23 November 2010

Busy times ahead: poetry, go-reborn and New Linear Perspectives

After a short sojourn whilst I've been getting myself some edu-kay-shun at a real live University, here is an update for you all on up-and-coming exploits.

I've been writing lots of poetry; the appearance of 'Gas' in quirky writing magazine Collective Fallout was great. I'm aiming for the big guns now, hence the fact I haven't been putting it up on my blog, but instead have been running it past my best critics, my Dad, and Pat Neil, who has recently written another piece for New Linear Perspectives called 'The Spider on the Differential', which you can read here.

Last week at go-reborn in Edinburgh was great fun, I met some interesting peeps. I especially liked Asta Pestkunaite, whose work reminded me of Archimboldo, and who spent some time explaining the brilliant and haunting theory behind her portraits. Her website is here. I also had a nice chat with artist David Lemm, who helps run the pop-up space at Such & Such on Brunswicke Street. His stuff is ace - all shadowy figures and geometrical shapes - so I'm hoping for a collabo with him soon. He has already painted for poetry, as it were, in the last Pop-Shots magazine, so watch this space.

My old sparring partner Jaco Justice did a brilliant job at go-reborn last weekend, so I was really proud of him. The new website with the new blog space (which I will be hosting) and the wicked new on-line store are available to look at now, so have a skeg as we say in Yorkshire. The usual suspects were involved, especially Jono Freemantle, Fleur MacIntosh from the amazing boutique Godiva, photographer Dave Anderson and some new faces.

Otherwise, genius artist friend and blogger at the Spectator Claudia Massie and I have been working on a project for some time called New Linear Perspectives. It is an arts and culture on-line literary magazine that has already seen some amazing writers involved. Claudia is taking a break from the day-to-day running of it for a few months and will be handing that job over to me, so there should be a lot more info on that soon. It is a really exciting project and different from stuff I have done before. We are also lucky to have Zoe Green, poet and writer, on board, which is a real coup.

I'm back on the blog tip now so there will be loads of new incoming.

28 October 2010

Such and Such - arc of time

My written piece on Edinburgh and 'the arc of time' will shortly be published in the goreborn publication. This will be available to buy at the Such and Such pop-up initiative that is on throughout November, at 105 Brunswick Street in Edinburgh. goreborn has the 20th-21st November slot but there are a plethora of talented artists appearing throughout the month.
For more info on the event, and to get a limited edition invite to the private viewing on Friday 19th November, please email jj@awareinjustice.com

10 August 2010

Pick of the Edinburgh Festival

Sexy, bruised and timeless. My favourite play ever now playing at the Edinburgh Festival.

08 July 2010

Collective Fallout: Vol 2 No 2 Out Now

Poetry fans! Support new poetry! The new volume of ace literary magazine Collective Fallout is out now.

You can buy it here. I'd like to say 'and in all good bookshops' but I guess you'd have to catch a plane to the US for that.

Not only are you supporting local talent but talent the world over. Do it.

My poem, 'Gas', appears.

01 June 2010


The garden has been
rent asunder, my green-
fingered real-life scene
is dead, pedalled away
in the thunder, nothing
seen or said. Still,
it lends a stately air
of decrepitude to my mood
which no pill could have cured
before the storm.
The worm has turned.
I no longer wish
for perfect lawns and a pond
heaving with fish that gasp
for air. I'm leaving all that
behind, ribbons in the
wind on the day after the
fair has been spirited from town.
Now I crave weeds and
the days have gone when I
numbered pots and seeds and
dressed them in muslin and
gauze. I creep about. I pause.
I watch the spider move from
crack to rock and back and
let the rust on the gate lock
spread. Those outside do not
know if the wilderness is
hemmed in or if the
spider's criss-crossed thread
keeps them out.
The worm does not care.
Like I said, it turned,
and dug my house from
inside out and in the
rout I saw my face as a
white orb in the glass.
I like the grey space
of light on the bed-springs, the
cracked spout of the tea-pot
clogged with muck and brine.
You worry. I say it's fine.
Photo courtesy of Kirsty Palmer

14 May 2010

Panero @ The Nervous Breakdown

My translation of Leopoldo María Panero's poem El Lamento del Vampiro has been published at swanky and very cool US literary webzine The Nervous Breakdown. You can see it here.

13 May 2010


Busy times ahead. 2010 is turning out to be quite a year. An ur-year. I'll explain.

I'm working on translations of Leopoldo María Panero's poetry at the moment. I am also working on a piece about said poet for brand new on-line literary endeavour New Linear Perspectives, whose website looks amazing, and has, amongst other things, just published some poems by bewitching wordsmith Zoe Green.

Leopoldo María Panero resides in a manicomio on the Canary Islands. He writes dark poetry from the other side of sanity with horror-laden images reminsicent of the work of Poe and Ambrose Bierce. But you can read about him at NLP in a few weeks. I've actually just been reading the Devil's Dictionary by nineteenth century American writer Ambrose Bierce and it is unaccountably hilarious. Also known as 'the wickedest man in San Francisco', 'Bitter' Bierce redefined language in his satirical manner, with various targets - here are some of them beginning with A:

Academe (n.): An ancient school where morality and philosophy were taught.

Academy (n.): A modern school where football is taught.

Admonition (n.): Gentle reproof, as with a meat-axe.

Affianced (pp.): Fitted with an ankle-ring for the ball-and-chain.

African (n.): A nigger that votes our way.

Clearly, his pot-shots at education, social mores, the sanctity of marriage and race relations were somewhat shocking for genteel 19th century San Fransiscans. What interests me is his gloomy, fetid foray into the horror genre, or the beginnings of it, alongside Edgar Allan Poe, a true sociopath - which brings us circularly back to Panero, a socio-psychopath who declaims the world from his self-imposed exile in a lunatic asylum.

Interesting times.

I am also trying to get my head around Mallarmé and Mallarmian theory, not a happy time for me as Mallarmé's poetry can be as dense as a hedge and the feeling of connecting eye to word is like being pulled through said bush thicket, backwards. And that's just reading the English translation.

Otherwise, trying to hone my translation skills by reading Ezra Pound, according to some "the greatest translator of modern times". Cambridge scholar Clive Wilmer writes interestingly on the journey of a translator through their subject - something he calls the 'search for an ur-language' - especially on the genius of this blog's favourite Ted Hughes, who has translated Ovid's Tales to great success. Ted Hughes knew how to dig deep, exacavate, rebuild, transform. I love that man and his big earthy words. You can read Wilmer's article here, very interesting.

Incidentally, the use of the prefix ur is hilarious and beguiling. I always laughed in German class at school whenever we were forced to mention our great-grandparents. Surprisingly frequently, actually. Maybe the teacher was a gerontophile. He was certainly a minor pervert, but that is another story. He wasn't an ur-pervert, which is the key thing. Anyway, your grandfather and your grandmother are your Urgrossmutter and Urgrossvater in German. I think it should replace the overused uber (you can add your own umlaut as my computer certainly won't do it for you) as a catch-all hyperbolic ephithet.

Go and check out New Linear Perspectives, it is beyond excellent. Urxcellent. Oh yes.
You can buy the rocking Ambrose Bierce t-shirt here.

15 April 2010

Alan Fentiman/ Gilling Gig on Tour

It is nice to have talented friends and family. Alan Fentiman is an super-talented (and award-winning) film-maker and DJ who also happens to be married to my sister. His website is here where you can see him interviewing the likes of ex-KLF money-burner Bill Drummond and artist Stephen Mathewson to name a couple.

He is also filming Willie and Greg Giles' progress as they continue their meteoric rise in the echelons of rock with the continued success of Gilling Gig. They are taking on a massive challenge: touring the North East with their usual (and some new) faces, as always collecting money for charity (so far over £3500) with the culmination of all this ROCKIN' being a concert in Newcastle City Hall in 2011.

They also happen to be my father and brother, so a natural element of familial pride creeps into this blog. But also - what an amazing project! Check out the whole rock-frazzled behemoth here. I'll be keeping you updated and obviously rocking with them as they sprinkle the North East with a little bit of that Giles magic.
Image courtesy of Alan Fentiman at www.alanfentiman.co.uk

29 March 2010

Poetry Scotland

Good news. My poem 'Earl of Mar's House' is now published online at the Poetry Scotland website.

Have a read here.

25 March 2010

Miss Dahl

I very much enjoyed Sophie Dahl's new cooking programme the other night. Most interesting was the reaction to it. The horrific Jan Moir wrote another spiteful piece in the Daily Mail, saying she was "no Nigella" and other various unnecessary things. Giles Coren, hilariously, called it a "sickening sham". My favourite TV critic, Nancy Banks-Smith, was much kinder. Banks-Smith is wise, and knows when something is light, fluffy and "like a day-old chick". She exhorts us all not to "stamp on it" and I think Moir and Coren could take a leaf out of her book. Whatever your feelings for Miss Dahl, anyway, do try the halibut with sweet potato chips, fried wild mushrooms and garlic and a herby creme fraiche sauce. It's very good.

04 March 2010

Dead Close to Nature 5: Condie House Revisited

Safely ensconced in my new country pad (hidden behind Bridge of Allan on the Carse of Lecropt), I have already met my new neighbours. A small and fearless herd of deer who crop grass and watch me in the field opposite. A plethora of fat pheasants that dot the flat Carse and whirr off screeching as I zoom by on my bike. A lone hare that lopes off, nonchalant, as I pass him/her on my morning run. My friendly blue tits (think oiseaux here, people, not weirdly coloured and amiable boobies - also birds by the way) and their rather greedy bigger cousin the great tit, feast on nuts outside my window as I type this. My view from the back door is of the castle and the Wallace Monument and this hidden part of the Carse of Stirling seems to lie behind a veil, a time-altering curtain that begins at the Dunblane-end of Bridge of Allan and ends somewhere east of Doune. There is a sense of wilderness here, and despite being only miles away from the metropolis of Stirling the animals and I live slow-motion in silence. Bliss.

My next adventure will be to explore the ruins of Arnhall Castle (possibly a location for Monty Python's 'Holy Grail', but that has yet to be confirmed), which lies behind the deer field. But before that mission I'd like to conclude something I began months ago.

I received a missive from a certain Roddy Oliphant in reply to my blog on Condie, the ruined manor house Claudia Massie and I discovered near Forgandenny (I say 'discovered' - naturally a misnomer - but in many ways it has been and remains largely forgotten). My request for knowledge indeed drew interest - the very reason for this blog; blogs should be used as a forum rather than a platform, wherever possible, and it was great to hear from Roddy, not least becuase he hails from the family that once had an interest in the house at Condie. Also, via Claudia (and after talking to David Willington, one of Forgandenny's connoisseurs of the history of this area of Scotland), I got hold of a book by a certain Gregory Ross.

'Forgandenny: A Place in History' (Triuirdarach Publishing, 2007) is a monster tome and the book I was looking for all those months ago when researching the house at Condie. It researches the full history of Forgandenny and surrounding parishes from its time as a probable winter site for nomadic groups 6000 years ago, to the ninteenth century fire that destroyed Condie House (and beyond to the wars, but it is the final destruction of the house that interests the blog, and of course the mystery of the stabbing).

Firstly, here's Roddy's wonderfully brisk summation of the affair with the knife: "Actually it was not Sir George Oliphant, Bt. who stabbed his step-mother but his brother James. James found his step-mother in bed with a priest. The priest escaped by leaping over a gate in the garden which was from then on known as the Priest's Gate." I needn't add any more; but let your imaginations run wild.

On the 13th March 1866 the house appeared smoke-filled to an early-risen kitchen maid. By seven o' clock the house with "consumed in flames", although residents (including Lady Marianne and her daughters) escaped unharmed. Most of the house was destroyed, certainly all the relatively new manor house, and all belongings lost, thus we are left in 2010 with the ruins of Condie surrounded by hare-filled fields and echoing with ghosts. Greg Ross' book contains more information on all aspects of Forgandenny and I cannot say enough good things about it. It is truly an epic historical work, and important. Roddy writes a very informative foreword and is an expert on Oliphant family history himself.

An interesting footnote, amongst many I could make, concern Marianne and Laurence Oliphant of Condie's nephew, the writer Laurence Oliphant (1829-1888). He was described by the American ambassador Henry Adams thus: "his figure and bearing were sympathetic - almost pathetic-like with a grave and gentle charm, a pleasant smile and an interesting story. He seemed exceptionally sane and peculiarly suited to country houses" (Ross, 458). Splendid chap. Marianne was related to Lord Elgin, who became Viceroy and Governor General of India. Before this appointment (when Lord Elgin was Governor General of Canada), Laurence Oliphant was his private secretary - he travelled with him to China. Laurence was also a journalist, and his travels led him to write books on far-flung reaches of the world. He was fascinating, not only because he clearly spent much time at Condie House before the fire, but because of his connection with Thomas Harris, his "spiritual guide and mentor". Thomas Harris had set up a religious community in Santa Rosa where Laurence and his wife went to live. In order to help raise money for the commune, Laurence became involved in some financial ventures, notable joining the Direct United States Cable company which "was resonsible for beginning the laying of the Trans-Atlantic cabel" (Ross, 459) using the good ship Faraday, named, one presumes, after my illustrious forebear. How I love the weird symmetry of history.

18 February 2010

Ted McCagg

Being a great fan of nonsense surrealist cartoonists such as Glaswegian David Shrigley (if you haven't looked at 'Why we got the sack from the museum' - do it forthwith), I was pleased to discover the hilarious Ted McCagg yesterday. He seems alarmingly talented, but I must tell the world. You see, without people like Ted, we'd all fall into a doze of boredom until the lights just went out. Believe me. Oh - and he shares a name with Ted Hughes - another Ted we'd be worse off without.
He (McCagg - Hughes too literally earthy and doomy at this time of required calm) is keeping me going as I pack my bags for yet another move across the wild countryside of Stirlingshire. With all my signature items packed - silver cigarette tin, hairclips, monkey nuts - I am indeed just another plain old manatee.

Gasp and titter at Ted's pictures here.

Marvel at Ted's magical plethora of talents here.

Thanks to Ted for letting me use his work to spruce up my blog.

03 February 2010

My life, my death, my choice

Although I won't weigh-in too forcefully on the debate on assisted death, I enjoyed reading Terry Pratchett's comments yesterday in the Guardian (an extract from Monday's Richard Dimbleby Lecture) about his own possible future assisted death. As you may know he is suffering from posterior cortical atrophy (a rare form of Alzheimer's disease). When the specialist told him this, Pratchett says "I quite genuinely saw him outlined in a rectangle of flaming red lines". I am quite clear that Pratchett has every right to make an educated decision about how he ends his life. He says "it must be allowed as a result of careful consideration". He continues; "my life, my death, my choice".

This seems perfectly fair to me. It does seem rather disgusting, however, that only now that a famous and well-spoken person speaks out about this disease that there is any kind of real debate at all. Previously we have had some moving documentaries on the subject (for example 'Right To Die' by Canadian director John Zaritsky), but I fear that in the State of Great Britain all we can really expect is a reality TV show revealing the boats of geriatrics soon to be shipped out to Martin Amis' 'medal and martini' booths - there's bound to be a bit of money to be made out of it. Hence the following ditty:

The magic of the failing brain is
hallucinatory; you see things, or
indeed you don't (but you won't
remember that, we'll do it for you.)
Cameras in position: black is not a happy
colour - yet rather face that magic
until it swallows itself in a dark hole of
monolithic storm then pass the test.
Right? Right. Good man. More or less.
Lights! (too bright? That's the Alzheimer's
pixillating your eye-pins, or something)
Can we give him more eye-liner?
You can be sure a screaming starlet is
yanked out of the ether of the
fizzed-out Terry P who looks at the
teapot and it is not here
but he knows there, in some battling
space jumping with atoms, is tea in front of he.
See? Death sums up, rattling:
"Clogged with rheum and the decision
of death! Catchy. Pass me a microphone
and we'll make a reality series. I'll
wear high-waisted trousers with my cowl."
Death, they name is Simon, and it's
clearly uncouth to start making
merry with a hatchet; let's film the slow
and shaming unravelling instead -
once you go with one they'll all catch it.

The State on Death - AFG

For the other side of the argument, read Dr Crippen's piece here.

The Assisted-Suicide blog is here.

29 January 2010


In the week that Apple launch the new and possibly thrilling IPad, I too have created a paean to technology inspired by poet Tony Williams' stint as the Guardian's poetry workshopper. He wishes us to think of commodities. I have entered this before (see Gas) but have yet to be published on those hallowed webpages. As usual I've gone wildly 'off-message'; but it is true to say without my MP3, wantonly reactionary in its non-Apple-ness, I would be a lesser man.

You cannot see but under my shirt
I am working a panel of pert
buttons with my fingers, and coils
of white wire lie against my skin.
The MP3 sits reassuring and thin
to protect me from the gargoyles
of a thousand white headphone-
wearing passengers who vant to be alone.

We forge six-hundred glittering train miles
in a capsule battered by bomb-lit vials
of light. You cannot see but this MP3 machine
has a long cord, a gland, a spiny dart
that sews my inner ear to my inner heart,
whose sound within its glaucous mine
is pearly-eyed and huddled on my bones
as I pass through various travel zones.

Em-Pee-Three, AFG

26 January 2010

Derrick Brown

So many good poets out there, but Derrick Brown seems to be one of the better ones. He describes himself as a "gondolier, magician and fired weatherman" amongst other things. I've just read his poem 'cotton in the air' which merits a read through or two. Quite hypnotic and arrestingly sexy. He describes the movement of a lover's lusty limbs as being like "poisonous wrens", which I love. It is softly sensual as well when he describes undressing: "your tank top slides down the huh huh huh of your shoulder". Sublime. Have a look here.
It's on The Nervous Breakdown site which I've been a fan of for a while and who old friend Kip Tobin writes for. Click on his name to read his recent blog on mix CDs (or mix tapes as us reactionaries call them) which is typically brilliant, sharp and romantic. Just like Kip.

23 January 2010

Books: Michael Donaghy knew my suicidal hamster

I've been busy reading.

Philip Pullman had me back in his grasp for a while - those Northern Lights are mesmerising. But like C.S Lewis he does do god a little too much. That is rather the point of the trilogy, but still - Mr Pullman. We tire. The first book is thrilling but the further he cuts into new universes (and especially the rather vomit-inducing trip to the world of the dead, nameless harpies included) the more I desire to escape all reference to our erstwhile Creator or indeed his troop of angels. But, that aside, Philip Pullman is a genius and writes a fabulous new version of the Bible that is less risible - an update, shall we say.

Then a slew of Wilbur Smith. Guilty pleasures die hard and Wilbur dresses up a racist nation with hard men and feisty women - he does for Africa what Jilly Cooper does for the Cotswolds, and for that I thank him.

Then Robert Harris' 'Lustrum', the one where Cicero is consumed with thoughts of power and Harris plots his ultimate downfall through the very pleasing and measured voice of Tiro, his scribe and the man who invented shorthand. Whereas in 'Imperium' Cicero is the strong arm of the righteous, here he is the well-spoken icing on a very corrupt little cake. He becomes the figurehead of a failing Rome, and Harris has Caesar all angles and jutting malice quite monstrous in the background. There are so many books about Rome, but Harris is one of the best. So many stand out characters, not least Cicero's wife. One of the worst I have recently discovered is Steven Saylor (from 'A Gladiator Dies Only Once'):

"I left the consul's house with a list of everyone Decimus Brutus could name from his wife's inner circle and a pouch full of silver. The pouch contained half my fee... and if I failed him, I would never collect. Dead men pay no debts."

No shit, Sherlock.

Better is Eric Linklater's 'Magnus Merriman', a little gem I picked up at the Stirling University bookstore. Magnus is a drunken journalist and writer who deludes his way through the war and then Edinburgh and the Orkneys with frankly side-splitting results. Linklater was a contemporary of Hugh McDiarmid and other Scottish Renaissance poets and writers and Linklater lampoons them fondly, but defiantly. Here's an idea of the greatly heroic Magnus:

"In common with the ancient Athenians and the modern Americans, Magnus had a great liking for novelty, and would adopt a new fashion - in though, in clothes, or in behaviour - not only with enthusiasm but with such conviction that often it appeared to have been his own discovery."

A sham. A master. A buffoon. A legend.

I should write taglines for Hollywood movies, n'est-ce pas?

Otherwise it's all poetry, especially remebering Michael Donaghy, who died in 2004. He was a poetic genius and man of Celtic blood and strength who I was taught by, if only briefly. We called him Uncle Mikey and he took us under his wing. He smiled (I realise now he must have been suppressing insane laughter) at my youthful poem about the imagined death of a hamster who was in the same kitchen as Sylvia Plath when she gassed herself. Heavens to Betsy! I can't believe I have revealed such information. I should have called it 'A Hamster Dies Only Once'. The squeaker snuffed it, but by Jings it was a poetic death.
One of my favourite poems of his has always been 'Held - here's an extract ':

Not as this hieroglyph chiselled by Hittites in lazuli,
Spiral and faint, is a word for 'unending',
Nor as the hands, crown, and heart in the emblem of Claddagh,
Pewter and plain on that ring mean forever,
But as we stood at the window together, in silence,
Precisely twelve minutes by candlelight waiting for thunder.

His close friend is Don Paterson, and Paterson's collection 'Rain' includes tributes to Donaghy, so well crystallised and sad and true. For these moments I love poetry. These two poets are a must read; but apart from these two bookish, learned men I have learnt of a darker, less tutored, more dingy poet called Charles Bukowski and his stuff is well worth a look-see. All poetry, however, should be read. Even Andrew Motion.

I once wrote a really mean poem about Mr Motion which was wrong on so many levels, even if I do think the man is an out-and-out bore and try-hard. He deserves a good reading. Like we all do. I wish I could make a speech at an awards ceremony a bit like the recent Mariah Carey one - where I say: "Thank-you all but I'm sorry I'm a bit..." and Andrew Motion shouts "...fucked up!" from the audience. But it will never be, alas.

More blogging, so much more to come and nearing fruition.

Keep reading friends.