The Poetry, the Play and the Party

On Friday, I attended the Burryman festival in South Queensferry, a short train trip from Edinburgh. This is a tradition where a man from the town is dressed head to toe in burrs and marched around the streets, and it’s considered good luck to offer him whisky. The origin is unknown, but is believed to be around 400 years old.

Much as I’d like to devote the whole entry to this amazing day, I mention it only in the context of live events. This time last year, there was doubt over to whether it could go ahead because of crowd control regulations. It did happen, with the police making sure folks kept their distance.

This year was a different story, largely because early August marked the return of many live events in Scotland. As I knew I wouldn’t be too far away, my first event was Loud Poets at the Scottish Storytelling Centre in Edinburgh. I was particularly excited for this, as I knew a few folks taking part, either on stage or front-of-house.

Three poets and a host played in front of an auditorium at perhaps two-thirds capacity, and they seemed relieved to be back in person. One in particular, Paul Case, relied more on memory than written work, and it reminded me that this is a habit I need to relearn because I haven’t had a need to remember my work over the last 18 months.

Then on Saturday, I was invited to a dress rehearsal of a play at Dundee Rep Theatre: Hindu Times by Jaimini Jethwa. The rehearsal took place in a studio rather than the main stage, with no sets and minimum special effects. I enjoyed being part of this select preview group, and I’ll definitely recommend the play once it launches to the wider public.

The Storytelling Centre and the Rep both enforced distancing and face coverings, but Generator Projects took a more laissez-faire approach. To celebrate 25 years of workshops and exhibitions, they laid on an outdoor show of poetry, dance and music. I also had plenty of opportunities to catch up with others from the literary community before complaints from residents closed it down at 9pm.

I have a few more live shows lined up in the near future, and I hope they’re just as enjoyable.

On Roles and Pigeonholes

In 2016, I graduated with an MLitt Writing Practice and Study degree from the University of Dundee. At the time, I was in the mindset that I wanted to write in as many different styles and formats as possible.

This wasn’t a problem until it was time to pull together all my work into what the syllabus described as a ‘unified dissertation’. In other words, the whole document had to flow, but my pieces were too dissimilar to achieve this easily. With the help of two tutors, we eventually solved the problem, but I still didn’t like having to adopt one role or to be pushed into one pigeonhole.

I only began to change my stance earlier this year when a friend posted a video of a TED talk about sugar addiction, which inspired me to start writing a spoken-word show about the struggles I’ve had with my weight. And for the first time, I felt as though I’d found a niche that I enjoyed occupying, and that I had plenty of material to fill.

That said, I’ve lost a lot of weight since starting to write that show. This is an achievement, but I feel as though it’s defeating the point of the narrative.

Notebook in which I log my weight every week
Notebook in which I log my weight every week

On Saturday, I went to my first Edinburgh Fringe shows of the season, all of which reinforced my dedication to sticking with my niche for as long as it takes.

The first two were by people I know, and could only have been written by them. John McCann has a deep understanding of politics in Northern Ireland and has penned a monologue called DUPed, all about the Democratic Unionist Party. Meanwhile, Amy Gilbrook in Nutshells touches upon her experience of not fitting in. And while I don’t know Alan Bissett personally, it’s difficult to imagine anyone else emulating Moira Bell in The Moira Monologues or More Moira Monologues.

These shows are playing on selected dates throughout August.

Despite my promise to stay in a niche for the foreseeable future, I realised this week that some of my favourite novels have one thing in common. I’m attracted to those one-off stories where a sequel is unlikely because the story is so self-contained, such as A Clockwork Orange or The Bell Jar.

Gibson and Goodfellow

On Wednesday, I saw one of my idols at The Mash House in Edinburgh. Andrea Gibson is a non-binary poet who uses the singular ‘they’ pronoun. This was the very city where I’d been introduced to their work.

It seemed to be the convention that the audience sat on the floor, so I was battling with needles and pins for much of the evening, not to mention a wet patch where someone had accidentally kicked over my wine.

Image result for mash house edinburgh

But in spite of the setbacks, the gig itself was amazing. I enjoyed Gibson’s often dense wordplay and imagery, which engaged and touched us in equal measure. Many of the poems were accompanied by recorded music.

Just about everyone in the audience queued up to have merchandise signed after the gig. I didn’t, but I wanted to tell them how much their work had helped me write mine. From nowhere, I found myself ready to cry as I spoke. They seemed to be genuinely appreciative of the thought.

The support act was Suky Goodfellow. I’d heard of her before but this was the first time I’d encountered her poetry. She commanded the stage as she spoke about wealth creators and why swear words shouldn’t be rude.

If I have the opportunity to see Gibson and/or Goodfellow again, I shall definitely take it.

The Local Circuit

Last week, I talked about an open-mike night that I run in Dundee. However, the majority of the events I attend happen in Glasgow or Edinburgh. These cities are not prohibitively far away; I can reach either one by bus or train.

The problem is that I have an office job and I’m generally required to work until 5pm. I’m often obliged to take the train to arrive on time, even though bus travel is almost always cheaper. Coming back on the same night poses other challenges: do I book a cheap late-night bus where I need to hang around after the event finishes, or do I spend more on a train ticket I can use at any time?

Scottish Poetry Library, Crichton's Close, Can...
Scottish Poetry Library, Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh Designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects, shortlisted for Channel 4’s Building of the Year 2000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many poets do make a point of stopping in Dundee, but it would be great to have more of a home-grown scene. There’s a well-established poetry circuit between Glasgow and Edinburgh where acts from one city will regularly perform in the other, and so it would be great to have Dundee contributing to that route as well as being an equal player.

Among other initiatives, a couple of folks I know want to host a cabaret night, and a third is proposing a regular playwriting evening, so I think there’s definitely an appetite for doing something right here. I don’t know much about the scene in other major Scottish cities, but the potential is enormous.

Regardless of the logistics, it’s often a rewarding experience to be at spoken-word events.

A couple of weeks ago, I saw the Jenny Lindsay show This Script & Other Drafts  in Glasgow; on Friday just gone, I was back in the city for a trans and non-binary event. On both occasions, I had an excellent time and I caught up with people I haven’t seen for a while. Leyla Josephine’s Hopeless is on the cards for Friday coming.

Five Poems from Edinburgh

This weekend, I was at the launch of Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry, where I performed my piece Crossing the Road at the Out of the Blue Drill Hall in Edinburgh. Every reader did a fantastic job and nearly every seat was full.

As I was staying over the weekend, I decided to post a video of the poem performed in the city. That one poem turned into three, which turned into five.

It’s rare that I post work online, as most publishers won’t then accept it. But two of the poems are already available, and two are site-specific clerihews, so I’ve made an exception .

So in today’s entry, if you’ll excuse the high winds and tourists chatting, I’m presenting these five poems.

Upcoming Gigs

Over the next couple of months, I’ve been asked to read poetry at a few events. Each one is free to attend. Here’s a handy cut-out-and-keep guide to them:

Livewire; Wednesday 19 October; Bonar Hall, Dundee. I’ve just finished an MLitt Writing Practice and Study course at the University of Dundee. This is one final showcase for our class, where I’ll be reading a piece called Sir Madam from my dissertation.

Launch of Seagate III; Sunday 23 October; Bonar Hall, Dundee. As part of the Dundee Literary Festival, Seagate III will be launched. I’ll be performing the two poems of mine that appeared in the anthology.

Launch of Aiblins; Saturday 29 October; Out Of the Blue Drill Hall, Edinburgh. I have a piece called Crossing the Road included in Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry. I’ll be performing along with some excellent contemporary poets as part of the 20th Edinburgh International Radical Book Fair.

Launch of Aiblins; Monday 21 November; Underdog, Castlegate, Aberdeen. This launch is for the same book discussed above, but in a different city. The event is still being finalised, and I’ll give you more information when I have it.