The September 2020 Poetry Roundabout

The Poetry Roundabout
Baird and Hardie Memorial Edition
September 2020

Edited by John Coutts, Poet in Residence

In this edition we commemorate John Baird and Andrew Hardie, put to death in Stirling on Sept 6th 1820.

Broadside ballad, 1830s (republished in Forward, 1912)

There was widespread industrial unrest in Scotland in 1820, partly due to an economic downturn, and several figures plotted an insurrection. These militants were defeated at the Battle of Bonnymuir and the supposed ringleaders (Andrew Hardie, James Wilson and John Baird) were executed.

As evening dashed on the western ocean,
Caledonia stood perched on the waves of the Clyde ;
Her arms wide extended she raised with devotion,
‘My poor bleeding country’ she vehemently cried,
Arise up my country and hail reformation;
Arise and demand now the rights of our nation.
Behold your oppressers shall meet the desolation;
That marked the brave victims at dark Bonnymuir.
On the 5th of April, eighteen hundred and twenty,
The great Baird and Hardie did march from their home,
To guard their freedom, homes, rights, peace and plenty,
But tyranny conquered and gave them a tomb.
Like traitors they died on the 8th of September,
In the cold silent grave they were consigned to slumber,
But heaven will avenge them let tyrants remember,
And raise up new heroes on Dark Bonnymuir…..
How long shall tyrants usurp over freedom,
How long shall we groan in their vile servile chains?
Arise up my children & sink them like Sodom!
E’er sad desolation reigns over the plains.
Oh, muse on the day when great Wallace was rearing
The broad sword of Scotland, when tyrants were fearing
At the sound of the trumpet were thousands appearing,
To die, or to conquer on Dark Bonnymuir.
Those dear sons of freedom prosperity shall never,
Forget Baird and Hardie, who would them disown?
In the breast of the country their memory shall ever,
Be a monument more lasting than sculptured stone.
Remembrance shall dwell on their tragical story,
But heaven shall reward them with bright shining glory,
In regions far distant from Dark Bonnymuir.

And here is the ‘sculptured stone’ from the Bonnymuir inscription; memorial to Andrew Hardie and John Baird in Woodside Cemetery, Paisley, Renfrewshire

Where heathclad hills and lonely mountain caves
Are marked by battlefields and martyrs’graves
This stone records the last embattled stroke
Which Scotchmen struck at vile oppressors’ yoke.
At Bonnymuir they trod their native heath
And sought a warrior’s or a martyr’s death.
Sad choice! For there they found their enterprise –
To claim or force reform by armed surprise –
Was circumvented or betrayed by spies,
And thus ensnared by treason’s feudal laws.
Their personal honour in the people’s cause
Compelled the sight which claims our pity and applause.

JC comments: Does anyone know who wrote this?

George Colkitto writes: Attached are two poems – ‘The Radical War is not over’ – with a quote from James Wilson, executed just before Baird and Hardie, was written in response to your email

The radical war is not over

‘Did ye ever see sic a crowd as this?’ (James Wilson, on the way to his execution)

we never offered peace
in any time
there is no paper to wave
setting out terms for our surrender

it was a hard lesson
when their army charged the innocent
in the field of Peterloo,
the streets of Paisley

when their lies led us
to the trap at Bonnymuir
execution for Hardie and Baird
Wilson

we learned guerilla tactics
for pitchforks and staves fail
when the cavalry charges
Hussars carve flesh

ancestors crying in poverty and starvation
on the point of a bayonet
taught us to arm with words
recruit for the long march

they gather wealth to them like battlements
the walls we have to breach are invisible
grow higher, and the bribes for betrayal
still tempt and blind

over two hundred years and our martyrs
are hidden, tossed the occasional pardon
a burp from the powerful gorged on
the fruits of others labour

taught to remember their conflicts
their wars and conquests
their heroes have ranks of statues
their winners’ history

so far

but this war is not over
we are not defeated

George W Colkitto September 2020

George writes : ‘Do not go silently’ is about earlier Paisley Martyrs – at the time
Of the Covenant – but the bones were moved and plaque put up during
the unrest at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of nineteen century –
and that is mentioned in the poem –

Do not go Silently

I revisited Martyr’s Memorial graveyard
half-forgotten memories of two men
boxed and buried in a silent place
but part of me disagrees with silence
part of me says shout louder
how in Paisley is a stone obelisk
over the bones of Algie and Park
hanged for refusing oath of king and church

in 1635 buried in unconsecrated ground
bones were moved in the eighteenth century
when in another generation’s dissent
it was important to remember them

I stood before the memorial
doubting if I would have such faith
or like the later weavers stand firm
demanding the right to vote

afternoon air was soothing cool
quietness folded round like the thin fog
which clothed the cemetery
and into my head crept daily distortions of truth
I do not challenge

here in the ranks of the unknown
two men who would not bend
remind me to speak out

in the certainty of death
the importance of remembering
those who say no.

George Colkitto First Published in Noble Dissent Anthology, Beautiful Dragons 2017

Jeffrey Kemp writes: Here’s an alternative perspective on execution for potential inclusion in your next Roundabout

Top Heavy

The executioner’s brutal duty
sadly cost him restful nights.

Lingering over
lunch punctuated
by why not another drink,
don’t need to be sober

to swing an axe straight
as the head said to the chicken.
Decapitation is no skin
off my nose

as the judge told his shaving mirror,
one peasant is like any other,
make justice a habit and
they’ll breed like rabbits.

Crime pays my rent says the jailer,
shackles are great
agrees the blacksmith,
let me whet that blade.

Appetite blunted, dead-drunk by dusk,
the state-appointed slayer
doesn’t make a fuss.
Keeps his head down.

Does away.
As they say.

Elspeth King writes: I’m attaching James Robertson’s poem on the Glasgow medical student, Thomas Moore who acted as the Headsman for the three victims of the 1820 Rising. He fled to Ireland after the executions and was never heard of again.

Traitors

I volunteered – It was hardly a choice –
I’d sliced up a corpse or two, kept my cool
Cutting flesh at the anatomy school
Wilson’s a cinch. Why not a couple more?
For half an hour they hung, like butchers meat
Before I did my business with the axe.
Hardie took three, Baird half a dozen hacks,
Something like that. MY mask slipped Then the street
Seemed awash with blood, thick with the crowd’s screams
Murderer! Murderer! I hear it still.
That word, it haunts my days, poisons my dreams.
I only did my job. I did not kill’
It’s said they died for truth and liberty
The truth is this. I will never be free.

From Stirling Sonnets A collection of sonnets by James Robertson, with illustrations by Owain Kirby, published in association with the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

– Now let’s leave the sad story of the Radical Martyrs for a while –

Colin Gregory writes: I found a poem for September’s “Roundabout” in the exhibition “Eastern Encounters” at The Queen’s Gallery at Holyrood. It accompanied an illuminated manuscript, written in Agra in 1584 by the Mughal master calligrapher Muhammad Husayn Kashmiri, of The Gulistan (Rose Garden) a Persian classic by the poet Sadi. The exhibition noted it was “a text of timeless wisdom” and “passages from the Gulistan were widely quoted in everyday speech at the Mughal court.” The poem that accompanied the exhibit is by Imtiaz Dharker. She grew up in Glasgow and spent time in the Royal Library at Windsor exploring the paintings and manuscripts on display, inspiring her to write new poems for the exhibition:

The Rose Garden by Imtiaz Dharker

When you come back from the rose garden
your eyes have changed colour
and the scent of attar follows you home
like a lover.

You return to the city of pointing fingers,
to howling sirens and beeping phones,
the clicking, the screens all on, and you
still have petals falling from your mouth.

What did you do there? Did you meet
Sadi or only his words?
Did you lose your way in that script,
its arabesques and curves?

In that place, did the poets utter in roses?

You cross from corner to corner
like a fugitive in this time. Your eyes
are watercolour, and in them, the city
and all its workings have been stamped

with gilt. Calligraphy blazes
over the walls of the meat market.
But the streets are brambled, thorned,
and on the illuminated borders

there are drops of blood.

Helen McLaren writes: Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been hand-cutting, in stages, my front grass which I’d let grow as a meadow and hadn’t mown since April. Every time I went out a robin appeared to keep me company and feed on what I disturbed. And it’s now autumn with the first of September seeing the start of meteorological autumn.

Robin Redbreast by William Allingham

Goodbye, goodbye to summer!
For summer’s nearly done;
The garden smiling faintly,
Cool breezes in the sun;
Our thrushes now are silent,
Our swallows flown away –
But Robin’s here, in coat of brown,
With ruddy breast-knot gay.
Robin, Robin Redbreast,
O Robin dear!
Robin singing sweetly
In the falling of the year.

Bright yellow, red, and orange,
The leaves come down in hosts;
The trees are Indian princes,
But soon they’ll turn to ghosts;
The leathery pears and apples
Hang russet on the bough,
It’s autumn, autumn, autumn late,
‘Twill soon be winter now.
Robin, Robin Redbreast,
O robin dear!
And what will this poor Robin do?
For pinching days are near.

The fireside for the cricket,
The wheatstack for the mouse,
When trembling night-winds whistle
And moan all round the house;
The frosty ways like iron,
The branches plumed with snow –
Alas! in winter, dead and dark,
Where can poor Robin go?
Robin, Robin, Redbreast,
O robin dear!
And a crumb of bread for Robin,
His little heart to cheer.

On the fourth hundredth anniversary of the voyage of the ‘Mayflower’ John Coutts recommends
‘next to of course god america i’ by E.E.Cummings

next to of course god america i

love you land of the pilgrims’ and so forth oh
say can you see by the dawn’s early my
country ’tis of centuries come and go
and are no more what of it we should worry
in every language even deafanddumb
thy sons acclaim your glorious name by gorry
by jingo by gee by gosh by gum
why talk of beauty what could be more beaut-
iful than these heroic happy dead
who rushed like lions to the roaring slaughter
they did not stop to think they died instead
then shall the voice of liberty be mute?

He spoke. And drank rapidly a glass of water.

John adds: Roger Williams – one of my heroes – was a Puritan banished from Massachuseetts, because he advocated freedom of conscience for all faiths and philosophies. He lived among the Narragansett people and wrote A key to the language of America (1643).  Each chapter includes many useful phrases, a sensitive introduction to aspects of Native American culture, and a short poem. Here are verses which contrast the natural courtesy of many Native Americans with the rudeness of some of the English.

The Courteous Pagan shall condemn
Unrighteous Englishmen.
Who live like foxes bears or wolves,
Or lion in his den

Let none sing blessings for their souls
For that they courteous are.
The wild barbarians – with no more
Than Nature – go so far.

If Nature’s sons – both wild and tame –
Humane and courteous be,
How ill becomes it Sons of God
To want humanity?

Where are the Narragansett now?

Elspeth King writes: Here, as promised. is a poem I like, by William Hershaw, who is from my home town in Fife. It’s about the nightly negativity of BBC Reporting Scotland:

Reporting Scotland by William Hershaw

Relentless the roadkill
Counted on your crooked road,
You hang their carcasses nightly on our screens.
Endless your litany of negatives.
In Scotland today only:
Murder, rape, accident, death,
Failure, allegation and sleekit attack.
So what that a bairn laughed on a Lewis swing,
A Dundee man allowed his neighbour
To win at dominoes,
A woman from Methil escaped from Hell
Graduating with first class honours?
You presume to edit our day,
Let nothing good be heard,
As if you laundered out the clean
Leaving only stains or unpicked
The golden threads from the bright tapestry.
But a rumour has got out,
Though you did your best to stifle it,
Circulates the sleeping land
Like a breeze, an encouraging whisper.
The adder stirs and tastes the air with its tongue,
The hawk on high hangs still and listening,
Bluebells carpet the woods
In Bellshill as much as in Hallaig:
The old wolf has been seen roaming the forest.

Margaret Hay writes from New Zealand: Here we are scurrying in at the last minute with a contribution for the September edition of Roundabout. There’s plenty to be both anxious and angry about in these times. Roundabout has a lovely earthing quality; thank you for it. I know your copyright arrangements will take care of printing James K. Baxter’s High Country Weather. I only noticed a couple of days ago that another NZ fan of this poem picked up an echo from Hamlet: ‘But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad.’ in this verse of Baxter’s.

High Country Weather

Alone we are born
And die alone;
Yet see the red-gold cirrus
Over snow-mountain shine.

Upon the upland road
Ride easy, stranger;
Surrender to the sky
Your heart of anger.

Jock Stein writes: The attached poem is by Irene Howat, one of her rare poems in English, for she usually writes in Scots. Chosen to match the start of autumn, and to avoid the theme of lockdown.

What is autumn?

A palette of warm colours
summer sun heated
wind swirled
till blobs of flame
lie in flashes of yellow
by a rich brown river
swimming with orange
and the memory of green

Sycamore seeds,
made on day three
in trees that bore fruit
with seed in it
according to their kind,
swirl into their future
to root and grow

bearing fruit
giving it wings
and trusting it to the wind.

A door
that opens one morning
to a difference.
Warm days may come again
but not summer days
for autumn closes the door
behind her.
A crispness cuts the air
and bonfire smoke
rises in straight lines

An age.
My age.
A palette of warm colours,
Seed grown
and given wings,
a new door open
and prayers that rise
in straight lines

John Coutts writes: This month sees the publication by the Alma Press of ‘Alexander Pushkin: Lyrics III’ which includes the work Russia’s greatest poet wrote in his mid to late twenties. The text is bilingual/ with detailed editing and annotation by Roger Clarke. Here is my rendering of ‘ The Prophet’ [‘Prorok’] perhaps greatest of Pushkin’s visionary masterpieces. It links spiritual and poetic inspiration. The poet recalls the vision seen by the prophet Isaiah in the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Prophet

I wandered, parched in mind and heart,
Across the desert, gloomy, grim…
And where the roadways meet and part
I faced the six-winged seraphim.
With gentle pinions, soft as sleep,
He brushed my eyelids. Wide and deep
My vision grew, prophetic-sighted,
Keen as an eagle, fierce, affrighted!
And then he touched my trembling ear:
What din, what clanging did I hear…
Sensing the shuddering of the sky,
Dim shapes that glide beneath the deeps,
The flight of angels, heaven-high,
The growing vine that buds and creeps.
Close to my mouth his fingers lay –
The cunning tongue he tore away
(So foolish, idle, full of lies}
Then his right hand, all bloody-red
Implanted in my speechless head
The sting that arms the serpent wise!
Last, with a sword he sliced apart
My breast, drew out the flaming heart,
And in the space where once it beat
He thrust a coal – O flaming heat!
I lay exhausted – like the slain –
Till God commanded: “Rise again!
See, Prophet! Hear, and understand!
Obey! The word which you proclaim,
In wanderings far, by sea and land
Shall set the human heart aflame.”

In reply to a request for contributions, Miss Sarah Ferguson writes from the Gaelic Unit In Riverside Primary School

‘Chleachd sinn am bàrdachd seo agus thòisich na sgoilearan a’ sgrìobhadh bàrdachd coltach ris. Chan eil iad deseil fhathast ach seo am bàrdachd – The Marrog!’

(We used this poem and the pupils have begun to write poetry like it. They aren’t ready yet – but here is the poem – the Marrog)

The Marrog

My desk’s at the back of the class,
and nobody, nobody knows,
I’m Marrog from Mars, with a body of brass,
and seventeen fingers and toes.

Wouldn’t they shriek if they knew,
I’ve three eyes at the back of my head.
And my hair is bright purple,
my nose is deep blue,
my teeth are half yellow, half red.

My five arms are silver and spiked,
with knives on them sharper than spears,
I could go back right now if I liked,
and return in a million light years.

And nobody, nobody knows.
I could gobble them all, for I’m seven foot tall,
and I’m breathing green flames from my ears.

Wouldn’t they yell if they knew,
If they guessed that a Marrog was here?
Ha-ha! They haven’t a clue!
Or wouldn’t they tremble with fear!
‘Look, look a Marrog!’ They’d all scream –
and SMACK! The blackboard would fall,
and the ceiling would crack,
and the teacher would faint, I suppose.
But I grin to myself, sitting right at the back,
And nobody, nobody knows.

R. C. Scriven from Reflective Reading – Textplorers- Picture it!

John Coutts replies: Tha am Marrog gu math eagallach. Ach chan eil mi a ’smaoineachadh gum bi trom-laighe aig a’ chloinn! Feuch an cuir thu dàin thugainn ann an Gàidhlig no Beurla nuair a bhios na sgoilearan deiseil.
(The Marrog is very scary, but I don’t think the children will have nightmares. Please send us poems in Gaelic or English when the pupils are ready)

Roger Clarke sends us another of Pushkin’s poems – an adaptation of lines from the Koran.

Charity

When pondering in your heart the pallid poor that suffer,
don’t issue gifts with hands that calibrate your offer:
it pleases God that you be lavish with your gold.
On judgment day, like fields of waving corn, your bounty –
you sower jubilant and doughty! –
will recompense your work at least a hundredfold.

But if, belittling your work’s remuneration,
you offer one who begs a miserly donation,
clenching in jealous palm what more you might afford,
know this: that all your gifts, like clumps of muddy powder
washed down from rocks by heavy showers,
will vanish – offerings rejected by the Lord.

translated by Roger Clarke

Let’s give the last – but – two-word to Mr.Pushkin

Acquaintances or friends?
(Mr Alexander Pushkin and Miss Anna Olénina)

“Al– Al–”, instead of “Mr P”,
by a slip of tongue she fondly stammered,
confounding with embarrassed glee
a man already much enamoured.
I stand before her in a panic;
I cannot tear my eyes away.
“You’re kind, Miss O,” I stiffly say –
and think: “Oh, how I love you, Annie!”

translated by Roger Clarke

A semi-final question

[Inscribed on a dog collar]
I am His Highness’ dog at Kew.
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?

Alexander Pope

And a final ‘final thought’

‘If all the world were paper,
And all the seas were ink
And all the trees were bread and cheese,
What should we have to drink?’

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