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What's Happening Now?

"Blood Sweat Tears and Poetry"
I love Radio 4. There - I've said it. I'm even a member of a facebook group called "Radio 4, It's Not Just For The Middle Aged". (OK so I am inexorably edging towards the 'of a certain age' category, but I still loved Radio 4 when I was a teenager - I'm *that* spoddy.) And I love poetry too. Obviously. So, imagine if you will my delight when I was approached to be part of a Radio 4 programme for National Poetry Day called 'Blood Sweat Tears and Poetry'.

The theme for National Poetry Day this year is Work (last year it was Dreams, the year before that Identity, and before that it was Food). Being as what I've done a mini-slew of workplace poet-in-residence jobs over the years this was just my bag and I gleefully went into the BBC studios in Edinburgh twice.

The first time was for an interview 'down the line' as they say. It means sitting in a tiny, muffly room facing the wall and talking into a microphone to a nice producer who's in Bristol. I went in again a few weeks later to record one of the poems that came out of the Scottish Widows residency - What I Noticed On My Journey Here Today. It was a far more spacious studio this time with a round table and more microphones than you could shake a pop shield at.

I did the poem in a load of different voices and accents because it contained lots of people's different contributions and experiences. Who knows which bits they'll use. I might be a 5 second fleeting wonder. It might be eek-some. It might be audio-tastic. It might end up - steady now - on POTW! Ooooh, the suspense!

The programme is broadcast on Thursday 9th October at 11.30am GMT. I'll be in Kuala Lumpur so thank heavens for Listen Again.

 

The Poetry Gift Project
Over two weeks in September 2008 I visited all twelve primary schools on the Kintyre peninsula. From Tarbert at the top to Southend way down at the bottom of Kintyre (or 'Mull' as it's called, thank you Mr McCartney for reminding us). Here are some seals that I saw way down these one day after school.

I was mostly working with small classes of P5s (about 8 or 9 years old) but in several cases took on the entire school in one go - which is do-able when there's seven of them. Or eleven.

We did flip-flops, make-believe beachcombing and origami magic boxing. It was great! Even P2s were writing poems and making neatly folded paper boxes to contain their imagined imaginings. What better end to a busy day in the classroom than the child who was seen holding their completed box aloft and proclaiming "Joy to the world!" A tremendous start to a project that will take me to Cowal and Bute in the new year and to Helensburgh in the springtime.

 

Ambitiously Amphibian … Amphibianly Ambitious?
I cheekily shoe-horned a frog project into the Poetry Gift project cos if you don't ask you don't get - and because teachers seem not to mind being offered ideas for interesting projects. My dear friend Matthew Fisher is a global authority (hear that. Mat?) on the fungus that's doing for frogs big time. When he asked if I could write a poem about just how seriously endangered frogs are, I of course said yes. When I looked into the issue I became convinced that what's needed - in the world at large, in Mat's lectures and on www.savethefrogs.com - is *lots* of frog poems from *lots* of poets.

So I've been looking up poems that are already 'out there' (or 'in the literature' as Dr Fisher and his academic buddies might say). And I've also been inviting schools to get stuck in and hop a mile (or so) in the froggy mocassins of some gorgeous green creatures* and write some poems of their own. Click here for the invitation.
* Toads too. Not so green - and arguably not so gorgeous but still.

 

Just Around the Corner ...

The Man Who Keeps Planting Trees
Following a third phenomenally successful Fringe run in 2008, The Man Who Planted Trees is very much still on the road and I'm out there in the north, south, east and west doing the technical and whatever-needs-done support stuff alongside award-winning puppetry troupers Rick Conte and Richard Medrington. Haven't seen it yet? Keep an eye on the Puppet State website for forthcoming tour dates. We've ventured into a few different international touring directions: in November 2007 I went to the Middle East to research possibilities for a cultural exchange, in February 2008 we were at the Bermuda Arts Festival and in October 2008, our home will be the Actors Studio - a theatre in a shopping mall in Kuala Lumpur.

 

Recent Thrilling Happenings!

Scotsman Calling - Picture the Scene

1) Missing the Boat by a Whisker
You get a phone call from a journalist at The Scotsman researching an article about glamorous women with grey hair. Unfortunately you are touring in rural parts of Wales with intermittent mobile phone coverage and only receive the message after the article goes to press. Shucks!

What do you do?

a) Say "Very interesting article - though it's a shame they don't have more up-to-date first-hand input"?
b) Muse to yourself on the many bonuses of having silky grey hair (at such a young age too!)?
c) Begin noticing more and more stylish women sporting strikingly silver dos?
d) Set up a facebook group called 'Silver Sisters' and invite people to join what might as well become an awareness raising, self-esteem boosting interest group?
e) All of the above?

For me, all of the above. And I also resolved to double-check for messages while in the wilds.

 

2) Pick a Poem - Make it Scottish
You get a phone call from a journalist at The Scotsman who tells you that the iconic Scottish soda giants Irn Bru have got a new advert based on Kipling's rousing poem If. And would you mind writing another poem that's a Scottish take on a well-loved classic? By lunchtime tomorrow. Do you:

a) Tell them they must be joking because you're very busy with a number of projects and nearing the deadline for a wedding poem for one of your best pals?
b) Tell them all that stuff (above) and say "But OK I'll do it for you"?
c) Ask them if there's a fee. And are Irn Bru paying it?
d) Say, "Lunchtime tomorrow? I'll see what I can do."?

In my case it was a more or less d) kind of day. I was inspired by the roadworks for the forthcoming (one of these days) trams. And by Robert Frost's poem 'The Road Not Taken'. So that'll be 'The Bus Not Taken' then.

And did I get Tom and Tamsin's wedding poem done in time? Yes! Here it is.

 

3) Critique Art Without Being an Art Critic
You get a phone call from a journalist at The Scotsman inviting you to come to see the Tracey Emin retrospective at the Modern Art Gallery and chat about it over coffee and cakes with some other women who aren't art critics either. Do you:

a) Look she said cakes didn't she?

No but seriously, when you're someone who harbours great intentions about going to see exhibitions and films and then discovering that you're too late it's wonderful to be dragged along for unexpected delights. And I did find the exhibition surprisingly enjoyable. For all the pain, there's also a lot of very vibrant life-affirming stuff.

The article has me talking about my mum, so I'll do it again: My mum said I was 'very generous' to Emin. Well I liked it. But don't worry, Mum, I'm not about to 'do a Tracey' with hand-stitched girl stuff displayed on proverbial dirty laundry. In public. I don't think I am anyway.

 

Top Doc's Shindig
My boss when I worked with the cancer network SCAN was Anna Gregor who was also at the time 'Scotland's Cancer Czar'. Inspiring, elegant, dynamic - and at times a little scary. Especially when she gets new ideas - which invariably means more work! Originally from Czechoslovakia, she was delighted to discover 'a poetess' in the office and encouraged me to write creatively within our area of work. This led to comic sketches at conferences, storytelling workshops with cancer patients and my poem This Is Bad Enough. She also taught me correct pronunciation for the Czech translation of My Love is Like a Red Red Rose. It's a great party piece; those who don't understand Czech are amazed while those who do are often reduced to tears. Result!

I was asked to write something for her retirement party and wrote two poems: one inspired by the many letters she has after her name and one describing her multi-faceted unquenchability. It was great to see Anna and lots of old friends and colleagues at the do at the Royal College of Physicians - all dressed up proper for the top doc's shindig.

 

A Novel Approach in Paisley
In September 2008, Richard and I did another 'Novel Approach' event for a Scottish Poetry Library training event, this time at Paisley Library. And the following day, along with Tim Turnbull, I was poet in residence for a session where the librarians, rootling through poetry collections, became like kids in a candystore - who'd forgotten how much they liked candy.

Here's a dash of the similar event from in Elgin in 2007

 

Reading Poems Aloud
Earlier in 2008, I ran a workshop at the Scottish Poetry Library with Lorna Irvine their wonderful Education Officer on Reading Poems Aloud. We had a great bunch of adults, old and young, who by lunchtime were giving warm funny, bombastic and memorable renditions of their choice of poems.

Lorna and I also wrote a couple of downloadable Tip Sheets to summarise the advice that was shared at the workshop.

Reading Poems Aloud 1 What Are You Trying To Say?
Reading Poems Aloud 2 Warm-Up Exercises

 

Learning Poetry by Heart
While travelling around with The Man Who Planted Trees, we've been listening to the iPod a lot - a great quality of life enhancer on long journeys. I'm a big fan of various podcasts and while Car Talk is an all-round crowd-pleaser in the Volvo, an earful of The Writer's Almanac is a great way to start the day with a cup of tea in some Travel Lodge or dodgy B&B. It's got nuggets of literary history along with a poem each day, read by the incomparable Garrison Keillor who is an awesome reader of poetry. While listening one day we heard about a scheme in America called Poetry Out Loud - a competition for high school students and something about the idea intrigued me.

When I looked at videos of some of the finalists on the Poetry Out Loud website I was so impressed with the quality of the performances. And I couldn't help wondering what it would be like to have something similar here in Britain.

I've occasionally come across teachers who've said that high school students in the UK wouldn't or couldn't learn poetry off by heart - and that idea saddens me. If we expect little of children and young people, that's what we get.

If, however, we believe that you can take your liking for a particular poem and spend a bit of time with it, that poem can become a lifelong companion, a party piece, a work-out mantra, a treasure to share with an intimate friend, or a help in the long dark night of the soul.

I have since been encouraged to discover things like Off By Heart, a BBC initiative for primary schools that will be televised in 2009 and the Pass On A Poem website. And I keep coming across the wonderful Poem for The Day anthologies in friend's houses - as well as the less dodgy B&Bs. All of which makes me more convinced that it's worth it to keep banging on about the deeply unfashionable notion of learning poems.

 

Sparky Sixth Years
At the end of August 2008 I took part in a creative writing event for all Edinburgh high schools and their freshly back at school Sixth Year students who have chosen to study Advanced Higher English. The Times Educational Supplement covered the event. (The actual paper, 12 September, apparently features a photo of Richard and me - we've not seen it yet and can't comment on its cheesiness factor.) The sun shone, the students were sparky, the teachers were imaginative and committed and I came away from both the lecture hall and the workshop room encouraged by the way that creative minds are getting stuck into writing creatively.

 

Edinburgh Art Festival
I joined forces with the very talented (and very beautiful) American poet, Jennifer Williams for a tantalising event called Art Late that was part of the Edinburgh International Art Festival. Stills Gallery has become for a few months home to the Martha Rosler Library, the personal and fantastically eclectic collection of the writer, photographer and visual artist, Martha Rosler.

Jennifer and I had the fun task of picking juicy readings from the shelves and inviting our audience to do the same, by means of our unique, one-off Library Angel Game.

We had no idea if we would have half a dozen people or a whole jam packed gallery-library full of them. It turned out to be the latter. Challenging acoustics - with one end of the room able to hear nothing, the other end a buzz of wine drinking and arty chat and in the middle an attentive throng, game for some random book play.

We were lucky to have assistance not only from the Library Angel (that unfathomable spirit who guides us through the obscure and obtuse to land upon groovy books that say something to us) but also from Helene Lefebure a charmingly 'accidental bookseller' who is deliberately a brilliant illustrator. Helene designed Library Angels that we had printed onto little cards by moo.com. Limited edition, they are. Collectors items. If you've got one, keep it!

 

Creatively Choosing NOT To Watch Videos of Self
I don't quite know what to say about these links. I long ago got over the weirdness of hearing my recorded voice BUT I still can't quite handle looking at myself on video. Logically, I know and understand that my face does - and must - move while I speak. It's just that I'd rather be inside my face while it does that and not have to look at it. It's just toooo weird!

(Also I've had my hair cut shorter since these were filmed in summer 2008 - probably because I thought it looked too long.)

So, if you want to look at these videos, that's fine. I totally agree with what I'm saying in the clips and I had a very nice time with the folk from Creative Choices recording it. They seem to be on YouTube too.

Inspiring Words - Leading Through Poetry

Mental Anguish, Healing Verse

 

Words, Whisky, and Wild, Wild Women
OK maybe not that wild but anyway. There was another Girls Burns Night in January 2008 at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society for which I did some thorough research into women and whisky including some audio recordings of a women-only whisky tasting. Also I brought some forward and backwardly looking poetic touches to the SMWS' Hogmanay celebrations. The food there is stupendous - but perhaps best enjoyed by those who don't have to get up and recite poems in between every course.

Scottish Widows
In late 2007, as part of their innovative Arts@Work programme, I was Writer in Residence at Scottish Widows. My theme was 'lists' which I explored in writers groups, around the corridors and by inviting employees to write their answers to the "Curious Question of the Week".

Port Hamilton on Morrison Street - handy for the number 10 bus, I'm pleased to say.

Dalkeith Road - designed by Sir Basil Spence who also architechted my old flat in Newhaven.

 

Shared Care Scotland
In early 2007, I was Poet in Residence for Shared Care Scotland. I met many unpaid carers and tried to capture their experiences in the poem Give Us A Break for the SCS annual conference in April. I was delighted to be asked to join the Board of Directors and am involved in other projects that aim to put respite care higher on the agenda. If you don’t know too much about this, have a look at the Carers Manifesto. In the picture below, I am with one of a number of amazing young people enjoying the wonderful facilities at Bagaduish Centre near Aviemore. That day, the young people were cycling, trampolining, doing archery, having a barbequeue - all the while giving their day-to-day carers a well-earned break.

A walk in the woods at Badaguish

Journeys with Poetry and Mental Health
I also shared some poetry with those attending the ‘Working Together’ conference of the Forth Valley Users Forum in Stirling in September 2007. This was an opportunity which partly arose from presenting poetry at the launch of the Scottish Mental Health Development Plan in Glasgow in April. I’ve also had the privilege of working directly with adults with mental health problems on a short residential writing workshop in Surrey in January 2007. All this since first engaging with mental health through poetry in 2006 at the IIMHL conference - a venture which was short listed for an Arts&Business Award in 2007.

Outdoor poems of hope

Rivers of Words in Schools
Whereas 2005-2006 involved a lot of schools-based work as part of the Arts Across the Curriculum pilot, in 2006-2007 my work in schools included: a) a collaboration with musicians in two schools in Govan to write about the Clyde as part of Burnsong, b) encouraging pupils in several West Lothian primary schools to write in Scots, and c) a poetic retrospective for P7 pupils at Sciennes Primary School in Edinburgh. All projects were quite intensive - lots of sessions in a fairly short space of time - and with wonderful writing coming from many many lively imaginations. Perhaps my favourite line was from a Sciennes pupil responding to an exercise where we transformed hopes and fears about moving onto high school into blessings using nature imagery inspired by ancient Celtic prayers:

“May your knowledge expand like branches you already had.”

Branching Out in Libraries
Yes, and the branch imagery from this fragment of writing was unexpectedly fitting at Poetry in the Branches a training session for librarians from across the country held at the Scottish Poetry Library in May2007 - funded by the Paul Hamlyn Foundation and based on excellent staff development work at Poets House in New York. Tim Turnbull and I were poets in residence and took part, along with Robyn Marsack, Director of the SPL, in a very enlightening panel discussion about what makes poetry good. What makes a panel discussion good, I realised, was mostly about having it chaired by Richard Holloway, full of brilliantly arresting questions and insightful comments. Was I ever an avid copier-out of poems? Well - now you come to mention it, yes - filling notebooks up as a nerdy 9 year old (illustrated of course), as a teenager typing up poems on a writer friend’s electric typewriter or our green screen Amstrad, and in my student years getting inky and involved with painstaking nib scratchy versions of favourite poems to keep or give away as presents.

For The Novel Approach, Richard Medrington and I worked with the Scottish Poetry Library to bring poetry to bookgroups and readers who love contemporary fiction and want ideas for poetry to read. With poetry collections cunningly paired with a range of recent novels, we presented a lovely variety of new contemporary poetry as well as some of our own favourites at libraries in Edinburgh and in Elgin. And what did the poets and novelists think? Read on!

the novel approach - elspeth and richard and books

As well as presenting both the Novel Approach and a second Poetry in the Branches event at Elgin Library in September 2007, I led a Make Your Own Book Workshop for children and parents. We used an ingenious folding book format that I picked up from artist book binder Rachel Hazell by way of John Hegley who led a fab poetry workshop on the purple narrow boat on the canal in Edinburgh in August 2006.

Very Tasty Whisky News
* Jealousy Alert Level 9 * They asked me, so what could I do? I've joined the Tasting Panel of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society and have been delighting in nosing some superb - and, let's face it, some less superb - whiskies in the company of delightful people with much more experienced and refined olfactory faculties than I and who really know their mash tuns from their worms. What do I bring to the table? Why, visions of cardboard boxes containing well-oiled clockwork toys, galvanised wheelbarrows full of freshly pulled leeks, the incongruous nylon nightie in a bespoke gents shoe shop ... that sort of stuff. And I have also done my time sniffing about the amazing online perfume sites Osmoz and Makeupalley which is a great way to broaden one's appreciation of the vocabulary of smelly stuff.

Funky Download Available
This is one of the most exciting things to happen since I got given this domain name having written the wish fulfillment poem Funktionalityin 1999 (was it really?). Tommy Mackay, fab and funny singer songwriter and witty political pundit, asked if he could do a rockabilly version of the please-give-me-a-website poem. I said yes, and in a matter of a few days, the song appeared. I love it and can't wait to join in a live performance, complete with groovy chick backing singers.

Valentines Day 2007 Was About …
Apart from roses and other smootchy treats, it was about performing with Richard at the Scottish Poetry Library for their ‘Fall in Love with Poetry’ book party. Such a lovely evening - for singles and coupley people young and old.

Burns Night Fun Featured …
1) Pillow Talk - Writing a renga at Edinburgh's snazzy new metro hotel ten hill place with Ken Cockburn, Andy Philip and Richard Medrington. We were also commissioned to write poems which feature on postcards to be picked up from the luxuriously plumped pillows of delighted guests.

2) Counterbalancing all that man-poet stuff with a lot of girly fun at Girls Burns, the "thinking girl's" Burns celebration at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It was a great night and is now set to be a regular annual feature.

3) Between these, a trip to Edinburgh's BBC Scotland studio for a wee bit of radio exposure on The Radio Cafe resulted in this ... [audio 7min55 MPEG3 1861KB]

Poets of The Day
Richard Medrington (he of the lilting and perfectly modulated voice) et moi were bigging up the poetry vibe at The Edinburgh International Book Festival on 21st August 2006. We had two performances, two very busy and very differently aged audiences and a whole bunch of stuff up our sleeves to bring out and wave around from flip-flops to binoculars and a Dog with a guillotine and a courgette.

The Man Who Planted Trees - Fringe 2006


I am proud to be marketing person, education officer and sound technician - generally an all-round part of the crew (hey, I'm part of the family now!) for Puppet State Theatre Company's wonderful production of The Man Who Planted Trees. It's based on the book by Jean Giono and is "The best smelling show on the Fringe". Why so? Because the show includes, not only music, puppets, birds, funniness and heart-warming-ness, but also the smells of the French countryside, before and after reforestation by the eponymous Man Who Planted Trees, Elzeard Bouffier.

Read the previews, reviews and all what's what on the Puppet State Website.

The Thing That Matters Most
There's this lovely book of children's poetry out just now - called The Thing That Mattered Most and there's lots of fab stuff in it including my Flip Flotsam poem and Richard's excellent Bully Cat. Here's the synopsis of the book on Amazon:

What is the thing that matters most? Is it a sly kiss? An abandoned flip flop? A pebble? A rainbow in a puddle? The wolf in the park? A dreaming house? Saying sorry? Asking why? Is it in the water, in the sky, in the wild, in the country, in Scotland, in the family - or is it in your head? "The Thing that Mattered Most" is a lively anthology full of poems with a distinctive Scottish flavour that will delight and inspire young readers. It is the only collection of poems for children available by contemporary Scottish poets. Almost sixty Scottish poets are represented in the collection, with poems in English, Scots, Gaelic, and Shetlandic. Each poem is accompanied by a bite-size biographical piece by the poet. An outstanding collection featuring new poems by Scotland finest and best-loved poets, it brings together Carol Ann Duffy, Jackie Kay, Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead, John Burnside, Matthew Fitt, James Robertson, Kevin MacNeil, Richard Edwards, Julia Donaldson and many more. Many of the poets included have extensive experience of working in Scottish schools and the anthology will prove a useful educational tool in the classroom, providing teachers with a much-needed store of fresh Scottish poems. The volume is backed up with valuable web resources designed by the Scottish Poetry Library's education team to enable teachers to use the poems in class to inspire a love of language and encourage creative writing in class. It comes with a preface by Michael Morpurgo.

 

Poet in Residence for Big Mental Health Conference
In June 2006 I had the honour of being the first Poet in Residence for the annual gathering of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership - also known as the IIMHL. It was an amazing experience - a week where I took part in discussions and very quickly had to get to grips with the issues faced by policy leaders, service providers, and consumers of mental health services in the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the UK. I was very impressed by the committment of all those involved in improving care offered to those living with and recovering from mental health problems.

I'll soon be including on the site the poems I wrote for the event. It was all a wonderful experience and I've got my fingers crossed that they really meant it when they invited me to be Poet in Residence at next year's event in Canada!

Here's what NHS Lothian's newspaper Connections said about the event.

Focusing the mind
USING poetry as a way of getting people to think differently was part of the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership’s (IIMHL) fourth annual conference, held in Edinburgh in June.

Cathy Richards, lead clinician from the Young People’s Unit, hosted one of the 40 exchange visits that took place around Scotland.

Following these visits, 250 mental health leaders came together for two days of workshops and presentations.

Cathy said: “IIMHL allows mental health leaders from around the world to share knowledge and to discuss key issues in order to benefit our local communities.

“Elspeth Murray was the poet in residence for the conference. I felt her input added to the thoughtfulness and creativity of the event.

“She presented poems, written by people who have experienced health problems, that helped give a voice to people who sometimes don’t have a voice.”

Good Reason
Having worked with Tim Nunn and Katherine Morley of Reeling and Writhing, a Glasgow-based theatre company, for ... woo, two and a half years! ... our show Good Reason, finally hit the road in April 2006. The play was inspired by - and included - Mosaic , a poem by the dizzyingly famous film director Anthony Minghella. How cool is it that he gave permission for us to use the piece in this new context? It was originally written to be performed by Juliette Stevenson and the dancer Lauren Potter and was on telly in 1990 but I still haven't seen a video of it - even now that the tour is over.

Gillian Lees as Annie on a plane surrounded by hundreds and thousands. Why? Go and see the show and find out!

So, here are some more factoids about the show:

  1. Apart from 'Mosaic', the other text included a mixture of poetic monologues by me and dialogue by Tim Nunn.
  2. There were two characters, a mum and grown-up daughter. They are brilliantly acted by Gillian Lees (Annie, the daughter) and Linda Duncan McLaughlin (Liz, the mother).
  3. It was ‘about’ (I think) the way that it’s sometimes hard to admit – to oneself and others – when things aren’t going right.
  4. Some people who came to see it cried, though this was by no means obligatory. Laughter was also heard but at different bits than the crying.
  5. You got still and moving images projected onto the set – including hundreds and thousands (see photo above).
  6. Rosina Bonsu, a most excellent choreographer, helped make things move beautifully.
  7. In fact the whole crew was amazingly professional - Stuart and Karen and Tracy handled the lights, music and cunningly-designed flat-pack set with awesome aplomb.
  8. Tour dates are listed below.
  9. Two dates had the added bonus of a ‘post-show discussion’ – namely Thursday 27th April at The Tron in Glasgow and Wednesday 17th May at The Traverse in Edinburgh.
  10. A tenth and final fact: It is/was suitable for adults of all ages, sexes and dispositions as well as young people over 14 (or something … it’s one of those arbitrary guideline things). It is/was especially beneficial for people who think or say that they don’t know why they don’t go to the theatre more often.

Reeling & Writhing

Reeling and Writhing also produced Standing Wave about Delia Derbyshire the eccentric pioneer of electronic music who recorded the Doctor Who theme tune. The show's run at The Tron in Glasgow in October 2004 received great critical acclaim with four- and five-star reviews.

“this show is electric”  Neil Cooper, The Herald “brilliant, ground-breaking theatre … makes you feel the earth move a little under your feet”  Joyce Macmillan, The Scotsman.

For reviews, images and more about the company Reeling and Writhing see http://www.reelingwrithing.com/current.html

Age suitability 14+

Linda Duncan McLaughlin as Liz remembering a scary night long ago. What was so scary about it? Go and see the show and find out!

TOURING 14 APRIL - 20 MAY 2006:

The performances on 27th April at The Tron in Glasgow and on 17th May at The Traverse in Edinburgh both featured a post-show discussion.

Birnam Institute, Dunkeld 14 April, 8pm Eastgate Arts, Peebles 19 April, 7.30pm (Press night) Howden Park, Livingston 21 April, 8pm Tron Theatre, Glasgow 25 – 29 April, 7.30pm Lyth Arts Centre 2 May, 8pm Timespan Gallery, Helmsdale 3 May, 7.30pm Plockton Village Hall 4 May, 8pm Talla nan Ros, Kingussie 5 May, 8pm Corran Halls, Oban 6 May, 8pm Woodend Barn, Banchory 11 May, 7.30pm Tullynessle & Forbes Village Hall 12 May, 7.30pm Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh 17 – 20 May, 7.30pm Post show discussion: 17 May

Healthy Response to Plea for Good Patient Info
"Thank you for your very witty poem which certainly gets the message across."
Bernard Ribiero, CBE, President of the Royal College of Surgeons.

"I (along with the entire room) was moved by your poem which spoke so well the plain and simple truth of the needs of the people our health care systems serve."
Don Kemper, Chairman and CEO, Healthwise.

"I can't thank you enough. I thought your poem was absolutely brilliant ... Everyone [at the Coalition for Cancer Information] thought it said everything about why we have GOT to improve information and support to people affected by cancer."
Joanne Rule, Chief Executive, CancerBACUP.

"I thought your poem was very moving and just the right touch for an event like that."
George Auckland, Head of Innovation, BBC Learning and Interactive.

"Much appreciated. This exactly illustrates what I was trying to get across in a much better fashion than I ever could."
Karen Burnett, Macmillan Patient and Public Involvement Worker

So what's all that about, then? Well, under the auspices of my esteemed erstwhile employer, the South East Scotland Cancer Network, or SCAN, I went to a conference in March 2006 hosted by the Patient Information Forum, and presented my new poem, This is Bad Enough. Although I wrote the poem for a different occasion - the launch of SCAN's new cancer information reference group - it certainly had a wider resonance with those who heard it at the conference. The Patient Information Forum have now included the poem in audio format on their website - and so shall I ... before long.

Arts Across The Curriculum
Mondays in Spring and Summer 2006 meant teaching poetry at Springhill Primary School in Barrhead to two different classes. With one class we worked on phonics and onomatopoeia (no need to tell the kids that, though - it's ping, bing and bang - and sometimes Nong Ning Nang - to them!). There's an older class too and we used poetry to look at changing emotions and the drama of everyday life. It's part of a national arts education research project that involves all sorts of artists working alongside teachers on topics that need a little pepping up. I think that's what it's for, anyway. So far so good - lots of great work from the kids and lots of fun for me too. The two P7 classes also provided heaps of inspiration and energy when we worked together to collate poetic memories of their time at Springhill to present to their parents and the rest of the school at a Valedictory Service at the end of term. They did me proud and I wish them all the best for their high school years.

They Fell in Love with Poetry
My Valentine's Day soiree at the Scottish Poetry Library - complete with poems in English, Latvian and French and the best of my accents from Liverpool, Ireland, Essex and something akin to Miss Jean Brodie in her prime - was one to remember. And that's not just me saying that, honest. Comments from the lovely library staff include: "Fantastic" "An absolutely perfect evening" "Completely and utterly what the doctor ordered" "One of the best readings we've had here for a long time", "You had 'em in the palm of your hand," and "I've exasperatingly lost count of how many truly pleased and excited comments there were as people left." Many thanks to all who came, drank champagne, played the wild cards, listened, smiled, laughed, joined in, took down the references and heckled so creatively!

My blurb on the Poets A-Z page section of the Scottish Poetry Library is the enduring legacy that remains of what was - for all too short a lease - my 'Poet of the Month' niche on their home page . Once my time was up, I was nudged off by someone called Robert Burns. (More about Burns Night on the 'Gigs' page).

Burns Night at London's Caledonian Club
The SECC, Glasgow's huge armadillo-shaped conference and concert venue, hosted a wonderful Burns Dinner in London on 26th January 2006. Richard and I performed our own and Burns' poems and I had the honour of responding to the Address to the Lassies, which was delivered by the SECC's charming chairman, Ian Grant. Terry Neason of TLC Powertalk also entertained the guests with her witty, sassy songstressness. Here, from the same event, is Richard's excellent poem To An Armadillo along with the updated Selkirk Grace. My sort of famous Haggis Poem also featured, of course. Meanwhile, at the Scotch Malt Whisky Society in Edinburgh, Jo Macsween of the Macsween Haggis Empire used the Girlified Version to address the haggis at their oestrogen-fueled Girls Burns Night.

Apples & Snakes at Battersea Arts Centre
While we were in London, we managed to take in some cultured stuff including a puppet show at BAC where we happened upon a poetry quiz night that Apples and Snakes were running. We were in the mood for some more slightly more laid-back performance poetry and both performed to a warm and friendly barful of folk. It made us both want to go back and seek out other London-based gigs ... any takers?

26 Malts: 'Nice work if you can get it'
"26 Malts is a creative partnership between the Scotch Malt Whisky Society and 26, a national organisation that champions a more imaginative use of language in business. The project has paired 26 writers with 26 designers to create labels for 26 of the Society's malt whiskies. 26 Malts illustrates the power of words and images working creatively together, and maintains the long association of whisky with literature and language." Or in other words, I'm one of those 26 lucky writers and here is the beautiful label that I created along with superb desiger Iain Valentine of White Space.

This One Sweet Spirit My Angels Share

Click image for a closer look.

Amnesty International "Stop Violence Against Women" Campaign The poem I wrote as part of this campaign is called Internal Bleeding and was part of a 'concertina' of postcards that were included in The Big Issue in November 2005. Janet Paisley, Magi Gibson and Bashabi Fraser were also commissioned to write new pieces and there was a very moving reading and interesting discussion at the Scottish Poetry Library on 24th November 2005.

Amnesty

Jaki troLove Elspeth Murray

Teaching Creative Writing Through autumn and winter 2005, I greatly enjoyed teaching a creative writing class at North Edinburgh Arts Centre. The adults in the class brought along such terrific writing, got really stuck into our discussions and were a real pleasure to teach.

NEA Logo

We Got Married! It was the Gig of the Year - 3rd September 2005 - and it was Brilliant!

Edinburgh International Book Festival My then fiance, Richard Medrington and I presented an event at the 2005 EIBF called Publish and Be Blessed about the wonders of small press and pamphlet publishing for poets. We invited the audience to encapsulate their wisdom into four words and - within 24 hours! - produced a publication called A Magic Spell For the Far Journey full of that very wisdom. Copies are available from the Scottish Pamphlet Poetry website.

Elspeth Murray AuthorFast Publishing

Gintime Martini Party at the Halion You know what I like? I like it when someone I like gets in touch and asks if I could possibly write a little poem for an event and that, although it's not a big bucks commission, I will get some very fine gin in return. That's exactly what happened when Geraldine Coates emailed me in August 2005. The Martini event was on at the same time as the Book Festival event, but there was still a lovely cocktail buzz by the time I got there later on. And they'd made my poem into a very snazzy graphic on the invitations.

A touch of retro class

Arts and Business "Words in Business" Seminar In May 2005, Rachel Jones from Great Circle Communications and I gave a presentation at Third Eye Design in Glasgow about the residency I did with her PR agency, Great Circle, in 2003.

Your story is a great great circle

Glasgow Fort Poet in Residence 2005 This is another exciting piece of work which involved writing specially commissioned poems for this new shopping park just outside Glasgow on the M8. I enjoyed writing a poem about men who don't seem to know what to buy for Valentine's Day and a sonnet about a talent show and making an audio soundscape poem.

Borders soundscape launch

“en-trance” Friday 3rd December 2004, St James Church, John's Place, Leith Links. “en-trance” was an exhibition of new painting and photography including work by: Brian Fischbacher, Anne Wilson, Anne Butler and Carol Marples. At 8.30pm there was a poetry reading featuring:

  • Ken Cockburn (Accomplished poet, publisher and translator)
  • Kathy Galloway (Poet, author, artist and currently leader of the Iona Community)
  • Richard Medrington (Renowned writer, poet, and puppeteer)
  • Elspeth Murray (Notorious poet, charity shop expert and dialectician)

More details about St James at www.stjamesleith.org. This event was part of ‘Adventfest 2004'.

UNESCO has chosen Edinburgh to be the first ‘City of Literature ' And among the celebrations to mark this, Richard Medrington, Peter Alexander and myself presented an early evening array of poetico-theatrical delights on Sunday 21st November. There was an wonderful atmosphere at the Left Bank Bar at Wilkie House. Many thanks to our lovely audience, including the young 'uns for not batting an eyelid at the occasional sweary words.

Big Word Poetry Cabaret The new season of live poetic delights began on Thursday 7 th October at The Tron on Hunters Square in Edinburgh . Besides myself (relishing cozy-yet-stylishness of autumn-winter wardrobe and poem possibilities) there was Ash Dickinson, Rachel Jury and Milton Balgoni (or was that Elvis, I could have sworn …).

Following that, on Thursday 18 th November, I had a go doing a cameo appearance in one of Richard's poems as the woman in the phone who tries to tell you that the person you are calling gives a hoot that you are waiting when they don't. Mainly, though, there was:

  • Richard Medrington (Poetry slam champ, ace puppeteer, top notch poet etc etc I'm not biased)
  • Dominic Waxing Lyrical (Dead pan songs and poems with more than a touch of Bontempi going on)
  • Peter Alexander (Gentle humour with an un-nerving darker side)
  • Sarah Wilson (Sassy actress off the telly doing poetry, if I'm not much mistaken)
  • Poet in Residence Tsuko Creative Partners I had the great good fortune to meet a really zappy ‘n' happening bunch of design dudes a little while ago and from this meeting, such cool things have occurred as: them designing me some gorgeous poetry postcards (they will appear here soon, I promise) and a wowza little business card, and me writing a poem specially for them which I read at their party on 16 th September 2004 to celebrate six years in business. Much appreciation goes to Susanna and Ultan for being great.

    Collectable cards

    Permission to Squeak The Edinburgh Book Fringe , the newest addition to the world-renowned Edinburgh International Festivals graced the City Art Centre from the 19th to 22nd August. The Book Fringe showcased writers living and writing in Scotland . On Sunday 22nd August I performed in Medrington, Murray & Kidd: Permission to Squeak alongside top poet & puppeteer, Richard Medrington and wonderful poet & actor Catherine Kidd. Our twenty words in the programme made our show promise: "Quantum loops of spoken word mongrelisation from three writer-actor-explorers mating poetry with theatricality to pseudo-Darwinian effect."

    Book Hunter

    Or in other words, we're individually innovative in performing our own work, so this joint show gives us scope to add an extra dimension with multi-voice interpretations of some of our favourite pieces. Which is actually more or less what happened that dazzlingly bright morning. Many thanks to Tessa Ransford for the imagination to host the event in general and us permitted squeakers in particular.

    Book Fringe Report

    Scotland and Latvia, International Literature I was flattered to be asked to read the English translations of the poems of a lovely young Latvian poet, Inga Gaile on 15th August 2004 at the Edinburgh International Book Festival in Charlotte Square . The session also included Scottish writer Donal McLaughlin and was chaired by Joan Lingard, fave author of my younger years. The capacity crowd were hushed and friendly, Inga's poems were a delight to read, she was a delight to behold, and the entire soiree was really most enchanting.

    Inga Gaile

    Still Life With Everything Everyone knows that Edinburgh in August is a rich crucible of artistic happenings, a veritable flurry of festivals and fringes. The very freshest and fringiest literary fringe event, took place at Thirsty Lunch at The Meadow Bar on Buccleuch Street . It was phenomenally FREE and happened every lunchtime in a bar - three good reasons contributing to its undisputed success. l performed on 11th August along with celebrated Scottish poets Alison Flett and Sheena Blackhall. Comments from people who were there include: "Mesmeric" and "That felt like a real fringe event from the old days." “Pant-wettingly good” was also mentioned with reference to my own comic yet poetic interlude. In recognition of their superb invention of the event, Stuart and Peter and Sean and Sam ought never again endure an unquenched lunchtime thirstiness experience.

    Arts & Business Awards There was excitememt in the air at the Festival Theatre on 10th June 2004 for the awards ceremony for Arts & Business. How do I know? Because I was there with Great Circle Communications and The Scottish Poetry Library who were nominated for the work they did with me and Donny O'Rourke as poets in residence back in August 2003. And you know what - we won! You can read more about us winners of the 'First Time Arts Sponsorship' award (and the winners in other categories) by clicking here and see the article from the Evening News about us here.

    Posh Frocks and Poems It was a pleasure to deliver a few style-conscious poetic pieces at Linzi Crawford on Edinburgh's Dublin Street on 27th May 2004. Linzi was hosting an evening to highlight the new season collections from a range of designers that she - and hardly anyone else in Scotland - stocks. Among the poems I read was Growing Love which I wrote for the wedding of Obbe and Donna, who was there that night buying pretty shoes. I came away with a nice pimmsy glow, jazzy tunes in my head and a gorgeous black wrap dress, appropriately called the 'Go-Anywhere Dress' by Hommebody. As you can see here, the event had a nice write-up in The Scotsman the following week.

    A modest column inch

    Soundscapes in Schools Between February and April 2004 I worked with Mat Clements of Where's The One? running a series of poetry and percussion workshops at St Mungo's Academy in Glasgow's east end. The project was part of a much larger initiative called Window on the World with all kinds of artists working in schools across Scotland. In each case the work was inspired by the theme of 'the journey home'. The kids we worked with were great and at the end of the project we had a soundscape of words, rythms and found sounds. This recording became part of a big exhibition at the CCA in Glasgow in June 2004.

    Dandelion and why not?

    Random Accents At Big Word Poetry Cabaret on 15th April 2004 I threw caution to the wind and left the choice of poems along with the accent in which I would perform them in the hands of fate. So we had the philosophical Infinity performed a la Francaise and the less obviously intellectual Poems Written By My Hormones With No Assistance from My Brain done in my very best Liverpewl.

    International Burns Night I unveiled the specially commissioned Address to a Hot Haggis to a superbly tartan-clad gathering of teachers and lecturers from around the world. It was a night for the Interactive University, organised by Great Circle Communications at the Botanic Gardens Edinburgh. I did a rendition of some of my favourite Burns pieces: My Hoggie (performed with illustrative stuffed animals and wildlife sound effects from the assembled diners), and I also sang Aye Fond Kiss and My Love is Like a Red Red Rose to which people hummed along in the candlelight. It was a delightful night!

    Text-able Love Poems for Valentines Day Text in the City is a super-short love poem that was commissioned by The Scottish Poetry Library for Valentines Day 2004. It featured alongside beautiful little verses by Alan Spence, Edwin Morgan, Tom Leonard, Donny O'Rourke and the much-missed Gael Turnbull who died on 2nd July 2004.

    BIG NEWS in a BIG NEWSPAPER! The Weekend Scotsman did a story on 31st November 2003 about my flip-flop poem, Lucy and Etienne's flip-flop film and the flip-flop recycling project in Kenya. Read all about it!

    Elspeth's Been Breaking New Ground in Poetry and PR How come? Well, in August 2003 I was the first Poet in Residence for a UK PR company and spent time soaking up the vibe with Great Circle, running writing workshops with their delightful staff and clients and composing something special to mark their 5th birthday - quite a landmark for a small PR agency. Donny O'Rourke, currently Writer in Residence at Cambridge University, also added his expertise to the proceedings and taught the good folks at Great Circle a thing or two about ballads. The pieces I wrote during and following the residency included Great Circle Story and Ever Increasing Circles.

    Flip-Flopping-Tastic! The UK Premiere of Flip-Flotsam, the documentary film inspired by, and including, my poem Flip Flotsam took place in London on 30th April 2003. The film has gone on to win a whole heap of awards - well so far five (and counting). Bravo to Lucy Batemand and Etienne Oliff, the film-makers who have brought us the most inspirational & genre-defining flip-flop film of all time.

    TV! I had the honour of being featured, along with various other performance poets, in a tv documentary broadcast on Tuesday 13th August 2002 on STV. The programme, called Night Lines was directed by Alistair Scott of Lomond Productions. Mine was a brief appearance, in which I read Jazz Funk Groove in its enirety to which was added a soundtrack of suitably soulful music. That and other sequences were filmed at The Gilded Saloon, a venue which was destroyed by the Old Town Fire of December 2002, which gives the programme an added edge of historic significance. In some ways I feel that my attire on that occasion was also pretty historic. My blouse was one that I have had since I was eleven , which makes it the longest standing item in my whole wardrobe. (Not a lot of people know that.) And while we're at it, Historic Thing Number Three about the performance at the Gilded Saloon in the 1981 blouse on the 18th April 2002 was that that was the night I was given the domain name for this website. Cor blimey, strike a light.

    Performance Profile:

    Big Word Poetry Cabaret - Thursday 23rd October 2003 This gave me the chance to air some new pieces, most notably Loop The Loop, which was so new that I didn't quite know it all off by heart and might have fluffed it had I not had it to hand on my palm gadget. Hoorah for technology (when it works).

    Big Word Poetry Cabaret - End of Season Spectacular - Thursday 26th June 2003 at The Tron, Edinburgh. Ah, yes, the night that Darlene (beehive hair, texan twang & all) joined me on stage again and sang her countrified way round the states.

    Big Word Poetry Cabaret - The Second Birthday Spectacular - Thursday 17th April 2003 at The City Cafe, Blair Street, Edinburgh. That was a remarkable single issue performance ALL about flip flops, highlighting recent press cuttings demonstrating clearly the great significance of the flip flop in contemporary global culture.

    One of the most fun things on the recent performance canlendar was the StAnza Poetry Festival held from 20th - 23rd March 2003 in St Andrews. It's been a main focus for poetry in Scotland for some time, but this year saw a new departure into the exciting realms of Performance Poetry with a 'troupe of brilliantly witty talent' namely: Jem Rolls, Anita Govan, Tim Turnbull and myself, who did the poetry thing on Friday 21st in the Byre Theatre Bar, while Dominic Waxing Lyrical did his lyrical waxy thing and added some musical sparkle to the events.

    Big Word Poetry Cabaret - Thursday 23rd January 2003 at The Tron, Edinburgh. This was a great night. Nobody fainted and the only phone to go off in the middle of my set was my own. I wasn't going to, but because the feeling was so right, I read Flip Flotsam.

    Big Word Poetry Cabaret 7th November 2002 at The Tron, Edinburgh. Someone fainted and it might have been because of my poem Bull's Eye.

    On National Poetry Day 10th October 2002. I took part in a poetry slam for children organised by the Scottish Book Trust at the Odeon Cinema in Edinburgh. I read Bull's Eye.

    I experienced one of the most charming settings for a poetry performance on 13th September 2002 in amongst the candlelit flowers and trees of Suntrap Garden near Edinburgh. The event was Meta- morphosis 2002 , a fantastic conference looking at how work can be more meaningful and creative. We dreamt, talked, laughed, danced and juggled. August 2002's poetic highlight was at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. I performed along with Jem Rolls and Anita Govan, joint impresarios and MCs of Big Word Poetry Cabaret. It was a fabulous event on a gorgeous sunny saturday afternoon. Later that evening was the Big Word Slam - the first of its kind at the book festival and a great success.

    June 2002, The Word on the Street, CCA Glasgow - where you would have heard Infinity

    May 2002, Lothian NHS Board Reading Group - where you would have heard Rainbow Lighthouse Telescope

    May 2002, Big Word Glasgow, Nice 'n' Sleazy - where you would have heard Jazz Funk Groove

    April 2002 Big Word Poetry Cabaret, The Gilded Saloon - where you would have heard Funktionality

    March 2002, Smallfish Records, London - where you would have heard Diamante Night with music by from the sound sculptures of Markus Karkus

    February 2002, Trinity Academy English Department - where you would have heard Wishing

    January 2002, Big Word Poetry Slam, The Bongo Club - where you would have heard The Next Poem and Oceaning Up

    December 2001, Big Word Poetry Cabaret, The Gilded Saloon - where you would have heard Stevie Wonder in the Elevator

    November 2001, Café Royale, Edinburgh - where you would have heard Manifesto

    August 2001, Soho Café, London - where you would have heard Rainbow Lighthouse Telescope with music by Markus Karkus

    July 2001, Big Word Poetry Cabaret, The Gilded Saloon - where I launched "Oh, I Can't Wait!" and you would have heard Insight Looking Out

    May 2001, Big Word Poetry Cabaret, The Gilded Saloon - where you would have heard Festival Fireworks done with a flip chart and a spanish accent.

    April 2001, Big Word Poetry Cabaret, The Gilded Saloon - where you would have heard The One performed in an American accent and a honey coloured beehive wig - this was Darlene's debut.

    November 2000, Kiwayu Safari Village, Kenya at the wedding of Lucy Bateman and Etienne Oliff - where you would have heard Beachcombers of Love

    October 2000, Scottish Poetry Library, National Poetry Day - where you would have heard Surfacing

    October 2000, Fruitmarket Gallery, National Poetry Day - where you would have heard Flip Flop Fact File and could have taken part in a Flip Flop Quiz and prize draw.

    September 2000, Shore Poets, The Canons Gait - where you would have heard Sikorsky Sea King - Lewis and Harris

    September 2000, St Albans Church, Retford, Funeral of my father, KD Murray - where you would have heard edited highlights of What We Know (exluding the nudity and junk food references)

    August 2000, Poems in the Courtyard, Scottish Poetry Library - where you would have heard Consumed and me reading The Woodlark by Gerard Manley Hopkins with clarinet improvisation by Kristyan

    March 2000, pocketbooks launch, Fruitmarket Gallery - where you would have heard Silence with a live sound sculpture performance from Koombayah

    December 1999, Glendoick House, Perthshire - Ken Cox's magnificent millennium party where you would have dressed in black and white, eaten the most amazing food and heard the specially commissioned What We Know

    March 1999, ImagiNation, The Bongo Club - where you would have heard ImagiNation with live cello and digeridoo.

    May 1998, Independent and Radical Book Fair - where you would have heard Sampled which is published in Atoms of Delight

    1998 Station Poets, Fuitmarket Gallery - where you would have heard Flip Flotsam

    March 1997 None of the Above, The Bongo Club - where you would have heard The One with Brazilian percussion performed by Mat Clements and Words with violin accompaniment from Niroshoni Thambar.

    1996 Edinburgh College of Art exhibition at The Assembly Rooms - where you would have seen slides with illustrated extracts of Pulse

    1996 Yellow Café, The Venue- where you would have heard Poems Written By my Hormones With No Assistance from my Brain: Number 2 in an ongoing series

    1996 Yellow Café, Assembly Rooms - where you would have heard Customer Complaints at the Dream Factory

    1995 Manga, La Belle Angele - where you would have heard Pulse spoken over drum & bass backing and seen it as a long term installation at the club.

     

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