Odds and ends

I suppose I’ll draw a veil over the obvious events in America and retreat into my own little myopic literary world. What I’ve been working on recently is the final line-up and order of poems for my next pamphlet collection, due out from Red Squirrel Press in October next year. I’m very much looking forward to being typeset by Gerry Cambridge again, who did a wonderful job on my 2013 pamphlet Ballast Flint. The title of the collection will be Bearing and I intend all of the potential meanings of that word to come out into play in the poems – getting or losing your bearings, the way you behave, the way you cope, all when you move to another country. As such the poems are about the difficulties of living abroad and memories of family and home, although they don’t all make for gloomy reading. I have noticed that I’ve become very picky about which poems survive to make the final cut now – I used to be far more scattergun in chucking in all the poems I had, now I think less is definitely more. I’ve also noticed my register or ‘voice’ changing quite a bit since I came here – I’ve more or less lost my interest in esoteric words and am far more interested in using language simply, accurately and lucidly.

I don’t think I’ve explained why I ended up in Belgium – my partner (now wife) is Flemish and she had lived in the UK for many years. There came a point when she had to come home and I thought ‘well, she’s put up with the UK for a decade, I’ll see how long I can last in Belgium’. I’d finished my PhD and was looking for the next step. I won’t wax lyrical about the expat life here – I mostly find it difficult and have concluded that I just don’t fit in but I’m determined to stick it out and one of these days I’ll get the language (Flemish) down – but not just yet! I’m trying, but they don’t call it ‘double Dutch’ for nothing!

Besides CopyCats work and much editorial work on the forthcoming books from CopyCat Stef, I’m happy to have had a few items of work accepted for publication or published recently. I was glad to feature in Claire Askew and Russel Jones’ jointly edited anthology of creative writing about Edinburgh: Umbrellas of Edinburgh. In it I have a poem on Tollcross and one on an old haunt of mine, the pub Sandy Bells. I’ve also had a poem in the latest Oxford Poetry and The Fenland Reed,poems in The Next Review and Southlight and poems accepted by The North, Brittle Star and The Poet’s Republic. I’ve got a handful of reviews (of collections by Liz Lochhead and Billy Letford as well as some more academic texts) in the pipeline as well as an article on a long forgotten novel by Stuart MacGregor. The Scottish Poetry Library has recently posted two short articles I wrote on the poetry of Tom Buchan and Ruthven Todd.

But I’ve been reprimanding myself recently for being idle about my more academic work. I’m determined to get back into that and have a couple crafty schemes. My thesis has been languishing and gaitherin stour for a year now. I had a rather traumatic PhD viva which scunnert me for a while – it is interesting to note just how ‘dog-in-a-mangerish’ Scottish literature is as a subject and how in a viva it seems to be the ‘done thing’ to discourage future scholars – rather like Hamish Henderson’s description of Hugh MacDiarmid kicking the very ladder he’d climbed away from under him… However, recently I was contacted by someone interested in work on the Scottish poets of World War Two, which makes me think I really ought to pull my finger out and do something!

In other news, there are plans afoot here to get a real cat – which is momentous considering I’m allergic to them. I like them (Stef adores and worships them), but my sinuses seem to say no, so I guess it’s a daily diet of antihistamines for me pretty soon…

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