Asked to send a preface to my version of Brecht's Mother Courage and her Children that Smokestack are publishing in 2014, I have sent this.
Scan of my contribution to a Glasgow University student magazine called Nik around the end of the sixties. Foolscap pages xeroxed and stapled.
In the diary entries, “p.t” was gym, (physical training) which would be called “p.e.” now. The Tiger and the Adventure were popular weekly comics. I no longer have the diary, but an online search shows Celtic beat Kilmarnock 1-0 in a Scottish cup replay on Wednesday February 23rd 1955. Must have been Ash Wednesday.
The Latin is from the early 13th century Interfectio Puerorum (The Massacre of the Innocents) a mother Rachel lamenting the murders by Herod: “Alas! Alas! Alas! How shall I rejoice, when I see the dead limbs; when I have been so distressed through the whole core of my being? Truly the children will make me grieve unendingly.” The complete translation from a 2007 performance can be found here
The tables at the bottom are from Suicide and Attempted Suicide by Erwin Stengl, published by Penguin in the mid-sixties.
Some time ago the Derry poet Paul Laughlin emailed my website with a collection of poems he was gathering for publication. He had dedicated one to myself, a political poem using the exam question scenario as conceptual frame.
I liked the poem and the collection overall: its spareness, intellectual-emotional feeling, and the sense of a writer in dialogue with themself in language towards the concluded object; not somebody setting out with a conclusion to lay it on you or fit an object into it. A sense of integrity in art in other words, which is always refreshing.
Now that the collection has been published I asked Paul Laughlin for permission to put a couple of the poems up in the journal here. Not as claiming to be the best in the book, just as two examples of aspects, political and personal, the book is able to present. I thank him for permission.
Paul Laughlin’s The New Accord is published by Lapwing Publications of Belfast. You can buy it as a downloaded ebook for £5 or have a hard copy sent you for £10 here
From the back door in Leithland Road we looked straight into Leithland Road school and beyond it the hill named on the 1858 map here as Haugh Hill. The school has been demolished and its whole area levelled: Leithland Avenue led straight into the school and the light green levelled area can be seen in the photograph above.
The 1858 map shows there were then half a dozen pits in the area, all evidence of which long gone. When compiling Radical Renfrew I came across the poems of David Wingate who was born less than a mile from Leithland Road in Cowglen by the bottom right of the map here and who went down the pits when he was nine in 1837. Wingate’s first book of poems was published in 1862 and included his “The Collier’s Ragged Wean” whose form he based on a popular poem of the time called “The Drunkard’s Ragged Wean.” I have glossed some words at the end of the poem for people not familiar with the Scottish.
Out the back door in Pollok.
A 1950’s photo of a 39 bus on Brockburn Road approaching Pollok roundabout on its journey from Pollok to Glasgow city centre. The journey took about 25 minutes.
Page from a book given me as a prize in first year at primary school. My mother had it in a drawer.
Ground flat left, the tenement in Annette Street where I was born. The night in 1944 there was a blackout because of the war. My sister Cathie who was eight was sent with a torch to get Mrs Melville the midwife. She went back to bed and in the morning, she tells me, the new baby was lying sideways wrapped up at the foot of our parents’ bed.
On the left my parents Thomas Leonard and Mary Mulgrew formally posed in the studio fashion of the time after their wedding in December 1934. The wedding was held in St Mary’s Saltcoats where my mother’s parents had been married 30 years previously.
On the right, photographed with their first child my sister Cathie born in March 1936. I think the photograph is taken outside the botanic gardens in Queens Park. They were now living in Govanhill in Glasgow, my father working from Polmadie railway yards nearby as a fireman on the steam engines. Polmadie served the routes from Glasgow Central station south to Ayrshire and to the border at Carlisle.
My mother’s final wage packets from the Ardeer dynamite factory. She left the factory for her marriage in 1934, and used to say these packets were the last things she signed for in her own name. After that the only money she signed for, and in her married name, was for the weekly Family Allowance after her children were born.
When you started work you would work a fortnight before you got one week’s wage, and when you finally left employment you would get your last week’s wage plus the “lying time” of the spare week carried forward from the beginning. That there were two packets suggests there might also have been eg unpaid overtime or money in lieu of annual holiday amount due but not yet taken.
The village of Enniskerry County Wicklow. The postdate on the reverse of this postcard is April 1911.
A John Mulgrew was born in Ireland in 1796 son of Thomas Mulgrew a handloom weaver. John came to Scotland working as an agricultural labourer, and married an Irish woman Sarah Waters fourteen years his younger. In 1850 in Wishaw they had a son they called John after his father. That's the John Mulgrew, my mother's paternal grandfather, seated above. The woman beside him is Bridget Fearon, the Irish farm servant he married in 1876.
He worked as a steamship stoker though he also had spells as a coal miner and as a worker in the Ardeer dynamite factory by the end of the nineteenth century. His wife Bridget was 77 when she died in 1924. He died in 1932 aged 81.
My mother’s mother Catherine Reilly on the left as a young woman, on the right in her age as a mother of a large family and married to my grandfather John Mulgrew with whom she is photographed in their Saltcoats doorway.
Catherine born in 1878 in the Newry area was the daughter of Mary McConnon and John Reilly a shoemaker like his father Patrick before him. She and John Mulgrew were both employed at the Ardeer dynamite factory at the time of the 1901 census three years before their marriage. She died aged 70 in 1948.
John was born in 1878 in Saltcoats and died there in 1940 aged 63. He had taken early retirement at 60 and his death certificate described him as “explosives works foreman retired”.
Around me on the terracing people belting out: It was on a dreary new year’s eve as the shades of night came down. A lorry load of volunteers approached the border town. There were men from Dublin and from Cork, Fermanagh and Tyrone. And the leader of that gallant band, Sean South of Garryowen.
It was all Tantum Ergo saeculorum to me. Your cheatin heart will set you free
Above, my mother as a baby and in her First Communion dress. Her parents were John Mulgrew of Saltcoats and Catherine Reilly from near Newry in Ireland. He was described as a journeyman stonemason on their wedding certificate in 1904. I remember my mother pointing to a section up in the corner of the roof inside the Art Galleries in Glasgow and telling me her father had worked on a section there. But he had taken work in the Ardeer dynamite factory by the time of his marriage and he remained there the rest of his working life.
The Mulgrew family by the time my mother would be not far off 13 when she left school. She, Mary Mulgrew, is the tall girl with the ribbon on the side of her head. Her full name was Mary McConnon Mulgrew; her parents' wedding certificate shows Catherine Reilly’s mother’s maiden name to have been Mary McConnon. It was traditional for the eldest daughter in a family to take as middle name the maiden name of her mother’s mother.
My mother kept her school reading book in a drawer until she died. It is inscribed with her name address and "Left school 1920 aged 13 years." The Royal Crown Reader (Book 5) was published in 1917. The following story of British Imperial daring-do here scans neatly over two double pages; but the book has a wide range of material, describing and classifying costume and animals in different parts of the world; the functions of the heart and lungs and other parts of the body, with moral fables (the king who disguised himself as a beggar and found a beggar to be as content as he) with descriptions of feats of engineering such as the printingpress and the laying of the first transatlantic cable. Poetry included Mrs Hemans, Longfellow, Goldsmith, Walter Scott. The syntax and grammar notes are quite advanced for learning by a young child. When I used to ask my mother the meanings of words from library books as a young child I remember her joking “But I only left school at thirteen!”
Published 1917 Published 1932. 1954 reprint.
I used to enjoy learning off by heart the groups of words in Schonell's Essential Spelling List that we got at school.
Above is the opening of the first section for age seven. Below, the last double-page for age twelve.
Whilst Obama and Kerry are touring the broadcasting studios and CNN and Fox show atrocity videos, a reminder above of this journal’s entry from 2012 on the directing hand in videos now seen as crucial, the focus having switched predictably from proof of gas origin to proof of gas use.
Besides his boasted communication equipment and “media-skills” training of Sryian rebels, Hague by January 10th this year was claiming in Parliament “We have given training to more than 300 Syrian journalists who are striving to develop alternative sources of media”.
It seems that Syria is the first YouTube propaganda war in western military media management. Over two years ago before the Libyan and now Syrian interventions, it was Twitter feeds from Iran of a sudden were flooding the corporate print and electronic media, indicating, the electronic and print western media vied with one another to ferry, mass unrest and uprising. But all deadly quiet on the Iranian Twitter front a long time now. Its turn hasn't come yet, the route is via Syria.
Spent a fruitless hour with my books trying to locate what I was sure was by Neruda some lines that round the world by the edges of the sea children are playing.
Photo on left shows at front three of my brother’s grandchildren taken last Saturday when a crowd of us met for a family gathering at Barassie near Troon. Went a walk on the largely empty beach. The memory went through my head when we were there of an old postcard photo I have on my hard disk of the Ardrossan /Saltcoats beach in the 1900’s not far from where my mother grew up.
The Scotsman printed today what I sent them, though wrongly described it as "two poems" not "verse excerpts from thoughts-in-progress" as per my subtitle which was not printed. The work was printed in a row of tight sections side by side at the foot of the page looking too much like your actual "chopped up prose" for my liking; this to accommodate a large image they had made about a sweetie shop display based on some of the phrases in the verses.
I will put up the extracts on the website probably tomorrow.
The Scotsman contacted me a few weeks ago asking if I could contribute something to a series they have been running of new writing. I found myself eventually working on a succession of verses over a period of ten days or so and have sent them a couple of excerpts under the title The Cesspit and the Sweetie Shop with the subtitle Verse excerpts from thoughts-in-progress.
Looking at what I have been doing I have been taking my cue from the likes of the tradition in Radical Renfrew eg Marian Bernstein whose Collected has just been published: putting topical thoughts and arguments across in a verse whose context is assumed to be a public newspaper that could be read by local folk or the public at large. It appeals to me and is something new for me. I hope to continue with this and have some more by which I may put up on the journal in the future.
I was given the copy date of yesterday for this coming Saturday’s edition. I haven’t heard back but hope it is going in then.
While the Egyptian army murders injures and jails and the US the UK etc make ritual pesudo-protest, a reminder of the journal entry here Feb 2nd 2011.
An old hospital one from years ago.
As someone who can’t be arsed with much of the Catholic culture in which I grew up as a child it is yet becoming depressingly clear to me in subtle signs how the referendum / Scottish identity debate in Scotland is inexorably disturbing sectarian undercurrents. A friend for instance who suddenly referred to “Roman” Catholics who hitherto had always referred to them simply as Catholics. It reminds me how when reading in Belfast during the troubles I had to phone for a taxi in the morning from a hotel, and realised as I went to phone that the name “Tom Leonard” is a Taig name as far as the Belfast divide is concerned, it betrays Dublin origins. It was a horrible feeling, that suddenly this thing for which I had no more responsibility nor connection nor interest than a dead man to his tombstone, was in this local context to be taken as the single most important identifier as to my essence. There’s something of that already about just now below the surface in Scotland, and I hate it. It would seem that between myself and some people I had considered to be friends there must now tacitly be taken into consideration something called the Irish Sea. It explains and pathologises my feelings about the referendum, you see...
When individuals recount experience of the personally absolute traumatic, there can sure as fate be a writer-as-predator in the wings, sniffing metaphor in the air and a share of the victim-loot sprinkled with literary heft. My unfavourite example for myself is Sylvia Plath in her Ariel poems “Daddy” and “Lady Lazarus”, where Holocaust imagery is gathered up — “my skin/ Bright as a Nazi lampshade” — “A Jew to Dachau, Auschwitz, Belsen./ I began to talk like a Jew. / I think I may well be a Jew" — as psyched-up grist to the mill of a literary-personal denunciation. For some people, perhaps even most inheriting the classroom key-to-literature approach, this is Big Literature Taking on the Big Themes. Actually for me it is how metaphor can be used to don the perpetrator mantle and abuse the victims once again—the while purporting to be on their side, shoulder to shoulder by personal analogy. I have encountered this once again in the past few days. As Kirkegaard said of Schopenhauer, pessimism isn’t that easy. And neither is catharsis.
For a few years Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson have been running monthly evenings in Edinburgh under the title Neu Reekie. They consist of a programme of short animation films, music, and two authors each giving a reading of fifteen minutes. The two hosts do sporadic inserts as well.
They have now started a parallel series in Glasgow and this Friday 19th there is one at The Poetry Club, 100 Eastvale Place. It starts at 7pm, and the two guest reader inserts are by Jenni Fegan and myself. The music in the final hour of the show ending 10pm is by the Just Joans and Found.
Dona nobis pacem.