A Kist of Thistles

26 Feb 2021

By Joe Smith

The people behind A Kist of Thistles, anthology of poetry, are the collective personification of the ‘Radical’ in the Radical New Futures theme of the Paisley Book Festival. Presented by Morag Smith, the event was introduced by Jim Aitken, the book editor who is also involved in the web-based Culture Matters, a left-leaning radical collective. What makes the authors of this anthology ‘radical’, Jim says, is that they not only want a better Scotland, they want a better world! (here here!).

The poems in the book are in English, Scots and Gaelic, written by a multicultural group of people that is thoroughly representative of modern Scotland. There is a collective commitment to Scottish Independence, but the book also tackles international, environmental as well as other broader social themes.

Eighteen different writers, a mere representation of the total, read aloud their radical poetry. Subjects included homelessness, suffragettes, Donald Trump, Keir Hardie, Scottish independence, fairy tales, Post-Truth politics, and wheelie bins. Too many to discuss here in any detail.

The memorable points for me were the opening line of Chris Boyland’s The City which opened with, “Hope has broken out to the East of the City…” A.C. Clarke’s 21st Century Blues was inspired. The wonderful Leela Soma made at least her second appearance at this year’s festival, and John McMahon’s short poem For the Love of My Country was delightful. There were so many great works on offer, providing but a mere taster of what radicalness lurks within the pages of the Kist of Thistles. My favourite, however, was Jim Ferguson’s We’re Not Supposed To, delivered in a truly unique style, with more of the gallus swagger of a song than the metronomic march of a poem.

These poems were rousing, they were sad, some were full of black humour, and they all told a story, each worth telling. This band of poets put me in mind of a small revolutionary army. A militia of militants. One could go as far as saying they had something of the 1820 radicals about them. I can see them, in my mind’s eye, gathering on the Corner of Mill Street, wooden clogs on the cobblestones, shoulders wrapped in shawls, hearts pounding under waistcoats. Big Jim Ferguson stirs the crowd by reading, nae, singing, the Proclamation (known as the ‘treasonable address’). Mary McCabe shouts “Liberty or Death!” and they’re off, marching through Paisley, on their way to join forces with Hardie and Baird, headed for the Carron Iron foundry, intent on seizing just enough cannon to ‘persuade’ King George to meet their demands, and grant them universal suffrage.

These poets are fierce. They fire up the radical imagination.

They’re not messing about. This book means business. This group of poets are angry and they are determined. They want a better Scotland and they want a better world. And I for one, would not stand in their way.

There's still time to register for tickets for Paisley Book Festival events here