February 2021

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.

Shortlisted Poems

Are we there yet?

By George Colkitto

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

don’t we?

the waters are rising

we sing Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi

head for the Tree Museum


By A C Clarke

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.

In Elegant Green

By Larissa Reid

After a whole day in the woods, we are already immortal.

John Muir

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

From real

To dream

To mythic beast.

Old Scots Miner

By Sylvia Telfer

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.