WEEK FORTY – Niel Gow/Martyn Bennett

>> Niel Gow

Martyn Bennett <<

niel-gow      martyn-bennett

Two giants of traditional music feature in this week’s Scotia Extremis, both of whom have left their mark on the sound of Scotland, though in very different ways and in very different times. Niel Gow, born in Perthshire in 1727, was perhaps Scotland’s most celebrated fiddle player and composer and is responsible for writing many classics from the canon of great Scottish folk tunes, some of which are still played at ceilidhs and concerts today, including ‘Loch Erroch Side’ and ‘Farewell To Whisky’. Martyn Bennett was a Canadian-born composer of Scots descent who was at the forefront of the ‘Celtic Fusion’ movement which successfully brought together traditional music with contemporary styles and techniques including techno and sampling. He sadly died in 2005 at only thirty-three years of age, but left behind a body of ground-breaking work including his final album Grit in 2003. Both our poetic subjects upheld the strong traditions of Scottish music and instrumentation, but set them into the context of their times, and it’s arguable that without Niel Gow we would not have had Martyn Bennett.

Niel Gow
by George T. Watt

The blin man wuid aaweys ken yer bow sicsyne,
sic wis the fluence o yer wrist as ye played,
an fit in hobnail bit, clog, or saft calf skin
wuid step the heichtmaist fan ye reeled.

But mair important ye kent hoo tae flatter an fawn
ladies faw socht a tune by Gow named i thair honour.
Ye gar thaim wi guid braid tung an wuts weel hewn
tae kep thair place an ye yer ain, nae seekin favour.

Frae Baden Baden tae the great ha o Blair,
thay cairrit symphonies tae the gentry’s parlours
an ye wuid gae thay maisters licht an air,
the tunes Europe sailin ower heilan arbours.

Music was yer aa be it castle ha or cotter hous,
for Scottish Country Dancin echt by thirty twa
fan the Bratach Bana frae turret cairriet the news,
or kintra ceilidhs wheechin birlin, gaein thair aa.

Yer chair bides noo whaur it aaweys stuid,
waitin for the Maister’s dowp tae tak its saet,
ye wir niver some mechanical fiddler cours an rude,
but a classical violin player, ane o the greats!


Nae Regrets
by Stuart A. Paterson

“What brave new music!”
(Hamish Henderson on first hearing ‘Grit’)

Bennett dead? How can he be? I’m sure
I heard him jouk & heuch! through birch
woods up past Hallaig just last month leading
the dead in a Seann Triubhas to Suisnish.

And not just there but in Glens Lyon & Shiel
where woodless cleared expanses reeled awake
remembering people, buildings, trees, a dance
of language dragged upright from bleeding knees.

And in Sativa, Squid, La Belle Angele,
The Buddha Bar, that’s where he really is,
not dead but sampling you, me, himself
through great loops of life on a crackcorned mix.

Bennett dead? How can he be? On Mull
I saw a cliff of kilt, a ben of nodding dreads,
a bay of angry hands resolved to build
what’s broken, nae words unspoken, nae regrets.


george-t-watt-photoGeorge T. Watt writes almost exclusively in Scots and has been published in Lallans, Gutter and New Writing Scotland. He is a past Runner-up in the McCash Poetry Competition and one of his poems featured in the top 20 of 2014 by The Scottish Poetry Library. He has also produced CDs for Scotsoun, the label of The Scots Language Society, most notably of Marion Angus and Violet Jacob. He is currently working on a CD version of Whaleback City (the 2013 anthology of Dundee Poetry ) edited by Andy Jackson and WN Herbert.


Scolarship award -Stuart pattersonStuart A. Paterson 
is a past recipient of an Eric Gregory Award & a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship. His 2015 collection of Galloway poems Border Lines was published by Indigo Dreams, who are publishing its follow-up volume Looking South in 2017. His latest collection is Aye, poems in Scots, published by Tapsalteerie. He lives in Galloway by the Solway coast. More info available at https://www.facebook.com/patersonpoetry/


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WEEK THIRTY-NINE – Ailsa Craig/Bass Rock

>> Ailsa Craig

Bass Rock <<

ailsa-craig                    bass-rock

It might seem an extraordinary coincidence that the outer reaches of Scotland’s two lowland estuaries both boast dramatic, stand-alone sheer rock islands. But when we consider the violent volcanic past that gave rise to our geology, it is perhaps not so strange. Both Ailsa Craig in the Firth of Clyde and the Bass Rock in the Firth of Forth are the remaining plugs of extinct volcanoes whose outer slopes were eroded during the Ice Age. The former was long a source of blue hone and common green granite which was quarried to make curling stones. Colloquially known as “Paddy’s milestone” from its proximity to the Irish sea routes, it is now better known as a bird sanctuary. Smaller but more precipitous, the Bass Rock performs the same function being the world’s largest colony of northern gannets. Like its western equivalent, it has been inhabited by lighthouse workers in the past and boasts the ruins of a castle. In the case of the Bass, this was used as prison for many centuries reaching its notorious apogee during the 17th century. For millennia seafarers travelling to and from the two great firths would have measured the progress of their voyages by these awe-inspiring sea-girt rocks.

Craig of the Water
by Andrew Sclater

Craig of the water
and Craig of the weeper,
Craig of great Atlas
whose rockfalls fall steeper,
Craig of great darkness
and Craig of delight,
the Craig is a breast
obscuring the light,
Craig as a glyph
that represents cliff,
or Craig of the bells,
or Craig of the shags,
Craig of the lighthouse
and polyethylene bags
no matter how vague
or what whisky you drink
your words will all end here
washed up in the stink
with sea wrack
half landed half sunk.


The Bass Rock
by Gordon Meade

Towards the end
of the breeding season,
the rock, like the young gannets
themselves, turns piebald,

there being fewer
pure white wings available
to provide its light dusting of Summer
snow. The adults birds

are still feeding their
offspring, pushing further
out from the rock with every passing
day, the local fish stocks

having already had
their annual hammering.
Soon, the entire colony will set off
for the shores of Africa,

safe in the knowledge
that the rock will be able
to withstand another Scottish Winter,
in anticipation of their return.



andrew-sclaterAndrew Sclater has held New Writers Awards from the Scottish Book Trust and New Writing North. In 2011, he was shortlisted for the Picador Poetry Prize. His family originate in Orkney and Galloway, and he now lives in Edinburgh. His work has appeared in The Dark HorseMagmaNew Writing ScotlandThe Istanbul Review and Shearsman. His pamphlet comes out in December via HappenStance.



gordon-meadeGordon Meade lives in Fife. His most recent collection, Les Animots: A Human Bestiary, a collaboration with the artist Douglas Robertson, was published in 2015 by Cultured Llama Publishing. His next collection, The Year of the Crab, will be available in 2018.


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>> Tartan

Tweed <<

tartans                             tweed

Universally associated with Scotland, almost to the exclusion of its popularity elsewhere, tartan has not had such an easy ride in the past. While now it is generally regarded as pan-Scottish, its origins lie in the Gaelic culture of the Highlands and Islands where, in the aftermath of the final Jacobite rising in 1746, it was banned along with the kilt, the pipes and other such totemic items. Virtually reinvented by Walter Scott for the royal visit of George IV to Edinburgh in 1822, tartan in its many and various patterns has since become linked to individual clans and, in the form of the kilt and plaid, is now seen as central to the national costume of the country as a whole. Equally central to that, but as material for jackets and waistcoats, tweed takes its name from the border river. However, this is believed to have come about as a misreading of the word tweel, the Scots term for woollen twill. Manufactured in both Scotland and Ireland, tweed is principally associated with the Borders and the Outer Hebrides, where the Isle of Harris has given its name to the particularly distinctive herringbone pattern. Both fabrics have thus been subject to misinterpretation – tweed in the acquisition of its name; tartan in being seen as representing Scotland as a whole.

The First Recorded Case
 by Magi Gibson

The owner of the Highland Guesthouse
on the Banks of the Bonny Braes
– not a Scot by birth –
first dipped his toe, so claims his spouse,
as a marketing device, intended to entice
the tourists in. After all, he said, it works
for oatcakes, rugs and haggises,
for Edinburgh Rock and haberdasheries.

He started with the curtains, a tasteful ancient
Robertson. American guests were wowed.
Soon he’d papered every room, each in a different clan –
modern, hunting, dress. Oh how he beamed
when guests from far Japan, bowed down, impressed.

His wife hoped it would stop right there.
But no! What better, he declared, than tartan
carpet underfoot on every floor and stair?
And when soft furnishings failed to satisfy –
he turned to clothes and underwear.

He couldn’t see himself in what he called
a man-skirt, but tartan trews to match the dining room
would do the trick. Seamlessly he slid from
harmless predilection to full hardcore addiction.

And then, one night, his wife, off-season, knitting
in the lounge, disquieted by a muffled sound,
looked round and saw, hovering disembodied,
(against the Clan Macgregor Ancient Dress)
her husband’s pale moon face, his startled hair
as he became half-man, half-tartan chair.


by Mandy Haggith

Its rough, red-flecked, silk-lined softness
hangs only in memory. I cannot try it on.

She offered it to me once. My sister too.
Ever tidy, she must have put it to a sale.

So now, although I hunger to shrug it over my shoulders,
put my hands into her pockets, maybe find a 20p,

a tissue to touch or a hankie to hold onto,
there’s only a wardrobe to empty

and then a train to catch
back north over the border river

to where that soft-rough fabric came from,
where the big round buttons belong.


magi-gibsonMagi Gibson’s
poetry collections include Graffiti in Red Lipstick and Wild Women of a Certain Age. Poems in Modern Scottish Women Poets (Canongate), Scottish Love Poems (Canongate), The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth Century Scottish Poetry, (EUP). The Senile Dimension won the Scotland on Sunday/Women 2000 Writing Prize. A new collection, Washing Hugh MacDiarmid’s Socks will be published in March 2017 by Luath.



mandy-croppedMandy Haggith is a writer and environmental activist who lives in Assynt. Her two poetry collections are letting light in and Castings. As poet in residence at the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens, she celebrated the Gaelic tree alphabet and the result was a tree poetry anthology, Into the Forest. She also writes novels and plays. Her website is at www.mandyhaggith.net


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WEEK THIRTY-SEVEN – Alexander Graham Bell/John Logie Baird

>> Alexander Graham Bell

John Logie Baird <<

alexandergrahambell                    john-logie-baird

If you want proof of how Scottish ingenuity has transformed the world you need only look at the inventions which have shaped us all, and there can be few inventions that have had greater impact than the telephone and television. The day after the 91st anniversary of the first successfully-transmitted television picture seems a good day to celebrate John Logie Baird, the Helensburgh-born inventor who, in 1925 gave the world moving pictures beamed into homes for the first time. Prior to that, the world had been connected via telephone, courtesy of the pioneering work of Edinburgh native Alexander Graham Bell who patented the first device in 1876, though he did not live to see Baird’s invention. Given our modern obsessions with both the telephone and the television, and notwithstanding the well-documented problems they sometimes cause us, both Scots have changed society in ways they could never have envisaged.


Memoir Concerning the Transmission of Speech
by Gerrie Fellows

You did not consider yourself an inventor
though you tuned the telegraph’s electric codes
to clone voices from the shapes of waves

a machine for the transmission of speech
it made you one of the speculative elect.

You did not consider yourself an inventor
you taught the deaf to decipher meaning
to articulate words through visible speech

a child’s hands tied behind her back
not violence    a necessity of assimilation.

You did not consider yourself an inventor
of cruelties    or divisions    or constructs
your speculative mind simply invented devices

to locate icebergs    split salt from seawater
the photophone    a posting of speech by sunlight
a conversation clouded by weather

as the transmission of sound was clouded
by your notions of hereditary deafness
of a nation diminished by defective genes.

You did not consider yourself an inventor
but a thinker concerned to prevent
a deaf variety of the human race    

love and its transmission
by a visible speech you reckoned primitive
foreign    as weakness or difference

the gestures    the facial grimace of signs
its visual alphabet and spatial grammar
the hand and the face making a poem of the deaf

a commonality and communication
that were not yours

to which you were not listening.

Stooky Bill
by Ross Wilson

An old tea chest,
biscuit tin, hat box,
scissors, darning needles,
glue and sealing wax,
were among the ingredients
John Logie Baird chose to mix
into his ‘machine for seeing
by wireless.’

Some thought he was a lunatic.
One feared he might have a razor.
All he had was a ‘televisor’
and Stooky Bill,
a ventriloquist dummy
who’d turn out to be
the first face transmitted
via primitive television.

Imagine his first demonstration,
Stooky Bill under arm,
he tries to explain his machine
like a performer everyone laughs at
on a talent show broadcast
into millions of living rooms
a century after
the dummy’s performance.



gerrie-fellows-pivcGerrie Fellows’ most recent collection is The Body in Space (Shearsman, 2014). Her work  includes several sequences exploring the effects of technologies on places and people: hydro-electricity in The Powerlines and in-vitro fertilisation in Window for a Small Blue Child. A New Zealander by birth, Gerrie has lived in Scotland for thirty years. Her work can be found at www.gerriefellows.co.uk.



Commissioned Image Taken By Eamonn McGoldrick PhotographerRoss Wilson comes from Kelty, West Fife. His first pamphlet collection, The Heavy Bag, was published by Calder Wood Press in 2011. His first full collection will be published by Smokestack Books in 2018. He lives and writes in Condorrat, North Lanarkshire, and works as an Auxiliary Nurse in Glasgow.


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Ross Wilson photo by Eamonn McGoldrick

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’.



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).

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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.

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.

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.



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 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


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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.


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.

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