Toronto Poetry Tour

In a few weeks I’m off to Toronto for a small poetry tour.  If you are also in Toronto, I would love to see you.

Tuesday 4 November: The Art Bar Poetry Series
Black Swan Tavern, 154 Danforth Ave, Toronto, ON M4K 1N1
The longest-running poetry-only event in Canada.
I’ll be one of three feature poets (there’s also an open mic).

Wednesday 5 November: Wordspell
Free Times Cafe, 320 College St, Toronto, ON M5T 1S3
WordSpell’s mandate is to have an open, inclusive space for female and female identifying individuals to feel comfortable on stage and off.
I’ll be the feature performer! There will be at least one other poet, and an open mic.
And not only that, but the Free Times Cafe serves Jewish food. After my performance you can find me behind the mound of cheese blintzes.

Saturday 8 November: Toronto Poetry Slam
The Drake Hotel, 1150 Queen Street West, Toronto, ON M6J 1J3
TORONTO POETRY SLAM is a twice-monthly spoken word competition, where the judges vote on each poem presented. This ain’t your grandma’s poetry!
The feature is Ian Keteku. My appearance will actually be determined by whether I get there soon enough to sign up for the slam, or the open mic if there is one, but I hope to perform!

If I add anything more, I’ll update this page.

Published in: on October 7, 2014 at 8:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

New poetry collection: The Naming of Cancer

I’m thrilled to announce that everything is going smoothly for the publication of my second poetry collection, The Naming of Cancer. Neon Books will be publishing it at the end of November, and I’ll be having the launch at the Scottish Poetry Library during Book Week Scotland. (Details to follow.)

And now I have an official webpage, complete with two sample poems and ordering information.

Krishan (Neon Books editor, grande honcho, and all-around good guy) and I decided not to have a blurb on the back of the book. Let’s face it, blurbs on the backs of poetry books are often globs of grand-sounding adjectives with little substance, and often don’t give you the slightest information about what the book contains or whether you want to read it. However, for the website, Krishan wrote a description which I like very much:

This fourteen-poem volume begins in a hospital, and from there explores the experience of cancer from a multitude of perspectives, from the person struggling to survive the disease to the spouse pacing in the waiting room, the oncologist doubting his own ability to diagnose, and even the cancer cells themselves, mourning their host body even as they destroy it. The Naming Of Cancer is anything but an easy read, but is certainly a necessary one.

And he mentions that many of these poems (probably all, come to think of it) were written and/or revised during my New Writers Award mentorship. Since my full-length collection hasn’t yet found a publisher, I’m particularly happy that these poems have made it into the world together.

You can pre-order now – the book is £4 plus £1 shipping. There will also be an e-version for those who prefer. Or you can come to the launch, or one of the other events where I’ll be reading/selling/promoting – I’ll post about those in due course.

And if you happen to see me, please ask for a bookmark!

Published in: on September 17, 2014 at 11:09 am  Leave a Comment  

Continuing to Develop as a Writer [and guest blogging about it]

I noticed that Creative Scotland had a blog, and asked if I could write a post, and they said yes, and I took a long time to write a relatively short amount of material, but eventually I did. Now it’s up! (With the ubiquitous Chris Scott photograph.)

I talk about what I write, how I write, and the Banff Centre Spoken Word Workshop I attended earlier this year (partly with the help of Creative Scotland, which is what prompted me to ask whether I could contribute to the blog). They also link to my video of my in-the-spare-room performance of “Little Tiger”, which was shortlisted for the StAnza Digital Slam.

Creative Scotland are rejigging the funding streams this year, so some things are still in flux – the Professional Development Grants aren’t even available anymore, at least not under that name – but if you’re an artist in Scotland interested in applying for support, do have a look at what they offer and keep an eye out for future developments. Applying for grants is never a fun experience, but receiving funding is a major boost, personally and professionally. And it gives you something to write a guest blog post about, which you can then write a blog post about on your own blog. Blog. Anyway, hope you enjoy it.

Published in: on August 19, 2014 at 1:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

The festivals are here!

Well, by now, they’re gone. But here’s where I was.

Monday 4 August, All Back to Bowie’s
Poem: How the Wars of Scottish Independence Led to a Better Scotland
Also appearing: David Greig, Nicola Sturgeon

Tuesday 5 August, JibbaJabba
Poems: Little Tiger, Actors at the Fringe
Also appearing: Jenni Pascoe, Sophia Walker

Sunday 10 August, Loud Poets
Poems: Actors at the Fringe, Little Tiger
Also appearing: Richard Tyrone Jones, Miko Berry & the Loud Poets

Wednesday 13 August, BBC Poetry Slam 2014 – heat 3
Poems: Little Tiger, You’re Not
Also appearing: Agnes Torok, Sophia Walker

Friday 15 August, Dactyl 2 launch
Poems: Coils, The Time Lord’s Job Advertisement [slightly mangled...], Actors at the Fringe
Also appearing: Richie McCaffery, Lucy Ribchester

Friday 15 August, Loud Poets at the just Festival.
Poem: Actors at the Fringe
Also appearing: Max Scratchmann, Kevin McLean

Saturday 16 August, Other Voice Spoken Word Cabaret
Poem: Little Tiger

Sunday 17 August, The Festival of Politics at the Scottish Parliament Café/Bar.  A Rally and Broad event.
Poem: How the Wars of Scottish Independence Led to a Better Scotland
Also appearing: Alan Bissett, Liz Lochhead

Wednesday 20 August, All Back to Bowie’s
Poem: How the Wars of Scottish Independence Led to a Better Scotland
Also appearing: Elaine C. Smith, Kirstin Innes

Published in: on August 4, 2014 at 8:54 am  Leave a Comment  

It’s the Festivals again! (soon)

Last year, an award-winning spoken word performer asked me why I didn’t get my own show on the Fringe. My response, after feeling flattered that she’d even ask, was: “Don’t wanna.” It’s a lot of work and I don’t have enough to say to fill 50 minutes; also, standing on the Royal Mile and thrusting flyers in people’s faces is soul-destroying as well as being hard on your feet, not to mention the part where the only two people who turn up are 1) your partner and 2) some guy who wandered in thinking it was sketch comedy with free beer.

However, as usual, I’ll be performing in a variety of shows in August, which is always a thrill. Mainly because I can just turn up and say stuff, and not have to deal with the logistics.

[all info moved to a new entry!]

Published in: on June 30, 2014 at 8:07 am  Leave a Comment  

The poet as zombie; or, Should this be my new author photo?

Since I’m a huge proponent of “doing interesting things because it’s fun”, I volunteered for the zombie game 2.8 Hours Later. I had to go to Zombie School and learn how to shuffle and groan convincingly, and then I was a zombie for one of the four nights they were in Edinburgh. My groaning made me sound like “zombie with bronchitis” so I switched to weird high-pitched intakes of breath, which were fun and didn’t strain my voice. And I shuffled, oh did I shuffle. Here’s what I originally looked like:


Then I swapped the army fatigues with another player for technical reasons and looked more normal, for versions of “normal” which involve fake blood spattered over my face.

I love immersive experiences, although I doubt I’ll be writing any “I am a zombie” poems any time soon (though you never know). To be honest, I am not a huge fan of the genre. But I did like dressing up and shuffling after people who, though they knew perfectly well I was NOT a zombie, were involved enough in the game to be scared when I appeared out of nowhere behind them, groaning.

And yes, I did go home on the bus looking like that, though somehow managed not to freak any mundanes in the process, or perhaps they were just used to that sort of thing on a bank holiday weekend.

Published in: on May 26, 2014 at 6:30 pm  Comments (1)  

Blog chain: The Writing Process

I was tagged by Sara Sheridan to continue this blog chain. (Thanks, Sara!)

1) What am I working on?

At the moment, two main projects – a poetry collection titled Blood Libel, and a novel. I suppose it’s technically two novels but I haven’t decided which one I want to focus on yet, so I’ll just leave it vague for now.

Blood Libel is also somewhat vague, but it’s about Jewish women. Modern, Biblical, historical; monologues, commentaries, prayers; mothers, immigrants, Holocaust victims; heroic, quizzical, annoying. And then some. I’m basically writing many poems and seeing what happens. So far I have enough for a pamphlet, but the goal is a full-length collection.

2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?

One of the aspects I’m exploring is genetic history – there are many diseases that are far more prevalent in the Ashkenazi Jewish community than in the general population, which obviously have devastating effects. (On the other hand, modern genetic testing means that people intending to have children can check whether they and their potential partners are both carriers; see Dor Yeshorim, for instance.) I haven’t found any poetry collections – or, indeed, many prose works – that address these issues within the context of Jewish culture.

3) Why do I write what I do?

I write whatever interests me, is the short answer. My only published novel to date is a historical novel about the daughter of a high-ranking Nazi; the novel making the rounds is about an American graduate student at Oxford, and the one I’ve put in the drawer is about a girl who discovers a lost festival in Edinburgh. My first (unpublished) full-length poetry collection is about cancer, but not entirely. Certain themes keep emerging, of course, but it would probably take someone with more objectivity to discover them.

4) How does my writing process work?

More sporadically than I’d like. Poems tend to be drafted either by hand or on the computer, and then edited around 4-6 times before I get to the point where I really know what they’re about; I then tweak individual words or line breaks, and then it’s done. (Occasionally, I never get to the tweaking part and they go into the ‘deferred’ folder.) Short stories work the same way, come to think of it. Novels are a lot more complex, of course!

I tried to find someone to carry on the chain. Unfortunately, thanks to a combination of unwellness (thankfully the norovirus only lasted about twelve hours, but it wasn’t pleasant!) and computer woes (kernel panics! – kind of like norovirus for computers, because it dumps core all over the screen), I haven’t been able to locate anyone. But! – if you want to answer the questions, post them on your blog or whatever, and then post the link in the comments, you can carry on the chain yourself. And I’ll try to put those links in this entry as well.

How I ended up in the trailer of a Scottish Independence film

I live in Scotland, and I’ll be voting in the referendum, but I haven’t been terribly outgoing about my opinions, apart from having a YES badge on one of my jackets (which I haven’t worn for weeks). I’m therefore somewhat bemused by finding myself in trailer #1 for Scotland Yet.

It all started when Kirsty Logan, in her capacity as Books Editor of The List, put out a call for flash fiction pieces about an independent Scotland. I took up the challenge and wrote “Essay Topic: How the Wars of Scottish Independence led to a Better Scotland” – it was something of a parody of how some history essays are basically The Bits Everyone Knows, with a few trivial and even apocryphal details. (Does anyone who isn’t a medieval historian know anything about Alfred the Great apart from maybe he burned the cakes? That sort of thing.)

Kirsty didn’t take the piece. Sob! But as she published a poem of mine in the same issue, I rapidly dried my tears and looked around to see what else I could do with the story. (Also, you can read the excellent pieces she did select.)

I ended up adapting it as a performance piece: “How the Wars of Scottish Independence led to a Better Scotland, by Fiona, Age 10″. I debuted it at the National Library of Scotland’s Burns Night Slam, and it was something of a tribute to my improvement as a performance poet that I made it to the final round, placing third, whereas the previous year I’d been knocked out in the first. A fellow competitor, upon tendering his congratulations, suggested that I might have won if I’d performed the Independence piece last, as it got such a good reaction from the audience, but unfortunately you never know with such things, and anyway I’m not sure I had another piece strong enough to launch me into the final. However, I was quite pleased with myself, and later spent my prize of a £10 Blackwell’s gift voucher on my current Moleskine notebook.

Jenny Lindsay, who is one of the grandes dames of the Edinburgh spoken word scene [in the sense of experience and prominence rather than age, I hastily add], enjoyed the piece so much that she invited me to perform it at a National Collective event in February. National Collective is a group of artists and creative who are pro-independence. This particular event had poems and memoirs and I think there was a short film, or possibly some slides? Anyway, I did my piece and I think it went well.

Two nights later, when the cabaret Jenny organises with Rachel McCrum (Rally and Broad) needed a last-minute performer due to illness, they contacted me and I went on that night, and did the independence piece as part of my set. I vaguely remember being told that someone was filming, but I didn’t really think about it.

…until a friend tagged me in a Facebook comment last week, and today I finally went to look at what she was referring to.

(Rally and Broad starts at 2:03 and I’m on for a whole nine seconds not much later than that.) I should probably open my eyes wider when I perform. Or memorise my pieces so I’m not looking down at the paper so much. On the other hand, I’m glad I wore lipstick!

(Because lipstick is always a plus.)

Anyway, I wasn’t expecting to see myself wedged in between snippets of intelligent creative people saying interesting things (Jenny is there, as is Alan Bissett, and many other people). And some chickens. Not sure how the chickens would vote, to be honest. But I’m happy that my performance was interesting enough to be spliced into the trailer, and I look forward to seeing the full-length version.

And to the referendum.

Roundup of what I’ve been up to

Yeah, I guess that ‘post more’ resolution didn’t come to much. So here’s a quick roundup of the past few months:

My poem “Compline”, one of my favourites, was in Gutter issue 10.

“Shabbat in the Rockies” which (as previously mentioned) won first place in the Mountaineering Council of Scotland poetry competition, was published in their journal. Thankfully, it was on the website before that and I realised that the final line had been omitted, in time to have it corrected for the print version. (The stanza breaks aren’t there either, in case you’re wondering why I wrote such a long poem without any!)

I won’t try to repeat my victory, because I’m a judge this year. If you’re a writer based in the UK, please do enter. The deadline is 31 August.

I had three poems published in Neon Magazine, which leads me to my big news:

My second poetry chapbook, Cancer Villanelle The Naming of Cancer is in press!

[We changed the name for various reasons and I think it works a lot better. Plus, who can resist a TS Eliot riff?]

Krishan Coupland, editor extraordinaire of Neon, decided to start publishing pamphlets and chapbooks. (He defines the former as containing just a few poems, or one piece of prose; the latter are are up to forty pages.) I went through the usual submission process, and came out a winner. We’re currently in the “firming up the contract” phase and once that’s done we can move on to the editorial stuff. I’m hoping there won’t be much to do on that front, since all but one the poems have been published, but of course there might be tweaks. I tend to feel that poems should be published in a book in the same form they were first let loose on the world, but I’m willing to be advised otherwise; I guess it’s partly that I always find things to change, and if I don’t draw a line under it somewhere, I will possibly never stop.

Recently, I spent two weeks at the Banff Centre on their Spoken Word programme. I’m deeply grateful to the Banff Centre’s generous financial aid programme (and to my sponsor – hope you liked the pie chart!) and to Creative Scotland for their financial assistance. I think that needs to be a separate blog entry, but if you’re a spoken word artist, or trying to be one, you should apply if at all possible. I’m still not sure I’m a spoken word artist, though enough of my fellow course members said “really?” that I should probably stop thinking that.

I’ll definitely have a new entry up on May 12, as I’ve been tagged in a bloggy chain letter about the writing process. I’ll be following in the footsteps of Sara Sheridan, author of the Mirabelle Bevan mysteries (among other great books). Now I need to tag a writer to follow me!

And to end this entry on a funny note: last week, just before the bank holiday weekend, I received an unexpected package. (Turned out to be a gift from my boss: this hamper, including the cookbook. I heart my boss!) My appreciation of the Fedex person, who left it rather than making me have to schedule a redelivery, was augmented by my amusement at the way they hid it under the doormat.

box under mat

Try to spot the box under the mat! Don’t worry if you can’t find it! It’s very well-hidden!

New year, new stuff

Happy new year to all. One of the things I sort of like about the UK is that businesses (not shops and restaurants, of course) close down over Christmas and New Year, which can be relaxing, but on the other hand if you are waiting for money or need to get something done, you can basically kiss an entire fortnight goodbye.

However, I accomplished many things over the holiday period – not as much as I would have liked, but that’s probably standard.

I read ten books, two of them from the Poetry Books Society which I love to bits because I get 20 books of poetry a year for £160 (which is about the price I’d pay for them anyway, but it’s far more convenient to have them arrive in the post) and they are all the new stuff so I’m not perpetually years behind. More like months behind, really.

I wrote the first of 52 poems prompted by Jo Bell’s Fifty-Two project (the other 51 are to follow on a quasi-weekly basis).

I wrote a grant application, and put a new chapbook manuscript together specifically for a competition (which worked much better than I thought it would), and edited a poem that wasn’t working as a poem into something else it works much better as. I sent out at least 25 submissions. I, er, ate more M&S All Butter Viennese Biscuits than one person really has the right to eat.

And I made soup and lasagne and risotto (not in the same pan), and did multiple loads of laundry, and caught up on the Doctor Who specials, and backed up my hard drive. So there’s some virtue in there along with the butter cookies.

Also, I’ve been off Facebook for two months. I was getting annoyed with how much time it was sucking out of my life, and haven’t found a reason to go back yet, though I probably will if only to adjust all the notification settings. I have, of course, found a new time-wasting site, that being Twitter, but at least there I see many poetry contest notifications and alerts about lost teddy bears. If you’re over there (and even if you’re not), I’m @tsrosenberg

Hopefully I will blog a bit more this year.

Published in: on January 6, 2014 at 3:52 pm  Leave a Comment  

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