Hey everyone, Monday night saw the traditional extra visit to Sammy Dow’s for the annual Words and Music Open Poetry competition and the Hughie Healy Memorial Trophy. It pleases me to say that this year the performers numbered 15 which is the highest number of entries we’ve had in several years and the calibre of entrant, and the quality of work was extremely high.
As one of the judges for this year the other being Andy Fleming I handed the comparing duties over to Pamela as to try and be both compare and judge would have taken multi-tasking to levels even I can’t manage. However before handing over to Pamela I said a few words of welcome to the competitors and told them the rules of engagement. These were that each poet was allowed to read one poem only which had to be their own work and must not last longer than three minutes. Contestants would be judged on three categories, the quality of poem, the performance and audience reaction. At this I left the stage to Pamela and went to my seat at the judges table. The 2014 was now ready to kick off.
As tradition dictates on such occasions the names of the contestants are put in to a hat and drawn at random and it was Ray Evans the last champion to successfully to defend his title winning it in both 2008 and 2009 who got the 2014 championship under way with Tell Me Lies. This poem is powerful and thought provoking with good use of imagery but history would decide that if Ray a man I respect enormously is to win a 3rd Words and Music Championship then he’s going to have to wait another year to do it.
Next to the stage was Kevin Gilday and The Man Who Loved Beer was witty well crafted and full of good rhymes. It was also was very well delivered by a man at the top of his game who gave a confident performance and engaged well with the audience.
After Kevin it was another of the Poetry Young Team and current tartantights discovery of year Craig Scott who came to the stage and performed an excellent well thought out piece A Brad Pitt Style Agent. As is the case with so much of Craig’s work this poem was peppered with one liners and the fast paced delivery which is another of his trademarks meant you really had to pay very close attention to words to catch some well placed rhymes in places where other poets wouldn’t put them. This poem in many ways reminded me of my dad, not in its content but in the way it was crafted. You see, my dad was an engineer who became an engineering inspector and this poem is a great example of poetic engineering which I am sure would have passed my dad’s eagle eye for detail.
Next up to perform was my long time friend Linda Grant whose poem My Glasgow told an affectionate tale of how Linda views her city and was one of her best efforts to date. Not bad going for someone who when I first met her said ‘I don’t do poetry’. Well I have news for her, not only was I right when I said we’d soon change that but now she not only does poetry she does it well. and though her performance technique needs improving and she needs to write a few longer poems. This is a much improved writer and performer who can only get better as her confidence grows.
Jim Ewing followed Linda and read another Glasgow poem To A Clock. This however was far from the warm cosy trip down memory lane we had from Linda. Instead it recalled the devastating events of that late November evening in the Clutha which devastated a community, a city,and a nation.
In a poem packed with horrific images Jim stressed the importance of how his Christian faith gave him strength in the difficult times that followed this tragedy. Emotional, power packed, and delivered with sincerity this poem came from the pen of a gifted wordsmith.
Next up was our defending champion Stephen Watt whose poem Deep Fried Nationalism was a witty, clever, and imaginative look at Scottish identity as Stephen sees it for what it is and what he perceives it represent rather than the official view as a presented by the political and cultural elite. Intelligent and thought provoking stuff laced with humour in the appropriate places, this is another excellent poem from a craftsman of what I refer to as the new golden generation.
After Stephen we went from youth to experience as Alan MacGlas took us on a journey
to his school years with Growth Rings a deeply personal poem on love. This piece was all the more remarkable as people of Alan’s generation were seldom if ever encouraged to open about their feelings let alone lay them bare as he does in this piece. In places humorous and in others deeply moving this was a difficult poem to listen to but I’m really glad we got the chance to do exactly that.
After Alan it was the turn of Susan Milligan to have her share of the spotlight as she read her poem Sweet Sensations. This was a good choice as it illustrated Susan’s quirky sense of humour containing several moments where even the judges had a wee chuckle. This represents an improvement for Susan who is making process though I do think it can still be measured in small steps.
Talking of small steps the dividing line between winner and runner up can often be judged by the smallest steps of all as Chris Young knows only too well. A runner up on at least three occasions and possibly more surely this would be his year? Alas however it wasn’t to be. This time Chris went for a political poem and his choice of A Loud Marriage was a passionate if considered plea for Scotland to stay within the United Kingdom. This was a poem written very much from heart and such was its lack of polemic the pro union sentiments took a few moments to dawn on me. This was a poem which despite being on the opposite side of the political fence in the independence I can truthfully say I enjoyed and it was written by a man I respect, admire, and trust.
Following Chris is never easy but if anyone can do it Jim Monaghan is surely the poet for the job. Jim performed one of my favourite poems of his United Colours Of Cumnock. A polished performer Jim gave a polished performance of a poem which tackles serious issues such as sectarianism, socialism and drug abuse and I for one loved it.
As Jim left the stage It was Pete Faulkner’s turn to perform and I for one was glad to see him back in his rightful place on the Sammy’s stage. Pete has been unable to attend recent nights at Words and Music as he has had family concerns over the health of his mother having to make regular journeys from Glasgow to Forfar. In his poem A Bad Thief’s Song Pete used his natural gifts for both language and imagery as one would expect of an English teacher to produce a poem right out of the top drawer. I particularly liked his use of deliberate pauses for dramatic effect.
After welcoming back a seasoned campaigner in Pete it was great to welcome a new face in Adele Martin. Adele was brought to Words and Music by Catherine Baird. Whilst it is tough to make your first appearance at the competition it has been done before. I speak from experience having done so as far back in 1993. I have to admit I liked her poem which we will give the working Tap Tap was powerful, thought provoking, challenging, and very well delivered.
Like Adele, David Forrest was making his first appearance at the competition but it wasn’t his first night at Sammy’s. David’s poem Lock Up The Racists was one of the powerful and passionate performances of the night. A brilliant rant, I can think of no other way to describe it David spoke from the heart on an issue which appals him and all decent people everywhere. This poem really connected with me and was in my opinion the surprise of the night.
As David finished his rant it was time for Lesley McKay to take her place on the stage. An accomplished poet and novelist, Lesley is a very talented woman with very definite opinions. This was reflected in her poem Be The Change in which she uses powerful evocative language and combines this with fantastically vivid imagery as she documents her travels and how they shaped her political views. This was a confident performance from a very talented performer and the quality of her work shone through for all to see.
The last poet to take to the stage was my adorable chosen wee sister Catherine Baird. In her poem Whur’s The Rest Ay They Kelpies. Catherine demonstrated good use of imagery and excellent language use which showcased her skills as a poet.
I have to say that getting the Falkirk wheel into a poem was a stroke of genius. I think Catherine would be the first to say that the performance style of the competition maybe didn’t play to her natural strengths but she certainly gave a good account of herself against some of the top spoken word artists in the country. Not bad for someone whose more natural gift is storytelling as she proved when she won the Scotia Bar Short Story Competition in 2012. So with Catherine’s performance we brought the curtain down on another Words And Music Open Poetry Competition and it was now up to the judges to decide who would be our 2014 and walk away £40.00 first prize and the Hughie Healy Memorial Trophy.
Believe me when I say that this was no easy task and attempting to select a winner from such a high quality line up gave us nightmares. Yes the quality of the class of 2014 really was first class and there were only three poets who I would say had no chance of being in the shake up.
Eventually however we reached a decision and made our way to the stage to the present the prizes to those who managed to gain podium positions.
As tradition dictates there is no 3rd place just joint runners up and this year the joint runners up were a young man on a rant and a more seasoned performer who painted a vivid picture of his home town. So leaving Sammy’s £20.00 richer than they came in were David Forrest for Lock Up The Racists and Jim Monaghan for United Colours Of Cumnock.
This to paraphrase Oscar Wilde left us with nothing to declare but our champion and we declared that this year It would be Alan MacGlas who would win the Hughie Healy Memorial Trophy. Make no mistake it was going to take a very high quality poem to win from such a top quality field of entrants and Alan produced that poem. Why did it stand out? Well I think it stood out because it was deeply personal and it tackled a taboo which many people would not have been brave enough to touch. As Andy said had certain people read later than they did there could have been a very different result. As I handed Alan the trophy I knew I had placed it in the hands of a worthy winner who produced a poem Hughie would have been proud of on a night we wore united colours to celebrate a loud marriage with a bit of deep fried nationalism and a Brad Pitt style agent told us to be the change.
Love And Best Wishes