Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Big Burns Supper

Interesting that this collection of events commemorating, supposedly, our National Poet has no input from any contemporary writers in Dumfries and Galloway. I suppose we shouldn't be surprised at this. Burns Suppers have always been the preserve of people who imagine a love of literature when their real interest is in perpetuating myth, or a particular view of history, or a sentimentalised idea of what it means to be Scottish once a year, or in this case, trying to make some money and attract some visitors. Writers just write though, don't they? Other people do the gimmicks.

Hmmm bit jaundiced that, now I read it in the cold light of a snowy Friday morning. Nothing wrong with different ways of celebrating Burns who was a great and courageous writer, after all. And nothing wrong with a bit of entrepreunerial ambition. Nevertheless poor Rabbie always provides a carcass to feed on, doesn't he?
And if the annual Burns hooh-hah proves anything he proves that we have a long and great tradition of poetry in Scotland. And that poets are still ignored, as they were then.

"once a year within a phantom nation
they shrink your head to fit a social occasion"

Willie Neill

Friday, November 18, 2011

Matlock, Tosh, Brent and Ladies

Shug, waistline distorted by some photographic quirk, surely

Matlock Bath

Hot on the heels of last weekends first leg of my 'Anti-English Tour of England' in Matlock Bath I returned home for the reopening of the Salon at Thomas Tosh last Tuesday. There was a packed house, free wine and good readings, from JoAnne MacKay, Alan Gillespie and myself. Very good night. Surprised myself by the number of new poems I had. I suppose the main thing is to keep writing, isn't it? The Muse is still here, and so is the writing.

Not alas for Brent Hodgson the Ayrshire makar who died last week. Brent was a totally quirky inventor of a bizarre synthetic Scots and wrote poems which were perfectly accomplished but also hugely funny,

by Brent Hodgson

Hello, Maister Smyth,
Yow suld be att hame
Puttand yowr dennar on.
Yow suld nocht be lyggand thair,
Warslyng with a python.

He'll be sorely missed. Such a combination of eccentricity, charm and rancour is rare. Goodbye, Brent.

Tales from the Tartan Bunnet are few though I was saddened to hear that Thistlemilk Entrepreneur Theosyphillis Neill's attempt to buy the Comet chain of shops for £2 so he could take a couple of DVDs down to Cash Converter every Friday night failed at the last moment, as a result of him failing to borrow the necessary £2.

Finally I'm reprinting a poem (is it a poem?)here by special request.

Thornhill Ladies

Thornhill ladies have no dots or stripes on a Saturday,
they have torques.
Thornhill ladies have hair specially made
from steel.
Thornhill ladies peel the epidermis from their butter
like surgeons.
Thornhill ladies eat their scones without opening their mouths
even once.
Thornhill ladies see your future in the steam from
their spicy carrot soup.
Thornhill ladies are sorry to disturb your lunch,
but wonder why you’ve not been eaten,
by your mate.

Friday, October 07, 2011

The Aspirational Target icon

My National Poetry Day poem is a teeches only, I'm afraid, or at least they'll understand it best if they've ever filled in a report using a system called Seemis, where you're asked to choose from an range of icons, unlock the padlock, and launch your information. My favourite icon's the Aspirational Target Icon.

The Aspirational Target Icon

The Aspirational Target Icon
is nineteenth from the left.
It’s a long way off, like Madagascar.
Unlike the Initial Target Football Icon
which sits smugly waiting to be struck
into the corner of some other metaphor,
it seems like will o wisp, as intangible
as a shaft of pure green light from clouds.
Through the shrouds of blind
the last of summer sets fire to stone
and roads open up to roads, worlds to worlds,
but here in cells we tap and scratch
arcane vocabularies, each one more removed
from real life than the last. I do not want
to be the last monk standing when language
breaks on the rocks like the sea.
If I could find my Aspirational Target Icon
I would Open the Padlock,
Click Lunch,
Open the Door
Click Launch.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Not Actually Being in Dumfries last Weekend

When I am walking up Queensberry St in low cloud
and tread on chips floating in an oily puddle,
I am actually on the Cierro Del Sol, staring through trees
at ponds like pearl, the roses and myrtle.

When I turn onto the High Street at seven o’clock at night
and neds are stoned out of their brains and jeering,
I am hearing the sound of nightingales in gardens
with the heat still singing and the sun setting on fire.

At midnight I am not leaving the Hole in the Wa,
fumbling my way through a huddle of strange dwarves,
but moving statuesquely through the lush blooms
of my imagination, heavy and sweet as jacaranda,

and the night will not end here, in light to heavy drizzle,
and a taxi that fines you a hundred quid for being sick,
it will not end here in damp sandstone and shadows
but surely with a last long kiss below an orange moon.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Breakfast deal,
3 cans of Stella or equivalent for ten pounds,
the perfect way to start your holiday..

By a lidless window
my face sings with heat and wine.
Outside, the red coned wing carves
through cloud boiling thirty thousand feet
above pools of black enamel.

Buy a scratchcard.
Helps needy children.
End up with more than you bargained for!

I’ve already got that:
the steward looks like Philip Larkin,
and Cheryl has red lips when she fans
the scratchcards and one foot poised
as if to dance on recycled air.

Imagine that,
Your dreams come true
at the very rim of space, of desire,
of consciousness
and helping needy children too.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Beer comes again to Penpont. Then goes.

Gala week come and gone. Clearly rigged quiz meant that formidable team containing Jock Wallace and I had to settle for second place! Beautiful sunshine for the Gala Day itself. Unlike less classy festivals nearby there's no attempt to conjure up some fake history to justify the Gala's existence. Penpont clearly reeks of history and has no need of such inventions. When Shug Bryden and I were in London last year we saw the Map Exhibition in the British Library and the oldest Scottish map on show - from the 16th Century- only had one place name from the south west, Penpont. It was a stopping off point on the pilgrimage route to Whithorn, Kings stayed here on the Dail Righ, the Field of Kings.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The full text of MacDuff's speech to the European Parliament

Hey whats this all f…ng aboot, Belgium is the most f……ng boring f………ng country in the f………ng world, smaller than my fingernail, see, eh? F………ng joke. Luxembourg, eh? There’s another f………ng joke, had the f………ng nerve to host the Eurovision f……ng song contest, no even a f……ng coastline but had a f……ng ship though, eh? Radio f……ng Luxembourg, f……ng joke, f………ng shocking, ken.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Never seen them till this time last year. Appearing all the time to me now.

The Hare

Driving the pass at midnight,
emptiness rolling everywhere
like oil, we meet a hare.
Framed in the false moon of yellow light

it runs ahead of us, keeps close by
for miles through the glen,
ghostly in the car’s eye,
wild and perfect

and beyond reach. We stop at last
and watch it go, wavering still
between possibilities: the foothills
and the field of stars.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Medieval Day

Apologies for being a useless blogger. Much going on, literary wise and at work. Off to New York tonight. Recently held a Medieval Day at the school, though without plague, famine, pestilence etc...Nevertheless we managed story telling, stained glass, music, archery, falconry, a hog roast, a medieval walking tour and much more.

Saturday, May 07, 2011

Potato and Podcast

The Workshop Exercise is ‘Write about a Potato’

When I think about a potato
I don’t think about mountains
capped in cloud or lochs
like clasps that hold the sun
or birds scratching the surface
of the sea’s dark eye
somewhere near Mull,
land where I have never
grown potatoes.

A potato is not what comes to my mind
when I think of my love,
or the laughter of my kids
as they run into the distance
in a dizzy dream of light,
and that tall glass of beer
I am working towards
with all this creative fervour
is nothing like a potato.

I don’t want to get personal,
but to me the poet organizing this
looks more and more like a potato,
but there’s no poem there,
so in the febrile landscape of life,
its agonies, its bliss
and hopeless cruelties,
we must carry on rooting,
among the potatoes.

Productive wee time. Creative Scotland were nice enough to give me a writers bursary which will enable me to finish off New and Selected, which is due in March 2012.

Anyone wanting to listen to me talking in a cupboard with Ryan Van Winkle in the latest Scottish Poetry Library podcast should link here:


Monday, April 25, 2011

Arise Sons of the Selgovae

Great recent news about successes for Dumfries and Galloway writers. Hugh Bryden's Roncadora Press has been shortlisted for the Michael Marks Publishers Prize, as well as being on the Callum MacDonald shortlist for Jean Atkin's beautiful pamphlet 'Lost at Sea'. JoAnne McKay appears too for the lovely 'Venti'.

D and G has a growing list of nationally recognised writers, an imaginative and energetic new publisher, good venues, thriving writing groups, one of the best poetry festivals, and a new and ambitious magazine in Southlight.

The successes are partly down to a succession of very good literature officers, but also as a result I think of the place itself, its history, its strange mix of the wild, the agricultural and the semi-urban. Is there a homogeneous Dumfries and Galloway voice? Nope, but then there never has been. Loads of people are born here, or come here and make stuff up. Sounds good to me, and not just in terms of literature but the visual arts, music etc. We're on a roll, ladies and gentlemen. Or should I say ladies?

One problem that needs to be addressed in terms of literature, certainly poetry, is lack of men in the area, especially younger adult men, who see writing as a valid way to express themselves. They do at school, plenty of boys in 'The Kist' and the Moat Brae Anthology 'The Grass Cloud' for instance, but then they seem to stop. Wonder why? Is there a stigma? Or have we created a situation where the 'male voice', if there is such a thing, is unwelcome? Has poetry gradually become the preserve of women? I remember a poetry review where Kate Clanchy reviewed three male poets in tandem, as if they weren't individuals, but rather three parts of the same rather embarrassing and unsavoury whole.

Any hope for the 'Sons of the Selgovae'? Discuss.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Roncadora Pies

Roncadora are a family firm purveying mutton pies, butteries, mince rounds and bread and butter puddings. The present board of directors, photographed here, pride themselves on providing high calorie fare for the most discerning of palates. "There isn't a waistline here under 40 inches" stated Managing Director Hugh Bryden, "apart from the Atkin girl and she's only just started. We'll soon get some lard on her."
The Roncadora Roadshow, featured recently in the St Andrews Pastry Festival, is appearing, courtesy of a specially reinforced bus, at a venue near you soon.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Attack of the Teletubbies heralds Easter Break

Forget the teletubbies. Look at the mess my room is. And that's it tidy.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


What a fine weekend! Stayed above a pub, talked amazing rubbish at the poetry breakfast, and read in the poetry cafe, to sell out crowd. Even heard someone trying to swop a ticket for somebody else in order to get in! Saw Brian Johnstone, Kevin Williamson, the bold Rab Wilson, Don Paterson. Should have seen more, but there'll next year. And Scotland won and England got gubbed!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Theosyphillis Neill lost in Libyan mission

Concern is growing for Theosyphillis Neill who is reported missing in eastern Libya after a helicopter mission "to borrow a tenner" from anti-Gaddafi forces. A spokesman for the Government in Clatteringshaws admitted today "there has been a bit of a mix-up". It appears that in the early hours of yesterday morning, Neill, in spite of being escorted by highly trained special forces under the command of 'Tesco' Willie and Macduff, Ex-Territorial Army Cyborg Killing Machine (deceased), was apprehended by goatherds unaware of his highly sensitive diplomatic mission. "Mr Neill felt it was important to make contact with the new regime" said the spokesman, " because he already owes Gaddafi fifty quid". It is widely seen by analysts that the growth of anti government protest all over Northern Africa and the Middle East gives Neill the chance to drink all week long. Neill was last seen being bundled into a farm truck near Benghazi, shouting "I'll see you OK on Friday.

Saturday, March 12, 2011


Many years ago when I left University, my tutor fixed me up with a job on a newspaper in Philadelphia. Didn't go. Wonder what it would have been like?

All in All I’d Rather

When there’s traffic in my mind,
I end up in Philadelphia,
strolling in the Avenue of the Arts
with a well groomed girl,
or punching the air like Rocky
on the steps of the Rodin Museum
at the sight of another by line
from Scoop McMillan.
As I eat hoagies in the
unusually mild weather this Fall,
I watch leaves slowly drift to sea.
At this point I’m interrupted by a bum.
What is a hoagie? he asks.
And what’s it like to be on the edge
of a humid subtropical zone?
He’s drunk again, and on Wikipedia,
and soon he’ll show me, irresistibly,
pictures of his home town.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Penpont Pub



“Few things are more pleasant than a village graced with a good church, a good priest and a good pub.”

John Hillaby

By such definitions Penpont is now a poorer place. I have been told that the Leasks who own the village pub, the Volunteer Arms, have written to the village council informing it that they now do not intend to re-open the Volunteer Arms. Indeed, the pub sign has been taken down and the optimistic notice implying reopening after alterations has been replaced by a bolder one simply stating 'Closed for Business'.

The Volunteer Arms has been trading in Penpont for many hundreds of years and has always played a vital part in the life of the community. I would have made few friendships in the village if it wasn't for the pub and I am sad for others who might come to the village and not have this opportunity.

I have little idea what reasoning has led the Leasks to abandon previous commitments and promises made in print and person to reopen the pub. There are many stories of incidents, accusations and counter-accusations, but I cannot speak as to the truth of any of them. I think it would be safe to say that the Leasks' stewardship has witnessed many dramas but, more importantly, a steady leakage of support in the village. In a sense what has happened is a logical conclusion to what has gone before: the pub, it seems to me, has been closing for a long time. Perhaps the owners who are, after all, property developers with no extended experience in the hospitality trade, made a poor decision taking on the running of a village pub. I would hope they might find a buyer for it, so that it might be reopened.

In the meantime speculation is rife. The latest rumour to reach my ears is that the Vollie is to be sold to a family from Glasgow and converted to an Indian Restaurant. It's probably not true, but it would be an improvement on the current situation.

Monday, January 31, 2011

MacDuff: Death and Resurrection

Psychic investigators and experts from the Vatican are flocking to Dalbeattie to investigate the claims that an ex-marine who died of alcoholic poisoning last week has mysteriously come back to life. 42 year old Keith MacDuff, an unemployed autocrat, was reported by reliable witnesses to have passed away last Friday. “He was stone cold deid” said John Maxwell, landscape gardener and the first on the scene. “When I forced the door of his flat I knew the smell could only mean one thing:”.

“It was a complete shock to me” said Theosyphillis Neill, itinerant thistlemilk salesman and long term friend of the deceased’s, “though I thought that MacDuff’s diet of 3 bottles of Highland Leader a day and a piece of toast was bound to get him in some kind of trouble. I was so upset that I had to borrow 20 quid from a bloke in a wheelchair.”

MacDuff, speaking this morning said, “Being dead is completely overrated. Look at me, I’m fine. I would recommend death to anyone who wants a bit of a rest. Dalbeattie’s a quiet place anyway”

The Government of Clatteringshaws has meanwhile declared a “day of rejoicing” to celebrate MacDuff’s resurrection.

Clatteringshaws celebrates the news

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Up- coming Events

Tuesday 8 February to Saturday 12 March
Roncadora Press: Words and Images
Gracefield Cafe Gallery Exhibition
Free admission

There will be three evening readings by poets published by Roncadora.

Wednesday 9 February Hugh McMillan / Graham Fulton
Wednesday 16 February Andrew Forster / Jean Atkin
Wednesday 2 March Rab Wilson / John Burns

These FREE events have been organised in partnership with dgArts. Readings will take place at 7pm in the Gracefield Café Gallery and in most cases will also mark the launch of a new pamphlet by the poet.

Hugh Bryden will also run workshops Saturday 19th February, Wednesday 9th March, Saturday 12th March. Details Gracefield 01387 262084.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Cocktail Months

Reality bites round about this time with the return to work and fiscal challenges ahead but for those who prefer to view the situation occasionally as if through pleasant layers of gauze, might I suggest that January and February are the best cocktail months of the year? I myself have recently been experimenting and am glad to share with you my three greatest hits thus far. For these recipes I must acknowledge Kinsley Amis, a fine mentor to have in literature and drink.

1. The Polish Bison

1 generous teaspoon of bovril
a tot of Vodka- at least twice pub measure
Hot Water
a Squeeze of Lemon Juice

This is a good hangover drink. Amis recommends it be drunk in the open air while reading Book X11 of Paradise Lost from lines 606 to the end, paying special attention to lines 624-626, "Where all life dies, death lives, and Naturebreeds,/Perverse, all monstrous, all prodigious things,/Abominable,unutterable and worse", though this may not always be possible.

2. The Lucky Jim

3 parts Vodka
a dash of dry vermouth
1 part cucumber juice
Cucumber Slice to garnish
Ice Cubes

I found it hard to make the cucumber juice but a lemon squeezer can be used effectively. The colour of this drink, a dreamy and cloudy green, is extraordinary.

3. Milk Punch

1 part Brandy
1 part Bourbon Whiskey
4 parts milk
Dusting of Nutmeg
Frozen Milk Cubes

The difficulty here is the frozen milk cubes which have to be prepared the night before. Scotch whisky should not be used. This is a really nice drink, though I have yet to have one at the proper time: Amis recommends drinking Milk Punch immediately on rising, in lieu of breakfast, before an air trip, an interview, or the wedding of a relative.

More recommendations later after experimentation.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

New Year's Night

Grennan Hill,
New Year’s Night

From here, I can see a long way:
Night has flowered in clusters
of light so that I trace
along the dark neck of land villages
lost in grey daytime, in the seams
of mountains, the pinch of rivers,
and all the pinpricks in between,
a human constellation as queer
and sad as the sky with its
long extinguished stars.
What’s not seen is still stated,
in the shadows and gaps,
loss, and love far away.
The moon is bright and fierce
and below it there is dancing,
dead music on the breeze.