I want a viking funeral

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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.

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