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An Abnominal for Aidan (#saytheirname)

aidan cropped 030001

Aidan Michael Philip

Today, as readers of Wednesday’s post and anyone who pays exceptionally close attention to the dedication in The Ambulance Box will know, is Aidan’s 10th birthday. Although I posted “The Condition” on Wednesday, I could not let the day itself go by unmarked here, so I give you this abnominal for Aidan, which was first published in the “Memory” issue of Irish Pages. With the #saytheirname hashtag current on Twitter, it seemed this was the most approriate poem for today, as it is constructed only out of the letters of Aidan’s full name.

Mid Achin’, a Hill, a Pipe
An abnominal for Aidan Michael Philip

Ma ainlie laddie, male meme
in ma clan; alpha in child line;

name hidden in mine. Handed
a damned deal: nae medic lanced

an ill in him. Nae pill, nae needle,
nae chalice healed

a dampened DNA chain.
Daddied, I claimed him hail.

I held him, palm in palm.
I named him. Mama called him

and he apened limpid een.
Mama hand and mine cleaned

him. He ailed me. Pain and pride
meld in ma manchild

happed deep, laid in land alane.
Ach — I parade a candid ache.

Maimed, I acclaim him
acme mac, ee-aipple, dim

peace candle. Hidden laddie
hained, clenched, clad in me.

Scots glossary:
ma my; ainlie only; laddie boy; nae no; hail whole; apened opened; een eyes; happed clothed; alane alone; ee-aipple eye-apple; hained enclosed, protected, preserved


The Condition


The Condition

is identified by ultrasound at 38 weeks —
less than an echo where
there should have been loud celebration.
The condition would have you
weep aloud in the streets and will
cause some people to dash
across the road when you approach
but has left no breath to cry with.
The condition can be recognised by its family features,
primarily the nose. There is more
than one name for it, but only one outcome.
The condition surprises by not
being incompatible with a glorious day.
The condition is not compatible with life.

This Friday is the 10th birthday of my son, Aidan Michael Philip, and the 10th anniversary of his death. That’s when I was going to post this new poem — the last line of which is the precise form of words with which the consultant sonographer told us that Aidan would not survive — but it struck me that today it’s 10 years since we heard those words, and it seemed like today was the right time.

There is so much that I could say about the past 10 years and being 10 years on from those searingly painful days in September 2005. I might or might not have the energy and space to do so over the next while. For now, it is enough to say that his name is Aidan and he is and always will be part of our family.

The Other Tongues/Friday at the Fruitmarket


Yikes! It’s so long since I’ve posted here it almost feels like I’ve forgotten what to do. Anyway, here I am back again to let you know about what I’m up to this Edinburgh Festival.

TOT-cover-cropped-257x300On Thursday (14 August), I’ll be at Summerhall for the launch of the Irish Pages anthology, The Other Tongues: An Introduction to Writing in Irish, Scots Gaelic and Scots in Ulster and Scotland. I helped with the Scots for the book and provided an introduction on Scots writing in Scotland (as opposed to Ulster Scots). The event will be introduced by Alasdair Allan MSP, Minister for Learning, Science and Scotland’s Languages, and Robert McDowell, with further remarks by Murdo MacDonald, Chris Agee and me, followed by a brief reading from the book by Aonghas MacNeacail. The book is an extremely handsome volume and it should be a really good evening.

EDUCATION FLYER (New)On Friday (15 August), I’ll be back at The Fruitmarket Gallery for another Six Poets reading. It is always an excellent evening’s poetry and, this year, I’ll be appearing alongside Chrissy Williams, AB Jackson and Simon Barraclough along with the other Fruitmarket stallwarts Isobel Dixon and Rob A Mackenzie. Isobel has taken on the mantle of blog promotion this year and the links take you to poems from the readers on her site. Click on the flyer to the left for more info.

A Hiding to Something


HD day5 front A6 copy HD Day 5 BackI’m just back through the door from a practice with Stewart Veitch and Frank Glynn — a.k.a. Holm — for Tuesday’s Hidden Door performance. It’s the first time we have tried out what we are planning to do for the gig and we are all really excited about how well the music and poetry are working together — in fine balance and each at the service of the other. We can’t wait to present this new venture on Tuesday. Catch us at around 8:15 PM. Book your tickets here!

Coming Out of Hiding


Hidden Door is back! This time, it’s a nine-day arts extravaganza featuring 40 bands, 70 artists, poetry, cinema, theatre and bars — yes bars plural — in the 24 disused vaults in Edinburgh’s Market St. It starts on Friday this week and runs until Saturday 5 April.

I’m excited to be appearing on Day 5, Tuesday 1 April, in a MacAdam collaboration with Holm. This set will be part of Words vs Music, an evening of poetry, spoken word and music divided into three movements across two vaults:

Movement 1 – Ethereal electronica from the Highlands-based Fiona Soe Paing and poet Jane McKie, with renowned projection artist Tracy Foster.

Movement 2 – Nuanced songwriting by Matt Norris and the Moon, a music and word collaboration by duo Holm and acclaimed poet Andrew Philip, climaxing with the incredible performers Mickey 9s.

Movement 3 – Poetry by Rob A Mackenzie juxtaposed with a rare performance of Steve Reich’s Different Trains by Viridian Quartet, building the tension before a full energy set by the Paraletic Universe Hip Hop collective, featuring DJ Sokol and Tragic Pro, plus Wolfhart, Mr P, and MC Dandy, and featuring “Drawings from the Underground”, a live projected drawing by Miss U Kam-Ling.

Trio Verso keep things real with their spoken word music-poetry in the Project Space, and Olof Ohlson’s sound installation will thread between all the performance spaces.

Holm and I will be onstage at 8:25, but don’t miss the rest of the evening, which will be fantastic. I’m particularly looking forward to hearing Rob’s response to the Steve Reich, which he has blogged about a little bit here.

Get your tickets here or from the performers in person! There is an exclusive offer on all online ticket sales, finishing today. If you buy a ticket for Saturday 29th or Sunday 30th March, you receive a £5 ticket for any night between Monday 30th and Thursday 3rd April. You know you want to …



With Linlithgow Book Festival over for another year, my thoughts are turning to the next reading. I’m delighted and honoured to be reading at St Mungo’s Mirrorball on Thursday 21 November alongside the wonderful Michael Symmons Roberts, whose Drysalter deservedly won the Forward prize this year, and Alexandra Oliver. Readers of this blog will probably need no introduction to Michael’s work; I confess I’m unfamiliar with Alexandra’s, but part of the joy of readings is hearing a new voice.

I was last at the Mirrorball back in 2009 with The Ambulance Box, and that was a great night. It will be a pleasure to return. In fact, this will be my first trip to Glasgow with The North End of the Possible. The reading kicks off at 7 pm and is held at the Poetry Club in the Glasgow Art Club, 185 Bath Street, Glasgow. See you there!

For the Brave and Craven of All Nations

A wreath laid by the Flodden memorial on the anniversary of the battle.

A wreath laid by the Flodden memorial on the anniversary of the battle.

In September this year, I was part of a peace and reconcilation pilgrimage to Flodden, which was the Northumbria Community‘s contribution to the commemorations of the 500th anniversary of the battle of Flodden.

We peace pilgrims took part in the service of solemn commemoration the day after the anniversary. My contribution to that included the following poem, which I delivered together with Paul Revill, who led the pilgrims from Durham. I meant to post it here a couple of months ago and never got round to it, but it seemed deeply appriopriate to Remembrance Day, so I offer it in that spirit now:

For the Brave and Craven of Both Nations

Come, cushie-doo whose kiss
will seal the lips of every wound:
hover over Branxton’s slopes
where height cries out to height:
unforge each billhook, broadsword, pike,
warhead, Kalashnikov and drone:
then breathe the colour back
into the forest flowers scorched
by the heat of the fray:
unfurl as a banner the shoots
within unnumbered grains of wheat
that mourn the ground where they fall:
create at long last, here
in this deep lamenting soil,
the final loss of loss—
that longed-for sorrowless field.

For the brave and craven … : the inscription on the Flodden memorial at Branxton is “For the brave of both nations”.
cushie doo (Scots): the wood pigeon; also, a term of endearment.
Branxton: the battle was actually fought outside the village of Branxton in Northumberland and was initially known as the battle of Branxton muir.
forest flowers: the famous lament “The Flooers o the Forest” was written in commemoration of the battle.
sorrowless field: Sorrowlessfield is a place in the Borders. It is said to be so named because it was the only farm in the area that did not lose someone at Flodden.


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