Spoken in Scotland: Part 2

Can it really be said that one poem, or one poet, is “better” than another? Judging from the comments on the first part of this article, a great many people believe that it can. One way of deciding who is “the best” is to have a poetry slam – for the uninitiated, this is a tournament where the winning poet is decided by a panel of judges (sometimes experts, sometimes chosen from the audience). Points are awarded in various ways, usually in three categories: the quality of the writing, the quality of the performance, and the volume and enthusiasm of the audience response.

The origins of the slam poetry style and tradition go back to Chicago in 1986, and the poet Marc Smith. Now, they’re everywhere – a quick survey of the last few months in Edinburgh and Glasgow alone brings up more than a dozen slams run in universities, pubs, clubs and libraries. For an aspiring performance poet, slams are often the way in. Most would agree that judging criteria for slams are arbitrary – that the competitive element is a way of attracting a bigger audience. Nevertheless, slams remain an important part of the Scottish scene, with a calendar of slam events growing every year, all feeding into the Scottish National finals in March.

While the adrenaline buzz of competition, the undeniable satisfaction that comes with winning and the noisy, energetic atmosphere of slams is both addictive and great fun, they can bring out the worst in people. Speaking as a ten-year veteran of Scottish poetry slams, I participate in them because they feel like a somewhat necessary evil. They are also, undeniably, an entertaining spectacle for audiences.

In part one of this article we began talking to some of the best-known performers and promoters of spoken word in Scotland about their practice, their community, and their ambitions, as well as surveying an anonymous panel of 50 poets. On the topic of slams, one anonymous respondent writes that they can be “a good medium for audiences, but awful for poets.” A significant 25% of those surveyed seemed to agree, defining slams as ‘not very important’ to their poetic endeavours. A similar percentage (24%) defined slams as ‘very important,’ but a further 19% volunteered an outright dislike for competitive poetry.

With complaints about the “same old faces” winning slam after slam, and a tendency for louder, brasher, more performance-driven poets to win over sometimes superior writing, this was one of the most controversial questions in our survey – a further 29% chose to give a written response, most emphasising that the best poet doesn’t always win, and advocating for more representative slams, with better access for disabled performers, and better attempts to represent a wide spectrum of class and cultural backgrounds. Nearly everyone surveyed seemed to agree that diversity should be encouraged and nurtured, and that the scene’s leaders should continue to demand better resources and infrastructure, with the help of public funding.

There is a sense that our sometimes “insular” and “inward-looking” Central Belt scene needs to do better at engaging with other networks of poets in Scotland and the UK, throughout Europe, and beyond. As organisations like The Roundhouse Theatre in London; BBC Radio 1Xtra and BBC Radio Scotland; the various Edinburgh Festivals and others continue to diversify their spoken word programming and engagement, perhaps emerging promoters and champions of the form should look to scene leaders like Rally & Broad  and Neu Reekie! for models of how to engage with partner organisations and public funding bodies. As emerging poet Georgia Bartlett-McNeil, a relative newcomer to the scene, quite rightly says: “Poetry is slowly but surely re-establishing itself as part of the centre of performance arts in the UK.”

Professional opportunities for spoken word performers are increasingly available. More and more experienced performers are signing up to the Scottish Book Trust’s Live Literature Database, and teaching workshops in schools, prisons and communities. In consultation with some of the scene’s key ambassadors, the Book Trust’s criteria have been expanded to include more performance poets. Their New Writers’ Awards are also now more open to performance poets.

While many of those I spoke to rarely used the Scottish Poetry Library  in Edinburgh as a resource, they know it is available. Poet, promoter and musician Jennifer-Lynn Williams, currently Programme Manager at the SPL, has made big steps there towards bridging the gap between traditional poetry and its more modern, performance-based forms. .

“I have seen a few events now at festivals where ‘performance poets’ are made to sit next to ‘page poets’ and there is some debate carried out about the forms… it can often expose both sides in an uncomfortable way, without celebrating the dynamism and crossover,” says Williams. Her programming at the SPL continues to evolve, both in an attempt to represent the scene’s diversity, and to bridge the perceived gap between ‘page’ and ‘stage’.

“There are still a lot of weird prejudices on both sides that I would like to see dissipate,” she continues. “I think it’s important to respect the ways in which performance poetry and poets can differ from page poets, but to educate and celebrate what performance poetry and poets can do, and the ways in which performance poetry and page poetry share common ground and origins… the two can learn from one another.”

One troubling issue which emerged from our anonymous survey was the concept of safety at spoken word events. While there has been a robust debate over the concept of ‘safe spaces’ and ‘trigger warnings’ within the scene – one which continued at length in the anonymous survey responses – this masked some genuine concerns about the physical and emotional safety of performers; particularly women, trans people, and those with mental health issues. These concerns are perhaps to be expected in a scene which, while openly professing to embrace everyone, is predominantly run and populated by young, white men. Expected or not, they need to be addressed, urgently. It is time for the spoken word scene in Scotland to check its privilege.

“There is occasionally a superficiality to the way in which women and other groups are included among certain areas of the scene,” says Ross McFarlane, a poet and student promoter involved with the Aloud open mic, which runs at Glasgow’s Queen Margaret Union. “[Women and others] are invited along to balance the stage or the meeting, but overruled and not listened to. The space is safe… but it is not necessarily as open as it could be.”

Others have more urgent concerns: “It has the illusion of a safe space,” laments Emily Elver, promoter of the Freak Circus events in Edinburgh, and co-editor of the newly-minted ‘zine of the same name. “Behind closed doors it is different.”

Her account of hidden prejudice within the scene is troubling. “I’ve had experiences where my work and performances have been compared and contrasted to other female poets, because there is this idea some promoters have that only so many women can be booked for a night, otherwise [it] becomes a night for women,” she says. “We keep performing because we have to, we have something to say, and we care about the community enough to keep trying to better it by expressing what is wrong. But no, it is not a safe space for women in my experience.”

Unfortunately, others echo her comments: “It is absolutely not a safe space,” says one respondent, who chose to remain anonymous. “Especially not for young women. There is no system in place to report those that use their informal and formal power to threaten, intimidate, harm or abuse others. This is a serious issue which has forced young women out of the scene before, and continues to do so today… There is a serious problem with safety.”

There is certainly a need for the poetry community to provide basic safety for all, at and around poetry events. The demand for this must be community-driven – ours is a grass roots, DIY culture, and it is up to every single person who participates to look out for one another. While the majority of respondents (58%) believe the scene provides a safe space – although not necessarily always and for everyone – there are some notable, and very worrying exceptions.

An anonymous response from an event promoter clarifies that, at the very least, efforts are being made to excommunicate anyone known or perceived to be a serious threat: “We’ve had some very difficult decisions to make in the last few years about whether to exclude a few individuals that people did not feel safe around,” they say, describing it as “an ongoing (but largely positive) process.”

While accounts can be found of sexism, racism, transphobia and discrimination, they are thankfully rare, with most of those who responded praising the scene’s approach to diversity, and the openness with which they have been welcomed. As one person says, “the scene tries very hard to be a safe space for everyone… most of the time it succeeds.” Rally & Broad’s Rachel McCrum  wisely advises “being very aware of your own space – and your right to say when you don’t feel safe or secure or supported.”

Certainly, there is a consensus that spoken word’s ability to provide a platform for people to experience catharsis, community and healing seems to be more prevalent than its occasional tendency to conceal abuse and prejudice. Nevertheless, this is an area where promoters, performers and even audiences must remain on guard. Perhaps, as the scene grows, more formal infrastructure will be needed to protect vulnerable performers, and remove potential predators from circulation.

Georgia Bartlett McNeil, a poet who identifies as “a bisexual woman of colour” believes that most promoters and performers work hard to keep the scene safe, and open to all. Nevertheless, she says: “It always feels very obvious to me when I’m sitting in an audience, or waiting to perform, that I am part of a minority. I’m not [sure] what more could be done… Introducing more events that are centred towards certain groups – for example the All Women Poetry slam – is good, but it’s also a double-edged sword. It’s difficult when you start to make events centred towards a certain group, because that then begins to alienate others.”

Without a doubt, the scene has giant steps to make in terms of accessibility for disabled performers and audiences; gender balance in lineups; cultural diversity, and other vital issues. That everyone who responded was prepared to at least address these problems seems to indicate that diversity is something the scene takes seriously, and will continue to engage with.

“Getting a gender balance is easy enough if you want one, but culture and class is a different story,” says Sam Small (https://www.facebook.com/poetrysamsmall), host of the raucous and incredibly popular Inn Deep poetry sessions in Glasgow, and one of the city’s most electric performers.

Darren ‘Loki’ McGarvey, best known as a rapper but increasingly respected as a spoken word artist, activist and journalist, is optimistic about the scene beginning to become less white, and less middle-class. “Making things accessible is actually a two-pronged effort and not just an accommodation made by the dominant class on behalf of the lower,” he says. Nevertheless, he has hope: “Of all the spheres I move in the spoken word scene is actually the least pretentious. I think in some ways the spoken word scene is a congregation of misfits who enjoy kicking back against things – even poetry itself, as well as other poets… In time spoken word in Scotland will be a lot more inclusive. This pioneering phase is important because it is setting the tone.”

This ‘pioneering phase’ he identifies is of course subject to a lot of misunderstanding, misinterpretation and misrepresentation. Take, for example, the BBC’s recent worthy but predictable take on the worn old trope of ‘poetry as the new rock and roll’ – a documentary which spent roughly six minutes of its one-hour run-time focusing on the likes of Kate Tempest and the current UK scene, and the rest reiterating the tired and widely-known tales of the influence of 60s and 70s icons like John Lennon, Leonard Cohen, Patti Smith and Allen Ginsberg. It was a sadly missed opportunity to explore the UK’s current poetic diversity.

The perceived conflict between the terms ‘performance poetry’ and ‘spoken word’ is at the heart of the debate about diversity. These terms are, as Jim Monaghan says, “interchangeable and ill-defined.” While Kate Tempest may be a star in the making, rubber-stamped by the establishment with a Mercury Music Prize win, there is still a lot of confusion about what, exactly, this artform actually is. “It needs to go hand in hand with the page stuff… we need to get good at both for it to be a proper art form,” offers Sam Small. “At the moment we’re still just two above mime.”

Ross Sutherland, in an excellent interview with Sophia Walker for Eternal Graffiti , says: “Poetry is just the bin marked ‘other’ – it’s where we put all the language stuff that we don’t know what else to do with, from all across the performing arts. Comedians that have stopped being funny; rappers that are sick of their beats; storytellers that can’t finish a sentence; musicians that don’t to play; etc, etc. Inside that manky festering bin, there is amazing opportunity for sharing and collaboration.”

As I argued in the comments section of part 1 of this piece, an artform can only be diminished by attempts to rigidly define it. “It’s a broad church,” says Rally & Broad’s Jenny Lindsay: “What it aint, of course, is lectures and interviews – here’s looking at you, events-listing festival people!” Look in the Edinburgh Fringe brochure, or the programme of any arts festival, and you will see everything from talks by celebrity chefs to confessional Q&As with former pop stars billed as ‘spoken word.’

This looseness of definition is a strength to be embraced, but it can cost emerging performers, in terms of their visibility. Calum Rodger believes the page versus stage debate is a false dichotomy, one which will be overcome. “Performance poetry can – and will have to – draw on the traditions of poetry, overcoming that implied antagonism, to develop further as an artform,” he says. “It’s just a question of developing our thinking about poetry to keep up with it… pragmatically, they’re virtually synonymous.” This is refreshing, coming from an academic poet with a deep knowledge of form, and an appreciation of the canon – and bookers at literary festivals are, with some notable exceptions, starting to think along similar lines.

“The concept of ‘making it’ is questionable,” says Mark McG . “Creating is therapeutic… The most important part of performing is being yourself.” Rachel McCrum wants to see more spoken word “in theatres… On the streets… In people’s lives…Getting involved with bigger and bigger platforms is exciting and awesome, and engaging with wider audiences,” she says, before warning poets to be sure to “hold your own.”

Jenny Lindsay points out that “the Tempests and the [Hollie] McNishes didn’t come from nowhere. Both of them have been working their arses off since their late teens – their success didn’t come overnight.” Kevin P. Gilday, meanwhile, one of the Scottish poets who has travelled furthest, offers this observation: “Why does Scotland’s music scene consistently punch above its weight? Because the idiosyncratic voices have space to flourish. We become part of it by doing our own thing, and letting the world come to us.”

Could there be a better definition of the way spoken word, especially in Scotland, is developing? Idiosyncratic, we certainly are – also fractious, melodramatic at times, and always passionate. Whether the ivory towers of academia deign to admit us, or whether we continue as subversive outsiders will be down to our tenacity; our ability to advocate for ourselves and our artform.

Whether we gain success and recognition for our work will depend on Scottish poets and performers reaching out to expand their networks; breaking new ground and challenging preconceptions; demanding and pursuing more development opportunities – no-one else will do that for us. It is up to us to ensure that our scene, our community, remains open and welcoming, and a safe space for all involved.

I for one am proud to be part of this still nascent and emerging ‘scene’ – there is value in its openness, its self-awareness, and its ferocious productivity. If we are honest with ourselves; if we nurture what we have and stick to our ideals, the future looks bright.

 

In Part 1, we introduced the Scottish spoken word and performance poetry scene, and talked to some of its key players about their practice; about funding and development; and their thoughts on the community itself. Read it here: (https://bellacaledonia.org.uk/2015/12/09/performance-poetry-and-spoken-word-in-scotland-part-1). We had hoped to investigate other forms of spoken word, like storytelling, in part 2 but we ran out of space! There are plenty more articles on spoken word in Scotland to come, so watch this space…

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  1. James Dow OZ calling says:

    Poetry is intrinsic on every step of the Scottish genetic spiral staircase.

    The Returning

    Only in Scotland am I whole
    Reunited with my soul
    For the boy could be taken
    And his soul forsaken
    To patiently await
    His final fate.

    James Dow
    Taken from Scotland 1952
    Returned as a piper to perform in the 2005 Tattoo
    My poetic sentiment validated

  2. john young says:

    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” ridiculous to judge poetry/art what some would say is the best others would rubbish.

  3. Redguantlet says:

    Bram, sorry it got out of hand in your first post BTL – no offence intended. As you say, always lots of passion, and nobody likes to be mistaken for the Academy…

    …in terms of your question about whether one can judge…. I can´t see how this can be a controversy, given that expertise is accepted in every single field of human endeavour. If somebody watches fitba every single week over many years, would I value that person´s opinion about the game more than the guy who tunes in three times a year for the big matches? Well, I would tend to. The same is true of every single field of human activity. Of course opinions are fallible and can be debated, but the point remains. But people get jumpy about accepting that in terms of culture.

    We have gone from the ridiculous situation whereby only somebody with a classical education could be considered cultured, to the one where every single opinion has equal weight. Surely there is a middle ground there?

    Capitalism and the class system has instrumentalised high culture to exclude people and make them feel inferior – the poor, women, non-whites – but that doesn´t mean there isn´t a hierarchy, a shifting, moveable hierarchy, one which changes over time, one based on artistic values, not class ones of course, but as I said before, how you engage with that is part of the process, at least in prose.

    Cheers and thanks for casting a light on the spoken word scene.

  4. Alf Baird says:

    “Whether the ivory towers of academia deign to admit us, or whether we continue as subversive outsiders will be down to our tenacity”

    The ivory towers in Scotland are mostly now run by and populated by academics from outside of Scotland, with strategies to bring in higher fee paying students from outside rather than nurture our own folk; hence the limited desire to promote Scottish culture, and the fact we Scots are fast becoming ‘subversive outsiders’ in our own nation. Wha’s like us indeed!

    1. James Dow OZ calling says:

      Ex patriot Scots’ are just like you once were, not like the domestic Anglicised version currently inhabiting Scotland today. Most of them are not entitled to carry the name of the land as an identity.

  5. Alexander Hamilton says:

    Excellent well considered article, but as you probably realise, the debate is quite cyclic, and none the worse for that, what goes around comes around. I live 100 miles NW of Glasgow, the opportunities to hear a poetry slam are non existant, I find the idea distasteful, but probably because all I hear on the radio, is rap type poetry which grates on my senses. Shall save up some bus fare!

  6. Calum Rodger says:

    Thanks again Bram for a fine, measured and sympathetic article. I’d like to respond to your line “[w]hether the ivory towers of academia deign to admit us, or whether we continue as subversive outsiders will be down to our tenacity”, partly in riposte to Alf Baird’s (to my mind hyperbolic) claim that “[t]he ivory towers in Scotland are mostly now run by and populated by academics from outside of Scotland, with strategies to bring in higher fee paying students from outside rather than nurture our own folk”, but also because it might further illuminate the debate and give further (cautious) ground for optimism.

    Three years ago the first year, semester one English Literature course at Glasgow University was completely revamped from the painfully banal ‘Introduction to Literary Study’ (the course I took as an undergrad in 2003) to the altogether more thrilling and daunting ‘Poetry & Poetics’. It’s a ‘canonical’ course – our textbooks are the Norton Anthology of Poetry, the Norton Anthology of Theory and Criticism and Romeo & Juliet – but tutors are free to devise their own seminar programmes, going off-piste as often as we consider useful (which is quite often for most of us), and the lectures stress *subversion* of tradition as intrinsic to tradition itself right from the offset. Although the course is marked according to students’ critical rather than creative ability, they all have to write a sonnet (or deform an existing sonnet) for their first activity, and we run additional creative writing workshops. I’ve had the pleasure of tutoring on this course since its inception, and my favourite thing about it is watching students’ attitudes to poetry change from initial scepticism to engagement and enthusiasm as the course progresses. I see our work as *un*teaching the bad habits and attitudes towards poetry instilled at high school and revealing the *life* of the thing, without neglecting critical rigour and inquiry. (In fact, since poetry is not anatomy, you can’t read critically – which is to say, deeply, reflectively – without first *feeling* the life of the thing! As I say to my students, the first question you ask of a poem should *never* be ‘what does it mean?’ but rather ‘how does it make me feel?’. As a side note, performance is a great way of *insisting* that we feel first, ask questions later, because you can’t help but feel something from a performance in the same room as you, even if you’re only half-listening to the words…)

    According to students’ feedback we do a pretty good job of achieving these aims. Many of the tutors on the course are practising poets active in the literary, avant-garde and/or performance scenes (such as Katy Hastie, nick-e melville, and myself), which I like to think helps – and I know for a fact the vibrant Glasgow performance scene on the students’ doorsteps helps too. Moreover, our penultimate ‘lecture’ of term is an open mic showcase, where students are invited to perform their own work in front of the year group (we’re talking an audience of up to 400-odd students here – no mean feat). I’ve hosted this for the last three years (most recently with the inimitable Hastie) and the quality and ambition of the work the students perform it never ceases to amaze me. This year in particular was an absolute belter. And here’s why: for the first time, in my experience, students’ initial scepticism towards poetry was tempered by their exposure to performance poetry, which arguably went ‘mainstream’ in a very limited sense this year (tempered by Tempest, if you will…), and that influence was audible and visible in the work the students performed. It was pretty incredible actually, the stylistic diversity possibly greater than any poetry night I’ve been to (given that nights – sadly, to my chameleonic tastes – tend to stratify in terms of lyric/avant-garde/performance etc.). But diversity’s the wrong word, because a few of these poets were mixing ‘canonical’ styles, forms and approaches with techniques typically considered ‘performance’/’spoken word’ with an intuitiveness and naturalness that I found thrilling. Similarly, in terms of emotional and expressive impact, and even a sense of ‘togetherness’ one finds in the performance scene at its best (and this in a lecture theatre!), the showcase was spellbinding. The students did it. *Poetry* did it. I’m grateful to have been a part of it.

    The points I want to make from this wee anecdote are the following: first (in response to Alf), that as much as universities are becoming ‘knowledge machines’ or whatever (though frankly, whether the bureaucrats are from Scotland or elsewhere is, to my mind, neither here nor there), there’s still a lot of passion and commitment to cultivating learning, making and thinking among undergraduates (academics won’t give up on their disciplines that easy!) and not only that, but some of us have a massive personal/creative/emotional investment in the cultural and intellectual life of Scotland and are dedicated to helping that grow; second (in response to Bram), that when you ask ‘[w]hether the ivory towers of academia deign to admit us’, I’d like to think *it’s already happening*! Certainly, my recent experience is that the students are already bringing their ‘subvers[ion]’ to the table. The only thing we as tutors have to do is nurture rather than attempt to quell it – but in either case, it’ll happen soon enough. My PhD research was on concrete poetry, which was widely discredited by ‘real poets’ when it first emerged in the 1950s/60s, but today is just another stylistic approach in many (‘mainstream’) poets’ toolkits, and enjoys unprecedented critical interest in the academy. I’m pretty confident the same thing will happen with performance poetry. Of course, whether that nullifies its ‘subversive’ quality is a whole other can of worms – but briefly (and returning to Alf’s point), universities have often historically been centres of radical thought. It’s up to academics now to fight the tide of the ‘knowledge machine’ and keep it thus as much as possible – and in this respect, embracing performance poetry is surely one way of breaking down the perceived elitism of the academy and perceived inaccessibility, or difficulty, of poetry and its traditions.

    Finally, I’ll pick up on redgauntlet’s point that “[w]e have gone from the ridiculous situation whereby only somebody with a classical education could be considered cultured, to the one where every single opinion has equal weight. Surely there is a middle ground there?” I’m not sure if this constitutes a ‘middle ground’, but I’d suggest that *it’s all poetry and it’s all good* is a pretty good baseline to work from, which isn’t to suggest all poems/opinions are equal, otherwise I’d be out of a job for one thing. Rather, the point is not to judge, but to better understand, to better appreciate, to better experience, to better connect. That’s what it really means to be ‘cultured’ – and that’s what poetry (and criticism) is good for.

    As much as I firmly believe these things, the grim reality is that the main reason I wrote this comment was to procrastinate writing a job application. Ah well, back to it.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      Spotting the Scottish academic at ‘elite’ Scottish universities’ can be a bit like looking for an endangered species. For example:

      http://www.business-school.ed.ac.uk/about/groups/1/Management+Science+and+Business+Economics

      http://www.strath.ac.uk/engineering/navalarchitectureoceanmarineengineering/ourstaff/

      http://www.st-andrews.ac.uk/economics/people/

      Hundreds of other depts and schools in universities across our great land have loads of simply great academics, notwithstanding that fewer and fewer of them are actually ….ehm….well…Scots!

      1. tickle says:

        That’s academia mate.

        My main man Dr Ingram got his PHD at Edinburgh Uni in the city he grew up in and has since worked in Oxford, then in Limerick, now Newcastle and realistically next will be wherever the job is.

        That seems to be pretty standard and you might want to consider how many other Scots academics are working in other countries.

        1. Alf Baird says:

          A solitary anecdotal case study example is always interesting, but hardly representative of a trend. Try looking across departments and schools in the countries you mention.

          What I have found is that indigenous Scots academics are probably now a miniority in many depts/schools within ‘elite’ Scottish universities. I have also found that 85% of the 19 HE institutions in Scotland are led by people from outside Scotland. I would also estimate that over half of senior management are from outside Scotland. In addition some 80% of PhD candidates at ‘elite universities in Scotland are also from outside Scotland, which in turn means that the vast majority of ‘our’ future academics (i.e. people with PhD’s) will likewise come from outside Scotland. My concern is we are not therefore raising enough of our own people up because of these ongoing and worsening structural barriers, with incoming academics effectively ‘crowding out’ Scots. The attraction of higher-fee paying students coming to Scotland is another feature of the sector. Moreover we are not focusing enough on Scotland in terms of applied research as much as we should be, the worsening state of our economy being a good example that our self proclaimed ‘world class’ academic institutions do not contribute as they should, or could. Personally I view the primary purpose of Scottish universities to educate Scots and to nurture Scots academics and to advance research for the benefit of Scotland (and the world), though that may seem radical to some. I am not averse to appointing Visiting Professors, as I was for more than a decade.

          1. Redguantlet says:

            So true, Alf….one uni dept of Scot Lit in the whole of the country…maybe somebody could do a Phd on the Cringe….?

            …but don’t expect anything from the SNP…for the SNP respectability / electability go together, and they both mean Englishness with a Scottish twinge..they want to Scotland to become England in a Scottish way, and not England in an English way, which is what the Unionists want, and nobody else will ever notice….

    2. Redguantlet says:

      Calum, good post, and procrastination is my favourite hobby, but you have to distinguish between the work and the person who expresses the art or work. I respect all people who choose the difficult road, all the people who take the risk – we happy few, we band of brothers – of course I do, but in terms of the work, then I am not a democrat, just as I am not a democrat about the fitba. I almost got signed by the Hibs, but I just want’t good enough, I lacked pace…I was half a yard short, that is what they told me…that was always my dream, to play for the Hibs…

      Of course it is good that people take part in art or in creative expression or whatever the term for it is these days, and in terms of democracy, we have a massive access problem, that is the big problem, which is why libraries are so important…”pace” the myth, Burns read poets – not very good poets with the exception of Ferguson – but the inspired humble ploughman is a myth. He came out of his readings mixed with his own experience, like all poets do.

      Art as a therapy…fair enough…but that is a by-product and is incidental to the way great art can change the world, the way people see and understand the world. Art can change your life…it can completely transform your whole life. The way it impacts on the reader is far more important than the way it impacts on the artist. Artists usually lead disastrous lives and are their works are far more important than they are. They transcend the personal.

      When Jim Monaghan says, on a comment on Bram’s first post, that to compare the spoken word scene with Ezra Pound, he is is 100% right. That is the point that I was making. I think it is something new and vibrant, and is a mix between genres, which probably awaits a definition, by some Scottish academic, who will come along and canonise you all and put you on the telly, we’ll be back to square one…

      …anyway, it’s an interesting scene.

  7. Bram says:

    Thanks so much for that response Calum. That totally made writing the article worth it!

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