In Brecht's Bar, Glasgow
“The Hollow Mountain: ever heard of it?"
He placed his glass next ours, then -
"Seat taken? No?" - sat down.
"I overheard you talking.
Seems History's your thing; mine, too,
though all the dates and names
that interest me
are never put in any books at all."
His face was a crumpled grey,
the likeness caught, soon after,
in a painting,
hung now on the bar-room wall.
The big man spoke with us,
an hour or more, of tunnelling:
of howking out the heart of Cruachan
when he was young,
to hold the dynamo that feeds the country
Now dead, he is a part himself - a hero -
in the History he liked to hear.
Below is Brecht's original poem, which happens to be the favourite poem of the artist who drew the accompanying cartoon, Bob Starrett.
Questions From a Worker Who Reads
by Bertolt Brecht
Who built Thebes of the 7 gates ?
In the books you will read the names of kings.
Did the kings haul up the lumps of rock ?
And Babylon, many times demolished,
Who raised it up so many times ?
In what houses of gold glittering Lima did its builders live ?
Where, the evening that the Great Wall of China was finished, did the masons go?
Great Rome is full of triumphal arches.
Who erected them ?
Over whom did the Caesars triumph ?
Had Byzantium, much praised in song, only palaces for its inhabitants ?
Even in fabled Atlantis, the night that the ocean engulfed it,
The drowning still cried out for their slaves.
The young Alexander conquered India.
Was he alone ?
Caesar defeated the Gauls.
Did he not even have a cook with him ?
Philip of Spain wept when his armada went down.
Was he the only one to weep ?
Frederick the 2nd won the 7 Years War.
Who else won it ?
Every page a victory.
Who cooked the feast for the victors ?
Every 10 years a great man.
Who paid the bill ?
So many reports.
So many questions.
You are invited to write a poem in a Brechtian style, and send it to us.
David Betteridge is the author of a collection of poems celebrating Glasgow and its radical traditions, 'Granny Albyn's Complaint', published by Smokestack Books in 2008. He is also the editor of a compilation of poems, songs, prose memoirs, photographs and cartoons celebrating the 1971-2 UCS work-in on Clydeside. This book, called 'A Rose Loupt Oot', was published by Smokestack Books in 2011.