Neil Young is a Belfast poet and publisher, living for many years in Scotland. His published works include: Lagan Voices (Scryfa, 2011), The Parting Glass (Tapsalteerie, 2016), Jimmy Cagney’s Long-Lost Kid Half-Brother (Black Light Engine Room, 2017), Shrapnel (Poetry Salzburg, 2019) and After the Riot (Nine Pens, Press, 2021). Neil is the founder of The Poets’ Republic magazine and Drunk Muse Press. In his poetry, you enter into a view on a fulsome, often chaotic space: he elevates the ordinary to brilliant and calms the unbearable to something nearing beauty.
I am grateful for Neil’s words below on my work.
Charlie’s gift is as a poet-storyteller who can crystallise in his evocation of a scene or an incident a breadth of personal, social and political histories. These observations drill into the particularities of the times and character of his forebears – resilient people but complex and contradictory people too who strived and struggled through the intense hardships and discriminations of working-class life in Belfast. This is a painstaking work of memorialising that is written both with sparsity and lyrical verve and – for all its unflinching gaze – shot through with love. A book as tightly woven as the best of Ulster linen.
Neil Young, poet/publisher – Drunk Muse Press & The Poets’ Republic
Belfast to Baillieston is a family and industrial narrative that takes as its core the life of Jimmy Gracie, the grandfather of Charlie Gracie. This series of poems and short stories illuminates the harshness and the joys in the lives of this working-class family in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries on both sides of the North Channel.
The lives in this book are unique in that they are Gracie lives, but they are the lives of almost all the people involved in the production of linen and coal and therefore of the vast wealth of their employers. In this honest reflection, Charlie Gracie draws on his own and family members’ memories, detailed research and creative imagination to lay a path from the mid nineteenth century to today. Jimmy Gracie, like many others, felt the weight of international capitalism, sectarian violence and political oppression yet managed to build a platform, with his wife Mary, on which future generations have built their and their children’s lives. Belfast to Baillieston explores how poverty, migration, fortitude and love all mingle to form the wholesome, honourable lives that families like Jimmy Gracie’s create from hardship.
Annemarie Ní Churreáin is a poet from the Donegal Gaeltacht, Ireland. Her books include Bloodroot (Doire Press, 2017), Town (The Salvage Press 2018) and The Poison Glen (The Gallery Press, 2021). She is a co-librettist of Elsewhere, a new opera by Straymaker (IRL). Ní Churreáin is a recipient of many accolades in Ireland and across the world and her work has been translated into Galician, Italian and Lithuanian. Her work in The Poison Glen is of such deep humanity, shedding light on the lives of people lost in society’s dark places.
I am grateful for Annemarie’s words below on my book.
Belfast to Baillieston is a marvellous book about family and transformation. Here are poems that illuminate history from the inside out, carefully observing the realities of poverty, migration and loss alongside quiet, everyday acts of survival. Gracie is a compelling witness. This book will touch your heart.
I am grateful for George’s words below on my work.
Charlie Gracie’s Belfast to Ballieston opens a window on the historical lot, over more than a hundred years, not only of the Gracie family but also their class. We see events and moments in the specific family’s life, from work in the mills in the nineteenth century, through life in the mines, including emigration, and the Troubles. It shows a time filled with suffering, intimacy, and the early death common to those who worked in those industries. The story is told chiefly through poetry that is close to tongue and ear, the voices alive and spare. It is indeed living people we are facing, addressing us in living language. This is a splendid, deeply moving book, both as tribute and witness.
My poem, View from Cavehill, 1970, is published in Issue 10 of the excellent Scottish magazine, The Poet’s Republic.
The title of the issue is Poetry as Testimony, so I am delighted that my poem sits in there, with its themes of migration, poverty and witness.
The foundation of the issue in may ways are the voices of indigenous American poets. It is worth spending time reading the biographies of these writers. Their biographies speak of lineage, both generational and poetic. They give an insight into the power of the written and spoken word to frame people’s experiences and resonate very much with writers like me from an Irish-Scottish background. I’m sure it’s the same for others of different heritage.
The launch event for this issue of The Poets’ Republic was on Zoom, enabling poets from all over the world to share their work and listen to others. The event was led by Scottish Poet Lesley Benzie. Lesley’s poetic voice is as strong as any, and her poem John Pilger set the scene powerfully for the indigenous American poets. The poem is one of many she read from her excellent Fessen/Reared collection, published by Seahorse Publications in 2020. Poets like Lesley Benzie, and others in this edition, generate energy that stirs up the puddles.
Alan Riach is Professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University. His interesting essay in The National of 14th February 2022 (Culture is no longer the preserve of the wealthy few) discusses the increasing diversity and strength of Scottish poetry. Work by Lesley Benzie is noted by him as an example of this strengthening.
The Poets’ Republic has a desire to bring voices together, with more than bit of an edge. It is home to the Gaelic Poblachd nam Bàrd and affiliated with Drunk Muse Press. In his excellent editorial, Hugh McMillan reflects (with less optimism than Alan Riach) that the hierarchies that dominated theScottish poetry scene in the past still hold sway. ‘This narrowing and exclusivity is at odds with the explosion of interest in and profusion of poetry in Scotland.’
Pop-up bookshelves in the Tannery Hoose Windae – just about all the books I bought in 2021. What a lot of great reading I’ve had during that terrible year.
On the day I took the photo of the pop-up bookshelves, I’d left the three books I was currently reading in the house. So, a special mention for The Poison Glen by Annmarie Ní Churreáin, Luckenbooth by Jenni Fagan and Queen of Infinite Space by Ruth Aylett. All excellent and still on the go.
A load of the books on the pop-up bookshelves relate to a project I undertook with The Song House in County Donegal. The Irish poet, Annemarie Ní Churreáin and I worked with Sineád and Candy from the Song House to develop three poetry workshops around the life and influence of Colmcille, known in Scotland as Columba, whose 1500th anniversary of birth was in 2021. This Irish prince, poet and preacher was a warrior in his homeland and a church-planter when he travelled to what is now Argyll. He likely started off in Dunaverty in Kintyre before sailing to Iona some time later. Iona is the place we in Scotland associate with Colmcille/Columba most and he is seen as peacemaker now. Annemarie and I ran the three workshops on-line in the autumn of 2021 and had participants from Ireland, Scotland and Spain. Many of the participants recorded the poems they wrote from there and these will be featured on the Song House website from the end of January 2022. I learned a lot about Colmcille/Columba from many excellent poems of Kenneth Steven and Elizabeth Rimmer and from fantastic biographies by Brian Lacey and Ian Bradley.
I’d a load of wonderful poetry books to read in 2021. Too many to mention them all, but I was excited by Seahorse Publications’ Wanderlust Women, the launch of which I was honoured to chair at Avant Garde in Glasgow before all the Covid cerry oan kicked in again (features: Linda Jackson, Lesley Benzie, Tracey Patrick and Donna Campbell). Among other highlights were Victoria McNulty (Exiles), Aoife Lyall (Mother, Nature), John Bolland (Pibroch) and Des Dillon, whose Muscle work, Alcohol and Blame is a tour de force, both in poetry and visual art.
It was a great year for fiction. I was honoured to have work in Postbox Magazine: Issue 5, Scotland’s international short story magazine. I was doubly honoured to feature on the cover.
I would draw your attention to the novels Wildgoose, by Sally Evans, and No Harm Done, by A J Liddle. Sally’s book is a stunning story that covers many decades of two fictional and other real and fictional poets’ lives. It’s a beauty and will blow your mind. Al Liddle’s debut novel in his Georgia-based Ramaz Donadze series of crime thrillers won him a place on the shortlist for the Bloody Scotland Debut Prize in 2021. An accolade indeed for a very fine read.
I also loved Des Dillon’s Pignut and Nuncle, a fascinating, dark delve into the fantastical meeting of Jane Eyre, King Lear and The Fool; Alan Bissett’s amazing novella, Lazy Susan (from the same Speculative Books stable as Victoria McNulty’s Exiles) and Moira McPartlin’s Before Now: Memoir of a Toerag, a funny, poignant and deeply human story set in the heart and tongue of Fife. I savoured Bernard MacLaverty’s superb short stories in Blank Pages over many weeks, one of these books you read more slowly as you get towards the last story to scrape the last tasty morsel possible.
The absolute top non-fiction book of the year for me was the memoir by George Szirtes of his mother: The Photographer at Sixteen. This is a book you could read again and again, such is its depth of historical significance and poetic and literary strength. First published in 2019, it won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize.
What better than a Poinsettia to brighten up the Tannery Hoose Windae!
Here’s a wee bit of background on poinsettias.
Thepoinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima) is indigenous to Mexico and Central America. It is particularly well known for its red and green foliage and is widely used in Christmas floral displays. It derives its common English name fromJoel Roberts Poinsett, the firstUnited States Minister to Mexico, who is credited with introducing the plant to the US in the 1820s. Poinsettias are shrubs or small trees, with heights of 0.6–4 m (2.0–13.1 ft).
Wild poinsettias occur from Mexico to southern Guatemala, growing on mid-elevation, Pacific-facing slopes. One population in the Mexican state ofGuerrerois much further inland, however, and is thought to be the ancestor of most cultivated populations. Wild poinsettia populations are highly fragmented, as their habitat is experiencing largely unregulated deforestation. They were cultivated by the Aztecs for use in traditional medicine. They became associated with the Christmas holiday and are popular seasonal decorations. (Source – Wikipedia.)
Grow your poinsettia in bright, indirect light, in a draught-free spot with a temperature of around 13-15°C. Water sparingly, typically when the surface of the compost has started to dry out. Mist regularly to increase humidity and keep the colourful bracts looking their best for longer.
If buying your poinsettia from a garden centre or supermarket, make sure it’s in good condition and that no leaves are wilting, as wilting leaves can be a sign that they’ve been stored in too-cold conditions. Avoid buying poinsettias that have been displayed near a door or even on a petrol station forecourt – they simply won’t last. Then take care to ensure it’s well protected on the journey home, making sure its delicate leaves aren’t exposed to freezing temperatures – ask the shop assistant to wrap it up or cover it in a plastic bag if you need to. Don’t leave your poinsettia in the car for longer than is absolutely necessary as temperatures can quickly tumble and your poinsettia will suffer.
Once home, pop your poinsettia in a bright, draught-free spot out of direct sunlight, ideally 13-15ºC. Water only if the surface of the compost is dry, and continue to water sparingly. Increase humidity by spraying gently with water every few days. This will help keep the leaves and bracts in tip-top condition. Dust the leaves as and when you need to.
After Christmas, start feeding your poinsettia with a liquid plant food that’s high in potassium, such as tomato food.
It’s not easy to get your poinsettia to flower again, but if you’re up for a challenge, follow these instructions carefully:
In April, prune your poinsettia back to about 10cm, and keep at a temperature of 13°C. In early May, repot your poinsettia into a slightly larger pot with fresh, peat-free, loam-based compost, and then keep it in a draught-free spot out of direct sunlight, ensuring the temperature doesn’t exceed 18ºC.
Poinsettias develop flowers and colourful bracts when day length decreases. This occurs naturally in December, but to encourage flowering by Christmas, you’ll need to mimic short day length by moving your poinsettia into a dark cupboard for 12 hours each day, from November. Keep an even temperature of around 18ºC and make sure it’s not exposed to artificial light during this time.
Once your poinsettia has started flowering, mist leaves daily to keep them looking their best for as long as possible.
Storm Arwen ravaged many parts of Scotland and elsewhere in the British Isles. Like all storms, a harvest of wood follows, once we’ve cleaned up, restored electricity and mourned the sad deaths.
It’s a strange human thing, to seek out the profit from disaster, pick the small victories after Nature’s force has beaten us. Tolkein’s mythical elven princess, Arwen, from The Lord of the Rings would never have chosen to do what Storm Arwen did: destroy human life and disrupt human living. She was an immortal, over 2,700 years old when she met Aragon, and, in a Christ-like turn, gave up her eternal status to marry the human Aragon. Not at all a destructive force, except that maybe she destroyed herself for something fleeting. The destruction in Mount Doom feels more like what this storm wrought. (I’m not a fan of the Ring books by Tolkein; I tried to read The Hobbit when I was eleven, but just hated it. Loved the films, but.)
Storm Arwen harvest
Like many people after Storm Arwen, I’ve been scouting about for wood to fetch and cut and store for future burning. This wee log is part of my first haul, the only one that would fit in the Tannery Hoose Windae. I love the way the colours work with the rust metal plate at the back of it, how the down pipe and the wall are as ragged and worn as the wood looks. Beautiful.
The log is from a small branch of an old birch, home to lichen and birds and all sorts of beasties. After decades of slow growth, the storm brought it crashing down. In a couple of years, once it’s seasoned and then been cut and then been stacked and dried, it’ll feed my wood-burning stove, perhaps on a night like the one Storm Arwen came,
After a break since Tannery Hoose Windae #6, we are back with an awesome tribute from Fiona Macpherson to her aunt, Nina Williams (née Macpherson).
Nina was born on 15 November 1921 in the Tannaree (which is what Fiona and many other people call the Tannery Hoose). Nina was the eldest of six Macpherson children and is the sole survivor. The family lived there until 1950 when Fiona’s grandparents moved to the Main Street.
Fiona took this beautiful photo of Nina in the Tannery Hoose windae.
Nina is now in a care home in Clackmannanshire and will be celebrating with close family… I know many folk in the village remember her very well as Brown Owl, in the shop and in drama productions.
What a lovely tribute this is from Fiona. It’s great for someone like me, who’s only lived in Thornhill since 1991, to hear about Nina, who certainly made a great contribution to Thornhill and to her neighbours’ and friends’ lives.
Fiona might have caused a wee stir – here’s a final word from her:
A few folk drove past as I was hacking away at the brambles and must have wondered what on earth I was up to! Well, they ken noo!
I’m so pleased that Fiona took the initiative to join in the Tannery Hoose Windae project – so let’s see who’s next! Find out how to take part by following this link.