Sunday, 31 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 77: Chris Powici

Being locked down in the wilds is not unpleasant and not, to be honest, much different from ordinary life (my part of Dumfries and Galloway has been social distancing for 250 years) beyond the fact that treks to the two pubs within ten miles, the very traditional Farmers Arms in Thornhill and the zany and creative Craigdarroch in Moniaive have been curtailed. Having lived in D and G my whole life apart from university my contacts with writing - and very important contacts they were- were mostly through literary magazines. This was how in the old days, before the faux validation of Facebook, you gauged whether you were any good or not. My golden age of submissions entailed wonderful journals and magazines: ‘Cencrastus’, ‘Lines Review’, ‘Gairfish’, ‘Chapman’, ‘Northlight’, ‘West Coast Magazine’, ‘Rebel Inc’ , ‘Zed 2o’, not to forget ‘Spectrum’ and ‘Markings’ from the south of Scotland. What a thrill if you were accepted and a hand written letter arrived from Raymond Ross, Tessa Randford, Duncan Glen or Joy Hendry! It was proper validation. Nowadays we look on a magazine scene in Scotland that is, apart from Gerry Cambridge’s ‘Dark Horse’, and ‘Gutter’, a shadow of its former glory. One long term survivor though is ‘Northwords Now’ which I think began 15 years ago under Rhona Dunbar and has gone through various changes of format but maintains the astonishing achievement of being a classy and inclusive mag that is both widely distributed and free.

Which brings me to Chris Powici who served as Editor of 'Northwords Now' for about half of its existence. He lives in Dunblane and has worked at both the Open University and the University of Stirling where he is a Literature and Teaching fellow.

Like Em Strang - and many others in the #plague, Kim Blaeser just the other day for instance-his poems about nature reflect its spiritual aspect, it’s inner lights which are simultaneously banal and wonderful: ‘everything’s as ordinary and holy as bread or rain” (Lamlash Night). His poetic eye ranges over his environment with a light touch, leaving it sometimes to speak for itself - “the wind that shakes the birch tree’s leaves” (The Deer) - at other times employing an image that is arresting in its effectiveness and simplicity.

Chris had a previous collection with Sally Evans' excellent but defunct Diehard Press. His latest is ‘This Weight of Light’ published by Red Squirrel in 2015.
Here he is reading 'Gorse', a new poem in response to these times:

His profile at the SPL here with two poems here:

An Interview with 'New Linear Perspectives' here with several more poems:


We have watched peewit flap and glide
over the bright, sheep-trodden fields
the fierce yellow gorse spill
over the broken backs of drystane walls –
and we have come home to TV news
that twenty-two people have died in a care home in Paisley
that’s twenty-two ways to walk in the rain
or glance at the moon
or nudge a lover awake
gone for good behind closed doors
behind ordinary, quiet, terrible doors
but we don’t have a word for it yet –
this strange, new hurt –
we don’t have a name
so we think, we need to think
about peewit scattering
their high, reedy cries on a soft wind
about the wild April gorse
how it rises and blooms.


When it comes to the after-life
I’ll settle for the Calmac terminal
on a spit of Hebridean rock
after the ferry has sailed.
A lobster boat tugs at its rope
and beyond the pier a gannet rises
from the low swell into the cold cradling waves
and quick air.
Evening falls.
All through Scalasaig kitchen windows fill with light
and I imagine vases of pale tap-watered lilies
gleaming down from plate-heavy shelves
on lives of tea and talk, bread and breath;
quiet, island voices, unhurried
as the slap of the tide on the harbour wall
while some ewes graze the shore grass
and an oystercatcher dabs for shrimps
among the mussel shells and bladderwrack
at the rain-drenched edge of the world.

(Reprinted from 'New Linear Perspectives')

Lunan Bay
For Helen

You knelt at the tide-edge
and built frail cairns of whelk and mussel shells.
Above the waves a wave of gulls
hung in a blue shock of September sky.
A boy roared an ancient Honda 125
between the river and the dunes.
Sand flared from the wheels, the gulls screamed

and still you probed and nudged and tweaked
as if you’d waited all your life to feel
each grit-clogged smithereen
each dirty glittering scrap
pass through your hands and become
something known, something seen. 

(From 'This Weight of Light')

Saturday, 30 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 76: Chrys Salt

Chrys Salt is cultural royalty down our way. The Bakehouse, her Scottish headquarters in Gatehouse and Fleet, is a home, exhibition space, mini theatre, and the venue since 2007 of world class reading events. It is now also the focus of an expanding regional Arts Festival called Big Lit. Everyone should visit the Bakehouse, as Chrys' hospitality is legendary.  

Chrys Salt has a background in drama. She was an actress, and still writes for and about the theatre. She has been a producer and impresario. She has won a Fringe First, and her organisation of a series of world class performances by Globe Touring in the grounds of the Crichton Campus  in Dumfries left a lasting impression on me and many others, particularly young folk who had never seen such stuff before.  In 2014 she was awarded an MBE for services to the Arts.

She is, however, primarily a poet and, as you would expect, an excellent performer of her own work. She has published five full collections and five pamphlets, had her poems published in magazines and anthologies and broadcast on Radio 3 and 4. She has performed world-wide, most recently at the Tasmanian Poetry Festival. Her latest collection, 'Snookum Jim and the Klondike Gold Rush', the product of a visit to the Yukon sponsored by Creative Scotland, has just been published and you can buy it from the link below.

Chrys' poetry ranges far and wide and she doesn’t shy away from very big topics like ageing and war though her stuff can be powerful and personal too. sometimes both: the poem she reads below was written in response to her son's service in the army in Iraq..

Here she is reading 'Seascape':

Her website here:

A recent interview here:


There are no maps for poets in this country.
The compass finger, mindless on its post
will not direct us on this dangerous journey.
An unfamiliar landscape tells us we are lost.
Above the bramble and the rambling wood
the technicoloured dragons wheel for bones
of luckless travellers who have misconstrued
the alien symbols on the milestones.
We have nowhere to go but where we are,
our options closed, the exit double locked.
We may not take direction from a star.
The stars are out and all the roads are blocked.
How can we dare this nightmare territory?
the shifting contours of the hills and coasts.
the gibberish signposts and the season's enmity.
What hand our touchstone in this land of ghosts?

Hymn to Mastectomy

Here’s to the woman with one tit
who strips down to her puckered scars
and fronts the mirror – doesn’t give a shit
for the pert double breasted wonderbras
sneaking a furtive gander
at her missing bit.

‘Poor lady,’ they are thinking
‘can her husband bear to touch her?
Will she ever dare to wear
that slinky low-cut sweater’?

Here’s to the woman with half a bust
who wears her lack of symmetry
with grace and moist with lust
offers a single nipple like a berry
to her lover’s tongue.

Here’s to the single breasted ones
come home, victorious from their wars
wearing their wounds
as badges on the chests
of Amazons.

‘She ought to cover up
its embarrassing, its shocking.
I’m sure she thinks she’s very brave
but everybody’s looking’!

Here’s to those wondrous affrontages
out on the scene in sauna, pool and gym
those who when whole were dying –
now less than whole
become themselves again

Poems from the Backroom 75: Tom Dewey

"Be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: "It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk!"

I'm reminded of Baudelaire's words often, and in fact the first video poem I saw of today's guest, Tom Dewey, was entitled 'Bottles'. In it he leans against a city wall drinking beer. "Before I open my mouth you hear this bag clunk" he says. "I am a hostage to hedonism, a doorway to nowhere." All that stuff really attracts me, of course, because I love that wee strange liminal feeling you get after a (small) drink and because I know many a poem has been born there, in that half light. Tom also inhabits the grey area between poetry and spoken word, between image and the page, and he occupies it confidently. His poems therefore live in various ways at once, poem, performance, technical feat,  image. Having come to the poetry poem as a performance piece in a rather cynical vein these pieces, and others I've come across in the Plague, have impressed me hugely. 

Tom Dewey is a 24 year old poet and playwright from Bristol. Tom began writing in 2015 and became the youngest ever regional spoken word champion. He’s had his work featured on BBC iPlayer, and BBC Radio. performed to a sold-out Roundhouse and delivered a TEDx Talk, a media platform that broadcasts talks online for free distribution as long as the idea is interesting enough. Tom's talk was on mental health. Tom works closely with the Bristol Old Vic and was selected to close the weekend-long celebrations of their 250th birthday. He is a passionate advocate for creativity in his native city. 

Here he reads 'Kites' , "Flattering the future with footprints".

An archive of Tom's video poems here:

Here is 'Bottles'


@tomjamesdewey on twitter & Instagram.

dinner for one

you grip the spoon and stir the kuzhambu

raising the heat, honing the flavour to a swelling specificity that baptises 
meat and perfumes the kitchen you’re afraid you will die in, but won’t
you wonder why you cook for an empty house, wonder why you’re haunted 
by hungry mouths who feast on your offerings but when it comes time 
never speak of their leaving just leave like alcohol burning away from the wine you share with your food
the two of you perish five bottles a week
the lady in the shop asked if you knew it was two-for-one and your stock was reduced to famine

now there is music in my hands

the rhythm of my lonely has a little more kick, a little more swing to the 
tune of my torture —— all around me, nameless agonies give up the ghost 
and whistle along, forgetting their oath of immortality 

we dance all night, bodies burn into the shape of something the shape of closure
we fall to the ground —— our drunkenness melts into wisdom now the party is over
my bedroom is rife with sleeping ghosts,
i am to be the sole recipient of sunrise
i wipe my eyes, turn to my instrument and translate dawn into pure epiphany

Thursday, 28 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 74: Bob Beagrie

And so let Friday and Saturday be the days of the English. Ochone ochone. But we are not displaying narrow nationalism here, let us hearken back to the days of the early Stuart Kings, when every nationality was welcome to Scotland without a passport. Except the English come to think of it, so that's not a very good example. 

Our beards have grown long in this process but we've actually already, away back, featured a very fine English poet,  Jean Atkin, though I’ve always believed she had some kind of joint citizenship. Over the next two days we’re featuring two excellent poets who will also be welcome as honorary Scots when we finally depart the unnatural construct of our political union - and poets will always be welcome residents because poetry knows no boundaries and poets should be a perpetual multinational force, like UN peacekeepers, circulating round the world dampening conflict, showing there's another way.

 The first of these is Bob Beagrie who made a tremendous impression on me when I saw him in action in the Scottish Poetry Library last year? Was it really last year? He was reciting from ‘Civil Insolences’ a series of poems based on the Battle of Guisborough of 1643 in the Civil War and I don’t know whether it was his backing track or all the drink I’d had at lunchtime but it seemed at some very vivid points like we actually all were in the 17th century. I love historical poems and I love the power to communicate them and give yet another level to what might already be supposedly a weel kent story. And also to give history not just relevance but credit for being in very many senses part of the present.  Particularly working class history, or the stories of ordinary people. In this respect I would recommend to you the extraordinary 'Leasungspell' written partly in Old English about Oswin, an uncelebrated monk, charged with a mission of no real consequence, adrift in the strange wilderness of the Dark Ages and we're with him every step of the way.

Bob Beagrie lives in Middlesbrough and is a senior lecturer in creative writing at Teesside University. He has published numerous collections of poetry and several pamphlets, most recently 'Civil Insolencies' from Smokestack in 2019, 'Remnants' written with Jane Burn  from Knives, Forks & Spoons Press in 2019,  'Leasungspell'  from Smokestack in 2016 and 'This Game of Strangers' – written with Jane Burn  and published by Wyrd Harvest Press in 2017. He has collaborated with musicians, he has also worked closely with visual artists on public artworks and with theatre company Three Over Eden and and is a founder member of the experimental poetry and music collective Project Lono. His work has been translated into many languages.

Here Bob is reading Sutra from 'Civil Insolences '. 

Lyke Wake

“Where am I hurried! What sanguine place
Is this I breathe in, garnished with disgrace?”

John Quarles – An Elegy upon that Never 
to be Forgotten Charls the First, 1649

The broken men yield, after the blizzard's rage,
 to the scandal of disorder, tainted by the taste
 of this new age and grub about for tales to give 
account for their phantasmagoria from ordinary 
house-holder, groom, apprentice, tinker, gent, 
undisciplined idler rendered citizen-soldier, 
hystericals, histrionics, mama's boys, bastards, 
brewers, patricides – although there is so much 
they'll not meddle with, including themselves, 
having been shunted out of grammar’s backdoor
 into the vulgar dirt of unpronouncables, the fylth- 
riddled freedom of formlessness, succoured on 
an homeopathy of killing. Their dark nativities 
bubble with ramblings to take back control
 in defence of the state as Cartemandua, Frigg
 Britannia, safe-guarded, wearing the familiar
 mask of mother, sweetheart, favourite whore
 – each of them a springhead of fresh anxieties, 
labour pains for a post-term Kingdom Come.

(from Civil Insolencies)

Self Portrait With Body Works
(after Gunther von Hagens)

Photography is not permitted so I make mental snapshots of everything
as I mooch around the exhibits and scribble a coded reference
in small pencilled letters in the lower left hand corner of each print
before filing it away in its proper place which I will no doubt forget
because it is not the Dewy Decimal Classification system that I use
far from it – you only have to take a glance at my book shelves to see
how that would never suffice but rather a rubric of many random
associations which only makes sense in the moment before filing
and which makes retrieving books and mental prints time consuming
frustrating but ultimately more interesting in the rediscovery of subtle
alignments and as I walk quietly through the half-light from consenting
monster to saint from fisherman runner tight rope walker and lover past
the human sliced thin as honey roasted ham bought over the deli counter
I am studying my own hands the skin old scars sub-dermal boulevards
then looking through my own face reflected in the glass of the display case
superimposed upon the catalogued cadaver with its spinal column
drawn back and out sprayed like the tail of a peacock – when I swallow
I notice how my laryngeal prominence rises and dips like a wary seal
in scummy waters by the jetty at Bran Sands although I always vanish
whenever I blink so I learned from early childhood to do this quickly
to avoid disappearing completely as gas moves somewhere inside me
I recall the leaf skeleton I picked up at the end of a winter while cutting
through the cemetery when the last snow had retreated holding out in
low gullied pockmarks in the hills and which I later placed delicately
but deliberately between the pages of a chosen book before sliding
the book back into its proper new place on one of my sagging over-
stuffed shelves which has so far managed to avoid being rediscovered

(Reprinted from 'Ink Sweat and Tears')

Poems from the Backroom 73: Kimberly Blaeser

Persistent rumours in the McMillan family over the years of some Native American ancestry seem to have been confirmed by DNA testing, but details are frustratingly patchy. It's certainly possible that the Gaels on one side of the family were in Canada or the USA in some part of the 18th or early 19th Century, as many Gaels were. There are many historical and cultural links between the highland scot and the native american. Many books and articles have been written of this. In some cases emigrants married into native families. There are the very famous examples of these such as Alexander MacGillivray and John Ross, the latter campaigning vigorously but vainly for his mother's people the Cherokee who were forced to travel westwards on 'The Trail of Tears', mirroring the experience of many Highlanders who, at the same time, were being evicted from their homeland. Dispossession is a thing that is held in common, but there are others. A vibrant oral tradition of recording history and culture, as well as a regard for the environment and the land, a thing so important it cannot really be owned.

Kimberly Blaeser is of Anishinaabe ancestry and an enrolled member of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. She  grew up on the White Earth Reservation. She is a photographer too, and much of her work involves displaying or revisioning the miraculous routines of the natural world as a way of framing ourselves in it. Hers is an educational and enlightening poetry but also a poetry of rapture. Do as I've done, and buy some of it! There are two links below to buy her two latest books. Four examples of poems are below, in addition to the video poem, and there are links to many others.

Kimberly served as Wisconsin Poet Laureate for 2015-16. She is the author of four poetry collections—most recently 'Copper Yearning'- published last October-and 'Apprenticed to Justice'. She was the editor of 'Traces in Blood, Bone, and Stone: Contemporary Ojibwe Poetry'. She is a Professor at UW—Milwaukee and MFA faculty member for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She lives in Lyons Township, Wisconsin and frequently also in a water-access cabin near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness  "chasing poems, photos, and river otters—sometimes all at once."

Here she reads from 'Copper Yearning'. A quite beautiful poem called Minobimaadizi

Kimberly's Website here:

More Poems here:

Kimberly's latest book 'Copper Yearning' is available through Amazon UK and Blackwells here:

Her Previous Book 'Apprenticed to Justice' is available from Salt Publishing Here:

On Climbing Petroglyphs


Newly twelve with size seven feet
dangling beside mine off the rock
ledge, legerdemain of self knowledge.
How do I say anything—magic
words you might need to hear?
With flute-playing, green-painted nails
your child’s fingers reach to span the
of carmel-colored women in our past.
Innocently you hold those ghost hands:
each story a truce we’ve made with loss.
How can I tell you there were others?

Big-boned women who might try
to push out hips in your runner’s body.
Women who will betray you for men,
a bottle, or because they love you
love you, don’t want to see you
in life, so will hold you, hold you hostage
with words, words tangled around
duty or money. When should I show you
my own flesh cut and scarred on the
of belonging and love’s oldest language?


No, let us dangle here yet, dawdle
for an amber moment while notes
sweetly captured in turquoise flute
the score of a past we mark together.
No words whispered yet beyond these
untainted rock images of ancients: sun,
bird, hunter.
Spirit lines that copper us to an infinity.
Endurance. Your dangling. Mine.
Before the floor of our becoming.
Perhaps even poets must learn silence,
that innocence, that space before

Dreams of Water Bodies

small whiskered swimmer,
you, a fluid arrow crossing waterways
with the simple determination
of one who has dived
purple deep into mythic quest.

Belittled or despised
as water rat on land;
hero of our Anishinaabeg people
in animal tales, creation stories
whose tellers open slowly,
magically like within a dream,
your tiny clenched fist
so all water tribes might believe.

See the small grains of sand—
Ah, only those poor few—
but they become our turtle island
this good and well-dreamed land
where we stand in this moment
on the edge of so many bodies of water
and watch Wazhashk, our brother,
slip through pools and streams and lakes
this marshland earth hallowed by
the memory
the telling
the hope
the dive
of sleek-whiskered-swimmers
who mark a dark path.

And sometimes in our water dreams
we pitiful land-dwellers
in longing
recall, and singing
make spirits ready
to follow:

*Go down into the water.

Angles of Being

It’s all angle after all.
What we see
and miss.
The leaf bird
limed and shadowed
to match
every other
green upturned hand
blooming on the August tree.
even when wings flutter
like leaves in breeze.
Or the silhouette
dark and curved
on the bare oak.
parted tail,
each mistakable
for knot
or twig.
Only if they exit the scene
isolate themselves
against too blue sky
does the game
of hidden pictures
Ah, angles.
Tell all
or tell it slant.
What we
or inverted
seem to be.

Of Eons and Epics


We wake with arrowheads—
our hands clamped around dreams,
dreams of hummocky bodies
glacial names tattooed
on each blue-rivered forearm.
What does it mean to hunger
for shards,
a glossary to story us?

I tell it this way:
the sculpting,
the whittle-form of earth—
say kettle with a hard k.
Something is always taken,
something left behind;
it becomes you—literally.
You tombolo, you esker.
We are all debris—
our story a remnant
of what moved across us.
What bounteousness!
We are glacial terrain,
marked pathways—myth.

What does it mean for my fingers, eyes, tongue?
to brim with a telling,
the silk-voiced dream
of one body moving against another?


Sometimes the story is simple:
the etched back of Turtle that holds us—
it asks only belief.
Earthdivers one and all—sleek
water bodies surfacing,
emerge to sing on holy ground.

But the way they tell it
we are land animals,
humanity a paradise of aloneness:
a solved mystery, a locked garden
a departure—
that story the walking away.
The way they tell it
the flood always recedes
from impossible watery origins.

But who fixes the science of meaning?
The truth is:
awake and asleep we betray our small selves
wander beyond borders—
is water bird a metaphor?


I tell it this way:
The diving for survival
(mahng, amik, nigig
together with mink and Nanaboozho).
Their feathered and furred bodies.
Ours. Gathering tiny grains of copper—
sand and sky’s minstrel breath;
Noodin whirling from four directions,
until this:
small magic we call earth.

But feel the fire and flexing beneath us—
the rumble-voiced pulse of this planet,
the vibration of our tectonic bodies?
Remember, we too are still motion—
burning wet and storied,
mythic like Turtle Island.

Imagine with me metamorphic becoming,
each miraculous emergence:
tetrapod limbs
from gelatinous tadpole bodies,
oceans and islands
rising receding rising
in their dance with volcanic force.
Our lives, too, servant to the alchemy
to the carving gusts of wind and water,
time—and telling.


Sing me again the saga of sin
and separation,
of humans and hierarchies;
I’ll sing you
the ballad of glacial bodies
of many creatures made of water and belief—
the one about transformations
about eons and epics—
these sacred cycles and everyday survivals.

The truth is:
we amphibious, we minstrel-born
wear the spiraling path of legends
on each whorled fingertip.
Like the trace of time on the clay of earth—
the drumlin swarms, the conical hills;
we too rise new each day from sleep
to storied lives—to archetypes and anthems,
to the spectacular castings of destiny.
Recite with me each rhapsody history or rumor—
our ancient epic inked now
pigment on rock-face, carbon on parchment,
memory on skin.

(From The Kenyon Review)

Wednesday, 27 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 72: Tsosheletso Chidi

It's been a great series thus far folks, and its been brilliant to be joined by such outstanding talents from Scotland and beyond. I think, given that we've been producing a glorious river of poetry during lockdown, continuous daily videos from March 17th, that we think about ending the #plagueopoetry at the three month mark and celebrate by having a socially distanced vat of Guinness in a neighbour's garden. Still plenty of talent to come though and over the next two days we've got two outstanding women poets.

The first of these, the second of our three South African writers, is Tsosheletso Chidi.  She is a  25- year old poet and novelist, born in GaMphahlele Hweleshaneng. Her debut novel 'The Baby Is Born' was published in 2015. In 2016 Ekurhuleni Metropolitan Municipality published her short story 'They Died In My Name' in their annual anthology 'Stories From Ekurhuleni'. In 2019 she dropped out of the University of South Africa to pursue a MA in Creative Writing at Rhodes University. She is interested in the early childhood development and education, and she plans to build two ECD centres in the near future; one in Hweleshaneng GaMphahlele and other in Tembisa. She mainly writes in her mother tongue of Sepedi. Recently, she worked with Avbob Poetry Project and in 2019 was a recipient of the Andrew Mellon Foundation Scholarship for writers.

Like the first South African poet, Zodwa Mtirara, and indeed the Native American poet tomorrow, Kimberly Blaeser,  Tsosheletso is not afraid to combine the traditional harmonies and folk rhythms of her people with a potent, individual and political message that is not oblique at all.

Here she reads Messiah:

Thanks go again to Stuart Paterson, whose work at Rhodes University in 2019 initiated important links between Scottish and South African writers and enabled the contacts here with Tsosheletso and, previously, Zodwa Mtirara.


This is for those who have accessed defeat
Experiencing the everyday struggle
Walking these Corona infected streets
We are in the lockout from the system
Lockdown is in our nearest surbubs

They look like us but not in this with us
They are the queens and bishops
Like before we still their pawns
We are not in this together
We are ushered into man-made graves

These streets hum death hymns
Serenading us with demise
Buzz of our new reality hits hard
We won't make it out alive
I feel so close to death

I know it's near
I've seen it before
I silently panic
I won't see the R350

New Messiah is not coming
Vaccine is not close
Greed rules owners of the new gold
They are not the benefactors
Hope glimmers from the Faraway lands

They whisper to us to embrace the new normal
They say life will never be the same again
Learn to let go of what you know
Adapt to the new language
Adjust to the new language

The comrades are feasting
They are in business
To make sure we don't get
the long awaited food parcels

Hloniphani uRamaphosa
Mayihlale pantsi ibambe umthetho
Bathi thiyo mama'thiyo

Hloniphani uRamaphosa
Mayihlale pantsi ibambe umthetho
Thiyo mama'thiyo

(This is a isiZulu harmony:
Respect president Ramaphosa
Sit down and obey the law)

Tuesday, 26 May 2020

Poems frae Ben the Hoose 71: George T Watt

Here's a braw an stalwart spikker o the leid, George T Watt. As wis said afore, ma ain folk wir a mix o bona fide heelanders an pitmen frae the likes o Auchinleck an Lugar. Ma paternal granfaither has oan his marriage certificate coal miner an masseur, an haed a name fur spikking tae speerits, too, or so ah jalouse. He wis a healer. But a they Ayrshire McMillans wid hae spoken the Scots leid, nae doot aboot it. An ma mither, Gaelic. An here's me, mitherin awa a the time in this hybrid tongue. But am ettlin tae scrieve mair in Scots aiblins an ma new collection o poetry is aboot strange tales frae Scots history. A in Scots, or ma version!  Mair leal-hertit tae the cause an skeely is ma freend ben the hoose the day tho, fur, haein footert aron wi in English fur a while he is noo bent set on writin in his mither tongue. An a gallant makar he is.

George T Watt haes been published in Lallans, (magazine o the Scots Language Society) Gutter, an New Writing Scotland as weel as in some anthologies. Ane o his poems wis selectit in the tap twinty o 2014. He haes ae new collection, Furth Frae The Darg that’s unner Lockdoun aye noo. The recorded poem is frae this collection. He dis streive nae tae be ower political but finds it haird in thay fell politic times.

"I’m fur independence, I’m fur Europe, I’m fur a carin, sharing, aa inclusive society, I dinnae fit in awfy weel wi Brexit Britain. Hooiniver, I maun admit that screivin in Scots is ae political statement anaa. It is a wey o sayin I can express masel fine in ma ane Leid an gin ye dinnae unnerstaun, yon’s nae ma problem. Fowk faw screive in Scots are sayin Scots is as guid as ony ither Leid, nae better, but as guid as. It maist certain isnae some gameramous, gabble o skite frae the moos o an unnerclass faw cannae spik ‘proper’"

As fur his past, thare’s muckle o it, he saies,an that’s whaur it’ll bide. Noo he bides blithe in Arbroath.

Here he is, readin 'The Openin o the V and A Dundee':

Here, George's profile frae the Scottish Poetry Library:

Twa mair poems tae listen tae:

Linnhe View

Deylicht cams in canny on ae winter’s morn,
nae sunlicht heralds this slaw dawn,
rid an green the bouylichs flicker in the loun,
luikin Linnhe-wards frae Ardgour.

Beinn a’Bheithir tourin frae Appin’s shore,
ae shudder haudin agin the distant moor
an aa aroon the mountains cologue thair pooer
luikin Linnhe-wards frae Ardgour.

Lismore like ae sentry bars the seaward yett,
the wurld will nae gain entry yet,
fur here the ceinturies ar juist ae puckle stour
luikin Linnhe-wards frae Ardgour.

Nicht gangs weary like yuletime snaw,
slaw the lift taks on ae lichter hue,
will gled tidins cam wi this grey hoor
luikin Linnhe-wards frae Ardgour?

Faw can tell fit this dey micht bring,
we hae nae control ower hoo the sang will sing,
we maun haud atween the rid an green,
luikin Linnhe-wards frae Ardgour.

(First published in Lallans Magazine)

Niel Gow

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!

(Frae 'Scotia Extremis')

Sunday, 24 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 70: Tom Pow

Well how amazing. Post number seventy, and we arrive on the day Tom Pow is seventy years old himself. How did that happen? Happy Birthday, Tom.

Tom is Father of the  House in Dumfries and Galloway poetry. I remember when I was in my early twenties and had not yet experienced the cheesecake epiphany that was to turn me into a poet, attending some kind of radical meeting in the Cairndale that was going to make no impact on anything except the profits of the Oak Bar. In swept this bloke with a long coat, addressed the meeting, and swept out again. 'That's Tom Pow the Dumfries poet' somebody said, gravely. What Tom said at the meeting didn't make any sense to me, not because it was complicated but because I honestly don't think it made any sense, but the notion of being identified as a town's poet stuck, though in order to achieve this myself  I have had to move to a succession of smaller and smaller places.

Tom is a Dumfries poet but also a Scottish poet and a poet of the world. He has the curiosity and imagination that a poet should have, sweeping through swathes of landscape and time while remaining very much himself, a product of his own history, in whatever real or imagined place he is. He has a huge range yet remains very human in scale, and his poetry talks, as it all should, of the things that concern folk, nature, loss and love. He has travelled widely and turned these travels into poetry, and books of poetry. He is one of Scotland's most lyrical poets, like his contemporary and friend Stuart Conn, and a beautiful hypnotic reader. I listened to both of them in action reading from their Mariscat pamphlets in Dumfries and it would have brought tears to a glass eye.

Tom Pow was born in Edinburgh and studied Medieval History at the University of St Andrews, then taught for a number of years in Edinburgh, London and Madrid before settling in Dumfries, where he became an English teacher at Dumfries Academy, that hub of literary excellence. He went on to become Head of Creative and Cultural Studies at the University of Glasgow’s Crichton Campus, Dumfries, and was Honorary Senior Research Fellow there. He was a lecturer also at Lancaster University on its Distance Learning MA in Creative Writing. In 1992 he was holder of the Scottish Canadian Fellowship, based in the University of Alberta in Edmonton. In 2000 he became Scotland’s first Virtual Writer in Residence for the Scottish Library Association. He was the first Writer in Residence at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Poet in Residence at StAnza in 2005, and a Robert Louis Stevenson fellow in 2015.

Primarily a poet, he is the author of twelve collections of poetry, including 'In the Becoming: New and Selected Poems' in 2009 and 'The Well of Love' published by Mariscat in 2016.  Four collections won Scottish Arts Council Book Awards. He has also written three radio plays and a number of books for children, including 'Who is the World For?'  illustrated by Robert Ingpen, which won the Scottish Arts Council Children’s Book of the Year Award in 2001. Most recently, he has edited 'Barefoot – The Collected Poems of Alastair Reid' published by Galileo in 2018 and a sequence, 'IS', with the fabulous Roncadora Press in 2019.  He is presently the Creative Director of A Year of Conversation 2019.

Tom is a poet of great substance, but also a very warm person, and a person I'm proud and pleased to know. Tom should realise he has, or his poetry has, left an indelible mark on my everyday life. I am unable to pass a patch of bluebells in the wood without thinking they are everywhere like desire and at moments of anger and frustration will turn my eyes to the sky, roaring to the invisible nothingness  'And this? Our quiddity?' Thus Tom Pow has entered the lexicon of my life. Long may it continue.

Here Tom is reading 'Summer Running' from his book 'Rough Seas'.

Profile and more poems here:

More Poems here:

The Asparagus

Edouard Manet

In his final years, illness attended
the artist. His friends brought him flowers

and, in modest works, when free from pain,
he gave them his fullest attention. Each

became a study in concentration
and in the memory of paint: testament

to the moment. One instinctive still life
of that period is of a fat bundle

of asparagus, each stalk fleshily
overfed, ready for the kitchen.

The purchaser paid over the odds,
so Manet, in recompense, sent him

a small oil painting of a single stalk.
‘There was one missing from your bunch.’

Its body, pearly-grey as the belly
of a fish, lies inert on the marble top.

But its purplish tip curves gently up
in the way that a fish, brought to land,

will raise its head and gawp for life
though there is nothing that can save it.

(Reprinted from Compass Magazine}

Saturday, 23 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 69: Chris Kelso

The excitement and sheer range continues! I came across Kilmarnock writer Chris Kelso via Graham Rae who I highlighted in the Poets' Republic Magazine as someone who has investigated Scottish links to the Beats. Graham, who is featured later in the series, has done quite a lot of gonzo journalism on this topic and did some fantastic work tracking down and interviewing Alex Neish, the maverick editor of The Scottish literary magazine Jabberwock which introduced Beat writers like Ginsberg and Corso to the arguably less demonstrative revolution of the Scottish literary renaissance back in the 1950s. Graham had just written the introduction to a book on William Burroughs by, I heard, a young writer called Chris Kelso. This book 'Burroughs and Scotland' is soon to be published by 'Beatdom', and I am fascinated to learn will feature Burroughs' connection with the Edinburgh Scientologists, an organisation that myself and my friend John Durnin were briefly kidnapped by in the early 70s. I remember as we eventually fled from the building we ran past a curiously carved wooden ear trumpet with the logo 'Speak direct to L Ron Hubbard' and I often imagine him sitting sipping a daiquiri in his yacht in international waters when a great cry of 'FUCK OFF HUBBARD' rang out over the ether.

Chris comes at writing across a wide range of genres, from bizarro to science fiction, graphic, horror to transgressive, and almost all combinations possible, all slightly different versions of the attack all we poets make on the ordinary. He is extremely versatile, in style and genre.

He is a British Fantasy Award-nominated novelist, screenwriter, and anthologist. His work has been published in - '3AM Magazine', 'Black Static', 'Locus', 'Daily Science Fiction', 'Antipodean-SF', 'SF Signal', 'Dark Discoveries', 'The Lovecraft e-zine', 'Sensitive Skin', 'Evergreen Review', 'Verbicide', 'The Unquiet Dreamer' - a Literary tribute to Harlan Ellison, and many others.

Here he Reads 'Love Bug'

Here is Chris' Website:

A review of hhis book 'The Dregs'

Two more Poems here:

I love humans, I do.
In fact, I’m addicted to humans.
I have been since you first came to this place.

Beneath your clothes,
I love the diaphanous flesh that covers your muscle-buried bones.
Lips set in soft vermillion
Blood cells like rushing rhinestones

The burning scintillas of hope and hopelessness,
Always in perpetual duality,
Which you uniform your souls with

                 So proudly, I adore (C'est Magnifique!).

                 Your life, your death, your minds, your goals!

I love the way your eyes gaze at me through the visors, through the cosy penumbra like chatoyant rings - amongst other things, I even love the complicated little hypocrisies that make you - you.
Then there’s the jobs that kill most of you before I get the chance to…
I’ll say this though,
There is no better organism in the solar system to inhibit
I’m convinced of it!
Than human beings
Now, other, less infectious, diseases might disagree.
But I love you, I love you, I love you…I do.

So when I’m looking for a human host,
Browsing through profiles
Taking notes of prolate skulls
With eyes that stare like herring gull,
Or bursting stars in the sky,
I like to make sure I find one who really meets my needs as a virus.
That’s pretty important when you’re looking for a partner
- to find someone compatible, to find a nice guy.

You know,
I’ve spent the best part of existence understanding your behaviours,
Micro-expressions, what you like, what you don’t like
The sudden onset of lumbago…
You know what I mean? Right?

And, I think I’ve finally cracked the formula.

Of course, no two humans are ever the same,
You’re unique in that sense, your pathos,
And your pain

My last human host, it didn’t work out.
Oh now, we ended on good terms! I didn’t go without.

But when you reject me, I get upset,
I react with violence and misplaced hate
My ego is fragile, it’s male

Then it’s all over, like a sun gone nova. 

Friday, 22 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 68: Michele Seminara

Michele Seminara is a relatively new Australian poet but has come a long way in a short time. Rummellin through her biography and some sources about her, I found three things to immediately recommend her to the discerning readership of the #plague.

First, in her capacity as the editor of a very fine Australian poetry magazine, she published that really odd poem of mine about the nutjob lighthouse keeper in Killitrangan who made a daily count of the moths who were attracted to his lamp. Secondly she has written a poem about drinking, which I reprint in full below. Drinking during the day, or any other time, is an essential but unfashionable pursuit for a poet nowadays. It is time this position was reversed. What did the great ones say?

‘Wine comes in at the mouth / And love comes in at the eye; / That’s all we shall know for truth / Before we grow old and die.’ That was Yeats.

“That’s what I do: I make coffee and occasionally succumb to suicidal nihilism. But you shouldn’t worry — poetry is still first. Cigarettes and alcohol follow." That was Anne Sexton.

The third and more important thing is that Michele has taken often bitter and wounding life experience and turned it into highly accessible and powerful poetry as you can see from the video, and from the second poem printed below, 'Run Rabbit'. 

Michele Seminara is a poet, editor and yoga teacher. After studying Literature at the University of Sydney, she travelled extensively in India, returning from her travels to settle down in Sydney and raise a family of three children. She is Co-Managing Editor of 'Verity La' . 'Engraft' her first major collection, was published by Island Press in 2016 and two chapbooks 'Scar to Scar' and 'HUSH' followed. Her second full-length collection, 'Suburban Fantasy', is forthcoming from UWA Publishing in 2020.
She has also performed her poetry at and helped to organise the Blue Stocking Poetry Jam and the Women’s International Poetry Festival in Sydney.

Here she reads 'On reading Bishop' from her collection 'Engraft'.

More about Michele and information about her books here:

Two poems and a review in 'Cordite' Magazine:

An Interview for 'Tincture' Magazine:

Run Rabbit

The coiled snake
of my father’s anger
sleeps at the base of his spine.

It snores through play
but rises unpredictably
to transgression.

Triggered, it shoots up and out
his customarily kind mouth.

We flee in well-versed vectors —

Run, rabbit, run!

Alas, plump and placid,
I am the slow one…

Daytime Drinking

I retreat to this land whenever I need healing —
to ingest its molecules into my lungs
its light-waves into my pupils,
black-holed mainlines into the suffering brain.

Supplicant’s fingers raking
rough rock in a prayer of taking and giving;
barbecue smoke entering my throat
swallowing breath in a taste of oneness.

Today I stumble the bush in gumboots
sunglasses shielding swollen eyes
clumsy after the rancid wine
pulled in desperation from the back of the cupboard.

One part of me sinking into grief
the other rising inexplicably above —
gazing in awe at the ball of the sun
until it’s all that I can see.

Thursday, 21 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 67: Michael Dempster

Danielle Corkery, in a great rant against the Anglo-Irish authors of his day including Synge and Shaw, declared "when we let go of our language we laid the seeds of our own mental destruction." 
I was watching a program the other day about Gaels who have lost their language, recalling their youth, and not one talked about it without tears in their eyes. Without a doubt, knowledge and use of your native language- whatever it is- provides both comfort and a vital social foothold in life, a fact that centuries of conquerors have grasped very well. In Dumfries and Galloway, a land, as you can clearly see from the map, Gaelic in history and tradition, you only need to read the fuss created by the idea of dual road signing to realise that language is more than a form of communication, it's a potential cultural and political battleground.  

Dr Michael Dempster, in the Backroom today, is a Scots speaker and neuro-scientist who is convinced that speaking our natural language, the language that many of us were brought up with, improves mental well being as well as providing by its links with the past, a cohesive framework of memory that improves mental health and binds folk together socially and culturally.

Like Chris Kelso who's coming up in a day or two, Michael works across a huge spread of art forms, 
including opera, comics, folk and contemporary song, poetry and stage and screenplays. He has recently been working with JOOT theatre bringing the poetry of The Makars to the stage.  Michael is the director of The Scots Language Centre and is the current Scots Scriever at the National Library of Scotland. His job is to promote first speaking of scots across the board.

Here he takes Lord Byron by the lug and returns him to his Scottish roots:

Lines Inscribit Upon a Cup Formt fae a Skull

George Gordon Byron – 1788-1824

Pitten intae the Scots bi Dr Michael Dempster

Stert no—or deem ma spreit fleed:
In me behaud the ainly skull
Fae whaur, no lik a livin heid,
White’er flows isnae e’er dull.

A livit, A luvit, A quafft, lik thee:
I dee’d: let earth ma banes resign;
Full up—thou cannae injure me;
The wurm his fouler lips than thine.

Better tae haud the spairklin grape,
Than nurse the earth-wurm's slimy bruid;
An circle in the goblet's shape
The drink o Gods, than reptiles' fuid.

Where ance ma wit, perchance, haes shone,
In aid o ithers' let me shine;
An when, alace! oor brains is gane,
Whit nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou kin—anither race,
When thou an thine lik me are speed,
Micht rescue thee fae earth's embrace,
An rhyme an revel wi the deid.

Hou no? since throu life's little day
Oor heids sic sad effects produce;
Redeemt fae wurms an wastin cley,
This chance is theirs, tae be o uise.


Whan Nevermass comes
A'll want nae mair,
A'll wheesht ma sangs,
Nae Manes, nae lair;
Whan ilka fash

An fyke an dwag,
Haes taen a tummle
An gied a bang;

A'll drap ma Inglis,
Earse an sic
An ma ain Scots tung
Thir aw juist swick;
Ma lugs, thae bellochs
an blaws juist fyle,
A'll nocht but rest
ma erse an smile!

Some Links

Dido and Aeneas - Scots Opera Project:

'We're needin tae talk aboot wir language': 

Further works can be found on his YouTube channel:


Wednesday, 20 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 66: Skye Allan

Having just been turned down for funding to pay #plaguepoets for a rickety zoom reading or two I am remaining calm and not making cheap jibes about the availability of funds from important Scottish organisations to support in other places, poets who already have plenty of exposure and funding. After all, it has always been thus. As my mother used to say, sweeping the summonses up each morning in a small green tray, “to those who have, more shall be given.” The plague rolls on, though, a democratic platform and thanks must go as ever, to the poets and readers who support it. And in that vein let us turn to Skye Allan.

The school I attended, and Skye attends when it's open, was also the alma mater, as I have mentioned before, of JM Barrie, and the house of his mates, Stuart and Hal Gordon, next door to the school, where Barrie allegedly came up with the idea of Peter Pan while running wild in the gardens, has been reshaped at fabulous expense as Moat Brae Centre of Children’s Literature with state of the art Peter Pannery to be seen everywhere, and Joanna Lumley as the voice in the lift.

Such things aside, Dumfries Academy continues to produce young people in thrall to the passion of reading and writing. Anyone who has darkened the door of a modern Scottish secondary school knows that they are complex places with complex demands and pressures and it is sometimes difficult to stand out from the crowd and express yourself. Lockdown is an added pressure, for folk of any age.

Skye Allan is thirteen years old and lives in Dumfries. Earlier in the year she was runner up in the ‘Burns Reimagined’ competition run by the Stove Collective and last October was one of the driving forces behind ‘DabFest’ (Dumfries Academy Book Festival ) which, supported by the Wigtown Book Festival and the Holywood Trust, brought writers to the school in a day long festival. Skye helps run a writing group at her school which, supported by staff, used to meet regularly off-timetable in pre-covid days and was in the midst of producing their first book ‘A World of Words’ which includes poems and stories from ten talented young writers, including a large swatch by herself. Skye mostly writes stories but is a determined rhyming poet, and I think it works.

Here Skye is reading her topical but hopeful poem 'Cold in my Bones':

My Life

My life is a strand of spider silk,
Each breath, it sways in balance,
Yet it holds me up, my story,
Each knot a secret talent.

My soul is a ball of rainbow clay,
It moulds and shapes each year,
Wraps up every emotion,
Every smile and tear.

My heart's a paper lotus,
Beautiful, fragile, light,
Each time I stop and daydream
it drifts away, in night.

Tuesday, 19 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 65: Alison Flett

Its strange how poets disappear even when they don't. I suppose the feverish atmosphere of the poetry scene where your gaze often doesn't stretch further than your own navel means that your attention shifts to whatever mags your reading, whatever you're submitting to at the time, whoever you're listening to on social media blethering on about the scene and you forget poets who were household names. It's your fault, no theirs, because they've been there all the time, writing books, winning competitions, even appearing in the same mag as you. 

Alison Flett is one-such, an excellent poet who's never been away, except a bit from Scotland geographically: She's lived in South Australia for the last ten years. Alison was a poet I remember fine from some cutting edge and important publications, like the magazine 'Rebel Inc' and 'Dreamstate', that manifesto of younger writers edited by Donny O Rourke and published by Polygon, which contained so many poets who were going to go on and carve out fine careers. Alison was associated with the generation of writers who coalesced around Rebel Inc and Duncan McLean's iconic 'Clocktower Press' and appeared, like Shug Hanlan and others, in the latter's fine anthology 'Ahead of its Time'. Rebel Inc also published her collection 'Writing like a Bastard' in 1993. Her collection 'Whit Lassyz Ur Inty' published by Thirsty Books in 2004 was shortlisted for the Saltire First Book of the Year Award and sits upstairs in my poetry collection. Written in a brawny, beat vernacular it gives a brilliant, punchy, hilarious voice to the modern Scot, his or her worries, concerns everyday and global. In the poem 'Patriotic Pish', for example, she imagines three members of Parliament at the urinal, their different coloured urine forming a Union Jack that goes on to poison the water supply.  Alison was anthologised also in 'Modern Scottish Women Poets' from Canongate and '100 Favourite Scottish Poems' by Luath Press..

Since moving to Australia she has been published in various anthologies and journals including 'Australian Love Poems', 'Australian Poetry Journal Anthology' 2018 and 2019, 'Cordite', 'Rabbit', 'Southerly', 'Stylus Lit', 'Tincture', 'Westerly', 'Irises: The University of Canberra International Poetry Prize 2017' and 'Buying Online': Newcastle Poetry Prize 2018. She was shortlisted for the Whitmore Press Manuscript Award in 2014 and the Adelaide Festival Unpublished Manuscript Award in 2019. She is an arts reviewer for 'InDaily', poetry editor for 'Transnational Literature' and publisher at Little Windows Press.

Here she reads 'Five Things I loved about Coronavirus', workshopped and written during lockdown. Below is transcribed Vessel 1 from her Chapbook 'Vessel' published by Garron Press in 2016 and  a taste of her earlier work, 'Harbour'from 'Whit Lassyz Ur Inty'. 



No-one else has seen inside this child.

She is small. The sky does not yet come down
around her. It is still contained
in a blue strip at the top of the page.

Right now she’s setting her place for breakfast​
but has stopped half-way between
the crockery cupboard and the table.

The sun has just risen above the roof of her building
so that she can see the reflection of her windows
in the windows of the building opposite.

She doesn’t know it’s a reflection of her own windows.
It seems a thing of itself, a thing that appears
and disappears with the light. In her hands

a cup is holding itself together around a cup’s worth
of space. In her head something is pulling the reins
of the galloping horses in the kitchenette clock.

She has just asked her mother a question.
When you get older do you remember more?
And her mother has answered yes, I suppose you do.

The child knows this is the wrong answer.
She knows her mother means you have more things
to remember, there’s more living filling your head

but the child means will she remember being born
will she remember where she was before
she was born, will she remember even before that?

She doesn’t know how to ask that question
so instead she has stopped to remember
this, forever:

her hands cupped around a cup
she is carrying to a table, a cup
inside which reflected light bounces.

She watches her hands move apart.
She watches the cup drop and break
the pieces thrown outwards making new

angles of light, forming the beginning of
an understanding of how we go beyond what
we are, an awareness of being and not being

a first meme which will repost versions of itself
again and again in her brain until she comes to see
the cup isn’t what matters.


ah kent yi wir cummin
an goin
thi ebb an flo
o ma
body clenchin
letting go
letting go

lets go
down tay thi harbour
ah sayz tay ma lassy
ma first born
see thi boats cummin in

an we stood taygither
at the endy thi peer
lookn outwards
trine tay mind oan
thi namesy thi boats

cum hame boy gordon
we called oot
cum hame girl mina
john L

cum hame two belles
storm drift
silver wave

cum hame sunrise
radiant queen

an they came
rite inuff
thi way they do
thi tiny black spex o thum
pulsin larger
taywords us

over wottur
sun frostid
like bathroom glass
hidin deep
domestic secrests

ma body clenched
and ah reeched doon
tay clasp
thi smilin hand
o ma first one

taygether we watched
thi big ball o sun
slip slowly
over thi ej
o oor wurld
and inty