The shipyard painter, political activist and razor-sharp cartoonist Bob Starrett has just written a new book The Way I See It on his eventful life and times. Below we reprint one of his stories and review an essential read
ENO's production of La Boheme is a triumph,
Two new collections with a northern and Scottish perspective
"The lifespan of a fact is shrinking," observes Alistair Findlay in Never Mind The Captions (Luath, £7.99). Once a fact "lasted for as long as a kingdom stood/a legacy lived or a myth survived," but now we only remember what suits us "and there is no limit/to what we are able to forget."
Findlay is one of Scotland"s sharpest poets. His wonderful Sex, Death And Football, The Love Songs Of John Knox and Dancing With Big Eunice were three of the strongest and most radically original collections of the last decade.
Never Mind The Captions is an alternative guide to Scottish history, combining poems, photographs and scraps of quotations to interrogate the making and the unmaking of historical memory: "Our Museums/Tombs of the Pharaohs/Burial-ships of the Vikings/Trade Fairs of the Victorians/Machine Halls of the Workers/Aladdin's Cave of the Masses/Dust-carts of the Corporations/Shopping Malls of the Consumers/Punter-Disneyland-Heritage-Amusement-Arcades."
It's a big book and a wonderfully subversive, sideways look at some of the public emblems of Scottish history including the Calton Hill monument, John Maclean's desk, the Lewis chess pieces, portraits of Jimmy Reid and Mick McGahey, the Clyde Clock, the People's Palace and John Knox's grave.
There are plenty of statues here of great men such as David Hume, Desperate Dan and Robert Fergusson "dashing between/bedlam and the Scottish Poetry Library." But where, asks Findlay, "are all the busts of women?"
It's a funny book but it also asks serious questions about the way we imagine the past - "museums look at object-rich activities/such as cooking and serving/but overlook the laborious tasks/such as washing-up - and the consequences of letting other people tell you what to remember - "the link with capital/the focus on the present/the obliteration of the past/the rapid display of images/the erosion of historical memory/the mobility of objects and bodies/the development of free trade/the forgetting of politics, money, difference."
Northumbrian-born Paul Summers is also preoccupied with the erosion of historical memory and his union(Smokestack Books, £7.95) brings together over two decades of Summers's poetry, drawing on books, pamphlets, performance pieces and collaborations as well as a long and previously unpublished sequence about the "broken land" of the north of England: "fox cry, plangent grace,/the wearing lines/of history on her face:/the ghost of static mines,/the broken ribs of rusted ships,/of shoulders laden with flaccid chips./inscribe a legend on your map,/no longer whippet & cloth cap/but totem statuary here & there,/a culture raped, the cupboard bare./this north, this cold, acknowledged land/where rule is cheap & underhand/where heritage is all the rage/& all our rage now heritage."
Summers, currently resident in Australia, is a poet of place and of travel, of exile and of home, whose work combines the domestic and the epic, the personal and the political, the rhetorical and the confessional.
It's a painful, angry book about class, violence, struggle and defeat, an exploration and a celebration of ideas of collectivity and community in a landscape of defeat: "more empty seats for overcoats/& greasy caps, to prop up sticks./their collars grow more loose,/their feet rattle in pristine shoes/the incredible shrinking men/meet sundays for dominoes:/their fingers grip the ebony,/like brambles on unkempt graves."