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