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A Memorable Journey Where Bards Were The Stars And Musicians Made Magic In Song  (My Cultural Review Of 2017)

As I look back on the year just ended it is fair to say that it has been both enjoyable and challenging and that some of the challenges in both poetry and blogging have proved to be both enjoyable and rewarding in ways I would never have expected . 

 As I started 2017 I did so with my customary optimism.  Well I’ve always been a glass half full kinda girl and my year got off to a good start as I met my first challenge and completed a whole new set of poems specifically written on climate change for my first billed appearance at Extra Second. With that and an excellent Celtic Connections and SNP Burns Supper under my belt and a good start to my poetry events at both Words And Music and Rio I had hit the ground running and given the New Year the start it deserved.  

February slowed me down as usually always does, well if nothing else it gave me time to reflect and focus on my writing. It was towards the end of the month I wrote what I believe was my best poem of the year in a highly personal tribute to my late dad it was also around this time I wrote Game Changer a poem in support of LGBT football fans and made what has so far been my only visit to Aloud. 

As we moved towards the lighter nights I not only hosted Words And Music I was once again a billed reader for Extra Second and this time the subject was Mental Health and yet again I produced a completely new set of poems for the night. I also attended the Visable Women festival at the Kinning Park complex on the first Saturday of the month where I was privileged to see Confessionals a brilliant hour long spoken word show by my friend Victoria McNulty and the  last ever last Monday at Cafe Rio as we bid  an emotional farewell to one of the spoken word scene’s most loved poetry homes hosted for 10 years by the genial Robin Cairns. On a more personal note I was delighted to learn that I had two poems selected for publication in the Mind The Time football memories anthology. The poems chosen were Rampant Lionesees about Scotland’s Women becomming the first team to represent our country at a major championship for 20 years and Through The Hoops which was written about my journey as a transsexual Celtic fan.  

April started quitely enough in terms of performance and continued  in the same vein till the middle of the month.  This however can be a blessing particularly during a period when some poets like this are demented enough to participate in the NaPoWriMo challenge of writing 30 poems in 30 days. As the month wore on I made the opening night of Last Monday at Waterstones during which Robin had asked me to captain a team in the four ages slam at The Tron in mid May. Needless to say I accepted the challenge and relished the idea of it. Though I must admit that putting a team together is a harder job than you think.  By the end of the month  I had added a new event to my list of places to go as I made my debut appearance at Express Yourself which is excellently hosted by Carla Woodburn. However on the Wednesday after Rio I had a nasty fall whilst returning from the newsagents where I had gone to play the lottery. Make no mistake this was a bad one which resulted in a sprained ankle and left me unable to walk for around 10 days and a distinctly wobbly feeling for most of the summer. 

Unsurprisingly perhaps my injury meant that I had to cancel Words And Music and that May was almost a poetry free zone. I say almost because I did honour my promise to Robin and captained my team at the four ages slam. Not only that I captained them to victory though it has to be said that my team mates Angie Strachan , and Lesley Traynor (see picture below) were the real stars of the show especially Angie who actually won the individual event and a place at the 2018 Scottish Slam Finals.  The day after this momentous victory I decided to launch a second blog skirting round my life also on wordpress. Wheras tartan tights is as you know the place for my general musings I decided this one would focus more on trans and women’s issues. Yes I know I’m mad but you know what its improved the quality of my blogging and I’m glad I decided to do it as allows me to show a more personal side and I think it helps readers to get what makes me who I am.  

Also on the blogging front I was invited to join the hosting team for the Bloggers Do It Better twitter chat This was a challenge I accepted and embraced and I’m delighted to still be part of the team as we move in the new year. Don’t get me wrong it’s not easy and can be stressful at times but it is also really enjoyable  and the buzz I get from hosting is incredible. 

Picture (1) Angela, Myself and Lesley pose for a victory photo after winning The Four Ages Slam At The Tron. 

If May had been quiet due to injury June at least initially looked like being the same, and though I did manage to attend the Extra Second snap election special and also to focus on my main priority which was to host Words And Music. To be honest I thought that might be all I’d make  it to, particularly since injury prevented me from taking my usual place at a polling station to help the party I’m member of win my local constituency.  Still, there was a positive in this situation as at least I didn’t need a lift to the polling place as I did to the local elections just one month earlier. As it turned out with a new candidate in place my party did hold the seat though with a much reduced majority on a night which wasn’t our best.  If ever I needed a pick me up it was now and it came that Saturday at the annual McGonagall supper which I made a last minute decision to attend. Though my mobility was far from perfect it felt great just to be in the company of friends. 

It was another last minute decision the faith/unbelief open poetry competition the following Saturday which gave me my biggest surprise of the year as I went on to win the title and a £50 book token which has since been very well spent.  I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised at this result if only because my poem Faithful Daughter which is my poetic appeal for the Church of Scotland to modernise may have been a bit too controversial for some people’s tastes. 

With Edinburgh and the fringe looming ever closer it is no great surprise that I was very cagey during July appearing only at my own event at Words and Music and an Extra Second for which the theme of activism was too strong to resist and yet again I got on the billed readers list and produced another new set of poems tailored to suit the occasion. I also returned to express yourself for the first time since my fall but time I was purely there to enjoy the evening and believe me I did as some of us including yours truly ended walking all the way from The Project Cafe in the heart of Cowcaddens to Delmonicas and eventually Speakeasy in the heart of the Merchant City and that by the way is a longer walk than you think. 

Come August and all roads led to the fringe. Well they did eventually though not before my usual stint at Words And Music, my attendance at the funeral of our much loved sister poet Catherine Walker, my participation in Pride’s Got Talent, where I tried my hand at stand up comedy and a fantastic Extra Second on Sexuality to coincide with the upcoming Glasgow Pride weekend. As a trans woman this one had my name on it and  I made sure I was not only on the bill but that I produced my set yet and believe me judging by the compliments I received I think it’s safe to say I delivered.  

When I eventually did get to the fringe I was welcomed with open arms by fringe favourites and friends such as Jenni Pascoe, Fay Roberts, David Lee Morgan, Hannah Chutzpah, Sophia Blackwell, and Matt Panesh, to name a few. I may not have made it through as often as I wanted but I saw all the shows I needed to see and some extra gems which were recommended by friends including what was in my opinion the best show of fringe 2017 The Door To Door Poet By Rowan McCabe. All that and I still managed to take part in three shows including my now compulsory appearance at Other Voices. Well let’s be honest the fringe would never have been the same without it. 

Picture (2) Sophia Blackwell rockin it at The Banshee Labyrinth as part of the Edinburgh Fringe

As the fringe ended for another year it was back to Glasgow and last Monday at Waterstones. With that we moved on to September and the usual round of cultural engagements in what was a low key month for yours truly in terms of performing my poetry but not in terms of culture. However this slight shift in scene was just what I needed after the drama that was August. It has to be said however the highlight of what was  an enjoyable month when I actually had time to relax, was without doubt the official launch of the women with fierce words poetry anthology at the Griffin Bar in Glasgow city centre. This was an amazing and uplifting night and shows what can done when a group of women have both talent and determination. On a slightly different note the following Saturday I attended the  hope over fear rally and on the same night I went to see a play called Adam  about a young transgender man and it was a brilliant and thought provoking peace of theatre.   I also made my return to the last Monday stage and believe me it felt good. To conclude the month I received the news that one of my poems had been published in the 10 Red anthology and on  the final Thursday and a week earlier than usual I was one of the hosts of the National Poetry Event at the Gallery Of Modern Art which had been moved from its usual slot on the first Thursday of October to accomadate Hull’s place as city of culture.  

October saw me doing my stuff at Words And Music and at Last Monday at Waterstones with another team slam sandwiched inbetween. My team didn’t win this team but hey you can’t win them all.  I was also interviewed for a spoken word radio show by my friend Carla Woodburn which I have to say was an interesting  and enjoyable experience, and thanks to impromptu Facebook conversation with Jim Monaghan I managed to get a last minute ticket for what had to be Glasgow’s poetry event of the year with Hollie McNish at Oran Mor. Now I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again Hollie McNish is the best poet in Britain today. Well when you’ve got Liz Lochhead as your support act it speaks volumes for your ability. I also had a lovely night at Extra Second where I ended up on a date with a gorgeous man called Brendan. We finished our evening at Katie’s Bar where we enjoyed each other’s company in a relaxed and intimate manner. 

As we got to November Words and Music kicked off the month in style with brilliant featured sets from featured writer Katharine MacFarlane and featured musician Bob Leslie. It was then back to the Tron for another Sunday team slam but this time I was on the judging panel along with Kevin Cadwallender. After that I performed at Extra Second even though I didn’t expect to as it turned out this would though I didn’t know it at the time be my last apperance at the Blue Chair before it closed its doors for the final time. It was as always an enjoyable night made even better by the fact Brendan turned up and just like the last time we ended up at Katie’s for more special times. During what was an eventful month I made my second appearance at Express Yourself which just so happened to be on Angela Strachan’s birthday and ended up forming the female version of The Proclaimers with my new karaoke partner the wonderful Antonia Seaward. Honestly the regulars of Lauder’s Bar have never heard anything quite like it. I finished the month at Waterstones where I gave my best performance since the move from and ended November on a high. 

December saw me have a quiter month than I’d planned managing to attend only three events as a combination of icy weather and a seasonal illness ruled me out of at least four events I had planned to attend. I did however host an excellent Words And Music Christmas Cracker  at the Tin Hut with Karen Jones and Bernadette Collier in outstanding form as the featured acts. My final performance of the year at the Tinsil Tales event at the Gallery of Modern Art on the Thursday before Christmas when I compared the first section of this four hour poetry marathon before focusing on  my set. In my set I lulled the auduence in to a false sense of security by reading two new sensible Christmas  poems on consumerism and homelessness before reverting to two of my Christmas comedy classics to have the audience howling louder than a winter gale to finish my performances for the year on a high. 

For my last event of the year I journeyed west as I accompanied my friend Janet Crawford the Dram Bar where she was competing in the Loud Poets political slam which was deservedly won by Jim Monaghan to finish off the year 

So there you have it my poetic year. Thanks to all who made it what it was, a memorable journey where bards were the stars and musicians made magic in song . Here’s hoping that the next twelve months will be just as exciting. So I’ll close by wishing all my readers A Happy, Peaceful, Successful, New Year.   I hope you’ll keep reading tartan tights throughout 2018. 

Till next time 

Gayle X 

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The Alt Right Claim That Snowflakes Are Delicate Little Creatures But The Truth Is They Are The Delicate Ones When You Look At Their Fragile Beliefs 

 Earlier this month it was my privilege to be part of a very interesting and very lively night at Extra Second. Well when the subject is philosophy it is shall we say bound to lead to a lot of stimulating discussion and debate and that was certainly the case on this occasion. 

Being more in the tradition of a philosophy cafe than a normal spoken word event was a significant departure from tradition for Extra Second you were allowed to challenge performers during their set and I faced one such challenge from an audience member with regards to my poem Snowflake. 

On finishing the poem I was quizzed by a very charming and polite middle class twenty something  male who asked if he could ask me a question on the poem. I said that I had no objection to him asking whatever he wished and I would attempt to answer him in the correct and proper way As I gave the floor to my inquistor I steadied myself in readiness for his take on my poem. 

My questionner asked that since I had inferred that the Alt Right referred to the those on the liberal left as Snowflakes and implied that we were delicate little creatures was is not hypocritical of me to then say towards the end of the poem that the Alt Right were in fact snowflakes and they were the delicate little creatures or was he misunderstanding my poem. 

I replied that he had indeed misunderstood the context of the poem as to get it you have to understand the psychology of the bully and why they not only fear change they are actually terrified of it.  This is why I referred to them as delicate little creatures because as soon as you put them under any sort of pressure they fold like a piece of paper . I went on to say that these people like to intimidate others but are not so keen when the groups concerned fight back and use the same assertive tactics on them and as long as there are racists, homophobes, transphobes and those who discriminate against others on the grounds on factors such as disability, gender, or anything else they think they can think of to make themselves relevant then I will continue to call them out for there actions. 

Having been challenged on my first poem I must to being genuinely shocked that I wasn’t challenged on my poem Mirrors Of Time as it showed both empathy to a younger poet who was experiencing what he described as his political puberty and also how my political views have changed over time. 

If lack of a challenge on that poem was surprising it was an even greater shock not to be questioned on my final contribution which was a very personal blog post written to celebrate the 21st birthday of a certain blogger to whom I have become very close. I say this was a shock as being a poet this was a massive step out of my comfort zone.  To be honest I would have welcomed challenges on both these pieces as this could have led to a tough but enjoyable cross examination of how I’ve evolved over time as friends would have taken the opportunity to ask about the events that shaped the changes in my thinking which both pieces illustrate. Indeed I would have been happy to take questions on them. 

That said however it seems that those in the audience got those changes from the context in which the pieces were set and only Snowflake caused anyone to misunderstand the meaning of what was being said.  This I must admit baffled me as I thought it was easily the most relatable topic of the three I had time to cover but it seems that someone who appears to be on the pro unionist right of the political spectrum didn’t get the fact that those they call snowflakes may not be quite as delicate as they would like to think and the fragility of their own beliefs may mean that in reality, the Alt Right are in fact far more delicate than those they choose to mock. 

Till next time 

Gayle X

Tapestry

In my final poem for this year’s pride I bring my story up to date by relating the events from the 1990’s to the present day. I’ve given it the title Tapestry as it completes my story so far. I hope you enjoy the read. 
Tapestry

It’s been a long journey to get to where I am 

though from the 90’s onwards 

attitudes began to get better 

slowly at first, but they speeded up 

when we reached the millennium bell

things had been improving bit by bit

as more people began to be open 

to say without fear I am what I am

a friend of Dorothy who walks the yellowbrick road

in red shoes of whatever style I like

the T was finally included 

in what had been thought of as LGB rights

for me the journey would take just a few more years 

with smiles and tears along the way 

now in my 50’s I can safely say

I’m having the time of my life 

I’m more daring than I ever believed I could be 

yet at the same time respectable 

when the occasion demands 

no longer content to bury my head in the sand

I face the world and say 

this is me take it or leave it

but you won’t change me 

I only go back to the past

to collect memories which I join together 

crafting with care the tapestry of my story 

© Gayle Smith 2017

No Room For Rainbows

In my latest poem I look at what it meant to be a young trans woman in the very conservative 1980’s. To set the context to this work I should perhaps explain that as we started this  decade homosexuality wàs still illegal in Scotland and though this changed in 1981 bringing the law in to line with England and Wales where this had been the case since 1967 it was at a time when there was a climate of fear against the LGBT community and when homophobia and transphobia as we know them today didn’t exist and merely thought of as normal everyday behaviour. 

Seriously, that’s how it was back in the day.Thankfully times have moved on since those dark days and now living permanently as the woman I’ve always known I was I’ve taken a retrospective look at that part of my story and I think I’ve gained a better understanding of my mother’s issues with my trans identity by doing so. I honestly believe that my mother was a good woman who was probably afraid for my safety and that’s what shaped her views on it. 

As is the case with some poems I had difficulty in deciding the title because I had thought of more than one potential option for it. Bearing this in mind I asked my virtual villagers to make the choice for me  and it was Michelle Campbell SNP councillor for Erskine And Inchinan who was first up with her suggestion of No Room For Rainbows which I think is the perfect fit for a poem written about darker days than now. So I’ve to run with it and I hope you enjoy the read.  
No Room For Rainbows 

In the 80’s I danced to Madonna 

and sometimes to a bit of Donna Summer 

well much to my mother’s consternation 

there were some things from the 70’s 

I just couldn’t give up.  

 I wanted a bit of hot stuff 

well though this material girl enjoyed her freedom years 

dancing in my fishnets and body suit 

in the peace and quiet of my room

was the closest I could get to being me

in the days when myths and misconceptions 

were par for the course if you were LGBT

due to the climate of the time 

anti gay hate crime was worse then than now

and trans women were figures of ridicule 

so I can understand my  mother’s attitude 

in trying to wish my identity away 

write it off as a phase

but all the wishing in the world 

wasn’t going to make me straight 

at least not in the male sense of the word 

the very idea of it is completely absurd 

though I get why she hung on to it 

tighter than any child clings to a comfort blanket 

the 80’s were uncomfortable times 

for anyone considered different 

she was probably scared I’d be attacked 

as Thatcher used force 

to unite her Britain under a union flag 

made of second hand rags and material concerns 

with no room left for rainbows 

© Gayle Smith 2017

Ten Days

As pride gets ever closer this poem looks at the story of a princess and a trans girl. Only ten days separated me and Princess Diana. Ten days, and different world’s.Though never a royalist it would have been impossible for a trans girl only ten days younger than Diana not to gush over her glamorous lifestyle not to mention wardrobe but sometimes fairytales are not  quite what they seem and at a time when I was struggling to confront my gender identity issues,  her life appeared to be less complicated than mine It is fair to say that perhaps I didn’t  realise how much pressure she was under or how lucky I actually was. As is often the case when I’m finding it difficult to select a suitable choice of title I let a friend make the call for me. On this occasion the friend in question was a member of the Blue Chair poetry family Molly Frawley who agreed with my original choice of title Ten Days as this shows both the few  similarities I had with Princess  Diana and the even greater differences between us. I hope you enjoy what I think you’ll find a thought provoking read. 

Ten Days 

I was never a fan of the Royal Family 

but as a young trans woman coming to terms with my sexuality 

I was subliminally influenced 

by Princess Diana who was only ten days older than me 

you see I  liked the way she carried herself

even though one of her dresses 

would cost ten times my family’s combined wealth

if everyone put all our money together

getting engaged to a Prince on Valentine’s day

seemed like the most romantic fairytale ever 

till I remembered that fairytales only happened in panto 

not to 19 year olds from forgotten housing schemes 

in remote parts of Glasgow 

and to be honest I never fancied her man 

well I couldn’t be doing with a guy

who spent more time talking to plants 

than he did getting in to my pants

no matter how rich he was 

that kind of man could never be my type 

he was more Mr Wrong than he could ever be Mr Right

now I don’t why but I always thought the marriage was a sham

It was too great a contrast 

like David Attenborough meets Wham 

and that it was never going to work in the long run 

Diana knew the meaning of girls just wanna have fun

not just the lyrics 

while his stiff upper lip made him typically British 

and I do mean sexuallly repressed 

when she got married I focused on her dress 

and how I would love to have worn it

for my  wedding to the groom of my choice 

she gave me the strength to admit to myself 

I fancied boys not girls

well I was too busy wanting to be one 

to look at them in that way 

of course, in those days 

If I aired those thoughts folk would have just have assumed I was gay 

nobody even considered girls like me could exist 

so I transported myself to the dream world 

of a girl who was just 10 days older than me

when her death came I was saddened 

though not as surprised as some 

I thought it best to say nothing

play dumb and watch Blair hijack her death 

cry fake tears for the queen of hearts

the people’s princess 

the girl who made another girl smile 

as she showed me style and high fashion

the kind of outfits I would have loved to have worn to the dancing 

if only I had the chance 

but the princess who was only ten days older than me 

was the girl who had everything

until she realised that sometimes princes turned in to frogs

and not every fairytale has a happy ever after 

© Gayle Smith 2017 

Secret Cinderella

With Glasgow Pride coming up next weekend it’s no surprise that this month’s edition of Extra Second is focusing on sexuality. As I’ve been billed to perform I thought I had better get cracking and write some poems on the topic. In this one I travel back in time to the summer of 1974 and recall the day I  started secondary school and the first real stirrings with regards to boys and being aware of being a socially awkward trans teen before I knew the term for it. I’ve given it the title Secret Cinderella, I hope you enjoy the read .

Secret Cinderella

It was the day that Nixon resigned 

and the Bay City Rollers made number one on Radio Clyde 

when I started high school

I tried so hard to fit in and be cool 

it didn’t work 

I wanted skirts not the trousers that were my fate

I hated being made to be a boy 

I couldn’t play the part 

my heart wasn’t in it 

there were limits to my acting skils 

I tried to play football but would sooner hang out with girls 

talk about what really mattered 

make up, boys, and teenage dreams 

the centrefold in that week’s Jackie magazine 

but when you lived in the schemes 

these stirrings had to be calmed if not completely quelled

Catholic or Protestant both guilt trips 

had the same destination 

a one way ticket on the road to hell 

and a child of a mixed marriage would be condemned to it twice 

secretly I would wear tights and dresses 

when nobody else was watching 

well Scotland was a different place back then

where men were men and no boys were ever allowed to cry 

even if denying the truth would have them climbing bedroom walls 

the secret Cinderella’s who never even made it 

to the school disco let alone the ball 

and wouldn’t kiss Prince Charming till their 40’s 

© Gayle Smith 2017

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