Forgive the history, but it’s needed for background. A dropout from a chemistry course, I started reading Beat writers in 1961, discovered Poor Old Tired Horse, Evergreen Review and The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, on the shelves of Jim Haynes’ Paperback Bookshop in Edinburgh, and began to write stories, journals and poetry heavily influenced by that movement. That phase lasted until around 1965, and then stopped. Completely. I wrote nothing. I didn’t even think about writing, and I didn’t analyse the reasons for it (and it would probably bore me rigid if I tried to analyse them now).
By the mid-1980s I was the librarian at the British Geological Survey’s Edinburgh office, and I started writing comic verse for the annual Christmas parties (so Santa has a lot to answer for). I enjoyed writing and performing these parodies, many of which lampooned senior management – irreverence is a virtue, I think. Then I moved to be chief librarian at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, and shortly afterwards I found myself writing the first serious poem I’d written in 20 years. I sent it to the magazine Cencrastus, and was delighted when it was accepted and published. Naively, I thought it always worked like that.
And I haven’t stopped writing since, although my acceptance rate has dropped well below the 100% rate it started at. Being of a logical disposition, and having trained, first as a scientist and then as an information manager, I’ve grouped my output on computer so that I can keep track of what I’ve written, what’s been submitted, and what’s been published.
I used to think I was quite prolific, but then in 2013 I did the NaPoWriMo challenge, writing a poem a day during April. Later that year, during my Hawthornden Fellowship, I wrote 55,000 words in four weeks, drafting the complete manuscript of The Book of Ways, which was published (by Red Squirrel Press) in October this year.
This year, thanks to the marvellous Jo Bell (I use the word in its true sense – she is a marvel) and her 52 website, I’ve found myself writing two or three poems a week, throughout the whole year. Of course, some of them need revising and editing before sending out, but a fair few have been accepted or published already. The Christmas and New Year period is when I traditionally set aside a lot of time for revising, so this time, aside from some older poems which will benefit from editing, I have around 150 new ones to work on.
So profound thanks to Jo Bell and my fellow ’52-ers’. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas and a Happy (and productive) New Year. I’ll play a song for you later.