Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Poems from the Backroom 15: Shakespeare Live Interview and a Book for these times!

Good to see so many artists and creatives using blogs and social media to entertain themselves and others. I'm sure when this is all over, we'll emerge blinking into the sunlight not wanting to hear another poem as long as we live. In today's video I ask William Shakespeare what he feels about Patrick Stewart's daily Sonnet - note he uses the Elizabethan spelling Stuart- and introduce to those who don't know it the perfect book for our times, the young French officer, Xavier De Maistre's 'Journey round my Room' written during a six week house arrest in the year 1790. 

A travelogue featuring Xavier propelling himself round his room in various directions and at various angles, the book uses objects and furniture found en route to inspire memories and contemplation,  and was a major inspiration to Marvel Proust. A great article on this book is to be read here:

Monday, 30 March 2020

Poems from the Backroom: World Premier 2- Christie Williamson

Joining me in the backroom today is the poet Christie Williamson, reading from his new collection. He's from Yell in Shetland, though now living in Glasgow. He writes both in English and in the Shetlandian dialect which another Shetland writer, Christine De Luca describes as

"Old Scots (which is related to Middle English) with a strong Norse influence. It's a waageng (aftertaste) of Norn, an extinct North Germanic language spoken in Shetland until the 18th century. It is arguably the most distinctive variant of Scots, reflecting the islands' history. Shetland and Orkney were part of the Danish-Norwegian kingdom until 1469, when they were pawned by the Danish king to the Scottish crown as part of a marriage settlement." 

There is more information about Christie here:


His latest book, launched virtually just the other day, is called Doors tae Naewye, a mix of English and Shetlandic poems, and can be bought from the Luath website. https://www.luath.co.uk/productsd/doors-tae-naewye.

Tomorrow- the ideal author, book and writing prompt for our times!

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Back Room 13: Skara brae, the Romans an Pictish Ale, an the Murther o Columba

Three more 'What if' poems today. Here an auld heid speaks fondly of the communal spirit of Skara Brae, and the legend of Pictish Ale gets reversed. The legend was that the last two Picts who held the secret of Pictish Ale jumped off the Mull of Galloway rather than surrender it to the Romans. Here that doesn't happen, with world changing consequence.

In the third poem St Columba doesn't convert the Picts to Christianity but gets strangled by Eithne, a spunky Pictish Princess.

My website below, and also the story of Pictish Ale, and a brilliant poem on the subject by Robert Louis Stevenson.



Saturday, 28 March 2020

Backroom Day 12: World Exclusive! Marion McCready

 Well folks I've decided not to consistently bore you with my ugly puss but have invited some excellent poets to play, occasionally,  in the Back Room too. At a safe distance. So in a world exclusive here is Marion McCready. Marion was born in Stornoway, now lives in Dunoon and is the author of beautiful, dreamy and elemental poems. Her latest book is Madame Ecosse, published by Eyewear in 2017. If you're not familiar, get familiar! Me and Scottish history again tomorrow, then another guest!

More about her here:


Friday, 27 March 2020

Poetry from the Back Room 11: Patrick Kavanagh

Unlike my friend Hayden Murphy I never knew Patrick Kavanagh. Hayden appears in several  Kavanagh biographies and in fact published him in his legendary 'Broadsheet'. There are many many outstanding Irish poets but for pathos, empathy and style no-one beats Kavanagh at his best. Some further information on Kavanagh here, as well as Hayden's Broadsheet.



Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Poetry from the Back Room 9: My Birthday and Emily Willis' Post-Mortem

Happy Birthday to Shug!!!!!! Today I read two of my own poems about birthdays. The first concerns a story my sister told me about the day of my own birth, the second about my daughter Lydia's. The third poem is from Emily Willis, doing a cunning poetry type thing and observing her own post-mortem. She may be unfamiliar to you but you would be doing yourself a favour by reading more. Some limited information here-


Poems from the Backroom 8: Two brand new plague poems and Nan Shepherd

Today folks we have two brand new poems responding to our ongoing troubles. Both examine the roles human beings are playing: in Vaccine Stuart Paterson ruminates on our current behaviours, in New Old Age I have a think, sceptically, about whether all this will change our attitudes in the long term. We end things up with a gorgeous poem by Nan Shepherd on the power of love. More about these poets here:


Tomorrow we were due to hear Patrick Kavanagh but since tomorrow is my birthday I think we shall
read some birthday poems together! See you then

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Elegies from Oz and a song from the Hole in the Wa

Today three poets from Australia and a sting in the tale from the Hole in the Wa. First the Kogarah Kid, aka Clive James, foretelling his own death in his final moving collection, then two poets from Brisbane: David Malouf lamenting the death of a love affair and Jane Frank lamenting the death of the Male Northern White Rhinoceros. The whole piece is ended by a song from the Hole in the Wa lamenting life. All in all, cheery as fuck. But then as Larkin, copying Montherlant said, 'Happiness writes white'.

Pic quality a bit dream-like on this one: I put that down to something that I cannae explain. Tomorrow at least two specially commissioned (well, written already) pieces on the virus itself from two eminent Scottish poets.  Brace yourself.

If you want to know more about the three brilliant poets featured here, there are links below.


Monday, 23 March 2020

Poetry from the Back Room 6: Visions of Scotland

Today we have three poets representing visions of Scotland; Liz Lochead, Scotland's ex-makar, gives us a view of a train interior that we can all recognise, Tom Leonard writes a brilliant wee poem about the word wee and I look at an old photograph. If you're unfamiliar with these poets you can learn more here.



Tomorrow we have three fantastic poets from Australia. Two from Brisbane and one, the kid from Kogarah.

Sunday, 22 March 2020

A 599th Anniversary, two cheeseburgers and John Knox's Hingin ee for Mary QOS

Its all about me today, he said tossing his hair. Today is the 599th anniversary of the Battle of Bauge, a turning point in the Hundred Years War between England and France. Nobody much knows, and few throughout this sceptred isle care, but Scotland played a loyal and effective part in this struggle in France, committing an extraordinary number of troops over the piece- 50,000 or so- and in the process sconing Henry V's brother the Duke of Clarence stone deid with an oatcake. No, that's another poem. But it was a great victory and at the news the Pope did a little dance and exclaimed that the Scots were the perfect antidote to the English.

In celebration of this great victory, here I read two of the collection of What If poems I am writing- have written- in sort of Scots, one about a hypothetical battle between two monster warships of the day, the English Mary Rose and the Scots Great Michael, and one about the moment John Knox fell in love with Mary Queen of Scots.

Saturday, 21 March 2020

Poetry from the Back Room 4; Joy Harjo and Billy Collins

Today is UNESCO World Poetry Day but for the followers of this blog - all 3 of them- EVERY DAY is poetry day. Today, two Americans,  the brilliant, irrepressible and elemental genius that is Joy Harjo

and the witty and very accessible Billy Collins, whose poetry, very apposite for these days, hardly ever leaves his living room

Tomorrow some history poems and, maybe, better sound.

Friday, 20 March 2020

Poetry from the Back Room 3: Panic Buying of Pigeon Magazines

The Americans are postponed till tomorrow. Here's me talking (and reading poems) about the panic buying of Pigeon Magazines and my daughter Lydia's last day at school. Joy Harjo and Billy Collins tomorrow, and better sound quality very soon!

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Poetry from the Back Room 2: Jeanette Lynes

Today’s poems are a fantasy about the reclusive 19th century American poet Emily Dickinson https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/emily-dickinson reading Playboy by the Canadian poet Jeanette Lynes  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jeanette_Lynes 
and a true life story where I nearly met Donald Adamson if it hadn't been for a 30 stone Lithuanian

Wednesday, 18 March 2020

Poetry From the Back Room 1

A too tiny appreciation of Iain Crichton Smith, Two Girls Singing, and my own Confession.

Tuesday, 17 March 2020

How great is this? And how beautifully written

A letter from F Scott Fitzgerald, quarantined during the Spanish Influenza

Dearest Rosemary,

It was a limpid dreary day, hung as in a basket from a single dull star. I thank you for your letter. Outside, I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach, to which I asked if he had washed his hands. He hadn’t. He is much the denier, that one. Why, he considers the virus to be just influenza. I’m curious of his sources.

The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.

You should see the square, oh, it is terrible. I weep for the damned eventualities this future brings. The long afternoons rolling forward slowly on the ever-slick bottomless highball. Z. says it’s no excuse to drink, but I just can’t seem to steady my hand. In the distance, from my brooding perch, the shoreline is cloaked in a dull haze where I can discern an unremitting penance that has been heading this way for a long, long while. And yet, amongst the cracked cloudline of an evening’s cast, I focus on a single strain of light, calling me forth to believe in a better morrow.

Faithfully yours,

F. Scott Fitzgerald

Poetry in the Days of Pestilence

I've decided to abandon my old blog 'Dark Mutterings in Drumsleet' for temporary technical reasons and start a new one for the next wee while. My intention is to post videos on it every day of me gibbering shite about poetry and reading two poems a day, one of which will be ma ain. Who knows how successful this effort will be? No me, that's for sure.

Although I've got work to do - the Holywood Trust book, and the anthology for the spirited and clever writers of Dumfries Academy- it seems I'll be spending time in the Peoples Republic of Penpont and not going abroad in society so this project will be a welcome diversion from thinking about the pub and ALSO, poetry is a comfort in hard times as I've often said, sometimes seriously.

Keeping me company in this venture will be two cats, two weans if they ever get sent home, and five bottles of Malt.

People who I've been less than two metres away from recently have already been bored silly by my 51 poems in Scots about Scottish history and I may read a few of these in the upcoming days but I think I'll launch this blog with the one about the plague. See you soon.

Whit if thare wis Public Safety Advice oan the Brent-New Pestilence o 1348?

If ye hae been fair awa 
or hae met onyane traivellin 
frae a kennt hot-spot 
ie Asia Minor, the Crimea, 
Genoa not Venice 
an ye begin tae shaw 
the followin signs: 

Myld filever, 
spreckle-lik spots,
pechin , 
byles in the oxters

an if it isnae possible locally 
tae thraw a jew
or a humphy-backit wummin 
doon a well, dinnae fash -

adopt the following meesures:

buy or mak a mask wi a big beak 
an bide cosy in yer hoose!
Thare is nae evidence 
the disease spreids tae pets 
sae dinnae fret aboot yer rottans , 
looses, golachs, sclaturs 
or mites they will be jist braw.