Pushing Out the Boat: Our Blog
- John Mackie: a recollection (Judith Taylor, posted 20 Apr 2017)
- Scottish PEN - defending the freedom of writers and readers (Ian Crockatt, posted 24 Mar 2017)
- Poems for Valentine's Day (Blog Editor, posted 14 Feb 2017)
- Curried Kisses (E E Chandler, from Issue 11 of POTB, posted 14 Feb 2017)
- The Love Calculations of the Gentleman Spider (Maureen Ross, from Issue 11 of POTB, posted 10 Feb 2017)
- Sexy Shoes (Kate Percival, from Issue 3 of POTB, posted 9 Feb 2017)
- Driving Back (Robert Ramsay, from Issue 5 of POTB, posted 7 Feb 2017)
- Welcome to the POTB Blog (POTB, posted 6 Feb 2017)
John Mackie: a recollection
posted on 20 April 2017
To mark the death of John Mackie, one of the North-East Scotland’s most respected and loved poets, we asked POTB’s former editor and poet, Judith Taylor, to write a recollection of John and to select one of his poems for our readers to enjoy. John served briefly as a guest on our Poetry Selection Panel. More about John and his work, including a soulful photo of the young John in 1969, can be found on his web site.
John Mackie: a recollection by Judith Taylor
When I was still new to the monthly poetry nights at Books and Beans in Aberdeen, one evening in Open Mic a dude in a hat got up and read a poem about a Chinese kite. You can hear him read it, along with some of his other poems, here. And that was my introduction to John Mackie.
This is a personal reminiscence. When we remembered John at Books and Beans in January, after his death just before Christmas, I said I wasn’t going to say much about his life because, frankly, I didn’t know the half of it. Born in London, with roots in the North East and on Raasay (where he claimed Sorley MacLean as a distant relative), John was known to us as a poet and songwriter, but he had also been a musician, a playwright, a teacher, a management consultant, and a traveller through Europe and beyond.
He was, I said, the sort of person who passes into legend, and I think he wouldn’t have been displeased to do so. He liked nothing better than a good story. We still have his poetry and his songs, but we miss the voice that animated them – a voice as rich and gravelly as his beloved rivers – and we miss the stories that voice told, the glint in his eye belying his deadpan lead-up to some outrageous claim or appalling pun, the expansive conversation that made you feel you’d known him for years. Those who had known him for years recall he could be awkward, grouchy, demanding, and I don’t doubt it. But I cherish the memory of his wit, his conviviality, his engagement: his fearless ability to turn up, commandeer the nearest available musician, and improvise up a storm.
And I honour, too, the way his work kept on flowering late in his life, in print and online: his publications in magazines like Clear Poetry and I am not a silent poet; his participation in the 52 group, and the online friendships that came from it, and that produced, after his death, such an outpouring of elegy and commemoration. Even in the last year of his life, despite the painful and debilitating illness that was to claim him, he refused to be curtailed, contributing poems of passion and indignation to causes he felt strongly about, and travelling all sorts of distances, fragile but undaunted, to take part in events. It seems fitting that almost the last time I heard him was at Books and Beans, reading his contribution to the Open Mic anthology.
After his death, in an online conversation, I used the word gallantry about him, but I think the word I was really looking for was panache, in the sense in which Cyrano de Bergerac used it: his plumed hat, that he flourished in the face of his enemies, even when the enemy was death itself. John’s hat had no plume, but by heck its owner had panache.
My favourite among John’s poems is “Hard Frost” (see below), from his sequence “Easter Tomloan Suite”, which was published in his collection Pearl Diving by Moonlight (Malfranteaux Concepts, 2012), and which I heard him perform in St Andrews Cathedral as part of a Con Anima concert in December 2015.
Goodbye John. Fly free.
Easter Tomloan 4 – Hard Frost
frost has laid a hard bed
sprinkled here and there
with polished diamonds
in overt invitation to the sky
to let fall
the first feathering flakes
of a blanketing snow
alert to its imminence
the robin, finches
and the youngest crows
flicker from tree to table
and back to branch
small crumbs of warming
dull, ice-streaked, scuffed
and stained with wear
but not, yet, beyond repair
these battered boots will last
just long enough
to travel hard and rough
to that place
of driven snow where
there is only the sound of
a single heart beating
at walking pace
Scottish PEN - defending the freedom of writers and readers
posted on 24 March 2017
In a world in which having a point of view means body-swerving through an increasingly complex maze of table-thumping rhetoric, tweet-rage, fake news and, somewhere, evidence-based reason, it’s easy to fall foul of the power-brokers who want to control everything. Writers, whether of fiction, news, magazines columns and editorials, social comment, blogs, analytical essays, tweets, rants and whatever other forms are developing as I write, are, by the very fact of using words publicly, at risk of offending someone, somewhere. Where you are in the world determines just how much at risk, and what the consequences might be of getting it wrong. In some powerful watchers’ eyes – which are many because thousands are paid to be their eyes – consequences might include losing your job, or home, imprisonment, harassment of your family members, flogging, ‘disappearance’, death.
In Saudia Arabia, for example, Palestinian born poet Ashraf Fayadh is languishing in gaol following his conviction on a charge of apostasy. He was originally sentenced to death, but world-wide protest in January 2016, organised by PEN International, involving readings of his work at locations throughout the world including 3 in Scotland (one in Aberdeen), took place a week before his appeal and is widely viewed as influencing the dropping of the death sentence. This still leaves him facing 800 lashes, and an 8 year prison sentence. And in China internationally renowned artist and Nobel Prize winner Liu Xiaobo who stood up to the government by advocating freedom of expression has disappeared in the prison system there, and his wife is under house arrest, and again International PEN is one of many organizations and individuals actively trying to achieve his release.
Scottish PEN, as part of International PEN, is in its 90th year of fighting for freedom of expression for writers, and, therefore freedom of choice for readers too. As well as being involved in campaigns to highlight individual writers oppressed in many parts of the world, it is increasingly active in pressuring our own government on issues where freedom of speech is threatened. In recent months Scottish PEN has made formal written representations to government consultations re defamation law, and also the question of surveillance which is included in the 2015 Investigatory Powers Bill – which includes proposals, for example, giving the government powers to store all details of your internet connection records (ICRs), and in some circumstances to ‘interfere with’ equipment ie intelligence services to hack into your computer. A recent survey asks Scottish PEN members about the effects of this kind of surveillance on their own writing – do you, as a writer, hesitate about expressing some views for fear of how they might be viewed by your employer, or the government, and what consequences they could have for you? Is this kind of often unacknowledged self-censorship a significant damper on freedom of written expression already?
Alongside these campaigns, and contributions to thinking about the route legislation is taking regarding individuals’ freedoms of expression, Scottish PEN is taking a proactive approach to encouraging those who are generally unheard to speak out. The new MANY VOICES project will link people in minority groups – women in prisons, refugees, troubled teenagers – with both locally based and international writers to encourage the development of writing and performance skills, and the confidence that all writers gain from being taken seriously and achieving. Women in HMP Grampian prison are amongst those taking part.
So, Scottish PEN’s activities are a kind of bridge spanning the whole gamut of efforts to protect and encourage freedom of expression in writing, from local action groups through national events to co-ordinated international campaigns on behalf of oppressed writers, and from the under-valued and represented through well-known national writers to internationally famous artists. The huge majority of those doing this work are volunteers, writers who are passionate about the freedoms of their fellow writers when these are abused, as well as about protecting their own. If you’re a writer yourself, it’s pretty much an essential part of raising your own writerly awareness of the social context in which you and others are writing. If you’re a reader, knowing what pressures many writers face from their own governments and others in order to bring their words to you is itself an essential part of appreciating the work. OK, in this country, now, the consequences of writing the ‘wrong’ thing might not yet include “losing your job, or home, imprisonment, harassment of your family members, flogging, ‘disappearance’, death”, but with government by tweet no longer some crazy fiction, who knows what’s next?
Both writers and readers can be members of Scottish PEN. Find out more on scottishpen.org/
Poems for Valentine's Day
posted on 14 February 2017
To celebrate Valentine’s day 2017, we have chosen a small collection of pithy and contrasting poems from previous volumes of POTB.
posted on 14 February 2017
In a late night club
As she orders at the bar,
A cliché joins her:
A tall, dark, handsome stranger;
Catches her eye,
Pays for her drinks
Before there is time to protest.
Can I kiss you?
I don’t know you. I’ve eaten curry
What type of curry?
I like Biryani.
She likes him
And cannot think why not.
For how long should we kiss?
Make it seven and a half.
There’s a tremour in hands
Still holding iced glasses.
She holds her garlic breath,
He smells of salt and sweet.
It is over too soon.
Ten seconds – you tricked me!
The curry was good.
The Love Calculations of the Gentleman Spider
posted on 10 February 2017
knowing he may be utterly consumed by his great love
he prepares the food thoughtfully
and in serving, stands well back
observing her replete, relaxed
he sets out cautiously
drawn along the twin-tight, steel-eyed gossamers of
lust and fear
plucking love songs as he goes
in heart-stop hopes
his identity (lover rather than dessert)
is unequivocally clear
only then he begins
to tip-tongue his way
past her teeth
posted on 9 February 2017
I saved the shoes
I wore that night.
Sexy shoes you said
And I agreed.
You led me down the garden path
‘Let’s sow some seeds.’
I thought it quaint,
The way you spoke.
I saved the shoes.
I saved a seed.
I left you for another bloke,
It’s what I do—
You’d call it need.
He moans a bit,
He’s not so cute.
He can’t stand the kids.
He likes the shoes.
posted on 7 February 2017
Driving back from the dance, in the old Morris Minor, with you
whoever you were, spilling out of your long party frock
so white skinned and cheerful and sleepy; the nearly breaking
dawn bringing a cool damp to your young lips and your nose;
and me bursting for a piss.
We were never in love, but,
my! were you adorable, and fun; and was I scared.
So we played at it and got nowhere and felt relieved
and glowed in the certainty we were desirable, each
to each; so we grabbed some kitchen snack and off
to our separate beds, alive with the knowledge of what
could have been.
And now you have gone, all of you,
and I, in a threadbare jersey, hanging onto
my own teeth and some of my hair, have a sudden
frisson of panic that I let it away – blew it.
If I could re-run time now, would I gorge,
like a pig at your trough, without any remorse? What
of the magnetic field of innocence? This
I can’t answer, only to shut my eyes and smell
once more your hair …
Welcome to the POTB Blog
posted on 6 February 2017
Welcome to the POTB Blog. Here we plan to post extracts from our magazines, author profiles, commentaries and more.
And, to celebrate Valentine’s Day, we’ll start with some romantic poems from earlier editions …