Category Archives: Poetry

Neu! Reekie – Anywhere But The Cities.

For a town so small and so comparatively remote, we get a lot of good stuff coming our way in Hawick. Whenever a big arts organisation decides to get their show on the road, it’s always a decent shout that the Grey Auld Toon will feature somewhere on their list of community centres and village halls. Only thing is, though these barnstorming tours are great and all, the product as you experience it is rarely comparable to the sort of thing you’d expect in Glasgow or Edinburgh. Everything is shortened and stripped down, the performers are reserves, and though you’re not exactly disappointed you do come away with the feeling that what you’ve just participated in was Diet Culture rather than the real thing.

So, naturally, you do what grown-ups do and you moderate your expectations. When you see that Neu! Reekie are coming to Hawick on the second last date of a countrywide tour, you go along more out of gratitude than actual hope. It probably won’t be that riveting, but it’s just nice to have some visitors.

Because the other thing is that, even if the event turns out to be quite good, it won’t be anything new. Chances are it’ll be some little greatest hits revue, a few crowd pleasing standards. Nothing you’ll be in danger of remembering the next day.

Well, it’s the next day but three, and my recollections of Neu! Reekie are still extremely clear. I remember Michael Pedersen’s poetry, those intricate little boxes of surprise, and the spoken word of Hollie McNish, whose performances are so powerful that they seem to derive from some, like, totally original art form, as yet undiscovered by mortal men. I remember the stupendously grouchy Kevin Williamson, growling about ‘No’ voters (in the Borders, of all places), the hilarious films of Ainslie Henderson and Will Anderson. And then there was the amazing Stanley Odd, a Scottish hip-hop group previously (and inexplicably) unknown to me, and who were so good that their presence on a stage in Hawick three metres away seemed like some unaccountable glitch in a video game, Lionel Messi in an Accies shirt.

We get a lot of good stuff coming to Hawick, but we rarely get anything which runs the risk of failing. By the time it gets to us, most stuff has been gone over so many times that it could run equally well without an audience, and sometimes does. On Friday night Neu! Reekie respected its audience enough to give us an event rather than just a performance. Spread the word.

Writing in Scots.

I’ve had a couple of things see the grim light of day since I last posted. “Auld Hughie’s Losin It” – a rip-roaring tale of bauchles and bowling clubs – is up on McStorytellers, whilst I have a couple of poems and a wee interview on writing in Scots over at

It’s a fraught business, writing in a minority tongue – though Scots, of course, is a minority tongue only on paper, which is what makes it an interesting exception. The argument against, say, Gaelic in the mainstream can always be reduced to market forces and economic factors – not enough readers/writers, ergo not enough money. Not so with Scots, which has millions of de facto speakers, and enough mutual intelligibility with English to be broadly understandable even outwith our borders. Trainspotting, duh.

So it’s easy, as a Scots writer, to ascribe rejection to political motives. It might even be true, sometimes. But by and large the problem is simply that Scots has been so effectively pigeonholed that many people find it difficult to understand why anyone would want to persist in using it, except as a device for telling stories about Glaswegian lowlifes, and the occasional folksy tale about one’s childhood.

That point of view is wrong about Scots, but it is in many ways right about people’s perceptions of Scots. If you can speak English perfectly well, why bother writing limiting your audience by writing in Scots? And it’s understandable, really. Writing in Scots can seem to other folk like playing the kazoo. You might be world class at it, but it’s a kazoo, for crying out loud. Why not play something proper?

I don’t have all the answers, of course – there are loads of them – but here’s one just to be getting on with. I was reading some of my poetry in Scots at “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” at the Mac Arts Centre the other day. It’s a great event with some superb poets, well worth going to. People are usually very receptive to Scots poetry, though there will always be one who says “I really enjoyed it, though I couldn’t quite understand it…” So that’s what I was expecting when a lady came up to speak to me afterwards. But she didn’t say that. Instead, with a certain thrill in her voice, she said:

“I didn’t realise before that I was bilingual!”

Most of us, in this country, are. And most of us are delighted to find it out, when finally we do. What better gift can you hope to give anyone than a whole other language, especially when it’s their own?


On Sunday I was over at Old Gala House for the launch of Julian Colton’s latest poetry collection, “Cold Light of Morning”. It was a good venue for a well-attended event. I’ve never had a book launch of my own, primarily because of my grim certainty that nobody would show up and I’d be left standing in a draughty hall with a pile of books on a table by my side, declaiming to no-one as the open bottles of own-brand Coke go slowly flat. But Julian’s launch was a brisk and memorable affair, and it was real privilege to be asked to read a couple of poems from his collection; his best yet, and one of the strongest to emerge from the Borders in quite some time.

Also last weekend was the Alchemy Film Festival. Hawick RFC were playing in a cup final up at Murrayfield on Saturday, so Hawick would have been a ghost town but for the constant stream of visitors brought in by the festival. You don’t often get the feel of a cosmopolitan city in wee towns like ours, but that was definitely the vibe generated by Alchemy and its attendees. Some excellent films throughout, especially at the last showing, where my own collaboration with Sara Clark, “The Fifth Miracle”, was on show. If you missed it, you can catch it online here:

Lastly, next meeting of the Teviotdale Writers’ Group is this Thursday 23rd April at the Border Club in Hawick. New members always welcome!

Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon

I’m not one for jazz, but I had a great time at “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” at the Mac Arts Centre in Galashiels on Sunday (duh). Great to have something like this happening on our own doorstep, and very well supported too. After many years of Borderers having to traipse up to Edinburgh for their fix of live arts maybe the shoe is finally on the other foot, and when the Borders Railway opens in September, the direction of the prevailing traffic might be towards, rather than away from, the Borders. Anyway, the jazz afternoons are the last Sunday of every month – thoroughly recommended if you’re in the neighbourhood.

I, along with some other superb poets, gave a reading at the jazz afternoon – video here:

Oh, and I also have some new poems online at Octavius – you can check them out here:

P.S. I also have three poems in the excellent new Lampeter Review, which you can find at, as well as a video of the second half of my “Jazz on a Sunday Afternoon” reading, here: