Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Poems for a War

So, at last Serbia has tracked down one of the wanted war criminals. And brought all our minds back to the dreadful events in the Balkans during the nineties. I was lucky. I only witnessed what went on from the safety of my armchair. Yet what came home to me was how easily all this could have been happening right here in my country, in my home, in my street.

I wrote the following sequence at the time. One woman's tiny personal protest against nationalism and violence.

the country with no name

in the country with no name
they lined up all the buts and ifs
they lined up all the whys
they lined the question marks against the wall
and shot each one between the eyes

only the children were left
silently painting a thousand guernicas
with bloodied fingers

lines of makeshift beds in school gymnasiums
lines of staring eyes behind the chicken wire

lines where people hungry for peace
are struck by mortars while they wait for bread

stretch lines on the swollen bellies
of impregnated women

washing lines where the clothes of the newly dead
twitch in the breeze

lines of despair cut deep in the faces
of the dispossessed

demarcation lines front lines confrontation lines

enemy lines which ebb and flow
across a blood-soaked map
on a tide of human suffering

so many lines in one small war
and still, no-one will draw the line
and say, enough, no more


private greed relaxes between offensives
dressed as a tree
but for the jackboots
and the blade in his right hand

his left hand cups an apple. he slips
the blade beneath its tight red skin, a
ribbon of red and pink
twists from his fist
the white flesh weeps, desire seeps
from his lips, a final nick
the skin flicks to his feet

behind him, cherry trees hang thick with blossom
the sky is blue, the world is still beautiful
while by his feet, faithful as a dog
his ak40 sleeps, its muzzle black and warm

private greed squints at the fireball of the sun
then sinks his teeth deep
in the apple’s flesh

in the distance a child is wailing
a village is smouldering
mother courage is dragging her cart
her shoulders bent
her feet bloodied and sore

private greed spits out seven glistening pips
then grinds his jack-boot heel, hard
on the apple core

will your people raise monuments in honour
of you who fought your neighbours

will they raise monuments
tall and white against the sky
built from the bones
of your neighbours’ children

will your fathers drape your coffins
with your nation’s flag

will they drape your coffins
with a blue-veined flag
stitched from the skins
of other men’s daughters

will your mothers speak your name with sadness
will the skies weep with the shame of it

will your brothers light a yellow flame
in memory of you who fought and died
will the flame burn forever
will it be a flame of hatred

from Kicking Back by Magi Gibson

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Gorgeous, or what?

Vintage, eccentric, eye-catching and makes me smile.

Ian Macpherson in Byres Road, July 2008
Bastille Day plus One

Phew! Just finished the first draft of the second book in the Seriously Sassy! series for Puffin. And received the final editorial notes for book one. I'll start on them tomorrow, but tonight I'm taking a wee break. Hence this rather overdue posting.

Over the last couple of months I've been on Hoy, one of the Orkney islands, which was idyllic, Dublin to see Ian's mum, London for the annual Puffin Party - brilliant! - and Manchester where Ian's oldest daughter, the one and only Rosie Macpherson was performing in a play she and some fellow students devised together. Like father, like daughter.

So it's good to be home. And yesterday I had a chat with my neighbour, a francophile, who wished me Happy Bastille Day. Which reminded me of the following poem...

In a Paris Supermarket July 13th 1989

We were bantering about what to buy – I
planned a coq-au-vin to celebrate
the Revolution. You said why not go
the whole hog, pig out on a leg of pork
cooked in cream and calvados, and already
our trolley was full enough to feed
a third world nation when we saw him.

He had a loaf of bread pointed
at the check-out girl. She was counting out
the pile of coins he’d emptied from a purse.
You thought he was seven. I said
nine or ten, but underfed.

He didn’t have enough to buy the bread. But
he waited like a wide-eyed rabbit, frozen
in the middle of the road, with a bottleneck
of trolleys queuing up to run him down.

One franc more, the girl said really loud.
But we were too stressed out, tapping our toes
and tutting, or maybe we were mesmerized
by muzak - but no-one made a move and suddenly
the kid ran off without the bread.

Let’s leave this trolley here, you said.
I’m not hungry any more.
I guess we’re still a hundred years too early
to celebrate the Revolution.

Magi Gibson

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Multicultural Scotland

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to give a talk and reading at Strathkelvin Writers, a group that meets in Bishopbriggs on the edge of Glasgow. It was a lovely evening.

Then after my wee appearance on Melvyn Bragg's Travels in Written Britain, Leela Soma, one of the writers who had been there that night, emailed me. She thought I might like to read her own poem about her Scots/Indian identity.

I liked the poem so much I asked for Leela's permission to put it on this blog. So here it is...

This is my ain land

Thirty years an' mair I breathed the grey-tinged air

Missed ma ma an' da, sisters an' brithers tae

Worked hard, paid taxes an made ma hame here

Embraced the lingo, flitted an bought thay messages.

Naw, no a peely wally, glaikit, glum nor gallus me

I hail fae yon faraway India, spicy rich, colourful tae

This’s where I’ve lived longer noo, hame is Glesca 

Ma heart an' soul mixed and proud, I’m me

No Indian in India nor Scot in Scotland, a new wain
Fae an Indian womb, nurtured rich in tartan air

Am I noo wan ae Jock Tamson’s bairns?

copyright Leela Soma 2008

Sunday, April 27, 2008

ITV 1 Sunday 27th April, 2008 10.45pm

Melvyn reaches Scotland tonight in the fourth and final episode of this series.
Last November I recorded some wee bits for the programme. I thought I was just going to be doing voice-overs of the Burns' song/poem, My love is like a red, red rose, a short poem in Scots by Stirling poet, Eunice Wyllie, and an extract from my own poem, Scotland Oh Scotland. But when I turned up they put me on camera for a couple of the pieces.

Like most folk, I can't stand seeing myself in photos or on film. So it's with some trepidation that I await tonight's broadcast.

Still, I was fair chuffed to be asked to do a wee bit. And my mum, who's eighty-six, is delighted.

The full poem of Scotland Oh Scotland, which was written just before we got our Scottish Parliament, can be read on the 'poems' page of my website. (Link is to the right of this column)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Something lighter...

As I do a fair number of readings, I like to have some lighter pieces to perform. This is one such.
Is it a poem? Well, in its own little way, yes. Does it have seven symbolic levels of meaning?
If you know what they are, could you enlighten the rest of us?

Pacifist Mothers

We, who would not let
our sons go off to war,
kept them home instead,
taught them useful things,
like what
a toilet brush
is for…

I kinda wish I didn't have a hang-up about graffiti. I'd love to scrawl this on the doors of ladies' loos up and down the land. And, come to think of it, on gents' loos too. My own wee piece of anti-war propaganda.

Thursday, April 17, 2008


The following long poem was first published in Chapman a couple of summers ago. It was written during my stay at the Cove Park International Artists' Centre on the west coast of Scotland. I wanted to explore the break-up of a marriage. Particularly one where the husband is being kind and caring, yet the wife feels trapped. I was influenced by Charlotte Perkins Gilman's experience and how she explored it in The Yellow Wallpaper over a hundred years before the break-up of my own marriage. Though written in first person, Death of a Wife is not strictly biographical. Nor do I think it falls into the category of 'confessional' poetry. Maybe it's closer to an imaginative exploration. Maybe it doesn't need defined. It simply is what it is.


Here lies Isabella
Of the Reverend John Macrae

Who having discharged the duties of a wife and mother
With the most affectionate and anxious assiduity
And endeared herself to all who knew her
By sweetness of temper
And by the pious resignation with which she bore
A lingering affliction
1st June 1827 aged 45

from a tombstone in Greyfriars Kirkyard, Edinburgh

That spring there was an unexpected heat. He met me
in the coolness of De Courcey’s restaurant, bent his head,
pecked my cheek, wished me Happy Anniversary.

Crisp white tablecloth, white as an altar cloth,
white as a wedding dress, white as a shroud.
Salt in silver salvers, knives shining sharp.

He ordered for us both by flickering candlelight,
filled my glass with wine, a deep blood red.

You’re not happy - quite suddenly - he said.

I moved my hand in fright at
his clear-sightedness, at my transparency.

The wine glass tipped, toppled, spilled, bled
across the snowy cotton of my dress, stained me
from breast to pubic bone, a livid red.

Did I love him once?

One night - we were seventeen - we climbed a path into the hills,
up past the loch where ice sheets creaked in freezing quiet
as if the world was being formed anew.

Up there we sat beneath the stars.

He drew me close and I did not resist.

I liked the smell of him, the roughness
of his chin against my cheek.
I hungered for the moistness
of his mouth, the rhythmic pound of his heartbeat.

So, yes, I loved him then – for fear of loneliness.

Was it my fault he never tired of me?
Always trying so hard. All sugar, all spice.
What could he do but love his little wife?
Always smiling, always nice.

Mother, why did you not warn? Why did you preach,
why did you teach my one and only duty was to please?

What was it you said, years after my father died?
I married a man I did not love, you said with pride,
and in the course of fifty years I learned to love,
learned contentment by his side.

Mother, that lie you swallowed as a virgin bride
all those years ago, did it choke your voice so
you could never tell your daughter, yes, she had a choice?

It’s taken me a hundred years - poor princess fed
a poisoned apple - a hundred years to wake,
the lie still bitter-green upon my tongue.

Now I’m locked in a pretty glass coffin,
with its fitted kitchen and its bright conservatory.
Locked up in all my finery.

And the briars have climbed around the walls
the prince has toiled to build for me. The weeds
have multiplied like lies and choked the doors.

And the love we grew to keep us safe, like ivy, twines
around us both, cuts deeper as we grow - and won’t let go.

Early summer came on hot, and what he called
my madness blossomed in the damp, heavy heat.
I felt it like a quickening, as if a seed of discontent,
long dormant in the hard shell of my heart,
had split and swift began to germinate.

One day, he came in from the garden. Oh, how
I’d begged him cut the briars back!
They’re stealing all the air, I said. I cannot breathe.

And now they lay in withering piles around the lawns.

He, damp with sweat, wiped his brow, said, princess,
how are you now? I turned away. I could not speak,
my voice croaked in the locked cage of my throat -
and I had lost the key.

You need to see a doctor, he said quietly.

I bridled at his words, yet knew
he thought this was a caring thing to do.

One day I read this in a book: cactus plants adapt to desert conditions.
They are trees, really. Their stumpy bodies trunks which store
what little moisture comes their way. The spines and spikes
are stunted leaves. Sometimes a cactus plant waits fifty years
before it knows a glorious flowering.

I cannot sleep because my feet are cold.
I lie on my side of the bed, my body long
and straight, for if I curl, surely he will spoon
around my foetus form, close like a shell
around a grain of sand, hoping when he wakes
I’ll be a pearl again.

I shift a little, rub my feet, one against the other,
ice on ice. He turns and slips an arm across my waist.
I try to breathe as if asleep. Play dead. Smother
my urge to rise and run away.

Out in the dark the warm winds gust the trees,
leaves wag like old wives' tongues,
throw curses at the leering moon.

The howl of a fox startles. And I recall
the male fox screams
after he has fucked the vixen.
After he has spent his seed
her muscles spasm, hold him tight -

I lie awake and listen to the endless night and know
there’s always one who won’t let go.

The doctor’s room is cheery, bright
with a castor oil plant – Palma Christi –
waving dark green hands to welcome me.

I’ve not been sleeping well, I say, my voice so small
I hardly hear its whisper fall.

His eyebrows raise to question marks.

My feet are cold. Especially at night.
So cold I think I must be dead.

The doctor has a husband’s face,
intelligent, reliable, kind.

You’re forty-five, he says. I nod.
He shakes his head and sighs.

Any other symptoms, he enquires,
his voice so strange, as if from centuries away.

Yes, I yearn to say. I have this urge
at night, to run away, to knot the bed sheets tight
into a long white rope, sling it from the window, shimmy down
and lope off barefoot through the woods, howl
naked at the moon.

Instead, I shake my head.

He shuts my file, suggests I get out more,
try flower arranging, like his wife. Meanwhile
he recommends, I wear warm socks in bed.

While my husband sleeps I creep down to the cellar,
thick with spider webs, the baby cot and pram, dead moths,
the children’s toys, the flotsam of our life together.

I dig the album from a dust-thick shelf, sit and flick
through photographs - a young bride, smiling,
in a crisp white dress, white as an altar cloth, white as a shroud.

Oh, what dreams I clutched with his strong hand
and that bouquet of flowers. . .

Remember how my mother wept!
It’s meant to be a happy day, my father sighed.
God knows, you’d think to see you weep, someone had died.

I linger on each photograph, stare into a child’s eyes,
so bright, brimful with hope, so wide

as the church organ sounds
Here comes the
Here comes the
Here comes the

How can I make you happy, he says.

I’m draining a pan at the kitchen sink.
Steam billows up, scalds my face. Creamy water streams.
I blink and turn away.

I need to know, he says.

I hold the pan lid tight.
The window blossoms clouds,
blurs the garden and its trees.

And I would gladly answer him -
if I but knew
what answer I could give.

The door slams as he leaves.

I walk by the canal in airless heat,
the water dark and filmed with dust.

I stare below: clumps of brooding weed, a tight-tied sack,
water rats, suicides, the drowned detritus of broken lives.

I long for the wildness of a mountain stream, clear and gurgling
bubbling wildly, frothing, clattering freely over stones and down ravines.
I long for a savage highland river, tawny water tumbling laughing over rocks.

I want to get a job, I say.
He smiles benignly. What’s the point in that?
You’re always saying you’re tired. And anyway
anything you want is yours. Just ask.

He buys me pretty things to make me smile:
diamond-studded bracelets
he clips around my wrists
a fine gold chain he fastens round my neck.
He says they’re symbols of his love

but the chain, though fine as baby’s hair,
makes me choke

and every winking diamond
is a watchful eye, a tiny spy, he’s paid
to track my every move

You shouldn’t walk alone, he says. It isn’t safe,
out there along the wooded paths.

I think of rapists stalking wives,
of murderers with glinting knives -

and wonder that he’s unaware
the demons I most dread
prowl constantly inside my head.

The heat intensifies and discontent
grips vine-like tendrils at my throat.

Its green tongues hiss inanities into my ear.
Say, go on girl, have some fun, let down your hair.
A bit adultery – discreet - will hurt no-one.

Other times they scold, they taunt,
you really should appreciate your life,
you don’t deserve this lovely house, this man
who gives you everything a wife could want.

Today the sky is heavy, grey.
I stand upon the towpath, by the lock.

The water lies grave-still.

I stare into the deep. Will myself to take
one step, and then another, let myself fall
down and drown in liquid sleep.

He knows I’m still awake. He turns to me. His hand slides
up beneath the cotton of my thin nightdress, slides
warm against my thigh, my breast.

He touches me. Is gentle. Whispering pleads.

I want to please. I let him stroke, let him kiss, let him caress,
let him enter me.

And in the blackness lie
and in the silence, weep.

Sometimes I dare myself to walk too far, to where
the traffic noises fade, where thistles, parched and dry
grow shoulder-high, where nettles stretch across and bar the way.
where rosehips wink like whores amongst the thorns,
and red-rimmed eyes of summer brambles stare.

He’s been out hunting while I slept. A deer hangs in the shed,
its brown eyes soft and glazed. He’s gralloched it and flung
the steaming entrails to the dogs. Sated, now they laze.
He cleans his knife against the grass.
Blood stains his hands and clothes.

Once, I recall, he said my eyes were soft and gentle as a doe’s.

My mother comes for Sunday tea. I think he asked her here.
I see them through a window fringed with coils of
waxed green hearts. They chat together, stroll
the garden paths, inspect the walls he’s newly built,
frown at the flowers’ drooping necks, complain
the heat’s too much, we’re needing rain.

I sit inside and watch a butterfly
batter its wings
batter its wings
against the pane.

Is there another man, he says?
All those walks by the canal. . .

I lift my head and frown.
I like to walk, I say, that’s all.

His anger is contained. It seethes beneath
the thin set of his mouth, the tautened skin upon his face,
the shoulder muscles tensed, the rigid line of spine.

I tippy-toe around, speak seldom, wary that each word
is snatched upon, dissected, inspected, its entrails spread,
interpreted, as if within the gristle of its disembowelled vowels
he’ll find some remnant of the girl he loved.

I am becoming secretive, fugitive. I keep my words
locked tight away, like a child with its favourite sweets,
or a pervert with his stash of sad pornography.

I hide books. Between their covers my eyes have strayed -
I might have left traces, faint as spider tracks in dust,
of my deepest thoughts.

Soon I will need to wear soft gloves
to open the window of my mind.

A careless thumbprint might incriminate.

I must not write things down,
except on pages carried deep inside,
bound tight, with skull and skin.

He threatened me. Just once. Waved the paper in my face,
thumped his fist upon his desk, made me read the headline


This is what you’ll drive me to. That’s all he said.

How many ways are there to leave a husband?

You could go out screaming, plates and glasses smashing off the walls.
Or weeping quietly, trying not to wake the kids, determined not to brawl.

Or creep out in the dark of night, clutching a poly bag
with your future and your toothbrush and your broken dreams inside.

Or violently. Throw yourself, like Deirdre, from his speeding car.
Or take yourself out fast, steer 90 miles per hour
towards a roadside tree.

You could even go apologetically,
saying, I know, it’s all my fault.
I hope one day you’ll find the grace to pardon me.

You could go with a flounce, with a flurry, in a blaze
of indignation, in an unholy hurry.

Or you could just go. One day when he’s out.

Simply place
one foot
in front

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

A well-travelled poem

Two things have prompted me to post the following. The first was some email correspondence with a younger poet about submitting work to magazines and how much attention to pay to their responses. This prompted me to recall that one of the first poems I ever submitted to a literary magazine was indeed rejected. It was then published in the ground-breaking Scottish women poets' anthology, Fresh Oceans. This was published by Stramullion, a group of women linked, I think, to the Edinburgh Pomegranate Women's Writing Group, a group I believe is still running strong today.

Carol Anne Duffy picked the poem up from there and it was published in 'I wouldn't thank you for a Valentine', an anthology from Viking. Rights to that anthology were then bought by Henry Holt in the USA. What's even more amazing is that the Carol Anne Duffy anthology has never been out of print in the UK and the US. I think the first edition came out in 90/91. The poem was then picked up by a South African publisher and has appeared in yet another anthology there.

And the second prompt? I've just discovered the poem is now to come out in an anthology in Australia. So thank goodness I never binned it after that first rejection.

So here, for anyone interested, is the well-travelled poem itself.

Anno Wreck Sick

I am anorexic I mean I
really think thin real lean
I mean I've been carried away to
the point where I've all but

Poor virgin, pure maiden I was – oh
they wanted me fed up plump, full, fair oh
so femininely fattened for the
rutting rites – they wanted my sweet flesh to be
some sacrifice on the altarbed of adulthood

Anno Wreck Sick - I could
play around with the hollow sound
play frantic antics with semantics but
that's not what you want to know oh no let's
get right down to the nittty, dig to the dying bone
search in my shrinking skull the meaty matter of it

So you want to know why I don't
want to grow oh please think of what it –
sweet sixteen get preened for prodding, fumbling
grunting, mumbling while small child me inside
dies crumbling

scars will heal
shrink and heal
shrink my head
I wanna be dead

Cut off your nose, my ma
always said, to spite, she said,
oh ma, how right, how right

Please don't pin my body, man
lovely living butterfly, please
don't try I'd rather die

So I'll waste the flesh, ruin
your chances, forestall your advances

Anorexic, that's what I am
happy to be carried off
with a rattling laugh in my skinny throat
to my sweet deathbed

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Ian and I, with the help of friends Alan Bissett and Rob Wringham, organised the first DiScoMbObUlATe comedy and literature night in Glasgow last month. Our idea is to create an experimental space for the comedy/literature cross-over, with new writers performing alongside more experienced ones.
On the first night we enjoyed work from Gordon McInnes, poet, pictured above, Kirstin Innis, an exciting new prose writer, Rob Wringham, alternative comedian, Iain Heggie, playwright, Alan Bissett, novelist, and myself. Ian compered the evening in his own inimitable style. A grand time was had by all.
Only one problem, the venue, Cabbages & Kings, a new cafe/bistro in Byres Road, was far too small for the crowd that turned up.
So we've sought out a new venue, and have opted for Mono in King Street in the city centre. The next DiScoMbObUlATe will be in early May. More details soon.

Monday, March 31, 2008

On The Muse

As a woman it has always bothered me, the notion of being the Muse. A bit like being the model for an artist or a sculptor, it requires a passivity I would find difficult. Anyway, when it comes down to it, the notion of a Muse as a real person is merely the projection of something the writer longs for onto the person - or Muse - of their choice.
I can't help but wonder if Stella Cartwright eventually sank under the weight of so many projections being piled onto her. And underneath all these notions of what she meant to her different poet 'lovers', poor Stella, still dangerously young and unformed, was never able to go on her own journey of self-discovery. A journey which we all need to make to preserve our sanity.
I very nearly didn't make it myself.
The following poem was based on a real fledgling. That tiny half-formed creature was, in that moment, my muse.

breaking free

shrouded in leaves you lie
beneath the sheltering trees

a half-hatched fledgling
in a cradle of jagged shell

claws curled around emptiness
black nib beak glued shut

eyes bulged beneath unopened lids
tiny wings half-formed

and I know that your fate might
so easily have been my own

the thrill of flight unrealised,
the song stillborn on a shrivelled tongue

I did play around a while back with the idea of a muse. Mine, of course, would have to be male. So, as I've decided to put more poems on my blog...

Muse - 1

I give birth to this poem.
It’s my easiest labour yet.
I’m still on my feet,
still walking around.
No more than a dull ache
low in my groin.

Now it slides from me
wet and slippery little fish,
slips easy onto this white sheet,
stretches its perfect vowels,
kicks its tiny consonants.

I cut its cord with my teeth,
clean it with my tongue,
hold it out for you to take.

You planted the seed.
Without you it would not be.
Cradle it in your arms.
Hold it close
as it gulps the moist air
and fills its lungs
and calls your name.

Muse – 2

When you first appeared
deep inside my head
I thought you were the dark man
every women’s said
to have inside – an unmet love – a fantasy
some kind of ghost to keep me company
on lonely nights.

I could have lived quite comfortably
with a dark and handsome ghost.

It is the reality of you
that scares me so.

Muse – 3

Please come round tonight. I really want
to see you. But don’t be embarrassed when
I ask you to take off your clothes

outside the door, lift from your head
that unattractive hat – it shades the tears
and laughter in your eyes – cast away

that coat of twitching anxiety,
(by all means leave it worrying at the door
for your safe return). And that stick

you like to carry to beat yourself
to a misery, lose it on the way or
at the very least, leave it lying lifeless

on the front porch floor. Please
come round tonight. I want so much
to see you... as you really are.

The Muse’s Reply

Can’t you see I’m all surface?
I smile when you smile
flick back my hair when you laugh
mimic your every mood.

So, I have a face you could love?
You could drown yourself
in the deep blue of my eyes?
I am your idea of paradise?

Without you I am nothing.
I am an illusion
a grain of gravel can distort,
a darting fish can shatter.

At the first whisper of wind
at the first grumble of thunder
at the first raindropteardrop
pattering the surface of this water

I’ll disappear
leaving you alone
gazing at nothingness.

Magi Gibson

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

The Muse of Rose Street

Yesterday I listened to the BBC Radio 4 documentary on the tragic life of Stella Cartwright, the Muse of the Rose Street Poets. I felt very sad. Especially as it was discovered after her death that she had written poetry herself. It left me wondering what would have happened had the Rose Street poets included in their ranks some strong, older women writers, who might have provided a different model for her to follow.
When I wrote the poem below, I struggled for some time with the last few lines. Should it be the 'I' of the poem, or the 'you' who becomes the 'half-remembered name'? Eventually I settled on empowering the 'I'. Unfortunately Stella, a victim of the culture of the time, never achieved that empowerment.

Queen Maeve challenges the Men of Ireland

I am a fast red car
and will drive you to the edge
again and again

I am whisky on your ice –
I’ll never slake your thirst
but man, I’ll make your belly burn

I am a silver salmon
touch me with your tongue
taste the salt of my seven seas

I am a brothel window, all
lace and flesh and whispered fantasies

I am an apple tree –
after winter’s cold lie beneath my limbs –
when autumn frosts take hold
sink your teeth into my fruit’s firm skin

I am the rounded moon
I can make you rage and swell
or calm you like a child

I am a pale pink shell –
run your fingers round the ridges of my whorl
hold me to your ear, hear
my secret oceans crash and roar

but most of all I’m fire –
linger by my crackling flame
warm yourself as I burn low

for soon, too soon you’ll be no more
than a wisp of smoke, a smudge of ash
a half-remembered name

from Wild Women of a Certain Age

Monday, March 24, 2008


Took a look at Rob A Mackenzie's blog www.robmack.blogspot.com to see if the Good Friday 'Feast' was over yet. I was taken aback to discover some of my comments to him, and his responses, had been deleted.

I was prompted to wonder, when does moderating a blog become censorship?

So to keep the public record straight the missing dialogue is published below:

SUNDAY 23rd March 2008: On the blog of Rob A Mackenzie

Oh dear, Rob. You closed down the comments on your last entry and I got up this morning wanting to respond to the last point you made before I dragged my flu-ridden self off to an early bed. 

You say that what you were intending was literary criticism of my work. Fair enough. But, in my book, literary criticism is best based on a thorough, considered and open-minded reading of the poetry concerned. 

Now, correct me if I'm wrong, but apart from Wild Women of a Certain Age and perhaps Miners' Daughters, which appears on the StAnza website, I suspect your so-called literary criticism was based on a single hearing of a tiny selection of my work last Sunday.

Your use of the lazy Maya Angelou/Pam Ayres comparison does not bode well for your future as a literary critic.
And your subsequent comments along the lines of (oh and I paraphrase here) - I don't doodle in the margin of a phone directory and call it art - do seem most clearly to connect back to your original comment on my poetry.

As a poet I would expect you to have a deep understanding of tone of voice. The tone of voice used in the criticism of my 'verse' in the original posting no doubt led to the nasty comments which followed.

And it's such a shame, because I heard you read at last year's 100 poets, and I thought that poem was excellent.

Yet again graciously,

Magi Gibson
8:20 AM

rob said...

I'm sure you can understand why I closed the comments - it was getting nasty on both sides. That's one good reason not to open the can of worms again.

Look, send me an email (address at my profile) and maybe we can settle this.
11:35 AM

magi gibson said...
Well, Rob, from my perspective I don't think the postings which I saw on the blog when I got up this morning were any more nasty than those towards the start of your thread.

I think my posting re the true nature of literary criticism makes my position clear.

This sorry 'can of worms' was started on a public forum. Anyone entering 'Magi Gibson' into a search engine with 'StAnza 2008' was - and is in future - going to find it.

If you would like to settle this, I'm happy for that to be done by you re-opening the closed thread and us discussing it there.
5:55 PM

rob said...
No, I'm not going to do that. It's up to you. Email, privately, is the best way to settle this. Otherwise it won't be settled.

Sunday, March 23, 2008


Ah well, Easter Sunday. Can't say I enjoyed being on Rob A Mackenzie's blog on Good Friday. A.B. Jackson referred to it as a Feast. Strange choice of words A.B. Cannibalism in Scottish poetry. Whatever next?

MS of Edinburgh - yes - he/she who wanted to stick pencils in his/her eyes - describes how I am, in his/her view, regarded in Scottish poetry circles. That post has been removed by Rob A Mackenzie because MS spoke of me in what even he regarded as overly offensive terms.

But Scottish poetry circles? From the way MS describes them, I can't help but visualise little pools of piranhas. I think I'll just keep to the big ocean, thank you.

A few years back I was at a Film Editing Workshop in Italy. I was having a great time at the bar one night with two black women participants from England. They paid me a compliment I've always treasured. 'You're a black woman, Magi, in a white woman's skin.'

With that in mind, and because it's Easter Sunday, and because her poetry too was referred to on Rob A Mackenzie's blog in less than gIowing terms, I thought I'd post here some of Maya Angelou's 'Still I rise'. And say thank you to all those of you on that bigger Scottish poetry scene for all your emails of concern and support.

Still I rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I'll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
'Cause I walk like I've got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I'll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don't you take it awful hard
'Cause I laugh like I've got gold mines
Diggin' in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I'll rise.

Saturday, March 22, 2008


Still down with the flu. Much amused to notice that the theme of this year's StAnza - which, by the way, is a brilliant festival - is POETRY & CONFLICT.

Well, I've had enough conflict in the last twenty four hours to last me a long time. Personally, it's not my scene. There are more than enough war zones in the world as it is, without StAnza, or for that matter, Scottish poetry, getting turned into one.

I love words. I love using them accurately and well, which is no doubt why the Scotsman praised Wild Women of a Certain Age for, amongst other things, its 'linguistic precision'.

And I love the nuances of words. So it rankles when I see a beautifully nuanced word like 'disingenuous' used wrongly, especially when used as a put-down to someone who then has the right of reply removed.

Anyone who is curious about the true meaning of 'disingenuous' should check their dictionary. It really is a beautiful word. Especially when used correctly.

PS I don't mind orthographic, typographic or punctuation errors on blogs, etc. After all sometimes it's the Html that builds a wee error in for us, all on its own. But the meanings of words. Now they're important to a poet.
I came down with flu as yesterday progressed. Ian's had it all week, so it wasn't a complete surprise.

I was also a bit taken aback by a blog thread resulting from reading at StAnza last Sunday. Not because the blogger doesn't like my poetry - let's face it, my own mother doesn't like my poetry - but because of the manner in which that dislike was expressed. And the subsequent venom unleashed.

In a way it's quite amusing. Years ago Gavin Wallace, Director of Literature at the Scottish Arts Council described me as an 'award-winning radical feminist poet'. A German University student also wrote a paper on some of my work as being representative of Third Wave Feminism. So to be compared with Pam Ayres - and unfavourably at that - is quite a divergence of opinions. 

One of the posts, subsequently removed by the blogger due to its vicious nature, also surprised me. Apparently the poor soul had to sit through a reading I did last year and suffered so much he/she (who knows - this one chose anonymity) wanted to poke his/her eyes out with pencils.
Good God, did he/she not think of quietly leaving the room and putting it down to experience? 

But I'm curious. I've done very few readings over the past year. Of course I did DiScOMbObUlAte the other night, but that was only ten minutes. And, incidentally a brilliant night. And last year I filled in at the last minute for Tom Leonard at Linda Jackson's Making Waves night in Glasgow. But the students were so lovely. Or maybe it was that fifteen minute spot I did at Robin Cairn's fun Last Monday at Rio gig last July?

Anyway, I'm off for a dose of Day Nurse. And later today I'm going to post some more poems on here.

Friday, March 21, 2008

I read at StAnza, the poetry festival at St. Andrews on Sunday. I was on a bill with Cheryl Follon, whom I hadn't met before. I would have liked to chat to Cheryl afterwards, but I think she had to rush for a train.

I had a lovely time, same as last year. It was a real pleasure to meet people from all over Scotland that I've not seen for quite a while, and new poets too. One of the things I love about these events is the cross-fertilisation of ideas, the energy I get from meeting with creative and interesting people.

Only problem was I couldn't stay long. I had a rewrite deadline for the first novel coming out with Puffin next year.

But that's been sent off to my editor now, so I can take a breath. And post a poem.

night creatures

there are those of us
who look as dead as tree bark

who lie still and green
as a folded leaf, who

seem ancient and parched
as papyrus

then startle you with
sudden fluttering

you think you know us
name us Moth

at dusk we decorate
the dark glass of your rooms

delicate pastel petals
pale as moonbeams

as dawn breaks we grow restless
flit by your sleeping face

kiss your lips, gentle
as a breath

before you wake we slip
into your dreams, soundless
as the souls of the dead

Thursday, February 14, 2008

man at fifty

on a deserted northern beach
you shed your clothes
and the false skin adults wear

like a small boy, arms outstretched
you become a plane, skim
the water’s edge, fly back along
the winding track of years

then parachute aboard a pirate ship
unfurl the sail of your imagination,
go scudding off across the emerald sea of memory
to find the treasure chest of dreams
you buried forty years ago

below your man voice on the breeze
the silver laughter of a child sparkles in the air

your hair, wild as machair grass, springs
from your head, as if it's startled by
this sudden raid into the past

and I watch as a mother might a much loved child –
man at fifty, running naked on the sea damp sand

man at fifty, running wild

Magi Gibson


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