We Saw Rainbow Skies In The Barley Month But We Heard The Political Weather Forecast Warn Of Cold Fronts In The West. 

Hey everyone As Thursday was National Poetry Day it was only natural that I went to a reading and tradition dictates I went to GoMA for the Federation of Writers National Poetry Day event This was the 21st year of the event and theme for this year was light and it is amazing but not surprising how no two poets viewed this theme or for that matter on the fact any other in quite the same way. As is often the case I agreed to compare part of the day as I tend to do with most federation events at GoMA. Unusually however it was my duty to open the day rather than conclude it. So with lippy applied and wearing my best sensible skirt I welcomed Linda Grant to the stage and get National Poetry Day 2015 under the way. For her first poem Linda selected Ray of Light which was written to celebrate the life of a friend. Her second poem though not technically on theme was I think a good choice as Darling Daughter was written about her daughter Louise who as Linda said is a light to her though you wouldn’t know it by the mickey taking at the end. This was in my opinion an excellent and innovative way to adapt the theme to suit her poems. It would not be the last time this technique would be used during the day.

As Linda went back to her seat it was the turn of Aberdeen based poet John Mackie to read his work. John read two poems the second of which, on the theme of refugees was so good that A C Clarke wanted to hear it again so naturally I asked John if he would read which he duly did. Well you don’t refuse a request from the federations inaugural makar.

Next up to take the mic and quite possibly the mick was the born entertainer that is Stirling based poet John Coutts. On this most auspicious of days performed two of his poems the first of which he claimed was written Oswald the local cat at the Stirling writers group and he has only translated it from cat speak into English. After this slightly eccentric opening poem John who does write quite a lot of humorous material showed his more serious side with an excellent piece on the George Square soup run. This touched on the themes of homelessness and disposition but also on light as it showed the light of human compassion shining in the darkness for those that society rejects.

It was AC Clarke who followed John to the stage and as well as reading one of her poems she also read a poem from one of our most far flung members. Yes, membership of the Federation of Writers Of Scotland is not just confined to Scotland and Anne illustrated the global reach of the organisation when she read a poem from a member in Pakistan. Following Anne is never an easy job but former Scotia poet laureate and double words and music champion Ray Evans was the perfect man for the job. Ray illustrated what a polished professional really he is,as when he was performing his first poem and didn’t believe it was up to his usual standards he decided to move on and continue his set. This shows the mark not only of a quality performer but a perfectionist who believes as he said at the time that poetry is like cooking if it’s not ready don’t serve it.

Undaunted Ray continued with his set which included the high enjoyable Braille For Beginners, which he wrote for his late mum in her sunset years. Jerusalem Revisited in which he put a 21st century twist on the classic poem by William Blake and The Fishing Forecast On The Political Climate in Europe. Whilst I know the title I have given to this poem is not is accurate as I would like it to be, I wholeheartedly agree with the sentiments expressed in it. There are times in life when you have to record where you heard a particular poem because it will document a particular moment in history more accurately than news bulletin, broadsheet, or tabloid. This was one of those times because this was the work of genius.

Mary Thomson also commented on the theme of refugees as she read a set of three poems from her recently published collection. Mary is one of these poets I hadn’t heard much of before the event but I hope I hear to more of her poetry in future.

Next up was Susan Milligan who has become a regular attender at these events in the last few years. Keeping tight to time is often a problem for Susan whose natural enthusiasm can get the better of her if it goes unchecked. This time however Susan kept her time well performing three poems in her five minute slot of which my favourite was Don’t Be Afraid in which Susan sets out why you should never be afraid of someone like her and you know what she’s right she is not a scary woman just an enthusiastic writer who enjoys reading her own work and listening to other people’s poetry.

Before I knew where the time had gone it was time to introduce the last reader of the first segment. This is a writer I know better than anyone well it should do it was me. In a short set I read three poems all related to the theme. The first of these was Rainbow Sky which was on the beautiful sunset which illuminated the sky on the last Monday of September I follow that poem which was receiving its first public airing just a few hours after being written with Twelve a poem on what happens which light is taken away you from due to an electrical power cut. This poem brought back childhood memories of winters in the dark when music and comfort food kept me warm and happy. In my final poem Before The Darkness Falls I look at the Halloween as not only the beginning of winter but also the start of the official run up to the party season. Temporarily at least I cast a slightly envious eye over the young girls of the 21st century before concluding that being a liberated fifty something who can sang of freedom from the safety of the wings whilst allowing them to be centre stage maybe isn’t such a bad thing after all and as seasons change with the passing of time so too do generations. At the end of my set and indeed the first segment of the afternoon I handed the comparing duties to over to Mark and I have to say I was happy with the way things had progressed and I had the great pleasure of being able to sat back, relax and enjoy an afternoon of quality poetry without needing to worry about additional issues which may crop up during the event.

After the break Marc having taken over hosting duties introduced former makar Ann Connolly. Ann is a poet I have always liked and respected for the warmth of her personality and the quality of her work and her poem The Smell Of Light was like Ray’s poem from earlier on the work of a gifted wordsmith. I have to admit I had never thought of the idea of light having a smell let alone all the different colours having smells of their own. That said however when Ann puts all the colours in to context you can see exactly what she means in a poem which was both illuminating and insightful.

It was Marc who followed Anne to the mic and provided some illuminating thoughts of his own with a poem on the topic of poets changing light bulbs. This offered those in the company the chance to see the normally sensible Marc a chance to show us his funny side and it was a chance he grabbed with both hands.

After Marc it was the turn of Rona Fitzgerald to read us poems on the theme and with poems entitled Nocturne and Solstice I think you can safely say that Rona filled the brief we were given and filled it with a set of the highest quality.

Next up was Finola Scott who performed a set of three poems Umbilical, Skywards and in a poem in Scots which though I enjoyed very much I’ve forgotten the title of. Nonetheless I always like to listen to Finola’s work as she has a way with words and knows how to use them in a way of which Coleridge would be proud.

As Finola returned to take her place among the gathering it was the turn of our convenor Etta Dunn to entertain us before passing the baton to a man who hasn’t been seen on the poetry circuit for quite a while and it was a pleasure to welcome Gilbert . Ailmenou back to the fold and his two poems Face Of Danger and Night Vision reminded us of what we’d been missing. After Gilbert’s happy return to the world of spoken word it was time to welcome yet another prodigal son as Dai Vaughan took the mic. In an interesting set he read three poems Hotel Lobby, a poem of the festival of Eid and Inter Zones. Though I enjoyed all his poems as I always do I particularly liked Inter Zones in which Dai a keen traveller invites to explore places we may only see as stop off points on a journey to somewhere else.

Talking of travellers our next writer Ingrid Lees writes very much from the heart on the issue of travelling as she did with her family across Europe and eventually to Scotland as a teenager whose kin folk were seeking refuge for the communist takeover at the time when the Berlin Wall was been built. On a day when many poems touched on the conflict in and the reaction to the crisis in Syria Ingrid started her set by reading a message on her t-shirt which was emblazoned with the words it’s time to stop war’ This is a sentiment which I wholeheartedly agree with and as Ingrid launched in to her set I knew I was going to enjoy the words of a woman who has taught me much in the years I’ve known her.

Ingrid opened with a few haikus before treating us to some excellent poems including Who Knows, Refugee and the Shame Of It. Whilst the last poem describes Glasgow’s involvement in the slave trade which is as she points out a matter of great shame to us all, it was the poem on being a refugee which really tugged at my heartstrings. This deeply personal poem was written from first hand experience and as Ingrid says when you are a refugee you are seen by others as an outsider and that feeling never really leaves you. This was an inspiring poem and the woman whom as one of my first writing tutors taught me a lot about the craft is still teaching me today.

As Ingrid reclaimed her seat she was replaced on the stage by a man who never fails to entertain us and that man is Fred Fingers. A man known for his puns Fred read four pieces Eggstincton, Born Again, Faces, and No Return before giving way to proud Polish-Scot Martin Stepek. I mention Martin’s dual nationality because on that very night Scotland were playing Poland in European Championship Qualifier which was vitally important to Scotland’s chances of making it to France and Martin admitted to feeling conflicted as to whom he should support. It was perhaps a delightful irony that his first poem was entitled Walking With Two Sticks. After this top quality poem Martin performed Time, and After The Dawn in a cracking set which kept me engaged from start to finish. Next up was a man whose had a difficult journey these last few months as the result of an early summer stroke and it was good to see Derek Read back on stage. Considering his recent health problems Derek only performed one poem Hip Gyp and though not strictly on theme I suppose it could be interpreted as being a journey from the darkness of pain of to the light of recovery. Well being a trainer for a significant period of my working life I know that sometimes in life we have adapt things to suit the circumstances of the time and I believe this poem fitted the brief perhaps more than Derek or anyone else could have imagined and it was a man on the road to recovery who lead us in to the break.

After the break it was Etta who took over the hosting for the final segment of this enjoyable poetry marathon. As is now customary at these events we started the final third of the day with the traditional makars slot. This time is reserved not only for a current but also for as many former makers as possible to enlighten us with the wisdom of their words.

On this occasion it was our inaugural makar A C Clarke who set the ball rolling for this section with her poem Enlightenment. This was followed By Ann Connolly whose poem The Barley Month I found both heartwarming and inspiring. After our former makers had performed their work it was time for current holder of the post Brian Whittingham to read for a slightly longer spell and enthral us with 10 minutes of his work. As someone who is familiar with his work over a long period of time I always find Brian a pleasure to listen to and this is was no exception. Our makar started with the beautifully titled and stunningly written If I Could Catch A Rainbow. The imagery in this poem was absolutely amazing and I have to say it genuinely did move me. Mr Whittingham followed this up with a couple of poems on buskers entitled Paying Homage To Mr Marvin and Neil Diamond Doesn’t Have A Roadie. These poems whilst illustrating Brian’s humour also demonstrated his empathy with fellow performers. Introducing his next poem our Makar said that he had been given a journal of a lifetime for Christmas and found the questions it posed really interesting. One of the questions was What Did Your Parents Think Of You As A Child? Whilst musing on this question Brian came up with enough answers or should I say unanswered questions to write a poem on the topic a poem that got me thinking I wonder what my mum and dad thought of me? Somehow I think they may have had very contrasting opinions with my dad’s being by far the more accurate 

Anyway, Brian then moved on to read The Finnistoun Surfer before bringing his very diverse and enjoyable set to an end with Walking Between Worlds and a final poem which talks the lack of light entitled I Am The Dark in which he reveals his fondness for this time of year. This is something which he shares with this blogger and this brought his very enjoyable set to an end. The end of Brian’s set also ended the contribution of our makars which meant we were back on to the billed readers. The first of this last segment of the programme was Neil Leadbeater whose poems Flashing Light, Left Luggage, Flowers Making Time, and St Lucy’s Day showed the versatility of his work. Neil is a poet I haven’t heard much of in the past but having listened to his work on what was an excellent day of poetry I hope to hear a lot more of him in the future.

From a man I heard of I go to a man I have and it was good to see Dennis Oliver for the first time in a good few months. One of the things I like about this softly spoken Canadian is that his work whether it to be his poetry or his music always has a gentle lyrical quality which tells a story the way it needs told. On this occasion Dennis read two poems Thoughts On Loneliness and Moments both hit the mark as they challenged us to think bolder and examine ourselves as much as we would others.

This brought us to the last reader on the list. This was a man whom I first met at this event last year since when John Moody has become a regular not only at the Glasgow Writers Group but also at Lebowskis FKA Sammy Dow’s. This is if I say so myself not too bad when you consider that a year ago John was performing his poetry for the very first time in a public arena. On this occasion John read two poems St Theresa’s Rapture and Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 both of which show light in a very different ways. The first one shows light in the form of a beautiful painting and the later the more dangerous light of flame which comes from an explosion.

At the end of John’s set Etta called for any readers who wanted to perform again and invited them to do so. Both Linda Grant and John Coutts went up and read the same material as they had earlier on. This time however they did so to much larger audiences.  

I also went up but instead of reading one of my own poems I decided to honour a man who was celebrating his birthday on that very day. The man concerned was the man who in 1993 finally persuaded me to get involved in the spoken word scene Castlemilk’s very own Jim Craig. To commemorate both National Poetry Day and Jim’s Birthday I read this former serving soldier’s most well known anti-war poem Last Post which was written in the form of a soldier’s letter to his mother. This seemed to go down well on a day where there were strong anti-war sentiments expressed in many of the poems.

At the end of my reading of Jim’s poem I gave a plug to the campaign to save the Blue Chair Cafe before returning to my seat happy that I had paid fitting tribute to one of my most influential poetic mentors and a brilliant authentic working class voice whose work deserves to be recognised and performed for a new audience to hear. 

After my tribute to one of my mentors from the early days Etta read a poem from another man I view in this way and that is Edinburgh based former makar Colin Will. In the poem entitled Entering Your Poems Colin both expresses opinions and gives much valued advice on how to get your poems to the top of the poetic tree and If anyone should know how to do that its one of our most respected poets. 

Last but not least it was Ann Connolly who brought the day to the close by reading the last poem of the day which was entitled Mother Sheep. This was a piece about a particular brand of sheep the Ryeland Sheep which is valued for the quality of their wool and because of that it is saved from the slaughter house and humiliation of being drowned by either gravy or if your posher than I am mint sauce. With this Etta brought the event to a close and we all made our way back to our homes or on to other poetry readings. 

Whilst making my own decision on what to do next I meandered about the town centre for a wee while. On doing so I met and chatted to a group of Irish female trade unionists who were over here for a women’s trade union event. I then met a young lesbian who recognised me from a women’s cultural evening we had attended at Glasgow Caladonian University and finally I bumped in to Courtney who I had met at The Blue Chair the previous night. Indeed Courtney said she had enjoyed the poems I had performed at The Blue Chair.

This was I thought the perfect note on which to head home. As I did so I heard that Scotland were beating Poland 2-1 at Hampden however I was barely two minutes in the door when Poland drew level with the last kick of the game. This meant we had missed out on qualifying yet again for a major competition. The tragedy of this result has almost poetic feel about it so I reckon there must be a poem in it and if the theme of National Poetry 2016 is tragedy then I dare say I’ll read it at next year’s gathering. As for this year’s I think you could say it was a day when we saw rainbow skies in the barley month but we heard the political weather forecast warn of cold fronts in the west. 

Love  And Best Wishes

Gayle X

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