Literature Ambassador #2: a Festival & a Competition

Wigtown Poetry Competition
Open for entry until 26 May 2017

Wigtown International Poetry Competition

is now open for entries from anyone in the world, until Friday 26 May 2017. There are three categories: Main (£1500), Scottish Gaelic (£250), and Scots (£250). The Scottish Poetry Library will read all poems submitted for the Main Prize, and create a short leet for the judge. This alone makes it worth entering if you are an emerging poet, and entering competitions is a good way of honing your skills, there’s nothing like knowing people are going to be reading, and judging your work to make you up your game. So, give it a go.

The judges are:

Main Category

Ryan Van Winkle is a poet, live artist, podcaster and critic living in Edinburgh. His second collection, The Good Dark, won the Saltire Society’s 2015 Poetry Book of the Year award. His poems have appeared in New Writing Scotland, The Prairie Schooner and The American Poetry Review. As a member of Highlight Arts he has organised festivals and translation workshops in Syria, Pakistan and Iraq. He was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson fellowship in 2012 and a residency at The Studios of Key West in 2016.  http://www.ryanvanwinkle.com

Scottish Gaelic Category

Maoilios Caimbeul / Myles Campbell worked as a high-school Gaelic teacher and as a creative writing tutor in Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Skye Gaelic College, where he was writer in residence in 2008. Maoilios / Myles has published eight poetry collections, his latest  being Tro Chloich na Sùla (Clàr, 2014), and eight novels for young people. Awards for his poetry include Dunleary Fèile Filiochta (1998), National Mod Bardic Crown (2002) and Wigtown Poetry Competition (2008). His collection Bailtean was short-listed for the 1987 Saltire award. He is currently the Honorary Bard for the Gaelic Society of Inverness. http://www.maoilioscaimbeul.co.uk

Scots Category

Matthew Fitt is an award-winning Scots poet. Author of the kenspeckle ‘Kate o Shanter’s Tale’ and ground-breaking ‘But n Ben A-Go-Go’ and co-founder of the Itchy Coo imprint, his work with Scots has revolutionised attitudes towards the language in Scotland’s schools. A former Brounsbank Writing Fellow and Writer in Residence at Greater Pollock, he regularly advises government, local authorities and the media on Scots language issues and policy development. He is the official Scots translator of the Asterix series and for the Scottish Parliament. http://www.mfitt.co.uk

Last Year’s Main Prize Winner was Garry MacKenzie (to read his poem go here). Here’s the runner-up:

Marjorie Lotfi Gill

 

 Gift

– my Muslim grandmother’s words when giving a crucifix to my Methodist mother in Tehran

 

It doesn’t matter that she’s blonde,

doesn’t know a single word of Farsi,

or how to taarof, always refuse first,

before accepting a gift.

 

what you believe is your own trouble;

not one of us understands all the words

of our mother tongue. Look at the eye,

my father told me, watch it speak.

 

as long as you are here, I will be shelter.

 

believe in something: your hands pressed

together, palm to palm, are my body folded

into the namaz; each of us maps ourselves

in the mirror, measures what we already know.

 


Big Lit 2017 (20-23 April)

We are lucky to have lots of literary goings on in Dumfries and Galloway, and Big Lit is shaping up to be one of the best. This, in their own words, is what visitors can expect this year:
  BIG LIT is now in its 7th year.  What began life as a modest festival-in-a-day is now a mighty four day festival of wall to wall events, featuring literature in all its cunning guises. This year we are delighted to headline the gloriously funny ‘People’s Potato’, John Hegley, who will entertain both the young, and young at heart. Local award winning novelist Karen Campbell returns to lead another cutting edge workshop for writers while charismatic broadcaster and performer Billy Kay explores the Scottish Diaspora and its influence on wine! With optional wine to follow! We have music (ancient and modern), prose (historical, mythical and biographical), poetry (political, lyrical and personal), a horrid literary murder for you to solve at Cream o’Galloway (gory, gruesome and grisly), installation, heritage, text based art-work, exhibition, installation, and a timely Scottish PEN event featuring exiled Bafta award winning Palestinian poet Ghazi Hussein who has found refuge from torture in Scotland. Not to mention the BIG LIT young people’s strand offering something for all ages – from literary drumming and daft poyems to games, crafts and madcap story telling. Thanks to the support of The Scottish Book Trust, The Holywood Trust, our wonderful volunteer labour and other project funders we are once again hosting some of the finest writers, musicians and performers both local and national. Hope you have a wonderful time.

Best wishes, Chrys Salt MBE
Artistic Director of the Bakehouse
Convener of BIG LIT: The Stewartry Book Festival 2017.

To see the program and book tickets go to the Big Lit website.

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Sources of Inspiration #2: Tom Waits

I fell in love with Tom Waits when I heard him (for the first time) on the album Red Hot and Blue, singing the Cole Porter song ‘It’s Alright with Me.’ That was enough to make me rush out and buy an album. Unfortunately I chose Closing Time. It was a sore disappointment. Not because it’s a bad album, it’s great, but because it sounded nothing like the crazy guy I’d hoped to get to know a little better. It sounded like a talented but, frankly, ordinary crooner, and I didn’t need to know another of those. So it took a further ten years for our affair to begin in earnest, and this was thanks to my son brining home Frank’s Wild Years. That was more like it, now to the best of my knowledge I have all Waits’s albums. Each of which has been a revelation.

Tom Waits illustration from Mojo 2012

The thing that makes him a personal inspiration is his willingness, nay determination, to try anything in pursuit of the song. The story. He stops at nothing to communicate his ideas. He chooses the best musicians, and then makes them swap instruments; he takes a length of pipe and gets someone to beat the life out of a chest of drawers; he virtually tortures his vocal chords to turn himself into an instrument. He sacrifices everything to the music, none of his songs are mere vehicles for either his talents or those of the many brilliant musicians he employs. No one is privileged. And, crucially, he doesn’t stick to one art form: he acts, he plays multiple instruments (voice included), he writes and performs drama. Even within music he’s tried everything from jazz to country blues. By doing all this, and doing it well, he shows snowflakes like me that it’s fine to cross boundaries. We won’t melt.

Our culture tends to diminish people who don’t stick to one thing. We’re big on commitment, and we often seem to view form (genre, call it what you will) as the important thing here. As an artist you have to commit to your art form, even within disciplines: ‘what are you, a novelist, a short story writer, a poet, which ONE?!’ We like to label. So as someone who swings between writing (all of the above) and working with a camera I often feel like a fraud: ‘what are you?!’ I can be heard to wail at the ghost woman in the mirror, and remembering Tom Waits’s output helps me answer that question: I’m someone with something to say. It’s fine to move between disciplines and styles, because the important thing is the message.

Over to Tom

Here’s my current favourite Waits song, it’s a perfect marriage of social commentary and divine (ho ho) sound:

And now for some quotations (I could give hundreds!):

Tom Waits on Technology

“When somebody says their phone is also a camera, I hate that. What’s wrong with having something that’s just what it is? It makes me want to say: ‘My sunglasses are also a tricycle.'”

Tom Waits on Sex

“Every time in the world there’s an ejaculation, it releases 250 million sperm… now only one of those sperm can actually fertilise the egg… so if you’re here, you’re already a winner.”

Tom Waits on Bob Dylan (and music)

I like my music with the rinds and the seeds and pulp left in – so the bootlegs I obtained in the Sixties and Seventies, where the noise and grit of the tapes became inseparable from the music, are essential to me.

So, Tom Waits, possibly one of my biggest influences and inspirations, regardless music isn’t one of the art forms I practice.

 

Literature Ambassador #1: General Introduction

Dumfries and Galloway is establishing itself as one of, if not The, primary Arts regions in Scotland. The last set of figures I was given (at the DGU conference last summer) show the arts bring £50,000,000 into the area each year. We have an astonishing amount of artistic activity going on, from major, international festivals (Wigtown Book Festival, and Spring Fling Open Studios for example), to artists’ collectives, to writers groups, and everything in between.

Social media flyer

This weekend there are (at least) two noteworthy events: in Wigtown The Art of Social Media with artist in residence Celeste Noche (which I could probably do with attending), and in Dumfries

Wild Film Festival, Dumfries and Galloway
The Saturday program of the Wild Film Festival.

Wild Film Festival Scotland begins on Friday and runs through to the end of Sunday. I will be in the Theatre Royal on Saturday evening to see Iolo Williams, a long standing friend of The Mr.

Spring Fling cover image.
This is the cover image from the Spring Fling homepage.

Two years ago, due to my literary activity, Wigtown Festival Company offered me one of three Literature Ambassador commissions. This sounds terribly grand, but all it means is in return for a small stipend I encourage and support literary activity in the region. This involves attending quarterly meetings with our main literary provider/support organisations, where we discuss plans, ambitions and successes, as well as problem solve. The last meeting was on Thursday (March 16), and I came back to my desk with plenty to be excited about (all of which I’ll write about here each Tuesday). The main part of my job is to spread the word about the mass of bookish happenings in the area, and help local writers, the organisations who employ them, and anyone who wants to stage events that involve text based work.

TheOdeLessTravelledStephenFry

Another of the things I do is run a monthly poetry group in Moffat. I’d heard the local writers group doesn’t do poetry, and that this had disappointed a few would be poets, so what was I to do? Fill the gap with a dedicated group. At the moment I am bamboozling us all with form, but thankfully I have Stephen Fry to help and we are slowly working our way through his useful book.

And, a week or so ago I was able to help put the Moffat Museum in touch with a writer for a social event they are organising. They wanted someone who could entertain and educate members in an area that fits their ethos. The artists they had engaged for the job had had to pull out due to illness, so notice was short. Luckily I knew just the person and, voilà, he has been booked.

 

Cover image of McMillan's Gallovidian Encyclopaedia.
The cover of poet Hugh McMillan’s Gallovidian Encyclopaedia.

 

Next week I’ll tell you all about Big Lit, and the Wigtown International Poetry Competition, which is now open for entry.

Sources of Inspiration #1: Josef Sudek

I nearly titled this post: Influences #1: Josef Sudek. But when I went to choose some of his images to illustrate my meaning I realised ‘influence’ wasn’t the correct word. I had already been making still lifes of ordinary domestic objects, and views through windows and other transparent, reflective, and distorting entities when I first saw his work. So he can’t really be said to be an influence, he’s more like a mentor. By making the choices he did he validates my own, helps me see how to make the photographs I want to, and inspires me to not be overly diverted from my theme.

Before seeing Sudek’s photographs

I worried that my focus on the domestic was of no interest to anyone but me. Although I didn’t really mind if most people thought my work was rubbish, I did, and do, mind making no connections whatsoever. At heart I’m a philosopher who is trying to get to grips with the question of (universal) eudaimonia. My art, both visual and text based (mostly fiction writing, but some poetry) is a way of exploring this, and I need a little interaction. My work is a call to others who also want to solve this problem, it needs a response.

Sudek showed me that response was possible

There are people out there interested in a different kind of narrative, who understand we can’t know everything, and luxuriate in that. People who enjoy the questions.* People who accept their view is flawed because it’s not, and can never be, every view, and perfect clarity is rarely, if ever, achievable. People who can hold two apparently opposing views at once and not feel they have to defend that, who can accept both that they may be wrong, and that they just haven’t seen the connections yet. People who are open to the idea that domesticity is no less important than commerce, business, politics and warmongering.

Here are some of my favourite Sudek photographs (for further thoughts, should you want them, you can click on individual images):

 

Now

I feel quite comfortable about what I have chosen to photograph over the years, and unconcerned that my images are less than National Geographic sharp. Here are some shots I have worried are laughable:

While I realise my stuff doesn’t come close to the brilliance of Sudek’s, I feel all I need do is keep working at it, and happy to continue.

 

*As Rilke entreated his young poet to do.

 

 

By Seeking and Blundering We Learn*

Whilst replying to a comment on last Friday’s post I realised I had made my practice sound difficult, or, at least, rather tiresome. Which it isn’t at all. Yes, I’m broke financially, but in every other respect I’m as rich as it gets. I do things I love every single day, even the difficult things like marketing and shop management are getting easier as I learn. And I love learning and solving problems. My life is a kind of philosophical experiment on how to live well. Not lavishly, but delightfully, and I am making small but significant gains. Gains I hope others will be able to benefit from too, not because I’m altruistic, but because I want to live in a world in which people aren’t miserable and afraid. I think recent political bombs show that miserable afraid people are dangerous to all of us, not just those who step in their path(s). So here are three recent good things about being this particular freelance artist:

Good Thing #1

Because of the stuff I’ve done to encourage other writers (Brave New Words which my much missed° spoken word collaborator and I set up, for example, and the poetry group I run) Wigtown Book Festival now pays me a small stipend to support the literary community in the region. This mostly involves sharing the work of writers, and supporting the events of literature/arts organisations, though today I was able to put a writer in touch with a charity that needs one. Hopefully they’ll come to a mutually agreeable arrangement.

Good Thing #2

Early last week a literary magazine asked me for some stories to make up the balance between poetry and fiction in their next edition. They asked me, I can’t tell you how good that feels! And when I replied that I’d look through my files and see what I have they asked me for black and white art work too! This because one of the editors had seem some of my images on-line, which, I’d say, shows the value of just putting your work out there. I sent twelve thumbnails for them to choose from and they want them all, three or four for this edition and the rest for subsequent ones. Not only that they’ve now asked for a full colour image for a future cover. (I’m so tempted to litter this post with exclamation marks!!!).

Good Thing the Third

Meanwhile, on Monday I heard I’d been short-listed for a Jerwood Arts Foundation Artist’s Bursary for a project I’m working on. They only have ten to give, and had 731 applicants, so I feel terribly vindicated: I’m not wasting my time, I am doing something worthwhile, my work isn’t self indulgent rubbish.

We tend to judge success by money. But there are other ways, and this week, regardless I’ve run out of shampoo, I feel very successful indeed.

*Goethe

°Sindigo who died last September of breast cancer, aged 33.

Charlie Citrine

This post isn’t about Charlie Citrine at all, I just couldn’t think of a title and his name popped into my head, so I shoved it in. That said, it may turn out to be as apparently random as his meditation on Humboldt. A ghastly compilation of non sequiturs. If so I’ll ask you to consider Ramsay theory and widen your gaze accordingly.

I do feel rather like Citrine at the moment, minus the Broadway etc. success. Having decided last September on a last ditch attempt to try and earn enough from my art to be able eat variedly (boiled egg and toast every supper is getting a bit wearing), buy the kind of shampoo that doesn’t bring me out in spots, and get up to the city to visit galleries more than no times a year, I’m drowning in ‘how tos’ at the moment:

How to Write Killer Descriptions*

How to Maximise SEO

How to Kill it on Instagram

How to use Pinterest to Earn Ten Million Dollars a Minute

How to Effectively Manage Your Time

My inbox is pregnant with this stuff, but I’m beginning to see that most if it’s bollocks. Not always inherently so, but it’s generally written in such vague terms (‘tell people what’s great about your product!’) that it’s meaningless. I am clinically uncommercial, so in order to make sense of this environ I need specifics: check-lists; concrete terms (abstracts like ‘great’ only send me into a spin of possible meanings); and models that are similar enough to my own situation to be of use. So, I was thrilled the other day to find an article on time management written by someone who had tried very hard for precision.  Too hard, perhaps, but I was able to put a lot of his thesis to good, solid, use once I’d set aside some of his 14 templates and put the rest into a sequence that works for me.

I now have:

An explicit overall goal – to earn enough to live – and a way to monitor its achievement with:

•Annual Goals (and a format for annual evaluation), which generate:

•Monthly Goals (ditto), which generate:

•Weekly Goals (ditto), which generate:

•A daily to-do list.

As well as a handy list of all my projects (including the scary number of community projects for which I volunteer).

Thus, I now have some idea of the things I need to do every day, and have got into a fairly comfortable rhythm with regards admin (making new work? Not so much).

Maybe I’ll write about these goals lists in another post, maybe I’ll realise they’re far too boring to share with the world and write about kittens instead. I see at the bottom of my list for March I’ve written, ‘think about bundles.’ Does any of this make sense?

P.S. I wish I could follow in the footsteps of Gustav Metzger (who died the other day). He lived his values and never (as far as I can tell) compromised. Not wanting to feed the capitalist machine he refused to sell his art, and, in fact, invented art that self destructs so that it couldn’t be sold. Unlike Humboldt he doesn’t seem to have gone mad, and he lived to 90. How did he manage this?

P.P.S. Please feel free to correct my scandalous grammar.

 

*written by someone too busy to concern herself with punctuation.

 

Return 

It’s quite delightful to be back in Blogopolis again. Over the last five years I’ve ranged around all number of other social media platforms (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr, Pinterest…) and enjoyed all of them to various degrees, so blogging receded to a distant memory. Returning and finding many of my old friends still here has been a joy. This morning as I read a few of those old friends’ posts I found many of them sharing pictures of their bookshelves. How could I not join in?


Bookcase to the right of me.


Bookcase to the left.


Shelf of current reading up above my head.

These photos are all of my tiny workspace between the two upstairs rooms. The room to the right we sleep in, the other is full of guitars and other musical equipment. There are bookcases in all the other rooms, too, including the bathroom. But this is enough for now. Should you crave more bookish posts here are the three that inspired me to do this: Dinah; Scarls and Mago.

I did have a serious post planned for today, on time management, but I have allowed myself to be distracted. Ironic? Ha!

Test Too

I’m posting this from my ancient phone, just to see what happens, and if it’s possible to make it look not ghastly. 

Bugle Call

Can you hear it? You may have to squint, but the bugle calls for the small victory of finally mapping my domain name to this site. You are now on erylshields.com rather than the rather grim sounding erylshieldsink.wordpress.com. I knew it would happen eventually, I was just worried about when. As it stands I only lost two days of website cover – my Wix site terminated on Monday – so it wasn’t that bad. Even my world hasn’t ended.

So, now I can get back to making pictures, I have so many ideas, and the light’s beginning to come back which fuels them further. It lingers for a little longer each day and shines on things in interesting ways. Its colour changes, sometimes buttery, sometimes pinkish, along with the pewter tones of winter which are becoming bluer. This year I want to concentrate on capturing the qualities of different light, the way Turner did in his paintings, which means I’ll be out with my camera and notebook as often as possible.

Hip hip…

Waiting for Confirmation…

from your current provider. I’m not terribly good at waiting, on the whole, and I seem to be doing it a lot recently. At the moment I’m waiting for my current domain name registrar to confirm something or other in order for the transfer to happen. What they need to confirm I have no idea, but they’re taking their time. Before that I was waiting for confirmation of registrant and admin contact emails, or rather I was waiting for the new registrar to email me so I could confirm them. I wonder what I’ll have to wait for next? All I want is to attach my domain name to this site, I suppose it’s more complicated than that sounds.

As I wait I get on with small jobs I’ve hitherto put off. Mostly going through old images, processing or discarding any that were missed first time around, and filing them in what I hope is a better way. I’m currently fiddling with a shot of an oak tree that’s just come into leaf, from 2013. I remember seeing this tree for the first time, and feeling driven to capture its wowness. I walked all round it, examined it up close, walked away, lay on the ground at its feet, before finally deciding on the angle I wanted and taking out my camera. I came home with four shots, immediately liked this one best, but didn’t quite know what to do with it. I did process it, but then just left it to languish until now. I still like it, in fact I re-experienced something of that feeling of being wowed when I stumbled on it again yesterday, so maybe I don’t need to do anything more to it?  However, unable to let it be I made a black and white version which I may like better.

Now to get back to waiting…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
The Trees Will Outlive Us All
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