Thursday, 30 April 2020

Poetry from the Backroom 46: Lesley Glaister

I have a great fondness for Lesley Glaister for two reasons. One is that her novel 'Little Egypt' is one of the favourite books in Park View, and the other is that when, unbeknown to them, I was once at a low ebb she and Andrew Greig said nice things about my poetry in the press one Christmas, thus ensuring their everlasting presence in the McMillan Hall of Fame, and on the back cover of every piece of mediocre writing I churn out from now on.

Lesley Glaister is an incredibly talented fiction writer, poet, and playwright and teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews. Her first novel was published in 1990 and since then she’s published 14 further adult novels. She received both a Somerset Maugham and a Betty Trask award for 'Honour Thy Father', won the Yorkshire Post Author of the Year Award in 1993 for 'Limestone and Clay'; the Jerwood Fiction Uncovered for 'Little Egypt' and has been short- and long-listed for literary prizes for her other work. Several of her plays have been broadcast on BBC Radio 4 and her first stage play, 'Bird Calls', was performed at Sheffield’s Crucible Studio Theatre in 2004. She teaches creative writing at the University of St Andrews.

However, literary success apart, everybody knows that poetry is best, and Lesley has published two collections with Mariscat Press, the first, 'Visiting The Animal' in 2015 and the second 'The Nub' in December 2019, which features a long poem sequence written during, or inspired by, Lesley's residence at the Pah Homestead in Auckland New Zealand, as part of the Scottish Writers' New Zealand Fellowship. 'The Nub' includes a sequence called 'Moreton Bay Fig', an account of a love affair with a tree in New Zealand, which I copy, courtesy of her website, below.

Here Lesley reads the title poem from her latest collection:


Do you know the Moreton Bay Fig?
Have you been introduced?
The one that spreads hall-sized
the one with buttress roots
that stretch like walls, head high or more
the one with little beads of figs
inedible, with patent leather leaves
the one that’s deeply littered underneath
in rustling clefts?

A human can press her lips
against that vegetable hulk
can eye the O’s and eyes
that stretch the bark
rear back her head to gasp
at massive boughs
(how do they branch so far, bear all that weight?)
the complex bulk:
in wonderment, in worship
– or in want?

Tons more info here on her website:

A few more poems on the SPL site here:

You can order 'The Nub' here:

Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Backroom 45: Neil Young

Let me pursue a favourite pastime and quote myself.

 “Neil Young’s first collection recalls themes with which, you’d hope, our children will find it difficult to connect: war, sectarianism, poverty. I’ve always thought the job of poets wasn’t to secure sales, workshops or honours but to memorialise their people: I don’t mean by that necessarily a race or a country, but those who’ve one way or another touched them, formed them, made them. This is poetry’s oldest duty. Young’s book tells the story of his people frankly, brutally even, but with grace, skill and humanity, love in fact. This is a compelling and accessible book."

Too true. Neil is a people’s poet and a poet’s poet. He is hugely underrated but, like Shug Hanlan appearing in a few days time, ratings are a thing I don’t think he cares particularly about. An avowed socialist, his poems are often unashamedly political but can be achingly personal too. He's class.

Neil Young hails from Belfast and now lives in Aberdeenshire, where he is co-founder and major human dynamo behind widely acclaimed magazine 'The Poets’ Republic' which has recently turned pamphlet publisher, too, publishing over the last two years Joy Hendry,
Katie Ewing, JoAnne McKay and Maria Stadnicka.

'Shrapnel' Reviewed in the Morning Star

Link for 'Poetry Republic' magazine

A Transcript of the Poem reads above-


I see her first through the frosted-glass partition
with the hall; moving around in the kitchen,
bobble-slippered over a blue-tiled floor,
click-clicking the paraffin heater. I smell
the thin escape of fume, eidetic, warm. It ignites.
Then I am there too, about four, at the table,
legs skimming the floor. She pushes two custard creams
on a plate to my hands, I slurp diluted orange juice
from a Tupperware beaker with its rim chewed
where my two older brothers had drank before, pre-school.
She flicks the radio on. Petula is singing Downtown;
mam’s singing too: “Listen to the rhythm of the gentle bossa nova”
though she hasn’t been to a dance in years. She’s always
in the background, doing, tending, until she is there no more.

Poems from the Backroom 44 : Finola Scott

None of us get out at all now, but even before lockdown I didn’t emerge too much from the hills into the white hot crucible that is Scotlit. One such occasion though recently was a visit to Edinburgh to a 'Poetry and Cake' event organised by Henry Marsh at Henderson’s Vegetarian Cafe in Edinburgh. I approached this with some trepidation partly because I feel that poetry and cake, despite what some might say, does not have the same satisfying cosmic resonance as poetry and beer and partly because my previous jaunts there had been with my ex-mother in law,  but the event was a huge success, a crowded and warm audience, many book sales and other readers that were entertaining. It was the first time I’d heard Finola Scott read more than one poem, and I was taken by both the poetry and the performance. Listening to poets read is such an important thing- that’s really part of the justification of this project. What did Socrates say to Phidias?  'A bunch of words is just a bunch of words, you can't interrogate them further'. Readings give you a door into particular poems and Finola Scott is a very accomplished reader.

Finola Scott writes in Scots and English. In 2018 she won the Uist poetry Competition, was a winner of the Blue Nib Chapbook competition, the winner of the Dundee Law Competition and runner up in Coast to Coast's pamphlet competition. Her poetry is widely published, appearing in The Ofi Press, Ink Sweat & Tears, Gutter and Firth ,as well as many other magazines and anthologies. In February 2020 ‘Much Left Unsaid’ was published by Red Squirrel Press.

Watch Finola doing some Wild Swimming:

A Review of ‘Much Left Unsaid’ published by Red Squirrel Press in February 2020 with some poems from it here:


The weight of rock
between head and larks.
The hole in the clog
to set drip-water free.
The tease of sparkle
along ebony faults.
The wrench of oxide
from miser stone.
The chill of geology
scraping at skin.
The stench of tallow
crowding the space.
The scramble when short
straw is pulled.
The laughter at bait,
the suck on clay pipe.
The bargains we strike
with bosses, pals and God.

Monday, 27 April 2020

Poetry from the Backroom 43 : Jim Carruth, the Pig Whisperer.

Lovely little poem here from Jim Carruth, one of Scotland's leading poets and the Makar for Glasgow since 2014.

Jim Carruth was born in Johnstone in 1963 and grew up on his family’s farm near Kilbarchan and his poetry reflects that background, and an increasingly disappearing way of life in the countryside. He has been described as 'Scotland's leading rural poet', though whoever said that can't have read my last book which would have brought tears to a glass sheep. His first collection 'Bovine Pastoral' was published in 2004 and was runner up in the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award. Since then he has brought out a further five collections. In 2009 he was awarded a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship and was the winner of the James McCash poetry competition.
He is one of the founders and current chair of St Mungo’s Mirrorball, the Glasgow network of poets and poetry lovers and is a committee member of StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival. The Mirrorball provides, I know from personal experience, a vibrant, warm and enthusiastic forum for visiting poets and is one of the gems in Glasgow's literary fundament.

The Pig Whisperer Here:

His website here:

His SPL Profile and more poems here:

Farm Sale

Everything is numbered and must go
so he sits at the back of the shed
while the crowd picks over the final lots.

He lays his cap flat on his knee,
slowly stretches stiff finger
to find the faded cross hatch flecks

tracing each tweed field on his bonnet,
whispering their sweet names to himself,
walking the boundaries of his lost world.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

Backroom 42: Liz Niven

"Fresh starts can come from shadows"

It's great to see Liz Niven in the Backroom. Liz is one of our greatest poets not just in a Dumfries and Galloway context but in a Scottish one. She is, like myself, one of that merry band of Luath poets. 

She was born in Glasgow and educated at Glasgow University and Jordanhill College of Education but has lived in Dumfries and Galloway for many years. As a teacher and a poet, she has always had a strong interest in recognising and facilitating the use of Scots language in education. She has been Scots Language Development Officer for Dumfries and Galloway Education Department and has written or edited a range of language resources to support renewed use of Scots.

Liz’s own poetry has been published in most major Scottish magazines, as well as along the River Cree in Galloway, in a commissioned collaboration with sculptors and wood-carvers. Her poetry collections include Cree Lines (2000), Stravaigin (2001), Burning Whins and Other Poems (2004), and The Shard Box (2010).Here she reads a poem called Fern - which symbolises what we’re all thinking off, hope born of darkness.

Website here:

Profile on the SPL and more poems


Tourists at Auschwitz

We'd been telt
nae birds wid sing.

True it wis bit tall trees
shrooded brick wark camps.

Row upon row, they stretcht,
far as the greetin een cuid see.

Hidden fae view,
gas chaumers lay buriet,
unner foondations crummlt,
as butcher builders fleed.

A million an a hauf stanes pave
memorials in monie tungs.
A brick fir ilka deid sowel.
Vyces are low, few picters taen.

Nearhaun,a watter-fillt hollow,
algae covert, still hauds human ash.
A haun-wringin guide tells us mair.
Wirds hing heavy.

Intae sic silence,
a green puddock lowps a perfit bow,
oan the staignant loch.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

Poetry and Music from the Backroom 41: The Makar Willie Hershaw

I met Willie a few years back when he hosted a 'Sheep and Buirds' event in Betty Nichol's in Kirkcaldy. 'Buirds' was a beautiful crafted pamphlet by Hugh Bryden's Roncadora Press, featuring linocuts by Fiona Morton and Willie's poems.

It was a warm and vibrant occasion, full of poetry and music, the type we dream of in these covid days. Willie Hershaw is a Scots poet of serious stature, and also a musician and songwriter, as is his son David.

His works in Scots and English include 'Fower Brigs Tae A Kinrik' published by Aberdeen University Press and 'The Cowdenbeath Man' published by the Scottish Cultural Press.  In 2005 he won the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award. In 2007 he collaborated with sculptor David Annand, writing the poem 'God The Miner' which is inscribed on the statue 'The Prop' as part of the Lochgelly Regeneration Project. In 2011 he was awarded the McCash Prize for Scots Poetry by Glasgow University/The Herald. He has co - edited the Literary Magazine Fras.  In November 2012 'Cage Load Of Men' was released as part of the Joe Corrie Project, work inspired by the legendary Fife poet and playwright. His latest books include his Scots translation of The Tempest and Postcairds Fae Woodwick Mill (2015), an Orcadian poetry collection. His Selected Poems in Scots was published in December 2016.


Puffed up preenin wee paircels o shite
that hing aboot public places
ostentatiously nebbin pieces
o invisible breid tae affirm
their commitment tae programmes
o communal austerity.

Willie's Profile in the SPL and more poems here:

In the video, Willie's son David sings his arrangement for one of Willie's poems. 'God's No Sleepin'.

God’s No Sleepin
Attour the world
Saut tears faa dreepan,
Bide sauf the nicht,
For God’s no sleepin.

A lanesome ark
O tint sauls greetin,
Bide lown, be sained,
For God’s no sleepin.

The daurk maun pass,
The daw comes creepin,
Courie doun, courie in,
For God’s no sleepin.

Friday, 24 April 2020

Backroom 40: Marcas Mac an Tuairneir

We celebrate Backroom 40 with a long overdue poem in Gaelic by Marcas Mac an Tuairneir. One of the most beautiful and neglected languages in Europe, and with a great legacy of poetry, Gaelic has been the language of a succession of brilliant poets in the last 50 years, including Iain Crichton Smith, Derick Thomson, our own Willie Neill, Sorley MacLean, and more recently, Meg Bateman, Maoilios Caimbeul, Rody Gorman, Aonghas MacNeacail and Angus Peter Campbell.

Marcas Mac an Tuairneir is a new and dynamic kid on the block, using an ancient language to express very modern themes. On this page he reads 'Selkie', a poem with a very contemporary message. He works in Gaelic an English not just in poetry but in drama, music and journalism. Marcas was named New Gaelic Playwright of the year by Comhairle nan Leabhraichean an Playwrights' Studio Scotland in 2016. His two full-length plays 'Tilleadh' and 'Turadh' won the Stornoway Gazette Trophy at the Royal National Mòd.

As a singer-songwriters he was the recipient of the award for a new Gaelic song at the 2018 Royal National Mòd and had been selected to represent Scotland at Liet International – the minoritised languages’ answer to the Eurovision Song Contest – which was due to take place in Aabenraa, Denmark, this month. Marcas was a Mòd Gold Medal Finalist in 2016 and a Mòd Traditional Gold Medal Finalist in 2019.

He has published two poetry collections ('Deò', Gracenote, 2013; 'Lus na Tùise', Bradan Press, 2016) as well as the co-authored pamphlet 'beul-fo-bhonn / heelster-gowdie' (Tapsalteerie, 2017). A brand new collection 'Dùileach' is expected in 2020 with Evertype.

He was the recipient of the Wigtown Gaelic Poetry Prize in 2017.  He is poet-in-residence at The Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh.

He is the editor of online Gaelic arts and the Gaelic editor of 'The Poets' Republic'.

Two  film poems made by Marcas here and here.

Watch Marcas singing ‘Grioglachan’ co-written with Mary Ann Kennedy here.

Thursday, 23 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 39: Eleanor Livingston

Born in 1957, Eleanor Livingstone lives in Leven in Fife. She is a poet, reviewer and editor whose work has been published widely in the UK and beyond. A graduate of the University of St Andrews, she has worked both as a para-legal and creative writing tutor. Since 2008, she has been Director of Stanza Scotland’s International Poetry Festival which takes place annually in St Andrews and has established itself as one of the most prestigious in the world, bringing poets from a the airts to socialise, read, booze (well I do when I'm there) and attend a rich catalogue of events. All poets and poetry lovers will be hoping fervently that comparing poets' bookshelves and kitchen units in poetry videos will soon give way to the well loved chat, concourse and petty rivalries of Poetry Festivals and other events soon. Because we are social animals. However, in this poetry video, its the next best thing, we are live in Eleanor's house, hearing her read from her book 'Even the Sea'. Dog lovers beware, this is a sad yin, partly inspired by Rilke's idea that dogs have soul but no heaven to go to. Rilke was fairly obsessed by dogs but that's another story.

Eleanor has collections published with Happenstance and Red Squirrel Press.

Her Profile and poems from the SPL Website here: 

Another poem here:

In the Mort House

On calm nights when the sky
slips down to drape the land in black,
behind the Mort House shutters
in an outer room the widower
keeps watch; and heat from two fires
cannot stop his shivering. Beyond
the lath-and-plaster white partition
those grim sisters, time and sweet
decay work on relentlessly
to beat the body snatchers
at their game.

His ears alone can hear
the resurrection men steal out
from earth’s dark folds,
boots scraping sparks,
spades finding stone,
then earth, then flesh
wrapped bone

Wednesday, 22 April 2020

Backroom 38: Jim Mackintosh

Jim Mackintosh should be lauded for his poetry, but also for his decision to appear in film wearing his pyjamas. When the stats are added up for this blog, when we're working out who did have the biggest bookcase, what these bizarre ornaments were on that shelf, whether that was really tea, what Jessamine o Connor's kitchen ceiling is made of etc etc, Jim's brave and singular decision to wear his pyjamas will get its proper attention. In the meantime, there's always his poetry. In the video today he reads 'A Full hand of Bananas', a poem dedicated to his brother.

Jim Mackintosh has had six collections published and has edited a further three Anthologies, including 'The Darg' – a poetry celebration of Hamish Henderson’s Centenary published by Poets Republic Press last year and launched to a sell-out crowd at the Edinburgh Book Festival. He has been the guiding light behind several energising poetry projects, such as 'Mind The Time' which raised funds for the charity Football Memories and was published during Jim’s tenure as the Poet in Residence for St Johnstone which ended last year. Jim is also the Poet in Residence for The Hampden Collection as well as the Poet in Residence for the Cateran EcoMuseum in east Perthshire and the Angus glens.

He is also currently the Poetry Editor for Nutmeg Football Periodical, the Programme Manager for the Blairgowrie based HamishMatters Festival which celebrates the life and legacy of Hamish Henderson as well as being an active Committee member of both the Friends of Hugh Miller and the Friends of Willie Soutar actively promoting the work of both, the latter through teaching primary schools Soutar’s Scots language Bairnrhymes every Autumn. 

The measure of a poet who lives his or her life in poetry is not just to be found in their own work but in the energy and passion they expend promoting the work of others they admire. I find this legacy aspect particularly important as I come from a land of lost poets. I commend Jim for his enthusiasm in performing this task. 

An Interview with Jim giving further info here:


in the sports section, twa paragraphs
unner the fold, an oot o the spotlicht,
I saw a photograph o a toosled chiel
impassive, beckonin me tae find him
beyond the January transfer windae

proodly displayin his country's badge
oan a jersey o pink an yellow bands,
no in a puffed oot boastin way, no
in a hunkered doon ashamed way,
but as it shid be, ain o his nation's best

a nippy ain tae, wi a hint o Jinky's weave
a ready capped fir Scotland, his faither
a sugar plantation owner, a player o sorts
but as I listen tae the kettle bile an coffee
steams the inky stains oot ma thochts

Andrew Watson's gaze turns a sombre like
when he hears the Classified's, his noble
Queens Park no dae'in sae well noo'adays, no
since he went sooth, gaun fae tanner ba enigma
tae bein swallied up in time added oan.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 37: Gerda Stevenson


Delighted to welcome Gerda Stevenson into the backroom today. You may remember her as William Wallace's ma, but Gerda is multi-talented, an actress, actor, director and songwriter as well as a poet. Leaving the poetry aside- for now- she has been nominated for and awarded prizes in drama and music, winning a BAFTA award for best actress for Margaret Tait’s feature film, 'Blue Black Permanent' and she was nominated in 2014 for the MG ALBA Trad Music Awards, in the Scots Singer of the Year category. In the same year, she was nominated as one the Saltire Society’s Outstanding Women in Scotland. She has written, in 2017, a libretto based on Coleridge's Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. In 2018 and 19 she delivered The Thomas Muir Memorial Lecture and the George MacKay Brown Memorial Lecture.

Her first poetry book was 'If this were Real' published by Smokestack Books in 2013, which was published in Italy in 2017 as 'Se Questo Fosse Verture' and in 2018 Luath (quick and rousing hurrah for Luath) brought out 'Quines' a series of poems inspired by and dedicated to the women of Scotland which has deservedly received rave reviews.

More recently, Allan wright Photographic has published a collaboration called 'Edinburgh' for which Gerda wrote the introduction and twenty two poems.

Much more information here:

and her SPL Profile and more poems here:

Here is the Text of Gerda's moving video poem

How To Tell Him

(On receiving news of my mother-in-law's death)

I replace the phone on its cradle,
the news resting in my ear.
How to bring it to my mouth,
be midwife to words that will cut
the cord of their braided years.
How to tell him?

He looks up from his paper
like a child over a garden hedge -
her fond and only prodigal.
I can hear the clock on her mantelpiece
two hundred miles away, its tick
a pulse to the music of her days:
the hens' muffled clucking at her kitchen door,
the hot water tank's bubble and slurp
as the peat-blaze sears the back boiler;
the ferry's boom at the pier head,
the wind's whine up the croft brae.

She's still alive until I tell him,
sending eggs next week, as usual,
swaddling each fragile oval
in the Press & Journal's folds;
tomorrow's pot roast is on the stove,
homage to the Sabbath, when
duty-bound, she'll take her ease;
and she's skinning Golden Wonders,
scooping salt herring from a plastic pail,
their scaled bellies a rainbow in her palm -
until I tell him.

From 'If This were Real' (Smokestack Books).

Monday, 20 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 36: Andrew Greig

Absolutely delighted to welcome Andrew Greig into the Backroom this morning. I've always loved his novel Electric Brae and I've used it at times as some kind of strange codex to my life, but more generally he is one of these writers who have helped (me and plenty of others) define what it is to be a modern Scot and a modern human being, because he writes about the stuff that builds us, love, landscape, politics, adversity.

A fine prose writer, and a great poet, he is also a mountaineer, having climbed some of the world's greatest peaks and survived to write about them. His memoir 'At the Loch of the Green Corrie' about his friendship with Norman MacCaig is a hugely accessible side door into another great Scottish writer's life and the landscape that inspired it.

Much more information about Andrew's life and work and music can be found here:

More poems here:

Coming from the land of Max Houliston, one of Scotland's greatest accordion players, I was very pleased to see that two of Andrew's poems in the film are about the Accordion-Meister Jimmy Shand, who Max knew well and of whom he shared many stories, not all of them suitable to share here. In the last poem, the 'Old Codgers', he talks about sitting in Byers Road with "the rain, like death. just missing us."

Another beautiful example of Andrew’s poetry

Orkney/This Life

For Catherine and Jamie

It is big sky and its changes,
the sea all round and the waters within.
It is the way sea and sky
work off each other constantly,
like people meeting in Alfred Street,
each face coming away with a hint
of the other's face pressed in it.
It is the way a week-long gale
ends and folk emerge to hear
a single bird cry way high up.

It is the way you lean to me
and the way I lean to you, as if
we are each other's prevailing;
how we connect along our shores,
the way we are tidal islands
joined for hours then inaccessible,
I'll go for that, and smile when I
pick sand off myself in the shower.
The way I am an inland loch to you
when a clatter of white whoops and rises...

It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
the way we enter friends' houses
to leave what we came with, or flick
the kettle's switch and wait.
This is where I want to live,
close to where the heart gives out,
ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
where birds fly through instead of prayers
while in Hoy Sound the ferry's engines thrum
this life this life this life.

Backroom 35: Bill Herbert

In the Backroom today is Bill Herbert, an eminent poet and writer on poetry. Bill is an entertaining, accessible, interesting, learned and friendly poet.

His biography is as long as some folk’s arms but I include a summary. Haud yer braith.....

Bill Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961 and educated at Oxford.
He has published eight volumes of poetry and six pamphlets which have garnered many prizes including three Scottish Arts Council Awards and a Northern Arts Award. He has also been shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot, Saltire, Forward and McVities prizes. In 2014 he earned a Cholmondeley award from the Society of Authors, and in 2015 he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He is currently Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University.He was Makar of Dundee from 2013-18.

Bill has also co-edited with Andrew Jackson two popular poetry blogs. 'New Boots and Pantisocracies' and the brand new 'Postcards from Malthusia'. His new book, called 'The Wreck of the Fathership' is due out in October and here he reads the poem Dirt Bath.

Here is the link to his new book:

A longer version of his biography along with other recorded poems, can be found here:

And here is his profile on the SPL Website

The Babies

I’m driving at night through the countryside
trying to decide what it is the countryside is
to the side of. Since we all already share
a perfectly good roadside – perhaps it’s beside
this. Certainly there is more to it than verge:
it also has an underneath of sexton beetle,
a canopy of bat and owl and, by the sea,
another side, although, for some reason,
I can’t remember which sea. In fact,
for the moment, I can’t remember which country.
It’s far too dark to confirm any of this
on this particular road, which is narrow,
mountainous, meandering between villages
without lights, banked by mounds of bushes
merged with eucalypti, beneath a milky ribbon
of stars. Then, caught in my headlights,
are two babies standing in their nappies, talking.
They are at once by the roadside and in
the countryside. One turns to watch me, thin-
lipped, drilling his eyes into my tail-lights,
the back of my darkened head, until
the car is out of sight. Then they return
to their sullen, unhurried symposium, as though
I’d never passed, as though I’d never been born.

Saturday, 18 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 34; JoAnne McKay

World Premier Drama and New Poetry Explore the Limits of LoveJoAnne McKay was born in Romford in Essex. Her father owned a slaughterhouse and butchers. She went to Bristol University, and then joined the police. She now lives in Penpont, which as everyone knows is an oasis of creative calm amidst the tumult - or stasis, now- of contemporary life, and works for the charity Arthritis Care in a national role, running services for children and young people throughout Scotland.

JoAnne’s poetry and prose has been published in numerous literary magazines, both print and online. She has published several poetry pamphlets including 'Venti' which was runner up in the Callum MacDonald prize. Her most recent collection was 'If you find my Mother, buy her Flowers', with the Anglo-Roumanian poet Maria Stadnicka. She has appeared at The London Poetry Festival, the Wigtown Book Festival, Glasgow’s 'Aye Write' literary festival and Electric Fields. She performed her sonnet sequence, Hermetic, at the Theatre Royal, Dumfries as part of the Bunbury Banter Theatre Company’s A Play, A Poem and A Pastry. Her most recent project, 'We Fire the Dark', was a series of readings exploring the catalogue of a nineteenth century museum in nearby Thornhill for Cample Line, an arts organisation in Nithsdale.

An extract can be seen from 'We Fire The Dark'  here:

Another poem by JoAnne, inspired by her time as curator at Burns' House in Dumfries.


Like fragments of the true cross, spot lit
for devout attention, the gauging rod
and toddy ladle of a minor god
laze in case, conjuring the hypocrite
to taxing thoughts of illicit stills
in heather hills, copper worms condensing
some spirit of freedom, and Scotch smuggling
down South for pound profit from the gristmills.
God knows, the winter is wild, comfort hard
to come by, two fingers for the exciseman,
Ca ira, Ca ira, sit down, sup up
revels and romance with the whisky bard.
Love, lust; distil raw feeling as a man
to poem proof alone I’ll raise a cup.

Friday, 17 April 2020

Back Room 33: Dilys Rose

I'm delighted to host Dilys Rose in the back room today, a fantastic poet and short story writer. What a wealth of excellence we have in our poets! Dilys Rose was born in Glasgow in 1954 and took a degree at Edinburgh University. She is the author of four collections of short stories: Our Lady of the Pickpockets (1989); Red Tides (1993); War Dolls (1998); and Lord of Illusions and also published four collections of poetry: Madame Doubtfire's Dilemma (1989); Lure (2003); When I Wear My Leopard Hat (1997); and Bodywork (2007).

Her poetry, in English and Scots, shows great range and imagination and often uses stories from history and literature to make very contemporary points about humanity.

We have all been worshipping the Goddess Hygeiea over the last few weeks and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future in our constant fight against the Nosoi, the Spirits of Disease. She is the goddess of good health, daughter of the medicine-god Asklepios, and a companion of the goddess Aphrodite. Her sisters included Panakeia and Iaso, the goddesses of remedy and cure. Dily's poem here is about Hygeiea:

The poem is taken from a new pamphlet, 'Stone the Crows'
, due soon from Mariscat Press. It was commissioned for an illustrated book on rooftop statuary in Edinburgh and Hygieia, Greek goddess of Health, stands on the portico of the Royal College of Physicians.

Dilys Rose's website here:

And her SPL profile and seven more poems here:

Poems from the Back Room 32: Des Dillon!

Poet, short story writer, novelist, dramatist, scriptwriter for radio and screen, Des Dillon is an internationally known and respected writer. Born in Coatbridge, he now lives in Garlieston in Wigtownshire.

Using the energy of  the everyday language in his part of west Scotland, and his own love of writers like Carver, Salinger and Bob Dylan, he creates writing that is vibrant, realistic and powerful. Edwin Morgan described his debut novel as one that  'Reminded me of Twain and Kerouac ... a story told with wonderful verve, immediacy and warmth'.

Coming to literature via various career paths like fruit machine engineer, joiner and teacher, he is the author of a host of books and plays, his great novel 'Me and Ma Girl', the one described above by Edwin Morgan, being listed as one of the '100 great Scottish books of all time'. Des writes across a wide field of disciplines and this is popularly supposed to diffuse or dilute your talent but not in his case, as he is annoyingly brilliant at everything. He says, in his profile at the Scottish Poetry Library, that  ‘I always considered myself to be first and foremost, a poet’and it's his poetry we feature here.

Like many other writers and poets he's a passionate advocate of Scottish independence. He is also a great animal lover. What's not to like?

Here's another poem
first published in the Centre o the Scots Leid

The Braithe O A Deer by Des Dillon

Fankled shankies in the vanashin rid
licht o a Range Rover. I dusht the brakes
an hazards greetin Whit’ll we dae?
as I jamp oot scooping her aff the road,
that gracie neck, langer than I thocht, hingin.
Dinnae worry darlin, I’ve gat ye. Joanne cradled
her heid ontil a cushion. Three braiths met.
Kissin her mooth I saw ma eemage

dwynin oan the muckle daurk een o life.
We wheeshed an clapped, ma paum oan her hert.
Faur in the wids we fund a haly place
an happit her hide in gowden brachen.
Then soond: the saft stramash o a young deer
risin ayont the trees tae thon starry whirligig.

Thursday, 16 April 2020

Live from Joss Cameron's Kitchen! Jock o Hazelgreen!

Child Ballads were a huge collection of English and Scottish ballads collected by the American Francis James Child and published in 5 volumes as The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, ed. by Francis James Child, in New York over the years 1882–98. Child placed variants of these ballads side by side. Some of these were ancient stories, dating back to the 13th century though most were of later date. They were nearly always dark tales of

“romance, enchantment, devotion, determination, jealousy, forbidden love, insanity, hallucination....supernatural experiences, supernatural deeds, half-humans, betting, lust, death, punishment, sin, morality, vanity, folly, dignity, nobility, honor, loyalty, dishonor, riddles, omens....”

Some of the ballads are well known, and had already caught the attention of antiquarians and enthusiasts especially Walter Scott who had in his Scott's Minstrelsy in 1812 published ballads like the ‘Twa Corbies’, derived from the 16th century ‘Three Ravens’ and ‘John’ or 'Jock' o Hazeldean’ or 'Hazelgreen', about an older man who encounters a weeping maiden, though the stories diverge about what happened next. 

All this is interesting, but also an excuse to introduce some music into the back room! Here’s ‘Jock o Hazeldean’ Performed by Joss Cameron and Amy Dudley recorded specially for #plagueopomes in Joss’  kitchen. They are part of an exciting group called Shianfolk. Book them for after Lockdown!

More details about Shian here! 

Monday, 13 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 30: Magi Gibson

Magi Gibon is an important figure in West of Scotland and Scottish literature generally. An excellent facilitator and tutor as well as a poet, Magi has garnered praise for her workshops from many in the firmament of Scotlit, Willie Letford, Jenny Lindsay and Darren McGarva for instance.  She was the first Makar (Poet Laureate) of the City of Stirling in 500 years, Writer in Residence with the Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow and Reader in Residence with Glasgow Women’s Library from 2012 - 2015. She has organised a legion of workshops and readings nationwide, including the legendary Wild Women Writing Workshops. She has, in essence, worked for poetry, as well as in poetry, throughout her life. Add to that her expertise in play writing and radio drama and it is clearly seen why Magi occpies such an important position. I'm honoured to have her in the back room!

She is also an excellent poet, having at least five major collections, the latest of which- 'I like your Hat', is to be published by Luath later in the year. Magi is reading a poem from this collection, below.

Link to Magi's Website here:

More Poems here:

Backroom 29: Margaret Stewart and the Secret Kiss, a New Poem

It's great the wee meanders you take down the endless corridors of internet. I started with John Keats, then via La Belle Dame Sans Merci to the medieval French poet Alain Chartier, and from Alain Chartier via a historically impossible anecdote to Margaret D'Ecosse, Princess Margaret Stewart, the child bride of the future King Louis XI of France. A lost Scottish poet dead at 20.

Marguerite D'Écosse

Margaret Stewart
wrote poetry every evening.
She was loved for it by a few
but to most of the courtiers
she was the butt of jokes:

they laughed at her clothes,
her diet, her manners,
but most of all her desire
to write: as if a teenager
from the savage north could

have noble fancies and
the skill and wit to pen them.
Her husband hated her,
married her for her dowry
of Scottish troops,

tore her verses up when she
died. He was a successful King:
in other words a brutal thug
with libraries of books
written about him,

but she is remembered
in the vague and beautiful
ways that matter to some,
in scraps and stories
that might be dreams.

They say the master writer
Alain Chartier,
France’s finest, had a vision
where she graced him
with a poet’s kiss.

The painting, by Edmund Leighton is above.

Here's a link to Alain Chartier:

Sunday, 12 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 28: George Gunn

I always thought George Gunn  was the northern equivalent of me, a writer pacing the ramparts of a forgotten and neglected part of Scotland, unaided by writers in residence, arts groups, funding etc etc.  Its why I always had this notion that we should meet- whaur extremes meet- somewhere in the middle, some omphalos of Scotland, and have a tremendous drinking session. The truth is I think that George has been more active than me in promoting the cultural identity and uniqueness of his part of the world- Caithness- and its part in the world, than I have been in mine. And he has, for years, exhibited a great range, as commentator, essayist, playwright and poet.  George has worked as a fisherman and on the oil rigs. He was for nearly 20 years Director of Grey Coast Theatre Company which had an outstanding record track record of over 50 professional performances till its funding was pulled. In 2012 George published an essay entitled 'What are poets for?' in which he quite correctly railed against the academic stranglehold on the poetry we are encouraged to like, admire and emulate, an incestuous world where the self appointed arbiters publish and review each others books, where linguistic "code breaking" is more important than communication. George comes from a school in which I like to think I occupy a desk: where poetry is seen as a way of conveying vital human truths not necessarily in a simple way but a way that speaks directly to everyone's head and hearts.

An Article in Scottish Field on 'A Poet's Caithness'

George's Website

The essay: What are Poets For? From Bella Caledonia

A Coast of Widows

A broken necklace of crofts
strewn across the sandstone floor
of the north Caithness coast
these sea-beat parishes where the fields
are sea-tang & the hay has herring-dream
in root & stalk
this is where Scotland stops & starts
here faces turn to check the Pentland Firth’s
anxious coupling of North Sea
to Atlantic Ocean
the incessant urgency of tide upon tide
& these same faces when the night
opens her black windows to them
look up to see the infinite cod roe

Back Room 27: A Brand New Poem by me

Two Worlds: that's what it seems like, here in soft Spring sunlight, time to concentrate on poetry, projects etc etc, until you're drawn back, as you inevitably are a hundred times a day, to the  desperation, injustice and arbitrary horror of the disease and particularly at the way it will disproportionately strike, as terrible events always do, the poorest people in society. What can change to prevent that? Only society itself. In the meantime pathetic response though it seems, here's a poem about it.

Two Worlds

I follow my eyes to the hills
and the swallows spelling words
in the air. No more than
twenty miles that way
is the sea: we are in a sleeve

of land between two worlds.
Here it is Spring. The girls move
easily through the woods,
they were born in this well of light,
but at night we watch a digger

shoving the cheap coffins
of the countless dead
into a builder’s trench, the poor,
the dispossessed, the loveless.
Drone high in a dank New York

afternoon we are staring
once more down the cuff
of history to the bone beneath.
Eritrea, Darfur, Elmhurst Hospital.
A tide of negligence and cruelty

too high and ageless to resist.
We switch the TV off, drink tea.
Tomorrow the anemone will shine
like tiny stars. The birds have always
sung at Auschwitz.

Friday, 10 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 26: Gordon Meade

Welcoming Gordon Meade to the Back room today. Gordon lives in Fife, after having stayed many years in London, and is, roughly speaking, a contemporary of mine. He first came to my attention with his book Scrimshaw Sailor which was published by the amazing Joy Hendry of Chapman, one in a series of books which, when you look back on it, contained the pick of the day's and often today's Scottish writing. He has been, at various times, the creative-writing fellow at the Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art and the writer-in-residence for Dundee District Libraries. Gordon is a poet - like all the others in this series I think- who writes because he feels he has something to say, not out of any sense of entitlement or position.

He has nine (I think) published books of poetry and has been writing most recently on the relationship between human beings and the animal kingdom; a theme which he has visited before in poems and publications and he concentrates on particularly in his new book Zoospeak, which contains his poetry and the photography of Jo-Anne McArthur.

More poetry from Gordon here:

and details about Zoospeak here:

Poems from the Backroom 25: The Beats

Let’s talk about the Beats. Well I’ve got to talk about them cos I love them, they were part of my youth, they were more than poets, they were lives lived in poetry and their words were more than poems, they were uncontrolled eruptions of words that could end up effluence or exultation. 

I’m sorry, I’m stuck on them: I can’t read the last section of On the Road without welling up. I’m a sick man I know, it has the same effect on me as the last page of The House on Pooh Corner. And they both mention Pooh.

Mea Culpa. Ok they were misogynists, junkies, petty criminals and narcissists, what’s more some of them were shite poets - has there ever been a more overrated poet than Gregory Corso? - but they summed up a changing world with freewheeling words and made every person think they could be a lover, a traveller and a poet. They conjured up a never ending landscape of hope - for change, for kicks, for love- at complete and desperate contrast to what we have now which seems - even without the physical constraints caused by this virus- to be a lockdown of the spirit, the death of hope.

They were also poetry revolutionaries. Alan Ginsberg's Poem 'Howl' in its honesty, its proletarian passion, its subject matter, took literary America by storm. Jack Kerouac's free flowing stream of consciousness writing ('Typing, not writing" according to Truman Capote) mimicked the cadences and patterns of jazz, William Burrough's philosophy of cut-up writing threatened to destroy the very structure of literature itself.

Alan Ginsberg Reads Howl Part 1

Jack Kerouac reads October in the Railway Earth

Revolutionary Letters by Diane Di Prima

Diane Di Prima is probably the best known woman writer of the movement. In my video I read a poem by Brenda Frazer, another of the women who found their voices as a result of their experiences of the time. In her case, as a result of the abusive lifestyle she suffered as the partner of Ray Bresner, a Beat poet.

Tomorrow Live! Gordon Mead!

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Back Room 24: Donald S Murray

It's a pleasure to welcome Donald S Murray into the back room today. Born in Ness in Lewis, Donald is a major and hugely talented figure in Scotlit, writing poetry in English and his native Gaelic, novels, plays, columns and essays. His novel 'As the Women Lay Dreaming', centred on the Iolaire disaster after the end of World War One, had a great critical reception, Alan Massie saying in the Scotsman:

"It’s the kind of book you want to read again as soon as you finish it, because you know there is so much that will be revealed on that second reading."

He is soon to release a poetry book published by Hugh Bryden of Roncadora Press, of Dumfries, a series of poems centred round the lonely Highland station of  Achanalt. His poem Achanalt, published in 'Northwords Now' is reproduced below.

His Website here:

Some more poems here:

An article in the Guardian about Ness here;



The man who made the request stop
for Achanalt never left the train;
though we looked to see his foot or suitcase drop
upon the platform, no one ever came

from either carriage, not to claim
possession of the kirkhouse, rusted shed,
loch stretching out beside the rail.
Instead, there was an absence, 'Reserved'

flapping above seat, the fact that some had seen
him stepping on the train at Kyle or Plockton,
or reading 'Mail' or 'Scotsman' at Duncraig or Achnasheen.
But after that, he'd vanished. It was as if he'd gone

to gain absolution for his role
in how empty that this landscape was, a child of those who left
or cleared its barren acres, sailing either east or west,
but now travelling back on this line to gain comfort for his soul.


Winter’s chill. A snowdrift blocks the line
leaving lives stalled on the rail to Achnasheen.
A Merchant Navyman travelling to Kyle
to meet the child he’s never seen
or wanted. A Lewisman in exile
returning to the wife who’s lain for years in bed.
There’s a Portree housewife whose laughs and smiles
belie the way her head’s a storm of whispers. (The doctor said
she isn’t long for this world.)
They’re together in this carriage where hard frost
swirls patterns on the windows, snowflakes whirl
outside the doors. And shivering down the aisle, a draught,
as those on board encounter all they have loved or lost,
the sceptres of their past, their half-forgotten ghosts.


Heart thumping like the piston of that engine
the time he got off at Garve to purchase that half-bottle
before running hard to catch it once again
as wheels hissed and bubbled, guard puffing whistle
to send it up the rail to Kyle. 'Almost bloody missed it there,'
he laughed, thinking of his parents’ home in Ness
and what they'd see as a sad betrayal
of pious hopes and dreams if he ever once confessed
of this time when he slipped right off the rails
for a splash and swirl of whisky.
But hell, how his throat needed it to cleanse a belly full
of dust and concrete, fire washing his mouth free
of the taste of last year on the Hydro, bringing light to these dark hills.


‘You from Valtos too?’ the Lewisman smiled
the last day of the year
as they travelled home from war.
‘It’ll be great to be home. Spend a while
blethering with the folks I know back there.’
He’d nodded, looking forward to the croft,
and lifting high his peat-blade and hay-fork
instead of the Lee Enfield he’s been forced to bear
while cramped in that dark uniform. And he’d reached his home
the morning after, sailing out with other Skyemen war had long exiled
on the ‘Jenny Campbell’ out from Kyle.
But not that man from another Valtos, his body left by sea-foam
on the Lewis shoreline. He thought of the long hours he’d sat
on that train from Kyle or Mallaig, how he spoke of his young wife
waiting back in Uig, how he had never reached her,
how she would spend her life
without him, always dressed in unrelenting black


One night, when that train stopped at Achanalt,
the full moon settled in the window of a carriage
and illuminated glass, giving lustre to the frenzied love
of a couple in their early years of courtship or marriage
half-undressed in their seats.
It caught a ghillie’s eye
as he stepped out in the half-light, stalking deer,
not thinking for a moment he’d come by
a scene like this, but it woke a longing in him.
Not for Loch a’ Chroisg or grouse or endless moor,
but for both the lust and urgency he glimpsed
before gaze dipped and lowered. He stored
away that moment till the hour he asked
the train to stop there once again – to take him far away from this,
the loneliness he felt here,
that aching desolation when he longed for tenderness.

Monday, 6 April 2020

Back Room 23: Brent Hodgson, A lost and Unique Scottish voice

Often I re-read Brent Hodgson's side of our long correspondence: a series of splenetic often obscene letters slagging off the literary icons of Dumfries and Galloway and Scotland and threatening to do them violence. Brent was a brilliant humourist and satirist and a very underrated writer. The kind of archaic middle-scots that he often chose to express himself in - a natural choice for someone from New Zealand- was a perfect medium too because it left the reader wondering if the author was a genius or simply taking the piss. The truth was, of course, he was both. If Brent had had another 20 years he would probably have written a major but largely incomprehensible novel from prison, but unfortunately he died in 2011. As it is, his works are hard to find, scattered through Scottish literary magazines of the 1990s, although he did publish four pamphlets and co-edited with Pete Fortune, another vanished literary figure (though very much alive) the great anthology of south west writing 'Mr Burns for Supper' and appeared in the Clocktower Anthology edited by Duncan MacLean 'Ahead of Its Time'.

Some scant information here:

The Weit

The weit fawis on the gressis
The weit fawis on flouris in the park
Na eschaip is thair fra the weit.
Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding fawis the weit.

Becaus of all the weit, the shops
On the Whitesands are neirly drint.
The weit fawis on pepill at the bus stop.
Now heir the pepill mene!
Thai do nocht lyke the weit.
Ding, ding, ding fawis the weit.

Fra the daw till the glomand
The weit hais bene dingand doun.
And now the revir Nith is in flude...

Now the flude hais entirt the pub
Quhair I am sat. Now the flude hais
Carriit away my Sun newspaper.
Now the fluid hais swepit away the pub
And we are flottand intill the Sulway.
I do nocht lyke this wat wedder ether.


Hello, Maister Smyth,
Yow suld be att hame
Puttand yowr dennar on.
Yow suld nocht be lyggand thair,
Warslyng with a python.

Back Room 22: Brian Johnstone

Brian Johnstone is a weel kent poet and writer, Edinburgh born but resident in Fife for over 30 years. In the changeable firmament of Scotlit he has been a constant, well respected feature, as a poet, performer, collaborator and organiser. He has also recently published an acclaimed memoir.

The poem here is "As We Watch" from his last full collection "Dry Stone Work", Arc Publications in 2014. It is dedicated to his wife and recalls the moment they met 50 years ago now. As he says "It is both a love poem and a nature poem, and will, I hope, bring the fields and open air to anyone cooped up inside just now."

Brian's books are available on his website at

Back Room 21 : One last brilliant American poet: Michael Donaghy

Michael Donaghy was born in the Bronx to emigrant Irish parents, when the Bronx was the Bronx: he remembered his parents telling him to go and play but keep away from the burning cars. After a university education he moved to England in 1985. His first book Shibboleth was published in 1988 and he went on to garner many awards including the Whitbread Prize. Although in many ways a darling of the establishment his poetry is accessible and filled with wit. Each poem, even those which seem deceptively light, is a product of craft and balance. Each is filled with air and music. He himself was a gifted musician, specialising in Irish traditional music.
Michael Donaghy died of a brain haemorrage in 2004 at the age of fifty.


Dearest, note how these two are alike:
This harpsichord pavane by Purcell
And the racer’s twelve-speed bike.

The machinery of grace is always simple.
This chrome trapezoid, one wheel connected
To another of concentric gears,
Which Ptolemy dreamt of and Schwinn perfected,
Is gone. The cyclist, not the cycle, steers.
And in the playing, Purcell’s chords are played away.

So this talk, or touch if I were there,
Should work its effortless gadgetry of love,
Like Dante’s heaven, and melt into the air.

If it doesn’t, of course, I’ve fallen. So much is chance,
So much agility, desire, and feverish care,
As bicyclists and harpsichordists prove

Who only by moving can balance,
Only by balancing move.

Sunday, 5 April 2020

Backroom 20: Em Strang Live!

Delighted to welcome Em Strang into the bunker, sorry back room, this morning. Like Marion McCready who appeared earlier in the pestilence, Em's poetry inhabits the beautiful intersect between the human and the mystical. It's spirituality without the dogma. This is the poetry for these times, I suspect, asking questions about our whole selves and our imprints on the earth, history and each other and not pretending to have easy answers. 

Em Strang has a PhD in Creative Writing from Glasgow. Her first collection Bird-Woman was published by Shearsman in 2016, and was shortlisted for the Seamus Heaney Best First Collection, winning the 2017 Saltire Poetry Book of the Year. Her second collection Horse-Man was published by Shearsman in November 2019.

Em's Website here:

Links to Em's books here:

And more information here:

Friday, 3 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 19: More Doomed American Poets

Delmore Schwartz

By popular demand, more tragic post war American poets. We dealt briefly with Sexton and Plath, two brilliant suicides, but my favourite male poets didn’t do much better.

                                                                             Frank O Hara

"I think all of us poets feel so alien inside, so alien from the world, that we act a little alien, a little crazy, just to confirm what is in the deepest soul of the young poet." - Anne Sexton

Hart Crane, an innovative and startling writer, after a bungled attempt at seduction of a ship’s steward, jumped overboard in the Gulf of Mexico aged 32.

Randall Jarrell, a veteran of World War 2, and early Poet Laureate of the USA, fought for many years against depression but after a bad review attempted suicide, then a few weeks afterwards walked in front of a car aged 51.

Weldon Kees, a contemporary of Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (the only poet to die in a taxi as far as I know) was a hugely talented poet, painter and jazz pianist who vanished in 1955 aged 41. It is presumed that he jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, though no body was ever found.

All these poets are worth reading but I’m going to focus on two others, Delmore Schwartz and Frank O Hara, if only because their style most directly bleed into the Beat Poets whom, in spite of all good reasons to the contrary, I have always loved.

Schwartz had an unhappy childhood but his brilliance was lauded by the greats of his day, Elliot, William Carlos Williams and Ezra Pound. His style is deeply reflective, deeply meditative. Depression and boozing took its toll however and after the death of Dylan Thomas (of whom more later in the series) Schwartz became for a while the pub clown in the White Horse Tavern in Greenwich Village, Thomas’ favourite New York boozer. He lived his last years in almost total seclusion in the Chelsea Hotel (Thomas’ favourite hotel) and when he died aged 52 it was some days before anyone could be found to identify him. His legacy includes rock songs dedicated to him by Bono and Lou Reed, the latter having been a student of Schwartz’s, and an entire novel inspired by him, Humboldt by the brilliant Saul Bellow.

All Night, All night by Delmore Schwartz, read by Chris Lee, click here

At a Solemn Musick read by Schwartz himself click here

All Night, All Night

by Delmore Schwartz

Rode in the train all night, in the sick light. A bird
Flew parallel with a singular will. In daydream's moods and
The other passengers slumped, dozed, slept, read,
Waiting, and waiting for place to be displaced
On the exact track of safety or the rack of accident.

Looked out at the night, unable to distinguish
Lights in the towns of passage from the yellow lights
Numb on the ceiling. And the bird flew parallel and still
As the train shot forth the straight line of its whistle,
Forward on the taut tracks, piercing empty, familiar --

The bored center of this vision and condition looked and
Down through the slick pages of the magazine (seeking
The seen and the unseen) and his gaze fell down the well
Of the great darkness under the slick glitter,
And he was only one among eight million riders and

And all the while under his empty smile the shaking drum
Of the long determined passage passed through him
By his body mimicked and echoed. And then the train
Like a suddenly storming rain, began to rush and thresh--
The silent or passive night, pressing and impressing
The patients' foreheads with a tightening-like image
Of the rushing engine proceeded by a shaft of light
Piercing the dark, changing and transforming the silence
Into a violence of foam, sound, smoke and succession.

A bored child went to get a cup of water,
And crushed the cup because the water too was
Boring and merely boredom's struggle.
The child, returning, looked over the shoulder
Of a man reading until he annoyed the shoulder.
A fat woman yawned and felt the liquid drops
Drip down the fleece of many dinners.

And the bird flew parallel and parallel flew
The black pencil lines of telephone posts, crucified,
At regular intervals, post after post
Of thrice crossed, blue-belled, anonymous trees.

And then the bird cried as if to all of us:

0 your life, your lonely life
What have you ever done with it,
And done with the great gift of consciousness?
What will you ever do with your life before death's
Provides the answer ultimate and appropriate?

As I for my part felt in my heart as one who falls,
Falls in a parachute, falls endlessly, and feel the vast
Draft of the abyss sucking him down and down,
An endlessly helplessly falling and appalled clown:

This is the way that night passes by, this
Is the overnight endless trip to the famous unfathomable

Dying at age of 40, fourteen days after Schwartz, by being run over by a jeep in Fire Island, Frank O Hara was a leading light in the so called ‘New York School’. His style is urgent and immediate and completely different from so called academic verse, taking as his subjects, the street, movie stars, and other preoccupations of the day. His work was accessible and easily communicated. He saw poetry as being between ‘two people rather than two pages’.

Going for a Coke With you read by Frank o Hara, click here:

Going for a Coke with You

Frank O Hara

is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I'm with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o'clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
I look
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it's in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven't gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn't pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it