Mary McGregor (RCN) reviews a new collection of radical poetry from Scotland


Too many people on the left still regard art and culture as peripheral to the class struggle. They fail to recognise that for millennia humans have found expression in music and dance and song and poetry. This expression has often taken the form of resistance to the alienation that capitalism has imbued in us.   The suppression of working class culture has been a weapon in the attempts to dehumanise our class. Yet we rise!

In song and stories and theatre and poems. We continue to demonstrate our imagination and ability confront our class ridden, unjust world with beauty and compassion and determination. Far from peripheral, culture is integral to the awakening of consciousness and the struggle ahead.

A Kist of Thistles, An anthology of radical poetry from contemporary Scotland, published by Culture Matters and edited by Jim Aitken is to be much welcomed in bringing Scottish voices to the fore in an accessible and dynamic form. Jim Aitken in his erudite introduction, contextualises the anthology in the tradition of radicalism through the ages and applauds the inclusion of poems in “all Scotland’s languages – Gaelic Scots and English” and its “wonderful geographical spread.”

The anthology is in three sections; Home, Abroad and Elsewhere. It is Internationalist and it is angry. Most of all, however it is defiant and that’s what I love. It does not shy away from the sins of Scotland’s past, slavery and colonialism. Nor does it stint from the ongoing sectarianism and bigotry in our heartlands. It shows the perniciousness of poverty and drug dependency of 21st century Scotland but also champions solidarity and collective action.

If I had one criticism, it would be that there should be more love and laughter. Both revolutionary acts by our class in the face of a system that wants to see us bowed and broken. But that aside, it is a wonderful, timely collection that reminds us of our challenges and our power.

I thought to single out a number poems for special mention but there are too many that are too good. Anyway Jim’s introduction is the place to read more detail before immersing in the poems themselves.

There is nothing fay or twee about this collection. It is itself a weapon in the class struggle. One I kept coming back to is, “I saw a new world being assembled” by Owen Gallacher. It is, I think the most appropriate taster for this feast for the soul and along with many others in this collection, places poetry at the heart of the struggle.

I Saw a new world being assembled
in the tenements
there were workers
who built dreams for others
singers who got drunk
on rebel songs
fighters who fought
for themselves
in the workplace
and lost every round
all in revolt
against an assembly line
Of masters
I saw a new world
being assembled
in a sweatshop
where dreamers
singers and fighters
unfurled a trade union flag
their voices bolted
and welded into one

10th December 2020


also see:-

Mary McGregor

Michael Marra- A Tribute

Seamus Heaney – A Tribute

Jim Aitken

Review of ‘Quines’ by Jim Aitken

Jim Aitken writes an appreciation of Tom Leonard

Allan Armstrong interviews socialist activist and poet – Jim Aitken

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