Sunday, October 16, 2011

3 of my poems I performed in the Traverse bar

These are 3 of my poems that last night I performed in the Traverse bar:

They were all inspired by places. The first one by the bar itself:

the naming of chairs

Let me introduce you to these chairs:
that one's Doris. That one's Bill.
That one's Frederick. That one's Jill.
She used to be Jamie. She was having problems then.
But she's much better now.
In fact she's doing very well thank you.
I often think of chairs.
- that one's Dolly, this one's John -
and I think it's really sad
every one has their histories
but people just park their bums
without regard for the places 
that they're putting them
life can be so impersonal don't you think
so important to respect individuality.
That table's Janet.
The ceiling's name is Jim.
Everything has a name, if you look out for it,
and the names matter. 
They put a ring round things.
The wall's name is Paul
but close friends call her Mavis.
Names are important, names are a defence
against an anonymous and faceless world.
Jennifer's the light bulb's name
But she used to be known as Robert. She hated that.
Names can be a fortress
Names can be a safe
But sometimes we get locked in them
and then we lose the key.
The light-shades name is Richard
He used to be known as Paula.
It was horrible.
Names can be a prison
Names can be a bind
Names can just confuse you
Names can make you blind.
Names can leave you just not knowing
who in the world you are.

Don't ask me what I'm called
I don't have a name.
I lost it long ago.
It wasn't my real name anyway.
(I'm not a lightbulb. I'm not a chair) 
My real name's in the distance, over there
I don't know where:
It's not a place I know.
It's somewhere that I've never been:
But mean to go.


I was commissioned to write the second for Confab’s Hidden City project.
(You can see the clip here: http://www.confab.org.uk/html/hidden5.htm)
It was written about Paddy’s Market, the old flea market in Glasgow, once surrounded by Poll Tax protest slogans painted on the railway embankment walls, and now locked up and fenced as part of some development project.That was where I performed it, on a soap box outside the locked gate:

at Paddy's market.

Patrick used to be a friend of mine
His market dealt in stocks and shares,
Discounted trading and derivatives.
Patrick was a bandit in a bespoke cut suit
Who traded in deception, greed and in despair
And so was honoured as an asset to the state.

I disowned him when he got his knighthood.
I'm an open-hearted trannie, very tolerant,
But that was one step too far for me.

So instead I took up with his cousin Paddy.
Paddy's place wasn't quite as smart as Patrick's.
Full of deadbeats, rejects and derelicts.
Just my kind of place. I felt at home here.

Paddy's goods were open to the wind and rain
They lay scattered in puddles, in the mud and dirt.
You bought and sold stuff at Paddy's out of desperation
Out of need.

He never got his knighthood. They closed him down.
They built a picket fence around his market
Locked it up behind the biggest padlock they could find.

(My heart was like that once)

Patrick's market is doing well, they say,
For all it's hated and despised,
They still tell us it needs to be doing so much better.



All around Paddy's are the faded signs
Resisting the poll tax. Talking about the revolution.
The one we all think never came.

(My heart's changing now, and the both of us
Are living through our own revolution.
We’re tearing down the fences that used to stand guard
We’re unpicking picking the locks at dead of night
We’re creeping past the police barricades
We’re removing frontier posts of fear and shame)

That's how I know Paddy's market's still around somewhere
And Patrick's one day will come tumbling down.
Because it's true what the man said
The man they built the empty church for just down the road:
You have to choose, he said,
Between your money or your soul.
And the first will be last
And the last will be first.


The last one came about when my elder daughter was studying engineering.
In her last year, she had to do a project which involved designing a new pedestrian bridge leading to the St. James shopping centre in Edinburgh.
Her design was beautiful: a sinuous curve with an island half way across. A place where people could sit and be quiet a moment and look out to the sea.
She asked me to write a poem that could be engraved in that place.
Now she’s designing fish farms and swimming pools and primary schools; but the bridge never got built.
So this is a poem for a place that does not yet exist:

my daughter’s bridge

Rest here, traveller
On this bridge between worlds

Between the place you were in before
And the place you will soon reach

Between the person that you were before
And the person you will soon become.

Bless you traveller

May the place you are going to
Be better than the place you were in before

May the person you are becoming
Be happier than the person you were in before,

Richer in mind,
Calmer in spirit.

May the world you are entering be kinder
Than the world you are leaving behind.

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