Marion McCready lives in Dunoon, Argyll, with her husband and two young children. She holds an MA in Politics and Classics and an MLitt in Philosophy both from Glasgow University. Her poetry has appeared in a variety of publications including Poetry Scotland, Edinburgh Review, The Glasgow Herald, and Horizon Review. Calder Wood Press will be publishing a pamphlet of her poems in 2011.
The waxy strap leaves supplicate
beneath each black cup.
even on this day,
I can taste the night air
on my breath.
Have you ever seen such dark gloves
cupping the heart of its sex?
The red-edged wings
of a butterfly burn
against the coal-dust tips.
Black tulips rise,
green stems slicing through the earth.
They bear the weight of dusk
on their heads,
each one a silhouette,
a burnt-out sun.
This bed of Persian bells
on the garden of my eyes
while these ripe petal trinities
brush against the cream
of my legs.
First published in the Edinburgh Review, Issue 128
They ripen to mosaics,
sweet stains hanging mid-air.
Then one by one
like a family of suicides.
And when we pass
we pick the plump thumbs
that are left,
colour our teeth, our tongues
with their grief.
Yet no son has died here,
no father’s arms burn
with the weight of the dead
on Bramble Street.
First published in Poetry Scotland (December, 2009).
Hoar frost trembles
at the edge of bramble leaves,
love letters to birds
“In another life
they ate my house with fire.”
a sort of music, under my feet
and the white hills rise
“You were my body armour
most of the night.”
The sun glows
through layers of cloud-dust.
Tree stumps flower
“They came while we were eating,
they came in twos and threes.”
The river pulses
drowning these mysteries in eddies;
the voices, the words,
my muddied feet.
First published in Anon Magazine, Issue 7 (June, 2010).
The Red Road
The morning scent of spring
colours the sky
above the Red Road.
close your eyes.
Swallow this bitter butterfly,
let its wings expand in your throat
(as we tie ourselves together with rope).
the clouds form crosses in the sky.
God will catch us.
The frost-thumbed grass will cry
with our broken bones alone
(the furniture of our souls),
for we are citizens of the sky.
First published in Poetry Scotland (June, 2010).
Visit Marion’s blog.
Read Marion’s ‘The Cockle Picker’s Wife’ in the second issue
of Horizon Review.
Visit Poetry Scotland’s website.
Visit the Edinburgh Review’s website.
Visit Anon Magazine’s website.
Colin Will is an established Edinburgh-born poet with a science background. He has chaired the Boards of the StAnza Poetry Festival and the Scottish Poetry Library. He is webmaster for Poetry Scotland. He lives in Dunbar, Scotland, and loves to travel. The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Café is his fifth poetry collection to be published, and it’s available from his publisher, Red Squirrel Press. He blogs as Sunny Dunny.
for W S Graham
If you’ve nothing better to do today
let’s swim in the malodorous waters
of the bay. Longshore drift
brings the biological flotsam in,
propels it in a wide arc past
Marazion point. A froth spit
spills vortices until the tide’s churn
intercuts water and solids.
Here dark shapes patrol the plankton.
Sinuous tails propel the lumpen sacks
of bodies, the hoover mouths that strain
solids from water.
There’s nothing White or Great
about these behemoths. Brownly they bask,
as barrels might bask, off the beach.
You and I, my whisky friend,
will doggy-paddle out to join them,
in our saggy woollen bathing suits,
distended crotches dragging
with the weight of seawater
and talent, caring nothing
for the fickle whims of taste
or the dorsal fins of critics.
I leave this at your ear for when you wake,
the shell I picked up last week from the beach.
You said you heard the long waves curl and break,
reminding you of times now out of reach.
I slip out of the room and close the door,
leaving your house as quietly as I came.
The parcels for the kids are on the floor –
just books, no toys, CDs or X-Box games.
I’ll walk into town and catch the early bus.
My flight’s at noon, so I’ll have lots of time.
I hate goodbyes, you know I can’t stand fussed
departures, tears we’d both regret, the pantomime
of hugs and hands stretched out for one last touch
where fingers fail but lips would be too much.
from The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Café (Red Squirrel Press)
Rob A. Mackenzie was born and brought up in Glasgow. He received a law degree from Aberdeen University and then abandoned the possibility of significant personal wealth by switching to theology at Edinburgh University. He wrote over seven hundred songs and doubled on guitar and saxophone for cult art-rock bands Pure Television and Plastic Chicken. Despite airplay on Radio Scotland and a rash of gigs in tiny Glasgow pubs, he failed miserably to achieve rock stardom. He spent a year in Seoul, eight years in a Lanarkshire housing scheme, five years in Turin, and now lives in Edinburgh with his wife and daughter where he organises the Poetry at the Great Grog reading series by night and works as a Church of Scotland minister by day. His pamphlet collection, The Clown of Natural Sorrow, was published by HappenStance Press in 2005. The Opposite of Cabbage was published this year by Salt Publishing . His poems, articles and criticism have featured in many literary publications over the last decade or so. He is an associate editor with Magma magazine. He blogs at Surroundings and at the Magma blog.
Rob, will you describe the Glasgow of your childhood? What were the main social, political and cultural influences of your youth?
I lived in the south-west of the city. Like most boys, I was a football fanatic. My great uncle took me to games (I maybe won’t mention which team) and I played for my Boys Brigade team until I became a teenager and left the BB. I was a chess fanatic and played for an under-18 team when I was 12. I also learned the bagpipe and entered many competitions. A big change took place when I turned 15 or so. I dropped the bagpipe in favour of the guitar and started a band. Glasgow briefly became the centre of everything that was happening in UK music during the 80s. Indie pop music, particularly the jangly guitar variety, was vital to me. I sat in my bedroom and listened to The Smiths, Orange Juice and Josef K. I watched Woody Allen movies and read Graham Greene novels. I guess I was typical of a certain type of teenager – the kind who wears black clothes and finds solace in Joy Division lyrics. I might have had better fun hanging around outside the chip shop and going to parties, but it’s too late now.
You spent a year in Seoul. Would you recount something of that experience?
It was a great experience, from 1989 to 1990. I studied Korean liberation theology, taught English, and generally had a great time meeting people and travelling around a country many people would never think of going to. I loved the food, the friendliness of the people, the clamour of the city, the maccoli houses (maccoli is a Korean alcoholic drink, made from rice, more like beer than wine) and the beauty of the countryside. The country was a still a little unstable, despite 1988’s democratic election, and there were protests daily on the streets. The college where I was studying was shut down for two months due to student unrest. There was often tear gas in the air and I learned to carry a hanky around with me to cover my nose and eyes, just in case. But people, especially young people, seemed positive about the future and were excited over the new freedoms. They wanted to talk all the time about politics, the west, and Korean identity. When I returned to Scotland, people seemed really jaded and cynical in comparison, and I often wonder whether Koreans have become similarly cynical over the last twenty years or not.
Later, you moved to Turin for five years. Has living in other countries, among different cultures and languages, affected your writing and the way you see the world? Has moving around the world been beneficial for you?
That’s hard to know. I’ve enjoyed the experiences I’ve had living abroad. It’s widened my social and cultural experience, helped me understand what it’s like to live as a foreigner, and introduced me to some great people. It also, perhaps, gives me a particular perspective on Scotland. I can look at how things are done here and compare it to other places. I’ve no excuses when I’m small-minded. Of course, there are strengths to living in the same place for an entire life as well.
You’re the organiser of Poetry at the Great Grog in Edinburgh. Tell me about the history and some of the highlights of the reading series. How does a Great Grog poetry evening unfold?
It began when Scottish poet, Roddy Lumsden, who lives in London, asked me to organise a venue for him to read in during a trip to Edinburgh. I found the Great Grog Bar and decided afterwards that I could do it more often. It’s now developed into a monthly series – three or four poets read each time. The event has recently moved from the Great Grog to the Jekyll & Hyde Bar, which suits the readings better, and the event is now called ‘Poetry at the…’. Poets read for 15 to 20 minutes with a short break after each reading. There are no gimmicks, no bells and whistles – just quality poems. As organiser, I wouldn’t want to pick out highlights. I’m grateful to everyone who has read. Really, there have been no poor readings at all and I hope that continues.
The Guardian is currently running a series called Writers’ Rooms. Will you describe your creative space?
My office is chaotic. I don’t have enough space on my bookcase. Books and CDs are spread all over the place in no particular order. In one corner is my computer, where I tend to write. At another wall, there’s a desk, which is rarely free from clutter. That’s dominated by my day job – notes, admin, forms to fill in, stuff I need to read for professional reasons. Copies of The Opposite of Cabbage lie morosely in a box on the floor. Pictures drawn by my seven-year-old daughter adorn the walls. A naked bulb hangs from the ceiling. There are no curtains or blinds at the window, which overlooks my neighbour’s garden. As I write this, their washing is being soaked by a sudden downpour…
How transformative has fatherhood been for you? Has it made you feel differently about yourself? Has it changed your outlook on life?
I don’t think it’s possible to exaggerate how much becoming a parent changes a life. Everything begins to revolve around your children. This is made more complicated for my wife and I because my daughter is autistic. She is extremely intelligent, with unbelievable memory, sight, hearing etc, but she also has real difficulties, especially in social situations. One thing I realised quickly was how few resources are directed to the condition compared to many other disabilities. We spend a lot of time agitating for support and help, often being met with official indifference and excuses. We get the feeling that countries such as Australia and (to an extent) the USA are far more geared up to deal with autism, although I could be wrong.
I don’t feel that children and young people are valued much in the UK at the best of times compared to, for example, Italy. I doubt I would have been as aware of this if I hadn’t been a parent. And is the UK the only country in the world where it’s actually cool to be apathetic? I think that’s because deliberate apathy is only a short step from helplessness. Having a child means I can’t afford to be apathetic.
Could you name a few of your favourite books? Why are they important to you?
I’ll stick to five, otherwise I could go on forever. Tomorrow, I’d probably choose different books. In no particular order:
Harmonium by Wallace Stevens: His debut collection from 1921. It’s like a foundation for me when I come to write. Nothing has been easily won or thoughtlessly written. I return to this collection periodically to remind myself what poetry can be.
The Truth of Poetry by Michael Hamburger: on one level, an international overview of 20th century poetry but, on another, an uncompromising and visionary view of what poetry has been and could be. Warning: this book may change the way you see every poem you read or write.
Black Sea by Neal Ascherson: ostensibly a chronicle of the history, culture and people of the Black Sea region, this fascinating book delves into deep questions of human identity. Ascherson shows how past events in this region resonate powerfully in the present day. It’s also terrific writing.
Jesus and Judaism by E.P. Sanders: I appreciate heavyweight, well written, impeccably researched theology, and this is one of the most interesting books I’ve read. The book questions and revises received opinion but, unlike populist books on Christianity, knows what it’s talking about.
Selected Poems by Michael Hofmann: can’t recommend this book of poems enough. One of the best poets of the 20th century’s tail-end? I think so.
Read more about The Opposite of Cabbage.
Visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings.
If you haven’t been following Rob’s book tour and want to catch up on his interviews, do check out his previous hosts.
Rob’s next tour stop is Nic Sebastian’s Very Like A Whale on
10 August 2009. See you there.
On 3 August 2009, Peony Moon is thrilled to be hosting Rob Mackenzie’s De-Cabbage Yourself! Tour. Rob’s collection, The Opposite of Cabbage, was published this year by Salt Publishing.
Here’s what Bernadine Evaristo has to say about the volume:
“Rob A. Mackenzie’s vibrant, kaleidoscopic poetry displays a playful, witty and fertile imagination. But sometimes, just sometimes, it dips into a deep reflection on the frailty of our mortality such as in the exquisite poem, ‘In the Last Few Seconds’, which took my breath away.”
Read Barbara Smith’s review of The Opposite of Cabbage here.
The tour has already stopped at three destinations, so to catch up with Rob’s interviews take a look at the following blogs:
Nic Sebastian: Very Like A Whale
Marion McCready: Poetry in Progress
Ivy Alvarez: Dumbfoundry
The next stop on 22 June 2009 will be Nicolette Bethel’s Scavella’s Blogsphere.
For full tour details take a look at the De-Cabbage Yourself! Cyclone page and to read more about Rob and The Opposite of Cabbage visit his Salt author page. Do visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings, too.
See you on 3 August!
The award-winning poet Carol Ann Duffy has just been named as the United Kingdom’s twentieth Poet Laureate, succeeding Andrew Motion after his ten years in the post.
Carol Ann Duffy gives her first interview as Poet Laureate.
Read more on the BBC News website and in The Guardian.
Carol Rumens’ Guardian blog post:
Carol Ann Duffy’s talent is more important than her gender.
Rob A. Mackenzie
The thrill of the fair is not in the glamorous machinery
and its spin, or in the clamour of infants longing
to be heard, but in the hour when music stops
and lights blink out, when a man threads a dark path
among greyer darknesses of once-bright carousels,
and becomes, with them, a bearer of absence,
night’s counterpart, impossible to bring to focus.
The stars have plucked their eyes from the world,
which has become a mirror of blindness, blind
also to itself. Only the man’s uncertain steps alert
his listeners to its presence. So when they screw
open a cheap Cabernet and lose track halfway
through his walk from Waltzer to Big Wheel
and dawn spills out like an over-familiar friend,
they feel grief that the night is unrepeatable
as its secrets, as footsteps that leave no echo.
First published in Magma magazine and included
in The Opposite of Cabbage (Salt Publishing, 2009).
Read more about Rob and The Opposite of Cabbage here.
Visit Rob’s blog, Surroundings.
“Of all the things one might expect to discuss over coffee with a Scottish (male) poet, couture dresses are not among them. But then not many Scottish (male) poets have spent time on a fashion shoot with Kate Moss.
Roddy Lumsden, however, was asked by top photographer Nick Knight to be a kind of poet-in-residence while he shot Moss in statement couture dresses for New York’s V Magazine. London-based Lumsden was to write several poems for Knight’s website, picking up on the theme of the shoot – wild flowers. One of them, “Bloom”, would be read by Moss herself.”
Read Susan Mansfield’s interview with Roddy Lumsden in The Scotsman here.