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A Weekend in the Wigtown Gutter


I had an amazing weekend at Wigtown Book Festival. My previous experience of the town, described here, could not have been any more of a contrast. There was a real buzz about the place and, unsurprisingly, I kept bumping into people I know from the literary scene. The town seemed to have come into its own.

It was a real pleasure to meet Colin and Adrian from Gutter magazine. Not only have they managed to plug a yawning gap in the world of Scottish literary magazines with a most stylishly produced publication packed with interesting work from new and more established writers, but they’re both just really great guys.

“A Night in the Gutter” was huge fun (though it had some moments I won’t go into). The real revelation for me was the first reader, Frances Corr, who read from a story that was published in Gutter 4. I tell you, folks, she is a writer to watch. Her distinctive use of language betokens an individual cast of mind. “A Fairy Story” is funny, poignant, intelligent and sparky. A fine mix of smeddum and tenderness, English and Scots.

I was also really impressed with Rodge Glass’s reading. Rodge read from an excerpt from his next novel that’s in the current issue of Gutter. If I said that it has a football — specifically, Man United — setting, I know that would be a turn-off for many and pique the interest of others. Personally, I’d be closer to the turn-off end, but Rodge’s piece is an absorbing, fluid, convincing description and exploration of the ambition and devotion of the young, professional footballer. In the way that it draws out those universal human emotions that are so central to the sport, it reminds me of Matthew Fitt’s remarkable Scots poem “Jim Leighton”, about the eponymous goalie. Rodge should count that as high praise!

A very honourable mention should certainly go to the evening’s band, The Maple Leaves. I thoroughly enjoyed their well-written songs and tight vocal harmonies.

My set went well. I was the only one not to use the mike, following Kristin Linklater’s advice. Although I didn’t really get a chance to try out the acoustic properly before we started, when I got up on the stage, I felt it was pretty good for the voice. Some of the feedback that I got from audience members over the weekend seemed to back that up.

It’s quite liberating to feel that you don’t have to use the mike in a large hall like the one we were in. In fact, it now feels quite necessary not to use the mike from my opening poem, “Pedestrian”. If you’ve seen me speak it, you’ll understand why.

Here’s my whole set:

  • Pedestrian
  • Origami
  • Fallen Icons of the Angel Barbie
  • Coming Third
  • Tae a Lousy Piper
  • Not Being the Woodsman of Oz

(“Origami”,  “Coming Third” and “Not Being the Woodsman of Oz” are all from my sequence “10 x 10”, which was published in Gutter 4 and has just been republished in The Best British Poetry 2011.)

I won’t put you to sleep by going into everything else that happened over the weekend, but I will leave you with a couple more of my highlights, invidious as that is. First of all, I am simply deeply thankful that I got the chance to meet Chris Agee, editor of Irish Pages and the author of the remarkable poetry collection Next to Nothing. I’ve mentioned that book here before. It’s a profoundly moving, and simply profound, gathering of poems about the death of his daughter, Miriam. I’ve been keen to meet Chris since I read the book. Suffice it to say, although we had only a brief chance to chat, the connection is — for obvious reasons — strong.

The other highlight I’ll mention was hearing Angus Peter Campbell read from his new collection, Aibisidh (that is, ABC). It wasn’t only the quality of the poetry that made it a standout event, but the fact that some of Aoghnas Phàdraig’s thinking aloud in answer to the questions he was asked opened up for me a little more some of the things that have been going on in my own recent writing. This isn’t the time to go into what that is, but I think it may have given me the opening I need to take it further.

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