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 

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 

Signature

It’s no secret that as someone who is actively involved in politics and has been for over 30 years I have signed my share of petitions on a number of different issues. My signature has supported campaigns on everything from demanding the end of apartheid in South Africa to the right to equal marriage, and the end of period poverty. So when someone asked me if I thought signing petitions mattered and could be viewed as political activism I had no hesitation in saying that it could and I wrote this poem entitled Signature to illustrate the point. I hope you find it an enjoyable and thought provoking read. 

Signature 

Someone once asked me

does signing a petition count as activism 

I told them it did 

they seemed happy with my answer

if slightly confused  

on realising this  I explained why our signature matters

I shared stories I had heard of injustice in South Africa 

when Nelson Mandela was labelled a terrorist 

by Margaret Thatcher

when all he wanted was  his people to have the right to rule their land 

I said that signing petitions was 

a way of raising awareness to make people understand

why things needed to change 

but would stay the same 

If we didn’t sign up to express our discontent .

I explained that this is direct democracy in action

and without this kind of participation 

it’s no exaggeration to  say 

Palestine would still be ignored

the lion rampant would never have roared for democracy 

governments could neglect child poverty 

and remain  inactive on tackling the gig economy.

equal marriage would have remained a distant dream 

and no it’s not the preserve of smaller parties like the greens 

It’s a valuable way of bringing issues from  the fringe to the mainstream 

of changing attitudes over time 

at street stalls or online 

authority knows

the power of your signature.

© Gayle Smith 2017 

Our Stories

​With the UK pride season taking  place throughout the summer I thought I would share my  views on what the pride marches mean to me and why they have such important place in the history of  the LGBT community in this new poem entitled Our Stories.I selected this title as I believe it captures the spirit of the event as it shows that the only way any community will gain any sort of respect let alone the equality they deserve is by speaking their truths in their language.  I hope you enjoy the read. 

Our Stories 

With rainbow flags side by side with other banners

 we marched through the city  

as well wishers smiled, took photographs, blew kisses 

with only the odd look of disapproval

from those who wished to  rain on our parade

this was and is a day to celebrate who we are

in all our glorious diversity 

some may call it perversity 

but love is love no matter what 

your gender identity or sexual orientation may be 

and in the new inclusive nation we are building 

there is room for everyone to express ourselves 

in whatever way we like 

this is what pride is all about 

as we gather together we see as many differences as there are similarities

like families no two among us are exactly the same 

nor would we want them to be 

individual identity is important on days like this 

when we take risks on dancing with strangers  

kiss frogs and hope we’ll turn them in to princes and princesses

see characters in dresses and shorts 

so tight they could never be worn on tennis courts 

and meet oversized guys with oversized egos

who truly believe they could be  heroes 

when you think that life on mars has been discovered

and arrived on Glasgow Green 

It is a wonderful mixture of the beautiful and the obscene

but that doesn’t matter the most important part of the day

is to see and be seen in this colourful cavalcade

there was a time when this day and this parade

would not ,indeed could not have taken place 

we would have called a disgrace

for daring to show our faces

and public displays of affection 

would never have been allowed

now we hold hands as we march 

through city streets 

we are even allowed to marry 

politicians speak at our events 

expressing support for our right

to be who we are, 

live life without fear 

be accepted as we accept others 

because we got active became the change 

we wanted to see in the world 

by telling our stories in our words

© Gayle Smith 2017 

Frontline 

As I’m sure most of you know activism whether cultural, social, or political has always played a big part in my life. So when it was selected to be the topic for this month’s Extra Second I was naturally delighted to volunteer my services to perform at the event and have written this poem entitled Frontline especially for the occasion. I hope you enjoy the read .

Frontline 
I attend demonstratations 

for a variety of causes and campaigns

come rain or shine you will find me 

on the frontline

supporting those who need it 

on a range of issues 

local, national, or international, 

sometimes the apathetic call me irrational 

tell me I can’t   change the world

or the society of the nation I live in 

but Scotland and Britain need people like me 

people who want to make changes 

for the better 

not surrender to selfishness and greed 

I want to help those in greatest need 

give them a hand up not a hand out 

and certainly not the kind the Tories talk about 

they deserve rights and equality 

not a world where the only way is poverty 

we are supposed to be a  wealthy nation 

 not a nation for the wealthy 

the mind thyself culture 

is not just unhealthy 

it’s wrong and that’s why I’m trying as hard as I can to change it 

we can’t allow those with gold plated gates 

to lock the rest of us out 

and that’s why it’s important to voice opinions

on what happens outside your borders 

there can be no limits to justice 

we have a duty to support the oppressed wherever they are 

designer goods and fast cars

have never been my style

as my gran always told me 

you can’t take them with you when you go  

and believe me I know the truth of that story

that’s why I oppose Tory policies

you don’t solve problems by creating inequality

foodbanks  are not the solution to poverty

and  I cringe at Westminster’s attitude

 at the wealthy selling arms to corrupt government’s abroad 

meanwhile millions of citizens are ignored 

as doors of opportunity to change

are slammed shut in their faces

If this is the best we can do it’s outrageous 

especially when  cutting costs means that slowly 

the NHS  bleeds to  death

for lack of funding 

this kind of attitude is disgusting

and it’s why you’ll see me on the front line 

protesting at the wrongs of the world 

and doing whatever I can

 to change them for the better 

© Gayle Smith 2017 

The Longest Fortnight

As this weekend starts the period that was traditionally known as the Glasgow Fair Fortnight I thought I would write a poem about this late lamented part of Glasgow history the significance of which has become somewhat diluted since my teenage years of the late 1970’s due to the diverse nature of the post industrial nature of our economy and the greater flexibility and choice both of timing of holidays and potential destinations. As  I struggled to think of a suitable title for the poem I asked friends for some ideas and as usual on these occasions there were plenty of replies. Eventually , I decided that The Longest Fortnight suggested by fellow poet, and independence campaigner Shaun Moore best summed up the sentiments expressed in the piece which captures the  memory of a Glasgow which has slowly faded in to history. I hope you enjoy the read. 

The Longest Fortnight

This was the day the factory gates closed early 
and  the shipyards and steelworks ceased production

as Glasgow shut down for the fair   

for many this meant a holiday by the sea

usually the Ayrshire coast or Blackpool 

If they could afford it 

budgets were a factor which couldn’t be  ignored 

of course I had dreams 

but living within our means 

was a lesson learned early 

looking back on my memories 

those days seem like yesterday

reality is the thief of time 

and time the burglar of years

now I realise the hopes and fears 

my parents had 

which adolescent me dismissed as sad 

were genuine to them 

but on this the first day of the workers break

I thought not of where we would go 

that was tomorrow’s concern 

I learned only of possible options 

in the Scotland of 1970’s 

and  knew boredom would drive me up the wall 

meanwhile my mother paced the hall 

wondering when my dad would come home from the pub 

and what state he’d been in on arrival 

looking back on my childhood memories

I realise the workers were celebrating their survival 

with their well earned break 

their work was hard work 

what my dad called a real job

where they were given a weekly wage 

for their eight or nine hour shifts

no wonder so many homes were rented 

people were conditioned to be content 

with what they were told they could afford 

our families accepted these attitudes

and showed gratitude by saving their  pennies

for what my mother would call rainy days

It was important she said to have some spare change 

for essentials and a few wee luxuries

the fair fortnight was an escape 

from the drudgery of their routine 

for the other 50 weeks year in year out 

when there were such things as jobs for life

where people worked from leaving school till retirement 

the ability to graft and learn on the job 

the main requirements for success

in the not so good old days 

so revered by those on nostalgia trips

eventually and usually a lot later than my mother liked

my dad would  come home mildly drunk 

with fish suppers in hand 

 a fair Friday tradition you understand 

on the day the factories closed 

and a city took a fortnightly break 

until one by one the jobs disappeared 

and the gates were closed 

for the final time 

and the last to leave switched off the lights. 

© Gayle Smith 2017