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Scots featured poem - November 2009

This piece of writing was selected by the staff at the Scottish Poetry Library which receives Foundation funding from the Scottish Arts Council

Aw Jock Tamson’s

Moonrise, an maudlin in the mirk,
we coorie in, hoose selt, hame hawked,
oor labour thirled tae yisterday,
the morra pawned fur brick-a-brack.

Thieves tout the mercat, flashin cash
in credit caird tricks yince cried tick.
Gowks gawp. It’s easy money. Hauns
dip threidbare pooches skint by lees;

yin cat feeds fat, an hunners sterve.
Dunderheids, we bocht intae grief,
gied up sense fur greed, furgoat brass
barters work, its worth inventit.

A dreich rain faws oan rentit roofs.
We pey tae drain the run-aff, pey
again tae pipe it back. Nae debt
is gain. If lochs fill, mountains droon.

Yit bairns sleep an dream, fit tae bigg
a warld whaur love gies shelter, breid
daily, care redds up, prood tae bide
an fecht whaur fowk cry foul at cheats:

nae man worth mair. It’s wha we are.
Tak tent. Waukened, sleeves rowed up,
drookit, set tae work, a new stert.
Day breks, mornin sun ay rises.

Janet Paisley

From Addressing the Bard: twelve contemporary poets respond to Robert Burns
(Edinburgh: Scottish Poetry Library, 2009)

About the poet

Janet Paisley (1948 -) grew up in Avonbridge, in central Scotland, where Scots was her mither-tongue and English the language of radio and education.  First published in 1979, her work includes six collections of poetry, and recently a Ukrainian translation of Alien Crop. 

Writing in Scots and English, she is a major-award winning poet, playwright, author and script-writer, with various works published internationally, and in German, Russian, Lithuanian, Slovak, Catalan, Spanish, Hungarian, Italian, Portuguese and Dutch.

A prolific dramatist, with more than a hundred works produced on stage, radio, television and film, her awards include BAFTA and RTS nominations for Long Haul, a Creative Scotland Award, Canongate Prize, the UK Peggy Ramsay Memorial award, National and Scottish Open Poetry prizes, the MacDiarmid Trophy and BBC prose prize.  In 1996 Alien Crop was shortlisted for Scottish Book of the Year and Sooans Nicht was Critics Play of the Year.  In 2003 Not for Glory was one of World Book Day’s Top Ten Scottish Books and in 2005 featured on the nation’s all-time favourite books list.

Janet has held three writing fellowships and been awarded several Scottish Arts Council bursaries for writers and playwrights.  Her recent books include the historical novels, White Rose Rebel (2007), now in film development with producers Kate Sinclair and Kevin Loader, and Warrior Daughter (2009) set on Iron-age Skye.

Inspiration for the Poem

Aw Jock Tamson’s is the result of a commission by the Scottish Poetry Library for their Homecoming anthology Addressing the Bard.  Twelve poets were asked to choose a Burns poem and then respond with a new work.  For reasons now forgotten, I chose Robert Bruce’s March to Bannockburn.  Perhaps it was the inspirational quality of the address, designed to move men to willingly risk life and limb to secure a free and independent nation.  By contrast, I expected to write a humorous monologue in response.  That didn’t happen.

Instead, the economic crisis broke.  As the results of capitalist greed struck down the mighty, and the weak, we were all suddenly mired in a fight for financial survival.  I wanted to ignore it, intended to – few writers have any wealth to lose, having no dependable income means I don’t acquire debt, and economics make poor poetry.  But Burns’s ‘parcel of rogues in a nation’ resonated globally.  National assets, and future labour, had long since been sold in pursuit of profit to line private pockets rather than provide for the people.  Credit trades on tomorrow’s prosperity, and even a fool could predict the black hole that was bound to arrive.

I was furious, furious with greed and stupidity, furious that people are misled and betrayed by those they empower, angry that lives, already made difficult so the few can benefit, would now be further impoverished.  But I couldn’t write a poem.  January came. Unexpectedly, my younger sister died.  Other work upended bizarre problems in my lap.  Regretfully, at the deadline, I made my apologies.  The next morning, feeling freer, I walked round to the village shop.  It was a bright, brave winter day with a pale quarter-moon.  The first line of a poem leapt into my head.  I hurried home to fish out the rest.

The journey of writing, or of not writing, Aw Jock Tamson’s is documented here http://ltsblogs.org.uk/poetsblog/ on a Learning Teaching Scotland blog which includes contributions from James Robertson engaged in the same quest.  Like all blogs, you read it backwards, unless you start at the end which is the beginning.

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