A Kist of Thistles

Mary MacGregor, retired teacher of English, singer in the Dundee Choir, former leader of Dundee City Labour group, now communist, republican and Scottish internationalist, reviews ‘A Kist of Thistles’ An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland, edited and introduced by Jim Aitken.

Too many people on the left still regard art and culture as peripheral to the class struggle. They fail to recognise that for millennia humans have found expression in music and dance and song and poetry. This expression has often taken the form of resistance to the alienation that capitalism has imbued in us.   The suppression of working class culture has been a weapon in the attempts to dehumanise our class. Yet we rise!

In song and stories and theatre and poems. We continue to demonstrate our imagination and ability confront our class ridden, unjust world with beauty and compassion and determination. Far from peripheral, culture is integral to the awakening of consciousness and the struggle ahead.

A Kist of Thistles, An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland, published by Culture Matters and edited by Jim Aitken is to be much welcomed in bringing Scottish voices to the fore in an accessible and dynamic form. Jim Aitken in his erudite introduction, contextualises the anthology in the tradition of radicalism through the ages and applauds the inclusion of poems in “all Scotland’s languages – Gaelic Scots and English” and its “wonderful geographical spread.”

The anthology is in three sections; Home, Abroad and Elsewhere. It is Internationalist and it is angry. Most of all, however it is defiant and that’s what I love. It does not shy away from the sins of Scotland’s past, slavery and colonialism. Nor does it stint from the ongoing sectarianism and bigotry in our heartlands. It shows the perniciousness of poverty and drug dependency of 21st century Scotland but also champions solidarity and collective action.

If I had one criticism, it would be that there should be more love and laughter. Both revolutionary acts by our class in the face of a system that wants to see us bowed and broken. But that aside, it is a wonderful, timely collection that reminds us of our challenges and our power.

I thought to single out a number poems for special mention but there are too many that are too good. Anyway Jim’s introduction is the place to read more detail before immersing in the poems themselves.

There is nothing fay or twee about this collection. It is itself a weapon in the class struggle. One I kept coming back to is, “I saw a new world being assembled” by Owen Gallacher. It is, I think the most appropriate taster for this feast for the soul and along with many others in this collection, places poetry at the heart of the struggle.


I Saw a new world being assembled

in the tenements

there were workers

who built dreams for others


singers who got drunk

on rebel songs

fighters who fought


for themselves

in the workplace

and lost every round


all in revolt

against an assembly line

Of masters


I saw a new world

being assembled

in a sweatshop


where dreamers

singers and fighters

unfurled a trade union flag


their voices bolted

and welded into one



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  1. Mary McGregor says:

    The choir is Duende Voices

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