When Scottish Poets Give Voice To Our Words And Speak To The Truth To Power The Results Show The World Poetry Isn’t A Crime

Hey Readers  As the spoken word scene slowly wakens from its festive rest,  this past midweek has saw me have the great pleasure to attend two  very different but very enjoyable nights. 

The first of those nights saw me make my by now regular pilgrimage to The Blue Chair for an evening of the very best of spoken word, acoustic music, comedy and of course general mayhem. With the regular crew as Anna Crow, Johnny Cypher, Gabriel Featherstone , Iain Paterson, and of course the wonderful Kirsty Nicolson on top form, and me performing perhaps the most emotional set I’ve ever done at this venue. Well I did read Just Like The Walton’s,The Last Dance, and Mother Hen, so it’s hard to argue on that, it was the perfect way to start the weekly sessions and ring in the cultural alarm bells to those who try to silence our voices. 

On the subject of voices, I have to say I was impressed by the number of new voices I heard on a night when girls like me need tights that are thicker than a plate of mince and dough balls. This was really heartening and it is great to see that the cultural scene in the West of Scotland enters 2016 in good voice and even better heart and ready to express our opinions whatever they may be. Whisper it people but there are some countries in which poets are not so lucky.

One such country is Saudi Arabia you that Arab country that British and American governments do actually like or at least unlike Syria, or Iraq won’t go to war with. There is of course a very good reason for that and that in case you haven’t guessed is oil. That argument however is for another another day, on this occasion however we were gathered in the Clutha Vaults for an event  aptly titled Writers At Risk which was organised by Scottish Pen to ask the British government to put pressure on their Saudi Arabian counterparts to reverse the death sentence on the poet Ashraf Fayadh
for the crime of expressing an opinion.

This event was supported by several leading members of the Scottish poetry and literary communities. These included such talents as A C Clarke, the Federation’s first makar our current convenor Etta Dunn , Magi Gibson, and  of course Jean Rafferty whose name is and will forever be linked to both The Clutha, and its sister pub The Scotia, and Finola Scott who deserves great credit for organising the Federation Of Writers Of Scotland section of the night The event was also supported by the respected author, and broadcaster, Carl MacDougall who is both a member of Pen and long standing friend of the spoken word community.

The keynote speech of the evening was delivered by  the local MP Stewart McDonald whose well chosen words were delivered with passion and power by a highly principled man who puts fairness at the heart of his political vision both for  Scotland and the wider global family.

The main purpose of the  night  was to show to solidarity in the fight to have Palestinian  poet Ashraf Fayah spared from the death sentence which currently hangs over him for the right of expressing his opinions just in case they may be critical of the current regime. The charge he has sentenced for is abandoning Islam and spreading atheism. My thoughts on here this charge were that if it were ever introduced in Scotland or Britain we would lose over half our poets, musicians, and comedians, overnight and be a far poorer country because of it.

That however is not the full story, If you thought it was only the poets these  repressive rulers want to put a stop to then your wrong.  Saudi blogger Raif Badawi is another writer facing an overly aggressive jail sentence, he is currently serving 15 years in prison for his right to the freedom of speech I as both a poet and a blogger  take for granted.   As yet I have never been threatened let alone had a death sentence passed on me because of what I’ve written. I say this in spite of the fact that I disagree with the British government on many issues and campaigned for a yes vote in the independence referendum to end their rule in Scotland,  yet still I am free to walk the streets. Thank god for democracy and believe me I do.

As for the reading itself, I heard great poems from Kate Ailes, whose set was simply outstanding, Magi Gibson, Ray Evans, whose poem Shipping Forecast was one of the best of the night, Shaun Moore, and Lesley Mackay who performs under her pen name of Lesley Traynor. Trust me there are some occasions which make you proud to be s poet and this was most definitely one of them.

All things considered I had a busy two days last midweek but as I made my way home in the chill of a late Thursday evening I thought that for as long as Scottish pens write poems in blue chairs then poetry and freedom of speech have nothing to fear. We must however at all times be vigilant and make sure that we never have a government which takes far too literally the words of the words the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda that ‘poetry is only danger here’. Unfortunately the Saudi government sees poetry as a danger to its strict authoritarian rule and that is why as poets we have a duty as Stewart McDonald reminded us to speak the truth to power and make our voices heard.

Love And Best Wishes
Gayle X

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