Morning, Glasgow

Foxes in the night sound like babies crying, and then the sea gulls

circling the park in the dark rain.

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More cures for poetry withdrawal…

We have recently poured two new concrete slabs to replace two in our back patio and have decided to go all 1970’s crafty and make mosaics using the millions of bits of pottery and tiles I’ve collected from the beaches of Loch Long. We weren’t sure our sand/cement ratio worked, but they seem to be solid, at least within their wooden frames. The shores here are covered with old worn broken bits of 19th century and early 20th century plates, bowls, saucers and tea-cups; you can even find pieces of the curved bone handles of the tea-cups. It becomes a wonderful skill, albeit a neck-breaking one, to scour the beaches, picking out the smooth white pottery ‘stones’ from the other white stones, finding flecks of blue (why is most pottery of the past glazed blue?) among the blue and white shells that litter the beach, squatting to turn them over and finding another lost piece from somebody’s china set. You forget there is even a view beyond you, and then look up from the ground after 30 minutes…ah, the Loch, the munros, the sky…

our pottery mosaic

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Cures for poetry withdrawal

I think I’m suffering from poetry withdrawal. My brief encounter with it again, at Edinburgh Fringe Festival, after a long dry spell, reduced me to tears. Red like our Room used to feel is an intimate reading, one on one, by poet Ryan Van Winkle, which takes place inside a small red basement room covered in pictures and postcards and strange collections of items on a shelf, complete with a bed, a nice smell, an offer of a cherry and a cup of tea or port. Some people he told me, take off their shoes and lie down. Which makes him very happy. Others when asked to pick one of the four envelopes on the bed for him to read from, dump all the poems out of the envelopes to have a look. Which makes him very unhappy. I picked up the first that struck me, the right choice, an envelope of rain poems, including one of my favorites of his, an experimental, insistent song that makes use of the refrain, ‘an incompleteness ago’…

I came back to my cottage on Loch Long with a doctor’s prescription for poetry withdrawal, that includes if not actually using my old Underwood portable and typing something that could even pass for a poem from a distance (my shopping list laid out in verse), then at least somehow documenting the poetry of the world on Loch Long. Pictures or words acceptable. I began with my garden diggings. Who knew potatoes were so easy to grow in deep green bags! I’ve excavated only half of one of two bags and have come up with this large pot-ful (see photos on the next post). And I have six more cabbages as densely leaved as this one yet to pick. The potatoes were solid, creamy fleshed and mashed well. The cabbage, light-leaved, sharp on the tongue. And though my sweetpeas were, I was told, planted too early, before the last of the Scottish late frosts, they have exploded all over the wall of my front garden, wayward, unpinned, in bolts of white, pale pink, fuschia, cabernet reds and lilac. They smell divine and there’s enough to clip two vases full every week for the front room and the bedroom. Perhaps I can cure my withdrawal through aesthetics alone?

Old Underwood Portable and Sweetpeas

Later, visit the new foal, her name is Gia, and when it’s hot, guarded by her mother, she sleeps in the field, fully sprawled, her kinked brown patches rising and falling, as deeply as a child.

Then walk the sheep road at the top of the horse hill, towards Ben Cruachan, waiting for blackberries.


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Cabbage, potatoes, sweetpeas, grown on Loch Long

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THE SLAP comes to BBC4 from October 27th, 2011

As some of you may know, I’ve been working on the ABC mini-series The Slap based on Christos Tsiolkas’ novel. It has recently been bought by the BBC and the eight-part series, which began airing on the ABC in Australia nearly four weeks ago to much acclaim, is due to begin airing Thursday nights at 10 p.m. on BBC 4, beginning Oct 27th. Watch the trailer here.

Ivor Indyk reviews it here in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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Finding the Other Within: Online Poetry Course with Emily Ballou

I will be giving an online poetry workshop through Australian Poetry from Nov 7 to December 5th, 2011.

Using found text to create biographical poems or writing through the lens of a character (animal or human), this workshop will help you discover poems you didn’t know were there.

Why do we write poetry? Why do we get stuck sometimes and lack inspiration? How do we inspire or re-inspire ourselves when writing poetry is an important part of our lives?

“Using found text to create biographical poems or poems triggered by other people’s lives, writing through the lens of a character (animal or human), and other exercises to get un-stuck, this workshop will explore the reasons why we write and how to help yourself when you find yourself unable to. The aim will be to push beyond yourself and discover poems you didn’t know were there. Poems that take you beyond your individual experience while keeping your unique voice intact.

This is a workshop aimed to create an atmosphere of experiment and freedom to take your writing to a deeper and more unexpected place.”

I really want to explore and help others explore the dynamic work I found when I started writing about Charles Darwin in poetry and how that work has continued now as I embark on a new book of poems from the point of view of an animal. The aim is to better find yourself within your poetry through a mask of character. It’s also a great way of getting unstuck when you find yourself struck with writers’ block or are having trouble making enough space for writing.

Online workshops run for four weeks  and operate by participants emailing the tutor their poetry on the first date of the workshop. The tutor will respond with feedback and direction on the same day. Participants will then continue to submit their work, improving their piece based on feedback offered weekly, for the duration of the course.

To sign up for my online course, please click here.

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A new passion…Orangutans

I’m completely hopeless about keeping up this blog. Since I last posted I have not lifted my head from the computer and my various screenwriting responsibilities, except to go to Borneo on a documentary recce for Project Borneo 3D, a feature documentary I’ve been writing with filmmaker Cathy Henkel and Virgo Productions, largely about the work of Willie Smits, orangutan conservationist. Despite the chest cold I suffered from, care of the lovely Scottish February weather, Borneo was an amazing place and the rescued, orphaned orangutans I met at the Sintang Rescue Centre that Willie and Richard Zimmerman set up (though due to chest cold I couldn’t touch them) crystallised Darwin’s experiences for me; how meeting Jenny the Orangutan, helped him to formulate ideas of evolution. Watching as Jimo reached out his cage with his empty water bottle to be filled (as much as an attempt to make human contact as to obtain water) and then proceeded to keep it safe on his shelf or, once emptied, stored it in the bottom of his tyre swing, it was immediately clear that we share 97 per cent DNA with them. Log onto Orangutan Outreach and meet and even adopt the orphans, or watch the beautiful short films that French filmmaker Patrick Rouxel made of Jimo and Raja’s rescues last year on the Orangutan Outreach YouTube channel. They are both very moving. Sadly, the littlest of the orangutans, Luna, went missing a couple of weeks ago. The animal smuggling industry is still a huge problem, despite Willie’s and others best efforts. Fingers crossed they find her alive, sweet little Luna.

Despite all of my orangutan focus these last few months, I am not starting a new book of poems about them. Instead, it is another animal, far stranger, and still secret, that has captured my poetic brain…

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Words Per Minute

I read at Glasgow’s Word Per Minute earlier this year. They do a great job of assembling and recording poets, novelists, filmmakers, musicians and artists from all over Scotland, which I suppose I now must consider myself a part of, given I spend close to half of my time here…Here is a recording of my reading from The Darwin Poems they have posted.

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Journal 19: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Long Nineteenth Century

I have an essay published in Birkbeck, University of London’s Journal 19. It is a special issue: ‘Science, Literature and the Darwin Legacy’ which has been beautifully edited by Paul White, Carolyn Burdett and Ana Parajo Vadillo.

From the blurb:

“This issue, guest edited by Carolyn Burdett, Ana Parejo Vadillo, and Paul White, takes the Darwin anniversary year as an occasion to reflect on the role that Darwin’s work has played in focusing the field of literature and science on the interplay of biology and the novel.

Opening new avenues in poetry, serial fiction, life writing, and the visual arts, in physics, geology, paleontology, sociology, and genomics, it explores ways in which Darwin, notwithstanding the polemics and lionizing that surround his legacy, may still be a force of cultural creation and critique.”

The issue includes essays by Gillian Beer, Adelene Buckland, Paul White, David Amigoni, Gowan Dawson, John Robert Holmes, Daniel Walter Brown, Julia Voss, Angelique Richardson, John Dupre and myself. Check it out.

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Australian Literary Society Gold Medal

The Darwin Poems has been shortlisted for the 2009 ALS Gold Medal for an outstanding work of literature from the previous year.

The list in alphabetical order is:

Emily Ballou, The Darwin Poems

Steven Carroll, The Lost Life

Eva Hornung, Dog Boy

Cate Kennedy, The World Beneath

David Malouf, Ransom

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