Sep 21 2014

An Open Gate

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 23RCN @ 5:42 pm

Dreaming, I saw a thistle field, in half light;
It teemed with folk.

Some, their loyalties
elsewhere, took shelter from a threatened gale.
They planned new batteries of defensive acts,
to keep their rule.

At their flank, a cringe
of crawling servants let the surplus value
of our better lands get stripped.

There were some, counting their blessings
and their savings, safely banked,
who loudly chorused, All is well.

They turned their backs
on those, their neighbours, a greater number,
who were beggared, beaten, ill.

Of these,
the most despairing, their shivering souls and bodies
wrecked, looked for exile through the portal
of a needle’s point or a bottle’s neck.

In among this dream’s parade,
from every quarter of the field,
a quiet movement gathered pace.
Looking for a wider view, a growing disparate band –
I joined them soon – made progress
uphill to an open gate.

“History is the only real teacher …

David Betteridge is one of forty poets contributing to Scotia Nova. Poems for the early days of a better nation edited by Alistair Findlay & Tessa Ransford, Luath Press, Ltd, Edinburgh, 2014. He has written a number of books of poetry and edited A Rose Loupt Oot: Poetry and Song Celebrating the UCS Work-in (Smokestack Books,2011)

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Nov 24 2013

Seamus Heaney – A Tribute

Category: Issue 22RCN @ 9:24 pm

Seamus Heaney, the celebrated Irish poet, died earlier this year on August 30th. He was a frequent visitor to Scotland and friend of Sorley Maclean and Norman MacCaig. He wrote the acclaimed translation from the Early Anglo-Saxon of the founding epic poem of England, Beowulf. Heaney was a great Irish internationalist. Mary McGregor has written the following appreciation of his life.

Heaney was a poet of international acclaim. His skill and ability to convey emotions in words and images is exceptional. He was part of the land and appreciated its importance in shaping its sons and daughters. For him the Irish landscape was the repository of Irish history and yet he rejected the worlds of his father and “his father before him” in favour of writing poetry. This invariably placed him as an outsider in terms of his own family and traditions.

Continue reading “Seamus Heaney – A Tribute”

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Oct 03 2012

The Dundee Street Poet ‘Fightback’

Alan Graham has posted this poetic version of the hard-hitting song by The Cundeez

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Jan 13 2011

Around the Time of Aitken

Around the Time of Aitken

Andy McPake reviews the latest book of poetry, Around the Time of Michael from Jim Aitken. Jim has become a regular contributor to Emancipation & Liberation, and he credits us in his preface.

Around the Time of Michael is Jim’s ninth published volume of poetry and, as the quote above suggests, a continuation of his exposé on the great injustices of our times. Throughout this collection, we sense Jim’s estrangement with a political consensus that he regards as perverse and inhumane. His inability to reconcile this with the beauty of the birth of his grandson and the natural & human worlds is the dichotomy that drives Aitken’s work. This dichotomy encapsulates The Time of Michael. Aitken gives this contradiction many forms: new life and old, the humane against the inhumane and the ignorant against the searching. All of these he perceives in our times.

Fear is the new industry
the base of our prosperity
where we manufacture consent
for all the new profits we make

Crusading against capitalism is nothing new to Aitken’s poetry, but in the past his work has mostly concerned the ravages of that economic system on the peoples of other shores. While Jim’s passion for the Palestinian cause can still be seen in poems such as White Pete, Aitken’s ire is now aimed towards immorality at home. The economic slump is being used as a smokescreen by right-wing politicians who are now implementing an ideological wish list that they have been fomenting for decades; all of which amounts to the dismantling of the welfare state. Caught in the midst of a clamour to return to Dickensian levels of inequality, Aitken castigates those who would create human waste.

There is a lot that Jim Aitken does not like about the modern world. However, anyone used to using the term modern in the academic sense knows that there are few more modern than Aitken. The influences of Yeats and MacDiarmid can be seen not only in the content of his poetry, but in the form, especially Krakow, Auschwitz and After. But Aitken is a modernist poet and thinker living in a post-modern world. His convictions are dismissed as ‘grand-narratives’ by a world that has become atomised and unsearching. Throughout much of the collection, we are given the sense that Jim feels that the good and decent values are dying. We see this in Mrs Lindley and Benny, a moving reminder of how dependent we are on one another.

This collection of contradictions deals not only with inhumanity, but with humanity. The only thing that can parallel Jim’s anger is the tenderness with which he describes those dear to him. Newly Arrived & Expectancy should appeal to anyone who has had the good fortune to have been a parent or grandparent. In Another Coredila, Aitken is forced to confront the fact that he is no longer the most important person in his daughter’s life. The poet’s awareness of his advancing age is most moving in Four Months On when a musing Aitken takes a moment to contrast the youth of Michael with his own image:

I have observed him observing
as current talk goes from teething
soon, crawling after, as I stare
into my own mirror shaving
and wishing to hold back the years

Perhaps Jim should remember that with age comes wisdom. The unjust world that Aitken despises is also an ignorant one. Nowhere is he more explicit about this than in The Return of Apasmara Purusha. Hindus believe that Apasmara represents ignorance; for Jim his return is heralded by a world that is cutting education for the sake of bankers’ bonuses.

Aitken searches for wisdom in many places and the collection draws on Buddhist as well as Hindu thinking. That search is undertaken by a dwindling few living in our convenience culture, a culture that disgusts Jim, moving him to parody it in The History of Searching. In this poem, he contrasts the philosophical endeavours of bygone ages with my own generation’s dependency on Google. Btw, if you do find any yourself unaware of a person or concept mention in Jim’s poetry I have one solution for you…

The Time of Michael is a contradictory one. What is consistent is the presence of hope. Aitken believes that the vicious world into which Michael is born is not the End of History, it is not natural. The collection is a balanced one and for every uncompromising exposition of injustice is a glimmer of hope for the world. When discussing the horrors of war and poverty he is neither morbid nor voyeuristic. Instead, every line implores us to fight back, to remember that another world is possible. The poet asks us to keep our focus on Michael because he represents the future; potentially a better one. Despite its attempts to pit us against each other, the capitalist system has yet to eviscerate all that is decent within people. Perhaps the better part of our nature might win out. Here’s to Michael.

Around the Time of Michael is published by Scottish CND and is available, price £5, from Wordpower Books (

In Search Of Middle England

The political commentator said:
The new leader of New Labour
will just have to make himself
more acceptable to Middle England.’

Being a traveller, a geographer even,
I searched my atlas for Middle England.
I could find no such place so I wandered
around the post-industrial Midlands instead.

Without luck I wondered if my Scots ‘Hullo’
would be better if I tried the English ‘Hill-low’,
I tried it out. Got nowhere. Silence and laughter
met me in equal measure. Was there such a place ?

I thought maybe it all harked back to Tolkien
and his Middle Earth with all that business
about the Shires. I tried them out. Got nowhere
until some bloke whispered candidly in my ear :

‘Look Jock, there’s no such bleeding place.
Never was. It’s a huge con trick by the Beeb.
The perpetuation of a myth, that’s what it is.
It panders to an imperial past with all that stuff
about Rule Britannia and Johnny Foreigner.
You’ve got it up in Scotland too, mate.
It is designed to hold back real change to keep
all these creeps in power. Brainwashing clap-trap.
Yes, there’s toffs, but they’re few and we’re many.
Just get a load of it here. What’s great about this?
Reality is tough for people these days they believe it.
Need something to hold on to. Love the accent.’

Jim Aitken

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Mar 20 2009


Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:16 pm

From Dornoch we moved further north
not as north as where she was born
but north enough to understand;
to understand her returning

She sat there beneath the sculpture
Of ‘The Emigrants’ at Helmsdale,
Moved by the woman looking back
To the strath that was once her home.

For she too had to leave here
To work in service or in shops;
She too, with some eighty years now,
Lived in the south and not the north

And these years have moved her to tears
And this woman brought them all back,
Yet she sits with son and daughter
Who marvel at her dignity.

Two highland ladies, one in bronze,
And the other in flesh that pains,
Bestow upon a changing world
Unchanging values that redeem.

This is taken from Jim’s latest book of poetry, Being Beneath the Moon. Available for £2.50 including. postage & packaging from Magdalene Press, 2, Carlton Street, Edinburgh, EH4 1NJ.

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Mar 20 2009

Letter From A Contract Worker

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 17RCN @ 4:14 pm

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter that would tell
of this desire
to see you
of this fear
of losing you
of this more than benevolence that I feel
of this indefinable ill that pursues me
of this yearning to which I live in total surrender…

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter of intimate secrets,
a letter of memories of you,
of you
of your lips red as henna
of your hair black as mud
of your eyes sweet as honey
of your breasts hard as wild orange
of your lynx gait
and of your caresses
such that I can find no better here…
I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that would recall the days in our haunts
our nights lost in the long grass
that would recall the shade falling on us from the plum
the moon filtering through the endless palm trees
that would recall the madness
of our passion
and the bitterness
of our separation…

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
that you would not read without sighing
that you would hide from papa Bombo
that you would withhold from mama Kieza
that you would reread without the coldness
of forgetting
a letter to which in all Kilombo
no other would stand comparison…

I wanted to write you a letter
my love,
a letter that would be brought to you by the passing wind
a letter that the cashews and coffee trees
the hyenas and buffaloes
the alligators and grayling
could understand
so that if the wind should lose it on the way
the beasts and plants
with pity for our sharp suffering
from song to song
lament to lament
gabble to gabble
would bring you pure and hot
the burning words
the sorrowful words of the letter
I wanted to write to you my love…

I wanted to write you a letter…

But oh my love, I cannot understand
why it is, why it is, why it is, my dear
that you cannot read
and I – Oh the hopelessness! – cannot write!

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Aug 24 2004


Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 08RCN @ 2:18 pm

This wall between us slowly grows
slinking along the dusty earth
like some snake in the desert sands

Once in Jericho it fell down
by those who now do the building
the heirs of the trumpet blowers

Once Belshazzar saw the writing
on the wall, Daniel read the words
Mene, mene, tekel, parsin.

The days of your kingdom will end
for your acts have been found wanting
and your kingdom is divided

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Dec 03 2002

If You’re Happy And You Know It – Bomb Iraq

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:53 pm

If you cannot find Osama, bomb Iraq.
If the markets are a drama, bomb Iraq.
If the terrorists are frisky,
Pakistan is looking shifty,
North Korea is too risky,
Bomb Iraq.

If we have no allies with us, bomb Iraq.
If we think that someone’s dissed us, bomb Iraq.
So to hell with the inspections,
Let’s look tough for the elections,
Close your mind and take directions,
Bomb Iraq.

It’s pre-emptive non-aggression, bomb Iraq.
To prevent this mass destruction, bomb Iraq.
They’ve got weapons we can’t see,
And that’s all the proof we need,
If they’re not there, they must be,
Bomb Iraq.

If you never were elected, bomb Iraq.
If your mood is quite dejected, bomb Iraq.
If you think Saddam’s gone mad,
With the weapons that he had,
And he tried to kill your dad,
Bomb Iraq.

If corporate fraud is growin’, bomb Iraq.
If your ties to it are showin’, bomb Iraq.
If your politics are sleazy,
And hiding that ain’t easy,
And your manhood’s getting queasy,
Bomb Iraq.

Fall in line and follow orders, bomb Iraq.
For our might knows not our borders, bomb Iraq.
Disagree? We’ll call it treason,
Let’s make war not love this season,
Even if we have no reason,
Bomb Iraq.

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Dec 03 2002

David the detainee

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 04RCN @ 1:44 pm

by Jim Aitken

Each night last week
I have caught his eyes
pleading for
support and understanding

Daily detainees
for being himself
saying the wrong things
that he thought were right

Speaking out of turn
his essential self
expressing himself
amid hostile glares

As they shout him down
detain him further
for interfering
with assessments

The new addiction
of a sick system
screaming to be free
from doses of tasks

And of pointless tests
that control them all
mould them for the workplace
like work-house before

I think of Hegel
the dialectic
of master and slave
neither of them free

Both suffocating
from the prescription
to avoid real thought
and open windows

Some of Jim’s writings are in From the Front Line of Terror, published by the Stop the War Coalition & the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. £3 from SPSC, Peace & Justice Centre, Princes St., Edinburgh, EH2 4BJ.

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Aug 05 2002

Oceans Apart

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 03RCN @ 12:46 pm

by Jim Aitken

Do not call me Ishmael
or anything quite as grand
but call me instead a radge
or a schemie or a scaff
a bam, a ned, yob or chav

extend the vocabulary
and label me as other
poke fun at my accent and clothes
blame me for all that goes missing
for how standards are falling

criminalise my entire class
and judge me by my home address
raise your eyebrows at my manners
and at my failure to impress
turn indifference to contempt

and smugly feel good with yourself
since you seem to have done so well
and cringe at how I go around
sneering at my lack of taste
my words all wrong and out of place

and search my face for coming rage
confirming your deep prejudice
and fail to comprehend how this
responds to your great ignorance
of the class divide between us

Jim Aitken is a secondary teacher in Edinburgh. This poem was inspired by an incident in his first year class, with one pupil commenting on another – He’s such a chav, isn’t he? The opening line is adapted from the start of Moby Dick and this, together with the title, illustrates the monstrous, oceanic class divide in today’s Britain.

Some of Jim’s writings are in From the Front Line of Terror, published by the Stop the War Coalition & the Palestine Solidarity Campaign. £3 from SPSC, Peace & Justice Centre, Princes St., Edinburgh, EH2 4BJ.

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