Friday, 29 January 2021

The Occasional Backroom: Rayanne Haines

These are gothic times of course. When I was in Edinburgh last year it had a ghostly aspect but in the middle of lockdown it must be even more atmospheric. Bad, sad times but a once in a lifetime opportunity to trawl the deserted wynds, closes and stanks free of tourists and even many of the locals. For a poet it is an enviable prospect, especially if it's your first time. 'Edinburgh is a mad god's dream' said Hugh MacDiarmid. 'When I looked out in the morning it is as if I had waked in Utopia' said George Eliot. We should all be pretty jealous therefore of the Canadian poet Rayanne Haines who arrived in Edinburgh recently to pursue her studies and who, having served her quarantine, is now able to poke about and fuel her imagination in this most wonderful. dark and complex of cities.

Rayanne Haines’s writing has appeared in or is forthcoming from, 'Fiddlehead, Impact: The Lives of Women After Concussion' Anthology, 'Voicing Suicide' Anthology, 'The Selkie Resiliency' Anthology, 'Funicular', 'Lida Lit Mag', and many others. She is the host of the literary podcast, 'An Eloquent Bitch' and is the Alberta NWT rep for the League of Canadian Poets. Rayanne is a 2019 Edmonton Artist Trust Fund Award recipient. Past Executive Director of the Edmonton Poetry Festival, Rayanne is a current Masters student focusing on Arts Management and Cultural Policy Research. Her poetry and prose have been shortlisted for the Canadian Authors Association Exporting Alberta Award and the John Whyte Memorial Essay Alberta Literary Award. Her current work focuses on mental health and intergenerational female trauma. 'Tell the Birds your Body is Not a Gun' is forthcoming in 2021 with Frontenac House.

Here she is reading  'Don’t Fall for Imitation Pearls with Exotic Names', a reverie on time, heritage and remembrance. 'All my memories are wrapped in whirlwinds of adventure....most purchased on the side of a road. i wonder if my sons will hold them dear.' 

Don’t Fall for Imitation Pearls with Exotic Names

in the room where my father
hid his most important memories,

a box sat in the corner filled with my
great grandmother’s pearls and silver.

the items wrapped in white tissue paper
and flat cotton. packed away before her death.

these false mementos of stature. the silver
chipped, pearls flaked, still, more precious than gold.

treasures gifted by a husband she married
while still a girl in braids. her skin darkened

by the sun, hands already callused from working
the land. in the room under the stairs where 

my father hid these things, dust coated
the walls, and the boxes mother forbade us to touch.

in the same room, my mother stored laundry
detergent, cat litter, the good holiday ornaments.

mother would say knowing an object is safe
is more important than having it on display. objects

hold memories you see, and father only had a few.
my sister and i would wrap our necks in these

remembrances when left unsupervised. or hide under
the stairs, dreaming of husbands gifting us with rubies.

the jewellery i own is spread haphazardly across
my dresser. items found on travels to countries

my great-grandmother never visited. but maybe
wanted to. who knows, i never met her to ask.

all my memories are wrapped in whirlwinds
of adventure. all of them worth far more than

the cost of a plane ride. most purchased on the side
of a road. i wonder if my sons will hold them dear.

i often dream of a house overlooking a valley,
built by my great-grandparent’s hands. i dream

they’d sit on the porch sharing whiskey
and cigars. both covered in dust. great-grandmother

reserving her cleanliness for sunday
morning when god and parish paid attention.

This refuge hewn by hard work, before the city
moved in, when the midnight moon was a cotton

ball and coyotes outnumbered people. and the world
was small and we knew how to love each other.

behind their house now, there is an esso
station. in front, a five-story brick apartment.

peoples’ memories stacked upon each other
like cardboard boxes. my great-grandmother, only

ever a ghost to me, is buried in the graveyard half
a mile away. her baubles still hidden under the stairs.

my mother still protecting them.

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Tuesday, 5 January 2021

The Festive Back Room: 12th Night with Carol Jane Wilson

12th Night! Heat up the Wassail! Drink 12 pints of it! At this reflective time of year, just when we are at our weakest, and fattest, here comes Carol Jane Wilson to unleash a skilful and poignant villanelle on us. 

Carol Jane Wilson has written poetry and short stories over many years, whilst pursuing a varied working life, including lock keeping on the Thames, training people working with domestic violence, comedy improv, face painting, life modelling and working with asylum seekers. Born in Oxford, she came on holiday to Ireland in 1991, and forgot to go back.

In 1998, she won the North West Radio short story competition, and has had work published in a variety of places.  Carol is a member of the Hermit Collective in the West of Ireland and performs regularly with them. Over a year ago, she was told she had a few months to live, so she had her coffin made, and painted with whales swimming. It’s still sitting in the garage, as she is too busy living to use it yet..

Here she reads 'Fat Women Dreaming':



Fat women also have their dreams
that fill the sky by night and day,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.

Fragile and delicate as lace,
strong, mysterious, stark and fey,
fat women also have their dreams.

Fettered by flesh, to you it seems,
yet thoughts soar lightly as they may,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.

The eye of the mind dictates us reams
of fire, joy, passion, to sing and say,
fat women also have their dreams.

Ideas are sewn with fairy seams,
fantastic costumes in which to play,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.

Blinkered is he who, righteous, deems
Flesh must weight thoughts, to sluggish lay.
Fat women also have their dreams,
spinning in beauty, power and grace.


Saturday, 2 January 2021

The Festive Backroom: Kirkpatrick Dobie

Striding up Laurieknowe in Dumfries here in 1984 is poet, Kirkpatrick Dobie.  From his birth to his death at the age of 91 he stayed, worked and wrote in the town of Dumfries. Born in 1908 his life spanned a century in that ‘provincial town’ where as he said ‘no one, it seems, stands out’. A committed though not unquestioning Christian and a member of the small town bourgeoisie- he inherited and ran a seed merchant business- his poetry can be seen at times as a bit starchy but obsessed as he was with the vagaries and contradictions of the human condition he is never anything less than interesting and is always perceptive. He is an example of how the universal can be found in the local, even the parochial. And he displays both intuition and careful craft.

Usually self published locally - often in that excellent print shop on the High St of Dumfries,  Dinwiddies - he found late acknowledgment in a Collected Poems by Peterloo in 1992, 'Poems from a Provincial Town', and an appreciation in the first ever edition of Gerry Cambridge’s excellent magazine 'Dark Horse'. His poems also appeared in ‘The Independent’ and were anthologised in the Forward Book of Poetry in 1993. However, unlike others, he neither sought nor coveted fame or appreciation. He was his own person, dignified, a trifle stolid, a small-town philosopher and intellectual in the age when small towns could be hotbeds of integrity, even genius, as well as microcosms of every other human vice and virtue.

Here he is recalling his father. In the background you can also hear another muse, his dog. 

My Father

My father was a man for stopping horses.
To screams and yells
preceded by a rattling rising roar
the beast appeared,
head reared,
eye rolling black-blobbed swum in white,
battering the cobbles with a bounding cart;
frenzied to freeze the heart.

But at the sight my father's spirit rose
and as the echoes rang
he ran and sprang
high at the rampant head
and bore it down; with all of fourteen stone
muscle and bone
hung! and hung on!

I've never visited his grave.
I could not stand and moralise
or seem to take his size.
What I remember doesn't lie
in any cemetery.
I have his stick
rough-handled, thick,
and now in my own wintry weather,
stumble or slip,
I feel his grip.

Mrs Betty McGeorge

Betty, brought home from nursing home to die-
an old woman- still would cry
for home.
"It isn't home" she'd say,
her fingers plucking at the overlay.

"Sure! Sure it is! There is the tree
you planted. You can see 
the top, and just beyond it's the first tee
at Nunfield.
Listen, and you can hear them at their game."

And she would look and listen,
keenly, but always came
that odd disturbing disavowal;
"It's like it, but it's not the same."

(From Dark Horse, Summer 2000)

This film, and the longer section below, exist as a result of a brilliant project initiated by teachers Pat Kirkby and Gregor Ross in 1984 to record the existing poetical talent in the area.

The longer film on Crump here: