Forgive me, Seamus.

Tributes, theft & the ‘P’ word.

So, we ventured out of Edinburgh last night for Young Blood, an evening of turboquality readings at the The Junk Rooms in Stirling, organised by the MLitt writing group.  Dave Coates, Claire Askew, William Letford, Ryan Van Winkle and Miriam Gamble (do ask yourself why you weren’t there. It was Dave’s birthday and everything. And Ryan turned the evening into a doodle class. There’s a whole other post on ‘good’ coming up sometime).

But the point of this one.

After and outside, clustering wine and cigarettes and adrenalin, and watching a hen party pick its way down the street followed by a prowling Ford Focus, I had the unnerving experience of having a recently written and performed poem quoted back to me as part of someone else’s personal story.

Which is fine, in a way – it’s kinda flattering. We were standing in a group, and I don’t think it was in any way intentional, and the theme of the poem is a common enough experience:  becoming a soft handed writer and having that examined, physically and not always comprehendingly by older, harder generations. (Yes, it’s also about other things, I think, but that’s a major part of it).

And that, in itself, is a very obvious…I’m going to say ‘echo’…of Seamus Heaney’s Digging. I know this. I knew it when I’d finished the poem. And I should acknowledge it every time I read it. I’m Northern Irish, Heaney was inevitably an enormous part of my schooling, and I owe as much to a literary forefather as I do to my actual mother.

Forgive me, Seamus, for I have sinned.

(Also, Seamus, I know raising the stone of tribute often finds the toad of hubris squatting underneath. I’m painfully aware of that. Sorry)

Resonances or Ripoffs?

It did crystallize an issue that I’ve started to see – or hear – happen more and more in this lovely, warm, closeknit community of poets and performers in Scotland. Perhaps because we do support each other, and attend each others’ readings, and therefore things seep in.

If I’m being really honest, the thing that irked me about this retelling of the story of soft hands was that the speaker in question used at least two of the exact words or images that I’ve used in the poem to then describe his own experience. Let’s get explicit here – ‘callous’ and the turning over of palms. I don’t have a lot to be proud of in anything I’ve written (why would you ever dare? That’s another post) but that poem, for whatever reason, has worked, in communicating what I was trying to say. And fuckit, I did work on it.

I guess it’s one of the dangers of listening to poetry, song, spoken word. You don’t get words on a page so you can’t check your references. And if you’re a writer or a storyteller yourself, then sometimes these brilliant phrases pop into your head, and it can be hard to tell memory from insight. If something sounds  so fine, you have to wonder where it came from.

I’m guilty of it.  See Seamus above. And ‘filigree’ ended up in a poem of mine where it had no right to be, but I liked the word. At a recent reading in Leith, I realised that the reason I liked it is because Kath McMahon places it in a poem about her father and a watch and a maze and John Cooper Clarke with far greater power and effect and craft. I took it back out.

They’re only words. There are only so many of them for us to use. But still.

Quote the hell out of the good stuff. Sing its praises to the mountains. And then acknowledge it, damnit.



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