Monday, March 31, 2008

On The Muse

As a woman it has always bothered me, the notion of being the Muse. A bit like being the model for an artist or a sculptor, it requires a passivity I would find difficult. Anyway, when it comes down to it, the notion of a Muse as a real person is merely the projection of something the writer longs for onto the person - or Muse - of their choice.
I can't help but wonder if Stella Cartwright eventually sank under the weight of so many projections being piled onto her. And underneath all these notions of what she meant to her different poet 'lovers', poor Stella, still dangerously young and unformed, was never able to go on her own journey of self-discovery. A journey which we all need to make to preserve our sanity.
I very nearly didn't make it myself.
The following poem was based on a real fledgling. That tiny half-formed creature was, in that moment, my muse.

breaking free

shrouded in leaves you lie
beneath the sheltering trees

a half-hatched fledgling
in a cradle of jagged shell

claws curled around emptiness
black nib beak glued shut

eyes bulged beneath unopened lids
tiny wings half-formed

and I know that your fate might
so easily have been my own

the thrill of flight unrealised,
the song stillborn on a shrivelled tongue

I did play around a while back with the idea of a muse. Mine, of course, would have to be male. So, as I've decided to put more poems on my blog...

Muse - 1

I give birth to this poem.
It’s my easiest labour yet.
I’m still on my feet,
still walking around.
No more than a dull ache
low in my groin.

Now it slides from me
wet and slippery little fish,
slips easy onto this white sheet,
stretches its perfect vowels,
kicks its tiny consonants.

I cut its cord with my teeth,
clean it with my tongue,
hold it out for you to take.

You planted the seed.
Without you it would not be.
Cradle it in your arms.
Hold it close
as it gulps the moist air
and fills its lungs
and calls your name.

Muse – 2

When you first appeared
deep inside my head
I thought you were the dark man
every women’s said
to have inside – an unmet love – a fantasy
some kind of ghost to keep me company
on lonely nights.

I could have lived quite comfortably
with a dark and handsome ghost.

It is the reality of you
that scares me so.

Muse – 3

Please come round tonight. I really want
to see you. But don’t be embarrassed when
I ask you to take off your clothes

outside the door, lift from your head
that unattractive hat – it shades the tears
and laughter in your eyes – cast away

that coat of twitching anxiety,
(by all means leave it worrying at the door
for your safe return). And that stick

you like to carry to beat yourself
to a misery, lose it on the way or
at the very least, leave it lying lifeless

on the front porch floor. Please
come round tonight. I want so much
to see you... as you really are.

The Muse’s Reply

Can’t you see I’m all surface?
I smile when you smile
flick back my hair when you laugh
mimic your every mood.

So, I have a face you could love?
You could drown yourself
in the deep blue of my eyes?
I am your idea of paradise?

Without you I am nothing.
I am an illusion
a grain of gravel can distort,
a darting fish can shatter.

At the first whisper of wind
at the first grumble of thunder
at the first raindropteardrop
pattering the surface of this water

I’ll disappear
leaving you alone
gazing at nothingness.

Magi Gibson

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Muse of Rose Street

Yesterday I listened to the BBC Radio 4 documentary on the tragic life of Stella Cartwright, the Muse of the Rose Street Poets. I felt very sad. Especially as it was discovered after her death that she had written poetry herself. It left me wondering what would have happened had the Rose Street poets included in their ranks some strong, older women writers, who might have provided a different model for her to follow.
When I wrote the poem below, I struggled for some time with the last few lines. Should it be the 'I' of the poem, or the 'you' who becomes the 'half-remembered name'? Eventually I settled on empowering the 'I'. Unfortunately Stella, a victim of the culture of the time, never achieved that empowerment.

Queen Maeve challenges the Men of Ireland

I am a fast red car
and will drive you to the edge
again and again

I am whisky on your ice –
I’ll never slake your thirst
but man, I’ll make your belly burn

I am a silver salmon
touch me with your tongue
taste the salt of my seven seas

I am a brothel window, all
lace and flesh and whispered fantasies

I am an apple tree –
after winter’s cold lie beneath my limbs –
when autumn frosts take hold
sink your teeth into my fruit’s firm skin

I am the rounded moon
I can make you rage and swell
or calm you like a child

I am a pale pink shell –
run your fingers round the ridges of my whorl
hold me to your ear, hear
my secret oceans crash and roar

but most of all I’m fire –
linger by my crackling flame
warm yourself as I burn low

for soon, too soon you’ll be no more
than a wisp of smoke, a smudge of ash
a half-remembered name

from Wild Women of a Certain Age

Monday, March 24, 2008


Took a look at Rob A Mackenzie's blog to see if the Good Friday 'Feast' was over yet. I was taken aback to discover some of my comments to him, and his responses, had been deleted.

I was prompted to wonder, when does moderating a blog become censorship?

So to keep the public record straight the missing dialogue is published below:

SUNDAY 23rd March 2008: On the blog of Rob A Mackenzie

Oh dear, Rob. You closed down the comments on your last entry and I got up this morning wanting to respond to the last point you made before I dragged my flu-ridden self off to an early bed. 

You say that what you were intending was literary criticism of my work. Fair enough. But, in my book, literary criticism is best based on a thorough, considered and open-minded reading of the poetry concerned. 

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but apart from Wild Women of a Certain Age and perhaps Miners' Daughters, which appears on the StAnza website, I suspect your so-called literary criticism was based on a single hearing of a tiny selection of my work last Sunday.

Your use of the lazy Maya Angelou/Pam Ayres comparison does not bode well for your future as a literary critic.
And your subsequent comments along the lines of (oh and I paraphrase here) - I don't doodle in the margin of a phone directory and call it art - do seem most clearly to connect back to your original comment on my poetry.

As a poet I would expect you to have a deep understanding of tone of voice. The tone of voice used in the criticism of my 'verse' in the original posting no doubt led to the nasty comments which followed.

And it's such a shame, because I heard you read at last year's 100 poets, and I thought that poem was excellent.

Yet again graciously,

Magi Gibson
8:20 AM

rob said...

I'm sure you can understand why I closed the comments - it was getting nasty on both sides. That's one good reason not to open the can of worms again.

Look, send me an email (address at my profile) and maybe we can settle this.
11:35 AM

magi gibson said...
Well, Rob, from my perspective I don't think the postings which I saw on the blog when I got up this morning were any more nasty than those towards the start of your thread.

I think my posting re the true nature of literary criticism makes my position clear.

This sorry 'can of worms' was started on a public forum. Anyone entering 'Magi Gibson' into a search engine with 'StAnza 2008' was - and is in future - going to find it.

If you would like to settle this, I'm happy for that to be done by you re-opening the closed thread and us discussing it there.
5:55 PM

rob said...
No, I'm not going to do that. It's up to you. Email, privately, is the best way to settle this. Otherwise it won't be settled.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Ah well, Easter Sunday. Can't say I enjoyed being on Rob A Mackenzie's blog on Good Friday. A.B. Jackson referred to it as a Feast. Strange choice of words A.B. Cannibalism in Scottish poetry. Whatever next?

MS of Edinburgh - yes - he/she who wanted to stick pencils in his/her eyes - describes how I am, in his/her view, regarded in Scottish poetry circles. That post has been removed by Rob A Mackenzie because MS spoke of me in what even he regarded as overly offensive terms.

But Scottish poetry circles? From the way MS describes them, I can't help but visualise little pools of piranhas. I think I'll just keep to the big ocean, thank you.

A few years back I was at a Film Editing Workshop in Italy. I was having a great time at the bar one night with two black women participants from England. They paid me a compliment I've always treasured. 'You're a black woman, Magi, in a white woman's skin.'

With that in mind, and because it's Easter Sunday, and because her poetry too was referred to on Rob A Mackenzie's blog in less than gIowing terms, I thought I'd post here some of Maya Angelou's 'Still I rise'. And say thank you to all those of you on that bigger Scottish poetry scene for all your emails of concern and support.

Still I rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Still down with the flu. Much amused to notice that the theme of this year's StAnza - which, by the way, is a brilliant festival - is POETRY & CONFLICT.

Well, I've had enough conflict in the last twenty four hours to last me a long time. Personally, it's not my scene. There are more than enough war zones in the world as it is, without StAnza, or for that matter, Scottish poetry, getting turned into one.

I love words. I love using them accurately and well, which is no doubt why the Scotsman praised Wild Women of a Certain Age for, amongst other things, its 'linguistic precision'.

And I love the nuances of words. So it rankles when I see a beautifully nuanced word like 'disingenuous' used wrongly, especially when used as a put-down to someone who then has the right of reply removed.

Anyone who is curious about the true meaning of 'disingenuous' should check their dictionary. It really is a beautiful word. Especially when used correctly.

PS I don't mind orthographic, typographic or punctuation errors on blogs, etc. After all sometimes it's the Html that builds a wee error in for us, all on its own. But the meanings of words. Now they're important to a poet.
I came down with flu as yesterday progressed. Ian's had it all week, so it wasn't a complete surprise.

I was also a bit taken aback by a blog thread resulting from reading at StAnza last Sunday. Not because the blogger doesn't like my poetry - let's face it, my own mother doesn't like my poetry - but because of the manner in which that dislike was expressed. And the subsequent venom unleashed.

In a way it's quite amusing. Years ago Gavin Wallace, Director of Literature at the Scottish Arts Council described me as an 'award-winning radical feminist poet'. A German University student also wrote a paper on some of my work as being representative of Third Wave Feminism. So to be compared with Pam Ayres - and unfavourably at that - is quite a divergence of opinions. 

One of the posts, subsequently removed by the blogger due to its vicious nature, also surprised me. Apparently the poor soul had to sit through a reading I did last year and suffered so much he/she (who knows - this one chose anonymity) wanted to poke his/her eyes out with pencils.
Good God, did he/she not think of quietly leaving the room and putting it down to experience? 

But I'm curious. I've done very few readings over the past year. Of course I did DiScOMbObUlAte the other night, but that was only ten minutes. And, incidentally a brilliant night. And last year I filled in at the last minute for Tom Leonard at Linda Jackson's Making Waves night in Glasgow. But the students were so lovely. Or maybe it was that fifteen minute spot I did at Robin Cairn's fun Last Monday at Rio gig last July?

Anyway, I'm off for a dose of Day Nurse. And later today I'm going to post some more poems on here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I read at StAnza, the poetry festival at St. Andrews on Sunday. I was on a bill with Cheryl Follon, whom I hadn't met before. I would have liked to chat to Cheryl afterwards, but I think she had to rush for a train.

I had a lovely time, same as last year. It was a real pleasure to meet people from all over Scotland that I've not seen for quite a while, and new poets too. One of the things I love about these events is the cross-fertilisation of ideas, the energy I get from meeting with creative and interesting people.

Only problem was I couldn't stay long. I had a rewrite deadline for the first novel coming out with Puffin next year.

But that's been sent off to my editor now, so I can take a breath. And post a poem.

night creatures

there are those of us
who look as dead as tree bark

who lie still and green
as a folded leaf, who

seem ancient and parched
as papyrus

then startle you with
sudden fluttering

you think you know us
name us Moth

at dusk we decorate
the dark glass of your rooms

delicate pastel petals
pale as moonbeams

as dawn breaks we grow restless
flit by your sleeping face

kiss your lips, gentle
as a breath

before you wake we slip
into your dreams, soundless
as the souls of the dead


She counts murdered women. Not women  wiped out in warzones by bullets and bombs,  nor the 63 million missing in India - Rita Banerj...