Glasgow Writers: Ellen McAteer

ellen mcateer

Ellen Mcateer to be new Director of The Poetry Trust. (November, 2014).

Many congratulations to Ellen in her new job. We’ll be hoping that she returns to Glasgow often and promise that we will continue to support the fabulous tell it slant poetry shop – The Project Cafe, that Ellen created with her husband Mat.  The launch of A Bird Is Not A Stone which took place in the shop back in June was for me Glasgow’s most significant and memorable literary event this year.

Catch Ellen and Maggie Graham at The Project Cafe Women of the Beat Generation, Friday 14th November, 2014

(Ellen McAteer has one first prize at The New Writer’s 17th Annual Prose and Poetry Competition for her pamphlet of ten poems, called Honesty Mirror!: www.thenewwriter.com/results-17th-annual-prose-poetry-prizes-2013/) – April, 2014.

a-bird-is-not-a-stone-195x300Ellen McAteer: poet, writer and composer, was in fine fettle when I met her in Café Cosmo at Glasgow Film Theatre. Ellen was still on a high after participating in Reel Iraq 2013 a few nights earlier.  This event was part of Reel Festival, a nationwide festival, marking ten years since the invasion of Iraq.

Coincidentally the event was called ‘Found in Translation’, the title of one of Ellen’s poems, which she had written for a Palestinian friend.  The poem, one of four she performed on the night,was published in Tip Tap Flat, An Anthology of New Scottish Writers, 2012.

An extract from Found in Translation

 “O! Look at the spider, knitting his net,” you cried,

getting the alliteration, but shaking the cobwebs

out of a language you feared you would never learn.

Oh, never learn! It was as if your eyes were rinsed to childish clarity

by tears you had wept while reading me poems of Palestine;

The poem was a perfect fit for the event, which aimed to reveal: “not just the original poetic intention but the intimacy of understanding and empathy between poets with different cultures and traditions but surprisingly similar concerns”. Ellen read the poem along with the others she had written on the topic of war; one was inspired by her own experiences of crossing the border in Ireland and two other poems were based on eye witness accounts of war in Iraq.

When I met Ellen she was enthusiastic in conveying her love of the rhythms and sounds of the Arabic language. She was particularly moved by the work of Zahir Mousa.  Modest about her own work, she felt that ‘it was a privilege to be there – sharing the stage with such talented poets.’   This included, Jim Carruth. Mr Mirrorball himself, founder and current chair of St Mungo’s Mirrorball.  The organization responsible for the establishment of  Clydebuilt Verse Apprenticeship Scheme.  Many doors have been opened to Ellen through her involvement with this mentoring scheme for new poets, which aims to evoke the institution of shipyard apprenticeship, now vanished from the Clydeside.

In 2012 Ellen was invited to participate in the Clydebuilt programme along with three other poets, Mark Russell, Vicki Hubbard and Maggie Rabatski.  Her mentor was the poet Alexander Hutchison, whose encouragement and advice was invaluable. Ellen explained how much she also benefited from the support of her peers and the networking opportunities arising from her participation in the mentoring project. 

As one of St Mungo Mirrorball/Glasgow Life’s Clydebuilt Poets many exciting experiences have come Ellen’s way, not least of all having her work appear in Awater, Holland’s foremost literary magazine.   Ellen was ‘thrilled when the translator, Susan Ridder, got in touch to say that she liked a poem and wanted to translate Mourning in Arduaine, previously published in New Writing Scotland 29

I was fascinated to learn of the very specific inspiration for this beautiful poem, which was a surprising and lovely view Ellen woke up to one morning after she and her partner, Mat, were stranded overnight in a camper van.  The words and tone of the poem capture Ellen’s response to the scene and also her emotions regarding the death of her father.

We also discussed another source of inspiration and the process of Ekphrasis i.e. giving a voice in text to a “mute” art object. Working as she does at Glasgow School of Art, it’s not surprising that Ellen finds the relationship between literature and the visual arts of interest. (I think I am definitely going to take her up on that offer of a tour round this wonderful building.)

Ellen recently took part on a series of workshops on the theory and practice of Ekphrasis, at the invitation of David Holden, University of Strathclyde. A conference on the topic – Writing into Art – will take place at the university on 18th/19th June, 2013).

When reflecting on her work, Ellen notes that many of the magazines and anthologies that she has been published in have focused not only on writing but also art and design. This includes Tip Tap Flat, an anthology of new creative writing and graphic art inspired by the City of Glasgow, published by Freight Books.

Ellen’s work rate is very impressive, not least of all because she has six year old twins, Finn and Charlie, to keep her on her toes.  Her poetry has been published in numerous literary magazines including: Gutter, Aesthetica, The Elastic Book of Numbers, New Writing Scotland and Ape – art to writing.  Her play, Portrait, was performed to great acclaim at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1998 and went on to be recorded for local radio.

Ellen regularly participates in spoken work events and performances planned include: Words – Clydebuilt 5 Showcase at Mirrorball at Glasgow Art Club with Maggie Rabatski, Vicki Husband and Mark Russell (on Thursday, 18th April 2013, 7.30 p.m.) This will also be the launch of Clydebuilt 5 Mentor Alexander Hutchison’s pamphlet of his ”Tardigrade’ poem.

On 11th April, 2013 Ellen will share the stage at Fail Better with Scottish Makar, Liz Lochhead, Zoe Strachan and Louise Welsh. Louise, who edited the Tip Top Flat anthology, has been ‘very positive in encouraging’ Ellen to build on the ideas she presented in her poem Three Rivers.  Presented in Tip Tap Flat as a ‘work in progress’, she is continuing her research into “the Clyde, the Kelvin and the Cart (the White Cart and the Black Cart, which join together as the follow into the Clyde.)”

Apart from her writing Ellen has another string to her creative bow as a singer/songwriter.  Her song Blue Valentine, which you can listen to on soundcloud, won the BBC Oxford Download phone in competition in December, 2007 and was later used in a television advert.  

For several years she lived in Oxford, where she played with her band the Blue Valentines before moving back to Glasgow.  Currently Ellen is a member of The Stone Tape, female acapella group, who sing political ballads and sea shanties.

She also performs as a solo artist and will be singing at the gig at the pro-feminist gig McChuills on the 11th April.  (Ellen McAteer – singing and spoken word gig listings).

Ellen has very fond memories of her childhood in Glasgow’s West End, where Gerry Loose, the poet, was a neighbour and ‘a big hero from an early age.’  I enjoyed chatting to Ellen about her childhood, when her love of poetry began:

  “Along with Gerry Loose, living poets who have inspired me are Liz Lochhead, who read at my school when I was a child: a poem called “The Choice” was very inspirational, and Andrew Grieg, John Burnside and Don Patterson – another musician poet! – all of whom I’ve been lucky enough to hear read through Mirrorball.”

 Although, gleaning much from her Scottish counterparts, Ellen has also been inspired by the work of others, including: Modernist poets, especially T.S. Eliot, beat poetry and Japanese poetry in translation, such as Baso.

 She started writing when she was very young and went on to gain a Masters in English Literature ad Language at the University of Glasgow. She “always wanted to be a writer” but it was only after the birth of her two sons that Ellen felt able to share her writing:

      “It was the same with singing and songwriting. I never wanted to get up on stage, but after giving birth to twins, nothing can really scare you again!”

Looks like thanks are due to those two boys.  

You can read more about Ellen, her poetry, her interests and concerns in her fascinating blog:www.ellenmcateer.com

Pat Byrne, March, 2013.

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Avatar of PatByrne Publisher of Pat's Guide to Glasgow West End; the community guide to the West End of Glasgow. Fiction and non-fiction writer.

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