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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

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 

the locals claimed we were not the same as them 

using lsnguage 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 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 

Brownies Bromances And Missing Bits From Bibles Really Was The Best Of Summer Nights 

As tradition dictates the summer brings a mellow mood to Words And Music I think it’s the combination of sunshine and the upcoming holiday season that does it. That said , whatever the reason for it there is always a relaxed atmosphere in the summer months, especially July and as the 12 performers and friends who made the night what it was would agree,  it’s the perfect opportunity for  faces  old and new  to showcase their talents. 

July is the kind  of month which suits the kind  of performers who are easy one on the ear it was with this in mind that I selected Jim Ewing to be featured writer and Charly Houston as featured musician. Well that was the plan but when Charly was unable to make it due to work commitments I had to get another musician at the last minute. Fortunately our resident multi tasker, Andy Fleming was ready and able to step in and take over that particular brief as he has so often in the past. 

Comforting as it is to see Andy and the core regulars who make our nights what they are  it’s always good to welcome new faces to the club and July saw two newcomers find a home at our place. In Natasha Newman and Moki Goddess Of Mischief both of whom I first met at the Blue Chair Extra Second nights I knew we had unearthed two stars of the future and was delighted they had graced us with their presence. 

As host it was my duty to this summer night off to the best possible start even if I shamelessly plugged the fact that I had won the Faith And Unbelief title with my opening poem Faithful Daughter which is my poetic warning to the Church of Scotland to modernise or die. 

Having kicked off the night it was time to introduce the first of the billed readers and Mary Wilson read two nature based poems Fledging Bluetits and Fledgling Sparrows based on her knowledge of watching new birds finding their way in the world .

After Mary’s gentle start to the evening, it was time to welcome the first of our newcomers to the stage, and Moki Goddess Of Mischief hit the ground running with a powerful thought provoking poetic package which was very well delivered by a poet who gets better with every performance. Her selection of The Demon Queen and Winching showed two very different sides to a poet of real potential who gave a very relaxed and confident performance. Like me Moki hails from the North of Glasgow and in fact grew up not only in the same scheme I had a few decades ago but in the very next street to the place I once called home so forgive me if I’m just a wee bit proud of a local girl made good who is keeping up the scheme’s reputation for producing quality poets and before you say anything yes I do mean me.  I have to say I enjoyed both of Moki’s poems and I did notice that The Demon Queen produced more than a few shocked expressions whereas Winching had the audience giggling and contained more than a few nuggets of comedy gold. 

With Moki’s debut over it was time for a seasoned regular to entertain us and in Alex Frew we had the perfect poet for the job. Well, I say poet but on this occasion Alex being the contrary type decided to start his set with a song Leonard’s Lactose Lament in tribute to Leonard Cohen and followed it up with a short stand up set. This wasn’t so much Not The Nine O’ Clock News, it was more like Not The Weekly News but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that it was both funny and enjoyable which it definitely was.  

After Alex it was the turn of Susan Milligan to take the stage. This month Susan performed two poems Changing Your Mind, and Political Effects Two, before finishing her set with a song Carolina Moon

As one Susan left the stage another took her place, and Susan McKinestry performed two fabulous poems on the impact of social and economic disadvantage which left the audience spellbound. This was an excellent performance from a poet who was making only her second appearance at Words And Music  and had to be coaxed in to making  her first. Trust me this is a poet you will hear a lot more of  and a voice which needs heard in the fight for compassion and equality a fight we shouldn’t need to be having in the 21st century but unfortunately it is more needed than its ever been. 

After Susan It was time for the second of our newcomers to take her place and be the latest poet to add her name to the tapestry which makes up the history of our event and trust me Natasha Newman didn’t disappoint. As she led us to the bar break Natasha preformed a set of  four poems of truly excellent quality.She started her set with Summer Executions in which she  gave us her thoughts on what was for her and many others myself included was  a very disappointing election result. This was followed by Whole, before moving on to  the brilliantly titled Destination Unknown. This is a place that this poet and many others have visited a  lot more than they will ever care to admit but it also sums up where the future will take us as nobody knows what tomorrow will bring. For her final poem of what was a top class debut set , Natasha read Ignited Rhymes.  This was a great way to conclude the  set and indeed the first half of the show as Natasha’s rhymes have certainly ignited the spoken word scene since this quiet softly spoken poet made her debut on it earlier  this year at Extra Second. Make no mistake this performance marks the  arrival of a major new talent and when I’m proved right then remember where you heard it first. 

After the break it was time for our featured writer and on this occasion it was Jim Ewing who entertained the gathering with a set which showcased his versatility at its best.  In 20 minutes Jim got through more subjects than mastermind as he took us on a journey through his work.

 Jim started his set with Trumped Up , a political haiku on American president Donald Trump . He then moved on to a poem l entitled For Her in which he described the lack of compassion shown by a mourner at the death of an addict . In his next poem To A Mother Jim illustrates the full horrors of the Orlando massacre and   his grief such  senseless slaughter

For his next poem Jim journeyed much further back in time and read Martyrs a poem on the political climate 100 years ago at  a time when the world was experiencing both wars and revolutions and the social and political upheavel that resulted from them. 

After this it was time for a change of direction as our featured writer showed his humorous side with the ghostly ghoulish goings on the world of The Man With The Iron Teeth. This was followed by  a trip to the past with Self Portrait 1900 before Carp Diem brought us back to the presen. Well it is the Latin for Seize The Day. 

In his next poem Bromance Jim took a light at the bonds of male friendship. This I have to say of one my favourite poems by any poet on this topic and is possibly only eclipsed by Robin Cairns Homeland Songs as my all time favourite on it.  

From this Jim moved on to Neil’s Prayer before reading  his Dusty Springfield poem Definitely  He followed this with Retrospective before concluding his set with Men At Lunch. 

As regular readers will know the featured writer is usually followed by the featured musician. However as Charly couldn’t make it due to other commitments  there was no featured musician at least not officially I was able to make an intelligent adaptation to the programme and let Pete Faulkner take the stage. This was a very good move as Pete is highly entertaining as well as being a consummate performer 

As was the case in June when he was featured writer, Pete read an extract from his novel. In this chapter the school is visited by a group French students as part of a foreign exchange and  Christopher is mortified by both students and staff alike particularly by the head of department who is doing the stereotypical Scot routine to perfection. 

As Pete returned to his seat it was time for Andy Fleming to be the featured musician for the night . As regular attenders will know Andy has more than one than string to his bow, and when he takes the  stage, you never quite know what happen you only know you’ll enjoy it when it does. 

Andy started his set by reading a very short  poem from his girlfriend Christine  before getting on to the serious stuff with his word association poem Genetic Typing Pool Shark Bait. I hadn’t heard this poem in  a long time and I really enjoyed listening to it again. He followed this with another piece from the achieve and it was great to hear and sing along to  the Job Centre Plus song.  From unemployment Andy moved on the topic of neighbours and aimed his creative fire at the kind of neighbours we would all hope never to have with  his classic poem Neighbours , Everybody Needs Good Neighbours ,  But Mine Are A Shower Of  Bastards. This poem never fails to hit the spot as almost everyone has had or knows someone whose had neighbours like the ones Andy so eloquently describes in this piece. 

Andy followed this up with  his own unique take on the disco classic I Will Survive before moving on to Roadrunner before concluding his set with that nice little sing a long number There’s No Mention Of The Clitoris In The Bible.

With Andy’s set completed it was up to me to finish up the night  and I did so with a  set  of four poems . I started with  Slice Of Faith ,  a poem on celebrating. the end of  lent by getting back on the chocolate by enjoying  my favourite chocolate based treat otherwise known as the Blue Chair Brownie. Well if Burns can  do it for haggis than why can’t I do it for the brownies. I mean  it seems fair to me. 

I then got slightly more political as I read Scroungers which explains what can happen when people are faced with the reality that the press and media don’t always tell the  truth  and. you face them with alternative arguments they may not have been exposed to. 

 I then moved on to a poem on activism  entitled  Snowflake which illustrates that those who use this term to insult us are making  a big mistake as snowflakes like activists never arrive on their own.

I concluded  my  set with a poem the place I call home and My Glasgow showed you exactly that  my city for better or worse in what I hope is an affectionate but realistic portrayal of   my city. 

With that, another Words And Music came to an end  and as I made my way home I reflected on an evening of brownies, bromances, and missing bits  from bibles really was the best of summer nights. 

Till next time

Gayle X

In Memory Of Catherine Walker 

On the evening of Sunday the 23rd of July  just after 9 PM I was scrolling down my Facebook feed when I saw a message from my friend Marc Sherland. This post left me both shocked and saddened as it told me of the death of our friend and fellow poet Catherine Walker who had been found dead in her flat earlier that day by Marc and another friend from the writers community of which Catherine was an important part , Stephen Smith. Marc and Stephen had made the discovery at around 1 PM on Sunday afternoon at a time when most of us would be enjoying social time with friends and family. Catherine Walker was only 55 years old. 

This picture shows Catherine relaxing at a friend’s barbecue 


Naturally Catherine’s unexpected death has come as a shock to all her many friends in the poetry community and beyond and many poets have  paid warm and affectionate tributes to her expressing their sadness at a the loss of an excellent poet and an even better woman. Her loss pains us all and to those of a similar vintage is a sharp remainder that our light can be  extinguished at any time and makes us all to aware of our mortality. 

It was her compassion for all inhabitants of our planet which made Catherine a keen environmentalist and eventually a vegetarian, but anyone who thinks that these beliefs would make this softly spoken poet one of the tweed and twee brigade whose poems could be dismissed, as airy fairy could not be further from the truth. It is my opinion that her Christmas poem Santa’s on minimum wage is one the most biting satirical critiques I have ever heard on the impact of austerity. 

Amongst the facts  I would never have known about Catherine was that she was a skilled amateur mathematician and was once married to a driving instructor and despite passing her test never drove and was as Marc readily confirms one of the most nervous passengers he has ever driven. 

It saddens me as it will many  others  that a woman of Catherine Walker’s talent has no volume of her  work to leave as her legacy. This was at least in part due to the fact that Catherine, a shy and on occasion nervous woman lacked belief to see, what others who knew her work  would describe as her considerable abilities. 

This was due to be rectified as Marc  Sherland had been  due to publish a book of her poetry sometime this year . However  in January Catherine requested that he put it on hold as she had lost faith in her poetic voice. A modest woman with more talent than she ever knew  her loss will be deeply felt by all whose lives she touched but perhaps most keenly by Marc Shetland who she viewed as her non biological brother and whose family she adopted as her own 

For those who wish to celebrate Catherine’s life there will be a gathering at The Blue Chair Cafe 85 High Street on Wednesday the 2nd August from 7 to 10 PM 

My Thanks go to Marc R Sherland for his assistance with this task 

Till next time 

Gayle X 

This post was first published on Mumble Words on 31/07/2017 

No Way To Treat A Legend 

On looking through some old poems tonight I came across an unfinished effort I had started to write  on American Olympic legend Jesse Owens. It had some notes scribbled beside it which were key words and phrases I had taken down with the intention of adding them to the poem which was to be written on his achievements in Berlin and the subsequent mistreatment of one of America’s all time sporting greats. I noted that the inspiration for this poem was the anger I felt on watching a documentary on his life and times which was shown in the early noughties. On finding this poem and the notes I had taken to complete it  I set about finishing it and have given it the title No Way To Treat A Legend. I hope you enjoy what I think will be a challenging and thought provoking read.  
No Way To Treat A Legend 
Dateline 1936: Berlin. Olympic Games 

an athlete shattered Nazi dreams and ran his way to fame 

winning four gold medals he proved he was king of the track 

but Hitler wouldn’t shake his hand as Jesse Owens was black 

the champion was American from from the land of Uncle Sam 

and he’d met Hitler’s type before they called themselves The Klan 

those good ole boys who used the lord to justify their bigotry

no matter what they put him through he won with style and dignity 

by winning his Olympic crowns he captured people’s hearts 

he gave them dreams to cling to at a time when days were dark 

for unemployment plagued the land at a time of great depression 

but Jesse Owens had now become a global sporting legend 

This should have been a guarantee of national hero status 

for the man who mocked the master race and left them devastated

but Jesse’s dreams would be destroyed because he dared to say

athletics was a serious game and.he should earn some pay. 
Now this to those who ran the sport was regarded as a crime 

they banned him from all track and field until the end of time 

because he wouldn’t toe the line and wasn’t afraid to speak. 

in just four months he’d been reduced from a hero to a freak 

On boxing day of that same year his fall from grace completed 

he faced humiliation in the way that he was treated 

forced to race against a horse to see who would come out on top

a great Olympic champion had now been cruelly mocked 

he never gained another chance to show his record pace 

although he smashed the fantasy of the fascist master race 

but in his nation’s darkest hour he was given great acclaim

he should have been rewarded and enjoyed the fruits of fame. 

but this alas was not to be as Jesse’s dreams were crushed 

by those who held the reins of power who trampled him to dust 

though his place in history is assured by his victories in Berlin 

nobody knows his tormentors names but the world remembers him 

the suits who brought about his fall poured shame upon their country 

they revealed the truth they couldn’t hide their hate filled hearts were ugly 

when Jesse brought the glory home a brilliant future beckoned

until they destroyed a hero’s dream 

that’s no way to treat a legend. 

 © Gayle Smith 2017