Good Things Come in Threes

Express Yourself at Tell it Slant, Glasgow, October 2017
This month’s instalment of Express Yourself, held in association with Glasgow’s ‘Tell It Slant’ bookshop at the Project Café on Renfrew Street, was a joyous evening of disparate voices and recurrent themes. The night’s programmer and driving force, Carla Woodburn, ceded the microphone to Shetland’s own makar Christie Williamson, who introduced the poets in three sets of three, spanning the Central Belt’s performance poetry and literary scenes.
First out of the gate where a threesome of Scotland’s finest female poets, representing our country’s three native tongues. A. C. Clarke read from her two latest collections, ‘Warbaby’, the manuscript of which won Cinnamon Press’ recent pamphlet competition, and ‘A Troubling Woman’, a literary concept album, celebrating the life and muse of Margery Kempe. These readings set the tone for the rest of the evening, foregrounding women’s experience through well-crafted imagery full of avian, faunal, and floral depictions.
Clarke’s later readings had a surrealist bent, casting the spotlight, this time, on another female figure, lost to history: Gala Dalí. Her evocation of lupins, towards the end of her set, drew on the four other senses to strengthen the visual. Visions of the supernatural followed this, with a visceral description of the post-partum psychosis of Kempe, elucidating on the subject of mental illness in both middle age and the Middle Ages. With readings from their critically acclaimed pamphlet ‘Owersettin’ (Tapsalteerie, 2016), Clarke was followed by her literary colleagues Maggie Rabatski, reading in her native Harris Gaelic, and Sheila Templeton, in the Doric of rural Aberdeenshire. The two poets worked beautifully in tandem, with a poem of Rabatski’s, in memory of her deceased father, laden with the imagery of her island homeland. Templeton, in her translation, transported the narrative to the fireside of a cottar’s cottage in the North East, with intimate language, full of vocabulary so hearty you could chew on it.
The trilingual reading was, for me, a stand-out of the night, with poetic variations taken from various focal points. The experience was akin to witnessing a beam of light, split three ways through a linguistic prism, with each translation, an independent poem, itself; a ray unique in its own indigenous colour. Another stand-out was the reading by Glasgow firebrand Magi Gibson, who spoke passionately and frankly with her emblematic feminist perspective, before reading selections from her latest collection ‘Washing Hugh MacDiarmid’s Socks’ (Luath, 2017), and earlier collections ‘Graffiti in Red Lipstick’ (Curly Snake, 2003) and ‘Wild Women of a Certain Age’ (Wild Women, 2000). Her selections included contemporary references to Tristan and Isolde and meditations on grief and the loss of her parents. You could hear a pin drop as she brought her poem ‘No Angel’ to a close, a piece which bravely narrated the tale of a child victim of sexual abuse, in 1993, and the ensuing trial. Powerful stuff, indeed and timely, with the sexual abuse of all womankind being at the forefront of the audience’s mind, in the wake of the recent ‘Me Too’ phenomenon on social media.
Also present was Jim Ferguson, whose mixture of spoken word and musical musings, brought a bit of cross-artform texture to his work. His sung-rap renditions included pop culture references and international perspectives. The latter was subsequently a baton uplifted by Tom Hubbard, who contributed poems inspired by an East-to-West journey across Europe from the ‘Scots Leid in Europe’ collection. His selection, as the title suggests, included translations and re-imaginings in the Scots language of his native Fife.
The evening also welcomed short readings and performances from Woodburn and Williamson, and longer sets from Nicole Carter and Roger West and was concluded with a spell-binding reading by Edinburgh’s Jane Bonnyman. With selections from her ‘An Ember from the Fire’ pamphlet (Poetry Saltzburg, 2016), lauded on the cover by the late, great Sandy Hutcheson. Bonnyman brought the festivities to a decidedly literary close, something which the audience particularly and vocally enjoyed. Whilst there was something to savour from the majority of those reading, throughout, I found that the voices which impacted on me most, personally, were those of Rabatski, Gibson, and Jane Bonnyman, who, in particular, exhibited poetry of real quality, expertly delivered. Leaving the venue, with the scent of Bonnyman’s ‘hibiscus’ and ‘jasmine’ in my nostrils – a stunning image from one of her later selections – it was more than clear that this monthly event goes from strength to strength. The full house demonstrated that Woodburn’s monthly poetic curation is starting to get the attention it deserves, within her own community of poets and, also, among aficionados of the form.
– Marcas Mac an Tuairneir