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Storm Of Sorrow

On the day of the Catalan Independence Referendum the Spainish state is tainted as Prime Minister Rajoy tries to deny reality and employs both sabotage and brute force to stop people exercising their democratic right to vote. These tactics are an insult to democracy and reminiscent of Franco’s fascist dictatorship As I watched the scenes unravel on my phone I was sickened to see pictures of people covered in blood and yet the UK government statement talked only of Spain and how valuable an ally they are to the UK without giving so much as a moment  to consider the victims of these unprovoked attacks. Having csmpaigned for Scotland’s independence in 2014 I remember the support we received from our Catalan comrades and outraged at their treatment I wrote this poem in support of both Catalonia and their right to exercise their democratic mandate. Ive given it the title Storm Of Sorrow I hope you enjoy the read

Storm Of Sorrow

Carnage in Catalan streets

citizens shot down by riot police.

as people go to exercise their right to vote

on seeing images of bloodsoaked protesters

British politicians gloat on social networks

unable to continue their glee

before removing their offensive tweets.

this will teach the SNP they claim

on the day democracy is less important than blame

and Franco’s heirs flaunt their hate

they should be ashamed to side with Spain

but they do

the red white and blue is bloodstained again

as democracy weeps it whispers the truth

with tears used as punctuation

you can judge a nation’s leaders

by the company they keep

and people who lecture others on internationalism

fall silent in the storm of sorrow

© Gayle Smith 2017

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Eclipsed

As many of you will know this is National Poetry Day and this year the theme for the event is freedom. Like all the themes chosen to celebrate this day it can be interpreted in any number of ways but inspite of mywell documented support for both the Scottish National Party and the cause of independence , if you have come here looking for a braveheart claymore wielding poem in support of my party or cause your going to very disappointed.  I’ve written plenty of those poems in the past and will do so again when the occasion demands. This however, is neither the time nor the place for it. Instead i have chosen to look at the top in a more petsonal capacity by addressing those hard won freedoms that should be the hallmark of any civilised society and the danger to them from the Conservative goverment and The Great Repeal Bill which would give UK Prime Minister Theresa May the powers of a medievil monarch. This is the most dangerous piece of legislation brought before any parliament since the German parliament passed the Enabling Act in 1933 which paved the way for Hitler’s reign of terror. I’ve given it the title Eclipsed as i genuinely fear for our rights if this passes into law. I hope you enjoy the read 

Eclipsed
Freedom 

For this Glasgweigan 

means being able to assemble 

with my friends at a place of my choice 

raise my voice in demonstrations 

or poetry nights

fight for the rights of others

as well as myself 

I’ve never been the selfish type 

some kinds of freedoms are greatly overhyped 

like that to offend others

in the name of free speech 

freedom means having within my reach

the chance to make the most of my skills and abilities

walk the streets with dignity 

unafraid to be who i am 

whilst respecting others 

even when we may disagree on certain issues

it is not a woolly concept

supported only by guardian reading 

bleeding heart liberals 

and must be availble to all citizens 

not just those who can afford 

to send their children to the right schools  

it is imposing only rules considered reasonable and necessary 

for society to function properly 

but in all honesty 

not everyone is as free 

as should be the case in a civilised country 

I recognise freedom can have an ugly side 

if allowed to go unchecked

to me it’s all about respect 

we can’t afford to neglect our hard won rights 

or the sun will go down on them 

and as we sleep through the darkest hour of night

we will wake up to find them eclipsed 

 © Gayle Smith 2017 

Diet Of Kindness 

With all the madness of Brexit and and an ever growing culture of individualism and the me first society, people are increasingly putting their own needs ahead of the common good. In this poem i take a look at what local, national, and global society could be like if we could move to from the cult of personality politics to a kinder way of communicating with and responding to the needs of others. Ive given it the title Diet Of Kindness i hope you enjoy the read .

Diet Of Kindness 

As evening approaches i am aware 

it will soon be time to dine

but i think not of food 

though a fish supper is appealing

it is not a meal i want right now

rather a change in the way we treat others and ourselves

this will be beneficial to the emotional health

of our communities and nations 

we should seek inspiration from volunteers not millionaires

we need to change what we aspire to be 

this is not about food

 it is about the common good of the human race 

too often we are told to know our place 

and accept this order without questioning those who served it up

or asking them why they didn’t put respect on the menu

from Hitler to Stalin from Franco to Caucescu 

we have been taken to the fast food  politics

of instant gratification

only to hunger for commodities  dished out on our individual platters

by the tabloid press and 24 hour  television

to limit our ambitions 

to what they believe is right for them 

as half the world starves to death 

and the other half craves what they can’t posses

are we too blind to see the answer that lies before us 

humanity is not about building borders barriers or walls

pride will always come before you fall from a very great height 

as evening comes i am aware 

it will soon be time to dine 

but it’s not food i have on my mind 

it is change in the way we live

it’s about taking less and giving more 

talking to the outcasts 

those until now you have chosen to ignore 

it’s about changing who and what we aspire to be 

setting ourselves free from authoritarian chains

it’s raising our voices in anger when we  see others being demonised and labelled 

it’s about accepting people

 be they LGBT , disabled or from different religious groups 

it’s a recipe not for the stomach but  the mind 

and replacing individualist self indulgence 

with a diet of kindness served up with compassion and humanity 

© Gayle Smith 2017

The North British Cringe 

Four years ago to the day I marched with 30,000 others  through the streets of Edinburgh in support of my country’s independence . Alas when the vote was held we were defeated by the forces of apathy and fear and our nation remains what the author John Steinbeck described in a conversation with President Kennedy as an unwon cause. It is my opinion that one of the key reasons for this is what some people refer as the Scottish cringe. You know the idea, that we alone of the nations on earth are too wee, too poor , and too stupid to run our own affairs. It is my considered opinion that this is a form of cultural oppression and this cringe is anything but Scottish. Indeed I believe it was in fact born in Westminster by those who are absolutely terrified to see Scotland become an independent nation namely the British establishment whose vested interests in our country be they economic or political make them and their all too willing servants  overtly hostile to our independence. It is for this reason that I have written this poem and given it the title The North British Cringe . I hope you enjoy the read. 

The North British Cringe 

We are told by the establishment and their friends in the press

Scotland is not oppressed 

Well if that the case 

why is Scotland’s population

which was a 1/3 of England’s at the formation of the United Kingdom 

now less than a 1/10 

they cringe when I tell them 

 there pro union argument makes no sense 

yet when we contest this notion we are scorned 

told we are idealistic but ill informed

but it’s our accusers who are deluded

the idea of not being oppressed because we’re Scots is misguided 

If you don’t believe me let’s look at the evidence 

we’ll start with the rough wooing in the period leading up to union 

When The Ailen Act was passed by a Westminster government 

determined to secure their unity at all costs

even their anthem talks about crushing rebellious Scots

then there was the banning of the Gaelic, the pipes, and the tartan after the 45

this is a ban unionists choose to ignore 

preferring to bang on empty drums about the sashes their fathers wore 

whilst never mentioning the privileges it brought them 

too many in Scotland are ignorant of our history 

so I’ll start by informing them 

that much to our disgrace 

this prohibition of our language, culture , and tradition did take place 

and wasn’t lifted until 1782

almost 40 years after Culloden 

if that wasn’t an attempt to keep us downtrodden I don’t know what is 

It was a deliberate attempt to show resistance was futile 

and the beginning of a campaign to keep Scotland in our place

the more fanatical sycophants

even tried have our country’s name wiped from existence

and replaced by North Britain 

I still believe this to be your career unionist’s wet dream 

but this girl from the schemes 

is wise to Westminster and there never never ending lies

whilst the truth cries tears at the endless myths and misconceptions 

their parties will use to gain votes at election time 

these practioners of the dark arts 

are well versed when it comes to the crimes of  deception and duplicity 

as we can see when they use their carefully worded propaganda

they fraudulently call British history 

this has been manufactured in the interests of the elite 

by their friendly Oxbridge historians

I afford them no credibility especially the Tory ones 

the hope and glory brigade

 who will claim we played a part in shaping the new world and the politics of empire 

and maybe we did but not in the way they would have you believe

you see there was no voluntary migration to Canada in 1773

In the real world this has another name

It was called the clearances 

as tens of thousands of families were evicted from their land 

to make way for sheep 

yet you dare to tell me we are not oppressed 

I weep when I think of the martyrs of Tolpuddle 

or the massacre at Peterloo 

but I do so in an international context

 as I ask with respect 

why I was taught about these events at school

rather than the Paisley mill girls 

or the fact that Scottish radicals 

were executed by cold hearted killers 

for demanding independence in 1820

these facts are hidden from our young 

just in case knowing them, might turn them against this precious union

the myth that took centuries to build

by those skilled in the art of the cringe 

the 90 minute patriots who claim we can’t possibly be oppressed 

as we are allowed to wear kilts

and support our national football team 

though when I remind them we can’t watch Scotland games on TV

I am told I am fanatical SNP

and unpatriotic to Britain

they make fools of themselves 

by going on about British highlands , whisky, and bridges

and saying that by being allowed to vote 

we can’t possibly be undermined in a way 

this is the garbage spouted by those Proud Scots 

 who read The Daily Mail , watch EastEnders and Match of the Day 

the ignorance of these people astounds me and suggests 

they know nothing of the place they are ashamed to call home 

and that’s the way they need it to stay 

they ignore the fact that their Westminster masters can’t stand them 

or even tolerate them 

they’ve never been informed about the Scottish potato famine 

which though nowhere near the genocide 

faced by our Irish kin 

still happened nonetheless 

our oppression was and remains more covert in nature

the press and media used as tools to surpress 

any feelings of national identity 

and cover up any events the Brits would rather hide 

like the Govan rent strikes or the socialists of Red Clydeside

and why not because we are oppressed 

by the British is best brigade 

who make sure this history 

our real history is never taught in schools

it would undermine their right to rule 

to which they believe their entitled 

reality however paints a different picture to the one they want to see 

through the prism of their union jack blinkers 

these not so liberal thinkers 

who think narrow minds are prized possessions 

would still deny our oppression 

or while part of this United Kingdom 

some Scots oppressed those in other lands and their own 

In the name of empire crown and glory 

working class Protestants encouraged to vote Tory 

and many still do 

In fear of an imaginary Irish Catholic takeover 

wrapping themselves in the red, white, and blue of union

believing themselves to be the true blue Scots 

yet boasting that they are Brits

from an early age these hypocrites were and still are 

indoctrinated in to hating the Highlander,  the Irish , the French , and Jew

with Muslims now perceived to be enemy 

the Irish and the others used to be 

as Voltaire once said it is difficult to free fools 

from the chains they revere 

on teaching our history 

we must make it clear 

Scotland’s story is not an easy read 

but read it we must 

if we are ever to conquer the cringe 

that of all nations only we 

are too wee, too poor , and too stupid to be free

this is complete drivel 

and the perpetrators must be called out as liars

as a nation we have to aim higher 

but first we must come to terms with our past and our  present 

and facing up to our continued oppression 

this can only end with independence 

and becoming the authors of our destiny 

only then can we look the world in the eye 

as no longer conditioned to be shy 

we will say to every nation 

we are equal to you

the cringe has been conquered at last 

© Gayle Smith 2017 

The Cultural Manifesto Of A  Man Who Speaks For Fairness ( A Review Of Freedom By Matt Panesh)

In the comfort of the cinema room in my favourite Edinburgh bar on a busy festival Friday I did something I’ve been doing for the last eight years and I allowed myself to be entertained by the cheeky chappie of the Edinburgh fringe Matt Panesh. Matt aka Monkey Poet is always on my must see list and this year’s show was no different. In fact the fact  that Matt made it known that this would be his last full run after nine successive years of entertaining the crowds at the fringe eight of them at the Banshee Labyrinth often with two full snows made it if anything all the more important to see a man who over the years has become a valued member of my fringe family. 

For this year’s show Matt (pictured below) departed from his usual monkey poet style ramblings I’ve come to know and enjoy and instead was just Matt Panesh. However I should perhaps explain that there is no such thing as just Matt Panesh. Trust me, this guy is a consummate performer and an excellent storyteller who knows how to engage his audience right from the get go. 

Picture (Matt Panesh on stage in the Cinema Room of The Banshee Labyrinth)

The topic for this show entitled Freedom, was the fringe and what the idea of fringe theatre means to him .  In his opening line which marked the start of an hour of top quality entertainment Matt reminded us that the Edinburgh festival wás celebrating its 70th birthday this year as it was born from the rubble of the Second World War when the people of Britain and Europe needed something to cheer them up after the horrors of the most brutal conflict in human history in which 60 million people died. Matt however had a reason to be grateful for the war as his Polish and Russian grandparents who  met in an Austrian refugee camp and married in Italy and had to cross the alpes twice before eventually settling in Britain  would never have got together otherwise. It is due to the story I’ve just related that Matt has never told told his grandmother it’s a long way to the shops. 

Having given the audience an insight in to his own background Matt then went to inform us of the reason that the festival came to Edinburgh rather any other British or European city. The reasoning was simple Edinburgh wás the only one which hadn’t been blown to bits by the ravages of war and so the biggest arts festival wás born.

Matt then gave us his unique take on how he started doing fringes and he started in not in Edinburgh but in Canada, and Canadian fringes are a wee bit different to Scottish or UK festivals. You see in Canada the fringes aren’t held in big cities like Toronto, Ottawa, or Montreal, but in small towns  like Winnipeg where the culture comes to visit for two weeks a year and then disappears again for the rest of the year. It was during this time of doing festivals in Canada and the USA Matt began to realise the benefits of having what the locals would call an exotic accent but also saw for himself the benefits of what culture can do for the economy of particular geographic locations. 

As an established regular performer  on the Edinburgh scene Matt spoke with passion on what we have come to know as the free fringe which celebrated its 22nd birthday and without which he and countless other performers couldn’t afford to bring their shows to be part of the festival. Gradually Matt became more involved with the free fringe and along with Fay Roberts programs the spoken word section of it. This as he told us is rewarding but not without potential hazards but as he rightly says it saves performers a fortune as they get the venues for free and any money they make from public donations is their own and with all the premises for the free fringe given free by local Edinburgh businesses it brings a host of performers to the city who would not otherwise be able to attend the event.

In being so directly involved with the free fringe Matt has seen for himself the benefits that it can bring to the area in terms of both tourism and finance and is therefore a staunch supporter of this kind of festival and the platform it can provide for the creative arts. Having relocated from Manchester to the coastal town of Morecambe after last year’s fringe Matt found that opportunities for potential nights out were a wee bit limited as the place he now called home didn’t have any spoken word venue and there wasn’t a single comedy club anywhere in the town. However,  those of you who know Matt will also know he is if nothing else a man brimming with ideas and after thinking about this cultural dilemma he faced he started sounding out local venues and businesses about the idea of a fringe festival in Morecambe. After an initially cautious reaction Matt told us how he won them round to the idea by persuading them of the economic advantages both for the town and the wider geographic area. 

Initially this year’s  Morecambe fringe which started tonight will be a weekend affair with it expanding to a week  long event next year. Being the cheeky and persuasive  chappie I know he  can be , it came as no surprise to me that  he even managed to convince Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn,( on whom by  his own admission he has an enormous man crush) of the merits of his brainchild which he says will be run on a small scale version of the Edinburgh model. 

At the end of a journey through time, culture, and history Matt said he  might as well finish with a poem and asked the audience which poem he should do. Knowing his work better than most people in attendance I suggested Understanding, which Matt said he has since retitled How To Be Patriotic Without Sounding  Like A White Supremasist in response to the rise of far right parties like The BNP and UKIP. This uplifting poem sets out Matt’s vision of a Britain for everyone and more than any other poem sums up the cultural manifesto of a man who speaks for fairness  

Till next time.

Gayle X

The Day The Phoenix Rises 

This poem draws on the stories of my ancestors who told me about the importance of the phoenix in guarding the laws of Scotland and Ireland and the belief that our countries will finally be free of British rule on the day the phoenix rises. It is for that reason I have given it the title The Day The Phoenix Rises. I hope you enjoy the read. 
The Day The Phoenix Rises

Outsiders

we were scorned on arrival 

in a cold uncaring place 

 locals claimed we were not the same as them 

using language and religion as excuses to label us 

boasting of their achievements

as part of an empire

they were unaware their own culture was scorned 

Scots or Irish a Celt can never be 

reborn as a Brit

when they were told this 

the new order got angry 

they were beyond unhappy

when the Irish community formed a football club 

which would be open to those of  all faiths and none 

when trophies were won we were feared and hated 

the angry brigade felt threatened 

that their fragile identity had been questioned 

there were suggestions we should go home 

as those with blood on their hands

conveniently forgot  it was they 

who did the clearing 

which left us dispossessed 

the victims of cultural genocide

in the Celtic heartlands from which I am descended 

 I’ve always known my blood is the blood of twin tribes 

both of which were marginalised 

the Irish  and the Islanders share 

a history of oppression

with stolen lands taken from the people 

and given to those who would obey colonial orders

without questioning why 

in Culloden and Atherny 

the pain lives on  in the lyrics of our songs

and the hearts of those who know 

the history the oppressers tried to ban 

along with our culture and traditions 

that however was a big mistake to make

in their determination to break us 

they inspired a spirit of resistance

they will not quell 

hell will freeze over before we ever accept 

the label outsiders 

It is not who we are nor will it ever be 

our freedom will come on the day the phoenix rises 

to take us home from the ashes of a ruined estate 

© Gayle Smith 2017 

Jewel Of The Clyde 

On day 11 of NaPoWriMo my topic of choice is culture as I look back to 1990 when Glasgow was European City Of Culture and look at the legacy this has left us. I’ve given it the title Jewel Of The Clyde. I hope you enjoy the read.  

Jewel Of The Clyde 
I remember it well 

  1990 

when Glasgow was cultural capital of Europe 

and we were told by our so called betters 

we were the Jewel of the Clyde 

this marketing slogan for the middle classes 

never sat well with ordinary lassies like me 

well not at the time 

though we eventually got used to it 

maybe even liked it 

we never got excited at the prospect the big ticket events 

not when the prices were at least a month’s rent 

we weren’t in to Pavarotti or Sinatra 

but a bit of Love and Money went down fine 

there were lines to be drawn 

between the Scotia Bar and the Tron 

my dad said 

though  I must admit I felt at home 

in both 

well one had ambience the other had heart 

less than a mile apart they symbolised the contrast 

between new and old Glasgow

the geography of conflict 

between socialism and gentrification 

where culture wars real and imagined 

began to be fought 

1990 showed the haves and have nots 

were warring tribes on the hunt  for new recruits 

aspiration and tradition the badges of honour 

claimed by opposing sides 

you could have one but not the other 

in the world according to my mother 

I wanted both and believed I could have them 

I was never wedded to the idea of class as identity 

my view that it was a bigger social construct than nation 

sat well with my radical dad 

but not my socially conservative mum 

who heard distant drums

 as a symbol of her white Protestant Britishness 

the togetherness unionists still bang on about 

even though its days are numbered 

2014 saw generational cultures colide 

but the Jewel of the Clyde voted yes 

to independence

and did it for MacLean and Jimmy Reid 

greed  has never been our way 

the big ticket events have their place 

but if 1990 showed us anything 

it was that our communities 

are what make us strong 

there were lots Glasgowing On 

to give us a sense of belonging 

and a sentimental longing for yesterday 

but times moved on 

and we found our voice

telling stories with authenticity and dignity 

 in plays in community halls 

and poetry nights in bars 

the ordinary people were the stars 

of the Glasgow show 

the roots we planted have grown 

we have flourished beyond recognition 

aspiration and tradition have married 

and the Jewel of the Clyde 

 is the voice they gave to their children. 

 © Gayle Smith 2017