In the foreward of ‘#UntitledThree’, the third collection of poems and song from the Neu! Reekie! family of poets and musicians, co-editor Kevin Williamson quotes Scottish poet Norman MacCaig.
In few words MacCaig wrote of how it’s not the responsibility of poets to charter the grimness of our time every time life’s bad, laying the misery on thick, but be unashamed as well of holding up and celebrating life’s pleasures and pluses. Because hell, we all need to cling on to the shiny wonders we come across, the things keep us going some days.
The strange wonder of poetry, as with music, we can cherry pick and taste and savour the parts of a single piece of work or a collection and adapt it to our own circumstance. And so, whether or not the poems laid out for us within these splendid royal purple covers – the logical step after gold and silver of earlier volumes in the series – are written before or after the pandemic, the magic of poetry means we can find common ground. In this in between age, this twilight zone, connecting is more important than as long as I can think of.
And so, I read the book through my own eyes here in near enough autumn, post lockdown and judging by the vibes lingering right now, we’re about to dive into another.
‘#Untitledthree’, marking ten years of the Neu! Reekie!’s programming of literature, poetry and performance, reflects personal familiars right back at me.
The isolation of lockdown to those like me, suffering a bereavement, made the extremes and ongoing recovery from grief more severe. And so, my attention is drawn to aspects and angles of loss on all levels.
Dean Atta’s ‘Instead of Saying I Want To Die’ cleverly contrasts and compares the drama of the loss of love and death; co-editor Michael Pedersen’s contributions approach it in a different way. In his wonderful ‘me n’ you on trains’ he recalls regrets of things left unsaid, the power of our memory and attachment to places keeping love alive.
Williamson’s honest but affectionate (‘Sonic the Hedgehog eyebrows’) ‘Roddy Lumsden is Somewhere’ is a bittersweet tribute and confirms yes, our loved ones may be gone in physical form but they remain in things, places, memories and you’re allowed a chuckle and moments of frustration.
‘K’ by Scott J Lawrie laments the loss of company of a casual friend with an anger that surprises both he and the reader alike.
In ‘Keeping Up With The Kids’ Ciara Maclaverty sweetly paints a lively family scene buzzing with warmth and colour, each member carrying out their roles, charting each movement until the father returns home once more.
In ‘The Bookshop I Burned Down’, Ian Mccartney laments the loss of sanctuary in ‘spaces safe from money’ and Jackie Kay’s ‘The Long View’ charts the adventure from the opening of the Scottish Parliament to now. She marvels at how the country has changed – ‘Old Scotland is no more. Gay men kiss at Parliament’s door’ – and leaves us with a buoyant optimism.
It’s not all sensitive musings though.
Meg Bateman’s powerful ‘Road Kill’ pokes at our sentimentality at the premature death of animals with the fate of the untrendy, uncounted, faceless human. And yet Sarah Stewart tugs at the heart when she delays the inevitable death of a ‘Caddy Lamb’.
Hannah Lavery’s tale of glorious revenge in ‘Post-Truth’ is few words but offers ideas for the disgruntled. ‘Abolish The Police’ by Harry Josephine Giles sets out a pretty strong case for the prosecution.
Nadine Aisha Jassat’s contributions ‘Somewhere / Today’ and ‘Scot-Mid’ highlights the high and deep lows we can sink to (‘like a metal I refuse to name’) and the fear she lives with at the drip-drip of casual racism.
Some very strong feminist work here too. Sabrina Mahfouz’s detailed, painful insight of the lives of women prison inmates with children is upsetting, but made all the more necessary for it. Sarah Stewart highlights period poverty in the baldly entitled ‘Blood’.
We will take MacCaig’s instruction courtesy of Williamson literally, and celebrate the literal positivity of life in this book- I loved how in Hannah Lavery’s ‘My Mum Wears Pink Lipstick’ the maternal shade and memories from her childhood and teenage years mark her life as an adult. Leyla Josephine’s list of ‘the good stuff’ in life is empowering – is learning how to say no or easy bowel movements better? I can’t quite decide.
But in the bulk of these poems, the sad and angry ones, those regretful and lost, supply a comfort. Which in itself is something very delightful to celebrate indeed.
#Untitledthree is published by Polygon, you can buy it here