Hey everyone Last Monday evening I attended the launch of a collection of poetry by the recently appointed poet laureate of Glasgow Jim Carruth. It was my first step in to the post referendum Scotland and I’m delighted to say the club room of the CCA was packed to capacity for the event.
The collection, entitled Prodigal showed a man whose poetry reflects his rural background in more ways than one. A poet like a farmer who knows how to use his tools to make sure the seeds sown produce the best crop of work and reap a bountiful harvest of quality poetry.
On reading through the collection I was struck by the simplicity of the of message in the opening poem The Prime Importance Of Family. This poem shows the raw emotion of the poet who is facing the difficult situation of the impending death of his mother. This poem makes the reader able to feel the tangible sensitivity of the circumstances in which families can often be there most united or most fractious depending on the closeness of the bond.
On a lighter note The Wanderer illustrates the spirit which would later make the poet as it recalls the adventurer in every six year who secretly harbours desires to run away from home but contrasts this with the practical desire to be home in time for tea. I particularly liked the image of ‘following Whittington to London’s gold-paved streets’. I also loved the last two lines. ‘All he had in the hankie was a pencil and some paper. How far was he going to get with that in the city? In truth it is possible, indeed more than likely, that our intrepid explorer was never going to be the next Dick Whittington but his background and his weapons of choice indicated he had more in common with a certain Mr Burns than a former Lord Mayor of London.
The importance of kin to the poet is a common thread which runs throughout the collection and I especially enjoyed In the Blood. This is a series of three poems in which Jim Carruth charts his own history and the unique set of circumstances which have combined to make him the man he is today.
In the first poem of the set entitled Fighting in the Family, the poet traces his familial connections from the early 17th century and documents the fact that they were a fighting clan who were as he so aptly says in the final stanza. ‘Always defending our land, our ways of life’. This has been the way of his kin, from the fields of Armagh to fighting on both sides in the American civil war. This is an interesting set of poems which I shall return to later in this post
For the moment however, and still on the topic of war, Somebody’s Son our demonstrates our city’s poet laureate demonstrates that when all else is stripped away the triumph of the human spirit rises above all else. He demonstrates this when he writes of the meeting between Renfrewshire farmer David MacLean and leading Nazi Rudolf Hess. Carruth does this in a matter of fact way yet still manages to show the warmth of humanity.
This is particularly evident in the second stanza where he writes. ‘This farmer armed just with a pitchfork found an airman wrapped in a parachute so walked his hobbling prisoner back home.’ I must admit I really love the imagery of this stanza of the kindness of strangers who think of the person first and everything else later. As a christian it gives me hope for the human race to see a meeting between two men with such opposing values described in this way.
As if to counter the seriousness of Somebody’s Son the versatility of this fine poet is illustrated by placing the most humorous poem Vade Mecum on the opposing page. This poem which carries the note that it is excerpts from the Farmer’s Guide to Effective Foreplay completed in his early eighties by Wullie Douglas is by far the longest poem in the collection and the most amusing. This poem focuses on Section C The Importance of Conversation.
In this poem Carruth looks at some of the many ways farmers can suggest a night of affection to their wives and girlfriends. This ranges in style from the most basic to the most sophisticated way to what my gran would have called having their way with a girl. I particularly liked Method 19 combining a litany of daily chores and a compliment. However I have to caution any farmer who has his eye on me it will take more than complementing my steak pie to get your way with me. Now as for my mince and tatties that may be a very different matter.
Well as any Glaswegian girl will tell you we would rather have a man who compliments our mince than a man who talks a lot of mince.
Talking of food brings me back to the final poem in the Fighting In The Family trilogy. Entitled Flesh and Blood, the poet talks movingly about his father and his love for his family and how this was illustrated by his work as a farmer. The power of his love and his commitment to feeding his family is illustrated in a poem where Jim Carruth demonstrates the perfect example of the Taylor Coleridge principal that poetry is the best words in the best order. A classic example of this is shown in the line ‘saving and taking lives without fuss’. The fact that this line comes after description of wringing a chicken’s neck in the living room and of freeing a calf from its mother’s womb does tend to suggest this is not a poem suitable for vegetarians.
As I reach the end of my review of this excellent collection of poetry, I look at two poems inspired by the parents of our city’s master craftsman. Old Collie was written after Jim’s father made the suggestion when they were milking the cows on the family farm. In the poem Jim expresses clearly his reluctance to write on that particular topic in the third stanza as he states ‘Unwilling to chase this sentimental stick, I leave it well alone, turn away, but feel it lying there’. There is an acknowledgement in the last line of the stanza that no matter whether he wants to write it or not that this poem will eventually write itself one day by giving the poet the words he needs to look at this topic from a different angle to others gone before.
In Lawmarnock Wood In Autumn Jim Carruth writes movingly in tribute to his mother to whom this collection is dedicated. A man who wants to celebrate the life of the woman who brought him to this beautiful majestic planet, the pain of his loss can be felt by the tenderness of his words. This is perfectly illustrated in the opening lines of the second stanza when thinking of his loss the poet writes ‘ Now it’s too late to capture what you loved most, the wood’s slow turning in those moments before leaf fall’, This demonstrates not only the powerful imagery that change so often provides but also a man not afraid to express his emotions with words painting the dialogue on the canvas of life and even of death. Jim Carruth ends this poem by showing us his love for his mother with the bittersweet words which sum up the bonds of kin at it’s closest. ‘Mother, this is January and I cannot give you again Lawmarnock Wood in Autumn.
So I conclude the review of this collection. A collection which embraces life in all its fullness. From his early adventures as a boy growing up in the Renfrewshire countryside to exploring his rural background and illustrating the ties of family and community to sibling rivalry and social status. I never met Jim Carruth’s mother but I can say her legacy has the left the world a fine and decent man and a very fine poet, mentor and friend.
Love And Best Wishes