Christmas Nights Dysfunctional Familes Geography Death & Prejudice Its All In A Good Night’s Poetry

Hey everyone On Monday night I had the privilege of attending & competing in the Semi Final of the Scotia Bar Poet Laureate Competition. Unfortunately I never made it through to the final which will take place on 14th January. However I am in good company as both Catherine Baird & Chris Young failed to qualify from last week’s Semi Final & this I have to say defies all logic & reason.

In congratulations the three qualifiers Ian Hunter Wullie Purcell &Tracy Patrick I have to say the standard of competition was excellent, & we certainly have three excellent poets going forward to the final. All three have proven track records for producing poetry of the highest calibre & are well capable of winning on the second Monday of January.

This is particularly true when it comes to Tracy whose poem on the poems on the Paisley Mill Girls & the last woman to burned in Scotland were particularly powerful with fantastic use of imagery in both pieces. Unfortunately I missed Ian’s set having a bit later than I have would have liked due to a combination of technical & transport problems. However having heard his work before I know the quality of it, & am not surprised in the slightest that last
year’s runner up has made it to the final again.

As for Wullie Purcell he read quality poems & read them well, dementia & war were amongst the topics covered in a set which managed retain my interest from beginning to end. This should come as no surprise to anyone as I have always been an admirer of Wullie’s work & if you think his poetry is good his short stories are in my opinion even better. Last night during the break he was telling me he has taken up folk singing again & I thought is there no end to this man’s talent?

Dennis Oliver & Steven Smythe were amongst the other poets who took the stage & Dennis always a great reader certainly left us entertained as well as educated & enthralled by a set which showed the real depth of his work. As for Steven I believe this was the best I’ve seen him perform. I particularly liked his poem on war, though I must admit to disagreeing with the judges as I didn’t really enjoy his attempt at humour & the small dog poem. I don’t know why but it just didn’t work for me.

As I stepped up to the mic I was the last to grace the stage & if I say so myself I delivered a quality set of poems on a range of themes which illustrated the diversity of my work though I had to change my set at the last minute due to technical problems with computers & more especially printers. I have to say I believe my original set was considerably stronger, would it have got me through to the final? If I’m honest I wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say it would definitely have done the trick but I do believe I would have had a far better chance. However sometimes the best laid plans of mice & mad poets don’t turn out as you’d hope.

I should have known it wasn’t going to be my night when the computer was acting up but hey it all added to the chaos of the night & that as every poet adds to the atmosphere of the event. On arriving mine host & compare for the evening Ray Evans asked me if I wanted to compete & needless to say I didn’t need a second invitation. Well come on this is me I’m talking about, the poet who hijacks innocent bystanders to rehearse her poems & have done so on buses, trains, pubs, not to mention the streets of Edinburgh during the fringe. My most famous hijacking has to be Alasdair Gray with whom I had the privilege of sharing a train journey from Queens Street to Edinburgh on my first of what turned out to be many visit to the Edinburgh Festival 2011.

I have to say that in contrast to the somewhat jaundiced views of someone journalists I found him to a polite charming individual who was interested in his travelling companions. When I told him I was a poet & hadn’t had anything published he asked if I could recite one of my poems I needed no second invitations to read to him. The poem I selected was My Scotland & I got very positive feedback from him. A pity I never thought to include it in my set on Monday night.

Anyway back to the events of Monday night. Despite my setbacks on the road to the bar, I was in confident mood as I went to the mic, I started my revamped set with Happy Family & followed it up with Mistletoe & Crackpots well I thought if can start with a couple of comic poems it would engage the audience & judges with my set & what better topics to kick off with than a dysfunctional Family & the perils of a Christmas night out.

I then moved on to a poem which combined both my honours degree subjects namely Geography & Politics in a Harvest of Hope. This poem was inspired an article in the Big Issue some years ago which talked about poverty in the developing world & after reading I was motivated to write it from my usual left wing perspective. Well if there’s one thing I hate its inequality in whatever form it takes.

I followed this one up with another poem inspired by a nation in the developing world, well that’s where the inspiration came from for it. This was inspired by my good friend Tawona Sithole a Zimbabwian weegie who was telling me the that the African name for Victoria Falls was Mosi Ay Tunya which translates as the smoke that thunders. Personally I think that’s a much more interesting title than Victoria Falls & It managed to motivate to write a poem which I know Tawona likes.

My next poem was also relates to friendship & unfortunately to bereavement. The traditional music community lost two great guys this year & whilst Scotland wept at the death of the Dundee bard Michael Marra the passing of Glasweigan musician was mourned on a much more personal level as he was a great friend to the spoken word community with his regular appearances at Sammy Dow’s Words & Music adding that extra something to many of our nights. So I thought it only fitting to add Man of Dignity to my set. After all, Kenny would often describe his political views as being of the disenfranchised left & if the disenfranchised left have a home anywhere in Glasgow it is surely the Scotia Bar.

To conclude my set I went back to comedy & finished with a poem I personally rate as one of my best. I’m Not Prejudiced But deals with stereotyping & labelling of groups based on nationality race & gender identity/ sexual orientation. It is a poem which I believe shows bigots up for what they are & is actually based on real life event which happened to me a couple of years ago, when I was chatted up by one of the most gorgeous guys I’ve ever seen. He was a real darling but as soon as he opened his mouth Prince Charming became Prince Charmless as the bigoted racist bile spewed from his lips. Honestly somebody actually made these comments in a conversation as he attempted to chat me up & I thought I need to turn this incident in to a poem. I have changed the location only to protect the guilty. Anyway at the end of what I thought a good well delivered set I went back to my seat & awaited the verdict of the judges.

As I sat down to take a well deserved sip of my diet coke I was congratulated on both my performance & the quality of my set by both Catherine Baird & Ray Evans who both said it was well delivered with a good range of topics covered in my poems. Ray in particular said it was a notable improvement on my last performance in the competition in 2010. I didn’t enter last year due to a combination of bad weather & health issues so it was good to be given such positive feedback from two poets I admire & respect.

As the judges delivered there verdict Ian Tracy & Wullie were named as the three qualifiers for final. On summarising my work the judges said that though it contained some great individual poetry it didn’t come across as a set. This is disappointing only in the fact that my original choices would have certainly had more impact in this respect. I was also told that my set lacked the subtleties of some of the other performers. This is my opinion complete & total drivel. I can’t lack something I don’t do & anyone who knows me & my work knows I’m about as subtle as ten ton truck. However I was very pleased to hear the judges say that they could see the influences of John Cooper Clark in my work. That has to be one of the highlights not only of the night but of my entire career as performance poet. I would also say I have been heavily influenced by Viv Gee Jenny Lindsay Jem Rolls & more recently by Monkey Poet & America’s national menace the brilliant Sophia Walker.

At the end of an excellent evening I went over to the judges for a wee bit more private feedback. I was bold enough to state that I thought I came a lot closer to qualifying than I did to finishing bottom. This fact was verified but the judge said that some of my poems were a wee bit too near the nose. Now trust me I know I could have been a lot nearer the nose had I wanted to be but I can only think they may not have too keen on a set which included topics such as Christmas Nights Dysfunctional Families Geography Death & Prejudice but see as far as I’m concerned its all in a good night’s poetry.

Love & Best Wishes
Gayle X

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