The two Jims attracted a magnificent crowd for the launch of their new pamphlets on Saturday afternoon.

Both are accomplished readers and they did not disappoint. In fact, they were at their magnificent best. Highlights were Jim Carruth on the Scottish Independence vote, hilariously packaged in a poem about ice-cream; and Jim C Wilson taking Stevenson’s Mr Hyde in his stride via Adelaide Crapsey on an unerring route to Minsk which, as he pointed out, has not only a precise geography but a precise enunciation, without which it can turn to ‘mince’.

HappenStance cakes


The audience was marvellously attentive, and the business of managing wine tasting in three sections between the poems made it a reading with zing. Ross Kightly, author of Gnome Balcony, became the blurb from Matthew Stewart’s wine poems. I was the wine.


The wine itself was also there in liquid form and merrily imbibed. Ross’s wife Chris joined the elves (the quiet but essential support staff (these included my daughter Gillian and her husband Jamie) circulating with wine tastings, pouring drinks downstairs, and later selling the books.

Jamie and Gillian sorting out the sales table

It was lovely to have several other HappenStance poets there too. Gerry Cambridge was on the stairs, Eleanor Livingstone, Alan Hill and Deborah Trayhurn sitting down. Jenny Elliott (whose mysterious Shed Press pamphlet Preparing to be Beautiful snuck into the recent subscriber mailshot) was there too. Patricia Ace standing at the back, Margaret Christie sitting near the front. Gill Andrews and Theresa Munoz came in a little later. Who says poetry is not a welcoming world?


Meanwhile, the Scottish Poetry Library was as life-enhancing as always, light streaming through the upstairs windows. There were people sitting on chairs listening, standing at the back, on the stairs – a couple even sitting downstairs for the sound to fall from above like snow. The angelic SPL staff were at the desk calm, reassuring and supportive. The ancient poets nodded quietly from their places between the pages on the library stacks.

This is a place in which magical things happen – and yesterday they did.Ross Kightly and Jim C Wilson preparing for the reading


I teach loads of adult students who loathe poetry. Sometimes I hate it more than they do. I look at books of it piling up around me and I feel sick. I feel like the miller’s daughter locked in a room of straw without the faintest hope of Rumpelstiltskin.

I teach loads of adult students who loathe poetry. Sometimes I hate it more than they do. I look at books of it piling up around me and I feel sick. I feel like the miller’s daughter locked in a room of straw without the faintest hope of Rumpelstiltskin.

I’m not a creative writing tutor. That’s different. People who want to write poetry often love it. I teach literature (some of the time) in further education. Many of the people who arrive there read novels and enjoy films. But mention the big Po and a troubled look comes over their faces. I wish I could suggest a few hours in my classroom transforms their feelings. Sometimes it’s the reverse.

Pomophobia is normal. Why? All sorts of reasons. School has a lot to do with it. We get Poetry, like an attack of flu. To get rid of it, we have to analyse it. We don’t understand it and this makes us feel stupid. We don’t like feeling stupid and we tend to dislike people and things that make us feel that way. So. . . .

And yet there are bits of verse (stuff the word ‘poetry’) that people do like. They’re memorable, frequently rhythmic, sometimes funny and, as you get older, and especially if you’re a boy, frequently rude. You can skip to them, sing to them, stamp to them, sigh to them, get revenge on them:

Helen Curry is no good (substitute name of victim).
Chop her up for firewood (you have to say ‘fy-er-wood’).
When she’s dead, stamp on her head
And make her into currant bread.

So it’s okay to rejoice in that kind of thing. I wish I dared share some of the rudest examples. I do collect them. ‘The Good Ship Venus’ is a winner.

But back to hating poetry, before I work myself back into an inadvertent lather of liking the stuff.

All those books piled up staring at me. Three more arrived to review yesterday. There are at least ten waiting unread already. I have books of poetry that people sent me as gifts. And I have small collections waiting in coloured folders waiting for me to read through and make them into HappenStance pamphlets.

The trouble with poetry is that it is so bloody demanding. It has one assertion only and it is this: READ ME. Total attention. Nothing less will do. READ ME. And then – READ ME AGAIN.

Coupled with this is the unstated promise: I WILL REPAY. The idea is that you read the stuff and it does something magical for you, something you won’t forget. Isn’t that so? But somewhere in there, there’s a secret, like the name of Rumpelstilkskin or Tom Tit Tot or Whuppity Stoorie. If you can’t come up with the secret name, the whole thing will stay straw and you’ll be stuck in that room with it for the rest of your life.

So how do you feel, when you read it and the spell doesn’t work? Horribly cheated, that’s how. Vengeful. Especially since the thing you didn’t understand a word of, or were totally bored by, is supposed to be important. The person who wrote it is hugely significant and has the key to the whole of life: it says so on the back cover.

But there is quite a good thriller on the bookcase and it won’t make you feel like that. All it demands is:



It will be easy. And a bit of fun.

All this I understand all too well.

However, on Friday, I sat quietly in a room full of poetry and a little bit of prose (some prose is necessary, like pasta, rice, bread or potatoes with your dinner). And the magic worked again. I had Mike Horwood’s book Midas Touch – not one poem made me feel inadequate. Lovely first collection. And August Kleinzahler’s New and Selected – a bit more nervous about that, and there were bits I teetered over, but some whole poems were okay. And Tim Liardet’s Shoestring pamphlet – oh hey – it even tells a story, a beautiful, sad story. And did you know Brian Aldiss, the science fiction writer, did Po too? I didn’t, but he does. Perhaps not the best poetry I have ever read but hey, it caused me no pain at all to read the lot. And I sailed through the one by Gail White practically singing.

But even better than this. I went back to three folders of PIPs. That, for the uninformed among you, stands for Poets In Progress, and these PIPs are the next three HappenStance pamphlets. They are Mike Loveday, Lorna Dowell and Lydia Fulleylove. Oh my goodness! I haven’t read them for ages, not properly, not since I said Yes to the pamphlet possibility. I slowly perused the poems that had been sitting in my yellow box beside the dining table for months, and I came out of the reading calm, happy and enriched.

And excited. It was the same with Ross Kightly and Kirsten Irving, only a few weeks ago. This is why I do it. I’m only the miller’s daughter. The magic has nothing to do with me, but these poets have transformed paper and scratchy words to gold. I want to share them and there’s nothing I’d rather do.

Meanwhile, I’ll inflict a poem of my own on you, no matter whether you hate it or not, because it’s relevant and I’d forgotten I’d written it until I came to do this morning’s blog. It emerged ten years ago, as a direct result of three lovely adult students who came to me woefully after I had forced them to read Shakespeare sonnet 138, ‘When my love swears that she is made of truth’. One of them really did say to me, ‘We’ve tried and we’ve tried and we can’t like it.’

The Challenge of Literature

(‘We’ve tried and we’ve tried and we can’t like it. . . .’)

I gave them the sonnet I always used.
‘You don’t have to like it,’ I conceded
when hardly a single one enthused.
‘Shakespeare can grow on you. Go on—read it.’

I was convinced it would do no harm
to meet the best of the best. Great art
is good for exams; it keeps you calm.
Some people even learn it by heart.

On the last day, in no mood for sighing,
I tossed them a titbit by Wendy Cope:
some nice little lines, a kind of test.
What would they think? Well—I dared to hope.

The bastards. They liked it without even trying.
I might have guessed.


Two new pamphlets this week, and two new PoemCards. A frenzy of packets and packaging!

Two new pamphlets this week, and two new PoemCards. A frenzy of packets and packaging!

One was Kirsten Irving’s What To Do. Kirsten is one of the remarkable young editor/poets at the helm of Sidekick Books. (Jon Stone is the other one.) Anyone who has even glimpsed the recent Birdbook 1 will be agog to see her own first poetry collection. She has a full collection already scheduled from Salt next year but this is a chance to get a taster. She is a smashing writer. Read her!

Then there’s the irrepressible Ross Kightly, author of Gnome Balcony. Decades divide these two poets, insofar as age is concerned, but they have energy and unpredictable bounce in common. And this is Ross’s first collection too. An Australian by birth, he mixes voices and methods and sometimes mayhem. There is no holding him, and in fact, at several points he seems to be about to escape his own pamphlet.

On top of these, two lovely new PoemCards. At least I think they’re lovely. Tom Vaughan’s The Mower is a winner for Spring gardeners, lawnmower lovers, and anyone who can’t stop working. The illustration is perfect.

The other card, Stewart Conn’s, was originally devised for Valentine’s Day but it would be lovely for any romantic occasion. And it has an insert. Titled Cupid’s Dart, the dart itself (with another copy of the poem on it) is folded inside the card, ready for hurling at the heart. Really neat.

Behind the Scenes
That was the official bit. Behind the scenes, a frenzy of parceling and packaging and bone-folder folding. This is what had to be done:

  • Twelve author copies of What To Do in four different packets to author.
  • Twelve author copies of Gnome Balcony in four different packets to author.
  • One packet of fliers for What To Do in packet to author.
  • One packet of fliers for Gnome Balcony to author.
  • One box of 23 additional copies of What To Do in lieu of payment to author (packaged in a Suzuki drivebelt box, very useful)
  • One box of 23 additional copies of Gnome Balcony in lieu of payment to author (packaged in Suzuki drivebelt box)
  • Twenty author copies of The Mower to be folded, packaged and sent to author, with another twenty he had ordered and some copies of his Sampler, also ordered.
  • Twelve author copies of Cupid’s Dart to author: cards to be folded and inserts (much more complicated) to be folded.
  • Three copies of What To Do, Gnome Balcony, Michael Mackmin’s From There to Here, Peter Daniels’ Mr Luczinski Makes a Move, and Matthew Stewart’s Inventing Truth to Poetry Book Society for consideration for pamphlet choice (six years so far without a recommendation: can our special moment ever happen?)
  • Five copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to Agent for Copyright Libraries with accompanying letter.
  • One copy of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to British Library with accompanying letter.
  • Two copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to National Poetry Library with invoice, as well as copies of new PoemCards.
  • Two copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to Scottish Poetry Library.
  • Copies of cards and poems to Webmaster Sarah Willans, to Gillian Rose (who does the cover images), to two members of my family who get everything, two friends who get most things, and several other people.
  • Copies of Gnome Balcony and What To Do to three Sphinx reviewers.
  • Six other assorted orders despatched to customers and authors.

The Cupid’s Dart PoemCard is a labour of love. I want you to know that the folding and preparation (by hand) takes a considerable time, though it costs no more than the other cards (because I am nuts). So if you can think of anyone for whom it would be appropriate, please send for one. (You’re unlikely to get this one slipped in with an ordinary order.) And by Valentine’s Day next year, I expect a run.

I purchased all the new William Morris stamps from our local post office and had a cheery conversation with the Evil Postman, whom some of you will know of old from Chapters of the Story. I arrived on Saturday at five to twelve, and the ladies at the poet office made him wait for my two drive belt boxes to be duly labeled and put into his bags, by which time it was two minutes after twelve and he was snarling (he snarls with evil charm).

I’ll put them in the SLOW bag. That’ll mean they’ll take at least a week to get there.

I don’t believe him. He has a gleam in his eye when he says (as he always does):

You should get up earlier”.


The email newsletter went out last week flagging three new publications. But guess what I forgot?

This is what it said:

Three new pamphlets. Which will you choose?

Matthew Stewart’s Inventing Truth is a first collection, Matthew works in Spain, and there’s a sense of moving between languages and cultures behind this unusual pamphlet. The poems are almost all brief. But they’re poignant and thoughtful. Moments in amber.

Peter Daniels is a name familiar to most readers of small press magazines. He has been writing good, resonant poems for a long time. I, for one, was convinced he already had at least one full collection in print. He hasn’t, not yet, though he will have soon. This pamphlet contains some competition winners and some new poems. Like the image on the cover, he is a writer of poise, elegance and panache.

Michael Mackmin’s pamphlet Twenty-Three Poems was published by HappenStance in 2006 and sold out quickly. Best known as editor of The Rialto, Michael’s own poems are quirky, different, experimental. If I hadn’t banned the word ‘risk-taking’ from my Sphinx reviewers I might mention something about risks. Instead, I’ll just suggest you read the poems.

The deliberate mistake (not) was failing to mention the titles of the second two new pamphlets (Twenty-Three Poems is long out of print). I thought this would add an air of mystery which would make you go and look for them.

No, that’s not really true. I just cocked it up again.

However, to make it easy, here’s a link to the shop details for

Matthew Stewart’s Inventing Truth


Peter Daniels’ Mr Luczinski Makes a Move


Michael Mackmin’s From there to here

I’m very pleased with these three. Good contrasting poets. Lovely looking publications. I sez it as knows.

Shortly there will be two more. One will be by Kirsten Irving and we think it will be called What to Do. The other is by Ross Kightly and it will probably be called Gnome Balcony.

But nothing is finalised, and I am going on holiday next week. In fact, with luck I will already be on holiday by the time you are reading this. When I come back, the poets, or their muses, may have changed their minds.

Watch this gnome . . .