Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Turn: a poetry post

This is a poem I wrote in response to The Prompt from Sara at Mum Turned Mom. I first wrote it thinking of the current situation in British politics, but in the darkness of the terrible event in Manchester recently it also speaks to that situation.

I am so sorry for all those who lost loved ones, who were hurt, who were terrorised by the bomb that went off in Manchester. 

I am also sorry for all of our young men and women whose fears are targetted by groups like ISIS. 

There is always an increase in racism and in anti-immigrant feeling after an event such as this, whipped up by those who wish to keep the people divided and voting for those that would keep the rich rich and the poor in 'their place'. We all get caught up in things, and it is always important to question our thoughts, as well as what we're told. 

We do not have to stay on this road to division and hatred. We can stop, help each other, just as the people of Manchester came together to help each other. 

We can choose not to believe that there is only one narrative.

Before I get poetical here is a link to Tony Walsh reading his awesome poem, 'This is the Place' to the thousands of people in Manchester who came together in a vigil after the bombing.


In troubled times
we tend to turn
to someone strong
to someone wrong
who will not stop
in their control,
who'll stand on us
to reach their goal,
so turn away,
there is still hope,
still time to join
together and
turn, turn away,
to use your vote
to stop this strong,
this unstable
force.    Of course
it will be hard
but turn away.
Turn now. Today.

Ⓒ Cara L McKee 15/5/17


Sunday, 14 May 2017

Web-logging May 2017

There is no way that you can enjoy reading these web-log posts as much as I love writing them, but I hope you find something you can make use of or connect with, and do feel free to get in touch about them, and about what you're doing.

I pinched this idea off Aly Hodge of Bug, Bird & Bee, who has kindly given the categories for you to use if you fancy joining in too (you can fudge them as you wish - I have).

Right now I'm:

Sitting on a train, travelling into Glasgow for a literary event. I'm super nervous and writing to keep me busy. Sadly the train doesn't like me writing. 

I've realised I've got to the point where I know most of the people I see in my town. There are three other women sitting in this carriage and I know all of them. I'm being an antisocial git though and trying not to eavesdrop (it's not easy though as one keep looking at me when she's about to chat about someone I know).

Currently reading:

Runaway by Alice Munro. I'm interested in the character who met a man on the train... I'll not do spoilers, but I'm wondering what happened to her? I keep expecting to see her in the other stories, even if just in a shop or something.

Some of these short stories feel more like vignettes, and I'm not willing to leave them (although I often feel that way about good stories).

Listening to:

I'm enjoying the rattling and whooshing of the train and the murmur of women's voices.

Recently I've been listening to podcasts - binge listening to BBC Inside Science (and developing a crush on Adam Rutherford - "hello you").

Music wise I've changed phones and lost lots of tracks (and not others), So I'm discovering what's misssing when I want to listen to it. The most recent tracks I've downloaded are:

The Cara Van
Having fun:

Last Friday I went out for lunch with my husband. I was saying that I wished we had a caravan but we couldn't afford it. He was more positive and suggested I look on Facebook.

One week later and we have a caravan! It's a little old and needs some work, and we have a lot to learn but we all slept (eventually) in it last night and it was lush. Hopefully next time it won't be raining!

On Instagram:
I'm not doing so well with the prompted pictures lately. Perhaps I should just stop doing them. Some of my pictures have been popular though, especially flowers and cats. Here's one of my favourites of lovely little Loki (while he's not dribbling all over me!).

and here are three accounts I'm loving at the moment:

  • @visitfaroeislands The Faroe Islands are pictured in this account, and they look amazingly gorgeous (if a little cold and wet). You can visit from Scotland!
  • @instaglasgow Lots of pictures of the beautiful city of Glasgow.
  • @jonnajinton Jonna is an artist who lives in the woods in the north of Sweden. That's what she says anyway. I suspect she's actually an ice-elf princess.
Perving over:

All the voices, especially Adam Rutherford and Roman Mars (just the name, Roman Mars).


I've been searching Pinterest for all things caravanny, and planning a makeover. Tbh it probably won't happen, because I am great at planning to makeover places, but less good at actually doing it. I would love a caravan that looked like Jessica Reed Kraus' extraordinary RV (check it out here), but I would also love to live in South California!

We are also looking at great places to take the caravan (and I am panicking about the kittens a bit but I'm sure they'll be fine). Any suggestions welcome.

We are coming to the end of our time at our local primary school. The boy is moving on to the local academy and our primary is merging with another (yay, and eek) and getting a new name and uniform, so we've got lots of end of an era events to go to.


I'm finding my way around Glasgow. I planned to take the low level train today but there was a problem on the line so I googled it and walked instead. Easy peasy, and look at the gorgeous village cross I found in Bridgeton (where the Glasgow Women's Library is).

Glasgow Women's Library is a magical space full of donated fantastic books, with an archive which is nationally recognised for its importance. I went to an event there (the one I was going to when I started writing this) and loved being in a woman's space in such a lush building, and, you know, hanging out with Val McDermid.

At this event I discovered that the things that inspire other, way more successful, writers are not just books (I love books, but it is tiresome to be repeatedly told they should be our only inspiration), but Pinterest, walks in a landscape (hilarious to hear Val McDermid enthusing that she could put a body in various interesting places), music, people who challenge, and great films. This has made me feel so much better about watching TV (more on that below).

A couple of new poetry magazines: 

And TYCI - a Glasgow women's collective which also does a podcast.


  • Scandal - still watching because I want closure. However, I am a bit bored of the constant nonsense (I like the Trump references though).
  • The Good Fight - I'm missing Alicia, but enjoying the story.
  • American Gods - I liked the book and love Ian McShane (whom I keep expecting to call someone 'Cocksucker') but I'm mainly feeling that this story is way too male focused. It's OK, but maybe a little obvious and cliched.
  • Jamestown - can we talk about Jamestown? This is absolutely brilliant TV, and I could watch it forever. Did you see the last episode? With the witch nonsense. Some of the dialogue in that episode was just amazing. Fantastic characters, fascinating situation. Just awesome.

"Why must we care for those whose sole purpose is to conquer us? Surely it is sound reasoning to let him die?"


I'm rewriting The Rarest Rose and working on poetry at the moment. Lots of editing and tidying up.


The boy went on his first big trip away and had a great time. He is getting so blooming cool. 

They're all doing great, enjoying all the end of term fun.

What are you doing?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

I once had a bedroom... a poetry post

I was reading Jackie Kay's poem, Baggage, this morning, and her description of ships coming into dock reminded me of a period of time during which I lived in a former hotel on the headland above Douglas harbour in the Isle of Man.

This tall Victorian building had been divided into flats, and I lived in the top one. It's the only time I've really lived on my own, and I didn't suit it. I think I lost it rather, while I was in there, and probably spent far too much of my time lying in my bed, staring at that patch of sky. I can still picture that room, down to the peculiar skirting shelf, and the old wardrobe that could only fit in one place and couldn't contain most of my clothes. 

I was skinny then, due to poverty and having a bit of an eating issue, and I had loads of cheap as chips clothes from the 70s I'd picked up in charity shops. Lots and lots of colour in heaps beside the bed. I left most of it behind when I finally came to my senses and left. It was more important to get out than to take the stuff. The only thing I miss is my Loud CD!

I once had a bedroom in the top of a tall house

up stairs and stairs and stairs which never got easy.
My bed was a mattress on the floor
piled around with colourful clothes
I'd carried up stairs and stairs and stairs
but would leave when I ran away.

Above me grey chased blue in my own square of sky 
and seagulls angrily battered their demands of entrance.
They came every day but I never let them in
though I let in a neighbour who,
frightened, begged entrance
after climbing to find his own square of sky
which might let him in to be as high 
as he was, until he lost it 
and climbed down through mine.

Sometimes the sky shone blue and sometimes
it would get lost behind cloud.
I would wake to the bleak sound of the fog horn
and sometimes feel I was safe
within Manannan's embrace.

Ⓒ Cara L McKee 9/5/17


Friday, 5 May 2017

Chocolate: a poetry post

Today, for Prose for Thought (which I've just realised, I never share prose on - sorry!), I'm sharing my poem about Chocolate.

There's a bit of a chocolate theme to the blog lately isn't there? The last post was all about chocolate too. I'm blaming the Easter eggs which are still sitting on top of the kitchen cupboards. I'd say we're all bored of chocolate, but it's really just the kids. I'm desperate to make it into cakes and sauces, cookies and truffles, but I'm not allowed. 😢

Anyhow, I wrote this poem for the Scottish Book Trust last year, and you'll find it on their website here, but I'm now able to share it right here, so here it is - a bit of chocolatey goodness for all you lovelies.


All my life I've loved chocolate.
The love is in my genes,
and some would say (the cheeky ones)
it's also in my jeans. 
I passed my love of chocolate
to my babes in the womb.
They drank it in their breastmilk
and danced a merry tune. 
We didn't let them eat chocolate
until their first birthday.
The children's nurse had told us
that we should be that way. 
Then came pain au chocolat
and birthday chocolate cake.
Eyes lit up in faces smeared.
Oh, what a mess they make! 
And now we say that chocolate
can only be for pud.
Of course, they want it always,
for chocolate tastes so good. 
I too only eat chocolate
after I eat a meal.
I'm being truly honest.
What I say is real. 
I have never pinched chocolate
hidden amongst laundry
to surreptitiously eat,
keeping it all for me.
I have not opened chocolate
while shaking pasta shapes
and savoured chunks all alone
while making bolognese. 
That missing Easter chocolate
the kids cannot recall.
It certainly was not me
that did devour it all. 
And I never said chocolate
truffles were too boozy
and so only for adults;
they'd just make children woozy. 
And if I ate some chocolates
while writing this today,
it's because there were too few
of them to share. OK?

Prose for Thought

Friday, 28 April 2017

Not so sweet: the problem with chocolate

We got so much chocolate at Easter. 

This is definitely a good thing, because we all love chocolate, as I've attested in my poem, Chocolate, which you'll find here. We got mini eggs and creme eggs, After Eights and Rolos, we got Maltesers and Smarties and lots lots more. We have generous family, and neighbours, and we are grateful for it.

We have eaten chocolate as it comes, made it into sauce and into delicious cookies. At one point we were eating it and talking about Kraft's decision to draw back a bit on Cadbury's commitment to Fair Trade.

The kids learn all about Fair Trade at school and they want to support it, so I said I'd google what was happening about chocolate. What I found out totally sucked. There's a good article on it here for more info.

Basically, Cocoa beans grow in tropical climates like those found in West Africa, where 70% of cocoa is grown. For Ghana and the Ivory Coast cocoa is a very important commodity. However, we are not paying enough for cocoa,so to cut costs cocoa farmers are resorting to child labour, including child slavery.

These kids must work long days doing hard manual work. Many of them get little or no schooling, and all of them are put at risk by two big dangers in their work - the insecticides they spray without protection (because there are a lot of bugs in the tropics), and the machetes (big knives) which they carry up trees to cut down the bean pods, and then use to force the bean pods open.

Meanwhile the kids get very poor food themselves, and often have to stay in horrible housing, with no comfy place to sleep and nowhere they can get clean.

We can try to support farmers getting a fair wage, so they shouldn't have to use kids labour like this, but Fair Trade have had to remove some of their accreditations recently, after finding child labour to be more widespread than previously thought. Perhaps that's why Kraft have diluted Cadbury's commitment.

Anyway, unfortunately it comes down to paying more. So far, no evidence has been found of these practices in the tropical parts of South America where cocoa is grown, so these seem like the sensible places to source cocoa at the moment. The Food Empowerment Project has an app and lots of info to help you get the best vegan chocolate. You'll find all that here. We love our milk chocolate though, so we are going to be looking out for chocolate that's ORGANIC (this is mainly from Latin America), FAIRTRADE, and FOREST FRIENDLY. This is a bit more expensive generally, which means we will probably (weep for us) eat less. That's got to be good, right?

By the way, child labour isn't the only problem with chocolate, there are also problems of deforestation, and the nasty effects of all those insecticides among others. Watch out for Palm Oil in your yummies too! 


Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Potential: a poetry post

Sara at Mum Turned Mom has chosen the word 'potential' as her latest prompt.

To be honest, I was stuck there for a while, but then I was thinking about gravitational potential energy and Wile E Coyote, and I came up with this poem, which I've also done a reading of on Facebook live (click here for that):

The Potential

This poem,
poised on the precipice
has potential
to kill you dead.

To whistle its way down
to a million-mile-away valley floor
landing in its own
mini-mushroom puff.

But it won't.
You'll just beep, and run on by
or maybe pause for a moment

wondering why it's poised just so,
was it put there on purpose?

Or has its context 
been whittled and abridged away?

Perhaps you see my design
in balancing this poem here
with all its potential.

Pause a while longer, 
and you'll see yourself in it.

Ⓒ Cara L McKee 27/4/17


Friday, 21 April 2017

Shuffling words: how I get unstuck with poetry

Sometimes, when I'm stuck on how to make something work, or I've lost the point of a poem I will use a formal poetry technique to shuffle the cards in my deck and come up with something different.

Usually I do this with poems that aren't working for me, but sometimes I do it with other texts which I like, but am not getting any inspiration from. It can spark new ideas.

I tend to make things into poem structures that use repetition, making the words learn the steps of the sestina, pentina, tritina, pantoum, or villanelle. I've just had a villanelle accepted for publication which started life as a free verse poem which just wasn't working. I love the circling and the repetition of these forms because I think they bring more focus onto the moment of the poem. 

Of course, things don't have to stay formal, often, usually, in fact, they break down having once come together, but the process helps to reveal patterns and the little important things which can make it better.

Today I've been missing my April dose of Game of Thrones which isn't returning to our screens until July, so I've been playing with the books instead, especially George RR Martin's murderous prologues.

Obviously I wouldn't pass something like this off as my own. I've used lots of words from Martin. Sometimes something like this changes enough that it might be considered a found poem, but often it just sends me off in another direction, sparking ideas which weren't found from the original text.

Here is a trytina I've been working on today, using words from the prologue of Dance with Dragons I by George RR Martin. I'm calling it a trytina because I've tried, but I can't get a last line to work.

If you're not familiar with the lingo, a warg is a shapeshifter, and this one is currently a wolf. I don't think any more explanation is needed, but feel free to ask any questions in the comments.

The senses in the shadows

The night was rank with the smell of man.
The warg stopped beneath a tree and sniffed,
his grey-brown fur dappled by shadow.

A sigh of piney wind brought scent through shadow,
over fox and hare, seal and stag, even wolf, came man.
The stink of old skins, dead and sour the warg sniffed,

the stronger scents of smoke and blood and rot the warg sniffed.
Only man stripped skins from beasts to wear as shadow,
and wargs have no fear of man.