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.’
It’s being printed as I write, my new poetry collection, published by Sally Evans from the excellent diehard Press. Gerry Cambridge provided the cover design and because he’s the best in the business, people are already raving about. It really adds to the overall feel, look and quality of the book.
“A masterly, honest and melancholy collection.” Des Dillon
The Dartry Mountains run from Benbulben in County Sligo north to Arroo that overlooks Lough Melvin. My mother was born among these mountains in the town land of Magheramore, Glenade. This is border country: Lough Melvin is run through with a dotted line that marks the join between Fermanagh and Leitrim, the UK and Eire, Ulster and Connacht.Â
I’ll be introducing the collection to the world at the Allingham Arts Festival in Ballyshannon, County Donegal on 10th November. An apt place, as the Dartry Mountains reach almost up to there from Sligo. The festival is a broad arts festival with a reputation for being a friendly and open space for artists.
Charlie Gracieâ€™s poetry set in Ireland takes you directlyÂ into the history of his family and the history of their land.Â The intimacy with this land now lost in those who had toÂ leave. Itâ€™s never directly said but those who had to leaveÂ are now out of sorts and out of place in a land that justÂ doesnâ€™t quite fit them. The poem where his mother ridesÂ a chopper bike to work describes this out of placenessÂ perfectly. There is a constant drone of grief for what anÂ immigrant loses; never again to be Irish and never quiteÂ Scottish. And too far removed in time now anyway toÂ ever go back and find what is lost. The political oblique-ness and visceral descriptions are what makes these poemsÂ work, no lectures, no diatribes and more philosophical insight than anger.
The second part of the collection deals mostly withÂ Scotland (with a few trips elsewhere) and there are someÂ crackers in here too. It seems to me that the melancholyÂ of the emigrant from the Darty Mountains must bleedÂ into whatever Gracie writes about in the here and now.Â The trace of melancholy and the longing for somethingÂ we shall never receive resonates through the whole work.Â TakeÂ For betterfor instance; a tremendously truthful lookÂ at old age and tucked away, like a genius in Easterhouse,Â is a breathtakingly exact line that could be a whole poemÂ itself (read it and see it). Or the T shirt for those whoseÂ loved ones have disappeared into dementia.
A masterly, honest and melancholy collection.
Des DillonÂ is an internationally acclaimed award winning writer, born in Coatbridge: poet, short story writer, novelist, dramatist, scriptwriter for radio and screen.Â
This book takes you into the guts of a fractured family in the aftermath of a death. Old enmities, old pains flow in the novelâ€™s veins. Told from the perspective of four characters, the narrative weaves around the familyâ€™s tense life. It never feels overloaded, and resolution is always just out of reach, implied creatively in Gavin Broomâ€™s direct, often surreal narrative. The story swings wonderfully across continents, time and realities. Dialect and language are well-handled, giving the characters authenticity. Itâ€™s a funny book too, despite the underlying miseries in the charactersâ€™ lives. That mix is managed well, the humour as punchy as the rest of the drama. Mythological references are there (implied clearly in the title), but again, these are never overplayed. The Scottish Book of the Dead succeeds in drawing disparate, pained lives together into a very enjoyable read.
I’ve gone back to writing short stories this year and put a couple forward for prizes. I was fortunate enough to be shortlisted for both the Cambridge Prize and the Bridport Prize.Â For the former, the publisher TSS will include the story in their first anthology, due out in early 2019.
One of the things that really helped me was getting a hold of Fires by Raymond Carver. I’d read a few of his pieces over the years, but this collection of is writings, often about writing itself, is really focused. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting to do more, to get better. Big thanks to Donal McLaughlin, the Derry-born writer and translator who gave me the book as a gift.
You should look Donal McLaughlin up. His short story collections, An Allergic Reaction to National Anthems and Beheading the Virgin Mary, contain most excellent examples of the short story form. His translations from German have made him an award-winning writer in two languages: German and Derry English.
The first novel from Charlie Gracie, To Live With What You Are, will be published later this year by Postbox Press: their first Scottish novel.Â It’s been a fair ould gestation, and I’m very pleased that Sheila Wakefield,Â owner of leading poetry publisher Red Squirrel Press saw both the poetic and Â prose value in the story.
Maura Weightman, one of the leading public artists of our time, and her husband James, are masters of malice, creative and callous: but what is it that makes them tick? You’ll have to wait till November 2018 for the book’s launch.
Before that, on a calmer note, I’m teaming up with the wonderfully creative and centred Teresa Johnston of Sunrise Holistic. We’re running a short series of workshops at West Moss-side entitled Our Inner Emotions & The Written Word. Teresa will lead participants in meditation and I will support people in creative writing. The first will be on 24th March and it will be a very special day.
I’m building on my sequences of Irish poems too this year. Tales from the Dartry Mountains is based around my maternal grandparents’ home in the west of Ireland. Several poems were published in 2016 and 2017 in places such asÂ Gutter and Southlight magazines, as well as Jackdaws being recorded by the excellent Pefkin (AKA Gayle Brogan) on her Murmurations album from Netherlands based Morc Records. Tales from the Shore Road is a Belfast sequence, based around my paternal grandfather’s life there and after he came to Baillieston. These are coming together to be a bigger project than I’d first imagined: one that takes the whole diverse histories and ecologies and up to wee Charlie in Baillieston. Me and the ould yins, that’s it.
Oh, and back to the fiction: after the first novel, number two is finished. I’m looking for a agent for this one, so it is out and running about in the Rejectosphere. Secrets. Maps. Kicking up the leaves. More good news to follow I hope.