Tuesday, 21 July 2020

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)

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