The Chair (and The Town)

I started this blog to keep track of some of the poetry related things I’ve been doing. However, thanks to my less-than stellar organisational skills, I’ve managed to leave at least one of my more significant achievements out. About six months ago – round about October last year – my friend Alex Mcsherry (with some help from his friend John) was good enough to direct, shoot and edit a couple of short films of two of my poems – The Chair and The Town.

These two poems were the first I ever had published – in the Anthology, “Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry”. (You can read all about it in my blog post below.) One of the films, which was posted on YouTube ahead of publication was this one:-

And this is the full-text of the poem-

The Chair

We came to bury the chair today.

There weren’t that many of us,

a small group of friends

and a gaggle of gossipy ladies,

who sat at the back and talked happily

about funerals and the price of steak mince.

They carried the chair down the aisle,

black crepe ribbons tied to its armrests,

vinyl cushions polished to a shine.

Everyone thought it looked so nice,

with its new rubber tyres and gleaming spokes.

The priest gave a eulogy for the chair.

How it had spent its days in the service of others,

tirelessly (if you’ll excuse the pun),

ever ready to bear its load, to follow its path

towards some higher purpose, blessed by God.

After the service, they took the chair away.

We went to eat sandwiches and drink tea,

and someone mentioned, as a passing thought,

this little girl who’d sat in the chair and

gone around in it, wherever it went.

But no-one could recall her face or ,

when we thought about it, who she was

or even if she’d really been there at all.

I keep two folders of poems on the desktop of my MacBook – ‘Publish’ and ‘Works in progress’. When a poem’s finished, it gets moved from the ‘WiP’ folder into the ‘Publish’ folder. Some poems never make it, and just languish in ‘WiP purgatory’ for ever. This is how it should be – writing poetry often means killing your first-born. The Chair is one of the older poems in my ‘Publish’ folder, it was written (I think) around 2011 – though it’s actual genesis is older still. There is a story behind ‘The Chair”, but I’m not getting into that just now.

But – the point of this blog entry is to say that we did make another video, for my second poem from “Aiblins” – The Town. A video which was never uploaded to YouTube and which has been gathering metaphorical/digital dust in my DropBox folder for the last six months. This video, in fact:-

And this is the full-text of The Town:-

The Town

They closed the

town today, took

the houses down in

sections, rolled our

gardens up like

carpets, loaded

them onto lorries

and we never

saw them again.

They packed all

our things in

boxes, labelled

children like parcels,

helped us onto

railway specials

and took us all away.

Now, we lie down

in strange beds,

wearing clothes

that don’t fit,

trying to fill

the empty shoes

of all the men

who never came home.

The Town was written in 2015, initially on a bench in Manchester Piccadilly railway station, when I was on my way home to Scotland after visiting my wife, who was on a contract in Manchester at the time. It’s one of a couple of ‘war’ poems I’ve written – although neither of them are about the actual experience of war or combat – as this is something I have little interest in writing about.

What I am more interested in is the experience of the civilian population and those either caught up in war or left behind when their husbands/sons/fathers are called away to war. In my head, ‘The Town’ is set in England and it was intended to reflect the experience of some post-WWI communities, which waned away after the armistice because there weren’t enough working men left to keep the community alive. I’ve since found out that most people who read it for the first time interpret it as being about the various refugee diasporas in recent times – Bosnia/Syria etc. – which is fine. I’m not the custodian of the ‘meaning’ of my poems, they mean whatever the reader wants them to mean.

But, anyway, that’s my published output to date – 3 poems and 2 videos. As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog, I’m expecting to have something else in print later this month. In the meantime, I’ve also got a couple more performances coming up:- Poetry at Inn Deep on May 23, The Snap Extra Second on 1 June. I’m also planning to get along to the Loud Poets night at Broadcast on 18 May. Sure to be lots and lots of great performers at all of them.

In the meantime, more poems to write.

I want a viking funeral


Last night, my wife and I were at the CCA in Glasgow for Tawona, Tarneem and Niko’s monthly Seeds of Thought performance night. We saw and heard, amongst other things – Mbira music, an unexpected confession from Theresa May’s ex-boyfriend, poems, throat singing, more poems, a short story, set in Alabama, which revolved around a promise to complete the same jigsaw puzzle every day, heartfelt poems, political poems, part-sung poems – poems inspired by Scotland, Texas, Palestine and Iraq.

Although its laid-back approach occasionally teeters on the edge of outright chaos, Seeds is still one of the best poetry/spoken word nights in Glasgow.most nights tend to have a first half which ambles along in a lackadaisical, ‘take your time’ kind of way and a second half which whips past in a rush of performers jumping on stage, one after another, in a bid to fit everyone in.

The venue, the CCA Theatre, is easily the best equipped, regular venue for poetry in the city. For starters, it has an actual stage. Seeds is also one of the most friendly, open and welcoming nights I’ve been to. The hosts, Niko and Tawona are, by turns, cheeky and charming. Tawona’s one of the most inspiring performers I’ve ever heard in Glasgow and his poems are usually worth the visit all on their own.

No two Seeds nights are ever alike – performers vary from regulars, to wild cards, to visitors, to first-timers who just haven’t become regulars yet. There’s a blend of music, poetry and other forms of spoken word, the standard’s usually pretty high but – most importantly – the atmosphere is always cheerful, celebratory and good fun. Seeds usually happens on the last Friday of the month. Keep an eye on their website or their Facebook page and go along if you can.

I read three poems. One of them was this one:

I want a viking funeral

I want a viking funeral. Dress me in my Sunday

best and lay me out in a longboat, with a dragon

prow and crimson sail – not a full-size longboat,

you understand (I’m realistic about these things),

but something bigger than a rowing boat and smaller

than a yacht.

I want a viking funeral, I want you – you who

used to be my lover, you who were my friends,

you who are strangers and not quite sure what

you’re doing here but – what the hell? – I want you

to lay firewood beneath me and plenty of paper, the

books I loved, the poems I wrote, crumple them up

and stuff them beneath and between the planks

and lengths of two by four and douse the lot in

paraffin so it’s sure to burn.

I want a viking funeral. Do it how you want, just

light the fire and launch the boat and let the river

catch me, carry me, while the flames leap and laugh

and my pyre blazes up a rope of angry smoke into

the sky. I don’t want ceremony or words, words,

words – some Minister I’ve never met muttering the

grace over my coffin, while wondering what he’ll

have for tea – I want this to be my eulogy.

I want a viking funeral. I have never spilled my

guts, I am not Mishima, I have never lit up rooms,

or blazed with righteous love or passionate  anger

or truth so evident you can see it for miles, like the

refinery at Grangemouth, spewing oily fire into the

sky. I want to die like I have never lived in candesences

of dancing flames, in one wholly selfish holy act. In

my end, I  want to be what I have never been in life –

rebellious, spontaneous, a little mad and wholly free.

There are a couple of things to say about this poem. First, it’s been published – you can find it on page 24 of the latest issue (#33, Spring 2017) of the excellent, free literary magazine, “Northwords Now”. This takes the number of poems I’ve had published up to a grand total of three – though I’m expecting a fourth to appear in print next month and I have others out for consideration as I write.

I write mostly for the page. Some of my poems work okay as performance pieces. Some, less so. “I want a viking funeral’ is one of the few pieces that I deliberately wrote to be performed, rather than read – so it’s slightly ironic that it’s appeared in print before it was ever performed in public – but, there you are – God laughs at our plans etc.

It’s partly a ‘place’ poem, in that I had a very strong sense of its location when I wrote it – the ‘scene’, if you like, is the stretch of Forth River between the Stirling Rowing Club and the footbridge between Riverside and Cambuskenneth. It doesn’t appear in the poem itself, as there’s no reference to the actual location, but that stretch of river and its attendant footpaths, trees and dogwalkers was at the forefront of my mind when I wrote it. The reference to a chimney, ‘spewing oily fire in the sky’ has ended up as a reference to the Grangemouth but was inspired by the smoke that can usually be seen rising from the Superglass factory in Springkerse, Stirling. ‘Mishima’ is a reference to the pen name adopted by the Japanese author and poet Kimitake Hiraoka.

It’s also a ‘me’ poem. While the subject matter is Prufrockian, the narrative voice is (mostly) my own.The vast majority of my poems are character pieces – the voice that speaks through the poem is someone else’s, usually a character that I’ve made up. This one is more me than it is anyone else. (While Eliot, at 22 going on til 27, imagined his J. Alfred into being.) For the record, I would quite like a Viking funeral, though I suspect there are probably bye-laws or whatever that would prohibit it from ever taking place.

But that can wait. In the meantime – there’s more poetry to be written and, hopefully, more of it will also make it into print.

“Here are words. You might like to read them”

So – you read poetry, you write poetry, you acquire poetry magazines. Mostly because they’re good to read. Occasionally because your work is being published in one and you get sent a free copy. The photo below shows a random sample, rounded up from the book shelves in our living room. From top left, they are:-

  1. Issue 4: Winter 2016/2017 of The Poets’ Republic
  2. Issue 33: Spring 2017 of Northwords Now
  3. Issue 2 of Spam
  4. Issues 14: Autumn 2016 and 15: Spring 2017 of Gutter
  5. Issue 1: Error of 404 Ink
  6. Volume 1, Issue 3: Summer 2016 of Raum


What I was thinking, when I sat down to write this post, was that I could write something about the design of these various magazines/journals. There are some obvious differences:- Three of them (Gutter, Raum, Northwords Now) go for a cooler, more contemplative design – lots of white, plenty of room for the type and main image/graphics to breathe. None of them would look particularly out of place alongside a copy of Frieze magazine, in some art gallery bookshop.

The other three go with more of what I’d call a ‘cut and paste’/Jamie Reid aesthetic – though, obviously, the effects are all realised digitally, rather than being the product of actual cutting and actual copydexing. (Eddie Gibbons, in particular, has done some lovely work on the Poets’ Republic cover, remixing Eugene Delacroix’s famous painting “Liberty Leading the People”).

So, which is better? Dunno. Does it matter? Well, maybe. After all (as this article says), we are predominantly visual creatures, and books (or journals) whose covers draw our attention, will create an expectation that excites us, and suggest a certain quality of writing.

For me, there’s something charming about Denise Bonetti (and others’) frenetic visual mash-ups for Spam that I don’t get from the self-consciously tasteful graphic abstractions on the covers of Gutter. I’m not saying the one’s better than the other. I am saying, I respond to one more positively than then other. (For me, the two Gutter covers might as well be blank/white for all the impact they have.)

It’s probably my age – I’m old enough to remember the days when the editors of magazines like Boy’s Own had to get their Mum to take their copy to work and type it up for them. So, I get nostalgic when I see things that remind me of Sniffin’ Glue style DIY punk aesthetics. (Am now vaguely concerned that saying, “I like this stuff because I’m old” may come across as a bit of a backhanded compliment. But only vaguely.)

What matters, in the end, is whether there are good poems in each of them. And there are. So, this isn’t the Peter Saville/Mark Farrow vs Jamie Reid, good design/bad design, lip-sync battle I thought it would be when I sat down to write this article.

What it is is, perhaps, a bit of a statement of the obvious and a reassertion of the old adage, not to judge a book (or a poetry magazine) by its cover. They come in different shapes and sizes. That’s fine. Some of them will tick all of the right boxes, in the eyes of budding Paula Scher‘s everywhere. Some of them will make old farts like me chuckle. That’s fine also. Some of them, like the 404 Ink cover, just get on with the job of announcing, “Here are words. You might like to read them”, and will (mostly) leave it at that. The important thing, is just to pick them up and have a read.