Thursday, 30 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom: Catalogue

Catalogue for #plagueopoems

Blog Numbers

1-11, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21, 23, 25 and 29 Videos by Hugh McMillan looking at various deceased poets

12. Marion McCready

14. Christie Williamson

16. Jean Atkin

18. Harry Smart

20. Em Strang

22. Brian Johnstone

24. Donald S Murray

26. Gordon Meade

27. Hugh McMillan

28. George Gunn

30. Magi Gibson

31. Joss Cameron

32. Des Dillon

33. Dilys Rose

34. JoAnne McKay

35. Bill Herbert

36. Andrew Greig

37. Gerda Stevenson

38. Jim Mackintosh

39. Eleanor Livingstone

40. Marcas Mac an Tuairneir

41. Willie Hershaw

42. Liz Niven

43. Jim Carruth

44. Finola Scott

45. Neil Young

46. Lesley Glaister

47. Shug Hanlan

48. Christina De Luca

49. Douglas Lipton

50. Zodwa Mtirara

51. Ross Wilson

52. Sheila Templeton

53. Andy Jackson

54. Alice Major

55. Kevin MacNeill

56. Eveline Pye

57. Stuart Conn

58. Jane Frank

59. Jim McGonigal

60. Selina Tusitala Marsh

61. Sam Tongue

62. Morag Anderson

63. Jessamine O Connor

64. Ross Donlon

65. Alison Flett

66. Skye Allan

67. Michael Dempster

68. Michele Seminara

69. Chris Kelso

70. Tom Pow

71. George T Watt

72. Tsosheletso Chidi

73. Kimberley Blaeser

74. Bob Beagrie

75. Tom Dewey

76. Chrys Salt

77. Chris Powici

78. Ali Whitelock

79. Gerry Loose

80. Marjorie Lofti Gill

81. Harry Owen

82. Lezlie Benzie

83. Charlie Gracie

84. Hannah Lavery

85. Attracta Fahy

86. Rachel Fox

87. Duncan McLean

88. Beth McDonough

89. Derek Ross

90. Holly Magill

91. Anne Casey

92. John W Sexton

93. Joy Hendry

94. Maoilios Caimbeul

95. Aoife Lyall

96. Haris Psarras

97. Nicola Black

98. Thomas Clark

99. Aileen Ballantyne

100. Graham Fulton

101. Bridget Khursheed

102. Scott Redmond

103. Jules Horne

104. Rab Wilson

105. Pippa Little

106. Colin McGuire

107. Katy Ewing

108. Colin Will

109. Renita Boyle

110. Chris Boyland

111. Angela Graham

112. Stewart Sanderson

113. Jean O Brien

114. Tom Murray

115. Stephanie Green

116. Russel Jones

117. Sharon Black

118. Ron Butlin

119. Graham Rae

120. Miriam Gamble

121. Vivien Jones

122. Brian Whittingham

123. Clare Phillips

124. Stuart Paterson

125. Lindy Barbour

126. Catherine Wilson

127. Ink Asher Hemp

128. Owen Gallagher

129. Ian Stephen

130. David Kinloch

131. Hugh McMillan

110 poets

Video + text of video poem +text of one other

Commentary + Bio + Links

Youtube Channel Videos Only - #plagueopoems

Friday, 24 July 2020

The Backroom Door Closes: Hugh McMillan

Beer gardens and shops are open, and it’s time for the #plague to end, after 130 daily posts from March 17th featuring home made readings from 110 different poets from all over the world. We’ve had in that time close to 40,000 views of the blog which is fantastic even if 15,000 of them were me going back in to fix mistakes I made. There are a few videos which had been promised but haven't yet turned up and I may add these, but as from now the daily service is closed and the door to the Backroom shut. Discussions are ongoing to archive the collection and make it available for study through libraries but in the meantime it is available here, always.

I’ve now - I think- got every poet YouTubed and available on a channel so folk can just dip into the videos if they want to by typing #plagueopoems into Youtube.

Thanks to everyone who participated and gave their services free of charge. Thanks to the readers! It was all miraculous and wonderful. I’m amazed at the strength and range and love of poetry out there and I've become acquainted or re-acquainted with some brilliant writers. Since I'm in charge, I'll leave you with a recent poem of mine on the subject of time standing still but moving, birds of all sizes leaving the nest. Goodbye, fare ye weel, mar sin leibh.

It’s not Sunday it’s Tuesday

The burn knows no days:
sometimes it bubbles with rain,
other times it shrugs slowly
through the neck of grass like some
teenager who’s slept till three.

When someone cycles
past I’ve never seen before,
it’s a moment. Where did
she come from, that one?
Some gap between worlds

she has slipped through,
Thornhill or Madagascar.
It will soon be the time for lambs
to be separated from ewes
and the glen will be filled

with weeping. Such sadness
does not rely on calendars
really but the cruelty of the sun
as we turn around.
I sit here in the glen

on this flat stone
and I can swear I am rooted
here like in some myth,
staring into the days,
as my stars leave the sky.

The Ballad of Bessie Bell
and Mary Gray

Bessie Bell and Mary Gray
isolated by the Burn Brae.
They were the most beautiful
girls in Scotland they say,
their faces held the luminosity
of the sun on fresh grass
but they had eyes only
for each other, theirs was
a passion rich and very diverse
for a 17th century ballad.

Their groceries were left
at the loan-end by the local
shop and the girls would
spend the afternoon washing
the tins of tuna and packets
of potato scones in the stream
which that spring flowed
clear and sweet from hills,
till but recently hooded in snow.
It was a season of rare

light and heat and birdsong
and periodically they would
skype their fathers for news.
Their weakness was poetry
however and because some
teacher had once told them girls
couldn’t write any, an itinerant
poet was drawn, with his man-bag
and bunnet, to their lustre
as though to fire, and came

every evening to recite
his tawdry verses and creep
closer and closer to the rush
strewn bothy. Because he had
a big twitter following
and a book out soon (he said)
from some Indie publisher
in Edinburgh they did not
shoot him with the Black Bess
they kept for water fowling

but gave in instead to entreaties
to receive his pamphlet,
the font and pagination
of which were award nominated
and a delight to the eye.
And that was that.
The grass grew over the graves
of Bessie Bell and Mary Gray,
the blackbirds sang, and the poet
never got further than a small

residency, even with this powerful
new material. But through
the ballads we still remember
them, their lips locked in love,
their hair crowned in light,
their potent and efficacious
message, that poetry
is an infectious and ultimately
fatal disease, resonant still
to this very day.

Thursday, 23 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 130: David Kinloch

It seems to me that our initial optimism for the time that the virus would give (for those of us luckily uninfected and unaffected) for a bloom of creativity has been tempered by the awful deadening effect that routine and boredom has on our brains. I mean I'm being creative, I suppose, sitting here typing this but I'm conscious of the rain streaking down the window in that familiar candelabra effect, that the bus is due to go by in a minute in a slow blur, and that the fish van comes the day after tomorrow. When have I ever been bothered about the fish van coming the day after tomorrow?

The cocktail of constraints and boredom is supposed to be a potent trigger for innovation, though of the five stages of boredom revealed in a recent study, two, 'searching' and 'reactant', are annoying but make you do something about it even if that's playing noughts and crosses with the budgie, and two, the more compelling ironically, 'indifferent' and 'apathetic' turn your brain to mush and make you count down the days to the fish van. I've always found stimulation in travel and movement and I find the continual search through the internal landscape for stimulation either a tired old journey, or a journey to places I'm leery of going.

David Kinloch captures some of these issues perfectly, I think, in today's poem about the tyranny of time and numbers in the age of the virus. It answers the question, doesn't it? It's possible to convert the raw data of boredom to a piece that is evocative, lyrical and elegiac.

David Kinloch was born and brought up in Glasgow. For many years a teacher of French and then of Creative Writing, he recently took early retirement from the University of Strathclyde where he is Emeritus Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing. His books of poetry are published by Carcanet, the latest being 'In Search of Dustie-Fute', released in August 2017. He is currently Chair of The Edwin Morgan Trust. His poetry is wide ranging, innovative and imaginative- the perfect poet, perhaps, for the perfect hyper-unreality of lockdown.

 David's Website:

Profile and recorded poems in 'The Poetry Archive':

An Interview with 'Mumble Words'

Welcome, wanderer

I know a bench that the sun strikes
at precisely 10am. At 10.02 I take my coffee
to the garden and sit for fifteen minutes.
these are my minutes. No-one else’s.

A neighbour may come down, stand
gravely hanging washing and comment
from his distance, acknowledging
my freehold of this space and time.

But that is all that he can do. By
10.18 I am back inside and the garden
fills to the sounds of a little girl
chattering to her Dad. New neighbours.

They will reign there for much longer
but I will not grudge this; the young
are made for light. Next, we measure
flour for cakes and feed three spoons

of honey to granola. Later, I walk
the flowering terrace for forty minutes
and wish a beast of trig and math,
a hovering bird with violet eyes

more accurate than mine. It
drinks me from these sums.
Honeysuckle floods the air
with wings. Indoors again,

a bumblebee bumps up
against the pane and we go
straight to bed at 10
to get our eight hours straight.

We dream the same dreams
every night, dreams the same
as days like these, although
there are no numbers;

just the immeasurable space of avenues
empty of cars and buses, people, hummingbirds.


From the window of the Hardie-Condie Café, I see the ghost of a rich friend
of my grandmother drive down Forfar’s Main Street in a Rolls- Royce I was 
sick in as a child. Behind me the watercolours of stick girls walking through 
trees are misted blobs percolating in coffee steam. Mother comes in like 
Scott of the Antarctic carrying tents of shopping. The garçon brings a 
cappucino and croissants on which she wields her knife with the off-frantic 
precision of violins in Hitchock’s shower scene.
Soon I will tell her. Show her dust in the sugar spoon. Her knife gouges craters 
in the dough like an ice-axe and she tells the story on nineteen Siberian 
ponies she queued behind in the supermarket. Of Captain Oates who boxed 
her fallen ‘Ariel’. The chocolate from the cappucino has gone all over her 
saucer. There is a scene and silence. Now tell her. Tell her above the coffee 
table which scrapes with the masked voice of a pier seeming to let in some 
waters, returning others to the sea, diverting the pack-ice which skirts 
around its legs. Tell her a fact about you she knows but does not know and 
which you will tell her except that the surviving ponies are killed and the food 
depot named Desolation Camp made from their carcasses keeps getting in 
the way. From this table we will write postcards, make wireless contact with 
home and I will tell her of King Edward VII Land, of how I have been with Dr 
Wilson and then alone, so alone, in day-blizzards just eleven miles short of 
the Pole and ask her to follow me. I am afraid she has been there already. She 
smiles like the Great Beardmore Glacier and goes out into the street with 
stick girls to the thirty-four sledgedogs and the motor-sledges. You are too 
late. Amundsen is in Forfar. She has an appointment. Behind me I can sense 
the canvases, the dried grasses pressed into their grain like eczema on an 
open palm. Later I will discover her diary and what I told her.

(Reprinted from David's entry in the Scottish Poetry Library Site

Wednesday, 22 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 129: Ian Stephen

Ian Stephen here, live from Vatisker in the Island of Lewis, giving us a tour of his Lewis blanket, and his poem from 'Scotia Extremis' on Jack Bruce, the Bishopriggs lad who became the world's greatest bass guitarist and wore out two livers in the process, the  'master-mariner/when all the breezes/were out/of the ministry of bag". Ian Stephen is a nimble poet, not just in the agility and fluidity of his words, but because he's all action, a sailor, a rock climber and photographer. Check out 'Blue Bonnets' below, where he is hanging off a cliff like a monkey. I was hoping trick photography was involved but I fear not. Ian Stephen is fit as a fiddle and what a writer!

After 15 years in the coastguard, Ian Stephen became a full-time writer of poetry, prose and drama in 1995. He was the inaugural winner of the Christian Salvesen/Robert Louis Stevenson award in 1995, and in 2004, he was the first artist in residence at StAnza, Scotland’s annual poetry festival. In 2002-3, he navigated the sea-route, suggested by a traditional story, connecting Sweden and the north of Scotland and the story was sent as instalments by satellite-phone to a computer at the 50th Venice Biennale.

Among his earlier poetry publications are 'Malin, Hebrides, Minches', with photos by Sam Maynard from Dangaroo Press and 'Varying States of Grace' from Polygon. 'It’s about this' published by Nomad/ Survivors Press, from a poem-log of a voyage to Orkney, was commissioned by StAnza. A bilingual edition of his poetry, 'Adrift / Napospas vlnám', was published in Czech in 2007. In 2016 Saraband published his selection from 35 years of making poetry from observing seaways and shorelines as 'Maritime'. He is also an accomplished playwright and novelist, his most acclaimed novel 'A Book of Death and Fish' being published by Saraband.

Here he reads 'Tales of Brave Ulysses':

Ian's Website

An Interview with Ian Stephen plus Ferry footage!

'Blue Bonnets', a poem recorded half way up a cliff

Tales of Brave Ulysses

The cellist came out of the academy
to lay down his melodies
when rhythm was on the line,
only one of his crimes
delivered at a pace
on the upright bass
not all that tender
on the six string fender.

The baker walked out of the jam
till the cake was cut with Cream
How many rope-ladders
over the bearded rainbow
would it take
to touch the moon
sure as Armstrong?
Only one –
if it was long enough
and it was.

The lyrics of fate
over four strings
sounding like eight
the pounding heat
from the baker back on the job,
so no-one was robbed.
A guitarist just in the lead
by a narrow neck.

The three-piece
gone off the rails
but in the groove
of spinning vinyl –
in technicolour.
Shipwrecks of
wailing bluesmen.
A stumble ashore
rolling and tumbling
casting out chords
like shining barley
on a slick of honey.
A parley with the shadows
of bottle-neck heroes
and music-hall maestros.

The set of wheels
went on fire
but your covered wagon
stitched its way
across its prairie
to elegy.
A fabric
picked and unpicked
by the pricking apostrophes
of Penelope
and the tailor
you had to sing to
so his paraffin
in the hurricane.

Many’s the riff went
over the cliff.
Jack, one hell of a lad,
a banshee mourner,
tall-story teller
but a master-mariner
when all the breezes
were out
of the ministry of bag.

In Breton

In Breton, they say
there’s a word that weaves between
green and blue, allowing for
haze, precipitation,
the burr of distance,
the welcome shock
of escaping light
warming your shoulders.

(From 'Oxford Poets' 2013)

Tuesday, 21 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 128: Owen Gallagher

I've said before that the greatest thing of this series is not just enjoying new talent but rediscovering poets you know about and realising not only that they're still they are still with us but that they are even better than you thought they were. Owen Gallagher is one such, a poet with a pedigree who continues to deliver outstanding work.  He's a working class poet who often addresses political issues but wanders far and wide. He had a 'Poem of the Week' in the Guardian for instance, no mean feat, though it's the poetic equivalent of being tied for seven days or more to a railway track. Given the poem was about penis size, it made it even more of a risky venture. "This is truly nasty, trivial, untalented and utterly unnecessary", said one comment, adding, without intentional humour I think, "Get a grip". He's also had a poem about drink and the communist party, 'Marx and Engels almost drained this bar in Soho, finishing ‘The Manifesto of the Communist Party’ (from 'The Accumulation of Capital'), an under explored and under imagined topic which I have written about myself.

His range is wide as is his voice which moves from tenderness to anger. See, as examples, the two beautiful poems below about his mother.

Owen Gallagher was born of Irish parents, in the Gorbals area of Glasgow. He lives in London and his poetry has appeared in just about every literary magazine known to human kind including 'Agenda', 'Ambit', Asian Times, ' BBC Wildlife Magazine', 'Chapman', 'Cyphers', 'Dream Catcher', 'The Ealing Gazette, 'Edinburgh Review', 'Jewish Chronicle', 'Lines Review', 'London Magazine', 'Oxford Poetry', 'Poetry Ealing'  'Poetry Ireland Review', 'Poetry London', 'P.N. Review', 'Poetry Wales', 'Red Poets', 'Rialto', 'Smith’s Knoll', 'The Independent on Sunday' 'The Leitrim Observer', ''The Morning Star', and many more

He has numerous previous publications including 'Sat Guru Snowman', Peterloo Poets,  'Tea with the Taliban', Smokestack Books,  'A Good Enough Love', Salmon Poetry, which was nominated for the T.S.Eliot award, and most recently,  'Clydebuilt' published by Smokestack Books. 'The Sikh Snowman' an illustrated children’s picture book will be published in October, 2020 by Culture Matters. He has received poetry awards from The London Arts Board and The Society of Authors and his poems have been displayed on London buses and in public places in Ireland.

Here he reads 'Fathering Mother':

Authou Page for 'Clydebuilt' from Smokestack Books:

Three Poems in the 'Galway review':

Poems from the 'Glasgow Review of Books':

Fathering Mother

She went from tenement to tenement, 
wore a full apron beneath her coat,
carried a stiff-wired brush and a metal pail.

She was one of Ireland’s lost daughters, 
I, all clothes on bones, too young
to be schooled parked on each flat’s

outside stairs while she swept, scrubbed
till their stone was clean as our own.
Her hair was bramble and fiery red, her face

a pool of freckles. She dipped her brush in 
and out of what she called ‘the font’,
and sang Lovely Leitrim, a comforter,

in those acres of cold concrete,
that took her back into the flower-banked lanes 
of Ballinamore, leading cows to byres.

Once, I found mother on our own stairs,
tears pumping out of her. My tiny hands gloved hers. 
I was her father, her son, her skin, her tears.


Each time I flick a light switch
I see mother strapped to a chair
A white-coated man throws a lever. 
Her body thrashes like a live cable.

I nurse my heart with its image
of mother framed in the doorway,

dressed as if in mourning, 
her temples blackened

from repeated shocks.
I nurse my heart for the mother

who never came back. 
She lived in a darkness

no prescription could lift.
I am the soot from her chimney.

Poems from the Backroom 127: Ink Asher Hemp

Most of the limitations of #plagueopoems come from the fact that its poets essentially were comprised of folk in my contacts list, and my contacts list reflects the fact I know some great poets but that also I'm an old git. However I've been really pleased that younger and more diverse poets have got into contact, and I am delighted to present one today.

Ink Asher Hemp is a queer, trans, disabled performance poet and theatre maker predominately working with 'Activising for Change' creating work that has been described as “strikingly direct… beautiful, sometimes funny and always necessary (Stanza Poetry). Past projects have included 'Graeae’s Crips Without Constraints' and' Cognitive Forgery' at Stills Gallery. Ink is a currently member of the 'Birds of Paradise Young Artist Programme' and has recently been commissioned by the Edwin Morgan Trust to respond to Morgan’s life and work through 'The Second Life Grants' supported by Creative Scotland. 'Doorway' is their first release collaborating with Nicholas Franck, 'Nico', a French/Danish musician, producer and sound engineer now living in Edinburgh.

Because the #Plague usually shows a poem recorded from lockdown, we have two versions of the same poem here, the raw version and the studio version, with a spoken soundtrack and smooth vibe by Nico. The text version is below. It is a cross between a monologue and a beat poem and combined with the music or not, is a powerful and engaging piece.

A Review of 'Sad Eyes to Smile With':

An Excerpt from '147hz-Can't Pass':

I left because id had enough
this isn’t some call and response game
but now you’ve come to me without the knowledge that there’s a decision to be made
that there might be a no
that now a door might have closed

the one that was only open before because it hung on wonky hinges
rusted open so anything had to be okay
and I did nothing about it because that was the way I knew it to be

my life
standing in an open doorway
and you
you were the draft
the one that breezed through but was never accompanied by your presence, actuality, physicality
a draft that over time grew to hold the heavy weight of empty

I cant fault you for being missing
no you were always there
resetting the temperature

sorry that sounds ungrateful
I was hugely lucky with the early years you gave me
the days when life was free and easy
when the world was primary yellow and things were sunny
and in the heat your presence felt strong and steady
as your breath touched my skin we moved in time
you showed me the world held me if I cried
taught me to speak truth to power
respect myself and the ground beneath me
work with audacity for the presence of honesty

I didn’t notice the time passing
or value the ease with which life was happening
except perhaps that trousers that once tripped me up and trailed on the floor
were now the shorts that barley touched my knees
but shorts aren’t the clothes for autumn
maybe that was the point at which you forgot
when things began to change
and my smile felt forced for the first time

curious of the outcome I extended my arm, gripped and pulled the handle
a tug that moved the door
my door
an inch towards its frame
a moment that was perhaps significant in re-framing our interactions
or maybe it was no more significant than any other breath we shared now slightly out of sink
but really I don't know because I could focus for years I think
but I still wouldn't be able to pinpoint the drop of rain that fell first
or the one that made me wet the worst
and when they hit the ground I don't know the difference between a tear from my face or one falls
as if running a race from the eye in the sky except the place

where they began
neither deliberately watered the ground
and maybe none of us deliberately worked for the outcome that is today
but that fact doesn't change the story
and id rather talk about the practicalities than spend a second longer drowning in emotional realities
so when the door moved only slightly
having lain open abandoned all summer to a cascade of evenings and mornings damp with dew
I sat down
that autumn
I sat down and hugged my knees
keeping warm
the way you showed me to
I sat down chin resting on my chest
and waited patiently
the way you taught me when I was young
waited for things to go back to the way they had begun

but there are four seasons not two
summer and autumn have to share
they don't just get to loop on through and through

so then I learnt winter
it happened at the moment when I was almost nodding off
by now used to your cold
instead of giving it the power to chill I had begun it brush off

it happened the day the clouds conspired
and instead of providing warm relief
it was hard to distinguish you from the wind that blew unchallenged down the street
but I still
you still meant the world to me

so I stayed sitting in my doorway
hugging my knees
except it was my arms not yours that now held me
my patience ran dry
so I stood up
remembering when I was little you taught me live proactively
not just to look but actually see
and question everything with tenacity

so I tugged at the door again
in an attempt to guide the wooden friend home
but stayed stuck fast at the compromise negotiated that autumn
so now it didn’t matter what I did
the person I became visibly or the person that I hid
because you see stuff could change but everything
well everything would actually stay the same

and I began to notice that the people I loved were no longer here
well you were here but at the same you were time long gone
my attachment locked on to the people you once were not those you had become

and that’s how we got to today
my hands caked in callouses from blisters been and gone
from sanding down the layers of curling paint
and sanding down the swollen frame
drilling pilot holes inserting screws
new hinges so now my door hangs true
so now when I wish my door swings free
providing or denying entry

because once I settled for the options you gave me
but after living them I became aware that none of them were really an option you see
so standing back up on my own two feet
I learnt to cave the future
I began to grieve
because this is necessary but its a choice I chose reluctantly
because i didn’t know before
but now I don’t know what to do
because you were gone
but now your back with no request for a reprieve
maybe you don’t realise the hurt you caused me
or maybe it was me that changed while you merely continued to breathe

yesterday I learnt that there’s a latch at the top of my door
I want you to know this
I also want to make a decision of which I am sure
so ill wait for now and wont draw it across just yet
but please don’t take this as a yes
a sign that its okay to come on barging through
instead please knock
for now I cant forget

Poems from the Backroom 126: Catherine Wilson

I've always wanted to represent Scotland at something. I couldn't think of anything better. I suppose the nearest I came was representing South west Scotland Schools at a rugby match where we were defeated 66-0 by English Grammar schools and my job was to mark John Carleton who went on to win 26 full international caps for England and help them win the Grand Slam in 1980. I remember he had real show-off boots and ran at about 200 mph. Such disappointments turned me to the doleful world of poetry, I suppose. But imagining representing Scotland at Poetry! Catherine Wilson has done this many times and so is my hero.

Catherine Wilson is a spoken word and writer based in Edinburgh. Her writing has been commissioned by organisations including BBC Radio Scotland, BBC Radio 4, The British National Gallery, TEDx and StAnza Poetry Festival. She has been published in anthologies by The Scottish Book Trust and Sabotage Reviews. Whilst studying at the University of Edinburgh she ran the largest free poetry slam in Scotland and the open mic “Soap Box”. She also represented her university in their winning team at 'UniSlam 2016', the' Hammer and Tongue Team Slam 2017' and were the first non-American team to compete in 'C.U.P.S.I'. in Austin, Texas in 2016. In October 2018 she represented Scotland at the Transpoesie Festival in Brussels, where her work was displayed on the Brussels metro system. Also in 2018, she was selected as one of the YWCA Scotland’s 30 Under 30 - a list that celebrates the most inspiring women under 30 in Scotland.

In 2020, her poem was the winner of the poetry category of the Scottish Mental Heart Arts Festival’s writing competition. She also received a Micro Commission by StAnza Poetry Festival for her digital poetry project “Homefound”, where she created an online poem by crowdsourcing words in an international photographic scavenger hunt. She is on the board of trustees for YWCA Scotland, and the Poets Advisory Group of the Scottish Poetry Library.

A great anthem to humanity here from Catherine Wilson, a song for the disparate and wonderful things that add up to each kaleidoscopic day, even in these reduced times. Some poets let the days steamroller them and write from the ruts, others pick at the ironies and edges but this poet is studying the world, rejoicing in it and isn't afraid to tell us all about it. It's a refreshing and optimistic deluge of sensation and acute observation. Being informed by tragedy - and Catherine has, as she describes in her poem 'My Sister' linked below- but yet still greeting each day's 'everyday miracles'.

Catherine's Website here:

Profile and Interview in '30 under 30':

Catherine reading 'My Sister':

Every time we walk down the street
a thousand lives buzz around our heads
like honey bees busily homing their lives

I share my streets with philosophers, builders,
lawyers, runners, trombone players, tram conductors,
women who wanted to be scientists when they grew up,
the picture book writer who stamps inspiration
into the pillow creases of small minds

I want to snap this crown in half to gift it to the sad faces pressed on the bus windows
or the young widows, or the elderly who still volunteer every Sunday,
or the little girl who gets bullied at school for the way her front tooth refuses to fit in

I want to love these clumsy gods
until my heart breaks
until I can't conjure up the words to do humanity justice
until the only skill I can write on my resumé to explain the gaps is:
"people watching, 22 years"

I am lucky enough to be watching the first stone dropped in the pond
and see its ripple buzzing forever around my architecture

in the late-night small-talk of memento mori
of the first poem on that stage that stays
long after the microphone is switched off
in the quiet nights in where love is soldered and burns
so bright the lightbulbs shatter off at what they have witnessed

I want to collect more stones
pebble dash my pockets until I am heavy with possibility
leave them next to graves instead of flowers that float away
on the breeze
their presence persistently marking
once: they were here
they did this
watch the sand shift around their existence

from the bus driver who builds the schedules
to the barista who brews the excitement
to the students with two eyes on tomorrow
to the protestors with two fists at the past
to the musicians who spend no time practising because
they're too busy tuning songs into pitches
to the librarian who categorises creation
to the teachers and nurses and call centre workers

I want to see your unshakeable joy
the faces you hit with your everyday miracles
step through my front door
out into the inescapable sky
and know
the world's in safe hands

Scotland the More

We are Scotland

We are summers
with a handful of nettle stings
and a history full of Vikings
We are high roads
and low roads
We are potatoes with a side of

In the beginning,
we were Callendish and Brodgar:
tombs where we laid the dead
Gaelic tongues that have since run themselves

Highland pitched melodies,
clan warfare and clearances
William Wallace to Bannockburn blockbusters

We were
Walter Scott’s daydream
of tartan and Waverley
swaying on ‘til

we are
fresh seafood

Catches caught in lobster creels
Cracked hands of the fisherman

We are
cliff faces
busy Aberdonians
winding trips down windy lanes

We are the train journeys
that take us from Aberdeen to Glasgow Queen Street
calling at Inverness, Dundee and Edinburgh Waverley

We are the towns that could only belong in
Golspie, Larbert,

We are farmers
plumbers, engineers,
musicians and inventors

We gave humans the Internet,
The BBC,
The pneumatic tire
and Billy Conolly!
We are Ian Rankin mysteries,
found down Fleshmarket Close,
Conan Doyle on the Streets,
Muriel Spark in her prime,
uncensored Galloway and Welsh,
what bred the words of George Mackay Brown,
Edwin Muir and Morgan

We are mouthfuls of rock,
that spit out runes,
we are hearts full of fire,
ready to pass on the flame to the next generation,

we are the nation
that take on
in the battle for chips!

We are sand under fingernails
and stolen seashells
we are black pudding mornings
and rock pools we catch our dreams in

We are hobbled on cobbled streets
sung to sleep by sore feet,
we are unamused David Hume in our
shan, square goal and raj,

We are crabbit this morning,
peedie and lang shanks with shmucks,
burglar alarms and Curly Wurlys

We are fish and chips
the salt crystals that stick
sweet smiles make of Irn Bru
at highland shows
where the sun splits the sky and we have
opinions over who should win best sheep

We are a thistle you keep in your buttonhole
and poems you carve on your back
We are only one friend separated
and a handful of cities you could

We are forests
We are mountains
Ben Nevis, John O’Groats to Loch Muick

We are low-voiced men
and slow fiddle music
All of which make you decide to
Visit Scotland

and we are more
we are not Scotland the Brave
not one-dimensional Gryffindors,
we are the Hufflepuffs of Europe,
we are strong, hardworking and reliable,
We are Scotland the More!

More than
White male Etonians making our decisions for us,
More than your drunk deep-fried Glaswegian stereotypes
Which are
by the way

More than Farewill Jimmy hats on stag nights
More than industrial souvenir shortbread
with places on the tin you’ve never been

We are more,
More than can be contained in one poem in four minutes

More than Groundskeeper Willie
and Royal Mile bagpipes

We are more Auld Lang Syne
mispronounced at Hogmanay

We are more
than just Burns poetry

We have been
pushed down
and stepped upon
but we rise up
we are more than Margaret Thatcher’s thumbprint
and a generation of stolen milk
More than being treated
like a test lab to experiment policies on

because Britain
is not one nation
but four
and Edinburgh
is not the Athens of the North
is the Edinburgh of the South!


we are beautiful
we are life-changing landscapes and
pocketfuls of fresh rain

(From 'Transpoesie' 2018)

Saturday, 18 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 125: Lindy Barbour

It's a beautiful night in the People's Republic of Penpont, the sun is sliding down between the distant trees and the few flat clouds are turning deep red. Its just the time to open a bottle of beer, or pour a glass of wine, and listen to this wonderfully tender poem by Lindy Barbour about youth, wasted time and friendship. Time is heavy on our hands just now and Lindy has delved into her past to create a small, succinct masterpiece, a paean to what it means everlastingly to be human. I just love it, and I'm sure you will too.

Lindy Barbour was born in Orkney and spent her early childhood there, moving later to Tayport in North East Fife. She read English at Oxford and returned to Scotland to work in the universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh, firstly as an academic librarian and later teaching Psychotherapy in the University of Edinburgh where she is currently working as an Honorary Research Fellow.  She has published papers on psychotherapy and literature, notably ‘Rodenbach, Grandfather and Me; echoes and premonitions of World War 1. Emotion, Space and Society, 2016 Vol.19 pp.94-102’, dealing with the traumatic after-effects of the war and the flu pandemic that followed. 

 Her poems have been commended in the Bridport Poetry Competition and the National Poetry Competition and her pamphlet ‘Where You Start From’, Mariscat, 2016, was the Poetry Book Society’s Autumn Pamphlet Choice. She has recently completed a small collection of poems on Walter Benjamin, one of which has been published in Gutter 20 and is currently working on poems
that connect with found music, anonymous voices, and the history of the south of Scotland.

Lindy reads her poem 'White Basin' commended in the National Poetry Competition:

Details how to order Lindy's collection from Mariscat:

The Harbour Steps

Lilias and I are sitting on the steps one evening
in the corner of the big harbour next to the boardwalk
outside the harbour master’s office.
It’s an industrial not a picturesque harbour.
To our left is the coal hoist and up on the right
is the massive turntable that was used
for putting locomotives on the ferry
before the railway bridge was built.
This nineteenth-century machine still works
and we used to play on it, till Eddie Gilmour crushed his foot.

We’re talking about the new tan T-bar shoes
she got in Potters’ in the Murraygait, and about my dress
for the school dance, a purple Dollyrocker,
and how everything in Richard Shops this year is purple, ‘Why?’
and our revision: Hamlet and Oedipus. Was Bradley right
when he said that Gertrude just wanted
to be happy like a sheep in the sun?
We think not.
Lilias thinks Gertrude is a fantastic name,
and that from now on she’ll pretend that it’s her middle name
much better than Margaret, and I agree.
Lilias asks me what I think about Pat Pow.
Is she overdoing the Sandie Shaw lookalike thing?
And I say, ‘The haircut is good but she should lay off the bare feet.
They’re dirty and she has a verucca. I saw it in gym and it’s green.’

We lower our voices, even though there’s no-one there,
to mention this cream we saw in the small ads in The Telegraph
that you rub on your bust to make it bigger, but conclude
that although it would be dead sexy we’d never get away with it
arriving in the post. This leads us into the big question:
these brothers that we fancy. My one, I’ve been in love with
since the school play, and hers, she says she likes
but I’m not sure she’s telling the truth.
It turns out pretty soon, surprise surprise, that wires get crossed
and we end up going out with the wrong brothers.
I go with mine for about a year and we have sex in the woods
but she is with hers, my original love interest, for ages,
and he dumps her at university and she gets an eating disorder.

Anyway, it’s then that the yells and wolf whistles
start up. Some boys on bikes are circling the area
at the station next to where the level crossing used to be
till they closed the railway only a month ago.
They’re opposite the Bell Rock pub and under the beige
bulk of Jubilee Buildings with that strange paved area in front;
benches that no-one sits on, and a rockery
that looks, we think, like a pets’ graveyard.
Their voices carry to us clear across the harbour.

Lilias and I, who never in our lives will enter a grand box
with diamonds on our pale necks and shoulders
to a salute of raised opera glasses or a flash of lenses,
hear these anguished tenor voices aimed at us and know
instinctively how we must respond. As one
we stretch out our legs down several steps.
We’re in our tightest jeans. We tilt
our pelvises and point our toes,
draw back our shoulders and stare
downwards intently from beneath our fringes.

And all the time the water in the harbour rolls
its quilting of gold light mixed with a bloom of oil;
its black reticulation of chains and mooring ropes;
its flotsam corner at the bottom of the steps, of cigarette ends
mixed with scum, its dark skirts of weed.

At the top of the steps is a square aluminium-clad bollard
where seven years later I sit to have my picture taken
wearing a nice tweed coat and brown and orange shoes.
It is the seventies by then, and I am three years married.

Scottish Field

Between the cover picture ‘Red Grouse in the Lammermuirs’
and the end-page advert for a well-known watch
you never actually own apparently,
but look after for the next generation,
two hundred pages of glossy lifestyle stuff.
“I am writing about a form of life
that does take place” says one contributor
perhaps defensively, “I don’t write about problems.
Not everyone’s dysfunctional”.
It’s clear the target audience is exclusive
but then again, it’s hard to tell if this
magazine that graces the coffee tables
of a thousand dentists’ waiting rooms
is for the aspirational or the arrived.
One thing’s for sure, this life is led by men,
only six women feature outside fashion
adverts and photographs of charity lunches.
Here men write for men. A dull parade
of plump-cheeked blokes in ginger tweeds
and v-necked golfing sweaters talk
up their adventures; a group survival test on Taransay
when three days hunger ends predictably
in shooting, gralloching and a barbecue;
the Caledonian Challenge; a life in motor sports;
the Cameron family from the Blairmore archive;
a farmer who’s web events guru for D&G
(Dumfries and Galloway, not Dolce & Gabbana.)
A token Glaswegian, survivor of an Arctic expedition
is praised, but yields a morsel of sensationalism
with a murder in his family. Then, ‘Summer Activities
and Events’ takes us from gardens, whisky, horses, golf
to golf, horses, gardens, whisky, “sampling the amber nectar,”
fine dining with Gordon and Fiona, Hamish and Fiona,
Alastair and Fiona, Farquhar and Fiona.
But get down to the point, the important stuff.
A couple of mill, old boy, will buy a serious estate−
salmon and sea trout fishing, rough shooting of grouse
and ptarmigan, and red deer stalking, an average
of twenty stags and twenty hinds, in short
there’s lots to kill on more than six thousand
acres of Sutherland−the epitome of emptiness.
They made a desert and they called it sport.
It is a form of life. It does take place.
But, thankfully, not everyone’s dysfunctional.

(From Scotia Extremis)

Friday, 17 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 124 : Stuart Paterson

Sometimes I think there are about eight Stuart Patersons: one's on twitter all day; another is walking the Solway coast or round the hem of Criffel; one's on a bus scribbling a poem about the driver who happens to be called Robert Louis Stevenson; at least three are arguing the toss on a variety of subjects to a variety of people with various degrees of ferocity; one's applying for jobs; and one, the last one, is hanging about outside a pub wondering whether to go in and have a Clausthaler.

It's awfie hard to keep up with this number of Patersons but one thing is for sure and that is that there is a Stuart Paterson somewhere near you now and that he is steely-mindedly working at being a poet and preserving and promoting the poetry and the language he loves.

Stuart A. Paterson was born in 1966 and brought up in Ayrshire. He founded and edited the international poetry and prose review Spectrum from 1989 to 1996. Stuart’s first collection, 'Saving Graces', was published by Diehard in 1997 and nominated for a Saltire Society ‘First Book’ award. It is a wonderful lyrical volume, sadly out of print. Other poetry collections are 'Border Lines' from Indigo Dreams in 2015, 'Aye' from Tapsalteerie in 2016, 'Looking South' from Indigo Dreams in 2017 and 'heelster-gowdie / beul-fo-bhonn' from Tapsalteerie in 2017 with Marcas Mac an Tuairneir. He has had work published in many anthologies, including 'Dream State: the new Scottish poets' published in 1994 and reprinted in  2002, for which he wrote the title poem. His latest book 'A Squatter o Bairnrhymes' from Tippermuir, poems in Scots for all ages, has come out in the last few days and there is a link to buy it below.

Stuart Paterson received an Eric Gregory Award from the Society of Authors in 1992 and a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship from the Scottish Book Trust in 2014. He was writer-in-residence for Dumfries & Galloway 1996-98, and was appointed the Scots Language Centre’s Virtual Poet in Residence 2015-2016. In 2017, he was appointed BBC Scotland Poet in Residence.

In the last role Stuart set out to go into battle for the Scots language, See the link below to his video with the BBC 'Here's the Weather' which has had an astonishing 300,000 views. He's still on the warpath and his, and others' work, has done a huge amount to establish the language and put forward through the 'Oor Vyce' campaign an unassailable argument for its official and legal recognition as one of the three languages of Scotland.

Stuart values the accessibility of poetry and its role in telling the story of the land and its people in an understandable and unrarified way, whether in Scots, English or any other tongue. His work in South
Africa a few years back, forging links with iXhosa poets, shows he sees this as a campaign that goes beyond national boundaries. He continues to be a force of nature, a good friend and an important poet. Lang may he haud forrit.

Here he reads 'Bits and Pieces':

'Here's the Weather':

Stuart's SPL Profile and loads of poems:

A link to buy 'A Squatter o Bairnrhymes':

An Interview with 'Poets' Republic':

Bits and Pieces

Ah'm are in bits an arenae maist days,
trampin roon back pads, ben scaurs, up braes,
owre carse an merse tae whaur Ah'll coup masel
oan thankfu erse, feel grand, lowse baith ma bits
an aa ma pieces bi a Solway strand.

The bits Ah'm in hae daunert doon
a wid noo fu o yellae whin,
white-lugged anemones an gowkflooers
hame tae faeries in the daurklin oors,
tae Hogus Point whaur Scotland
an its unself-isolatin neebor
owre the watter are an arenae joined.

Cheese pieces scranned, crumbs slittered
oan the stanes an grun, Ah've fun again
a braw spot hereaboots whaur Ah can
let ma bits an pieces aa hing oot.

The bits Ah'm arenae in Ah've left twae
mile up the road ahin a door, fower waas,
auld hoose their owre-watchfu mither
while the bits Ah'm in jist noo pu
me an aathing Gallowa gey ticht thegither. 

Staying On

Summer is eternal & recurring here,
white strands of shell & longitudes of blue
come with the weekly lease & usually
they’ll throw in low tides, unhindered views
of Screel, authentic local beer.

Why try to remember that the cafè’s
only open til September or that
January brings floods that fill the pub,
when bar stools bob around inside
like beach debris, slow golems of Urr mud
inching closer with each sludge of tide?

Hestan’s igneous neb pokes into photos
snapped on soundtracks gushing sun,
children’s laughter, wee dogs yapping
challenges to the world & all the while
David Brown will always falter on
its beach, elude those reaching frantic
hands, be swept away to quietly drown.

There are no holiday snaps of Ian Carruthers
hanging high upon the skerries after
travelling down from Annan, no postcards
of that long gone pasture in the bay
where, fifty years ago, the Purdie brothers
paddled into shallow eternity.

Summer lasts a day, a week, the length
of handpicked memory on film or disk,
departs the moment you do, never follows,
stays forever here. Reminding myself
this isn’t really January, I spool
my eyes back half a year to when
they weren’t watering for them.

Thursday, 16 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 123 : Clare Phillips

There is much talk of borders. The opinion that there should be less borders rather than more is a valid one in a kind of Star Trek United Federation of Planety sort of way where, as in the Bridge of the Star Ship Enterprise, careful attention and respect is given to different ethnicities, their history and cultures, but if having no borders means being assimilated by someone else's history, culture and political system then its a pretty good argument for having one.

I remember being in a train from London to Edinburgh before the very first devolution referendum in Scotland in 1979 and a bunch of young Liberals getting on in Carlisle and putting on armbands as we crossed the border and going through the train asking for passports. We were meant to be appalled but I was thrilled. Imagining leaving a land where the Tudors were thought of as sexy Gods and entering one where they were rightly thought of as genocidal maniacs! The English think they invented passports, of course, just like they think they invented football and everything else, but of course it was James I of Scotland who invented them, specifically to give to English pilgrims to make sure they went home again after a week.

Nowadays of course Dumfries and Galloway is full of folk who have come from a the airts to make their homes here and throw themselves vigorously into local life and culture, and politics. In a region where demographic and economic stagnation is the norm, new blood is great, and nearly always positive in its impact. In the wee writing group I frequent in Wigtown we have a variety of accents, two Scots, three English and a New Zealander. And of course all have one thing in common, poetry, and their love of it. If poets ran things there would be no need for borders.

One of our writers at Wigtown is Clare Phillips. Clare has lived and worked in southwest Scotland for almost thirty years. She has been reading and writing since 1985 and has had poems published in a variety of places. A short pamphlet 'Two of Things' was published by Markings in 1995. A hiatus of sorts occurred till she returned to poetry- or taking poetry seriously- recently since leaving her job. In 2018 she was chosen by the Wigtown Book Festival for special mentoring and in 2019 won 'The Fresh Face' prize in the Wigtown Book Festival, winning a course at the writers centre in the Highlands, Moniack Mhor, where since the other writers took exception to the fact she had a cough, she was quarantined with only poetry for company, which would probably have been a blessed relief and essentially the idea in the first place.

Her poetry offers different insights into her past, reflections on nature and a burning interest in current problems, particularly climate change. In the poems here, feeling and language are perfectly distilled and in pace, creating the effect that a good poem should, both an emotional and physical sensation, like downing a good whisky.

Here she is reading 'A Change in the Weather':

Clare's Profile in Stanza:

A Poem in the Glasgow Review of Books:

A Change in the Weather?

The noise in the night that
had me invigilate tests sat by drunks
in the street for hours (the grin of my
alarm clock marking sleep leaked
to dark) dripping power lines
identified in the morning
as rain, the licked black look
of the town almost nostalgic
after two months of drought.

Checking emails over coffee
I google petrichor, discover it’s
perfume raised from parched
grass by a shower
stymies seed growth
means blood of the gods
out of rock in Greek
start to map out
a different day

but already the roof
of the sky is flaking away
grey’s turning blue, nothing
new here after all;
still lockdown, climate change
infinity to look forward to;
a stroll through summer
from a promising spring
to the ease of autumn
still an eternity away.


My phone’s just invented Garomshire, a county down
south where my friend tells me ‘cases are high
but we’re ok for now’. Pity it can’t predict
how steeply the incline
of pandemic panic
will climb today

at the touch
of an icon
as confidently as it thinks
it knows what you wanted to say

and maybe, just maybe ‘in these difficult times’
this intelligent android, also gone viral
will be set back,
left to rock on its heels
emitting its meaningless gibber.
A monkey emoticon coming to life as it’s dying away.

Wednesday, 15 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 122: Brian Whittingham

Some great stuff here from Brian Whittingham another Scotlit old timer, working away at the seams. Brian left school at fifteen and worked in the Clyde shipyards before becoming a draughtsman. In recent years Brian has been a Creative Writing FE Lecturer in the City of Glasgow College and a tutor and facilitator of poetry in the West of Scotland. He is currently Tannahill Makar for Renfrewshire, and also an an excellent poet in his own right. He's had nine poetry collections published, the most recent 'Walking Between Worlds' published by Red Squirrel Press. He's also been published by Luath Press, Mariscat Press, and Taranis Press. He's held fellowships in France (The Robert Louis Stevenson) and Yaddo in the USA.

He was editor of the brilliant 'West Coast magazine' and 'New Writing Scotland' and performed his steel-working poems as part of the BBC’s ‘Ballad of the Big Ships Live’ in Glasgow’s Royal Concert Hall in 2007’.

That's quite a biography and legacy. Since watching Vivien Jones play medieval music yesterday I've not been able to get that time period out of my mind, so I see him and Vivien and our like as the yeomen at arms who are left to hold the army together once the chivalry have quit the field to work for the British Council, or get some sofa space on 'Makar to Makar'.

The poem Brian starts off with here is a good old slagging off of day trippers in Glencoe followed by the rather more contemporary and chilling 'Tig You're Het':

Brian's Website:

Brian's Latest Book from Red Squirrel Press:

His Authors Page at Luath, with details of other publications:

Taking Selfies In the Glen Of Weeping

In the carpark
The Three Sisters, look on
as yet another tour-bus disembarks.

If the tourists were to look at the view,
they’d notice the mountain
peaks shrouded by swirling mist
and slumbering cloud
that part on a whim
to reveal stray patches of blue
as if interlopers
on this, most Scottish of palettes.

They’d see peat-hags and scattered lochans
and tumbling waters
and if they really paid attention,
perhaps a herd of red deer
in amongst the clichéd purple heather.


However, these tourists, see little
in their quest for a perfect selfie.

With phone cameras
pointing at themselves, they perform
well-rehearsed celebrity poses.

Doing silly knee bends,
giving the peace sign like they know what it means,
donning masks of phoney smiles,

wearing skinny jeans full of designer holes
and white sneakers with no socks. 

Tig You're Het

Walking through the park,
furtively, like a foreign agent
I try to dodge detection.

Avoiding the dog-walkers
the joggers
the meandering cyclists,

As if a participant
in the computer game; TIG YOU’RE HET
and the challenge is to stay away
from all human obstacles.

My get out of jail card
would be shouting, ‘Keys, ah’m no playin!’
sticking my thumbs in the air.

Then, for a moment I’d savour the serenity

of the Kelvin burbling
and unseen birds twittering
and feel the warmth of the sun
dappling on back of my neck.

Instead, I clock oncoming parents
out for a stroll
with kids on scooters and bikes
who will perhaps make me het,
with their innocuous invisible droplets

that may be lurking in the afternoon air.

Tuesday, 14 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 121: Vivien Jones

A stalwart from the north shore of the Solway in Dumfries and Galloway, Vivien Jones has been the force around which the magazine 'Southlight' has grown and prospered. Vivien plugged the gap left in the area after the long lived magazine 'Markings' edited by John Hudson folded, John having, we all thought, departed to life as a viticulturist in the steamy south of France. Turns out he was living in a garage in Castle Douglas all the time, but this in no way diminishes Vivien's achievements.

Scottish culture needs people like Vivien who dedicate huge amounts of time and effort to promoting literature local and otherwise for little remuneration and reward. The whole fabric would collapse if it were not for folk like her. If you see the whole of Scotlit like the kind of triangular diagram I used to give to kids illustrating the feudal system or serfdom under Alexander 11 of Russia, the tiny number of poets teetering at the apex and being supported one way or another by public money and the warm approval of their mates in the Universities or the media, depend on folk like Vivien, Annie Mowat in Moniaive, Sandy Yanonne,  Rose Ritchie, Finola Scott, Jim Macintosh, Andy Jackson, Neil Young and a thousand others (I quote simply the names that come immediately to mind) who grub away at the grass roots, showing ordinary folk the joys and importance of poetry, cultivating a love for it.

Vivien Jones has two poetry collections and two short story collections in print, 'About Time, Too' was published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2010. Her short fiction collection on a theme of women amongst warriors 'White Poppies' was published in 2012. In 2010 she won the Poetry London Poetry Prize. She has had numerous inclusions in national and international anthologies, and has had work broadcast on Radio Scotland and Radio 4. She has written short plays (for which she won a national award) working with actors and directors to bring them to performance.  She has organised and been involved in numerous projects with local people and writers including 'Tidemark', poems on the Solway shore, ‘Finding a Voice’, giving voice to the women subjects of 19th/20th century photographs,‘Records of War’, a project in response to an exhibition in local museums on WW1, 'Lovely Nelly', the story of 150 families who left the Solway for Prince Edward Island in 1775, and others.

Oh yes and she also plays in a Medieval band.

Her own poetry is tender, observant and often sensual. It deserves to be much better known. Here she is reading 'The Hardest Thing':

Vivien's Website:

The 'Lovely Nelly' project on the Wigtown Festival website:

The Hardest Thing - Vivien Jones

I’m long done with shopping
for the sake of it,at seventy,
no desire for new clothes,
I shall never read all the books,
listen to all the records and CDs,
that I dust from time to time,

We are rural,paid our mortgage,
run a decent five year old car,
Cook well and economically,
walk each day through deserted
woods and shore, greet neighbours,
and we have each quarrelsome other.

I can’t touch my grandchild,
one quarter me,
feel her warm oval head
in the crook of my arm,
can’t hug my son who glows
in the light of his first-born.
It’s the hardest, the softest thing.

Dining with Copernicus

‘Al Brindisi’, Ferrara

Piercing the shadows of narrow alleys,
the dusk sun sneaks a low beam
onto a sign board – Al Brindisi AD 1435 -
yet another ‘oldest tavern in Europe.’

Banquettes, dark wine bottles
behind chicken wire frames,
a wooden board with cheese
spiralled from mild to ferocious,
the waiters whisper and offer
only expensive wine.

My place mat, made of brown paper,
says that Tasso and Cellini ate here,
so did the student Copernicus,
who, on seeing this same sky,
thought up earth moving heresies.

So do I, walking slowly back,
seeing the full moon through
the open oval above a courtyard,
thinking of the curious Copernicus,
a moment’s dizziness may just
have been the angle of my gaze,
but it felt like the moon sucking.

(From 'The Poetry Kit')

Fool Moon

The moon, too, yearns
to see beyond clouds,
we look for silver on prussian
she looks for blue and green,
both cursing the intervening
veils and blankets of cloud.

On cloudless nights, out of the sea
she rises orange, shrinking,
paling to a naval button,
making the sea shimmer, glass glitter,
a palette of cocktail fabrics
draped across sightlines.

Hand me down light,
from her pale flat face,
a blue-veined vanity
proud of the great cheese
that once fooled a fox,
the Moon in a bucket.

(From 'Ink Sweat and Tears')

Monday, 13 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 120: Miriam Gamble

I think the last poetry reading I read at with mair than three folk and a labrador in attendance was a well stowed and vibrant occasion at St Mungo's Mirrorball  in November last year at which the Northern Irish poet Miriam Gamble was the start turn. She was an excellent reader and having been entertained since by her recent book 'What Planet', published by Bloodaxe at the end of last year, I feel that she's my kind of poet in that she's consistently humane, consistently accessible and consistently entertaining.

I think a poet's job is to give us angles on the ordinary that bring us up short, shock, surprise or delight us and there’s nothing I like better than a collection full of such day to day observations, as diverse as thought itself, comprising both an almanac and an atlas to the poet’s own heid. I thoroughly recommend Miriam’s poetry in this, and in other regards. Go and buy a book, you’d be daft not to.

Miriam Gamble was born in Brussels in 1980 and grew up in Belfast. She studied at Oxford and at Queen’s University Belfast, where she completed a PhD in contemporary British and Irish poetry; she now lectures at the University of Edinburgh. Her first collection, 'The Squirrels Are Dead' was published by Bloodaxe in 2010 and won a Somerset Maugham Award; it was followed by 'Pirate Music' also from Bloodaxe in 2014. She has also received an Eric Gregory Award, the Ireland Chair of Poetry Bursary Award and the Vincent Buckley Poetry Prize.

Here she is reading Sometimes Nothing:

Her author page from 'Bloodaxe', links to  'What Planet' and videos of more poems:

The Oak that Was Not There: A video:

An edition of Skylight containing a poetry Masterclass by Miriam

Sometimes Nothing

She never did it, the girl you were supposed to meet
in pink slippers and dressing gown
in what seemed the dead of night
after the world had gone to bed.

Sodium lights still garnished
the suburban street
with the gladsome hue of territory.
You waited on the curve of the road.
There was nothing in particular to see.

In what claimed to be the dead of night
you stood alone
at the mouth of her development;
sodium light still salad-dressed the street. What

were you waiting for?
You'd always known she wouldn't do it.
You leaned flimsily 
against the curve of the road

where the remnants of a wood
you'd never had the name for scythed
on its cluttered stream
through the new developments,
and no bough juddered in the capricious night.

You stood gilded by the sodium light
as fat forms riffled through
your parents' garden;
you fought to keep yourself concealed 
from the nothing that was there.

You wanted to go midnight walking. Where
were you going to walk to?
Through the developments, the pepper sniff of woods?

You, scuffing down the road
in you slippers and your wee fleece dressing gown.
You went home again, you climbed the creakless stair.
You dreamt the dreams that were appropriate.

(From 'What Planet')

On Fancying American Film Stars

From the big screen, and larger than life for a week or two,
which is all a tangent universe can stand,
we take them home and introduce them to our modest living quarters.
Their baby blues stare out at us at all hours of the day and night,
prompting every manner of ridiculous thought, such as:
‘The world is small’; or ‘What if Elvis could have taken to my mother?’;
‘I will ride across the desert on a purple roan, or some such,
for anything is possible’; and even that old chestnut,
‘There is only one for everyone alive.’ The cat mewls
at its perpetually empty bowl, the work piles up on the desk,
but we simply say, with a new-found recklessness:
‘This is not the most important thing in my life right now’;
‘you’re a predator, catch your own’. We exist
in the bubble of our making, our souls glistening like celluloid,
by turns rock bottom and on fire. What causes it to disappear?
Who can know, but one day we double-take to find ourselves
filing them away in the rack of lost hopes
with the show-jumping videos and ‘twelve easy tunes for classical guitar’,
the cat purring as it settles on the easy chair, as if to say
‘What then, what then’, the sky sucking back its thunder-claps
and storm winds, saving only one small cloud, which loiters there,
putty grey, shedding rain like tiny lead balloons
on the pristine terraces. And somewhere else a universe explodes.

(From Cordite)

Sunday, 12 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 119: Graham Rae

I've written about Graham Rae before in the Poets Republic Magazine. He's a poet and journalist who's in Falkirk now, but lived for a substantial time in Chicago, where his teenage daughter still stays.

He writes very interestingly - often controversially- about music, politics and literature and occupies a kind of strange liminal space between genres, movements and times. It's a space often occupied only by himself. I became interested in his great detective work about that period of the late 50s/early 60s when the more radical elements of the ‘Scottish Renaissance’ were reeled back into the mainstream, just at the time when the explosion of the Beats and later the Black Mountain poets was reverberating across the Atlantic, in some sort of barbaric YAWP of the Atomic age.

 The house magazine of the renaissance, 'The Jabberwock', was then edited by Alex Neish, whose final issue published Scottish writers like MacDiarmid (later to call the most well known Scottish beat writer Alexander Trocchi ‘cosmopolitan scum’) and Douglas Young, but also Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso and Kerouac. After Jabberwock closed, Neish went on to further publish the avant guard in Sidewalk magazine. Graham Rae ran the cantankerous Neish – still alive and kicking and owner of a huge internationally regarded pewter collection – to ground and his fascinating interview, full of insights, was later nicked and appeared in the Scotsman under someone else's by line. Such are the perils of operating outside the mainstream. 

Graham Rae first got published as a teenager in the legendary 'Deep Red' horror magazine in America, back in the late 80s. Since then, he has written about weird and wonderful alternative and underground culture for venues like '', '' (the world’s top William S Burroughs website), '', and ''. His dsytopian novel 'Soundproof Future Scotland' was published in 2011. He just wrote the intro to 'Burroughs and Scotland', a book examining the time Beat writer William S Burroughs spent in Scotland, by Chris G Kelso.  He is currently

working on an album of poetry and rap-inspired and rhythms and rhymes, entitled 'Notes From Toilet Walls', that should be out in the next few months. Here he reads 'Our Little Lady of the Flowers':

Here is a page of his writing on underground and weird and wonderful films, books and music on Facebook:

And he has an occasionally updated blog quite unlike anything else being written in Scotland now or, indeed, ever:


Just got in the afternoon door. 
Rainy snowy day Aldi run. 
Got up to just round the corner 
head bowed, black hood 
drip drop dripping water and weariness. 
Saw a stay-at-home mother 
unloading her baby from 
the child seat in the back of the car 
as her other daughter, probably three, 
seen from behind, stood waiting 
patiently for mum in a lovely 
wee pink sturdy waterproof jacket
 and stompclompy mini pink wellies. 
She had a wee white flower bunch 
clutched in her very responsible hand 
and turned to watch her world, blonde, pretty, 
and it was one of those moments 
where you just instantly catch a vivid 
snapshot of a day in the neighbour life. 
And you wonder to yourself, as the 
baby comes out into the anointing rain, 
if the wee yin has the flowers for granny, 
or why she has them, secret purposes, 
cures for the blues of a relative somewhere. 
And sometimes, in the right light, 
in the right rain and snow, 
you suddenly remember 
another time and place, 
different faces, different linguistics, 
different ethics, and you feel that 
familiar melancholic underskin throb 
start to bubble up in your nostalgia-attacked heart 
and you batten down those therapeutic hatches 
just as quickly as you possibly can 
and wander on round the corner out of the rain 
singing The Dictators to yourself 
“My my my my my my my heart is calling 
Won’t you stay with me?” 
And looking forward to getting and staying 
dry and warm and happy 
forever, and to a less dreich day


Wayne’s an ex-military
Resident with dementia
In the nursing home I work in
Can’t remember his old rank and it doesn’t matter now
He sleeps fully clothed and laughs when you wake him up
Tells you he slept well and undresses easily for you
Ambulatory amiable full of life and smiles and weirdness
Pulling his cellphone TV remote control from his pocket
Toilet splattered with ill-aimed nocturnal diarrhoea
Not cleaned by lazy careless housekeepers
The nurse tells me he shouldn’t be here
Because he’s violent but the place is new
And the owners are trying to fill it up
With nothing but well-paying residents
Not a single race but white in sight
Except for the caregivers of course
Apparently Wayne tries to punch or elbow you in the face
If he gets agitated, his home caregiver quit
Said she couldn’t take it anymore
That old American military violence still
Lurking ready to surgical strike
He grabbed me the other day by the arm
When I was trying to take him to his room
To change his diaper and he dragged me along
Giving me my marching orders
I wrestled my arm free, smiling blandly
Cos you can’t take any of this stuff personally
And told him to please let me go soldier
Which he did and a moment later
He was back to abnormal again
His usual confused constantly-laughing docile state
And I got him changed and on his nowhere way
He tells me he never saw any combat, thankfully
But he definitely caught some family friendly fire
In the inescapable bloodsoaked battlefield
Of genetics and the bad luck of the physiological draw
Turning his flickering brain to quietly dying nothing
Combat radio signals across the minefield of life
Fading slowly to cheap unintelligible gibberish
Orders from central command torn to pieces
By dementia shrapnel lodged in the assaulted brain
We have ways of making you talk total garbage
Won the existential battle but lost the cerebral war
And there is no way he’s going to get evacuated
From this
Now or