Ariel by Sylvia Plath (my favourite poem ever).

** From ‘Fishing at Spiggie’ in Nigh-No-Place by Jen Hadfield.

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Year of the Poet

Hello 2015!

Three days into the year and I am fit for nothing, except, perhaps, keeping tissue manufacturers afloat. I can neither read nor write, because my glasses irritate my nose and make it run all the more, so I have to stop every thirty seconds to grab at another tissue. Which makes concentrating so difficult I gain little or nothing from from the endeavour. So, instead, I’ve been filling up my Pinterest board, How to be a POet (the capital O was a typing error, but I quite like it) with images of fantasy poets’ book filled rooms, and wondering in the idle way of the faintly ill if I’m capable of giving up the idea of a whole room of my own yet. Probably not.

However, a recent trip to Ikea and a little manoeuvring has made my space at the top of the stairs about as perfect as its limitations allow.

Poet's workspace 2015

Ready for action?

Yes, it’s cluttered, and there are hideous wires hanging about, but the addition of a second bookcase has allowed me to have almost all the books I feel I need to hand, and given me an off-desk space for work in progress. I find if I don’t have my work visible at all times I forget about its existence, and poems do benefit from being idly picked up and tampered with over a long period of time, so I need to see everything I’ve got. A glance at my work in progress shelf shows me that’s not quite the case at the moment. Pinking shears; camera; a scarf; last year’s diary; two notebooks; a ribbon, and a mass of other papers all combine to obscure my poems, somewhat. But tomorrow I should be done with website designing and teaching is already over, so I’ll be able to devote the space to my writing alone. I know it will never be this:

Reader's chair

It’s the chair that does it for me, I’d go without cake for a year to have one like it.

Or this:

A room for readers

Oh god…

but it feels like it could work.

The Year Ahead

Thus I go into the new year with a feeling of optimism. No resolutions except to keep on going. I feel I got to grips with how to go about becoming the poet I am last year, and just want to keep hold of that. Yes, I’d like to travel a little further afield. Yes, I’d like to see more of my inspiring best friend. Yes, I’d like to spend more time in the city. But I don’t suppose any of those things are necessary for me to make good work. After all, there is a school of thought that proposes one’s most profound discoveries are invariably to be had close to home. I may be about to test that theory to the limit.

Here is a photo from last Monday. I knew the hill had been recently harvested of its pointy trees, but had no idea how war zone it would look.

Gallow Hill, Moffat, in fog.

Gallow Hill, on the edge of Moffat . I went for a wander up it in Monday’s fog, and was arrested by the decimation caused by recent clear-felling. It was like being an extra in a film about the battle of the Somme after the crew had packed up and gone.

Happy 2015 to all of you. If you have any new year’s resolutions do let me know in the comments, and if you don’t perhaps you’d like to explain yourself.

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Merry, Jolly, Splendid

We had snow! It’s gone now, but I managed to get a shot of it just as it was beginning.

This was taken as I walked home from a gig organised by Moffat Music Live in which young Scottish singer of the year, Siobhan Miller supported by Aaron Jones (bouzouki, guitar, voice) played wonderful things. They were supported by the Mr. and  band, Clan Blues, who also wooed.
This was taken as I walked home from a gig organised by Moffat Music Live in which young Scottish singer of the year, Siobhan Miller supported by Aaron Jones (bouzouki, guitar, voice) played wonderful things. They were supported by the Mr. and band, Clan Blues, who also wooed.

Goodbye 2014, I’ll miss you

I think you may have been my best year yet. You started, really, with the allotment. I had a great time planning, planting, harvesting, even the weeding was a great excuse to hang about in the sun, of which we had plenty this summer. The goodness continued when in April, for my birthday, I was taken to the best bookshop I’d ever been in: Barter Books in Alnwick. July saw the wedding of the Mr.’s daughter, which was gorgeous, and allowed us to see lots of family, after which we went on holiday to Argyle and I had my first visit to Mull (how I loved Mull!).

Of course, we also had the independence campaign which we worked on for most of the year. It was tiring and frustrating at times, but we got to make many friends, and learn a great deal. And though it was unsuccessful (from our perspective) it continues to be a tremendous boost for Scotland: as a nation we are much more engaged in politics, much more aware, and much more willing to tackle problems. I can only hope it lasts. At the time of the vote my son and his wife came over from New York, where they live, so he was there to commiserate and dissect, and at the same time I got to sniff him and chat to him, and fill up my mummy reserves.

Lastly, I had some poems published. I say lastly, but it wasn’t really last, and these weren’t the only good points of the year. For example, I also spent a couple of months teaching a young woman who, if she keeps at it, will be a great poet some day. I fully expect to see her lauded and showered with prizes in the not too distant future.

And, the Mr. didn’t kick me out, he continues to labour under the illusion that I’m nice to have around.

Hello Christmas

We have a lovely cosy Christmas planned, which includes a first visit from the Mr.’s 18 month old granddaughter (we have been frantically trying to minimise any dangers as we are told she now runs), and trifle made with the damsons we had soaking in gin (to make damson gin) for three months. Our fridge is the fullest it’s ever been, I almost took a photo of it.

Thank you

to all who return here time and again, and to those of you who join in the conversation with comments, or even by clicking the ‘like’ button, it’s much appreciated. Apologies that I haven’t been quite as attentive as I’d like to have been, and I do hope to do better next year.

Merry Christmas and very happy New Year to all of you.

Posted in Allotment, Independence, Poetry, Scotland, Teaching | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

On Happiness

I’ve spent most of the day searching out poems on happiness for tomorrow’s lesson with my young charge. We’re looking at how to make emotions concrete, how to capture and present them to the reader’s senses, so they are felt. And I thought happiness as good as any to examine. We did love last week as she’d amazed me the week before by saying she’d tried to write a poem about love but was unable to distinguish between it and lust. So I took her a whole bunch of poems that I hope will help her make that distinction in future. And she, in turn, gave me Carol Ann Duffy’s Valentine. Love somehow led to happiness, so here I am.

After reading about happiness all day, and having a particularly good day, I thought I might share some of the things in which I find it.


Happy colours

I love these colours together, and finding them unexpectedly when the Mr.’s soup arrived made an already good day a gorgeous one.

Matisse said colour was his language, he even thought in it, and Klee rejoiced when he realised colour was his medium and his subject (or something like that). I wouldn’t go quite that far, but certain colours, and colour combinations can fill me with joy on my darkest days. This pumpkin soup with sky is one of my favourite matches, another is pea-soup green with dirty pink – like raspberry milkshake with soot in it. On Monday we were coming home from a trip to Edinburgh when the Mr. suggested we stop at Ikea to look at shelf units. While we were there he spotted a green plate. He knows how I love certain greens and pointed it out. It was a good green, and even better it had a blue cousin, and an orange one. There must have been something about my reaction because he told me to put them in the trolley. We didn’t need any more plates, but suddenly supper time is like living in an oil painting.

Being understood

My best friend understands me to the point where her husband is convinced we’re the same person with two bodies. You’ll see from the plate thing above that the Mr. understands me pretty well too. He proved it overwhelmingly today.

Happily lowered.

My desk from above just after I’d eaten toast with peanut-butter, banana, and syrup.

I love my desk (as you’ll have divined from all the photos I keep posting), but its height has been a big problem. I’m not tall, and I have a particularly short body, so I’m a bit like a child at a sweet counter when trying to type or write. It’s ok for just looking at the screen, but when it comes to actually doing any work I end up with sore, cramped shoulders, arms, and neck. I can raise my chair up pretty high, but then my feet dangle causing other problems. A couple of days ago it suddenly struck me that chopping a few inches off the legs would solve the problem. I shared this with the Mr. (henceforth to be known as M as I’m fed up typing the Mr.)

This morning over coffee in bed he asked me what my plans were for the day: ‘Write a lesson plan.’ I said. ‘Before you do that turn your desk upside down and measure how much you want off the legs.’ And, voila, it was done. My desk is now the perfect height for me, and after a whole day at it: reaching for books, reading, typing, and faffing, nothing is aching. That makes me very happy.


One of the joys of living in this house is the music it’s imbued with. M has played guitar for forty years, and it was this that brought him to my notice. My favourite mornings are the ones where, after we’ve had coffee and chats he goes to the music room ‘for a plonk,’ and I stay in bed writing while his tunes seep in. At one point today while I was working he came up and started playing; it seemed to make me so much more productive. Before I lived here I always thought I needed silence to work; now I realise some sounds are even better than silence. This has changed the world for me.

Word Sounds/language

I love M’s word ‘plonk’ for playing with his guitar. I nearly squeaked with joy when Jen Hadfield mentioned the Plinky Boat at a poetry thing recently. The Plinky Boat! How can anyone hear that and not want to know more? It makes me want to dance. When I discovered the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins it was love at first hear: the way he uses sound as a physical element in his poems, and one that enhances the meaning of his words and phrases. So new at the time in English poetry, but really resurrected from Anglo-Saxon and old Welsh. I have to admit, however, the god stuff gets in my way a bit. Luckily his legacy lives on, he was the father of a new poetic family, and one that has grown and morphed. Here’s a poem by Louis MacNeice that on first reading would appear to have no connection with GMH, but I know it does and it never fails to make me smile:


 The room  was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was                                        Spawning snow and pink roses against it                                                                      Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:                                                                                World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,                                                              Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion                                                                                              A tangerine and spit the pips and feel                                                                                          The drunkenness of things being various.

  And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world                                                                      Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes –                                                                             On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palm of one’s                                                             hands –                                                                                                                                                  There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses. *

I think I’ve written enough on this for one post, but here’s another image of foody remains:

Happy poetry



* The formatting’s all over the fucking place here, and I can’t seem to do anything about it.


Posted in Artist's Life, Poetry, Teaching, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Why Blog?

Because I’m in the process of creating a new website (for a local charity, not me) I’ve been looking at things such as traffic and SEO. And, of course, I’ve bumped into lots of stuff on how to maximise traffic to your blog. After a brief flirtation with the notion of actually bothering to read past the headlines, and, maybe, even put some of the advice into action I got to wondering why I still blog at all.

Why blog?


From January 2007, when I started a blog called The Kitchen Bitch Ponders (using Blogger), until February 2012 I blogged as a way of socially interacting while I was locked into the late stage of the marriage from hell. Although I was studying at university I had almost no friends, and none near enough to see regularly, so the blog was literally a social life-line. After escaping I didn’t blog for a year, but then I decided to take part in the 365 photography challenge, and wanted a platform to discuss that.

One of the few surviving images from the first life of this blog.

One of the few surviving images from the first life of this blog. It’s the altar in a Ukrainian church in Lockerbie that was created in a nissan hut by prisoners of war in the 1940s. 

This blog already existed because there had been a lot of problems with blogger locking people out of their own blogs at some stage, so I set it up just in case. Once those hiccups had been addressed I found myself writing the sorts of things here that I didn’t have the courage to on the KBP, knowing that no one knew it existed so no one would read it. Especially the jailer. So all I had to do to get it going for the photography thing was delete all the crap, and voila. My first Palimpsest post proper was born.

I never managed a whole year of daily photo-making, and now my allegiance has switched back to writing poems, and trying to earn a buck, and I have a good stash of friends. I’m also pretty active on Pinterest, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, all of which should more than feed my social media needs, so why do I still blog?

using social media

A few berries on the end of one branch of a spindly holly tree at Lochwood.

Looking at the SEO stuff there seems to be a sizeable number of people who blog to earn money or support their business. Others share advice, or hobbies, or, in the case of most Tumblr blogs, everything other people share. I don’t do any of that. I don’t post my poems, or attempt to boost my income/business (not that I have one), and I have no advice to give. So what is the purpose of this blog?

Does this tree look haunted to you?

Does this tree look haunted to you?

The answer, I think, is there isn’t one. It’s all a bit random, but I feel some slight compulsion to keep going, so a purpose would be quite nice. Ergo, I ask for your input: first, why do you blog, and second, what could I focus on here? It would be nice to read other people’s reasons, they may just spark some of my own, and, failing that, being told outright what to post about could be quite fun.

Bloggers corner

Blogger’s Den.

I await your instruction.

Posted in Artist's Life, Blogging | Tagged , , , , , , | 25 Comments

Current Besottings, and Other Stories

This is going to be one of those Byronic ‘get the madness out’ posts my Exiled pal does so well.

Curried egg yellow on blue.

Curried egg yellow on blue.

Leaves: I’ve always been awfully fond of leaves, but now I can’t stop drawing them. Maybe it’s because you get into the rhythm of them and it’s a good feeling, or perhaps it’s just time for a little more familiarity. Or both. I’m not great at drawing but lessons are on my list of things to do when I win the lottery. I’d love to be able to draw a fish, a hare, and a whole tree. For now I’m rereading my Teach Yourself to Draw book, which, having been written in the 1950s is full of glorious anachronisms, and trying to draw the leaves I brought back from a recent walk at Lochwood.

A rather interesting tree at Lochwood, which is an ancient oak wood and the historic seat of the Johnstone clan.

A rather interesting tree at Lochwood: an ancient oak wood, and the historic seat of the Johnstone clan.

Storing: I have a tendency to hoard. Old train tickets; broken shoes; pencils so stubby they’re no longer usable; everything I ever wrote. I have a stash of old notebooks and journals which I occasionally dredge through if I’m trying to remember something, and they’re proving very useful now I’m tutoring poetry again. Recently, of course, I’ve been storing food, both grown on the allotment, and scavenged from hedgerows. This culminated last weekend in the decanting of the damson gin.

Both the bottle and the label are also products of my hoarding: the bottle's all that remains of the Armenian brandy brought by a Russian friend; the label wrapping paper once used for the Mr's birthday present.

Both the bottle and the label are also products of my hoarding: the bottle’s all that remains of the Armenian brandy brought by a Russian friend; the label is wrapping paper once used for the Mr’s birthday present.

My Tribe: this appears a mixed bag at first, but can pretty much be reduced to artistic sorts, and/or those who have had to battle to maintain a sense of themselves (often the same thing). Thus I’m currently delighting in the writing diary of Virginia Woolf (bought along with the rest of her oeuvre for under £2 on kindle), and the poems of Liz Lochhead, which I’ve only just discovered. They are definitely both kin and reading them makes me feel as at home as I used to when returning from school I was greeted by my mother baking a cake. Any call from the tribe for help and I jump to it, as they have always done for me. I still feel a sense of well being when I remember the support I got, and still do, on leaving the abusive 30 year marriage that nearly robbed me entirely of my own mental faculties. So when an email came through about the Wall of Silence campaign I didn’t hesitate to answer the call to make and post to Instagram (or Twitter) a ‘Shhh’ selfie with the hashtag #wallofsilence.

I can't tell you how may filters I had to use to minimise the knackered, make-upless old bag look of my face.

I can’t tell you how may filters I had to use to minimise the knackered, make-upless old bag look of my face.

For every selfie posted Avon will donate £1 to Women’s Aid and Refuge. I hope one day the horror of certain people needing to control others is eradicated. It must be unpleasant for the abusers too. In our latter years I used to feel sorry for my husband for he seemed so confused, and his utter unravelling when he realised he had finally lost all power over me was quite tragic to witness.

Still on the subject of my tribe, it was my bestest friend in all the world’s 40th birthday on Halloween. We don’t see each other very often these days, she has three young children, and lives a good hour and a half away from me on the other side of Glasgow, so tis difficult. But her husband organised a family dinner in a chinese restaurant on the evening of her birthday and me and our other bestie (who lives in New Zealand but was over on a short visit to rescue his mother from the northern winter) were surprise guests at the feast. There are two people who, whatever comes out of my mouth (giant squid with syrup?!) never look baffled: Rhona

Isn't she captivating?

Isn’t she captivating?

and my son. I don’t know if they just really understand me, or if they’re unfazeable.

Lichen: just one of the besottings the Mr and I share. I find lichen endlessly fascinating and beautiful, and thanks to the Mr I now know something about it too.


The Mr.: I still can’t believe my luck. And he, too, is almost never discombobulated now he’s become accustomed to me. I’ll shut up now or both our cheeks will burn.

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