In its short three-year existence, the Paisley Book Festival has already gained a reputation for putting on world-class poetry events. Going live in 2020, then online in 2021, #PBF2022 is back with a bang! The new venue at UWS Student Union was perfect for an evening of exciting new talent as well as some established names.

The Scribbler’s Union was founded by spoken word artist Kevin Gilday to nurture and develop writing talent during lockdown. With over 30 members participating weekly in workshops and online sessions, the group has gone from strength to strength. In 2021 they published their first anthology ‘The Scribbler’s Union Vol. 1’, edited by Gilday and Natalie Clark, who presented this evening’s event.

Natalie Clark opened proceeding with a broad overview of the thematic context within which the Paisley Book Festival 2022 is situated. Who knew that the ‘Stories Mak Us’ theme for this year would illicit a bewildered response from our overseas audience, thoroughly perplexed that such an ‘obvious’ typo could be reproduced throughout the entire range of promotional materials without anyone noticing the missing ‘e’. It’s ‘Scots’ – Natalie informed their friend from abroad, NOT a mistake.

After a poem about the ‘structural’ failings of the education system, Natalie elicits some audience participation as we are invited to shout a chorus of

“Eat the Rich!

Eat them Now!

Eat them with Butter!”

(Vegans can of course still participate in the Eating of the Rich with a suitable plant-based substitute…)

Next on stage is Craig Houston, a poet who gives substance to the oftentimes cliched assertion that poetry really needs to be ‘heard’. His gritty and witty tales of working-class life had his home-town-Paisley audience enraptured from the start. I was astonished, when speaking to him after the event, to learn that this was his first time performing with a microphone on stage. Houston is a really exciting, emerging local talent and I look forward to hearing his work in Paisley Book Festivals to come.

Donna Matthew is another emerging talent in the vibrant Paisley poetry scene. Donna’s political poetry exposes the dark underbelly of Scotland’s Imperial past, from the misery of the mill town, to the slave trade and other atrocities committed far beyond our shores. What is most encapsulating about Donna’s performance style is the way she combines the lyricism of a storyteller with the impassioned oratory skills of a traditional trade union organiser. Her work is both thought-provoking and deeply inspiring – a natural leader for any revolution.

Inviting Ross Wilcock to the stage, Natalie suggests we get the hankies out, in preparation for a tugging of our heart-strings. Setting a beautiful tone of endearment, Ross blithely introduces himself with a casual shrug – “I’m a gay, disabled, vegan – what chance do I have?” Ross is a seasoned performer and his experience shows as he takes the audience on an emotional journey with his wonderfully crafted tales of love and heartbreak. Ross’ poetry perfectly captures a profound air of deep melancholia, but there is a great sense of hope in this sadness.

Nasim Rebecca Asl is something of a household name having featured recently on the BBC‘s Big Scottish Book Club. Introducing the Glasgow-based poet and journalist, Natalie signalled that it was time to move away from the heart and prepare for a punch in the gut. Nasim’s work signalled a shift in tone, more formal in style, but no less political in content.

Natalie takes to the stage for the last time to show just how good a spoken word artist she really is. Natalie concludes the evening by introducing the headline performer – “We’ve hit all the organs tonight”, she says, “now it’s time to hit the brain”.

Calum Rodger is an inspired choice to finish off such an amazing event. His bardic brilliance sparkles with intelligent, witty and emotive ideas. Calum’s Burnsian ability to capture the extraordinary in the everyday is mesmerising. From his own personal issues with the product packaging of smoothies and milkshakes to his ‘travelogue’ set in the universe of Grand Theft Auto V, Rodger’s unique perspective on life is uniquely fascinating.

That Paisley is well known for its radical, literary past is no secret. That this tradition still flourishes today is testimony to the fact that stories still mak us, and continue to do so in ways that are endearing, inspiring but most of all enormously entertaining.

If you missed this event, then worry ye not. It was filmed and will be available online to watch again soon. I’m struggling to think of something I could honestly recommend more than watching (or re-watching) the Scribbler’s Union – Poetry from the Edge – at the Paisley Book Festival 2022.

Written by our volunteer blogger Joe Smith