Thursday, 22 November 2018


It's not a real leaf.

So much change here... moving home... new places... new job... just too much to compute at times. And no new poems, not since the last post, but a few pics on the old instawhat'sit and other such excitements. I have even been going to a monthly event here in Dundee where writers read/perform poems and stories (mainly to each other and friends) and this has been... certainly a change from mainly reading poems at a small town music/folk club (see last post). It's varied (well, it is called Hotchpotch...) and interesting. I am giving it a go. I will try not to fall out with everyone by xmas.

Also, on a poetry tip as it were, I will be reading/performing poems at an event in Glasgow on 4 December. It is at the Project Cafe from 6.30-8.30 pm and other poets on the night are Hugh McMillan (the Mighty!) and Jim Mackintosh (can't comment... will be meeting/seeing/hearing him for the first time). It is a free event so no excuses... unless of course you live on the other side of the world or something. I am just hoping the train there isn't so crowded that I end up getting off at Perth or Stirling and having to bus/walk/hitch the rest of the way... that is the kind of thing I do... 

More after that event perhaps...

Monday, 20 August 2018

Music and moving - the local folk club edition

Links Hotel, Montrose (the 'suite' where the folk club takes place anyway)

In less than a month we will be moving house (and let that explain the recent lack of blogging and all other forms of modern communication). We are not moving too far (an hour or so away… by car) but it is a big move in lots of ways and I am pretty excited about it. It’s not that I don’t love this area (we are currently just on the edge of Montrose in Angus) but we have lived in the same place for a long time now (14 years in this house, 16 in total in Angus) and I am a moving-about kind of person. It feels so right to me to be finally emptying these cupboards and packing boxes and thinking about change.

Montrose has been an amazing place to be. For a start it has huge (often empty) beaches and long sunny days and amazing skies (ages ago I wrote a very little poem about the latter called Looking up in Montrose – you can find that, along with a few other poems, here). There are various places of interest nearby too if you’re mad for wildlife (St Cyrus, the Basin) and it is a just a very pretty little town (or a ‘bonnie wee toon’ as I find myself saying more and more… and the more I say it the less strange that version feels in my mouth… I’m not doing it on purpose… I am just less English every day). But one of the things I will miss the most when we move on is the local folk club as it has been important to me in so many ways (social life, cultural life, musical life, philosophical life, poetry life...). For all my time here it has been run by the same person and held in the same venue (the Links Hotel), though there have been changes to the hotel over the years. The ‘stage’ for the club, for example, has been in different rooms and different parts of the same room… and you only need to know this to understand what I’m going on about in the poem at the end of this post... if you stay with me that long…

When we moved to Montrose I was 37 and I had never been to a folk (music) club. I didn’t grow up listening to anything that I would have called traditional or folk music though I had, I suppose, gone through phases of listening to some folky artists, like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell, but that had mainly been a private kind of listening and I don’t think I ever knew what to call that kind of music (I’m not sure I still do..). In 2004 in particular I was in a period of recovery from listening to far too much house music and so really at that point I was happy to listen to anything that didn’t have an endlessly banging drum machine (and therefore a folk club was the perfect antidote – I think I’ve seen one drummer there in 14 years and only odd flashes of a drum machine…). I have gone to the club more or less regularly for all our time here and it has given me so many great nights of music and taught me so many things. It has been a very good friend.

Ours is the kind of folk club that takes place every fortnight and invites a guest artist or band and gets them to play, on the whole, two sets of 45 minutes or so (many are Scottish but certainly not all... lots also from Ireland, England, the US, Canada, plus an Italian, some Australians, New Zealanders...). There are also support slots now and then and, most weeks, an opportunity for locals to do a song or two in the middle part of the evening (or maybe even a poem – if they're really cheeky…). The quality of the guests’ music is phenomenal – amazing musicianship, often excellent songwriting of their own and, almost always, they tell a good tale too so you get a very broad experience, much more than just a few hours of music. After all these years I have learned to appreciate the stricter traditional instrumental music (though I can’t say I will continue listening to it all that much) but some of the singing (and the songs – both old and new) will definitely come with me (in my memory, in my hard drive…) and will remain an important part of my life. I can’t even start to list some of the great artists I have heard at the club (some of them you might have heard of, many others you won’t) but I suppose I could mention (once again) how without Montrose Folk Club I would never have heard the incomparable Michael Marra. I saw him 3 times in Montrose (and once in Dundee) and I have mentioned before my poem about his performances at the club and local songwriter Gary Anderson’s version of that poem turned into a song.

So to get to the new poem… quite a few years ago I wrote a poem about the folk club (called, shockingly, Folk club) and you can read it, if you want to, at the end of a long rambling post at the old blog (it’s here – the poem is in my first book More about the song too). That blog post (very long, very full of… something I don’t feel much anymore…is it youth?) also details how and when I started reading poems aloud during the open mic/floor spot part of the evening at the folk club and all that that meant to me (a lot… ). And as I sat in the folk club last week (enjoying a wonderful night of music and raconteuring from Findlay Napier…up from Glasgow, down from Grantown-on-Spey…) I thought maybe I should try to write an updated version of my folk club poem – something to read (as a thank-you) in a couple of weeks’ time when I go down to hear the Delightful Squalor Trio and maybe say a few good-byes (if temporary ones, we’re not moving that far away). And so I wrote another poem and you can read it here. It isn’t fancy – that’s not the folk club way (not in Montrose anyway). Thanks for reading.

Montrose Folk Club (2018)

Well, the hotel has changed
And, of course, so have we –
Our faces, our places,
The way that we see.

The bar’s still expensive
And yet here we are.
We turn to the music,
Our comfort, our star.

We sit (never dance!),
Put our stories on hold
As we laugh, hum and cry
With the new and the old.

It’s all “tell us a good one”
And “play us a tune”.
Because winter is coming.
Yes, even in June.

The quicks and the slows
And the chairs are the same.
We are nothing but folk.
There’s a clue in our name.

It’s a club, but it’s not
And the rules, they are few –
Just listen and drift,
Be a more rounded you.

There is one other note
And again it will rhyme –
You’ve been kind to this rambler,
So thanks for the time.

RF 2018 

Montrose folk club's website is here. There is a facebook page too.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Jo Cox poem, aloud

It's nearly two years since English MP Jo Cox was killed in West Yorkshire. Since then there have been events in her memory and there will be more again this year. They focus on a very positive message (Jo's words: 'We... have far more in common than that which divides us') and I am aware that the poem I wrote just after her death (Turn) does not entirely share that positive tone, but still it is a tribute to her and listeners/readers have always responded well to it (so far). For this reason I have recently recorded it (a rough video to YouTube but the audio is clear) and you should see it at the top of this post. The text of the poem is here (from when I first posted it, just a short while after she died). I am not a Labour supporter these days (and in fact have never been a big fan of political parties, though they have their moments) but her killing was a political act and so this is a political poem. We have to stand up for each other, remember each other, see each other.

Tuesday, 29 May 2018

For the birds

For the birds

Attack has all the glory.
Loud solos trilled
From tops of trees.
But defence is all,
Defence is key,
And without it
You’ll see us
Beheaded and bleeding,
Tossed aside on the path,
Just results of a game.

Fledglings learn the deeper drill,
That flight and fight
Can sing aloud
In every voice –
Harsh, pretty, coarse.
Maidens must march,
And soar and score,
And learn the happy truth 
That to protect each other
Is to protect ourselves.

RF 2018

I suppose this poem (new today) reflects recent events (both home and away) - a dawn chorus walk, lots of time outside, a continuing obsession with music, the Irish referendum and even a football match. Our heads are so full... poems are one way to release some pressure (I find).

Thursday, 17 May 2018

Mental Health forever

It’s Mental Health Awareness Week just now (until 20th May) and to be honest I find this a bit depressing (which seems both right and very, very wrong). It seems to me a little baffling that we are not, by this point, at full mental health awareness but still, apparently, we are not. How many more celebrity mental health exposés do we need at the Edinburgh Fringe festival, I wonder, before we finally get it – our minds are precious and they need care, attention and quite a lot of help. It’s more obvious in some of us than others of course but as the numbers of people with some kind of mental health problem/challenge rise, the divide between the mentally healthy and the rest gets smaller and smaller. I know maybe one person in my life who doesn’t have some kind of issues they could usefully work on in therapy. And no, you can’t have him, he’s mine.

At least that’s what I think on the one hand. On the other I think – what a load of nonsense, you fool, there is a long way to go to full mental health awareness. After all, I did very little to protect my own mind when it came to the crunch in my teens and twenties (quite the opposite). My Dad may have killed himself (various reasons/diagnoses available, depending who you spoke to in the family…) but I was going to be fine and no I absolutely did not need to talk about it (and pass the drug of choice, please). My Mum’s favoured cause for his 1973 suicide was stress of work/being trapped in someone else’s choice of career so she made sure none of us at the end of the line had those particular stresses – we were to do what we wanted, follow dreams etc. (not that she would ever say anything in that X Factor style but that was the gist of it). And I have tried… but of course there are stresses involved with dreams too (especially when they don’t materialise or succeed in any concrete way). It turns out straggling along in the wake of your failing dreams is not particularly good for the mental health either, and particularly so if it’s possible that quite a lot of the failing is down to laziness, distraction, weakness, possibly even genetic causes etc. But hey, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week! Let’s talk about it. Or not…

Maybe this old subject is also on my mind just now as there was a very public suicide here in Scotland recently (a musician/songwriter/singer/artist, much loved, so a lot of articles, songs posted etc.). One of my favourite pieces prompted by this death was written by Karine Polwart, but then it seems she is just a really good writer whatever the medium (I didn’t know Scott Hutchison’s work but I have been a fan of KP’s since her first solo album). For those of us with a suicide in our past (and that must be quite a lot of us by now) this death was in some ways (sorry for the honesty of this) just another suicide to add to the pile in our heads. Every time someone talks about it (Dawn French about her Dad, another comedian Aisling Bea wrote last year about hers…) I see them, somehow, a stack of frustrated, sad souls, the ones who just couldn’t bear living (not on that particular day anyway). My Mum also put my Dad’s suicide down to the medication prescribed to him (he had stopped taking them suddenly, she said, and crashed, she said it was ‘out of character’ or some such…). It’s impossible for me to know how much of this was accurate information, my Mum wasn’t a huge fan of psychiatric medication, called herself a ‘Freudian’ (though that seems a little old-school now…).

I do know that moving on from that life event was tricky. For a start we all talk about parents and family (or lack of them) a lot and we continually look at our lives through that filter (both in fiction and in the other place). Also our society is fairly obsessed with suicide (nothing that new, I suppose, ‘to be or not to be…’ and all that) and many of us are either drawn to it or terrified by it or a mixture of the two. Having had it as a kind of memory cloud for most of my life I am just tired of it (maybe even bored of it… I know that sounds harsh, inappropriate, childish even). But maybe that’s also influenced by the fact that I am approaching the age my Dad was when he killed himself so I am both thinking about it and really not wanting to think about it at all. A beloved uncle/father figure in my partner’s family just died and how different the feelings for that kind of death (he had a good life, he was loved, he enjoyed his life etc.). I managed to write a little poem for his family and it was so simple and clear (you were loved, we will remember you well). It might not make for a good mini series but how marvellous to just be able to say of someone ‘they lived well, they were a good person’ and not to need the ‘what if’s and the ‘what a shame’s. I did learn to cast off a lot of those thoughts around the picture of my Dad in my head (I think) but it took a while. I still very rarely (if ever) use the phrase ‘what a shame’ (for anything). I don’t like it, don’t really see what it achieves.

I have been reading some books of essays recently (I’ve been fighting a bit with fiction on paper, hate poetry again, and so on). Roxane Gay’s Bad Feminist (2014) is brilliant and Zadie Smith’s Feel Free (2018) likewise. This morning (at silly o’clock – a lot of loud dawn chorus round here) I found myself crying to Smith’s piece ‘The Bathroom’ in Feel Free. She writes about her Dad with a love that just hauls the tears out of my eyes (she writes about all her family with some love but the rest are still living and we write differently about the dead). Crying is good (within reason) so I don’t mind that and I definitely don’t mind the joy that experiencing good writing can bring. Another thing about growing up around the word ‘depression’, I think, is that you try to grab as much joy* as you can, whenever you can (see earlier paragraph for associated problems with that…). The issue is learning about a little thing called balance…

Anyway, this ramble has probably gone on as long as it needs to.  No poem today. And as the Jamie Lee Curtis character in Freaky Friday (2003) says ‘Make good choices!’ If you can.

* (added later) After writing this I finished reading Zadie Smith's Feel Free and so got to the final piece that is, suitably for this post, titled Joy. She calls joy a difficult emotion to manage” (though manage can have different meanings...and I'm not sure which she means, maybe both), declares it such a human madness and argues (I think) in favour of the more manageable pleasure. I'm not sure the line between the two is completely rigid (or even identifiable) but she is, without question, better with these word things than me so I thought I would add this for your consideration. 

Tuesday, 1 May 2018

How special are you?

Angus somewhere, April 2018

I've been listening to lots of radio programmes of late. Now we can choose specific programmes (using the BBC i-player mostly in my case) it is possible to fill your mind, if you need or want to, with a pretty much non-stop flow of ideas via sensible people talking about interesting things on the radio. Just today (no paid work having come knocking on my email door... ) I have listened to Chris Wood on music, church and bodily functions, nearly all the 5 parts of Benjamin Zephaniah's autobiography 'The Life and Rhymes of Benjamin Zephaniah' and a 'Point of View' by Tom Shakespeare on disabled sexuality. I've also read a great piece of writing by Zadie Smith in her book 'Feel Free' ('On Optimism and Despair - you can read it here) so it's been a quiet day on the one hand... but a full one too. And thank goodness for other people's ideas because I have been in a bit of a poetry rut of late too... a run of knock-backs and a decent helping of 'why am I still doing this at all?' Self-pity is always so attractive... let's say no more on that.

Anyway, the Tom Shakespeare 'Point of View' started off with a look at the use of the term 'special needs'. "Disabled people don't have special needs," he says, "we're not aliens, we have ordinary needs... We want education and employment and a place to live and access to healthcare and all the other taken for granted things of life." I like this clear kind of talking and thinking and it reminds me that some time ago I wrote a poem looking at special needs in a similar way (if from the opposite starting point... that in fact all our needs are special in some way or other... which does make them ordinary). If I remember rightly it was the now very out of favour Germaine Greer who, at least in part, prompted the writing of the poem (she was on Question Time, was asked about disability and said she considered people with no sense of humour the most disabled of all... or something like that...). I can't find the quote because all you can find about her online now is trans-related. I wonder if she still has a sense of humour... 

Anyway (again), here is the old poem (from 2007 or so - back in the days when I rhymed a lot more and was allergic to end-of-line punctuation). 

Pay heed to the special need

Personally I need a lot of help with moving
I need public transport, I need constant soothing
I need my hand holding and I need some quiet time
These needs are special and these needs are mine

You might need a teacher, you might need a school
You might need some help with obeying a rule
You might have a thing about folding and drawers
Those needs are special and those needs are yours

I can’t do sitting in well-behaved rows
Snobbery and claptrap get right up my nose
I’m not very good at just following a line
So many needs out there but these ones are mine

You might be allergic, you might be alone
You might need assistance from more than a phone
You might need a moment, a break, just a pause
Because all needs are special, especially yours

RF 2007