This is cheating. I am really thinking about StAnza.

And this morning it’s snowing and around me all the trees are white and I’m not even there. I’m working. But this is a space between yesterday (when I was there) and today when I’m working.Snow in the garden

When I went to bed last night my head was full of the space between the stanzas, which for me was the space between the events at StAnza. The events are many, marvelous and magical, of course, and you can read about them elsewhere.

The spaces between the events are just as remarkable, and somewhat more mysterious because completely unpredictable, and not on the programme. When you run an arts festival, you create spaces for unexpected concatenations, correspondences and coalescences. I know that’s just alliteration, but how do you describe it?

On your way to hear a poet read, someone you may never have heard of, perhaps even in a language you don’t know, you stop for a coffee and fall into conversation with  Michel (?) from Belgium, there to present a film poem event, and whose job it is to co-ordinate and run literary events in  Antwerp – such a charming and interesting young (to me) man. And then we are joined by poet Paula Jennings and Jenny Elliott. Jenny is an old friend (we were once StAnza trustees together) and also a poet and originator of the Shed Press (in her garden shed). Together we sorted out European politics and then moved on to discuss our mothers, over soup and sandwiches (it’s not just poetry). As the table filled up with friends, I moved the flowers onto the floor. Out of the corner of my eye I could see people I knew and wanted to speak to, and others I dimly recognized from their dusty photos on book jackets.

Then an event and then the poetry book fair and then more chats with Tony Lawrence, who has redefined poetry according to laws of mathematics, and the man from Monifieth whose name I can’t remember but who has come to the festival every year for eleven years, and D A Prince, and Karin Koller, and Robyn Marsack and Sheila Wakefield and Stephanie Green and a long conversation – the longest we have ever had, (a GREAT conversation about the late David Tipton and his wife Ena Hollis, taking in John Lucas, Tony Ward and Alan Hill) – with Martin Bates; and another with the lady at the second hand book stall – shop in Newport – I forget her name but it will come back to me; and of course Gerry Cambridge and briefly Rob Mackenzie.

And Richie McCaffery and Stef, and Sally Evans and how lovely to see Ann Drysdale, who has written a whole book about Newport and thus a long conversation about W H Davies and other matters, and briefly (hug interval) Lyn Moir, and Lydia Harris (well met, for the first time) and Christine Webb, and Robert Minhinnick on Dylan Thomas, and Joy Howard and Alan Gay.

And many more. Many more, and some sought for but just missed. Deus ex machina (I’ve just realised that’s a double dactyl) Eleanor Livingstone slipping in and out carying strange objects and messages and inspirations. And others glimpsed in the distance or pausing to share treasure, or say ‘see you later’.


The sun has come out and lit up the snow.

And now back to work.


Poetry history is taking place in Perthshire. It’s doing this in glorious sunshine, with leaves brandishing all the shades of Autumn and rowan berries gleaming like jewels.

Poetry history is taking place in Perthshire. It’s doing this in glorious sunshine, with leaves brandishing all the shades of Autumn and rowan berries gleaming like jewels.

Of course I am referring to the Callandar Poetry Weekend. I was privileged to be at a little bit of this on Friday evening, reading a few poems from the most recent Grey Hen anthology, Get Me Out Of Here! Poems for trying circumstances. Such a pleasure to hear Margaret Christie, Eleanor Livingstone, Anne Clarke and Margaret Wood as fellow Grey Henners – in what a context!

Of course, if you’ve been, you will know. But if you haven’t, this is not an official poetry festival. This is a gathering, a consummation of poets, an ongoing party with reading and singing, much of it in a bookshop, or in the garden behind the shop. The space is crammed with hob-nobbing poets. Plates of cake and strawberries and olives nestle on tables between bookshelves and people. During bookshop readings, the space is restricted, so knees cram together on chairs and faces peer over shoulders. Meanwhile, the resident cat slinks in and out between stanzas while the imitation deer’s head on the wall, with its enormous antlers, officiates. Poets of all shapes and sizes consign their words to the attentive air and the walls of books absorb them. Later it’s time for a break and supper and conversation. People sing. Even the deer on the wall sings.

This is King’s Bookshop, Callandar, and the Poetry Weekend is originated, invented, perpetuated and hosted by the remarkable Sally and Ian King. Sally edits Poetry Scotland, among other tasks, writes poetry, keeps bees and warmly welcomes fellow enthusiasts. Ian once wrote a fair bit of crackingly radical poetry himself. Now he is a book-binder par excellence, restoring and re-binding old tomes (just now poets are seeping in and out of his workspace) and a book-seller and a jovial host. And of course, Sally and Ian are publishers too: they are Diehard Books and they are part of Scotland’s literary history – nobody could ever doubt this for one moment.

There are readings in the Kirk Hall across the road from the shop too. And Callandar itself is a lovely little town, nestled in the hills, relaxed and welcoming. If you’re not there this year, put Callandar on your calendar for next. . . .

It’s also my father’s birthday, or would have been. He died a long time ago, must be over quarter of a century. But I think of him probably more now, not less. He said his children were his immortality. He’d also tell me to shut up about this and get on with my day, but he wouldn’t really mean it. There’s not a lot of him left – some books with his name in them, the novel he never wrote, the signet ring my mother still wears at 87.  There’s a poem about him in my last book, Plot and Counter-Plot, and since that’s a bit of him too, and since it’s his birthday, I’ll put it here as well. ‘Schoolmaster of Rostherne’, it says on the little stone where his ashes are buried.

Nobody could say ‘fatuous’ like my father. He called the Beatles ‘long-haired louts from Liverpool’. When I was a teenager and setting out to a party in my mini-skirt, he said, “You look ravishing, darling. I just hope you don’t get ravished.’ He made sure I didn’t get ravished by arriving to take me home long before it was time. I would beg to stay till eleven o’clock.

Because he was a head teacher, children called him ‘Sir’, a title he relished. When I was tiny I got confused and called him Sir Daddy.

So — Joe Curry, known during my life-time as ‘Howard’ and to my mother as ‘Howie’, here you are.


The blowing of your nose was a trumpet
thrilling the house, rocking from cellar to attic,
shaking the stairs and banisters. It was a strict
aquiline beak that you called ‘Roman’ – at least
it would have been if you hadn’t broken it
and crooked it sideways in the mending. You ate
Club biscuits in majestic bites, then hooked
the wrapper over your royal snout and snorted
till we giggled. Quick to condemn, you sniffed
with curling lip at fads and fatuous fools.
Even in later years your granddad trunk
inhaled the world as fiercely, quivering over
a cut glass filled with amber. Presence flared
from your nostrils; little children warmed themselves
by dragon flames that lasted and lasted. Yes.