Sunday, May 1, 2016

This was included in the recent Scottish PEN 'PENning Peril' issue. For full magazine click on


Naa, ma wee lamb, naa,
yir mammy wisnae screamin,
she wis lauchin
at the funny story
the men telt her.
It wis that funny
she hud tae lauch and lauch
till the tears cam tae her een
and the men tuik her awaa
for mair stories.

We’re aa gaan,
you and me and the neebors
but no yir daddy,
he hus tae byde ahin.

It’ll be a lang journey
traivellin throu the nicht.
In the morn ye’ll see the sea.

Snuggle doon,
lay yir heid on ma knee

and Ah’ll sing tae ye.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Message received from Winning Writers:
Congratulations! It is my pleasure to tell you that you won an Honorable Mention in the 2015 Tom Howard/Margaret Reid Poetry Contest.
We will officially announce your award on April 15. In April you will receive $100 and an award certificate.

Proper and Enduring

Yes, art cares
about the dead and the despairing and the exiled
but not too much: like the elephant mother
that nuzzles the corpse of her calf then rejoins the herd
or the weeds that sprout in radioactive deserts,
or the creatures that crawl among the skeletons of the mighty
after an asteroid has struck the earth.

Art waited patiently
as bodies lay lifeless on the slave ships
and were thrown into the sea.
It entered into the groans that declared 'I am'
and were joined note to note, the cadences
made and remade, chanted in the cotton fields
and sung as the blues (that strange, unimaginable fruit).

Art seeks to survive
and even now in the camps and the killing places
the thoughts are starting to gather
and the sounds, and the shapes imprinted on the eye,
the atoms of sympathy floating in the smoke
that will change into words, tales, pictures, songs,
representations: 'Thus it is' and 'It was so.'

Art nurtures itself, gaining strength
to even up the score:
finds in itself the hate, the force, the fury
to pronounce accusations, proper and enduring,
against the bastards of the earth:
to call them by their names
and give them no peace in history.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Illustrations and text for my poem 'A Good Drowning'. With thanks to artists Gilberto De Martino, Hilary French, Jon Munson II, Tim Shelbourne, and all at Poems Please Me. 

Full ebook at

And the poem itself:

(By the River Aniene, June 2015)

It calls you in,
bottleglass green and cool in summer heat,
but the current’s too strong:
before you know, you’d be floating unhurriedly
into the Tiber, forty miles downstream.

Not such a bad way to drown, taking it easy,
having everything you’ve experienced
click through your head like a slow movie reel. With time
for sight-seeing – think – those twenty-seven centuries
from the founding of the city,
the emperors and the excesses,
popes, palaces and pleasure-gardens,
amphitheatres and aqueducts,
temples and trumphs, legions, lingua Latina…
so much more than one’s own meagre existence,
a hundred generations roughly speaking,
surely enough to fit a million lives.

It seems almost a pity
to miss that.
I think I’ll dip my toe in now.

Monday, January 25, 2016


This one seems appropriate for Burns Night -

The Inventors    
(William Symington's pioneer steamboat, financed by the landowner, Patrick Miller, sailed on Dalswinton Loch in 1788. Robert Burns (d. 1796) is said to have been a passenger.)    
The claret goes round.    
Symington: ‘What say you, Burns?      
Are we not, like you, men of feeling    
with these sweet pairings of ours? Did you observe    
how the cylinder bids welcome to the piston,    
how iron is wedded to steam?’    
Burns replies, ‘And we bards    
grease our conceits, oil our metaphors,    
till our verses run as hot    
as a maid in her passion.’ They laugh.    
Maybe they’ll fish tomorrow.    
‘If there be any. We scared them off today.’    
He imagines a poem like a steamboat,    
word-rivets shining like constellations,    
a craft to navigate the unformed loch    
of a new century. He could build it, he thinks,    
if the muse is with him    
and twelve more years. 

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Here's the front and back cover of my new collection, just published by Indigo Dreams, and available on order. To quote the blurb: 

"With Scotland as a background, these poems celebrate diversity. Using both English and Scots, they embrace the ‘glamourie’ – enchantment – to be found in ordinary lives and in poetry. They end with wild bagpipe-led devilry, reminiscent of Robert Burns’s Tam o’Shanter, and an urgent plea for tolerance."

Here's a poem from the collection. Some of you will have seen the monument. 'Ordinary' people, doing their jobs.

On the Beef Tub Road

Crossing from Tweedsmuir to Moffat

the sun's slanting rays
light the first October snow
like wrinkles on the hill's face

or an orthography

of lost language, words of the scattered clans
who first wandered through these Lowland hills
and gave them names.

Today the wind is warm enough

to obliterate
what will be lost, written, lost again
when the real winter snow blankets it out

like a tribe submerged, 

falling like a wave against the shore
of centuries, then gone, asborbed 
among the later ones – my ancestors –

shepherds, drovers, labourers, miners, masons, 
honest folk and thieves: provincial Scots
going the rounds of market, pub and kirk,
people of little note.

Yet as the road winds higher
and nearer that calligraphy of snow
I see where the two Moffat coachmen,
James McGeorge and John Goodfellow,

six miles out from Moffat, with their coach

deep in a snowdrift, carried the mail
on their backs until they had to lie
under that white blanket on the hill.

Here's the Beeftub: brown fields below,

a misty sheet over Moffat town,
zig-zag strokes of a burn as sleet showers 
dissolve to rain.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

[This poem, on the influence of childhood on the choice of English or Scots, came joint third in the 2014 McCash Competition. 'The Sheddae' means 'The Shadow'.]


They ask me, whit’s yir gemm,
scrievin a poem in Scots?
Since Ah didnae speak Scots as a wean,
wuidnae hiv deigned
tae speak the wey they spoke (the scruff).

Yit the leid wis aw aboot me,
in the swappin o comics and cowboy annuals,
talk o fechts and fitbaa
and lassies, and makin babies.

It’s different noo, the souns Ah hird then
hiv fauldit thirsels thegither like a cloak,
hapt thirsels intae a shape
at the edge o ma sicht,
stappin lichtly, whooshin alang, a sheddae,
a thrawn, persistent ghaist.

And Ah think, in the back-end
o ma life it’s time
tae look him in the een, greet him as a frien
and say:
Forgie me, but Ah ken yir voice –
vowels strecht tae the point,
consonants as haurd as a haundshake –
and Ah hope ye’ll condescend
tae brek silence
and exchange a word or twae,
comrade-like, on this bit o the road.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Radio Times

What’s  On
(the programmes are authentic for the day I was born)

I’ve come from the womb
and Henry Wentof, tenor sings
on gramophone records.

I sleep and suckle
while Let’s Be Gay is on the air
and for my mother
The Housewife in War Time.

In the afternoon there’s Kill That Squander Bug,
in the evening Youth Must Have Its Swing
and at sunset Valentine Dyall
reading Milton’s Lycidas.
(Mother, beware of the blind fury
who slits the thin-spun life.)
Last comes Vy Benson And Her Girls’ Band
and the midnight news
and that rounds off
my first day in the world.