Monday, 19 October 2020

The Occasional Backroom: Jeanette Lynes

 I'm sure the last time I saw Jeanette Lynes was at a Burlesque show in Edmonton where we were both reading erotic poetry. I have so little erotic poetry that I had to borrow someone else's, but in the generally louche but febrile atmosphere I don't think anyone noticed.

Jeanette Lynes is deprecating about her work- as you can hear in the video- but she is a superb writer, edgy, opinionated and witty I was about to say, but her humour goes beyond cleverness to be a weapon to leaven, dilute or reangle our examination of some serious issues. It's a path I have always been drawn to myself: I think anything that makes poetry less boring, more affecting and more accessible in the process of delivering a message is ok by me. The poem she reads here, 'John Clare in Love' is a case in point. It's hilarious. But serious.

Jeanette Lynes is the author of seven books of poetry and two novels. Her third novel is forthcoming from HarperCollins Canada in 2021. Jeanette was recently a Visiting Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. She directs the Master of Fine Arts in Writing at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada. She has won many accolades and awards. For instance her most recent novel, 'The Small Things That End The World', won the Muslims for Peace and Justice Fiction Award at the 2019 Saskatchewan Book Awards. Her most recent book of poetry, 'Bedlam Cowslip: The John Clare Poems', from which the featured poem here is taken, won the 2015 Saskatchewan Arts Board Poetry Award.

John Clare in Love

He first saw her from afar –
tramping across the field, a kind of moving statue,
a girl heavy in good places.

He scrambled up a pollarded tree to mark her shape
and direction. He’d fallen from trees before. This time
despite the ale, he hung on.

Even from a distance he knew she’d look
fine milking cows. Her sturdy form, those hands
would draw the milk, would work the teats.

High in the tree, he was more besotted than a bird,
and happier. His eyes followed her vanishing
over the grassed horizon. He climbed to earth,

penned two poems to her beauty. Anyone in love
will recognize this, the heart’s highest moment, this ledge
of clock before the beloved’s mouth

opens and awry things go and go until the end of time.
But there’d be buckets to fill with wildflowers,
the greensward to harvest, before that befell them,

her name to discover. Could she love a lime-burner?
Like any decent girl she’d send him away.
But he’d return. Until then, in his choking

shifts at the kiln she’d cross that pasture in his mind
a thousand times and what he began to think was,
she walked like someone who could read. 

What Editors Don’t Want

She gazed out the window. She was an astute gazer.
She smiled with dazzling teeth into the day’s
drizzle which stirred within her a vague
premonition some dire event would soon befall them.
‘Foreshadowing’, she thought, suddenly. She smiled,
pleased with her own window-gazing acuity.
She stared more probingly into the yard
cluttered with rusted racing cars.
Rickenstock had not cut the grass all summer,
obvious from the tall insolence of the weeds.
Metaphor! She laughed. Metaphors made her laugh.
(Tall insolence of the weeds, not bad,
she thought). She was a quirky, intelligent woman
with a enduring reverence for tropes.
The yard was rampant with neglect & falling action.
She raised her arm & flicked her blonde bangs. She smiled.
She lit a slender menthol cigarette. Suddenly she knew –
Rickenstock! Rickenstock was the killer!
‘Climax’, she thought! Denouement. She smiled.

Jeanette's Website Here, with examples of poems, reviews etc:

More biographical information, poetry, videos and reference:

Thursday, 1 October 2020

The Occasional Backroom: Aurélia Lassaque

Delighted to feature Aurélia Lassaque in the Backroom today. Aurélia is a poet who writes in Occitan, the language of the medieval troubadours, spoken in the south of France, Monaco, Val D'Aran in Spain, and the Guardia Piemontese in Italy. Collectively, these regions are sometimes referred to as Occitania. Occitan is an ancient romance language with a connection to Catalan. Like Scots with English, Occitan is often thought of as a dialect of Catalan, though, like Scots, the language has the historical and linguistic right to be thought of as at least the equal to its neighbour. Occitan is hampered by the fact that less than 10,000 still speak it, and that it lacks a standardised vocabulary. It is beautiful, though, isnt it? 

Aurélia Lassaque (b. 1983) is a bilingual poet and performer who writes in French and Occitan. She is interested in the interaction between various forms of art, and often cooperates with visual artists, videomakers, dancers and particularly musicians. She accompanies her readings with short songs from the Occitan folklore tradition. She has performed all over the world, in Europe, Northern and Latin America, Africa, Scandinavian countries, Indonesia, India and China.

Her work has been translated into over twenty languages including Asturian, Catalan, Chinese, Dutch, English, Finnish, Hebrew, Italian, Norwegian, Polish and Spanish. Her collection 'Pour que chantent les salamandres' (Editions Bruno Doucey, 2013) has been translated in many different languages and received critical attention from, among others,  Her second French/Occitan collection, 'En quête d’un visage', a prescient dialogue between Ulysses and Elle/Ela (She), was published in France by Editions Bruno Doucey (May 2017). She has also collaborated as a screenwriter for the cinema with director Giuseppe Schillaci: Transhumance (co-screenwriter, actress), a short film poem, presented at the 76th Venice Film Festival (MaTerre 2019, Cantiere Cinepoetico Euromediterraneo).

Here she reads an excerpt from 'En quête d’un visage', a dialogue between 'She' and Ulysses. The English translation is supplied by Madeleine Campbell, a Canadian writer, researcher and translator who teaches at the University of Edinburgh.


Dona-me un nom, Ulisses

dona-me un nom que te posquèsse esperar
serai aquí, i aurà lo miralh
e parlarem de tu, ieu e l’autra al dedins del miralh
la rejonharai aquí, sempre de galís, al ras d’una cadièra, al biais dels aucèls
amb la dolor dins ma cuèissa per me pas perdre d’aquel costat del miralh

lo matin portarai mos pendents d’aurelhas
los servarai emai benlèu al lièch se me deviás susprene al mitan de la nuèch

mas s’ai pas de nom cossi saupre quala d’entre ela o ieu velha ?


Give me a name, Ulysses

give me a name so that i can wait for you
i’ll be here, the mirror, there
and we’ll speak of you, i and the other in the mirror
i’ll join her there, a little slant, on the edge of a chair, the way birds do
the ache in my thigh keeps me from losing myself to that side of the mirror

in the morning i’ll wear my earrings
i may even wear them to bed should you surprise me in the night

but if i have no name how will i know which of us, her or me, is waiting?


Te donar un nom ?

Te donar un nom quand balas dins lo negre dins de carrièras desèrtosas amb de grands gosses ?

Te donar un nom quand vas a la rivièra en tenguda de nuèch jos lo naut solelh en ignorar los òmes que se son perduts en te cresent sasir ?

T’ofrirai d’iranges
e per las pelar un cotèl pas mai grand que lo poce
un cotèl d’ivòri qu’aurai raubat aprèp la batalha
lo present d’un defunt a una autra femna
e te caldrà pensar a ela, a sos lençòls freds, al trauc dins sa pòcha a la plaça del cotèl

t’ofrirai de brots d’èrbas qu’aurai servats longtemps jos ma sòla
que creisson aquí ont repausan los còsses
e se quilhan coma de sentinelas al quite punt ont s’acaba la fugida


Give you a name?

Give you a name when you dance in the dark with great hounds in empty streets?

Give you a name when you stroll to the river dressed for night in the glaring sun, spurning
the men who were doomed the moment they thought they possessed you?

I’ll offer you oranges
and to peel them a knife no bigger than a thumb
an ivory knife I’ll steal when the battle is over
a dead man’s gift to another woman
and you’ll be bound to think of her, of her cold sheets, of the hole in her pocket
traded for the knife

I’ll offer you blades of grass that cling to the soles of my feet
from shoots that grow there, where the bodies lie
standing tall as sentinels at the precise point their retreat ended

More Information on her Work here:

Thursday, 20 August 2020

Poems from the Backroom: Gerry McGrath

One lesson of the #plagueopoems is that Scotland seems jam packed with poets. There are loud poets and there are douce poets, poets who have a big social media presence and poets who just work at writing poetry.  I think Gerry McGrath is an example of an outstanding poet who just gets on with stuff and leaves the shouting about it to others. There are others, Angus Martin for instance, who let the poems do the talking. Poems often talk quietly, however, it is their persistent power, so Gerry is not as weel kent as he should be, despite his impressive body of work.

Gerry McGrath was born and raised in Helensburgh, Scotland. He attended Strathclyde and Glasgow universities in the 1980s and worked for several years as a teacher before quitting for reasons of ill health in 2000. To date, he has published two full collections of poetry, both by the ever impressive Carcanet, 'A to B' published in 2008 and 'Rooster' four years afterwards, which was shortlisted for the Scottish Book of the Year in 2013. His poems have appeared in numerous publications, including 'Being Alive' from Bloodaxe and 'New Poetries IV' from Carcanet, 2007. His reviews (mainly of contemporary poetry in translation) have appeared in PN Review. He has published several essays on important figures of global modernism, including Szymborska, Brodsky, Montale & Transtromer. He helped edit 'The Novel: a biography' published by Harvard in 2014. In 2004 He was a winner of the Robert Louis Stevenson Memorial award. In 2007 he was awarded a New Writers’ Bursary by the Scottish Arts Council. He continues to write: has completed a third collection, 'Sparkle Horse', and is working on a fourth.

The poem he reads here 'Belvedere', takes a beautiful dreamy oblique view of a life that no-one's ever quite sure is real.  It talks of permanence and transience, our twin controls. Is beauty sustainable? In this poem, at least, it is.

Gerry's Website Here;

His author page with Carcanet:


So they were sitting beside the belvedere, in shade.
And they were drinking, barely exchanging a word.
The sun was shining and words were beyond them.

Past the low stone wall lay the river. Further off,
lost in the thin blue air, were the island’s three peaks
yet to exist, as if they existed.

A breeze got up; the world tilted and water, seen
slopping up the side of a glass, pushed the air ahead,
carrying birds, the clink of ice, notes of lemon.

On the lawn children ran like small dogs, yelping
with a mix of terror and joy, and occasionally
a mother or father appeared to gather them in.

He thought there must have been days
when people forgot even that they had gone to sleep
and woken, re-born.

That they had flowed, like the river behind
the wall flowed, huge and still and countless,
grey as all rivers are grey.

The sun continued to shine and the breeze blew fresher
and he drank again and thought
in the eyes of small dogs days like this will come again.

Among the Blue

Somehow I wish I could say
it was indifference not love
that found the co-ordinates
for cormorants among the blue
the blue-white gulls

tell you that we have lived once
and will not come this way again

say to you that as long as art
teaches language of recovery
eternal reminders of morning
will grow on our sweat, spume,
tick softly on our lips, on our lips.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Party in the Backroom: Hugh Bryden at 70!!!

Hugh Bryden's in the Backroom today, or maybe he's not. Or maybe he is and he doesn't know it. I don't know: it's hard trying to arrange a secret party for folk in these pestilential times. One thing is for sure, and that is that Hugh Bryden is 70 today.

Hugh Bryden is a dynamo and creative genius whose own art work is exceptional but whose collaborations with a host of poets have received wide recognition and praise, well beyond Dumfries and well beyond Scotland.

Hugh Bryden was born in Dumfries on August 13th 1950. He was educated in Annan Academy and Edinburgh College of Art, where he was contemporary to an outstanding bunch of talents including Gordon Boyd and Billy Bunting. He graduated from Edinburgh in 1972 and moved back to Dumfries to teach the year after, as Staff tutor in Art for Dumfries and Galloway Region. Hugh had a succession of exhibitions and one man shows including ‘Paintings and Prints’ in Gracefield in 1990, ‘Prime Cuts’ in the Robert Burns Centre in 1993 and ‘Old Places, New Directions’ in the Otterburn Gallery in 1994. In 1996 he exhibited and held workshops in the Netherbow Theatre in Edinburgh, under the title ‘Hugh Bryden Print Makar’.

The poster for this exhibition included Bryden’s beautiful setting of my poem 'Ritual Roads, pictured on the right. I therefore claim precedence in his work with poets, Carafuego Press his innovative and beautiful collaboration with Tom Pow, beginning 3 years later in 1999. Hugh gave me a box of beautiful prints of these poems which I unfortunately left in a Dundee telephone box but I still have one, number 1 from 40.
(See 'POSTSCRIPT' at end)

His enthusiasm for Artists’ Book led him to lecture in the subject in Rochester New York in 2002, and in 2005 he founded Roncadora Press to pursue the form with a variety of different poets, including myself, and win several prizes. A short list of recent collaborators would be Hayden Murphy, Tom Pow, Graham Fulton, John Burns, Chrys Salt, Rab Wilson, Jean Atkin, Liz Niven, Andrew Forster, Donald Adamson, Willie Hershaw and Donald S Murray. Here are just a few choice testimonials from some of that motley crew.

What a fine artist you are, and what an honour to have collaborated with you on two limited edition collections – both small works of art in their own right. Both hand stitched, both sensitive responses to my poems, all sold out thanks to the high production values of Roncadora Press
- Chrys Salt

Such a generous man, his attention to detail legendary, his art and sensitivity to the words of others so surefooted.
- Jean Atkin

You’re also left in awe of his artistic skills. He’s incredibly generous with his time and talents and D & G are so lucky to have him in our midst.
- Liz Niven

Bryden is concerned with the artistic merit of a submission. Is it a voice that needs to be heard? Does it have something different and important to say? Does it meet with the publisher’s high artistic standards? These are the things that Hugh thinks about before he considers the writer’s reputation or how many yards of book shelves the work has the potential to shift
- Willie Hershaw

In honour of the man also here is a Tutu from Graham Fulton, a Tanka from Hayden Murphy and a Stonker from Donald S Murray.


           bearded seventy,
safely landed, ship shape. Sage,
       Thyme, Rosemary leafing.
Joy-riding with Heaney.     Jazz
in the garden of 2020.

Hayden Murphy

ACHANALT - for Hugh

You stepped where I - at that time - never stood,
on that station platform
to sketch memorial headstones,
water, moor and wood
and bring my verse to a different form of life.
Hugh, your drawings provide
return tickets to our inspirations,
a new way to arrive,
say, in that destination en route to Kyle
or Inverness. I marvel
at your artistry, the grace and skill
that makes observers stop and wonder,
shake their heads and smile.

Donald S Murray

As for me, I've always been in awe of his imagination and creative strength but I love his human qualities more. He drinks a bit, he's really generous and he's a good laugh. I suppose t the greatest strain this assemblage of virtues came under was during our great 'Doors' Collaboration in Dumfries. All Hugh's collaborations with poets amount, of course, to him doing all the work while the poets do eff all but actually building, painting and illustrating 8 life sized free standing doors while I sat and drank coffee or beer was, you would think, an imposition too much. It is to his huge credit that he didn't murder me, even though the strain of that entire operation is why he's 70 today rather than his true age, 55.

It should not be forgotten that Hugh is an accomplished poet, featuring in the seminal work of Dumfries and Galloway Scots poetry ‘Chuckies fir the Cairn’ published by Luath in 2009 and edited by Rab Wilson, and publishing his own pamphlet ‘If Ah could Talk tae the Artists’ which in 2008 was shortlisted for the Calum Macdonald Prize.

Hugh’s striking prints and linocuts grace many a wall in D and G and his generous discounting or delayed payments plans have enabled me over the years to make art lovers out of many relatives and friends. It will surprise no-one that Hugh has been spending the period of lock-down due to Coronavirus, on an ambitious project, painting 50 miniature icons and still-lives to exhibit as a celebration of his birthday. Hugh’s hands and brain are never still. He has more ingenuity and vim than anyone I’ve ever known. Let's celebrate a great Scottish Creative! Cheers Hugh!

Here he is reading some of his poems in the series 'If Ah Could Talk tae the Artists' outside the new Bazaar when he was still 69:

His Website Here:

From 'If Ah Could Talk Tae the Airtists'

‘Ear Vincent,
there youse were, luggin canvases
aboot the countryside,
lobbin paint ontae thum.
Ah could wax lyrical aboot yer talent,
beat the drum, blow the trumpet, pinball medal on ye.
Yet, maist fowk ken ye fur jist wan thing,
An ah wouldnae lower the conversation bi mentioning
that cartilaginous portion -
or lack o it.
-at least no one earshot!

Pablo Picasso, a wurd in yer eye.
If ye could see the state o BritArt,
yer nose wud be richt oot o place.
Pickled coos, in unmade beds,
an thets jist the hef o it.
Ah’m no joking, thon urinal o Marcel’s
opent the floodgates,
the stuff’s everywhere.
The Market’s Saatchi rated.

What’s the crack, Georges Braque,
Ye multifaceted nan?
Those thir never, valued you ever,
cannae hiv seen the sides Ah can

Egon Schiele, Ah get a feel a,
unease in ma hert.
Whin Ah keek at, aa the geeks that,
populate yer art.

Ca canny, Edouard Manet,
wi yer luncheons in the grass.
Alfresco dinin’s great, but fave it mate,
this wee lass will freeze hit arse.

His Faither’s Voice

Ah woke huntin fur ma deid faither’s
voice, siftin ma mind’s sound Giles

Ah could see him clearly, smile
tugged squint bi a cigarette

felt ma bairn’s face flinch
frae his stubble embrace

smelt the oil thick tobacco
slick o his workshop

tasted his salty porridge
texture tied aroon ma tongue.

Still Ah couldny find the sound o him.
Fa’in back tae slumber, tho, Ah heard

Boy, is it no aboot time you wir getting up


Hayden Murphy's lawyers have been in touch to make sure that everyone knows that estimable Irish poet's association with Hugh Bryden, their excellent and long lived Bloomsday collaboration, began in fact in June 1992, yonks before everyone else's. The man is quite right. I have settled out of court.

Saturday, 8 August 2020

Back to the Backroom: The Extraordinary Carolyn Forché

How great to re-open the Backroom for Carolyn Forché who has sent us not just one video poem but two. A double delight and pleasure. Carolyn is one of the few modern poets who can tackle grand issues without sounding either angry or didactic. Instead she connects the personal to the political to create as she says a poetical language of witness designed to emphasise the poet's role in the "community rather than the individual ego."

The vision and range of her poems is vast- encompassing history, geography and philosophy- but it’s her language and lyrical skill I love, at times majestic, at times surprising but nearly always sublime. Have I called anyone in this series a Great Poet? I do think Carolyn is one of the greatest living writers in English.

Carolyn Forché was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1950, and has taught at several universities. She was Director of Lannan Center for Poetics and Social Practice, and held the Lannan Visiting Chair in Poetry at Georgetown University, Washington, DC, where she is now a University Professor. Her many honours include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Lannan Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts; the Edita and Ira Morris Hiroshima Foundation Award, given in 1997 for using her poetry as a ‘means to attain understanding, reconciliation, and peace within communities and between communities’; and most recently, Yale University's Windham-Campbell Prize.

Her previous books include 'Gathering the Tribes'  in 1976 which was selected for the Yale Series of Younger Poets by Stanley Kunitz, 'The Country Between Us' in 1981 reissued from Bloodaxe in 2019, which drew on her experiences in El Salvador before and during the civil war, and won the Poetry Society of America's Alice Fay di Castagnola Award, and was the Lamont Poetry Selection of the Academy of American Poets. Her later collections have drawn upon work written over many years: 'The Angel of History' from HarperCollins, USA and Bloodaxe Books in 1994, 'Blue Hour', HarperCollins, USA and  Bloodaxe Books, 2003, and, her latest, 'In the Lateness of the World'  published by Penguin, USA and Bloodaxe Books a few months ago.

Her hugely important anthology 'Against Forgetting' collected the work of 145 poets in 30 different languages who had experienced warfare, military occupation, imprisonment, torture, forced exile, censorship, and/or house arrest. The anthology, composed of the work of one hundred and forty-five poets writing in English and translated from over thirty languages, begins with the Armenian Genocide and ends with the uprising of the pro-Democracy movement at Tiananmen Square.
Her memoir 'What You Have Heard Is True: a memoir of witness and resistance'  in 2019 was published by Penguin.

Her translations include Mahmoud Darwish's Unfortunately, It Was Paradise: Selected Poems (with Munir Akash, 2003), Claribel Alegría's Flowers from the Volcano (1983), and Robert Desnos's Selected Poetry (with William Kulik, 1991).

Here she is reading 'The Lightkeeper':

Here she is reading 'Museum of Stone':

5 poems in 'World Literature Today':

A conversation about her latest book

Profile and More poems on Poetry Foundation Website:

Buy 'In the Lateness of the World' here:

The Light Keeper

A night without ships. Foghorns calling into walled cloud, and you
still alive, drawn to the light as if it were a fire kept by monks,
darkness once crusted with stars, but now death-dark as you sail inward.
Through wild gorse and sea-wrack, through heather and torn wool
you ran, pulling me by the hand, so I might see this for once in my life:
the spin and spin of light, the whirring of it, light in search of the lost,
there since the era of fire, era of candles and hollow wick lamps,
whale oil and solid wick, colza and lard, kerosene and carbide,
the signal fires lighted on this perilous coast in the Tower of Hook.
You say to me stay awake, be like the lens maker who died with his
lungs full of glass, be the yew in blossom when bees swarm, be
their amber cathedral and even the ghosts of Cistercians will be kind to you.
In a certain light as after rain, in pearled clouds or the water beyond,
seen or sensed water, sea or lake, you would stop still and gaze out
for a long time. Also when fireflies opened and closed in the pines,
and a star appeared, our only heaven. You taught me to live like this.
That after death it would be as it was before we were born. Nothing
to be afraid. Nothing but happiness as unbearable as the dread
from which it comes. Go toward the light always, be without ships.

Museum of Stones

These are your stones, assembled in matchbox and tin,
collected from roadside, culvert, and viaduct,
battlefield, threshing floor, basilica, abattoir–
stones, loosened by tanks in the streets
from a city whose earliest map was drawn in ink on linen,
schoolyard stones in the hand of a corpse,
pebble from Apollinaire’s oui,
stone of the mind within us
carried from one silence to another,
stone of cromlech and cairn, schist and shale, horneblende,
agate, marble, millstones, ruins of choirs and shipyards,
chalk, marl, mudstone from temples and tombs,
stone from the tunnel lined with bones,
lava of a city’s entombment, stones
chipped from lighthouse, cell wall, scriptorium,
paving stones from the hands of those who rose against the army,
stones where the bells had fallen, where the bridges were blown,
those that had flown through windows, weighted petitions,
feldspar, rose quartz, blueschist, gneiss and chert,
fragments of an abbey at dusk, sandstone toe
of a Buddha mortared at Bamiyan,
stone from the hill of three crosses and a crypt,
from a chimney where storks cried like human children,
stones newly fallen from stars, a stillness of stones, a heart,
altar and boundary of stone, marker and vessel, first cast, lode and hail,
bridge stones and others to pave and shut up with,
stone apple, stone basil, beech, berry, stone brake,
stone bramble, stone fern, lichen, liverwort, pippin and root,
concretion of the body, as blind as cold as deaf,
all earth a quarry, all life a labor, stone-faced, stone-drunk
with hope that this assemblage of rubble, taken together, would become
a shrine or holy place, an ossuary, immoveable and sacred
like the stone that marked the path of the sun as it entered the human dawn.

Wednesday, 5 August 2020

Poems from the Backroom: Yuyutsu Sharma

Some good news about the #plague is that it is now going to be the focus of a weekly feature from Renfrew Libraries, dedicated to increasing interest in Scotland's poets and poetry, and I am hoping to perhaps spread this through other libraries too. The full catalogue of poets is available on the previous blog post and all poets- plus some bonus ones!- are available on #plagueopoems on YouTube. 

As I said previously, some poems are still coming in from parts of the world and the parts don't come much higher than this! Yuyutsu Sharma is the Laureate of the Himalayas, a world renowned poet and translator. Kabir Das  the 15th Century Indian poet, mystic and saint, said an aspiring poet should first set fire to his house and since leaving his university job in Kathmandu twenty years ago, Yuyutsu has spent much of his life travelling and to many people in many countries, he is the literary face of Nepal and the Himalayas.

He is a recipient of fellowships from The Rockefeller Foundation, Ireland Literature Exchange, The Trubar Foundation, Slovenia, The Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature and The Foundation for the Production and Translation of Dutch Literature. His work has been translated into German, French, Italian, Slovenian, Hebrew, Spanish and Dutch. He was at the Poetry Parnassus Festival organised to celebrate London Olympics 2012 where he represented Nepal and India. He travels widely, reading and holding workshops. Currently, he is visiting poet at Columbia University.

He has published ten poetry collections including, 'The Second Buddha Walk', 'A Blizzard in my Bones: New York Poems', 'Quaking Cantos: Nepal Earthquake Poems', 'Nepal Trilogy', 'Space Cake, Amsterdam' and 'Annapurna Poems'. Three books of his poetry, 'Poemes de l’ Himalayas' (L’Harmattan, Paris), 'Poemas de Los Himalayas' (Cosmopoeticia, Cordoba, Spain) and 'Jezero Fewa & Konj' (Sodobnost International) have appeared in French, Spanish and Slovenian respectively. Yuyutsu edits, Pratik: A Quarterly Magazine of Contemporary Writing. 

Here he reads 'The Migrant Metaphor':

His Website and Blog:

A Selection of Poems:

An interview : 

A Link to 'Pratik':

The Migrant Metaphor

From my rooftop
I fear for their lives

these feral things
lying asleep for hours

as if turned into
a lump of sullen meat

crushed under
some gorilla tyres

of a wayward truck
or a supply vehicle.


smelly blurs

under empty flyovers
or vacant zebra crossings

warming their
damp lives

on the asphalt
of freshly pitched roads

for smooth
stately visits of dignitaries.

Exhausted after
restless sniffing for crumbs

dropped by
some wayward charity,

I see them
slumber into

a resigned voyage
to the netherworld

motionless with
the drooping inertia

not a limb moving
or an alert ear

to reassure life

unafraid of
surveillance trucks

or some emergency
ambulances hooting though

the fiendish silence
of highways that

might just crush
them into a squashed

little mound
of dead meat

their innocent,

stone soup
faith in the humanity

of this century’s
most eloquent


The Flowers in their Baskets

The flowers in their baskets
do not smell of crisp books
or rhymes that sing of flowers of freedom.

Pale as pulp of their wiped out eyes
these are stones of destiny
heavy from watery weight of their juvenile dreams

sharp and brash
as the stones of bleeding mule paths
tearing a wound with
face of a stifled cry
in murky skies of their fast fading infancy.

(From 'Drunken Boat', Translated from the Nepali)

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)