Saturday, 6 June 2020

Poetry from the Backroom 83: Charlie Gracie

A little known part of McMillan family lore is that I lived for six months in exotic squalour in the Trossachs after my ma and I and our cat temporarily relocated from Dumfries. I refused to go to the local school after I discovered they had to wear shorts till S3 and spent most of my time at an amusement arcade in town where I found a machine called ‘the Golden Claw’ whose coin apparatus wasn’t working properly so you could have endless goes for a penny. I must have had about 20,000 free shots of the Golden Claw and never won a sausage, a greater affront to justice surely than mine, as I pointed out later to the local police. What my mother did with her day I’m not so sure, bemoaned her lot probably wondering what a fine highland woman like her was doing in exile in such a place. We had a bad relationship with our landlords who thought we were tinkers and I cultivated a great loathing for the nearby towns during this time: they seemed to me to be full of small minded bloodless creatures who only came alive when there was a tourist to fleece. 

Of course my attitude has changed!  I still feel the pain of the ‘Moss Lairds', though, highlanders who, to escape the genocide that ensued after the 45, were given short term leases in appalling conditions to clear the 35,000 acre swamp of the Flanders Moss near Thornhill in Perthshire, my guest Charlie Gracie’s home. Despised by the local population who didn’t understand their language or their culture they worked to strip out the moss for arable land. Charlie’s brilliant poem on the topic is at the foot of the page.

Charlie Gracie is a poet and writer from Baillieston, Glasgow who now lives north of Stirling on the edge of the Trossachs. His novel 'To Live With What You Are' was published by Postbox Press in 2018. His first full collection of poetry, 'Good Morning', a hardback hand crafted edition, was published by the excellent Diehard in September 2010.  A paperback version was printed in 2011 and reprinted in 2015.

Charlie’s poetry and short fiction have been published in a number of journals and anthologies including 'New Writing Scotland', 'Gutter', 'Chapman', 'Northwords Now' 'Cutting Teeth', 'Pushing Out the Boat' and' Poetry Scotland'. He has been shortlisted for a number or literary prizes. His second collection, 'Tales from the Dartry Mountains', was published by Diehard in Autumn of last year. It contains poems inspired by his mother's background in County Leitrim.

Charlie is the 2020 official Scriever for the Federation of Writers (Scotland), and Chair of the Scottish Writers’ Centre.
Here he is reading 'Hut' from his new collection. It is printed below. 'The Hut' is part of an ongoing poetry, sound and art project with visual artist Graham Tristram and sound artist Tom Dalzell.

Charlie's Website here:

Book review of latest book in Scotsman:

A link to buy his books here:


I like the rain brutal, the nights dark
they hardly come here then
just the occasional drib of human

on days when the sun warms the air
they vomit their children
into the picnic blanket car park
let the wind blow the smell of streets away
shout out to the big land below

they rise, a swirl-sump
mammies and daddies and grannies and weans
on the scrape of grass, to the top of the brae
the children rub their knees bloody on my skin
climb on me, scrabble inside
smell the smell of pish in my corners

on stagnant nights their young shag inside me
spark up joints and spark cans
squeeze tits and hold hands
they giggle and snog, fashion dreams
that might be nothing but impossible

I like the rain brutal, the nights dark
just the occasional drib of human

happy to be alone

Moss Lairds

They came from the glens in the higher lands
cleared like weeds for the sheep by the fat lairds
scraped their way from one jiob to another.
When they met the Moss, they fought it hard
tugged the life from it
tossed its sodden heart into the Forth
watched it float, brown and drowned
to the sunrise and the flat wide firth.
All the skill of men and all the skill of women
squeezed out of the brown ooze
flushed into the river, nothing now but waste.
For eight thousand years this place had grown
feeding on the rain and the deadness within it
layering and dying and breathing
all its beauty a wet thing of the wind and rain.
Now, a rump of Moss holds on
a soft jewel set in the flat land
slowly forming in lucent green
the Moss Lairds’ shouts blown to the hills
their whispers buried in peat.

February on the Moss

I am sat on a branch in a squat stalwart pine tree
in the boggy soak of Flanders Moss
the smell of the unawake land floats in the half still air
carried on the distant tractor burr
and the rain spits nearly frozen drops
tip tip tip tip
onto the parapluie of green above me
in the grey brown distance, its white houses not quite twinkling,
Kippen is slapped onto the wet rise of the hill
and above, the mist folds like a grey veil
parted only by a muted smear of sun
to the West, beyond the heathery tangle
and the slices of fawn grass
and the purpling leafless birch
and on and on till the unseen edge of Menteith
there is nothing
but wet beauty.

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