A Search To Find Voices Which Speak For Our Times

Hey everyone As Thursday was National Poetry Day I was far too busy enjoying a great afternoon and evening of top quality poetry to even consider writing a blog. I had a wonderful day starting at the Federation of Writers Scotland event at the Gallery of Modern Art before moving on to Mirrorball where Jim Carruth had an excellent line up poets lined up to celebrate what really is in all but name Christmas day in poetry land.

However, before celebrations started I asked those who live in my wee my virtual villages in Facebook and Twitter and some from the outside world to let me know which poets they liked to read and what poems if any, they would select as their favourites.

I am delighted to say that I have received a number of replies to my questions from a number of friends from all walks of life. These include poets politicians friends and neighbours and I think they reflect the diversity of the circles in which I move.

First up was the editor of Scottish Round Up Caron Lindsay who said that she liked the work of Norman McCaig and W B Yeats. Good choices both of them two great poets with a wonderful command of language and the ability to make the reader use their imagination to take them on a very personal journey.

Caron also says that her mother in law wrote some quality poetry and she could identify it. However I have a word of caution in case her daughter inherits her gran’s talents. Poets may gain friends, fans, respect, and admiration,but they do not make money. Trust me on this as someone whose been writing for years. Even Yeats and McCaig never made anywhere near as much as their talents deserved.

Talking of talented writers, my next contributor was Words and Music regular Audrey Marshall who not only selected two poets but also a favourite poem by each of them. Her choices were W B Yeats He Wishes for the cloths of heaven and Pablo Neruda Tonight I can write. These choices show two very different poets working in very different times and under contrasting sets of circumstances.

It can be said that Yeats was the darling of both the Irish establishment and even despite his Irish nationalism the Britannic-Irish establishment. This contrasts sharply with the life of Neruda the left wing socialist who fought until his dying breath against oppressive right wing regimes which ruled his country and suppressed anything they did not deem to fit their version of culture and thus tried impose rules and regulations on the minds of poets. Indeed his poem Poetry is the only danger is one of my personal favourite poems of all time.

It is I believe essential for any country to have a thriving poetry and spoken word to remind the world that poetry is owned by the middle classes and Scotland has always produced poets who have a strong working class voice. Current examples of this include poets such as Darren Loki McGarvey Jim Monaghan and the brilliantly authentic voice of Rab Wilson. However Brian Kelly’s choice shows that genius will out no matter what class you are in an all time classic Scots poem by our own national bard. The poem is Tam O’Shanter, the bard is Robert Burns and I don’t think I need say anymore. Well when the poem is still read and recited the whole world over to warn people I mean men of the dangers of the demon drink I think we can safely say it’s stood the test of time.

Chris White went far more contemporary in his choice of the Imitiaz Dharker poem Black and White as the celebrates the cultural diversity of the land in which we live.

As for Stephen Watt well our current Words and Music Champion has plenty of poets who inspire him and he is particularly big fan of Carol Anne Duffy listing two of her poems Valentine and Queen Kong amongst his favourite poems.

Apart from Duffy other poets enjoyed by this gifted wordsmith include Liz Lochhead, John Cooper-Clarke, Angela Readman, Sophie Hannah, John Hegley , Leonard Cohen, Rachel McCrum, and Purple Ronnie. I think you’ll agree that is a pretty wide range of poets

Our next contributor Daniel Hunter lists only two poets as being favourite but when the two poets named are Robert Burns and Seamus Heaney it demonstrates that Daniel an award winning musician with a growing and well earned reputation in the traditional music community chooses quality over quantity and knows class he sees it.

Another of my villagers who knows quality poetry is SNP MP for the Western Isles Angus Brendan McNeill Angus likes anything by Robert Louis Stevenson, though I find his choice of the lamp lighter as his favourite poem highly appropriate especially as he’ll doing rather a lot of lamp lighting as he will light a lamp for our country’s freedom by campaigning relentlessly between now and next September as he and I amongst others step up our efforts to win independence for our nation.

Someone else who may have something to say on the matter of the referendum is poet and political activist Mairi Campbell-Jack. If she says as much in support of her cause in the referendum debate as she has about poetry then believe me she’ll convince many don’t know’s or don’t care’s in to her particular camp. Poets listed amongst Mairi’s favourites include Kei Miller and Andrew Philip both of whom come highly recommended by her and have been very influential in helping her find her voice. Interestingly Mairi chose to name only those poets who are still alive as when it comes to those who are already dead her influences are far too many to name.

Leanne Mackay does name a dead poet as her favourite and that poet is Glasgow’s very own Edwin Morgan highlighting postcards from New York as favourite poem of hers. I think this may be because it brings the place to life through some pretty wonderful imagery. Edwin always was a master of that particular technique using it to maximum impact in poems such as Strawberries, Glasgow Green and my personal favourite of his In The Snack Bar.

Theresa Agnew like Leanne is a local lass who says her favourite poet is actually her boyfriend Michael Owen who she says writes her tender love poems and also likes to write in Scots.

Of the local Glasgow based writers Particularly those connected with either Tollcross Writers and/ or Bards in the Park Linda Grant stuck to the familiar choosing
Robin Cairns and Colin Storrie as her favourite poets. Whilst Wallace MacBain choose Daffodils by William Wordsworth as his favourite poem and also cited the work of Burns Heaney And Yeats amongst poets he likes to read.
Susan Milligan on the other hand selected an eclectic mix of poets ranging from Simon Armitage, Roger McGough, and John Cooper-Clarke to more locally based performance poets such as Chris Young and Robin Cairns.

Still on the Tollcross writers Derek Read a man I have long considered a mentor of mine says he enjoys the work of TS Elliot though he doesn’t agree with his politics and also cited the work of RS Thomas as poetry worth reading.
I also know that Derek is like myself and so many others a fan of the late Edwin Morgan. Well the man is quality and Derek recognises a quality poet when he reads one.

Next up was former double winning Stanza Slam champion Colin Storrie says he particularly enjoys the work of Robert Service, Matt McGinn, John Hegley, and Spike Milligan who he says though better known as a comedian wrote some brilliant poetry for both children and adults. Colin also mentioned Robin Cairns as a poet he admires and says that he knows every word of his classic poem the Africans come in the night. I have to say that this is one of my favourite poems. With breathtaking imagery and excellent use of language this is an example of Coleridge’s example of poetry being the best words in the best order.

Someone else who knows a thing or two about the best words in the best order is Catherine Baird. Like so many friends I met Catherine at a spoken word event and on that wet and windy March night a friendship was born which remains strong to this day. Indeed, I see her more like a better looking more talented kid sister. Like me Catherine loves the work of the late Edwin Morgan and enjoys Carol-Anne Duffy. She also highlights the work of Paisley’s own Graham Fulton and says she is totally in awe of him. However she lists her favourite poet as Margaret Attwood.

As for me, like Stephen and Susan I have a wide and varied taste which ranges from poets discovered in my teens in the musty covers of school textbooks to those I have had the privilege of sharing a stage with in my 20 years on the spoken word scene.

What poems would I list amongst my favourites that I think may well be the topic of another post. I will
say however that Jenny Lindsay has written my favourite poem of all time. What it is? You’ll find that out when I write my post on my favourite poems. As for those poets I learned at School, Edwin Morgan, Liz Lochhead, and Seamus Heaney were along with Robert Burns my reasons for beginning a lifelong love affair with the craft and poets such as Sophia Blackwell, Jenny Lindsay, Robin Cairns, Chris Young, Jem Rolls and Viv Gee, all of whom are amongst the finest exponents of live spoken word to grace any stage have each in their own way helped that affair to grow develop and mature assisting me both as a performer and a poet. Particular thanks go to Jenny and Viv for supporting me on my journey not only to find my voice but to use it.

Talking of spoken word reminds me that its that time of the month again. Yes this Monday is the First Monday of the Month and with Kevin Gilday and Jim King as our headline acts it what promises to be another entertaining and enjoyable evening. I hope some of you will join the gathering and get ready for an eventful night of quality of culture.

Finally I would like to thank everyone who has contributed to this post and made it so enjoyable to write.
So there you have it the thoughts not only of myself but more importantly of some of my virtual villagers and other contacts and friends as to what poems and poets they enjoy reading or listening to and for sharing their thoughts with me.

You know, sometimes it is good to take a step back and look things from another perspective. Who knows what benefit i might gain from such action in the future but that as they say is a very different story. It is a story as yet unwritten, a story only poets have capacity to imagine and the duty to write live as it happens. So if asked to describe what poetry means to me, I would say it is a search and that as readers and listeners we are searching to find voices who speak for our times

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X


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