Poems of revenge and shivering

I’m just in from the Edinburgh launch of the new 404 Ink anthology We were always here – what a celebration of current queer writing in Scotland. Congratulations to the editors Ryan and Michael, and to all the contributors.  I’m thrilled that my voice is one among many contained in the pink, faux animal print covers. Get yourself a copy if you haven’t already!

Anyway, it seemed a good excuse for one of my occasional posts on how I came to write the poems in We were always here.

Not this again was written in summer last year, in the wake of some homophobic yelling that I thought was long behind me at this age and in this age. Ha, if only. The incident played out pretty much as per the poem, though in the interest of brevity I left out the bit where we drove home rehearsing all the come-backs we should have made. I wish I’d gone back and bollocked them like naughty school boys but that didn’t occur to me until 20 minutes later. Ah, l’ésprit d’escalier.

I wrote Not this again in the immediate furious aftermath, let it rest, reworked it several times, took it to an open mic at the Fringe (the pic below shows me in full flow – possibly just after shouting “lezzies” at a surprised audience), and I’m delighted to see it in print.

notthisagain

A different take on power, Mausoleum, is the final poem in the anthology, and I wrote it after shivering through a long meeting in one of my employer’s hallowed portals, surrounded by white marble busts of dead white men. It’s my take on assimilation and still feeling at odds with (and within) the establishment, even though arguably I’ve been part of it myself for many years. Not that we should take our place at the table for granted in these times.

Four poems published this August

I’ve had four poems published this month – if that seems a high success rate, you should see the number of rejections on my submissions spreadsheet! My success rate ain’t that great, if you look at the bigger picture. The trick is to keep sending poems out, as advocated by Jo Bell . Keep writing new poems, and keep sending poems out.

So this is the first in an occasional series of posts How I came to write …

Scrabble deluxe, which you can read in The North 60. This is one of my party pieces, and I’m delighted to see it in print. It harks back to my teenage years in the 1980s and painful inter-generational family games of Scrabble, in which we passive-aggressively mirrored our political stances. This was Nottingham in the 1980s, at a time of the miner’s strike, AIDS iceberg leaflets, and the News of the Screws taking a homophobic agenda. My family was divided on a number of those subjects. For the record, my grandmother (UDM, homophobic) played quim on a triple word score and completely nonplussed my father (NUM, homophobic at that point in time).

(Yes, this is the actual scrabble board, and tiles are really this worn.)

Scrabble board reading "quim" and "cold war manoeuvres"

Intrinsic, which you can read in Gutter 18 (and which comes bundled with the must-read Freedom Papers). I’m so pleased that Gutter has not only survived but is flourishing, so I’m thrilled to be in this particular issue among so many excellent pieces. I wrote Intrinsic initially to take to Edinburgh’s God Damn Debut Slam, at which you have to perform something written in the previous month. The germ of the poem was a horrible moment at work where I found I completely lost the word intrinsic in a meeting where I really needed to NOT experience memory failure. It’s an occasional side effect of my anti-cancer medication. Usually I have strategies to deal with it but on this occasion, late on a Friday afternoon, I was too tired (another post-cancer phenomenon). Awkward as it was, there was a poem in it. My father is in this poem too.

Cowrie, which is available in issue 4 of the excellent online journal of LGBTQ+ poetry, Impossible Archetype. Cowrie is an Iona poem, superficially…

And last but not least Night walker, published in the first issue of the new Scottish zine Nitrogen House. This poem was also first drafted on Iona, and it’s about a transformative night walk in the pitch black of the island, when I met a cat and we, well, melded …