Rebel Poet

By McB

Warning: this piece contains strong language


I look around, bored, in the auditorium. The crowd of students look as I feel. God - I’m up next! This is not how I thought this performance poetry night would turn out. We are meant to be speaking about the city or country that we were born in and what it means to us. Instead we’ve got over the top imagery and show-off-your-assonance-and-proper-English-vocabulary-skills. This is just some wannabe middle class pretentious show-off night. I was brought here on the pretence that we were coming to enflame an emotion in people, not bore them to tears with this ‘Oh-look-how-good-I-am-at-Shakespearian-English’ nonsense. I see now why my tutor wants me to play it safe and do my take on ‘The Fish That Never Swam’ poem, telling me on numerous occasions not to do ‘My City Portrait.’ Why not? Because it’s in our very own vernacular! Bloody hell. I feel sorry for the poor school kids and the old guys who probably thought they had won a watch; keeping warm from the cold by sitting at the back of the hall, now ironically having their ears torched. Most of them are looking up to the roof, others look down at their feet. The only ones who are enjoying this crap are the ones who brought us here. I see Mr Chalmers in awe as his prodigy finally finishes up. The teachers stand to applaud the kids and students clap as if they were from a totalitarian country. Their slow clapping gives away their indifference which then speeds up as a teacher turns his head towards them in disgust.


“Now we will hear Harper Thomson’s poem, her version of The Fish that Never Swam.” 


I’ve made my mind up – no, I can’t, can I?  I mean, I always listen to ‘Killing in the Name of’ by Rage Against the Machine and dream of going against the grain in moments like this. I just hope I have the bottle this time. As I make my way up and then stand in front of the mic, I look at all the bored faces again, this confirms to me that I’m doing the right thing. I will do ‘My City Portrait’ poem on what my city means to me. God, I’m going to get in so much trouble after this. Bloody hell don’t hesitate now, take a deep breath and slowly release…let’s do this.


“This is ‘My City Portrait.’” 


Mr Chalmers eyebrows raise up right away, as the other tutors look confused. 


“This is Glesga or Glasgow!
It depends on how the name rolls aff yer tung or
whit housing scheme ye were brought up in
But tae me, ma city is Glesga!”


I see the school kids have turned their eyes from the floor and roof to me.


“This is the city that will welcome all strangers and immigrants  
Oor girls from Drumchapel fought the establishment ‘n’ won
Why? Because this is Glesga!”


A student shouts out “Aye, too right, you tell them!” Good, I have their attention.


“This is the city when a helicopter crashed oon oor Clutha pub
Oor people stood up tae be counted
‘n’ ran towards the burning building
tae pull their fellow Gleswegians oot.
Why? Because, this is Glesga!”


I see the disappointment on some of the tutors’ faces but what gives me confidence is the smiles on everyone else’s.


“This is my city, when terrorists attacked oor airport
We fought back, they will think twice aboot attacking oor city,
Why? ‘Cos we will set aboot ye'”


The majority of the crowd are now clapping. I hear one of the old guys who came in from the cold shout ’On yer-self hen!’


“This is the city where aw the famous bands
luv tae play tae oor Passionate crowds
‘n’ heer oor unofficial National anthem
‘Heer we, heer we, heer we fuckin' go!”


The teachers and tutors are now looking at me as if I’m the first person in the world to swear and I’m trying to take their eyes from their heads with a blunt spoon. They are looking around at each other like Meerkats. Then the small whispers start. I bet they are passing the buck on who my tutor is?


“This is the city where oor religious culture depends oon the
Two passionate colours of green and blue,
Strangers ur confused?
Why? Because this is Glesga!”


Some of the crowd shout out “C’mon the Celtic,” followed out by some of Rangers fans booing them, but it doesn’t go to its usual nasty level, they’re just having a laugh. 


“This is the city where we deep-fry oor chocolate
‘n’ wan ay oor five a day is a hawnful ah fruit pastels.
Why? Because this is Glesga!”


“This is the city where you don’t want our version of a kiss
and where we have deep conversations in vowels
‘n’ where we welcome long lost friends wae swear words,
then embrace wan another like brothers ‘n’ sisters
but most importantly, when my city faces adversity
we pull together!”


“Ah say welcome tae Glasgow ‘n’ embrace oor culture
Because ah guarantee ye when ye dae it will become
Your Glesga Or Glasgow!”


The whole auditorium stands, including the previously bored kids, and start clapping furiously. The teachers clap unenthusiastically. Mr Chalmers is clapping really slowly, never taking his beady eyes off me. I raise my two hands up and take a bow while absorbing the response from the crowd. All I know is that I did what my tutors asked me to do, I evoked an emotion with words, words that inspired passion and belonging. Just like Martin Luther King did when he did his ‘I had a Dream’ speech. Ach well, what will be, will be!


glasgow, community, defiance, identity