Janet Coats was part of the renowned thread-making family, J&P Coats. The eldest daughter of Thomas Coats and Margaret Glen, her father was one of four brothers who inherited a Paisley-based thread manufacturing company that was renamed J&P Coats in 1830. She was also the wife of publisher, James Tait Black and Janet's own literary aspirations resulted in two volumes of nature-inspired poetry, one of which was published as Verses and Rhymes, in 1899.
Paisley Book Festival 2020's theme was Radical Voices and Rebel Stories and, inspired by the voices and actions of radical young people on climate change we requested that poets across Scotland submit their work for the Janet Coats Memorial Prize. As you can see from these shortlisted poems the standard was very high.. The winners are Basara Basit and Sylvia Telfer.
we pack the Range Rover
pull away from home
no need to check the electrics
everything we own is smart
rain is falling
we pass overflowing rainbow bins
not thoughtless discarders
we need to be on trend
we do not stick in mud
our garden is hard landscape
artificial grass glistens like jewels
waters are rising
plastic bird-feeders stand forlorn
I remember thrush, blue-tit, wren,
no barrage of sparrows, no singing
the children watch ‘The Blue Planet’
ask if we saw a Dodo,
were our old days good?
rain is falling
is the flood a myth?
those far off islands that drowned
fake news, to frighten the gullible?
it goes in cycles
ice age, drought, flood, we survive
the waters are rising
we sing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi
head for the Tree Museum
It slips in quietly and everybody
congratulates spring for coming sooner
and flowers and birds for clocking on
earlier than ever – daffodils in November!
Emails end with felicitations –
everything in the garden … etcetera.
And yes, the heart can't help but quicken
in gentle air after a rough week,
all the small cheepers blurting from a tree
on the brink of leaf as if winter were not
a weather system away. As if the world
would tilt always towards the right balance.
Who can tell insects not to wake,
buds to sit tight before the jet stream
changes its mind? Scientists shake their heads.
They read the signs, foretell what's coming.
'If this is global warming, bring it on!'
cry those who can't see, dazzled by the sun.
After a whole day in the woods, we are already immortal.
Here, beneath trees that split
Magnificently from toe to tip,
I slip from dream to real and back
In elegant green, my eyes lidded glass
And fingers weave, enlace, out-cast
To hold the woods in tight embrace
Enshrouded in a shimmering haze.
This fierce heat, this summer’s face
That turns to burn shoot-ends and tastes
Of simmered edges, in a fizzing spate
Of honeybee and cricket-wing,
This place vibrates.
Yet the dry earth cracks beneath my feet
As rain retreats, rolls west from east
And long-wrought patterns twist, then cease.
With sinking heart, this wood may slip
To mythic beast.
On bench, hand cradling head, Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’,
a slump of an old man who by his shred skin’s
a Methuselah from a land behind the ‘Now’.
Wheezing. Maybe COPD, even TB
for he looks centuries away.
Here by Paisley’s ‘Dooslan Stane’,
once meeting place of the Weavers Union
and “soapbox” he’s cetainly looking inward
and so, a cagey waylay.
Sir, are you lost?
He jabs a thumb at his ‘No Fossil Fuels’ badge.
Ironic he’s a fossil himself, his face cracked
like a parched Scotland if greenhouse gases
not cut soon but for now he’s the desolate moon,
a waning staring down.
So, here’s maybe a ‘nice old Lews boy’,
who’s buzz of midges, Golden Eagle whistle
and now oozing woad, that dye of the Picts,
as he starts to croak a Scottish folk song
The Auchengeich Disaster.
Its lyrics rail against ‘the fire’ and finally,
from dried larynx, a noise like tears
and he metamorphoses into coal slag.
What pit? I ask
Ashgill he mumbles
like it’s a badge of honour, a working-class emblem
even though coal’s now taboo even in his eyes.
He begins ‘the blathers’. Such an outpouring
of sundry threads, a one-man J&P Coats story-factory:
Irish nationalist great-great-whatever.
Scottish nationalist weaving kin.
Within rheumy eyes, many battles fuse.
Creaks to his feet, stomps in a lifetime habit
of shaking off coal dust and shuffles away with dusk
falling after him like sand wrapping a crab.
Swiftly in gloom his doppelgänger materialises,
multiplies. Such a buzz, waving of placards,
banners screaming ‘Save the Planet’.
He’s on new paths, will totter on til all’s just and green
and Scotland’s carbon dioxide-low again.