Guid day! So, here at Rally & Broad HQ we got wind of a joint pamphlet launch from a couple of poetry/ wordy types. We like a guid pamphlet launch so we thought it worth conducting one ae our Six Questions interviews with the authors. We’ve never met them, but we’ve heard that they occasionally come to Rally & Broad, so we thought we’d check them out. Broad sat down with the Jenny Lindsay one, and Rally spoke to Rachel McCrum. We all got on pretty well, I must say, even though Jenny ate all the biscuits and Rachel tried to nick Rally’s lighter. Anyway – we’re going to head down to their launches at The Jazz Bar at 2.30pm on Sunday 11th (where they are joined by Christopher Willatt) and check em out at The Old Hairdresser’s in Glasgow on Thursday 16th at 7pm. Be nice tae see some of you guys there too – ours is a pint of chutzpah and a side order of cognitive dissonance. 😀
Broad to JL: Nice scarf, lass! I used to have one just like that! Anyway – why ‘Ire & Salt’?
I spent ages swithering over this title! My pamphlet is essentially about personal and political power. Both of these entwine, both were fundamental themes of the Scottish independence debate (which is the back-drop to all the pieces in the pamphlet), and I’ve experienced both power and complete dis-empowerment both personally and politically in the last three years. A diagnosis of chronic depression and anxiety in June 2013, learning how to live with that and various ups and downs, being in a position of authority as an educator, having a platform, being an activist, amazing camaraderie, horrific break-ups… All have made the last 3 years pretty interesting and have made me revisit theories of power as part of understanding what I’ve just experienced.The Ire is the anger that powerlessness produces as well as the spark that can overcome it. The Salt is the tears of relief at retaining or regaining yer own agency after feeling dis-empowered.
It’s also a preserving agent. We’ve just experienced a pretty damn significant cultural and historical shift in Scottish politics. What is going to be preserved from that and who is going to preserve it? Who has power now and are we really as empowered as we could be, given the riff that Scotland has become empowered as a consequence of the vote? How many things continue to just happen at us and how many things can we shape? Political disempowerment and depressive illness share this one characteristic: both feel like they are happening at ye, and not something you can shape.
I mean, there’s also a fair bit ae word-play going on with that there title too, but I thought I should try to sound intelligent…
Rally to RM – Nice to meet ye! I got lost on the way here, sorry I’m late: I ended up in the wrong place. On the subject of place – Do Not Alight where Again? And why?
The long version…(or just skip to the end. There’s a much shorter answer after all this waffle).
Setting out this pamphlet has been a really odd process. Firstly, it feels somewhat overdue – the last one (my first one) was in 2012. C’mon, the poems aren’t even that long. But I honestly didn’t feel I’d done enough writing since Glassblower to have filled a pamphlet, or at least fill a coherent one, despite having had all these incredibly experiences with poetry trips to Greece and to South Africa – and not really having made time to write about any of them. If it hadn’t been for commissions and collaborations in the past two years, I’dve felt totally stulted. That’s not a word. Ah, it is now.
So, come January, I had all these half written poems hanging about and had convinced myself I was going to have to write a pamphlet’s worth of new ones in three months. On the verge of throwing everything up in the air for good in a suitably melodramatic fashion, I gave myself a bit of a shake, took the poems I did have, and found that they told a story, of sorts. So then I had a look back over the past two years, to try and understand where the story had come from…
It was the Scottish referendum. It was being in Scotland while it’s having what was (is?), let’s face it, a remarkably civilised debate about this huge question of future of the country, whilst being from Northern Ireland, which has not proven so capable of such a thing. Realising that because of this whole stupid hangover of Empire called the United Kingdom, being not so much an immigrant in another country, as, y’know, more of a blow in. But definitely not being Scottish. Despite all the invitations to engage in that process, despite the glorious and inspiring commitment to civic rather than ethnic nationalism that the referendum made, I honestly never felt more of an outsider than during that time. In practical terms, it meant it felt very odd to campaign and tell Scottish people how I thought they should vote. In personal terms, it meant I definitely wasn’t Scottish. How frightfully self absorbed.
Ouch. But, aye.
So that means I’m Northern Irish, right? And what the hell does that mean? I don’t live there. I don’t contribute anything to the culture or the economy or the society there anymore. Moreover, I’m of Northern Irish middle class Protestant heritage, one of the least sexy cultural heritages you could lay claim to, but it is mine, and how do you deal with that, flaws and faults and all? I still call it home. My family is there. There is a certain – character – that you could say is bred there.
There was also something quite specific for my generation, who came of age – I particularly mean the middle class lot who were finishing secondary school and heading out to university, but has also been true for any numbers of generations coming of age before ours – that Ireland was never seen as good enough. To make a life, a proper life in the world, you had to get out. The diaspora, all those ones wandering about.
Louis MacNeice writes how
‘I can say Ireland is hooey,
Ireland is a gallery of fake tapestries.
But I cannot deny my past to which my self is wed.
The woven figure cannot undo its thread.’
Which is all very romantic and maudlin. Don Paterson, with a more cynical robustness, talks about the ‘Irish boomerang – it doesn’t come back but sings you a song about how much it would like to.’
Putting the pamphlet together let me look at Northern Ireland, and find a way to love it (and I do – oh, you buggery stubborn country, I do, and I hope the book shows it) and leave it. For now, anyway.
There are over two years between the first and last poem in the book, and they move from asking you to listen to an accent and hear the story behind it, to making the accent vagrant, leave, move on. I’ll always love Northern Ireland, with a knot the size of a clenched fist in the pit of my stomach, but I’m done with spinning the guts out. I’d like to look outwards and forwards. I’d like to swallow the world.
The short and prosaic version…It’s a sign I first saw on disused railway platforms from a train winding up through the Highlands. Look at that language! It’s so politely firm and forbiddingly melancholy, all at the same time. Smashing.
Broad to JL: We at R&B HQ ken well the battle between Poetry and Promoting. So: Poetry and Promoting get into a ring and have a fight. What wins, and why?
Jesus. Of late, promoting. But! I should say that’s by design. I love programming events. I find it brilliantly fulfilling to create or co-create an event that artists and an audience can enjoy in that moment. It’s empowering for everyone, if done well, and it is a creative outlet in its own right. Poetry’s always there though – jabbing its finger in mah back saying, ‘Oi! I’m the bloody reason you’re doing this remember, fool!’ And so poetry always wins cos it’s the catalyst for the promoting. I bloody love spoken word. I can’t imagine ever not wanting to run events and I can’t imagine ever not writing poetry or whatever the hell it is I write. In conclusion: they go two rounds and declare it a draw. On a personal level, one has rarely existed without the other. I’ve been running events for as long as I’ve been writing.
Rally to RM: I’m crap with a hammer and nails and am prone to watching DIY shelving units crash to the ground. But I like DIY platforms. Tell me more about this and how you make them sustainable?
I landed in Edinburgh in 2010, via Manchester, Belfast, New Zealand, Oxford and basically a lot of dithering about in my 20s. I mean, I had a briefcase at one point – it was quite official looking dithering – but I didn’t really know what I was doing. I didn’t really know what I was doing when I landed in Edinburgh – ostensibly, the reason I’d moved up was for a PhD but I wasn’t too hot at that either. However, I had a wonderful Italian anthropologist for a supervisor who knew I wasn’t very happy, and told me to go forth and find my people – find my community – as this would help me understand the PhD better. I found the Forest Cafe.
The Forest Cafe, unlike anything else I knew, says ‘yes’ to everything and then works out how to make it happen afterwards. Without Forest, I would never have fallen in love with building platforms and stages, with seeing how empowering that can be for folk, and how much strength a like minded community can give one another. It was a whole DIY punk world that I’d never been part of before. I loved it then, I love it now. Some of the very best of people. With Forest came Inky Fingers, then Blind Poetics, then that thing that we’re trying not to mention here, and now, looking forward to summer 2015, SHIFT/…new solo shows from Scotland based spoken word artists for the Fringe.
But I also think there’s something really special about Scotland, about Edinburgh, in particular.
The way the DIY world supports one another – not just within poetry but with music as well – the sense of community, the space to try things out and suceed or fail, to pick yourself, to keep going, to collaborate. And the way the larger institutions – the Scottish Poetry Library, the Scottish Book Trust, the Libraries, the Book Festival, the City of Literature, even the University – connect with the grassroots scene, are aware of and support it – and vice versa. Maybe it’s a scale thing – we all drink in the same pubs – but maybe something more.
Ways to make DIY platforms sustainable? For my tuppence worth…
- Find a collaborator, a comrade, a partner in crime. Find a partner in crime with whom you can laugh, cry, drink and work. Who will support, share, provoke, energise you. Who you will always love to bits, and could kill half the time. Who will have your back and kick your arse all at once. Who has similar approaches to work and to appetite, to afternoons in cocktail bars and staggering to the late night chippie, to the occasions when to tell you that you look amazing in that dress and that that new poem is the best thing that has ever been written (and recognises when the time is to tell you that both could probably do with some more work). To mutally acknowledging the need, occasionally, to throw it all up in the air, have a nap, and start all over again. No, you can’t have mine. Yes, I know she’s pretty special. Get yer own.
- Find your community. The one you respect. The one that you’d push past exhaustion for. Learn from it. Don’t get so excited about the thing you’re doing that you forget to look around you and support the things that other people are doing. Don’t compete. Don’t self promote at the expense of others. Don’t bitch about one another. Find the thing you do, find the thing they do. Support one another. Hold each other up. Applaud one another. When you start playing, performing to more than yourselves – and you will – they’ll still be there. Still be there.
- Learn how to work with the professional world, the institutions. They are not the bad guys. They are there to help, and they’ll have expertise, experience and perspective to learn from, and opportunities beyond what you can achieve on your own. They’ve probably got public funding, and that means they’re reaching out to wider audiences than you could ever do on your own. That’s a good thing. Public funding for the arts is a Very Good Thing. And you are probably more nimble, closer to new audiences than they are, quicker to react and to act. You can help each other.
- Say yes to everything. Then understand where your energy levels are, and when to say no. Don’t burn out. Take care of yourself. Do the things that you believe have integrity. But where you can, take a leap out, say yes.
Broad to JL: What is the best gig, ever, that you’ve been involved with, and why?
Well, there is this one thing I’m involved in that is hands-down the best creative partnership I’ve ever been involved in and also contains my favourite ever events I’ve ever been part of, but I think we’re trying not to talk about that, right? He he! So: here’s another top 2!
Firstly, in 2006 the Scottish Slam Team went down to Bristol’s Old Vic Theatre to take part in the Three Nations Slam Championships. It was me, Bram Gieben, Graeme Hawley and Milton Balgonie. We won the national title and in the individual scores I came first, Bram came second, Graeme came third and Milton came fourth. We were the complete outsiders and no-one had ever heard of any of us. It was bloody brilliant.
The second has to be the National Collective Edinburgh Sessions from Jan – Jun 2014 that were organised by a small team and led by Cameron Foster and I. They were a great mix of art and politics, debate and discussion and they were informative as well as entertaining. It’s not often ye’ll get a debate on forestry alongside a spoken word artist alongside a theatre-maker alongside a discussion about fiscal policy. They were great motivation and built up a lovely network of friends and campaigners.
For balance: the worst was being heckled by an elderly lady at Stanza in 2011 who shouted out that my language was “appalling, dear!” It practically started a riot as the aforementioned Balgonie shouted “Nae censorship at Stanza!” and thus a short interlude of back-and-forth ensued with various members of the audience chiming in. It was the first time I had performed an hour-long show. Ever-so-slightly off-putting.
There’s plenty of quality profanity in a couple of the pieces in Ire & Salt though, so I look forward to a repeat of this in August…
Rally to RM: Oi! That’s my lighter! Harrumph. Anyway – home and identity are a big part of what you write about. So: weighty question –
Where do you consider home?
Where I can lay down my hat. Where there’s a pot of Earl Grey. Where I can find a shoulder to rest my head on. Where someone will tell me their story. Where I can work as part of something bigger than myself. Where I can feel of use.
And that concludes our interview! Come hear and see these two and buy their pamphlets too. That Jenny likes a lot of biscuits and lighters don’t come cheap… 😀