Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry

I mentioned in my previous post that, towards the end of last year, I was published for the first time – insofar as I had a couple of poems included in an anthology of Scottish political poetry. So I thought, while I was catching up on some of the things I’ve been doing for the last however-long, it was worth saying a bit more about the book. It’s called “Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry”, it’s available from Luath Press and it was edited by the lovely Katie Ailes (of Loud Poets) and Sarah Paterson (pictured below).


If you’re so inclined, there’s also  a video on YouTube, of me performing, “The Chair”, one of my two poems from the book. And the photos at the very bottom are from the launch events in Edinburgh and Glasgow.

The book is a snapshot of Scottish poetry at a particular time – and the particular time it was put together has meant that there’s a bit of a focus on the referendum-before-last, which is probably to be expected. But what’s interesting to me – looking back – is the way in which the book reflects the level of political engagement and (by extension) the amount of politically engaged content on the Glasgow spoken word scene. Maybe it was always that way – I don’t know, I haven’t been around for that long. But it’s certainly that way now. And that’s a good thing.

The world’s worst blogger

I am, clearly, the world’s worst blogger – evidenced by the fact that the last post on this blog was written very nearly two years ago. Also, by the fact that that last post said the intent behind this blog was:-

to encourage me to spend some more time writing (It’s not the first attempt and I seem to do this about as often as I vow to spend more time in the gym – usually with the same results, a short period of activity and then – ZZZzzz).

So, that attempt obviously didn’t take (nor did my last commitment to spend more time in the gym). And, so – here we are again. And yet, some things have happened in the intervening 22 odd months (Actually, a fu*k of a lot of things have happened, but I’ve resolved not to discuss politics in this blog).

I have made some progress, in one of the stated ambitions for this blog, which was to get closer to Glasgow/Scotland’s greatest city. How have I managed this? Well, I’ve been writing and performing poetry. Stick with me, here.

I have been writing ‘stuff’, off and on since my early teens. Not much of it has every amounted to anything. Quite a lot of it, I suspect, is best forgotten. But, just under a year ago, I decided to give up on my ongoing and utterly unsuccessful attempts to write a novel and focus on poetry instead. The main reason being time. I work for a living. I don’t mind this – I love my job, it gives me as much back as I put into it and I happen to think that it’s work that’s worth doing and which merits a certain amount of commitment and focus.

All of which means I simply don’t have the hours in a week to spend at the laptop, doing the authorly long-distance running that long-form prose demands. But I do have the time to write poetry. Amongst other things, I’ve adapted my writing process to take advantage of things like the fact that I carry a small, word processing device (otherwise known as an iPhone) around with me all the time. I can write a poem on my phone (in fact, I’ve sometimes found that the limitations of a phone – such as the restrictions a small screen places on line length – are ideally suited to the form). I couldn’t write a novel on my phone.

Also, because of my job, I tend to spend chunks of time each day sitting on a train. These journeys are pretty much useless for long-form work because they’re usually too short. What they are, sometimes, good for (particularly because they tend to happen at the very start of the end of the day) is helping me into the liminal, alpha-wave state which can be quite conducive to poetry. It’s the state of mind that gets your mind wandering in slightly weirder, more free-associative ways, which helps you lift the veil on the happenstance and the ordinary and, when the right thoughts, images or ideas come together at the right moment, gets your poetic antennae twitching and – every so often – delivers an idea which becomes a poem.

Most recently, I was standing on the platform at Queen Street when my train pulled in and in one of the carriages was a young couple. She was wearing an anorak with a faux-fur edged hood, he was wearing a grey hoodie. By coincidence (or maybe not), they happened to look exactly like a couple I’d seen on the concrete benches on the Broomielaw, a few hours earlier. They probably weren’t the same couple – unless they’d taken a train out of the city towards Edinburgh and then come back, within the space of about three hours – but it was enough to trigger an idea, about a ghostly couple of young lovers, who manifest in various parts of the city, at random times. In other words, it gave me an idea for a poem. Which I wrote down, later on that evening.

So, the poetry thing is working, for the time being – insofar as I’m being fairly productive (I average around a couple of pieces a month), the work is (I think) of a reasonable standard and it’s getting me involved in other things.

In particular – and this takes me back to the ‘getting closer to Glasgow’ idea – it’s getting me involved in the performance poetry and spoken word scene in the city. In the year since I started focussing on poetry, I’ve read/appeared at an open mic or some other kind of poetry event, roughly once a month.

I’ve taken part in the Federation of Writers (Scotland)’s ‘Sudden Fame’ event at the Mitchell Library. I’ve read a couple of times at the very lovely and welcoming Seeds of Thought nights at the Centre for Contemporary Arts. I’ve had open mic slots at Sam Small‘s night at Inn Deep, in the West End – Robin Cairns‘, Last Monday at Rio, at the Rio Cafe on Hyndland Street (where I hope to be reading again, tomorrow evening) – and a Sonnet Youth open mic slot. I’ve also taken part in a couple of poetry slams, run by the amazing Loud Poets. I’ve even been published – in an actual book. And I plan to do more.

All of which means that – a) I have become the kind of poet who will turn up to the opening of an envelope so long as there is someone prepared to listen to my work and b) I have gotten closer to the Glasgow ‘scene’.  have learned a lot about the incredible energy and enthusiasm there is in this city for poetry and spoken word. I remain somewhat astonished at the willingness of so many talented people to do so much work for absolutely fu*k all money and I’m very interested/excited to see where this takes me next.

So, I may be the world’s worst blogger – but at least I haven’t been quite as unproductive as 22+ months of article-free silence might suggest. More soon. Maybe.

(P.S photo credit where it’s due to Perry Jonsson Art. One of the bonuses, if you like, of performing is that you get people who know something about taking photographs taking photographs of you while you’re doing it.)


The Glasgow Empire

Some words to explain the intent behind starting this blog. It is intended to do two things. Firstly, to encourage me to spend some more time writing (It’s not the first attempt and I seem to do this about as often as I vow to spend more time in the gym – usually with the same results, a short period of activity and then – ZZZzzz).

It’s also an attempt to bring me closer to Scotland’s greatest city, its music, architecture, people, art and sport (By which, I mean rugby – sorry, but football in Glasgow currently leaves me cold).


I was 21 before I started drinking coffee. I remember a meal in a restaurant with my girlfriend at the time when she forced me – literally, “You will not leave the table until you have done this” – to drink what was, I suspect, a pretty ordinary cup of percolator/filter black coffee. I am slightly more grown up, these days, a little more able to make my own lifestyle decisions and I drink a lot more coffee.

You might, if you were so minded, characterise me as a ‘coffee snob’. I, for my part, would reject that characterisation. [Rant imminent] “Why”, I would demand, “does wanting something that’s not shite, default to ‘snobbery’?” Surely there’s , a middle ground between the instant, so-called ‘coffee’, chemical substitute that gets punted in supermarkets up and down the land and your actual, oligarch-of-the-manor, expensive for its own sake, ‘snobbery’.

This, for example, would be ‘coffee snobbery’:-


This, on the other hand, is just good, common sense:-


The second picture is my venerable (I think they call it, ‘vintage’, these days) stove-top moka pot (Fun fact – not that you can tell, but I even cleaned the hob before taking the photo. I didn’t clean the coffeepot though. Moka-pot lovers will confirm, after a few years of regular use, they tend to look a tad grungy. It’s part of the charm.)

So far today, my stove-top Moka has delivered two, really quite decent Americanos – double-shots of Cuban Turquino espresso (ordered from the very lovely people at The Bean Shop, in Perth), topped up with nearly-but-not-quite boiling water. I am not the kind of coffee obsessive that hangs out on sites like this but, I know what I like.

Another counter-snobbery argument – much like the years when I used to shave with a traditional, Merkur safety razor and saving soap (I don’t shave at all, at the moment, so the Merkur’s in semi-retirement in a drawer by my bedside) – I made the switch to ‘proper’ coffee, to save money, not spend more of it. It worked out like this – small Americanos from a high-street (e.g Costa), coffee-bar were costing me £2-4.00/day. The aforementioned  roast Cuban Turquino is £5.00/250g (plus delivery). 250g lasts me 8-10 days – i.e. roughly 40-50p/day.

Then, because stove-top moka pots are a tad inconvenient for the office, where stoves tend to be in short supply, I invested in one of these:-


My wondrous, Aerobie Aeropress, ‘office’ coffee-maker. For £22.00 (or, the price of 10 Costa Americanos), I acquired an easy, hassle-free way to make decent coffee anywhere there’s access to hot water. The Aeropress has changed my life. Since I bought it, I am fitter, happier, wealthier and much, much prettier. [Most of this is a lie]. I have also enjoyed many more, Cuban Turquino Americanos. Once the £22.00 investment in the Aeropress is paid off, decent coffee costs me about a quarter of what it did when I was buying it everyday from places like Costa.

So, if snobbery means getting what you want for less hassle and less money then, alright damnit, I’m a snob.