New Boots and Pantisocracies: Are We Nearly Where Yet?

Delighted to have been part of this project and hoping it continues to flourish.

gairnet provides: press of blll

For the past 84 days I’ve been co-editing with Andy Jackson a post-election blog called ‘New Boots and Pantisocracies’, publishing each day a new poem by a different poet exploring the different political landscape we seem to have entered. Perhaps it’s time now to review where we’ve got to.
By way of proper introduction, the blog’s name is a portmanteau term combining the title of Ian Dury’s marvellous debut 1977 album with the name given in the 1790s by the young Romantic poets, Samuel Coleridge and Robert Southey to their utopian scheme to set up what we would think of as a socialist society in America, a project reimagined by Paul Muldoon in his 1990 poem, Madoc: A Mystery. The intro to ‘New Boots’ is as follows:

‘The 2015 General Election has made manifest the great sea-change that has been occurring in UK politics over the last fifteen to…

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A Poet’s Book 2: Nettles and Printers

White Dead Nettle

As a grownup, I can’t say I’m fond of nettles – even their roots sting and nettle soup is awful. But as a child I had a love-hate relationship with them. Could you catch hold of a nettle and not get stung? (yes, if you pinch the middle of a leaf); was there a dock leaf nearby to ease a sting? (yes! amazingly, they do like to grow together); was there a nearby parent to make a dock bandage? (yes, definitely); did the sting hurt? (yes, always). But it’s the dead nettle that I have remained attached to – the harmless, flowering variety in white or purple – easy to miss, easy to mistake. It was one of the first flowers my dad taught me to identify and although, unlike him, I’ve never been able to remember its latin name (lamium album and lamium purpureum – not even in the same family as the stinging sort) I still like to pick it for a table-top vase of wild flowers. I like its square hollow stem, its star-shaped sepals, its flowers like open mouths.

This drawing is in pen and ink – my art teacher banned me from using an actual pen, so this is drawn with a broken cocktail stick! Very hard to control, but then I think that was her aim. The paper is made of layers of tissue and paint, which I’ve then scored like school writing paper. The printer objected strongly to printing a poem on this thick, lumpy excuse of a sheet of paper. But eventually it did oblige.

The poem? Well, that’s trying to hold my ambivalent feelings about both nettles and families. Love, with a bit of a sting.

Yeats in Ayrshire

Yeats in Ayrshire


Amazingly, my reading workshop at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, is sold out. I’m sure it’s Yeats who’s lured people, rather than me. But I also wonder if visitors to the Book Festival are a little tired of listening and want to join in. The Book Festival are running a number of reading workshops this year, and my bet is that they’ll all be sold out.

As I’ve encountered a number of disappointed fans of Yeats’ work, I’ve joined forces with Crossroads Lifelong Learning Partnership to run another reading workshop. This one will be at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, in Ayr, on August 1st.

Join us to read aloud some of Yeats best-loved poems and for an accessible and stimulating discussion of Yeats’ life and work. This event is suitable for those new to poetry, as well as more experienced readers. You can find out how to book here

Making a Poet’s Book

Front cover of my book of poems and drawings

I’ve been going to a drawing class at the Botanic Gardens in Edinburgh for the last year, learning to use pencil and charcoal. This term, my wonderful teacher, Helen Jackson, asked if I’d like to make an artist’s book, combining my poems and drawings. I was uncertain. I don’t often enjoy text combined with visual art – the text seems to serve as an inadequate translation of, or comment on, the art. I’m usually left aware of the inadequacies of language.

But I was drawn to the idea of a picking a particular subject which I could respond to both poetically and artistically. I wondered how my drawing might affect my writing, and vice versa. As the class is at the Botanics, I have been drawing a lot of flowers already. And they have much personal resonance. My father is a botanist and taught me (or tried to) the names of many trees and wild flowers.

So I picked four flowers to study – white dead nettle, plantain, ivy-leaved toadflax and dandelion. All plants I associate with my childhood. I drew each plant in pencil, charcoal and pen and ink. I also used carbon paper to make monoprints. I worked fast – these were sketches which I hoped would capture feeling rather than visual accuracy.

This is the cover, which is made up of sketches which I cut up and stitched together.

Ambit Summer Writing Competition, 2015

Short Story Ireland

ambitAmbit Magazine announces the launch of its 2015 Poetry and Fiction Competition. There’s no theme this year – just send your best work on any subject, in any style. The poetry competition will be judged by Dan O’Brien, and the fiction competition judged by Alison Moore.

The first place prize in each category will be £500, second place £250 and £100 for third.

The three winning poems and three winning stories will all be published in Issue 222 of Ambit, and the poets and writers will be invited to read with judges at the launch on October 22nd 2015 in London.

The competition opens May 1st and closes July 15th. Winners will be announced on September 1st on the Ambit website.

About Ambit Magazine:

Ambit is a 96-page quarterly literary and art magazine. It is created in London, published in the UK, and read internationally. It’s available…

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Yeats at the Book Festival


I’m delighted that the Scottish Poetry Library has asked me to run a reading workshop at this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival. It’ll be on Yeats, on August 16th, to mark the 150th anniversary of his birth. I’ll be following on from Robert Crawford’s talk on Yeat’s that same morning – Celebrating Yeats – which I’ll also be going to. I want to hear Crawford’s persepective on Yeats, but I will also be hoovering up titbits on Yeats’ life and works to help me answer the many questions that will come my way a few hours later.

My session part of a series of reading workshops called Nothing But the Poem. I’ve been running a number of these sessions in Edinburgh this year and the aim is to encourage folk who haven’t read much poetry to come along. No homework is required and we don’t delve into any literary or cultural criticism. Only that is quite hard with Yeats. In fact, a reading workshop on Yeats could very easily turn into Everything But the Poem. How can we read ‘Easter 1916′ without discussing the events of the Easter Rising in Dublin? It is particularly hard to stick to the poem when reading Yeats’ political poems – Irish history, and Yeats’ complex relationship with it is just so fascinating. Other poems are easier – ‘Wild Swans at Coole’, for example. It’s a beautiful and moving poem even if one knows nothing about Lady Gregory or Maude Gonne.

The trouble is, I know folk will ask. I’ve two biographies by my bed already…

My first political poem

I’m really pleased that my poem has been chosen to join a wonderful series of poets writing in response to last months general election. My poem, ‘What Nicola Knows,’ is day 34 of a new blog called New Boots and Pantisocracies, which aims to ‘chart the responses of those unacknowledged legislators, the poets, over the first 100 days of the new dispensation.’

Read my poem here and sign up for a daily political poem!