Monday, June 23, 2008

Vinnie: A warning

Much to my astonishment I have received many e-mails over the last few days on the subject of Vinnie ............., not all, as might have been expected, demanding his immediate arrest. In fact the vast majority were enquiring as to his identity and where one can access his work. I have not told Vinnie about any of this because he is, of course, a dangerous lunatic well capable of hunting down and exploiting anyone weak enough to express an admiration for him or his work. Vinnie, I warn you, might seem a laugh across the safe distance of cyberspace but when you look out one morning and see a sinister balding man with a huge plastic bag standing in your garden grinning back at you it will be a very different matter.

Vinnie's work is thankfully out of print but I replicate part of one of the long poems from his unforgettable chapbook 'Bald Women and Other Modern Aberrations' (Cankered Press Ardrossan 1978.

The Scottish wumman poets

The Scottish wummen poets
fly to Tirana today,
just what the poor Albanians have done,
no-one can say.

Perhaps it’s some old poetry crime
for which they must atone,
or simply that they haven’t got many
fulminating drabs of their own.

They’re going to spend the week
detailing the injustices of living,
like publishing houses, magazines
and bursaries just for women....

Bard again.

Unhappily it was raining yesterday and I was unable to adopt the usual alfresco position outside the George. Instead I sat inside with Murray Crosbie and partook of far too many bottles of Irish cider. I was in expansive mood following my election as the Clan Bard and had also suffered a severe psychic jolt after running full tilt into the pub in Penpont to find the door locked and bolted against me. There is no sorrier sight in the universe than a pub closed in the daytime. It is not natural. It raises the fine hair at the back of the neck.No good can come of it.

Tha gàrradh brèagha agad. Am bi thu a' cluich ball-basgaid.

It is incumbent upon the Clan Bard to learn a smattering of Gaelic so that he can hail the Chief at important money making occasions such as the Great Clan Gatherings in the USA, which attract many thousands of monied McMillans from all over the North American continent, eager to part with their cash for small trinkets created in the clan sweatshop or books of uneven verse by the Clan Bard. I have started with the above phrases which could also, in an emegency, double as a chat up line for any American heiress present. Who in their right minds could be unaffected by such an entreaty couched in the lyrical and mellifluous ancient tongue of the Gael?

Friday, June 20, 2008

the Gathering

I am sitting behind the George and the sun is splitting beards of cloud. I am alone: I have instructed Mustapha the heavily muscled Turkish ex commando turned hairdresser to discourage the visits of itinerant thistlemilk salesmen and despondent poets, for I am preparing for a truly feudal occasion. Tonight the Clan Chief of the MacMillans is to visit Galloway and I am to read poetry to him and his kinsmen in Castle Douglas. As the position of the Clan Bard has been vacant since 1392 it is in a sense an audition. If I get the job I will of course be claiming more than 600 years of backpay which should amount to a lot of sheep. I am in a bit of a quandry about what to read, as my verse seems too scabrous and inconsequential for such an august occasion. I should of course have written an Epyllion or at least a wee Terrastich in celebration of the man's lineage and fame* but my only poems that mention the McMillans are the Culloden poem (below) and the World Book of the McMillans. I shall read both, of course, and the job of Bard will probably go by default to that charlatan Ian McMillan who was too busy reciting doggerel on radio 4 to apply for the job in the first place.

The World Book of the McMillans

Dear Hugh McMillan,

you have been selected by our clan computer
to receive a copy of
The World Book of the McMillans $149.95
(including unique hand painted coat of arms).
Have you ever considered, Hugh McMillan,
your family ties and heritage?
In these pages, Hugh,
you will bear witness to the heroism
and industriousness of your ancestors
and learn about the forebears
who shaped the history of the world,
like Fergus McMillan, the 8th man of Moidart,
Hector ‘Steamboats’ McMillan,
the inventor of the 12 Bore Scrotal Pump Beam,
Brian ‘Big Shuggie’ McMillan,
Golf Caddie to the stars,
and many many others,
though probably not Archie McMillan
who died of silicosis
or James and Colin who drowned in the Minch,
or Straun who drank himself to death
in that corner of the Central Bar.
To bear witness to that kind of thing,
Hugh McMilan,
it costs a bit more.

*As a postscript did you know that Anaclasis- getting things not quite right in your poetry- is an actual poetical technique? Must dig out all these anaclastic poems.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Lines from Scott Fitzgerald's Notebook

The car waited tenderly for a moment

The proximity of the tan legs

As twice as a double bumble bee

Then I was drunk for many years and then I died

The blue-green unalterable dream

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

New Pen New Place 2

I do not know many poets and this is not a fact I have ever recognised as a problem. I knew Ian Crichton Smith well enough to dance on his table and his passing is an irredeemable loss, but as for the rest, apart from one or two, I've never have had occasion to spend much time with them. I know the local ones, of course, and occasionally meet them on my weekly journey to the Drumsleet Souk, the Great Makar Tom Pow, the handsome and saturnine Rab Wilson, the ubiquitous and beautiful Liz Niven, the elfin Angus MacMillan...and so on. There are many more new ones, I'm told. Drumsleet has become a kind of breeding ground for poets. It's a terrible thought, and enough to put you off your sleep. Anyway what poets I still do know, mostly through correspondence, tend to be embittered old swine like myself who hardly ever stir from their firesides and whose obscurity and neglect they blame on a series of circumstances distantly removed from themselves.

So it is a great surprise when my early evening's meditation at the back of the George, my new pied a terre, is interrupted by Vinnie, a poet of roughly my own liver size from Ayrshire. Vinnie had been to hear a poetess read in Shetland dialect, an event predestined to offend him on several levels at once.

"Ark Bark Dark Gark" Vinnie mouths, slamming a Bottle of House Red on the table between us. "Fark Gark Parp"

He pours us a half pint of beaujolais each. "Could have been reading the telephone book. And you should have heard the rapturous applause afterwords. I guarantee not a *****r knew what she was on about."

It's only a matter of time till Vinnie reveals that this woman has been shortlisted for a major prize and has a contract with Bloodaxe, the reason, of course, why he is stalking her.

"And she's been shortlisted for a major prize and has a contract with Bloodaxe."

"Which prize?" I enquire innocently.

"What's it matter?" he chokes, "the **** *******Prize for ****ing Gibberish!"

It pleases Vinnie to believe that some poets are getting an unfair advantage over him by having prizes and poetry presses devoted to their minority causes. He also thinks it's unfair for people in wheelchairs to get to run marathons, but that's another story. It's only a matter of time till he turns his attention to Scots. Vinnie does not consider Scots a language.

"Ah miss ma dug, ma dug is deid,
there's something crakkit in my heid"
Vinnie chants, pouring another glass for us both.

"It's not a language, it's bad spelling!"

I go inside to ask one of the barmaids for another bottle. I will need it because there will be no stopping Vinnie until he has run the gamut.

Vinnie is also bitter about never having been awarded any prize or bursary, and does not ascribe this to the fact that he once wrote to the Scottish Arts Council threatening to blow it up and kill all its office bearers. Also, as far as I can see, Vinnie has not written a word of poetry for 25 years. Nevertheless he blames his unfair treatment on a self-serving elite of bald women who are out to stop him.

"I mean face facts. If we started a poetry competition and plastered MEN ONLY all over it we would be carted off by the police. We'd be ******prosecuted. "

Vinnie is fresh, he tells me, from being involved in a fistfight with a leading Scottish woman writer who had just published a book, emphasising, or - he claims-completely fabricating, the role of a female hero in the Scottish Wars of Independence.

"All I said was she should call it Bravetart. I didn't expect a kicking. "

Luckily Vinnie is quiter now. The wine is doing its dark job. Soon I will be able to bundle him onto the 246 bendy-bus to Cumnock and let him fight his way home at last through the night patrols of lesbians and doric speakers. We sit in silence till the low birdsong is joined by the quiet but stubborn snoring of a dying breed.

New Pen New Place

I have a new pen and have been sitting outside the back door of the George Hotel trying it out. It's a good spot, a bit like one of these Greek garage cafes on the long melting tarmac between Thessaloniki and Athens. The view here is of some skips, a public toilet and lots of cars, some of them on bricks. It's a great place for spending a few hours taking a comma out and then putting it back in again.

Today I am reading Bukowski. Bukowski liked betting at the track and, like Neal Cassady, had a system that couldn't lose and always did. I'm attracted to this.I have a system too which involves backing horses whose names remind me of the Hebrides or the Byzantine Empire 527-1453 AD. A typical 4 horse Yankee for me would be 'Uig', 'Whirling Dervish' 'Sands of Barra' and 'Belisarius the Great'. Unfortunately there has never been a horse named after Narses the Eunuch, Justinian the Great's best general. Belisarius is better known because he had better apologists, like Longfellow, Graves, Salvator Rosa and Jacques-Louis David. If there was a horse called Julian the Apostate I would bet on that too, even though strictly speaking, he does not meet the criteria.

I have a lot of things bubbling up to do or say here in the sun. I must find out if the poet Allan Cunningham was really born just down the road from where I live- in which case his 225th anniversary must be celebrated-I must read some more of the book Rachel Fox kindly sent me- "I believe there are some people we'd be better off assassinating. But it's a bad habit to get into. Like shopping."- Bukowski would like that -and above all I must keep looking for the pleasing line, that movement of sounds we're all moping around for-"Better Ae Gowden Lyric than the castle’s soaring wa; Better Ae Gowden Lyric than onything else ava” as Macdiarmid would say.

Maybe I'll hit the jackpot and feel like a God, like Bukowski winning at the races:

"I drove out among the angry losers, their unpaid for and highly insured cars were all they had left, they dared each other at mutilation and murder, zooming and slashing, not giving an inch. I made it to the exit at Century, my car stalled right at the turnout, blocking 45 cars behind me. I flipped the gas pedal rapidly with my foot, winked at the traffic cop, then hit the starter. It caught up and I moved out, drove on through the smog. Los Angeles wasn't really a bad place; a good husler could always make it."

Monday, June 16, 2008


The National Trust for Scotland , to celebrate the opening of a new visitor centre at Culloden has been searching for people whose ancestors were involved in the Jacobite Rebellion 1745-46, and especially in the final battle at Culloden. After a long search through the McMillan archives I unearthed several antique documents relating to a correspondence between my forebear Archibald MacMillan, tacksman, and his ancestral chief MacMhaolain of Castle Sween.

Three Letters to MacMhaolain Mor
from a tenant, 1745-46

1. MacMhaolain Mor

I am sorry I could not come to Moidart.
My youngest has a spot
behind her ear that may be chicken pox
but I have instructed my son Andrew to join you.
He is tall and strong as a deer and is studying Geography
and Politics at Dundee University.
He will wash our sword many times in English blood.

2. MacMhaolain Mor

I am sorry I missed the rout at Falkirk,.
it is virtually impossible to get a bus from here
outwith the tourist season,
and my son had an interview with Patientline,
but we have the fire of Fingal in our veins
and will join you
when the summer timetables begin.

3. MacMhaolain Mor

I am sorry to have missed you at Culloden
but I had an apex ticket and had to return
or pay a heavy supplement.
Exile is hell. My heart bleeds in this Travelodge.
Andrew begs your indulgence as well:
he thought Carrbridge was Cambridge
and stayed on for the Folk Festival.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Postcards from the Hedge

Exciting times: last night I met the artist and raconteur Hugh Bryden at a highly secret location and he unveiled to me the proofs and drafts of our new work, now entitled 'Postcards from the Hedge: a semi-detatched Tour of Scotland'. They look extremely fetching. There will be a hand stitched booklet with 15 poems and charming illustrations and a pouch containing an idiosynchratic fold up tour map of Scotland to accompany the poems. In addition there will be a limited edition tubed map with the poems printed on the back which can be used as a poster. Pamphlets will be a tenner, posters a fiver. We're planning a launch here and then a reading in Edinburgh. Then in October there will be an actual attempt to recreate the hazardous journey described in the work. The Oban Inn and the Mishnish in Tobermory have already expressed an interest in hosting these liver-threatening events with hopefully more to come.

Anyone interested in publishing this rare gem should contact me, or watch this space for details of the events!