21 Jul 2015

The Poets' Republic

The Poets' Republic
Scottish Street Fighting Poetry!
Just when it looked like the magazine scene was moribund, peddling the floral flavoured poetry — which aims like aw fine writing at a polite — dare I say bourgeois audience — alang came The Poets' Republic.

Things are not so bad as that in poetry-land, but we were definitely missing something like this.

Something rough, ready and leftist, with the publishing values of the 1970s anarchist movement.

The Poets' Republic may have some of these values but it is very much of today in its platform and aims which are stated as existing ‘in print, online, on stage and off message’ — I'm honing in on the ‘off message’ part.

The Poets' Republic contains poetry that isn’t scared to use its elbows, and the paper's production values reflect this — black and white and printed large, regaling us with the incendiary and yet somehow romantic image of a Molotov cocktail.

Highlights within this first issue include Finola Scott’s decisive commentary on a type of women that she admires. The poem is The Word, and it turns out that all Finola really dislikes about ‘slappers’ is the word ‘slappers’ —  summarising generally held prejudice, by identifying and shaming its locus.

This is exactly what poetry can and should do — chip away at conventions with the tiny silver hammers of truth, understatement and humour.  Finola Scott keeps this up in three fine poems, and this was particularly enjoyable:

Tits — boobs — knockers,
I hid my breasts away.
An ex flicked one, then
the other, calling them
his boys.
That tells you everything.

Ah for the metrically delivered truth.  Founders of The Poets' Republic Neil Young and Duncan Lockerbie state that they ‘favour poetry that is irreverent, provocative and alive to great public debates … and which shuns the insular or obscure.’

YES - we must be reminded of the necessity of poetry that is provocative and alive to great public debates and yes, I think it is fair to shoulder aside and stand aloof from poetry that is obscure, non-public, and pauperised by its paucity of purport.

Neil Young’s own strongest contribution to The Poets' Republic is a humorous tale conjoining the letters KFC with the varied sectarian and otherwise militant Irish freedom fighting groups — a merry sport.  The result has a crowd-pleasing feel to it, and sounds like it might be mighty entertaining if read aloud in a thranging howff.  Like the promise of The Poet’s Republic itself, it’s rough and ready, and the title may be all that you require to smile — WHEN DANNY BHOY WENT FOR A TAKEAWAY AT THE SHANKHILL KFC — look out for it.

The problems of writing in Scots appear evident in one poem THE CHEENGE, by Fran Baillie, which switches from Scots to English quite freely, in some cases completes lines in Scots with words in English to ensure a rhyme — 'toad' and 'flowed' — along with 'mild' and 'child'.  In otherwise well-rendered Scots this seems odd — especially when nearby English words which already rhyme are turned into Scots by dint of their vernacular pronunciation:

Mither, yi fed mi an / Eh grewy tahl / Nature dictates wi canna bide smahl / time gaed beh and hormones flowed / yir bonnie wee tadpole turnt intae a toad / nae langer couthie, meek an mild / bit still yir lang-awaitit child.

Either way, Scots remains pliable and becomes more pliant as time goes by.  What is spoken can be written, and this is the strength of vernacular poetry, that it does what it can to squeeze a poem out of the real words spoken around the poet.

The back cover poem NAW, by Stuart A Paterson is pretty much 'on message' in political terms, and it is sweet, memorable and worth reprinting in full. It is of course, as ever, great to see the demotic writ so confidently. It’s a sign of the times — and there would appear to be a hope for a mild revival of the place where poetry, song and the voice of the people meet — nothing too serious — and yet well meant, wild at heart and springing with life.

This is not a criticism of The Poets' Republic, and nor is at a stab at any of the poets represented, but I couldn’t help but notice in the poet’s ain bios, how a couple of them described themselves as ‘prominent’ — in fact it made me chuckle.  

Prominent!  C’mon fellas, you are poets — not landmasses. Cam doon frae there — and jyne the Republic!

Meantime, check out The Poets' Republic website and see if you can't track down a copy for yourself. 

The Poets' Republic