Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 107:Katy Ewing

You may wonder why we in Dumfries and Galloway are such a cheerful lot, given we've got one and a half million tons of unexploded munitions sitting off the coast and two sides of the same scone for our elected representatives. I wonder myself sometimes, and here's Katy Ewing to darken the mood further by recalling a previous plague in the region, Foot and Mouth Disease. Never mind, no misery no poetry: 'Le bonheur écrit a lencre blanche sur des pages blanches' as Montherlant said before shooting himself in the heid.

2001 saw the UK's worst ever outbreak and Dumfries and Galloway was one of the worst affected parts. In total about 1,500 farms lost 750,000 animals, culled. Folk recall having to scrub their windows daily as they were coated with grease, fat from the burning animals.  ‘It was a most appalling situation to find yourself in in Britain', someone told me at the time,  'you just didn’t expect it – the Army breaking peoples’ doors down to slaughter their stock’. Seems appropriate then, in the midst of one emotional trauma, to remember another.

Katy Ewing is a writer and artist living in rural Southwest Scotland. She graduated in 2017 from Glasgow University with an MLitt in Environment, Culture and Communication.  She has had poetry, prose and illustration published widely, including in 'New Writing Scotland', 'Gutter', 'Earthlines', 'Zoomorphic', and 'Far Off Places'. In 2017 'The Haunted Land' was published by Blurb Books, including paintings by her mother, Sheila Mullen, and poems by Katy. In 2018 'Poets Republic' published a pamphlet 'Bearings', featuring her and Joy Hendry's work. In that same year she won the Wigtown Poetry Competition's 'Fresh Voice Award'.

She often writes about remembered place, childhood and motherhood and frequently finds herself drawn to the dark and uneasy places in human experience. Katy's writing is deft, deceptively simple and packs a real punch.

Here she reads 'Two Thousand and One':

Link to Bearings:


Katy Reading 'Friday the Nineteenth':


Two Thousand and One

Our second beautiful baby girl
was born in April, fat and pink and healthy,
but would not gain weight.

“Failure to thrive”, the notes declared
in hurried and embarrassed black biro,
but anyone could see she wanted to live;
bright eyes, she smiled, she laughed, she learned,
but she grew longer, got thinner, looked starved.

We could hardly see it then,
what the few photos show.

Gentle midwives became watchful health visitors,
concern turning their eyes from mine,
though they couldn’t tell me what I was doing wrong.

The scales, which four years earlier
had always been a scene of great proud news,
became a cold, hard place of fear
and bright red screams of injustice.

Innocent sheep were burned that spring,
in barbaric heaps, rank smoke pouring
from fields as we drove past.

Walkers had to step through iodine footbaths,
and while the countryside was no-go
we frantically tried to nourish our own, stay hopeful.

The answering machine on a sunny summer’s day,
dad shaken like I’d never heard him,
and mum fallen from the high farm-house roof
onto the cobbled courtyard,
blinded and broken, small as I’d never seen her,
imprisoned in a crisp white hospital bed,
desperate to escape.

Recovery seemed slow and difficult,
the future hard won.

By the time the towers fell in autumn;
a T.V. show on every channel
too shocking to seem real,
and the end of the world seemed closer than ever,
our year’s wounds had already rendered us numb.

The Minister’s Pool 

It wasn’t just the downhill run, 
flung flying along the wooded path, 
that pulled us to the river every summer 
as soon as the trees wore soft green, 
wild garlic flowered, the sky as blue as mattered. 
The water shocking, but survivable with many tries, 
or one brave plunge. 

It wasn’t just the life-thick cold current that tugged us, 
kept trying to drag us to the pool 
across the shallows 
from our chest-deep swimming place. 
The safe place, where soft weed and slippy algae 
cushioned stones for our timid feet
 that curious minnows nibbled, tickled.
The edge was never far. 

It wasn’t just the lurking corner whirlpool of local lore 
that scared the swimming power right out of me, 
the pool’s depth renowned, greater with every telling. 
The cold like a spell to pull me fish-deep, 
as I gasped and fought to keep the surface, 
the dark concealing primal fears, unspeakable 
but with a stronger lure than adults’ warnings 
could hold me from. 

It wasn’t just its safety 
that drew you to the sandstone ledge you’d reach 
if you dared to cross and push and pull 
yourself right out the sucking water 
into the shadow of the massive, ancient, 
overhanging oak tree, to seek a warm spot. 
Exhausted, weed-specked, 
heavy as a new-born.

(Reprinted from 'Stravaig')

Monday, 29 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 106: Colin McGuire

Colin McGuire has been around for years-I know this for a fact- but doesn’t seem ever to age any, obviously a pact he’s made with dark forces away back. In return for eternal youth McGuire stalks the dark and dodgiest corridors of the human condition employing, as the blurb on his latest book says, 'dark humour and twisted imagery'. Who can resist such attributes? We all lurk in corners but maybe not as starkly or elegantly as McGuire:

'You sit alone, but not lonely and say to air
with the wisdom of nothing: It’s as if my life happened
to someone else. And you take a biscuit and taste,
as all moments, the crumbs of what remains.'

(From 'Zoom')

Colin McGuire is a poet and performer from Glasgow, who now lives in Edinburgh. His poetry on the page is surreal and beautiful but he is known best for his dynamic, engaging live performances.  He won the Shore Poets Quiet Slam in 2014, and the Luminate Slam 2015 and he got to the semi-final in the BBC Fringe Slam in 2013 and 2018. He won the Out:spoken award for the 'film poetry' category and best poetry overall in London in 2018. In 2020, he was an Ignite Fellow Awardee, awarded by the Scottish Book Trust. He is currently working on a book as part of this award. He studies and teaches mindfulness and runs Mindfulness and Expressive Writing Workshops in schools, charities, libraries and community groups.

His most recent collection is 'Enhanced fool disclosure' (Speculative Books, 2018).

Here he reads 'A Small Thing':

His Website here:

Two Poems and Buy 'Enhanced fool disclosure' here:

Five poems from 'The Punch Magazine':

A small thing

Do you know we are so minute
the God's hear our prayers

in the teensiest, helium-pitched
mouse-like voices?

The universe is so small
we point telescopes to look at it.

I have been searching most of the night
for a grain of salt lost amongst the carpet.

Some of the people I care about most
are dust particles on eyelashes.

The stars are insoluble rock salts
I pretend to pick with a pair of tweezers.


Age is being struck by a bolt of lightning
that slows you gradually; the envy of youth
is never having to rush, who speed past drunk
on their own engine, before being struck
by lightning in turn.

Roll on Gran, roll on Sister, roll on Mum, until
the tale end of the night, until the batteries run out,
until the bones creak like a stiff door,
until your voice slows to an aphasic blur, roll on love.

For now you pocket a few biscuits, and turn back
to the living room and the television, the programme
on in a few minutes. Your slippers like a voyager’s
boots carry you on, to that firm chair.

You sit alone, but not lonely and say to air
with the wisdom of nothing: It’s as if my life happened
to someone else. And you take a biscuit and taste,
as all moments, the crumbs of what remains.

Eighty years. The accumulation, to bring me here,
to bring me here, to this conclusion, to sit alone
and watch the television, the screen’s white illumination
a kind of joke, and I am all that’s left of the tree now.

Love stretches as long as a life, before it snaps.
But God have I worked for it, Christ.

Sunday, 28 June 2020

Poems in the Backroom 105: Pippa Little

Pippa Little is a Scot who lives in the north of England and is therefore one of our honorary poetry reivers. In the first book I remember seeing of hers, ‘Foray', set among reiving women, she skilfully tread the dodgy path between history and imagination that I like to teeter down myself sometimes.

One of the amazing - sometimes depressing- facets of the #plague is the sheer worth of the poetry involved. There are so many individual voices out there and so many skilful makars. Pippa Little is a wonderful poet with a very finely tuned and unique angle of attack on the ordinary and occasionally extraordinary things that confront us. I do hate to go on about drink in case folk think I’ve got a problem but a poem of hers that has stayed with me is ‘Blotto’ which I reprint in full at the bottom of the page. This is not some superficially skilled sketch of a drunkard but the poetic equivalent of the Vulcan mind-meld, describing with psychiatric precision but also aching empathy the subjects drunkenness as

'my fanfare in your face, my joke against life’s cold
shoulder, in the sure and resounding hope
of what must come, hope in spite of hope'

Brilliance. Pippa Little reviews, edits, teaches and mentors and is a founding member of Carte Blanche women’s writing group. She is a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Newcastle University where she leads workshops exploring expressive writing techniques to boost emotional resilience in first year students. She received a Hawthornden Fellowship and has won many awards, been published widely in magazines such as 'Ambit', 'Poetry', 'Poetry Review', 'Rialto, 'New Edinburgh Review', 'Glasgow Review of Books' and 'MsLexia', had work featured in anthologies, collaborations, online, on radio and film and has read at festivals and venues across the world, from StAnza in St. Andrews to Mexico City.

Her pamphlet 'The Spar Box', from Vane Women, was a PBS Choice. Other pamphlets include The 'Snow Globe' from Red Squirrel Press, 'Our Lady of Iguanas' from Black Light Engine Room Press and 'Foray', the reiver poems from Biscuit Press, Her most recent full collection, 'Twist', came out in 2017 from Arc and was shortlisted for The Saltire Society Poetry Collection of the Year.
'Overwintering', published by OxfordPoets/Carcanet, was shortlisted for The Seamus Heaney Centre Prize. She is currently working on her next collection. 

Here she is reading 'At the End of Lockdown':

Pippa's profile and more poems on SPL Website:

Six Poems in 'Live Encounters':

At the End of Lockdown

Something has broken/been broken
in me:

today I walked where
rock pools, like eyes,
fill with tears -
alone but for gulls
and sea-glitter:

forbidden touch, skin remembers how to hold
and be held in tenderness
is holy:

the world is very old
and very frail -
I wonder/will it survive us?

Something has broken/been broken:
this slow, quiet letting go
of our pawnbroker’s innocence:

I have dreamed again and again of extinction

and yet the world goes on

even as something has lain down in us
like an old animal/come to its end

multitudes throng the beaches
in these last days of lockdown
oiling their glistening legs
like flies


On Starbucks’ corner hunched against the cold
I’ve been here since the moon was high;
come morning, blow hard into the knot
of my blue hands, I have no hope
today will be more than the old shuttle
between being sober and being blotto.
It’s a kind of leaving without going, blotto:
an easy travelling farther away than cold,
swift and sure as a loom shuttle
I go clean and I go high,
way past being lost or found – in hope
only that one day I shall free this knot,
memory-knot, hunger knot, knot
that’s the opposite of blotto –
if you see me huddled at your feet I hope
you’d throw me more than a blind cold
stare from your important walking, high
above me, on your commuter shuttle:
to and fro you go, slaves of that great shuttle
faster and faster and for what? A slimy knot
you can never shift from your gut. Only a high
ending and a hurrah and I’ll soon be blotto,
my fanfare in your face, my joke against life’s cold
shoulder, in the sure and resounding hope
of what must come, hope in spite of hope.
The north wind’s a blade-sharp shuttle
I’m an impediment to its purpose, cold.
All in the end I’ve got is this ordinary knot
That’s me. Do you know blotto?
Do you know high?

Out cold, high, face kicked to a knot,
small hope of recovery. Found by the airport shuttle, blotto.

(From 'Twist')

Saturday, 27 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 104: Rab Wilson

It is a total pleasure to have Rab in the Backroom today. He's virtually the last person I had a pint with before the Coronacatastrophe, in the Croon in Sanquhar, a great pub with Burnsian connections. Rab, an ex-collier engineer, is a working class poet from Rabbie's heartland in Ayrshire, and like every Scots poet, and certainly every poet writing in Scots, has had to address or embrace the legacy of his namesake. Rab was ‘Robert Burns Writing Fellow for Dumfries and Galloway Region, has worked with the artist Calvin Colvin on a book of responses to Burns and was Scriever in Residence for the National Trust for Scotland based at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Ayr. A bit of a Burns scholar, therefore, he's aware of the resonances, his grip on the popular imagination, but also the essential elusiveness of the man and the poet.

'Ah hauf expeck tae see ye staundin there;
thon lustrous ee, that stubborn manly air-
but naw, nae maitter hou we aa micht luik,
ye're anely nou the stuff that dreams are nade oan'

(From 'Whare Burns has Wrote in Rhymin Blether')

Rab Wilson is his own man, a natural and powerful writer and reader in Scots and his themes range across a wheen of interests, historical, political and contemporary, all of which he approaches with skill but also a well grounded sense of humour. Unlike many of his contemporaries too, he is a proud formalist too, a sonneteer.

He has been published in many magazines and journals and performed in all the important festivals including StAnza and Wigtown. He has had several books out with the great Luath Press including 'Life Sentence' and 'Accent o the Mind', 'A Map for the Blind' and 'Zero Hours'. Most recently he collaborated with eminent Scots astronomer John C. Brown in the cross cultural proect 'Oor Big Braw Cosmos', also from Luath Press, a great glorious meld of science, image and poetry. His stalwart work in promoting Scots has stretched from the Holyrood Parliament to regular columns in 'The National'. As an editor, he created the wonderful and seminal anthology 'Chuckies fir the Cairn', an anthology of contemporary Scots writing in Dumfries and Galloway.

Here as his wally dug looks on, is a brilliant reading of  'Radio Radio', 'Somerfield Check Out Number 2', and 'The Greater Sea'.

'Waiting for the Poetry Bus', a great wee film about Rab and his poetry: 


Rab's profile and more poems on the SPL site:


Somerfield Checkoot Coonter #2

Harrassed, the lassie frowned,
an shouted oan the Supervisor,
‘Ah weesh they’d mark them mair cleerly,
hou much is this Chardonnay, Wilma?
Is this the yin that’s oan oaffir?’
The wummin ahint me stared,
then the big fellah appeared;
ruggedly handsome,
wi his bunches o flooers,
justifiably embarrassed.
‘If that’s aa ye’ve got,’ she said,
‘jist taik thaim tae the Basket Coonter.
Then added, cheekily,
‘Onywey, ye’re too late!
Valentine’s Day wis yesterday!’
The big fellah wis oan form though,
his face lit up, an pu’in a flooer,
haun’t it tae her;
‘Hen, when ye stey wi me,
every day’s Valentine’s Day!’
an, claspin his tulips,
he cantily mairched oot the door.
Clutchin her prize,
she paused,
an gazed,
eftir him.

(From 'Chuckies fir the Cairn')

There Is Nae ‘Thaim an Us’ ava; It’s ‘Us’.

There is nae ‘thaim an us’ ava; it’s ‘us’,
Thae fowk ahint the wire in Calais’s camps,
Puir Syrian weans wha stegg the road in ranks,
Aa joukin drones oor siller gaed tae coff.
Whiles aa we hear’s the jingoistic guff,
That’s bred upo the playin fields o Eton,
Ilk nicht we’re deaved wi their barbarian bleatin;
Ach, Tweedledum an Tweedledee, enough!
Wha ettles tae breathe free, jist cam tae us,
Anither cog o brose is aa it taks,
Tae lowse the yoke ae tyrants frae yer backs;
There is nae ‘thaim an us’ ava; it’s ‘us’.
Sae steer the muckle pot, fling in a knurl;
Fir tartan kythes the colours o the warld.
(From 'The Scores')


Scroll back from the cosmos,
To inner space.
The mind's micro-structure
Nanoscientists mind-mapping
The brain's hundred billion neurons,
Its thousand trillion connections,
Processing 0.1 quadrillion thoughts per second.
Vastly more sophisticated
Than any computer.
What causes that leap
Across the synapse?
The spark between Creator and Man?
That lets the poet contemplate the rose –
And move the human heart.

(from 'Culture Matters')

Friday, 26 June 2020

Monologue from the Backroom 103: Jules Horne

Part 3 of our Border Trilogy, and our first dramatic monologue. Jules Horne, as the briefest glance at her biography shows, is omni-talented and has a great track record in a variety of forms, predominantly as a playwright. She lives in Yetholm, four miles from the border, solidly and dangerously in the Debatable Lands. She has a few connections with my side of Scotland, however: like me she’s worked with that busy genius Suzanne Parry John, and she was Writer in Residence in Dumfries from 2005-8.  She’s also written about Daft Pate, Kirkpatrick MacMillan, the inventor of the bicycle if you don’t count all the others.

Jules has written plays, poems and fiction in English and Scots. She’s written for the Traverse, Nutshell and Paines Plough and worked as Associate Playwright for Playwrights’ Studio Scotland in the Borders. She is currently on a writing attachment to National Theatre of Scotland and teaches creative writing part-time with the Open University in Scotland. Her first full-length play, 'Gorgeous Avatar', was performed by the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh in 2006, and in Japanese at AI Hall, Itami, Osaka in 2007, and by Heidelberg University's Schauspielgruppe Anglistik in 2008. She has had squillions of plays broadcast on Radio 4 over a number of years and won a Scotsman fringe first in 2011. She also won a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship in 2002. With her dodgy cello she performs on the Spoken Word circuits as 'Rebel Cello'. 

Here she is reading 'Lyceum Letters':

Daft Pate, hurtling about here:

Scottish Chamber Orchestra commission, Three Border Songs, with Suzanne Parry John, can be heard here:

The 'Uncanny Bodies' biomedical project at Edinburgh University here:

Lyceum Letters

Upper Circle Row A Seat 14.

[Character: an audience member from the Borders]

Dear Lyceum,
I was fair sorry to hear aboot yer travails. So I’d thought a’d drop ee a line.
Ee must be guy scunnert. Ah ken a wud be. Sitting aboot, aw din up, aw your ruby, blue, and braw gold getup. Raring for the pairty.

And naebdee turns up.
No a single sowel.

Well, maybe the odd yin gaun aboot. Yon boay wi the beard eer sic guid freens wi. Am wondering how he’s daein. Must be guy scunnert.

Cos it’s his pairty ana. An no just his. The hale building’s pairty. The hale toon’s pairty. Aabody’s pairty. The hale country’s inviteet. Even foke in the Borders getting the train up.

Aw thae invitations oot. Aw yon work ahint the scenes. Aw thae foke cleared their diaries.

Some wee sleekit teeny nano CLARTY PARTICLE wi health and safety issues gauns an gazumps the hale shebang.

So I’m thinking, what div ee dae?
Show must gaun on. Make the pairty happen.
Well, a’ve been thinking, Lyceum.

Deh gaun there.
Ee cah mak a pairty happen on yer lane.
Ah’ve been there. Oh aye.
A no-show pairty. Big-time.
There was a clash wi a rugby international. My donnert.
Oo’d a hoose full o pizza fingers, wineboxes (reid, white, pink), guacamole, tapenade, soor cream. Caramelised onion humous. Aa the dips.

Pu’d oot aw the stops.
Ma hair doon. Ma Spanx up. Ma teeth wi a top-up whiten.
An ma ruby and blue frock. Ruby an aqua. Teal. Kingfisher. I’m an autumn. That’s ma colours.
An ma gold chain an a slaister o glitter in ma hair.

Be the winebox.

Ee cah mak a pairty happen wi naebody there.
Aye, of course, ee can hae a boogie on yer lane. “Yes, sir, I can boogie, but I need a certain …” [tails off]

Mind, kennin yow, Lyceum, eev probably geen it a go.
Louping ower the sates. Boglin in the wings. Doon in the bar, a wee bit explore ahint the coonter.
I ken a wad.
I’d gie ma right airm tae sei ahint the scenes. Hae the pliss tae masel. Just for a day. Jist an hoor. What’s it like in an empty theatre?
Am getting excitit just thinking aboot it. Aw the space. Aw the possibility.

Then, a realised.
Heck, Lyceum, yer no on yer lane at aw.
The pliss is hotchin.
Hotchin tae the gunnels wi bogles.

Aye, a ken every theatre has a bogle.
The yin that blows the candle and sends shivers doon the banes o lone workers.
But ah deh mean yon.
Yon’s a pare lanely sowel. Ee hetta gie him his fun.

But aw the ithers, Lyceum.
Ee must have bogles o aw shapes and ages, coming at ee.

An a deh mean jist the Hamlet bogles, the Christmas Carol bogles.
The Touching the Void bogles! Climmin up the balcony. Clinging be their nails tae the cliff.
The Twelfth Night bogles! Singing and sashaying and creeping up the stairs like a wee ball o tinsel.
The Cyrano bogles, the Man of Lamancha bogles! Clashing swords and fighting tae the daith.
The Solaris bogles! Bending space and time and messing wi Edinburgh heids.
And the bogles ahint and ablow and aboon them. Makin aw the cosmoses.

And thon’s jist the stert. What aboot the audience bogles?
The bars’ fu o them.
Bogles from way back, crossing ways, clinking glesses, waving hello and neb-tae-neb at the tables. Bridget’s there. And Mike and Crabbie, an mei.
And the foyer: hotchin wi bogles, up and doon the stairs, wee bogles, big bogles, auld and young bogles, Embra bogles, Border bogles, Fife bogles, Festival bogles, aa year and aa-age bogles since ee began, Lyceum.
Bogles in the stalls, in the shelves, the side-pods, aw the way up tae the rafters. Nae doot swinging on the chandeliers, thanks to their weight advantage.

Lyceum. Eer no on yer lane. Am glad tae ken that.
But rest ashared, the real foke are coming back.
Aw the sweaty traivelers. Off the street and bus and train. Showered and skooshed. Shaking off oor Fridays and dying for a Shiraz.
Clutching oor tickets, shutting oor phones, poring ower oor programmes wi oor specs liftit, guzzling ice-cream afore it’s ower derk tae sei. Blethering, whispering, settling, still.

Yon’s a muckle curtain, Lyceum.
Am wondering what’ll be ahint it.
What kind o pairty, with the clarty particle gone.
Yer pairties are legend. Nae pressure.
Yow take care o yersel.
Gie the nod when it’s time.

Aw the best,
Upper Circle Row A Seat 14.


Thursday, 25 June 2020

Poets from the Backroom 102: Scott Redmond

I mentioned Thomas the Rhymer yesterday aka Thomas of Ercildoun or ‘True Thomas’ a real person who died on 1298 and to whom has been attributed many prophecies and adventures, including several visits to Fairyland. His reputation exceeded Merlin’s in early medieval Scottish literature, the most interesting reason being that Merlin was seen as a bit of a stinking unionist with his prophecy about a single island kingdom ruled by one King, a mythology used by the imperialist English in the 14th century, whereas True Thomas foretold the disasters that would follow Alexander 111’s death and Edinburgh outshining York and London. These tales, in Scott's words, "corrupted by the oral tradition" (enhanced, surely, Watty?) thrived for hundreds of years in Scotland in various tellings.

In one legend Thomas is given the gift of prophecy by the Queen of Fairyland, in another he has it anyway “in his blood” which have led some to establish links with the ancient border Romani families who were famous for their second sight and under the special protection of the Scottish crown and the Roslyn family until the reign of that bigoted nutter James V1.

All of which brings me to another gifted tale-teller, today’s guest, Scotland’s best known - and best dressed- Romani poet, Scott Redmond, inhabiting that lively area between written word, slam and stand-up.  He has performed in six countries over three continents, and has taken his solo shows to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Glasgow International Comedy Festival. As a poet, he has won slams, including the Inky Fingers ‘Bad Boy’ slam, and competed in the Scottish National Poetry Slam. His work has been published in a number of places, including 'Laldy Magazine', 'The Writer’s Cafe', and 'Bonnie’s Crew', and he was previously a writer in residence at Bedlam Theatre.

Here he is telling us about the 'Poet's Cook Book' and 'A Loving Threat':

Scott's official page: 


Poet’s Cook Book

Take it, hold it to yourself,
deep inhale, and smell home.

Roll it around in your fingers,
so smooth, so pure,
you feel it like morning’s warmth,
it is an extension of yourself.

Look deeply, and longingly,
in days to come, you will want to remember
every precious blemished inch,
the photos will never capture how it makes
you feel.

It is so small in the palm of your hand,
so vulnerable, yet so safe.
Wipe away the specks with the gentle touch
of your pinkie finger.
Hold it to your ear, and hear your own past,
know soon your own future.

Place it down on a bed of withering roses,
and crush it beneath your heel.

This is an incorrect way
to boil an egg.

A Loving Threat

As the sun gently caressed
our yawning 3pm skin,
she took my hands, and
gently, ever so gently kissed them,
and said
'I will never not love you.'

Never until that moment
had I felt such a wave of complete
beautiful and overwhelming

Because that is some stalker talk,
a loving threat,
I mean who knows all the twists and
turns that life can take.
What if I stop loving her, leave her,
cheat with her mother, step on her cat,
move to Bermuda with a nun and a vengeance,
what if I just don't want to be loved by her anymore.
Why would she want to keep loving me? 

Always have an out.

I lay there,
my post-coital nap fading,
her head on my chest,
holding down my breathing,
suddenly I felt so claustrophobic,
the future flashing before my eyes.

She chases me down the romantic boulevard,
always at least one like on Tinder,
having to warn my children about the strange lady who says they'll be their new mummy,
the sheer weight of recycling an annual Valentine's card would cause,
not to mention birthdays, Christmases, Easter, so much waste,
'If anyone should know of any reason these two should not be wed, speak now or….'
maybe she wasn't joking about the couples tattoo.

on the plus side,
always an option on the rebound.

The tendrils of her unhealthy obsession,
slink into my every moment,
worried I will wake up to her,
ten years and a family from now,
stood at the bottom of my bed,
head tilted, holding an axe and a grudge,
'I will never not love you.'

She asks
'are you okay, you've started sweating?'

Maybe my therapist was right
when they said I had issues
with commitment.

Wednesday, 24 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 101: Bridget Khursheed

And now the Borders - another area rich in poetry and lore. Once upon a time the folk there were our near neighbours and fellow reivers and all you had to do to see them was gallop over a hillside to steal their coos but now thanks to Scotland’s public transport system it’s easier to go to Madrid than travel from Dumfries to Hawick. They have got some great writers though so we are dallying for a few days in the land of Thomas the Rhymer and the beautiful abbeys the English were fond of burning down in the company of a poet, a troubador and a playwright, what fun!

The poet first, and an unusual one, as she's a self proclaimed computer geek, studying for an MSC in Cyber Security. Bridget Khursheed's poetry inhabits, as well as the usual places, "disruptive text, sound art, art poetry, spoken word, scraps, recipes, contextual poetry, peripatetic writing, engineering, hacking, online text". I wonder how much the world of scraps and computer codes is akin in a way to the continual stream of fragments that make up our narratives and histories, geographical and personal. Bridget was coordinator of 'Writing Fragments/Fragments' project (a partnership between Historic Scotland and Hawick Heritage Hub supported with funding from Creative Scotland) which sought creative responses to the Hawick Missal, a scrap of medieval music found recently, a tantalising part of our cultural code.

Bridget Khursheed is based in the Borders and is a  Scottish Book Trust New Writers Award winner for poetry. She was shortlisted for the original Dr Gavin Wallace Fellowship. Her work is featured in publications including 'The Eildon Tree', 'Stravaig', 'Poetry Scotland',' 'The Rialto',' HU', 'Ambit', 'Northwords Now', 'New Writing Scotland', 'The London Magazine', and 'Gutter'.'  She has a collection of poems from Twinlaw called ‘Roads to Yair.”

Here she is reading 'Glass Eels'from 'The Cormorant' magazine:

Bridget's Blog here:

Glass eels

'By the time the European eel (Anguilla anguilla) reach our shores, they have developed into tiny glass eels that swim against the current into Europe's rivers.'  Eels: A Natural and Unnatural History by Christopher Moriarty

Once elvers, rammed tight like matchsticks,
reflecting burnbridge amid infinite journey
swam a freshwater daytrip in my growing mind:
harvest of eels, jellied fish, or cold alien
yet also translucent and touchable;
they made the water apparent, walkable.

A stream contoured by pencils that map Atlantic
crossing distances science thought too far.
Until tagged eels, one metre muscle, Galway-released,
relocate south using a pump of current
rewriting the subtropical gyre system;
jetpacking open ocean into Caribbean spawnbeds.

At night these eels pulse shallow in warm water:
pilgrims-in-a-desert, they forget food
and spend their days at depth, perhaps
to confuse predators. Contrary coldbath delays spurts,
avoids the lumps and bumps of fertility;
let’s them swim sleek by night in streamline.

Until they themselves birth tides.
Eggs hatched into leptocephalus, transparent larvae
in gulfsoup, floating a Sargasso sea furrow;
still shards, the sinuous snap in our tight channels.
And somehow synapse logic breaks.
Somehow the glass eels relight the home burn.


Your body is a machine,
it works. Ducts, pipes, tissue, tubes,
the heart belching blood —
a saggy bucket
connecting to three more —
it is impossible to regulate
pressure up and down
and failing

into holding pools
or furred
and weed-clogged canals
to idly loop in the defunct, yes,
industrial complex
and stop.

Your body is not a machine,
the way your heart works
is not architecture and
not a river system
but this map of tattered colours
embracing all the ports,
the moors, heath, marshes, mountain pass,
deserts and the sea;
not a road, no, not even
the movement of cars
ribboning through
a long high street;

the commute to
necessary extremities.
The smeared space between
wheel or foot or road and destination
is life itself:
the push forward
flux of messages exchanged

a hurriedly made-up parcel
and the desperate race back home.

(From 'The Interpreter's House')

Standing on top of the National Museum of Scotland

We find the roof garden.
Its little patch of moorland, birches,
heather so perfect it might hide
grouse turd, quartz, even Tunnock wrappers.
A mountain peak handkerchief
picnic-pack pooled
until the air all around is streaked with dry
leaves and the ghost of pollen.

And the sky opens out above all the glass
inaccessible VIP pathways.
How did we get here like this?
And the face of volcanos: did I mention
Arthur’s Seat with its buzz cut of tourists?
Will one of them fly?
Fighting vertigo with talk and tin cans,
the children snail the big rocks,
impossible here, and the glinty light
changes. And I feel happy
lifting off slightly over to Blackford Hill
and Salisbury Crags, bigger than
anything this family thing.

And as we trooped down to the café;
the blank plastic clock below
cried out the hour like birdsong
telling me later
that was the moment that you died.

(From 'Ink Sweat and Tears')

Tuesday, 23 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 100: Graham Fulton

Apologies are due to the poet Anne Fitzgerald who was due to appear, but whose video poem fell into a previously undetected #plaguepoems sink hole. Hopefully we will still feature it in the few days that are left in the project.

There’s something about working for the cooncil that brings out the quirky and surreal in a poet: maybe it’s a stark contrast to the routine. Look at Brian o Nolan and his mad anarchic worlds. “The rhythm of poetry and the routine of work are interdependent for some poets” said another council employee, Daniel o Driscoll. Graham Fulton has combined a 30 year stint with Paisley Council with a career as a poet, publisher, pamphleteer, live performer, artist, photographer and local historian.

During that time he has developed a huge body of work, unsurpassed I would suggest by any contemporary Scottish writer, seventeen full length collection and fifteen pamphlets of poetry as well as a myriad of publications on other topics, like local history, architecture, cats, dogs, you name it. His bibliography is a poem in itself. Although his first collection was published by Polygon in 1990, the vast bulk of his writing has taken place and been published outside the mainstream. He has been very much his own man with his own style - everyday subjects revealing universal truths with an accompanying and ambushing humour.

Recent book publications include 'Circulation' from new Paisley-based publisher Clochoderick Press, 'Something Good Will Always Happen' from Penniless Press Publications, and 'Flesh and Stone', a book-length poem about Loch Craignish and Kilmartin Glen in Argyll, from Controlled Explosion Press. 'Glitches of Mortality' from Pindrop Press was published at the end of 2018.
 In 2020 a collection called 'Chips, Paracetamol and Wine' is being published by Smokestack Books, and in the last three months during lockdown he’s written a 200 poem sequence called 'Coronaworld' which should also hopefully be published this year. 

Here he is reading three poems from 'Coronaworld':

His website, biography, bibliography and links:

Profile and More poems on SPL site:

Great bus poem!:


someone made a quick film
of a young roe deer
with its cute horns
at the junction of
Buchanan Street
Bath Street
at six in the morning

nothing else awake
except a landing pigeon
and the worker who saw it
from the doorway
of Sainsbury’s

it probably came
from the Necropolis
about three quarters
of a mile away
to see what’s happening
with the human race

city of the dead
city of the living

it’s listening
outside a Rolex shop
but it’s not wearing a watch
and doesn’t have any money
to buy one

it’s a wonderful world
it isn’t afraid

I wouldn’t hang around
for too long little deer

run all the way
home to the gravestones

the two-legs
are coming back

everything seems just to be
the way it will always be
getting the dinner ready
putting food in the oven
opening tins
selecting cutlery
taking food out of the fridge
putting food back in the fridge
looking out the window

at someone else walking
the pavement
leading a dog
everything seems
in the sun

out there

in the sun
people are dying in
their hundreds all the time
not far from here
theatres of horror
exhaustion pain
everything seems
replayed replayed
mortuary morgue
devotion care
families unable to say
goodbye I love you
no end
it’s like it’s just going
to go on and
everything seems to be
replayed replayed
mortuary morgue
you have
to be sane
you have to be the same
the way it will always be

fun-packed Government-
endorsed instructions
are available
showing us how to
make our own
Covidbuster facemasks
the sleeve of a shirt
a piece of fabric
covered in the pattern
of the Overlook Hotel carpet
in The Shining

or a dissected bra
with plunge or full cup
being utilised
to accommodate
the shape of the available face

if that isn’t convenient
then a pair of
soiled underpants
will suffice

a big sweaty
Rab C. Nesbitt simmet
with lots of holes

Here’s Johnny!

just breathe normally

Monday, 22 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 99: Aileen Ballantyne

"Many poets struggle to make connections between the lumpy thing called Real Life and the shiny thing called Poetry" said Ian McMillan. That may well have been true once, but not, I think nowadays, when poets operate mostly in the real context of their times and the world around them. There are few ivory towers left, and the world is too intrusive and horrible to ignore. Nonetheless we operate always in both the dark and light, seeking to entertain as well as cast dark reflections.

Aileen Ballantyne, our guest in the Backroom, won the Myslexia Prize in 2015 for a series of poems about the Lockerbie Disaster, an event that some of us down here know a lot about, some perhaps wishing they knew a bit less than they did. When great disasters strike it is the job of poets to record them- Douglas Lipton's poems on the same topic 'Songs for a Fallen Angel' spring to mind too- and the best records are the simplest and smallest: the human scale dignities and tragedies we want to preserve, remember and contrast to a world gone nuts.

Three of Aileen's very moving Lockerbie poems are attached below, but she has chosen a lighter poem for the film, 'Winter’. Though not that light; wanting to swap Scotland for somewhere else less thrawn is a very serious topic that I've explored many times myself. Many of the poems in her recent Luath collection involve flight, literal and metaphorical, as well as an obsession with North America. 

Aileen Ballantyne is a national newspaper journalist turned poet. She was the staff Medical Correspondent for 'The Guardian' and 'The Sunday Times'. Her journalism has twice been commended at the British Press Awards and her news features on AIDs in The Sunday Times won the David Boyle (Erskine Hospital) Memorial Award at the Scottish Press Awards. 

Aileen recently completed a PhD in Creative Writing and Modern Poetry at the University of Edinburgh, where she now teaches an undergraduate course on Contemporary Poetry. In 2015, as well as winning first prize in the Mslexia Poetry Competition, she won the short poem category at the Poetry on the Lake Festival in Rota San Giulio, Italy. In 2012 she won the Scots category of the Wigtown Poetry Prize. In 2018, she received the prestigious Scottish Book Trust New Writers' Award.

Taking Flight is her first poetry collection, published this year by the fabulous Luath Press.

Here she reads 'Winter', from that collection:

A Podcast fro the Scottish poetry Library:


Buy 'Taking Flight' here!:


A review of 'Taking Flight' in 'Write out Loud':


I want to be in part of the planet that's hot, 
drinking frozen green-lime margaritas
 in Hemingway's house in Key West,
 stroking the fur of a six-toed cat
that’s called Frank, or Errol or Marilyn
 to the sound of a house-fan
 that purrs with molecular heat.

 I want to be cooling the sweat
 of the sun on my legs
 in the long crystal swathe of his pool,
 breathing great gulps of moist air
 as I rise and I fall in its pulse.

 I want to walk out on Duval where the scent
 of white jasmine still lingers,
 watch Louisiana pelicans swoop
 for silver-scaled fish
 in the salt and the swell of the Gulf,

 beat hard on the gong and the drum
 at the going down of the sun,
celebrate each breath of red sunset
 with bagpipes and brilliant bandanas.

Rescue Worker

He can see them
where he found them,
lit by the beam
of the torch on his forehead,
untouched, it seemed,
by the fall.

He hoped
they had slept
but knew they had not:
those two young women
he found in the dark field
that December night

still strapped
to their plane-seats,
their arms
tight around each other,
their fingers crossed.

On a hillside

Human flesh hung on the trees at Tundergarth,
the day the sky rained knives and forks
and tight-wrapped salt
and sugar-packs and hand-wipes.
And in the field at Tundergarth,
the farmer heard the corbies caw.

Ruth saw a hand on her roof
and told the police.
Jessie made 200 scones
for the rescue workers.
Her dog fetched an arm
to the door
and she wrapped it in a cloth.

When the people came
from far away
about the t-shirts and the jerseys,
the notebooks and the backpacks
of the dead sons and daughters

that fell on Ella’s house,
she gave them tea,
and helped them to find
their children’s possessions.

And when the mother travelled,
with pieces of glass and sand
from the surfing beach
her son loved,
Ella helped her build a cairn
on the hill near Tundergarth
and sent her home,
from when she came.


It was the toothpaste that nearly defeated them.
It was there in each suitcase: each tube had exploded
over every shirt and blouse they tried to mend,

but one washed, one ironed and one folded,
until each trace of the blast,
of blood and of fuel was removed,
and at last, after seven years of waiting
the clothes of each son, of each daughter,
were returned to each mother, to each father,

and the unread pages of a journal
of a girl who lived to twenty
were unfolded, leaf by leaf,
ironed one by one,
her words returned
clean and washed in their pages.

Sunday, 21 June 2020

Poetry from the Backroom 98: Thomas Clark

Scottish football is a continual delight and it’s a real shame for folk who don’t get it. Money has ruined most national leagues but in Scotland we still operate according to the old rules. It is about the rise and ruin of empires. It is about hubris, nemesis and perhaps most of all heterairea, insane loyalty. Aeschylus and Aristophanes would have had a field day with Scottish football. My son has worries about the virus’ affect on his job but every morning he rings and instead of moaning on about that, glories instead in the ongoing saga of Heart of Midlothian’s humiliation. Such is the power of football.

I am glad to see it return but football without spectators will be a hard one as the living language often finds no better expression than in a football stadium. I remember during my time working in a Bulgarian school expressing a wish to see a football match and Bulgaria being a country of matchless hospitality, this was immediately arranged, the head of the English dept volunteering to arrange this and escort me. “I have no interest at all in football”, Maria said, “it is a game for children but I will translate.” The game she’d chosen was none other than Boteb Plovdiv, the local team, v Levski Sofia, a great grudge match at a time when Bulgarian football’s reputation was at an all time high. She led me to a seat at the front between two lines of riot police and proceeded to read her book. Levski Sofia came onto the pitch to great howls of rage and anger from the home support and a repeated chant.

“Blue pedarasts, blue pederasts” said Maria, not looking up from the page.
At one point Levski scored and the scorer, a Bulgarian international who had played a stormer for the national team just the week before, seemed to appeal to the local support for calm.

“He is seeking national solidarity “ said my translator where upon a small man catapulted himself from behind us to the front, frothing at the mouth and screaming.

“You are a bald illegitimate” said Maria, “how did you get so bald, forcing your head into your managers intestines?”

My guest in the Backroom today is Thomas Clark, poet, writer, and occasional journalist, originally from Glasgow but now living in the Scottish Borders. He is poet in residence at Selkirk FC, the first writer in residence in any Scottish football team, and a bard of the beautiful game, in Scots and English. In September 2015, his first poetry book, 'Intae the Snaw', was released by Gatehouse Press. He has been published in many outlets from 'The Scotsman' and 'The Sunday Mail'  to' VICE.com' and 'Bella Caledonia'. He has performed his work at various venues and festivals across Scotland (and further afield), and also on ITV, the BBC, and Sky Sports.

In 2019 his  book ‘Diary o a Wimpy Wean’ from Itchy Coo and Black and White Publishing won Scots Bairns’ Book o the Year at the first-ever Scots Language Awards in Glasgow.

Here he reads 'O Johnny Moscardini!', Clark's celebration of the life of Scots-Italian footballer Giovanni Moscardini. It was first performed before a match between Italy Writers and Scotland Writers in the stadium named after Moscardini in his hometown of Barga, Tuscany.

His website here:


An Interview here: 

A reverie on the place of Scottish football here:


O Johnny Moscardini!

So noo they’re sayin Meredith’s the best there’s ever been;
Last week it’s Alan Morton; next week it’s Dixie Dean. 
Ye cannae talk tae writers; but wan day, they’ll talk tae me,
An ah’ll tell them - Moscardini, plays for Campbeltoon FC.

O, Johnny Moscardini! He plays for Campbeltoon;
He scores the goals as quickly as the ref can write them doon;
He’s got a right-fit blooter that’d clear the Irish Sea,
Yon Moscardini boy that plays for Campeltoon FC!

Ye dinnae want tae miss it. Ye’re needin early doon.
He wins the toss, he takes the aff, it’s wan-nil tae the Toon!
The best defence in aw Kintyre, big Jock an Shug an Airchie,
He sucks them in, an then it’s BANG, an ciao, arrivederci!

O, Johnny Moscardini! He plays for Campbeltoon;
The ither team’s got different shirts, but aw their shorts are broon;
Yer weaker fit fae thirty yards? He scores them wi his knee!
Yon Moscardini boy that plays for Campbeltoon FC!

He hits it wi his ootside fit; it corkscrews through the air;
He climbs above defenders like he’s rinnin up the stair;
He fills the box at corners; he’s built like a machine;
But when his marker checks for him, he’s naewhaur tae be seen!

O Johnny Moscardini! He plays for Campbeltoon;
If he disnae skin ye this time, well, he’ll work his wey aroon;
Forget yer catenaccio, for this lad’s got the key,
Yon Moscardini boy that plays for Campbeltoon FC!

Ah deh ken how he plays for them; there’s bigger clubs insteid,
He could play for Tobermory, he’d get goals for Garelochheid;
His uncle’s got a chippy, but ye’d think he’d get gey bored
O jist sittin wrappin suppers in the news o goals he’s scored.

O Johnny Moscardini! He plays for Campbeltoon;
He disnae need a Model-T tae gie the runaroon;
He’s full-backs for his breakfast, haddock singles for his tea;
Yon Moscardini boy that plays for Campbeltoon FC!

Ah guess wan day he’ll jack it, an gie the rest a kick,
Afore they cannae hack it an spend weekends on the sick;
They’ll no be quick tae miss him; but in twenty years they’ll say
That Johnny Moscardini was the best they ever played.

O Johnny Moscardini! He plays for Campbeltoon;
He sells the dummies freely, sells the chips for hauf a croon;
We’ll never see a better - Mamma mia! Michty me! -
Than yon boy cawed Moscardini - plays for Campbeltoon FC.

Saturday, 20 June 2020

Songs from the Backroom 97: Nicola Black

We're well due a musical interlude, so here's another. Except its not the kind of musical interlude that you sometimes get when you chat to your mates and go for another pint. I've always found it dead annoying when folk talk through the music as if its piped from the ether to provide the background. Nicola Black deserves your attention, she's a singer, song writer and poet with a special affection for putting Scots poetry to music. And she's also one of these underrated jewels of Dumfries and Galloway.

Nicola inhabits that interface between poetry and music, not one supporting the other necessarily, but the merge in between, each enhancing the other.

Nicola Black has worked with many writers on projects, and has just finished writing fourteen songs for the 'CatStrand Singers', a community choir,  based on writings, history and stories of the Galloway Glens area, a land rich in mystery, history and legend. She also recorded 'Moonstruck', a critically acclaimed album of her own musical settings of Hugh MacDiarmid's early Scots poems. Its well worth buying, folks.

The song she's singing today,  'Selkies', started life as a poem, then was put to music. It reflects the feeling of being between worlds, belonging and longing. "It felt appropriate", she says,  "in these uncertain times we all find ourselves in." The Selkie is, of course, a creature torn between the land and the sea, between myth and reality, between legend and the commonplace.

Nicola made this recording with her  husband and long time musical collaborator Blackie, who, for this, swopped his usual bass for an evocative drum.

Here are links to Nicola's songs:


An Interview here:


An EP of her compositions with Sister Fox, ‘Not quite Perfect’, is here:


She also made an appearance on this CD by Stuart A Paterson:



​​When the sea call becomes too strong.
And your heart cries out for her green- eyed depths;
Don’t look back.

Why worry,
Do what you do,
Let nature take her course.
Don’t falter,
Be who you are,
That’s anyone you want to be.

The selkies would know you,
Trapped on the shore,
Where you grip the sharp contours of
Who you were before love held you down.

And you were free to wander,
You were free to float-
To follow your own wild horses.
Follow your own wild horses.

When the sea call becomes too strong,
And your heart cries out for her green- eyed depths,
Don’t look back.
Don’t look back.

Nae Deal

The auld boy parks himsel in a douce way,
Richt alangside the rouch looking
Reid heided peely wally boy.
Here aboots they're a boys een as men.

In the reek o the early morning sunlicht
The young ane's blue veined sheer flesh
Has nae leuk o this warl.
The auld ane has a smeukit smile.

He slidders his scroggie haun doon deep
Intae the saggy pooch o his jaicket,
Pouin away at a white box
That will no cam oot the way it went in.

'What hae ye there?' asks the wraith,
A wheen curious, but still oan his gaird.
Ye canny trust them a.
'I ken whit yer needin Son, luik at this noo’.

The auld man scances left an richt,
Wi the sleekit glance o a nochtie schuile boy
Plannin nae guid.
Noo son, 'This is the guid stuff '

‘You young folk are awfy fir these hings’,
He says, wi a glint in his wattery een,
'Thirty fir a o them, fair?'
The young ane gaithers himsel, sighs, an walks.

Friday, 19 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 96: Stratis Haviaras/ Haris Psarras

When we started the blog, I had a notion I might ask Stratis Haviaras to participate, because though he was in his mid 80s, he was a very contemporary writer, open to modern platforms and technology, too. We had been emailing for a while, as he was working on some translations of poems from 'Not Actually Being in Dumfries'. Unfortunately he died, after a short illness in March and an imposing figure in Greek and European literature is lost.

 Stratis Haviaras was a most witty and perceptive man who hosted me in Athens in 2017 during my ‘residency’ at the Harvard Summer School in Napflio and was kind enough to take me to his home village of Nea Kios where he was correctly treated like a great hero. When he treated me to dinner in Nea Kios we ate by the water watching the lights of the Palamidi or old Venetian Fortress of Napflio, a few miles distant across the bay. Stratis told me matter of factly that when he was nine,  he and his grandmother walked the five miles from the village to Napflio every morning with a freshly baked loaf for his father, who had been imprisoned there by the Nazis. One morning they arrived and were told he had been shot. His mother had already been sent to a Concentration Camp in Germany and their house demolished.

Well aware of the cruelties humans were capable of, Stratis was nonetheless international in outlook, and warm and urbane by nature.He knew William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe.  He was a major literary figure in Greece, and in the US as a poet and novelist, translator of Cavafy and Heaney, and founder of the Harvard Review. He is best known for his novels 'When the Tree Sings' shortlisted for the Natiοnal Book Award and 'The Heroic Age' both written in English in the USA and based on the period of Nazi occupation of Greece, but he also  published several collections of poetry in English and one in Greek. Most of these books were published in the USA as he had moved there in 1967 after his poetry book ‘The Stilt Walker’ highly critical of the right wing government, was confiscated by the police. He returned home forty years later in 2008, to teach creative writing at the European Centre for the Translation of Literature of which he was President He also served as Vice President of the Greek Authors Society.

Below, a poem of Stratis' is read by the Greek poet and translator Haris Psarras. Harris Psarras was born in Athens and has published five books of poetry in Greek. Translations of his poems have been published in journals and anthologies in the U.K., the U.S., France, Germany, Romania, and Slovenia. Haris was Richard Fellingham Lecturer and Fellow in Law at St Catharine’s College, Cambridge. He now lectures in law at Southampton Law School. His most recent book of poetry, 'Gloria in Excelsis', was published in 2017.

Here Haris Psarras reads 'Skywriting' by Stratis Haviaris, in English and Greek:

Stratis' Life and Career here:


Obituary in the Harvard Review:


No one knows the depth of solitude, the dizzy ache in the head,
the nausea in the stomach,
when you can’t tell if it’s the sky
or the well into which you must fall, from which you must rise. No one,
and it doesn’t matter
as long as those who lovingly banished you never launch a search operation.No one knows why you
write on the sky three words in an ancient tongue, “Touch-me-not”,
in translation, then erase the “not” and add “here”, then erase here and there, anything that might have been said accidentally, i.e. “me”. For no one knows that the farther you are banished the closer to home you get. No one, no one, knows but the dark,
in the farthest reaches of which you must shine alone, invisibly.

From Soma


Whoever has sown pebbles
Will harvest boulders
Will turn the millstone
Will say
All rivers are foreign
Flowing home
Away from the dead and dying
Will see
A boy straining his eyes
From the smoke of burning clothes
Posting tallies on a eucalyptus
Adding my name and yours.


Midnight moon, Mnemosyne
Lunar folk with a strain of blood
Mnemosyne hematite and lonely
Stone closing an arch
In order to open it
Key of a dome
Key left in the lock
Eye blossoming inward
And already inhabited
attend me!
A breath of basil reaches me
Someone must have stepped all
Over my garden- Who’s there?


Two tracks of dust, one of grass in between, going nowhere, no recent footprint or mark of wooden wheel- An old olive tree has moved into the middle of the road, blocking it.

                                                                                                        Is it refraction? What startled the leaves sending them to flight? Leaving the tree they lift it higher, increasing its glow. The road below seems to pour in a single well.

                                               I am standing at this end of the road reporting, i your other sight, if I leave this spot, no other will report to you. But it’s hard; there is more light here than I can use, and many more objects refracting, distracting me

(From 'Crossing the Rover Twice', Cleveland State University)

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 95: Aoife Lyall

Delighted to welcome Aoife Lyall to the Backroom today. She is an Irish poet based in the Highlands of Scotland who is on a great deserved run of successes and is due next year to publish her first full collection 'Mother Nature' with the excellent Bloodaxe Books. It's a double pleasure also because she and I, along with Thomas Clarke and Ceitidh Campbell, were recently appointed ‘Poetry Champions’, to root out emerging or neglected talent outside the Central Belt and showcase them on the SPL platforms. It’s a really good initiative born of a desire to highlight poetry from parts of Scotland that may often be overlooked but I’m not sure the others are aware of the fact that ultimately we have to fight to the death with long swords because as Christopher Lambert said, ‘there can only be one’.

Aoife was awarded an Emerging Scottish Writer residency by Cove Park in 2020 and has been twice shortlisted for the Hennessy New Writing Awards. Her poems have also been shortlisted in the Wells Festival of Literature Open Poetry Competition and the Jane Martin Poetry Prize. Her poems have been published in 'Acumen', 'Magma', 'The Stinging Fly', 'Banshee Lit', 'Butcher's Dog', 'Under the Radar', 'Poetry Ireland Review', 'The Irish Times' and 'Gutter', among others, and are upcoming in 'New Writing Scotland 38' and 'Staying Human: new poems for Staying Alive' from Bloodaxe. She is currently co-editor for the magazine ''Butcher's Dog'. 

Like myself and many others, I suspect, she came to poetry as the best way to articulate difficult circumstances in her life and has stayed with it, luckily, as she writes verse that is tightly wrought and highly accessible.  Here she is reading ‘Month’s Mind, which was first published in Poetry Ireland Review and then chosen by RTE as their Poem of the Day.

Reviews and News here:


More Poems from 'The Interpreters House':


Month's Mind

We don’t know which ones we’re meant to bring
so we settle on the yellows for all the sorrys
there are. We pick the smallest bunch. Full
of buds, but no flowers, we lay them to rest
in the river. Our slow footsteps mourn the dying
shadows as we walk back to the house, together
and alone. Once home, we bury our good shoes
at the bottom of the wardrobe. We pour the tea
and unwrap plates of sandwiches and cake.
In low voices we talk a little about the life
you never lived, and the house you never lived in
is overwhelmed by all the people who didn’t know to come.

Hermit Crab

I am your home
Hold me close and you can hear the ocean

Soon you will outgrow me
And gravitate to greater echoes

Moses basket, cot, bed
Shadowed by parents who marvel at your fragility

In each new space
You grow and grow into, grow and grow out of

The room, the house
The street too small for your itchy feet

You will cast your net wide
As you grow into the world (careful pet, not to burn your fragile skin)

I will wait here
Shell of a home (I hope you find a shell that fits us both)

Until at last
After a day at the beach

You line me up on the mantelpiece
With conches, driftwood, heart-shaped rocks

And marvel at how we grow
And shrink into the worlds around us

(Poems from the Hennessy New Writing Awards, reprinted from the Irish Times)

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 94: Maoilios Caimbeul

There are a few Scots and Gaelic writers among the last fifteen in the #plague, to add to those who have gone before, and excellent they are too. These languages are modern as well as ancient tongues, and therefore should address modern topics and concerns. There's an expectation among some people, as far as Scots is concerned certainly, that it is a language of whimsy, pawky humour, all right to discuss the weather in but not the arms race, Palestine, racism or Coronavirus. Of course our plague writers have proved them wrong. I am thrilled to welcome Maoilios Caimbeul into the backroom today, he is a formidable Gaelic scholar and poet, and I am even more thrilled that his poem is a Gaelic poem about the pandemic.

Maoilios was born in Skye and has returned there to live. "I set the values of love of place, of community,” he says, "over capitalist and market values which see everything as something to be bought and sold for profit." He was educated in English - no Gaelic medium education then, even in the language's heartland- and only began to write poetry in Gaelic in his twenties.

 After graduating from the University of Edinburgh he taught in Mull, Skye and latterly Gairloch. From 1984 to 1987 he was Gaelic Development Officer with the Highlands & Islands Development Board. He has also written eight novels for children and a novel for adults. After retiring from schoolteaching in 2004, he taught part-time at the Gaelic college Sabhal Mòr Ostaig UHI. He was part of the scriptwriting team for most of the popular Gaelic TV course for learners 'Speaking Our Language'.  He was crowned Bard at the National Mod in 2002 and has been Honorary Bard of Comunn Gàidhlig Inbhirnis (Gaelic Society of Inverness) since 2012. He is an Honorary Fellow of the ASLS.

His bibliography is as long as you arm and includes: 'Eileanan' from the Celtic Department, Glasgow University, 1980, 'Bailtean' in 1987 and 'A’ Gabhail Ris' in 1994, both from Gairm,
'Saoghal Ùr' from Diehard in 2002, 'Breac-a’-Mhuiltein/Spéir Dhroim an Ronnaigh '– selected poems 1974-2006 from Coiscéim in 2007, 'Dà Thaobh a’ Bhealaich '– a verse dialogue with Mark Goodwin from Two Raven’s Press in 2009, 'Island Conversion' from Islands Book Trust in 2011, 'An Triùir agus Lùbag' from Acair in 2016 and 'Gràs/Grace' from Handsel Press in 2019.

Here Maoilios reads 'Am Bìdeadh air Ais', 'Biting Back':

here is a link to his website:


His Profile on the SPL site and 5 poems:


Am Bìdeadh air Ais                           

Am broc is an rodan,             
am marmot ’s crogall,           
iad a’ bìdeadh air ais;             

an struth is a’ pheucag,         
a h-uile creutair an cèidse,   
iad a’ bìdeadh air ais.             

Mar a dh’èirich an Wuhan,     
tha na beathaichean uile         
a’ bìdeadh air ais;                   

lagh na cruinne ag èigheach   
na cuir sinn an cèidse             
no bidh bìdeadh air ais.         

Le bhìorasan nimheil             
bidh dragh ann is ribe             
leis a’ bhìdeadh air ais.           

Tha an saoghal dhuinn uile,   
mura bi, bidh a’ bhuil ann       
mòr-bhìdeadh air ais.               

Biting Back

The badger and rat,
the marmot and crocodile,
they’re biting back;

the ostrich and peacock,
all creatures in cages,
they’re biting back.

As happened in Wuhan,
all of the beasts
are biting back;

cosmic law cries
don’t cage us in
or suffer a bite back.

Venomous viruses
will plague and ensnare
with their biting back.

The world is for all,
– if not, the result
will be a great bite back.

My Village Tonight

You are my village tonight,
remarkable your lights,
warm glow in the moor’s bleakness.
High above Shore Street
your other streets rise –
streets like a soft carpet –
and my hands will feel your paths
and my heart your heart.
Woodland and tree between the ways,
they will rise on the summits
and the knolls will be soft with moss
and the moss with dew.

You are the resplendent village,
little village by the wave,
secret village of my love,
tidal village and earth village,
village of the soft breasts,
village that will ease from self
and keep us folded as one.

When you lift your summer skirt
I will dance on your meadow,
and we will ascend the steps
up from the edge of the sea
until we are above the world,
and I see you lying below me
like a diamond in the kyle.

(From Bailtean/Bailtean 1987)

Tuesday, 16 June 2020

Poems in the Backroom 93: Joy Hendry

When my hair was much longer- mind, given the time in lockdown, not much longer- I remember going to Joy Hendry’s house in Broughton Place to get a box of ‘Horridges’, newly printed by 'Chapman', taking them round to the Barony, buying a pint, ripping the box open, and piling them up on the table, revelling on the way the publight reflected glittering on their surface. It was a great moment. Joy Hendry, my guest today in the Backroom, was the first publisher of a book of mine not to go bankrupt and the list of folk published by the New Writing Series in ‘Chapman’ reads like a who’s who: Janet Paisley, Dilys Rose, Magi Gibson, George Gunn, Lydia Robb, Colin McKay, many others. It was a brilliant series, a spin-off from one of the most important literary magazines in Scotland,‘Chapman’, which stretched to more than a hundred issues from 1971 and provided a platform for poetry, review, essay and criticism. Each issue of 'Chapman' had a book’s worth of reading. As well as showcasing new talent it highlighted in an intelligent and insightful way the Scottish greats.

‘Chapman’ was the work, pretty much, of Joy Hendry. She was involved from 1971 and editor from 1976, and her own work as a writer took second place. Her role in the literary firmament was large:  in addition to 'Chapman' she played a key role in the creation of the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish National Theatre and many other such projects.  She also worked widely in the public arena, as lecturer, broadcaster, critic and reviewer. In 1990 Perth Theatre produced her play on poet William Soutar, 'Gang Doun wi’ a Sang', published by Diehard 1995. In 2005 she was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. In 2019 she was given a Saltire Society ‘Outstanding Women of Scotland’ award.

Joy suffered a sustained period of weakness and bad health but has gradually been writing again, and in the last few years, her work has appeared regularly in magazines and anthologies, in particular 'Poetry Scotland', 'Freak Circus', 'Poets Republic' and 'The Darg' – an anthology of poetry in the spirit of Hamish Henderson, marking his Centenary in 2019. It was a pleasure for me to edit a pamphlet of her and Katy Ewing’s verse for the 'Poets' Republic' 'Bearings' series which was published in 2019 and is one marker of Joys resurrection as a poet. She’s now looking forward to producing her first ever solo volume of poetry, very soon.

Here she is reading the long and excoriating poem, a response to our times,  'Loved Ones':

Article in 'The Herald' on Joy and 'Chapman':


A lecture on 'The Literary Magazine in Scotland':


The amazing 'Chapman' Archive:


Loved ones
Loved Ones

The expression on the lips
Of the Blond Bombast who
Steers our wayward tiller
Lodged itself with a shuddering thud
As he announced too late a stop
To all our daily philanderings with trade
With buildings and bridgings
With learnings and unlearnings
With meetings and chatterings
With mixings and minglings
With shoulderings and counsellings
And even cold-shoulderings left
Out there in the cold.

Yes, proudly, at the late unveiling
Of the plan to keep the Cuddy cosy and warm
Secure in his stable, locked up
Not quite two metres from the nearer from the nearest
Unravelling bay of hay -
He looked us all straight in the heart and warned, compassion to hand,
That some of us were
Going to lose
Our loved ones.

Strangely moving, that phrase,
Loved Ones, on the lips
Of one more familiar with
Balling and blundering
Shoving and hustlering
Spluttering and posturing,
If not downright bullying.
He looked us all in the eye of the soul
From the sole of his soul
That Some
Of our Loved Ones
Were going to die.

It's not just here
In this strange and unruly backwater of the heaving Atlantic,
But right across the quivering, guttering globe
We hear that phrase,
Our Loved ones,
Our Loved Ones,
are going to be lost and
gone - forever -
From a blonde and favoured, skeely and steely politician who knows how to turn a good phrase
If not when to lock stable doors.

I have grown to hate that mantra
As even those well grown in rhetoric intone it, sanctify it, incense it, waft it about, dust it off and down, sanitised daily
To keep it bright and clean.

What of, what of, I cry
From the darkest corner of my troubling heart
What of all those
And there are many, too many to point at or name
Cast out, without a loved one to name
Those deloved by all whose touch they long for
Those so beaten that they dare not love
For fear of yet another cold-shouldering, You-Turning-Away,
The ones with address books empty
Or long cast away

Maybe, like the New Zealand killer who no longer deserves a name,
We loved-ones the world o'er,
Busily not-brithering each other,
Need this blue-eyed Lockdown
Perhaps to earn again the right to the name
Loved One,
And to learn again, maybe for the very first time
How to love a one.

But, clouds come, with black rain
The horse vanished from the stable long ago and visits pastures new with a mad, red eye
And the locusts fly high and far.

And, in millions of unseen corners
Huddled in singular blankets
The Unloved.

Black Orchid

Black orchid:
your mind like the owl waits
for the setting of the sun.

You are a full moon on a dark loch
a drop of water on a leaf
glistening in the wind
Your hawk eyes scan the moor
for a flutter of the bracken
and your eagle wings are poised to fly

The quotidian ritual is no use to you –
the daily grind, the diurnal pattern
– it’s light years you ellipse
with a falcon’s flight

The orchid is no daffodil,
obedient to the sun’s mundane routine.
The black orchid will wait
for the moon’s rays light
through the time-worn perfection
of the stone circle
to pierce the chink
in the sepulchre door,
a laser on that singular stone
in the darkest of all tombs
in that holiest of places
for but a second in the year’s turning.

Many moons can pass
before there is no cloud in the sky
or the heart, no shadow before the door
there is no pattern, no predictability.

You will wait, bare-breasted, wide-eyed,
for the right time to move.
I looked up last night
and saw the full moon preening herself –

black orchid, the door is there
the moon forbears and a leaf
trembles in your hand.

(From 'Bearings' )