Charlie Gracie’s poetry set in Ireland takes you directly into the history of his family and the history of their land. The intimacy with this land now lost in those who had to leave. It’s never directly said but those who had to leave are now out of sorts and out of place in a land that just doesn’t quite fit them. The poem where his mother rides a chopper bike to work describes this out of placeness perfectly. There is a constant drone of grief for what an immigrant loses; never again to be Irish and never quite Scottish. And too far removed in time now anyway to ever go back and find what is lost. The political oblique-ness and visceral descriptions are what makes these poems work, no lectures, no diatribes and more philosophical insight than anger.
The second part of the collection deals mostly with Scotland (with a few trips elsewhere) and there are some crackers in here too. It seems to me that the melancholy of the emigrant from the Darty Mountains must bleed into whatever Gracie writes about in the here and now. The trace of melancholy and the longing for something we shall never receive resonates through the whole work. Take For betterfor instance; a tremendously truthful look at old age and tucked away, like a genius in Easterhouse, is a breathtakingly exact line that could be a whole poem itself (read it and see it). Or the T shirt for those whose loved ones have disappeared into dementia.
A masterly, honest and melancholy collection.
Des Dillon is an internationally acclaimed award winning writer, born in Coatbridge: poet, short story writer, novelist, dramatist, scriptwriter for radio and screen.
The first novel from Charlie Gracie, To Live With What You Are, will be published later this year by Postbox Press: their first Scottish novel. It’s been a fair ould gestation, and I’m very pleased that Sheila Wakefield, owner of leading poetry publisher Red Squirrel Press saw both the poetic and prose value in the story.
Maura Weightman, one of the leading public artists of our time, and her husband James, are masters of malice, creative and callous: but what is it that makes them tick? You’ll have to wait till November 2018 for the book’s launch.
Before that, on a calmer note, I’m teaming up with the wonderfully creative and centred Teresa Johnston of Sunrise Holistic. We’re running a short series of workshops at West Moss-side entitled Our Inner Emotions & The Written Word. Teresa will lead participants in meditation and I will support people in creative writing. The first will be on 24th March and it will be a very special day.
I’m building on my sequences of Irish poems too this year. Tales from the Dartry Mountains is based around my maternal grandparents’ home in the west of Ireland. Several poems were published in 2016 and 2017 in places such as Gutter and Southlight magazines, as well as Jackdaws being recorded by the excellent Pefkin (AKA Gayle Brogan) on her Murmurations album from Netherlands based Morc Records. Tales from the Shore Road is a Belfast sequence, based around my paternal grandfather’s life there and after he came to Baillieston. These are coming together to be a bigger project than I’d first imagined: one that takes the whole diverse histories and ecologies and up to wee Charlie in Baillieston. Me and the ould yins, that’s it.
Oh, and back to the fiction: after the first novel, number two is finished. I’m looking for a agent for this one, so it is out and running about in the Rejectosphere. Secrets. Maps. Kicking up the leaves. More good news to follow I hope.
Murmurations is Pefkin’s new vinyl album on the Belgian-based Morc Records. Excellent, stuff, with long, ranging pieces that take you one minute to dreaming, the next to intensity. Pefkin is Gayle Brogan’s solo musical persona.
Among the pieces on the album is Jackdaws, based on a poem of mine. Gayle picked up on it when she played one of the HillGigs house concerts in Thornhill in 2016 as part of the brilliant duo Electroscope (with John Cavanagh). I was at the recent concert in Glasgow’s Glad Cafe to hear the last gig on Pefkin’s tour with Bell Lungs and Chris Cundy.
As well as Murmurations, Gayle has many CD’s that can be found on Pefkin’s Bandcamp site. You should also check out Morc Records for more of Gayle and other amazing electronic and experimental musicians.
Here’s what WIM from MorC Records say about Pefkin.
“Gayle Brogan has been a key figure in the experimental music scene since the mid nineties. She first gained recognition as one half of the remarkable duo Electroscope, mixing psychedelic pop, lofi, drones and folk. And as the woman behind Boa Melody Bar, she became a well known distributor of underground music as well, and so got exposed to more great music than most of us will ever be.
When Electroscope went on hiatus in 2000, Gayle picked up the name Pefkin, and continued on the same path, though the music shifted a bit more towards freeform folk and longer dronepieces. This resulted in a string of well-received releases on prestigious labels like Pseudoarcana, Foxglove, Ruralfaune, and in 2014 in a first LP on morc (now sold out).
The past couple of years, Electroscope has become more active again as well, exploring new sounds, and as one half of the duo Barret’s Dottled Beauty, in which she performs alongside Kitchen Cynics’s Alan Davidson, all while keeping her work as Pefkin top level.”
Scotia Extremis has been an excellent project run by Brian Johnstone and Andy Jackson. I’m delighted that my poem Ye dancing? features this week. The theme: Francie & Josie and The Proclaimers. What divergence, but also such resonance with both pairs laid deep in Scottish hearts.
The Proclaimers poem is Men, a belter of a piece by Theresa Muñoz.
Why not sign up to Scotia Extremis and get the chance to read poetry from all over Scotland, illustrating the depth and breadth of our country and our poets?
Susan Magdalene is an aching poem by Valerie Thornton about Susan Boyle and wider issues of bullying. Real tenderness with a big bloody dash of anger: I wish that I could sing / like you, into the heart / of every wounded child.
Similarly, Janet Paisley delves beautifully into the essence of Emeli Sandé in Voice: There are rhythms in rain, of storms, / grace in green notes, a flowering.
Both these poems continue the journey of Scotia Extremis across the great divides of Scotland. They move towards a deeper understanding of all of us with our differences and our intricacies. Excellent stuff. More to come.
I am also pleased to say that Gayle Brogan, as Pefkin, will use the poem as the basis for a piece on her new album, due out in 2017. Check Pefkin out for really beautiful music, such as in the 2015 album Liminal Rites.
Good poems take on a life of their own. Jackdaws is part of a broader, developing piece of work called Tales From The Dartry Mountains. In this I am exploring the people, culture, politics and geography of the area in the west of Ireland that my mother came from.
The Bridport Poetry Competition was won by Edinburgh-based poet Mark Pajak with Spitting Distance, described by the judge, Patience Agbabi, as having an ‘understated authority of voice’. Well done!
I was very pleased to have Good Morning reviewed by one of Scotland’s best writers, Des Dillon.
Charlie Gracie’s collection Good Morning is saturated with poems about landscape. Mostly wet rainy, moss-laden Scottish landscapes and so evocative are they that they reminded me of Graham Swift’s Waterland which is set in the Fens. But these poems do for Scottish wetlands what Waterland did for the Fens. I doubt Good Morning will make the money that novel did but it conjures up the smell, feel and chill of the landscape just as well. There are other poems not set in landscape but even those don’t escape Gracie’s obsession with water, squelch and rain and so the reader leaves the collection with the sensation of having been on a deeply melancholy but somehow redemptive journey.
If you haven’t read Des’s work, I’d recommend you do.
My poem ‘Jackdaws’ is part of a larger sequence I am writing based around the Dartry Mountains in Ireland. The poem was shortlised for the Fish Poetry Prize 2016, run by Fish Publishing who operate from Bantry in Cork. Well done to the winners.
The Dartry Mountains includes Benbulben in Sligo (Yeats’s mountain) and travel north to Arroo, overlooking Lough Melvin, a lough that is part in the Republic and part in the UK. It is an area full of natural beauty, geological wonder, political and social history and, for me, family history, with my mother being born in Glenade.
I’m off to Ireland again this month to spend more time among the hills and to write, write, write. I’ll do what Liz Lochhead suggests: tie myself to a chair and tie the chair to the desk. There might be time for a night or two out in Bundoran for a pint or two of the black stuff in Brennan’s Bar or a bite to eat at Madden’s Bridge Bar. That and a hallo to my family there.
So, with all that, my Irish poems will be more and more formed. Perhaps I’ll have others for the Fish Poetry Prize next year.
Northwords Now is an excellent Scottish literary journal, produced and published in the north of the country. Edited by the poet and academic, Chris Powici, Northwords Now brings good quality writng to the whole of the country and beyond.
Chris asked me to review some new poetry books and pamphlets, and these are available on-line, along with the latest edition of the magazine. Read the reviews in Northwords Now 31, but more importantly, buy the books and pamphlets that grab you and dip into the wonderful creative minds there. They are a pleasure.
It is impossible for me to pick out a favourite among these; the voices mingle, refelcting the diverse way that Scotland is. From the intense, packed pamphlets of Sheena Blackhall to the spare, powerful poems of Eileen Carney Hulme to the diversity of Ron Butlin, there is such a lot to be digesting.
The new Makar, Jackie Kay, features beautifully here, and hers is one of several publications that are designed and typeset by Gerry Cambridge. When you read poetry, it is, of course, all about the words. However, the words that he brings so skillfully to the page sit easier, and are therefore better on the eye.
Poetry book and pamphlet production is not only about the poet, but about the commitment of those who produce the work, and Gerry’s artistry adds to the feel and shape wonderfully. The publishers too, to bring such a lot of poetry to our tables: Red Squirrel (ten years on); Mariscat; Indigo Dreams; Cinammon, among others (not forgetting diehard, of course).
You’ve got to love the place whaur extremes meet: Scotia Extremis, now at week 10 of a year-long exploration of the edges of Scotland and Scottish poetry.
Week 10 is of the west, of the islands. The Balamorie of Sheenagh Pugh’s True Places is in the past, but very real in her extrapolation, despite Balamory being unreal on almost all its literal levels. Summerisle, by Hugh McMillan is almost super-real in its insight into this remote place and its resonances.