WEEK THIRTY-SIX – Heather/Thistle

>> Heather

Thistle <<

heather                thistle

 

Think of a plant that represents Scotland and ‘the noble thistle’ will inevitably spring immediately to mind. But close behind it must be ‘the bonnie purple heather’. Calluna vulgaris, common heather or ling is simply heather in everyday parlance. Although the dominant plant in most heathland in Europe, it has come to be popularly associated with the mountains and moors of Scotland, a symbol of the abiding appeal of The Highlands. While white heather is regarded as a lucky charm, the common plant gives rise to many products from heather honey to heather ale. A very different plant, the thistle is equally widespread being native to Europe and Western Asia. The origin of the plant as an emblem of Scotland, which it has been since the 13th century, likely stems from it being an ancient Celtic symbol for nobility of character. But there is also the unlikely story from the days of Viking incursions, when the Scots defenders were supposedly alerted by the invaders treading on thistles and crying out in pain. Thankfully, it was the jaggy thistle that was doing its work for the nation then – had it been the more benign heather, who knows what might have transpired!


A Cultural Landscape
by Jacob Polley

o bilberry-rich birch wood
o heath understorey

by girsit, by scythin, by fire
thon place is kent

where pine trees stood
 
 

Melancholy Thistle, Garvald Quarry
by Vicki Feaver

Your tribe is famous
for its gregariousness
and ferocity.

You’re the odd one out –
spike-less, solitary,
a great big softie.

An apothecary’s cure
for melancholy,
not melancholy yourself,

a watcher, not a joiner-in,
you stand sentinel
at the edges of fields

shaking your huge
and heavy head
and quietly laughing.

 

The Melancholy Thistle is said by some to have been the original badge of the House of Stuart, instead of the Cotton Thistle. Garvald Quarry is a stone’s throw from Brownsbank where Hugh MacDiarmid wrote ‘A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle’.


Biographies

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Jacob Polley was born in Cumbria. His poetry and fiction is published by Picador and has won both the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and the Somerset Maugham Award. Jacob has a fourth book of poems, Jackself, out in November 2016. He was previously a lecturer in creative writing at the University of St Andrews, and he now teaches at Newcastle University.

 

vicki-feaver-credit-caroline-forbesVicki Feaver moved to Dunsyre, South Lanarkshire in 2000. She previously taught creative writing at the University of Chichester where she is now Emeritus Professor. She has published three main collections of poetry: Close Relatives (Secker 1981), The Handless Maiden (Cape 1994) and The Book of Blood (Cape 2006). She was one of the poets invited to write on the themes of older age by the Baring Foundation, and her poems on the subject can be found in the resulting anthology, Second Wind (Saltire Society, 2015).


Images courtesy of;
http://www.srgc.org.uk/bulblog/log2008/290808/Scottish%20Mountains%20with%20heather.jpg
https://www.virtualheb.co.uk/spear-thistle-pink-purple-wildflowers-western-isles/images/spear-thistle-isle-of-lewis.jpg
Vicki Feaver photo courtesy of Caroline Forbes

WEEK THIRTY-FIVE – The Clyde/The Spey

>> The Clyde

The Spey <<

clyde              spey

 

The names of Scotland’s rivers are amongst the oldest in the country dating back to centuries before recorded history. Highways before there were roads, they guided populations, culture and trade both within and outwith the landmass. The ancient waterway of Clut – now, of course, known as the River Clyde – was at the centre of the ancient Brythonic kingdom of Strathclyde – eyrnas Ystrad Clut. In more recent times it has been at the centre of the Industrial Revolution in Scotland, and central to commerce with the American continent, including the infamous slave trade. Flowing ultimately into the Atlantic, we are pairing the river with another which flows in the opposite direction to the North Sea. Now known in Gaelic as Uisge Spè, the River Spey also has its derivation in the Welsh-related Brythonic language. First noted in history by Ptolemy in 150AD, its name is thought to mean ‘hawthorn river’ from the term yspyddad. Very much not associated with heavy industry, the Spey nonetheless plays an important part in such vital Scottish activities as whisky distilling, salmon fishing and tourism. While the two rivers represent very different Scotlands, each is an essential part of the country’s identity.


Headwaters
by James McGonigal

My blood is in the Clyde.
A broken bottle in the burn –
threads pulsing out under the viaduct
and westwards. The Clyde will be changing
colour tomorrow, my father said. Red Clydeside.
Binding my foot tighter in his handkerchief
to carry me back to his mother’s house.
                I used to swim here as a boy, the water
                was darker then.

A rusting cast-iron tub released from
its hungry thirties, weekly washhouse stint
now rested at the end of my granny’s garden
concocting its potent liquid manure from
tattie shaws, nettles, all manner of peelings,
peapods and sulphurous Lanarkshire rain
which would leach any goodness into the river
                unless she caught it for the clay she turned
                in old pit boots – for her tatties and kail.

Remembering her eldest travelling the line
north of the river towards St Mary’s High,
Whifflet (‘the little whiff’) by Coatbridge –
so much schoolboy brightness borne
into the daily smoking darkness mined
by men like his dad, two years killed,
for men like him and me –
                the cinder trail, the magnate’s metronome,
                our rattling train at dawn for Glasgow Central.

That brassy taste of 1950s smogs.
Staring to make out through mirk
the numbers on trams we could hear
but not see yet, I was scared of getting
doubly lost. We wore handkerchiefs
across our faces like sooty bandits.
And back at the ranch at last
                blowing your nose was a Whistlerian
                study in black on white.

Now Clydeside’s a postcard. Of pensioners
posing for snaps on the Rothesay Ferry –
an outing long before that word got gay
and proud. Stout women in herringbone coats
buttoned up to their knitted sou’westers
like mermaids in glasses
or barnacled goddesses staring
                out from the prow into what’s left
                of the teeth of life’s gale.
 
 

Spey
by Matthew Fitt

Spey runs to Tay runs into Liffey
Becomes Vltava.

I knew a man that saw the Spey and drank it.
When he woke up, it was in Turkey.
A flying carpet brought him home.
I looked for him in Warriston
but did not see him there.

Spey runs to Tay runs into Liffey
Becomes Vltava.

I was not told and did not ask.
The bodies on the Stony Beach was all I knew.
A stag in the water at Mugdrum.
The Dundee Dry Dock instead of Sunday school.
And Liffey (now I’m Irish) was never far to swim.

Spey runs to Tay runs into Liffey
Becomes Vltava.

My boy knows the river and its castles.
At Zvikov once he broke an axe.
In Krumlov he fought Germans.
Above the gates of Prague,
He holds the hands of ghosts.

Spey runs to Tay runs into Liffey
Becomes Vltava.

I will see the Spey again and when I do
Beharrie will be waiting.
Stuarts, Jacks and Christies will smile at me
From stones langsyne laid
At Dallas and Aberlour.

 


Biographies

James McGonigal is a Glasgow-based poet and editor. His Beyond the Last Dragon: A Life of jmcgonigal-crt-gerry-cambridgeEdwin Morgan (2012) was Scottish Research Book of the Year, and he recently co-edited The Midnight Letterbox, a Carcanet selection of Morgan’s correspondence 1950–2010. His Cloud Pibroch (2010) won the Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet Award. The Camphill Wren is forthcoming from Red Squirrel Press.

 


matthew-fitt-press-photo-01
Matthew Fitt is a makar and translator. Author o But n Ben A-Go-Go, the first novel in Scots, he is co-foonder (alang wi James Robertson) o Itchy Coo, the successfu imprint that maks books in Scots for bairns and weans o aw ages. A Scots columnist for The National newspaper, he is the official Scots translator o David Walliams and Goscinny/Uderzo’s Asterix. http://www.mfitt.com

 


Images courtesy of;
http://www.heraldscotland.com/resources/images/5425933.jpg?display=1&htype=0&type=responsive-gallery
http://www.speyfisheryboard.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/angling1.jpg
James McGonigal image courtesy of Gerry Cambridge

WEEK THIRTY-FOUR – Chic Murray/Frankie Boyle

>> Chic Murray

Frankie Boyle <<

chic murray            Frankie_Boyle

Two comic talents take centre stage in this week’s posting, but, as is usual with Scotia Extremis, two contrasting figures from different eras. Chic Murray was the Greenock-born surreal comic who rose to popularity in the 1950s and worked extensively through to the 1970s. His whimsical humour was a triumph of twisted language and inoffensive wordplay; take this example:
“I knocked and the woman opened the door in her night dress. I thought to myself at the time ‘what a strange place to have a door’…
Chic appeared in several movie cameos, Casino Royals and Gregory’s Girl to name but two, and died in 1985. Billy Connolly cites him as a major influence and in 2005, a poll of comedians voted him ‘The Comedian’s Comedian’. Frankie Boyle is a contemporary comedian and scriptwriter whose controversial style and confrontational material is often called into question by the media for regularly challenging notions of taste. His approach is calculated to shock and even offend the audience, and he has regularly been castigated by newspapers and the general public, though he is undoubtedly one of Scotland’s most popular stand-ups. Both comedians have a distinct style and a strong following, but the laughs they generate come from very different parts of our collective national sense of humour.


Chic Murray
by Donald S Murray

‘What was it like? Meeting Chic
these mornings when the platform teemed
at Hillhead underground?’ 

Hard now to remember. Hearing deafened by the click
and rattle of old carriages,
I could barely make out sound

or sense of any word the comic said,
(‘You a wee Free that keeps the Sabbath
and anything else he gets hands on?’ )

while I pondered on the motives that led
to this approach – how we both hovered over six foot?
Or if he sensed I did not belong

among these urbanites? Clan clairvoyance being exchanged?
(‘I met my wife in a tunnel of love.
Each night she keeps on digging down and down.’)

Strange jests among the whispers, passing draught of subway trains
transporting souls through darkness
(like his a few months later) going deeper underground.

 

Work! Consume! Die!
by Colin McGuire

To be frank, I am a prick
your mother rode to stave off
the death of your Father’s libido.

Rattling the herd morality live,
wielding taboos open blade, plunging
into flat screen realities;

to the quietness of family life,
applying an abrasive to the stable
veneer of a smooth finish.

Misogynists shag their wives
when they are asleep after a few glasses
of Rohypnol, so they won’t spoil the fun?

Westminster is a cauldron run
by reptilian psychopath pedophile overlords
with all the humanity of stage five brain cancer.

Scottish folk are so mangled
after a life dedicated to substance
abuse, casual violence and sectarianism

they choose to commit suicide
to save themselves
waiting for death.

I’m pulling a truth stare, point blank
in your direction, toying
with all you’ve never had the gall to say.

These jokes need a paramedic
to apply the Glasgow coma scale
to consciousness, after the punchline.

My message is trigger, trigger, trigger;
subtle as a sledgehammer through a megaphone,
to mock a broken world with blunt force trauma.


Biographies


DSMurrayDonald S Murray 
is from Ness in the Isle of Lewis. A former teacher now living in Shetland, his books include The Guga Hunters, And On This Rock, SY Story (Birlinn), Weaving Songs (Acair) as well as The Guga Stone (Luath Press) and the Gaelic play, Sequamur. His latest book, Herring Tales (Bloomsbury) has been widely reviewed and was chosen as one of the Guardian’s Nature Books of the Year. A number of his poems have been selected among the Scottish Poetry Library’s ‘Poems of the Year’.


mcguireColin McGuire 
is a poet and performer from Glasgow, who lives in Edinburgh. He is the author of three collections,  Riddled With Errors (Clydesidepress, 2003), Everybody sit down and no one gets hurt (Red Squirrel Press, 2013), and his first full collection, As I sit quietly, I begin to smell burning (Red Squirrel Press, 2014). He has performed in several poetry cabarets and slam performances, winning the Shore Poets Quiet Slam in 2014, and the Luminate Slam 2015.


Images courtesy of;
http://www.heraldscotland.com/resources/images/3819159.jpg?display=1&htype=0&type=responsive-gallery
http://images.radiotimes.com/namedimage/Frankie_Boyle_s_controversial_Twitter_profile_makes_his_return_to_TV_difficult.jpg?quality=85&mode=crop&width=620&height=374&404=tv&url=/uploads/images/original/33409.jpg

WEEK THIRTY-THREE – Sullom Voe/Scapa Flow

>> Sullom Voe

Scapa Flow <<

Sullom-Voe                                  Scapa Flow

Those who have ventured to the Northern Isles of Orkney and Shetland will know they provide much inspiration for poetry, largely due to their majestic, rugged and occasionally cruel grandeur. Our paired themes this week are alike in that they provide a focal point for the islands in which they are located, yet differ wildly in atmosphere and context. Sullom Voe is Shetland’s oil terminal, the landfall location for much of the North Sea’s oil output. In amongst Shetland’s extensive wild coastal landscape it is an eerie and imposing man-made complex of steel and brick which dominates its surroundings. Scapa Flow is an equally imposing feature of geography, being a vast natural harbour among the scattered islands of Orkney. Its historical context is both ancient and modern – it featured in the Orkneyinga Viking sagas, but also in 20th Century war histories as the location for the ships of the interned German High Seas Fleet after World War One (later to be scuttled at anchor) and also for the torpedoing of HMS Royal Oak during World War Two. The two themes reflect locations which loom large in Scotland’s history in the fields of commerce and conflict.

 


To Sullom Voe
by Robert Crawford

for Mary Blance

From the highest rock at the top of the hill
To the lowest stone in the ebb,

Past Lunna Kirk’s old wood pews pipelines
Knit gas to Sullom Voe

Through the islands’ simmer dim
Where glaciated grass still swoons,

Rising and birling under a gale
Of unleashed fiddlers’ reels that sweep

From the highest rock at the top of the hill
To the lowest stone in the ebb.

 

Scapa Flow, 2016
by Kate Armstrong

We squelch on peat and  film the stone
as if  to catch its crumble into sand.

Tom on the shore lists names for us,
Orphir, Hoy, Houton, The Bu,
plays skimmie-stones, counting six, seven,
young muscles perfect to the task
Grand-dad taught him.

Once he’d have been spotting
warships. Now it’s tourists, divers,
birds calling, flat water.
The tide turns.

He talks about oil and prawns,
spoots and tangle, bere scones.
Grandfather smiles,

undaunted by the dead,
so many, under soil or sea,
properly named. We strain to hear
the sound of skimming stones
and Tom decides
the silent ones are best.
Give and take, the tide runs.

The peace he stands in
not  a paper one, a pen
scraping its hasty  scrawl.
Quiet as bedrock.
Slow like the making of sand.


 

Biographies

Robert Crawford imageRobert Crawford’s first collection of poems was A Scottish Assembly (Chatto, 1990); his most recent collections are Testament (Cape, 2014) and the Scots poetry book Chinese Makars (Easel Press, 2016). He is Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St Andrews, and editor of The Book of Iona (Polygon, 2016).

 

Kate ArmstrongKate Armstrong has one published collection, with the next in preparation. Since then her work has appeared in various anthologies.More recently she has been co-tutoring poetry translation classes at the University of Liege. She lives in Dundee.

 

 


Images courtesy of;
https://www.energyvoice.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2013/12/Sullom-Voe.jpg
http://www.deepsea.supanet.com/photos/Scapa%20Flow.jpg
Robert Crawford image by Aisha Farr

WEEK THIRTY-TWO – Jimmy Shand/Jack Bruce

>> Jimmy Shand

Jack Bruce <<

JimmyShand              Photo of WEST BRUCE &amp; LAING

Is music somehow close to the “soul of Scotland”? For a small country we have certainly produced a large share of superb musicians, in a wide variety of genres. Two of those grace our site this week. Think accordion dance music and the first name to spring to mind must be Jimmy Shand; think electric bass and who else would be amongst the foremost than Jack Bruce. Shand was born in East Wemyss in Fife, the son of a miner but spent most of his life living in Auchtermuchty where there is now a life-sized sculpture of the maestro. During his long life – 1908-2000 – Sir Jimmy recorded more tracks than the Beatles and Elvis Presley combined. The shorter life of Jack Bruce – only 1943-2014 – was nonetheless full of riches. Always best known as the bassist – and some would say, basis – for the “supergroup” Cream, he trained as a classical cellist but always considered himself a jazz musician. Ironically, it was his playing of jazz that saw him forced out of music college and led to a career which also took in rock and blues and led to his association with numerous stars in all genres. From The Bluebell Polka to White Room is not such a big step when sheer virtuosity is taken into account.

 


Jimmy Shand
by Andrew Greig

(The Albert Halls, Stirling 1960)

Yon was music making Scottish style,
a serious business and damn hard work.
The accordion bulged like a chest expander
across the hidden muscle of his heart.
His Polkas were gales trapped in a box.
Kilted to the gills, horn specs black as coal
from the mines he went down at fourteen,
Shand gave it laldy, staring straight ahead,
unsmiling, fingers blurred, only other movement
his left heel tamping, aye on the button.
There’s nothing free about expression.
He kenned that fine from earliest days.
Whatever joy there was in it for him
laboured as his father had, deep underground.

 
 

Tales of Brave Ulysses
by Ian Stephen

The cellist came out of the academy
to lay down his melodies
when rhythm was on the line,
only one of his crimes
delivered at a pace
on the upright bass
not all that tender
on the six string fender.

The baker walked out of the jam
till the cake was cut with Cream
congealed.
How many rope-ladders
over the bearded rainbow
would it take
to touch the moon
sure as Armstrong?
Only one –
if it was long enough
and it was.

The lyrics of fate
over four strings
sounding like eight
syncopating
the pounding heat
from the baker back on the job,
so no-one was robbed.
A guitarist just in the lead
by a narrow neck.

The three-piece
gone off the rails
but in the groove
of spinning vinyl –
Corryvreckan
in technicolour.
Shipwrecks of
wailing bluesmen.
A stumble ashore
rolling and tumbling
casting out chords
like shining barley
on a slick of honey.
A parley with the shadows
of bottle-neck heroes
and music-hall maestros.

The set of wheels
went on fire
but your covered wagon
stitched its way
across its prairie
to elegy.
A fabric
picked and unpicked
by the pricking apostrophes
of Penelope
and the tailor
you had to sing to
so his paraffin
vapourised
in the hurricane.

Many’s the riff went
over the cliff.
Jack, one hell of a lad,
a banshee mourner,
tall-story teller
but a master-mariner
when all the breezes
were out
of the ministry of bag.

 

Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton formed the band, Cream. Tales of Brave Ulysses was written by Clapton and Martin Sharp and sung by Bruce.

 

 

 


Biographies

andrew greigAndrew Greig has published twenty one books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction. A full-time writer, he lives in Edinburgh and Orkney. He recommends checking out Richard Thompson’s wonderful ‘Don’t Sit On My Jimmy Shands’.

 

Ian Stephen (crt Christine Morrison)Ian Stephen is a writer and sailor from Lewis. His selected poems on sea themes maritime was published by Saraband in the spring of 2016. Waypoints –  a cross-genre work of non-fiction, with poetry playing a central role, is due from Adlard Coles Nautical (Bloomsbury) in spring 2017.


Images courtesy of;
http://www.edinphoto.org.uk/0_a_o/0_around_edinburgh_-_waverley_market_this_scotland_exhibition_3_musicians_1959_000-000-067-871_768.jpg
http://assets.rollingstone.com/assets/2014/article/frickes-picks-radio-remembering-jack-bruce-the-deep-tracks-20141027/172531/large_rect/1414441823/1401×788-86135835.jpg
Ian Stephen photo by Christine Morrison

WEEK THIRTY-ONE – Caledonian MacBrayne/The Clockwork Orange

>> Caledonian MacBrayne

The Clockwork Orange <<

CalMac                       clockwork

Scotland relies so much on the efficiency of its transport networks for the nation to stay on the move. A product of our challenging national topography is the often quirky and curious systems that have evolved to ferry us around. This week’s pairing brings together two mainstays of the Scottish transport system. The labyrinthine complexities of the island-hopping ferry services operated  by Caledonian MacBrayne (or ‘CalMac’) is something with which a West Coast tourist is required to become familiar if they are to get where they want to go. The happy sight of an approaching ferry is one of the pleasures of holidaymaking in Scotland.  Contrast this with the essentially simple circularity and regularity of the Glasgow Subway system (affectionately referred to as ‘The Clockwork Orange‘) – unlike most urban underground systems, it consists of just one route around the city, with the only choice being whether to take it clockwise or anticlockwise.

 


On The Ferry, Going Home
by Kate Hendry

He drives me into the belly of the boat, crams us
between camper van, fuel tanker, sheep truck.
The car-deck’s dingy walls are riddled with pipes –
diesel, water, steam, waste. ‘Lock up your vehicle’,
we’re told, ‘head for the stairs.’ I follow him out.

On deck, sea reaches over railings. I’m caught
in waves of darkness, peaks of sickness.
Barrelled life-rafts won’t save me. They’re sealed up
like the malt whisky he refused to let me buy for him.
The unexpected end of our holiday.

I retreat to red leatherette seats. Sweaty, cold.
Canteen sugary tea, a Tunnocks caramel wafer.
He reads tourist leaflets, pretends we’re not at sea.
The mainland comes into view. In the mini-shop
We stock up on souvenirs for our children.

Two tartan teddies, a post card each –
Scottish island with white-cottaged harbour ­–
(too late to send). When I read the back
I see it’s not the place we’ve left but somewhere
far away, on a different route entirely.

 

The Clockwork Orange
by Stewart Conn

Our most frequented stretch: Hillhead to Buchanan Street
or burrowing under the Clyde, after the Citz, the tunnel
walls streaming, rats scuttling, stations knee-deep in litter,
each arrival announced by a rumble and gust of sour air.
Yet the Clockwork Orange secure in our affections: we’d
vouch visitors a treat on our state-of-the-art Subway Circle

then note their shock (though its cable days long gone)
at the ill-lit entrance, toy-town rolling-stock; debouching
from shoogly carriages, through clattering gates
on to a narrow platform;  hauling cases up the steps,
not an escalator in sight – unsure whether to believe
they could buy the unique aroma, bottled, as a souvenir.

Hard, given my absence, to credit today’s streamlined
version, carmine-and-cream livery, contoured sliding
doors. For all its elegance and speed, la nostalgie de la boue
prevails: as though on archival film, two fur-coated ladies
emerge, turn left, and a bauchle in a green uniform bawls:
Hey missis, for tae get oot that wey youse’ll need a pick and shovel.

 


Biographies

Kate Hendry is a writer, tutor and editor, living in Edinburgh. user_199172_1431518510 She has taught English and creative writing for the Open University and Edinburgh Napier University. She runs the Nothing But the Poem reading groups at the Scottish Poetry Library. Her work has been published in many magazines and anthologies, including Agenda, The North, Northwords Now and The Rialto. Her first collection will be publish by Happenstance Press in 2016.
portraitstewartconn_cropped

Stewart Conn’s publications include In the Kibble Palace, The Breakfast Room (2011 Scottish Poetry Book of the Year), The Touch of Time (all Bloodaxe), and Against the Light (Mariscat). An exile from the west, he has for many years lived in Edinburgh whose inaugural Makar he was from 2002-05.

 


 

Images courtesy of;
http://gallery.hd.org/_exhibits/places-and-sights/_more1999/_more04/Scotland-west-coast-Ullapool-Caledonian-MacBrayne-ferry-boat-coming-in-from-Stornoway-Outer-Hebrides-2-OGS.jpg
https://i.ytimg.com/vi/V3XS65Tjo6Q/maxresdefault.jpg

WEEK THIRTY -William Topaz McGonagall/Ivor Cutler

>> William Topaz McGonagall

Ivor Cutler <<

William McGonagall                                     Ivor Cutler

Eccentricity is the link, but skill is the contrast for this week’s pairing of Scottish icons – poets of different ages and of a very different order. Few in Scotland can be unaware of William Topaz McGonagall’s lauding of the Beautiful Railway Bridge of the Silv’ry Tay! and his clunky lament at its collapse. Born in 1825, he has been cited as the worst poet in British history, though his continued fame comes from the risible effects his poetic shortcomings generate in his work. Despite numerous pleas to Queen Victoria for patronage, he died in poverty in 1902. Similarly eccentric, and individual in his approach to writing, Ivor Cutler (1923-2006) also gained considerable fame during his lifetime, arguably due in no small part to support from the radio DJ John Peel. A poet, songwriter and performer, his harmonium accompanied verses turned the spotlight of his surreal humour on all aspects of the human condition. Once heard, his Life in a Scotch Sitting Room will forever change perceptions of life in this small country. Published in book, record and CD form, his work continues to beguile ten years after his death.


William Topaz McGonagall
by Aonghas Phadraig Caimbeul

It was on the Twentieth of November Two Thousand and Fifteen
That I was asked to write a poem about a poet who’s been
Grossly calumnied on the Scottish literary scene
Despite his masterpiece about the disaster on the Tay
Which would never have happened if the central girders had not given way
On that fateful day when the lives of all the passengers were taken away.

William Topaz McGonagall was his name
And I hardly need say anything about his world-wide fame
For he was known everywhere, not just in Dundee, but also very far away
In the Fair City of Perth and far out west in lovely Stornoway
Where the people speak in such a strange way,
Probably because they don’t live near the beautiful silv’ry Tay.

Now you may sit there and scoff but it takes balls of steel
To rhyme like McGonagall as he sat on Law Hill
Looking down on Lochee sitting bonny and still
And to the north, Broughty Ferry and then Kirrimuir
Where the peewits were singing so bright and so pure
That a man who was deaf would be made well and cured.

Now of Scotland’s great writers I’ll just mention a few:
Dunbar, for example, but most of all Hugh
MacDiarmid, who changed his name from Christopher Murray Grieve
And lived for a while in Montrose, which is just north of Dundee, I believe.
And also Burns who liked to rhyme
Though he died very young and therefore didn’t get much time.

William Topaz McGonagall, I salute your crazy courage.
The hopeless belief that rhyme was all that mattered
That words could be squeezed into shape, battered
Into submission. All praise to your insane scansion and metres,
The mad joy of your verse, with its strange discordant beat:
Great poetry is always made by holy fools whaur extremes meet.

 

Ivor Cutler
by Stephanie Green

A wee figure spot-lit on a dark stage
intoning like a Jewish cantor on your wheezing harmonium,
wearing Tartan, and a sunflower stuck in your beret.

What if the world was remade in your vision?
Shops are lifted, doctors collect their thoughts
from their surgeries.

A Scottish childhood is no longer gruts for tea.
No one is beaten by the tawse.  A screwed-up
childhood may be good for creativity,

but borders, easily bored, we play, just  passing
the time, letting our words come out, like jazz,
however they want.  Surrealism meets Music Hall.

We all speak quietly. Singers and comedians
are almost inaudible.  Chuffed if pauses
are longer than Sam Beckett’s.

We meet applause with fingers in our ears.
The wax model of an ear pinned to our walls,
we are all members of the Noise Abatement Society.
Everyone is addressed by their surname
with courtesy, gentleness. Cups of tea,
you and me – a beautiful cosmos.


Biographies 

 

Angus Peter CampbellAngus Peter Campbell (Aonghas Pàdraig Caimbeul) is a poet, novelist and actor. He was born and brought up in South Uist and went to Oban High School where his English teacher was Iain Crichton Smith. He currently holds the Dr Gavin Wallace Writing Fellowship at the National Library of Scotland.

     

 

Stephanie Green photo, 2015 JPG Photographer Mark HardingStephanie Green is English/Irish, born in Sussex, and has lived in Edinburgh since 2000. Her pamphlet Flout (HappenStance, 2015) is inspired by Shetland. She has collaborated with several artists and composers, including  The Child of Breckon Sands with Marisa Sharon Hartanto and Ayre which inspired a dance piece choreographed by Mathew Hawkins, performed at the Queens’s Hall, Edinburgh, 2015. She has recently completed Berlin Umbrella an ‘aural walk’ with Sound Artiste, Sonja Heyer, to be performed in Berlin.  She works part time as a creative writing tutor and Dance and Theatre critic and her website can be viewed here

 

 

 


Images courtesy of;
http://www.leisureandculturedundee.com/sites/default/files/robeofinspiration.jpg
http://www.3ammagazine.com/3am/wp-content/uploads/2010/09/5845b9fb-e5aa-4e96-9f62-6e8ec4b02c391.jpg
Stephanie Green photo courtesy of Mark Harding