David Betteridge presents two poems to help you enjoy an alternative Burns supper.
At An Alternative Burns Supper
His short life and his fertility
lift his perfection to the rank of the phenomenal...
- Aphorisms on Mozart, by Ferruccio Busoni
Here’s tae the man’s life -
its drivin root, its rise, its faur reach –
and tae the great hairst he gather’d in!
Here’s tae the wark -
the high skill, the luve, the daurk hours -
that he pit in!
Here’s tae the words that he gar’d flow -
a muckle stream -
frae his hert’s ferment and his mind’s still!
Here’s tae the faur-travellin o’ that stream!
Here’s tae its carried gowd!
Here’s tae the lang and future legacy
ane sma’ life endow’d!
Idealist without losing touch
with the earth, realist without ugliness...
... I would winnow the man
from the chaff of his myth;
the works from the man;
and the best of the works
from the run of the mill.
Winnow, I say, then winnow more;
then, at the last, distil!
I would sweep aside the cotter’s
and the hoghmagandie nights,
the barley-rigs and -bree;
likewise the chameleon roles
of ranting dog, of Jacobite, and Jacobin,
and keeper of crapulous company.
Winnow, and distil!
His resources are extraordinarily abundant,
but he never uses them all...
What’s left of worth -
epistles, satires, songs, a handful’s few -
has high cask-strength: here
is the bard’s best, and the world’s best, too...
“The bard’s best, and the world’s best, too.”
Best: how Ah hate thi term!
Wurld’s best is wurse, excrementil,
thru-n-thru. As fur thi shit wurd the - euch! -
it’s faur-n-awey thi wurst o aw thi terms
in Abstractionism’s buik.
It’s purest extramentil, n that is definit.
He disposes of light and shadow, but his light
does not pain, and his darkness still shows
Tak thi man-n-his stuff intire!
Nae finicky-pickity pluckin o plooms!
Burns wis complexit wi his place-n-times,
n he writ wi his haill sel fired.
Read it thi same: leeve in it, imbrace it,
breathe it, crap bits-n-aw: like it’s a freend:
jist as it is: baggy, raw.
Gie us this dey ur poems incarnate!
Onythin less is Plato’s pish,
n that is definate.
... He was amphibian.
Languages, genres, points of view, and styles -
he moved between them easily.
Fast-travelling, he seldom stayed in any one
for long, until, towards his early end,
he made landfall in an archipelago of song.
It was for him, and for posterity,
his Fortunate Isles.
There, to every Muse
containable in verse, he gave the blessing
of his voice, a blessing that, in reading
and in singing, we can never lose...
He is young as a boy,
and wise as an old man -
never old-fashioned and never modern...
If Life’s nae a jig in July weather,
but a gallop insteid, hell for leather,
wi’ nocht at the end save a tightenin’ tether,
wi’ dark beyond,
best we a’ gang our gate thegither,
in Freenship’s bond.
...carried to the grave
and always alive...
May SANG sustain us on our way,
remind us whaur we first saw day,
an’ prime us for the waitin’ clay,
whan a’ are cow’d.
Until that time, may LUVE haud sway,
an’ LIFE ride proud.
CHORUS OF THE PEOPLE
Against the Elites
We are the nothings you walk past.
Your lowest and least,
we live in the margins of your power.
we fight your many wars.
Your triumphs we pay for,
but have none.
Unheeded and unnamed,
we make your schemes come true.
Every ton and inch and cubic yard and chisel-cut
of every building you command,
Every furrow ploughed and filled with seed
Your wealth-producing factories;
your cities -
Day in, day out, we do your work and will.
We pipe the water that you need from reservoir to tap;
we stitch the clothes that cover up your nakedness;
we bake the bread (and cake) you eat.
We are your numerous and essential kin.
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.