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A Warrior Wordsmith Who Speaks For The People ( A Review Of Door To Door Poet By Rowan McCabe)

Imagine the scenario. You get a knock on the door, you answer the door, and you see someone standing there with a clipboard and pen. Your imediate reaction is to ask the person concerned what they are selling and inform them as politely as possible that whatever it is you are not interested.  What happens however when far from being the predictable insurance , or double glazing salesperson you are met with reply I’m a poet would you like to tell me about yourself and what concerns you and I’ll write you your very own poem. 

My imediate reaction and i speak as a poet would be aye right so you are. So if i would be sceptical imagine the reaction Newcastle poet Rowan McCabe (pictured below) faced as he took his door to door poetry challenge round some of the roughest places  in the North East of England. 

During his year long mission Stockton born Rowan encountered a number of interesting characters and a significant number of  issues in his attempts to bring poetry to the people. Undetered our warrior wordsmith soldiered on in his quest to make poetry matter by making it relevant to the kind of audience who were put off by the poetry they were taught at school. 

As he begins the story of his poetic journey through the wildest parts of the north east, including the street once dubbed the roughest street in Stockton after being featured on the TV documentary show Benefit Street,  Rowan shares his poem on being a door to door poet and how he got the idea to do it which he says was due to boredom and wanting to do something different with his talent. As he takes us on his journey, he  tells us the story of Kyle a young man he met in a Newcastle housing scheme who would be the type of lad that polite society would cross the road to avoid. On meeting him Rowan explained his mission to be greeted by the expression what do i want with poetry ? Undaunted our door to door poet told Kyle that this poem would be his poem and be about the issues that mattered to him and he would receive a copy of his own customised poem . Gradually the man warmed  to the idea and challenged Rowan to write a poem about his girlfriend and how much he loved her .

 After finding out the information he needed Rowan wrote the poem First Date about Kyle’s first date in which he took his girlfriend to Greggs and they bonded over a steak bake. This claim was later disputed by his girlfriend who said that as she recalled it their first date was at the cinema . 

As our intrepid wordsmith continued on his journey he met a man who was concerned about immigration and had confessed to voting for Brexit , and a woman who had a passion for horses with a particular fondness for the three times grand national winner Red Rum.

During the course of his travels Rowan learned not only of the value of having good communication skills but also about being aware of the impact of The Data Protection Act when it comes to sharing online information and how even unwittingly a lack of knowledge on this topic can land you in some very tricky situations. 

Talking of tricky situtions our poet who dared to venture in to what the chsttering classes  would uncharted cultural waters learned a bitter lesson when it comes to  organisational cultute and the way it can make promises and then proceed to break them at the shortest possible notice. This through no fault of yours lead to cancel arrangements you made with others which were based on those promises and this can and did lead to a loss of trust all because someone else let him down on more than one occasion and this for Rowan meant losing relationships with potential participants he had worked really hard to build. 

Heartbreaking though it was Rowan ploughed on with his pioneering work and on meeting Alan an older man whose mother was German he discovered a man who was deeply concerned about the potential rise in far right racism in a post Brexit UK but was determined he would not be silenced despite having Swastikas daubed on his door by exactly the type of people he fears will grow in number. It was this meeting which  produced the inspiration for one of my favourite poems from the show , and Speak was a powerful poetic portrayal of why we need to be stronger than ever in our fight against this narrow kind of imperial , insular, xenophobic nationalism which in Scotland we call the worst kind of unionism.  Alan was featured on the BBC when their breakfast did a feature on Rowan’s ground breaking arts project and Rowan talked with warmth on his poem Speak which illustrates both Alan’s committment to speaking up for those people whose voices are being marginalised or ignored and Rowan’s passionate belief that door to door poetry can give them not only that voice but the belief that in 21st century Britain there opinions matter. 

This to me was the most heartwarming aspect of a show which I could very easily have overlooked had it not been for the glowing recommendations of two fellow poets whose opinions i rate highly enough to trust and Gemma Baker and Jenni Pascoe were totally right to tell me that this was a show i had to see. After an hour of poetry which was entertaining and thought ptovoking in equal measure i left raving about the talents of someone who is not only a door to door poet but a warrior wordsmith who speaks for the people. That someone is Rowan McCabe. 

Till next time

Gayle X

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Active Citizens 

As a spoken word poet I am rightly proud of our tradition of activism on just about every topic you could name. From Apartheid to Women’s rights poets have opinions on everything and not afraid to voice them. This is something we share with all performers, but in this poem I take a look at musicians both folk and pop, and in particular the protest songs written over the years to express support of causes and campaigns to document an important part of social history . Whilst some of the songs, I’ve incorporated in to this poem may be very obviously political others may initially at least  strike you as slightly less so but when you look closely at the lyrics you’ll see they may be more radical than you think . I’ve given it the title Active Citizens as I have  long held the belief that the creative community are often a government’s more effective critics. I hope you enjoy the read. 
Active Citizens
My journey started with McGinn of The Calton 

who sang of  a may day for the ordinary people

and women pining for the pill .

Glen Daly told the story

of a wild colonial boy 

whose spirit will always live 

in the hearts of rebels with or without causes

the Corries took me over the sea to Skye 

while the hills of Donegal 

and the fields of Anthery 

showed the other side of my family tree 

both sides displaced in the name of the great white sheep 

and generations later the Proclaimers 

lamented the industrial clearances 

when they sent a letter from America

and narrated Scotland’s story 

as a  land of migrants 

throughout our history 

our so-called masters have ignored us 

attempted to silence our voices 

in the name of their false unity 

but our community remains strong

writing and  singing  the protest songs 

that expose them and their cruel deeds

carried out in the name of greed and personal gain 

meanwhile though she took a train to Leeds Central in 1989.  

we are still  looking for Linda 

and when we find her 

she will know she is one of  Jock Tamsons Bairns 

regardless of where she was born 

you see  where you are from can only be the first verse 

the starting point of the protest song

what follows is the journey about where your going to

and  how we help you get there 

by listening to the lyrics 

and the lessons they teach us for the future 

we can’t afford to be seduced and abandoned

by falling for lies and false promises 

or ignoring the 1 in 10 

we need to send the selfish homeward 

make them think again on the consequences of their behaviour 

their attitudes that make me a very angry girl 

I come from the generation who dared to feed the world 

and ask when there would be a harvest for it 

a harvest we could share 

with west end girls and smalltown boys 

we can’t let politicians create 100 000 Allentown’s 

or hold back the years in a vain attempt 

to keep us in what they think is our place 

in the rat trap they’ve created over years and centuries

to preserve what they see as the natural order 

with those McGinn sang of at the bottom 

with independence lies the hope of a better Scotland 

though we will still have our problems 

and protest songs to sing 

in the hope of the finding solutions 

as creatives we have always been political 

critical of our establishment regardless of party colours

and as our future governments will discover

we will always be active citizens

speaking out on the issues that matter. 

.© Gayle Smith 2017 

The New Matzarolli’s

On day 13 of NaPoWriMo My poem  looks at the power of photography  and I thank Katie Walker co-owner of KK Snaps for inspiring me to tackle what I think is an underated art form. I’ve given the poem the title The New Matzarolli’s in tribute to the great Glasgow photographer and social historian Oscar Matzarolli and the work of Katie and her friend and business partner  Kristy Hughes who whether they know it or not are  the heirs to that tradition.  I hope you enjoy the read. 

The New Matzarolli’s 
frozen in time 

the photograph tells the story 

of a moment recorded for posterity

a cherished memory captured 

at a family gathering 

christening or graduation 

in this Instagram generation

it’s all about the selfie 

taken at nights out 

or in the crowd at the Celtic game 

but the photographer’s work 

is no less an art than that 

of the poet or landscape painter 

making as they must the best edit 

of every story the camera told 

in a high street studio the new Matzarolli’s 

produce high quality images 

of a 21st century city 

with the same beautiful but gritty reality 

which Oscar used to tell the story of our past 

this neglected craft still needed

even in the age where every phone has a camera 

when you need a touch of glamour 

for weddings and other occasions 

there is only so much inspiration 

social media can give  

sometimes for your moment to live in the memory 

you need to trust those who studied the art 

and know the secrets of the dark room.

© Gayle Smith 2017 

 

For All The Silenced Voices

​With Tuesday being world poetry day, I wrote a poem to give thanks for my right to freedom of expression. As I did so I thought of the words of  the late Chilean poet Pablo Neruda who when living under the Pinochet regime remarked poetry is the only danger here and in many countries his words have an all too disturbing ring to them as poets are often seen as enemies of the state. 

It is I think fair to  say that  though I have strong and principled political beliefs I doubt very much if Westminster or the British establishment see my poetry or any poetry as a threat to their existence and I have written this poem to celebrate the fact that I am allowed to speak my truths in my words unlike so many practioners of the craft whose work will at best be censored and in the most extreme cases could land them with a death sentence. 

After due consideration I couldn’t find what I thought was a suitable title to convey the sentiments expressed in it, so I put it out to my Facebook community to see if they could assist me in  this matter and as usual someone came up with a title so good I wish I had thought of it myself.  On this occasion, that someone was Louise Gemmill who suggested the title   For All The Silenced Voices. I hope you enjoy the read. 

For All The Silenced Voices 

On world poetry day 

I couldn’t let it go unnoticed

I had to say something 

to be vocal for poets in those countries

where art is suppressed 

voices ignored 

and imagination discouraged 

no matter what I think 

of this country 

or what name I use when I speak of it 

I am free to give my words meaning 

set them in context 

explain what shaped the views I hold 

I speak through the language of a craft 

which requires skill and dedication 

and more editing and revision 

than there are hours in the day 

for those who scoff and say 

anyone can write poetry 

I challenge them to try it 

they might find it is not as easy 

as they think 

the pessimists always drink 

from the half empty glass 

anyone can be a critic 

though not all will understand 

what they are critiquing 

poets know the penalties for speaking out 

can result in imprisonment or execution 

yet still take the risks 

in telling their truths

Burns, Pearce, Havel, Plath, and Neruda

are proof of  that.

their legacies are in creating a better world

where words heal wounds 

inflicted in the name of humanity 

this is testament to the worth of their art  

and shows that the half empty glass 

can when viewed through a poets eyes 

be perceived as half full. 

© Gayle Smith 2017 

When Women Are Visible In All Shapes And Sizes It Really Is Something To Celebrate 

At the beginning of the month  I had the privilege to be part of the Visible Women festival a two day which celebrated who and what women are through the context of art, workshops, and discussion. 

Organised by the human dynamo that is Keira McLean, visible women had an action packed programme of theatre and discussion including the premiere of a one woman show by the hottest property  on the Scottish spoken word scene Victoria McNulty, the controversially acclaimed show Gaslight by Darren Loki McGarvey, and workshops on feminist music , comedy and film festivals. 

As a trans woman I was delighted to asked to submit a poem to this festival but me being me I e-mailed three to Keira and let her decide which one she wanted to include. The poem she selected was Does My Lipstick Scare You ? which I wrote for World Transgender Remembrance Day in 2014. On chatting with Keira she told me that she made her choice due to the fact it was the best fit for the event as it challenged those in attendance to redefine their notions and images of women and of womanhood. Looking back I can quite clearly see why she made this poem her choice and I believe that I would have made the same decision.  If you look at some of the artwork featured in the exhibition you’ll see why. 

Picture (1) Women And Words asks a fundamental question on the power dynamics in male- female relationships 

Picture (2) This picture uses a word which is usually used to describe power and authority that an individual or organusation may hold over us in certain situations. Don’t get me wrong the word obey is fine when we use it in it’s proper context like for example reminding children to obey our parents or school teachers, or if we are members of a group, or a club we promise to obey the rules of that club or group. Unfortunately however,when it comes to women the word obey has very negative connotations. In our case it is usually inferred or even stated that we should obey the men in our lives no matter in what capacity. Yes even in 21st Century Scotland/UK this attitude still prevails albeit to a lesser extent than was once the case,but it is still very much out there.

 To me the idea that I should be considered of secondary importance and therefore subservient  to male family members, work colleges , or lovers, just because I’m female is fundamentally flawed but attitudinal barriers are often the hardest kind to break down and we need to remember that it is only  30 years ago that this word was included in every wedding ceremony in the country as part of the bride’s promise to her husband.  Yes I know it says in the Bible that wives should to their husbands but it also says that nobody should eat pork and people can sleep with family members, and I don’t either of these argument work well in today’s consumer based society .

Picture (3) Words,can be used as weapons and they very often are as capitalism promotes inequality between the sexes as the collection captured, in this photograph amply demonstrates.

Picture (4) Gives you a message the established order don’t want you to know and that message is freedom is power. It also asks the most fundamental of questions which is how can you have no home? For women however, this question still needs to be addressed as  more women than men will be homeless due to changes in their domestic circumstances so though freedom may very well be power for men locally, nationally, and globally this doesn’t apply to women who often find themselves out in the cold due to changes in living arrangements.  

Picture (5) If every picture tells a story then the images on this wall speak of judgement with slogans like to cover up and shut up and not fit to be a mother informing us of the standards men or the more neanthadal among that species think women should aspire to.  Now I hate to shatter the illusions of these delicate little creatures but maybe they have their centuries confused. For the avoidance of doubt  this is the 21st and it’s time they stopped living in the 12th

. Picture (6 ) I find this image both challenging and powerful and I’m sure many people will have their own personal take on it.  As for me, my interpretation of the phrase walk with me is that men need to spend a day walking in our shoes to understand the prejudice and discrimination, we still face in Scottish/ British and Global society even in these so-called liberal and enlightened times.  

Picture (7) This image tackles the thorny image of stereotypes. If you look closely you will see a picture of a women’s crossed legs. This in my portrays the idea of woman as seducer, and temptress. It is if you like the typical male view what femininity is about though it doesn’t constitute an image of any women I know.  Indeed if truth be told it provides only one representation of what may or may not be at any given time and as such should not be given a greater prominence than it deserves.  

In the same photograph you can also see the word hysterical. This is a word, which is only ever attributed to women and the implication behind it is that unlike men who are always perfectly balanced, women are not in control of our emotions are liable to throw a temper tantrum if we are not given our own way.  This sexist use of language gives the misleading impression that men are more rational than women and is often used to discriminate against us.

Picture (8) If visible women means making women proud of who we are   then this picture of my friend and fellow poet Carla Woodburn which shows her looking happy, confident, and relaxed  is the perfect picture to include in this post. Carla is a very visible woman in the Glasgow poetry scene and has recently set up her own spoken word night Tell It Slant  at The Project Cafe on the last Friday of the month and with her friendly but professional attitude and her warm and welcoming personality I am sure it will be a fantastic event which will become a valuable part of our spoken word scene in the months and years to come.  

Picture (9) Shows my poem Does My Lipstick Scare You? Hanging on display in the exhibition. Though the text is not clearly visible in this photograph you can quite clearly see that it is a poem in the way it is laid out and I was proud to have it featured at an event which looked at who women are and how we are represented in every way imaginable. On chatting to others who attended the festival , I found that many had viewed my poem and were very complimentary about it saying that it challenged heteronorative norms as to who and what women and told the story of a very visible trans woman who wasn’t afraid to be herself 

Naturally I was delighted to receive such positive feedback on my  work particularly on a poem which I believe challenges everyone but especially alpha males to recognise that trans woman are women and will not be bullied by anyone Looking back at the festival I can honestly say I completely understand why Keira selected this poem to represent my work and trans women more generally as it challenges the notion of patriarchy and illustrates that women come in all types , shapes and sizes and when we can visibly embrace the fact and enjoy being ourselves then  it really is something to celebrate.  

Love And Best Wishes

Gayle X