Saturday, 15 October 2016

Ghost story

A while back, I entered the Scottish Storytelling Centre's 2016 Ghost Story Competition - with this humorous poem. The rules were open enough to permit poetry as well as prose, and my entry was indeed accepted. Unfortunately, I didn't make it to the list of six winning entries, each of which will be recited by professional storytellers as part of the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in Edinburgh, on the 31st of October.

The very first ghost story competition occurred in 1816, when Lord Byron challenged his companions, including Mary Shelley and John William Polidori, to write a macabre tale. That exercise resulted in The Vampyre and Frankenstein, and so the gothic novel was born. The SSC's competition asked for a 'ghost story', but with those two examples above, it was clear that any scary, macabre or horror story in the tradition of Shelley, Stevenson or Stoker would fit the bill.

My poem contains some Scottish literary and historical references, and you're welcome to try your hand at spotting them. Throw a list into the comments if you like and I'll let you know if you've got 'em all.

The Pies have it

This tale I'll tell if you'll pay heed,
involving pies and devilish deeds.
It could be fiction, but it's true
it's really novel. Here's the proof;
Mary Shelley told it me.

It's better told in broad daylight.
On dark and scary stormy nights
you'd find it much more ghastly then.
Of chimney-pies and luckenbooths –
ye'll hearken 'tently, won't ye.

The butcher, baker and the thief
each in their way caused folk much grief.
Ill-famed in time for crimes, they plied
their trades where Ayr's old market sluice
spilt on cobbled street its bree.

Auld Bean, the thief, he prowled about
and stole what he could later tout.
But unlike burglar Brodie, Bean
would prey on carefree, cantie youths
and careless girls d'ye see.

And Knox, the butcher, couldn't leave,
so joined the gang and stayed to cleave,
from rumps and thighs, the best of flesh.
He sold the scrape for soup and stews.
His knives were sharp to a T.

But Bolfry baked and hawked the pies,
deep-filled enough to inspire sighs.
Throughout the toun his double-crust
caused wholesale drooling: myth or truth?
A baker's tasty recipe.

Some time elapsed before young Hume
came down to Ayr from near Mossblown,
out looking for his missing mates.
He thought he was a canny sleuth
about to make his mark you see.

He wondered where was portly Pat,
and where indeed were Tam and Wat.
They last were seen in Sawney Arms,
where Begbie, with his fresh tattoos,
served watered down his whisky.

Next day Hume stumbled on a piece
of clothing worn by Tam, whose niece
had stitched his smock with homely skill.
That's how she lives. She knits and sews.
Hungry aye, believe you me.

She'd patched it with a bright red square
she'd rescued from a shawl, threadbare,
her Ma had worn for years and years,
and which had Hume then thinking, Clues!
Now, Willie Hume, we shall see.

How did this artefact get torn
from off the smock it once adorned?
Perplexed at that, the young sleuth-hound,
afraid the rag was dreadful news,
wished he knew where Tam could be.

By Hume's sheer luck, he'd found his clue
in Burker's Wynd as he weaved through
the streets of Ayr in search of pals.
Nose to the ground, looking for proof,
from tollbooth back beyond the quay.

He quizzed the butcher if he'd seen
a be-smocked rustic, tall and lean,
with a placeable patch on his knee.
But all he got was a curse and 'strewth!
Crivvens, na, but why ask  me?

I found this patch unwound behind
your shop, said Hume, in yonder Wynd.
The shifty look he got from Knox
led Hume's keen instinct to deduce:
guilt lurks therein, I can see.

So Hume resolved to spy on Knox
and soon enough, he ups and locks
his shop and slopes with furtive glance
along the street to baker's booth,
beneath a markéd hanging tree.

So nothing loath, the cunning fox
then tailed his man, and led by Knox
he stumbled in to baker's shop,
where Bean, surprised, yelled, What the deuce!
and Hume replied, So there's three...

A suspect gang, but what's their plot?
was Hume's first thought, full sure he ought
to play it safe while on his own.
If those three were to face the noose,
certain patience was the key.

I heard about your famous pies,
said Hume, and I'd be telling lies
if once I had the chance to taste
your chimney-pie I wouldn't choose
to have one now. What say ye?

Nae bother, laddie, Bolfry eased,
some folks would die for pies like these.
And as he handed Hume a pie,
the thief and butcher, so uncouth,
chuckled, laughed and slapped a knee.

Such mirth was unbefitting then,
but Hume was unaware the den
he'd entered full of innocence
was wicked through and through, aloof
from civilised normality.

Then as he bit down through the rim,
his front teeth struck on something grim.
Hume pulled away and almost choked:
for resting in the pie was proof
of the fate of Tam McPhee.

O there it lay, Tam's grey-blue eye,
unseeing, lodged inside the pie.
It dawned on Hume that those three men
had broken one of man's taboos,
with fiendish, hellish devilry.

The three conspired to purvey pies,
each with the role he played, but whys
and wicked motives for their game
were left for jury to educe
as Hume went home, tearfully.

The Polis took the gang to jail,
a band that went beyond the pale
in baking bits of men in pies.
Their just deserts they got forsooth,
corpses on the gallows' tree.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Tae the haggis

Butcher's shop in Braemar
And once yon Rabbie Burns did pen, what I have tried to write again:

Tae the haggis

The haggis (globulus scoticus futritus); Gaelic taigeis {f}

Aroun' the Hielans aye we'd chase
ye heather grazin', orra race.
Aboot the bens and glens; the place
we'd hunt yer spoor.
Ye'd nest an' hardly leave a trace,
whaur e'er ye'd coor.

A puckle dints depress the girse.
The only hints whaur parked, yer airse
wad numb or mibbees cramp up wirse,
yer hurdies ticht
an' fit tae burst. Wha'd spy ye first
wad see a sicht.

Ye're happit tae by Scottish mist.
A great advantage, aye. Ye're jist
weel camouflaged, but if ye're pished
on by a sheep,
ye'd bleat a Phuq and cry, Desist,
ah'm nae Bo-Peep!

'nen whan the gloamin' shadows wood,
ye'd hearken in tae a' yer brood
and lead a hike in search o' food.
By light o' moon
we'd see yer outline whar ye stood
abeen auld Doune.

Ye fair wid mak a sausage dream
whan feastin' by a rickly stream
on thae wild herbs. A fruitful seam
for seasonin'
we'd taste whan ye wad sweat and steam;

But foo ye clamber up the bens
is ane thing that a Scotsman kens.
Ye've twa legs much like mony men's,
but here's whit's key:
it's yon short-leg syndrome. Crivens!
Ye've jist ae knee.

Aye, spry 's ye are, ye're often caught
by methods passed tae sons and tocht
by crofter chiels wha aince hae thocht
ye'd surely coup
if forced doonhill whan ye were brocht
intae a loup.

Ye maun be a'wys on yer taes.
We'd wolf ye up in skinn'd sheep's claes
or happit in a battered glaze,
when aince ye're trappit.
Weel maun ye haud sae ticht the braes
wi' heather happit.

O beastie, ye maun hae a care
ye feature on oor bill o' fare.
Again, again, an' then aince mair.
O national dish.
Let's gie the Lord a gratefu' prayer
and thanks for haggis.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Capstan Full Strength

Here's one I wrote earlier. My Grandad used to smoke these in the years after the War. Even when he was forcibly told to stop, by the doctor, he used to sneak out to the shed for a sly drag. You could see the smoke crawling out through the holes in the shed roof.

Capstan Full Strength 

(or: Lines written on a cigarette packet)

If you drag out
the tray
of a packet of Capstan

Full Strength Navy
Cut Cigarettes and
(after disposing of the contents)

fold it flat,
you can draw
on your grievances

against W. D. & H. O. Wills.
As to the flavour
of 'General interest' cards,

instead of 1938's
'Air Raid Precautions'
why not offer a set of tips

beginning with 'Smokers
who feel strongly about taste
don't smoke.'

Friday, 10 June 2016

The Ballad of Killary Hilton

Image: Ignacio Romero Félix
I guess this one speaks for itself.

The Ballad of Killary Hilton

She would’ve been an astronaut,
but then she couldn’t fly
as NASA said she really ought
to be to burst the sky.

She stood by Bill, her Peckerman,
who got away with lies
when once impeached for dirty tricks
and fondling Moni's thighs.

Exhorting selfsame Bill to launch
a bootleg Balkans war
and bomb the shit from old Belgrade,
she launched Esprit le Morte.

And Kosovo these days still breeds
enough Jihadi fiends
to terrorise the continent
where more are being weaned.

In two-oh-three she voted for
the second Iraq war,
which outcome led to ISIS' spread;
those guys we all abhor.

Iraq was just a preview of
the chaos that ensued
in Libya and in Syria too -
- and she sees that as good!

As Sec. of State, she was gung-ho,
which history will confirm
and looking back we'd all see that
the callous never squirm.

When Dubya's heirs an onslaught loosed
on Libya from the air,
she waved the NATO flag and sold
it to us fair and square.

On TV she was heard to gloat
We came, we saw, he died!
And listening to that devilish glee,
who knew of Libya cried.

That well-to-do and once proud state
is now a charnel house
that's full of gore. What's more it's not
what Libyans would espouse.

That ISIS now abounds in Sirte
was certain as could be,
and lessons that were never learned
are plain for all to see.

Her policies caused refugees
to try to cross the Med,
where still they die a-hundredfold
while she lies safe abed.

And when the CIA said change
al-Assad's own regime,
she bought into the myth of fast
and free, or so it seems.

Colluding with the CIA,
the Turks and Arab states,
they shipped their guns to Daesh brigades
and left it to the fates.

But quick and easy it was not,
and now it's even worse
as millions flee as refugees
and empty Europe's purse.

Compound the mayhem. That's the plan
as US debt still soars.
Still paying out for foreign wars
and treating us like whores.

And discontent, the shit goes on
as witness coup d’état
in Ukraine where they Had it glued
with Yats the guy – beat that!

Two weeks before the coup took place,
you'd hear it on YouTube.
Give praise to Hilton, Newland, plus
five thousand million lube.

And if that lapse was not enough,
we learned about her mails,
but so too did the FBI
and now she's biting nails.

Is she the gal to lead the world?
Is she the real deal chief,
with nuclear codes and powdered nose?
As Snoopy said, Good grief! 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

R.I.P. George Martin (Sir)

This poem was written for a guy called Ron Renton, who made this sort of music genre his own. It was previously published on the Jottify website (now defunct), back in 2012 if I recall correctly. There are two things I know about Ron; he's from Leeds and he likes the Beatles. So there's at least one in every line; the title of a Beatles' hit single that is. There's not much of a narrative, but at least there's some rhyme. I called it...

The Ron Renton Song

There’s a Place, they call it Leeds, in the heart of the land
and it's home to Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
and Ron grew up there with a little help from my friends;
why that’s a little lie, although it rhymes on the ends.

This boy who's now a man wasn't nobody's child
he ran with all the boys, but he wasn’t really wilde
I should have known better was ever in his head
and no, you can't do that, his Mother always said.

Off the long and winding road turning left by Penny Lane
skirting Strawberry Fields forever in the rain
the climate there's a misery it's raining cats and dogs.
Help! I am the walrus? No, it's just some toads and frogs.

A girl who drove his car said she was Eleanor Rigby
and you gotta take out some insurance on me, baby.
They used to go out dancing on a hard day's night;
she had something nice about her, like it lit the inner light.

He used to say I'm happy just to dance with you
and she said oh you're comfy, like an old brown shoe.
Instead of twist to open, well they both said twist and shout
and instead of gym at work they cried, we can work it out.

Paperback writer makes a line quite hard to say.
The DJ sings, da doo, Ron Ron, hey, hey, hey, hey
and then he cried out joyfully, ob-la-di, ob-la-da!
Oh, Julia! I thought she was back in the U.S.S.R?

It's her, he thought, on a day tripper ticket to ride.
There's a revolution stewing and sure, she's gotta hide.
She had to get back quickly now and here she's seeking shelter.
She got here only yesterday; back there it's helter skelter.

I saw her standing there he thought, don't pass me by!
Ask me why, he said, don't tell me why, hello, goodbye!
I don't want to spoil the party she rejoined, so let it be.
You know my name (look up the number), wait and see.

Don't let me down, she said to Ron, act naturally,
'cos where we're at is nowhere man, oh can't you see?
You say, I'm down, but take it man, from me to you,
it's just a day in the life and don't say love me do.

Hey Jude, do you want to know a secret? Ask away!
You don't need to fear the things we said today.
What goes on will come together one fine day,
when a yellow submarine drives down your way.

Slow down you must be crazy talking words like that.
I think I’ll get you seen to, jeez, Jehoshaphat!
But I feel fine he said and thought, oh ain't she sweet!
I really gotta thank you girl for this, eight days a week.

She said, that's for you Blue, oh yes it is it's true,
you sure can't buy me love, no P.S. I love you!
Don't say I want to hold your hand and throw a faint,
this ain't no chance roll over, Beethoven, get that straight.

The Saints won't bring you luck nor all my loving.
If all you need is love, you'll sure find something,
but not from Kansas City's own sweet Georgia Brown.
If you love me, baby, you just gotta put me down.

You're a girl from way over the ocean, my Bonnie
and I've got to get you into my life, said Ronnie,
you're such a lady Madonna, no more need be said
and if you won't please please me, then I'll cry instead.

It's long past if I fell and can't be stopped, you know
it's a bit like the ballad of John and Yoko, 
I dream all night and wake to cry for a shadow;
there's no light in my matchbox, cried poor Ron, oh no!

So please mister postman, won't you take her this letter
explaining from me she's a woman and i love her.
Let her say to me once, oh baby, you're a rich man.
Ah! Now she loves you. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! She's a big fan.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The Song of the Featherer

Here's a poem that was previously published, back in October, 2015, on the Houseboat website, which you can find here. Let me know what you think...

The Song of the Featherer

On a library roof in Philadelphia there's a black bird loafing,
seemingly at ease, until he breaks the spell and waltzes,
stepping right – then left – left again – on rigid, stick-like legs,
movement the self-preserving alternative to falling over or merely
appearing delirious in the open air. It attempts to sing, perhaps
in celebration, but the white collar-flaw at its throat constricts
the flow of notes and stifles its song at source. Poised,
with beak aloft, it ponders for moments, warily,
before, abrupt, it bends – to drop and pick – drop and pick –
and hold aloft a scrap of green, and flout a trophy,
a cloth fragment from a spine of published verse whose leaves
are long since foxed. Twelve poems sent forth, coaxed
from author. Now their lesson grabs less attention.
Pored over by fowl, grubbing for morsels
between the leaves of grass.

Monday, 14 December 2015

A need fulfilled

A need fulfilled


Your graceful sculpted curves
seem very compelling
as I pose between your porcelain flanks
in perilous need,
but you say nothing, give no indication
that you're aware of my desire,
no reciprocal emotion
bar the redolence, a scent
of yellowed silk bouquet,
until spontaneously, or so it would appear,
you show some fellow feeling
and flush a spiral bluely,
orifice in commotion,
even before I've undone the fly,
exposed the member's eye--
O Armitage Shanks, you're so necessary!