Jack Withers

Two Poems

Creativity in Culture City

(For the Glasgow-Rostov forum 27.11.89)

Creative creatures here are nothing more
than mere clowns
at the consumer courts of capitalism
nothing more than other
flawed failures flitting about through

those formidable phalanxes of philistines
who control and cancel out any critical culture

yes jesters gesticulating
in jaded jamboree of jaundiced juvenilia
going nowhere
getting nowhere
for there are
too many corruptive and crawling careerists

and uptight jokey journalists
ruling the rip-off reactionary roosts yes

it’s like this more or less
and even if we exclude the gutter-press
creativity here is not taken seriously
as we’ve no true tradition of
powerful political poetry
in our timeless history
of toil and spiritual poverty other than
the particular exceptions of say
McDiarmid, Henrysoun, Dunbar and Burns

but they’re only taken seriously
by a paltry minority
yet desperately today we need writers who
are social engineers and political
planetary pioneers
taking us out beyond the narrow mumbo-jumbo
of petty and parochial
penitentiary Glasgow
perhaps to grapple with that greenhouse effect
and aye even in the comic nuances o’ oor tough
and expressive local dialect

to try and articulate the apathy love and hate
o’ the demoralized and hypnotized proletariat
or is it in fact all too late
and that it is man the disaster
and not the master of nature?
and that in microcosm in our materialistic world of capitalism
Glasgow’s minute intellectual statement
is but one of perpetual shallow entertainment
rather than one of deep and vital commitment

a trip o’ the tiny ego
through those souless deserts o’
genteel jailhouse Glasgow?

Fellow Travellers

In limbo in Glasgow, poised on an abyss, us
Blank-eyed strangers waiting for a late-night bus
Like so many sick zombies stuck up a cul-de-sac
Oblivious to the city’s fading din and moon,
Aware that at any minute we could be under attack,
Midnight sounding like the tune of “High Noon”:
But staring at the headlines of an early-morning paper:
After a smoke-filled night between bar-mirror and chrome
Focussing on that same conundrum - Freedom, Us and Them,
Few facing up to what's so real and obvious -
A damp slum of a home out in some New Jerusalem
Can be awkward and backward as well as dangerous.

Oh yes, no bonus to all those who scurry to and from
To the continuous stress and business of the status quo;
Stunted arc the minds that failed to grow
Pulled on long strings by those in the know.

And the smell of stale smoke that makes you choke,
That stink of dried piss from surrounding walls,
Some plastered bastard, diuretic and sick,
Has left us all with the smell of him and his pie-eyed pals;
A shiver, and ice-cold fingers creep up the back
As a dog out in the fog barks and howls.

So much time to think and to ponder
Never having lost that childish but not selfish
Sense of wonder, those continuous thoughts are ever
Being bitter and critical aware that the entire
Scene has become so mundane and obscene and apolitical -
Progress up the ladder if you’re a cheat and a liar,
The class war for what it was seemingly no longer so crucial.

Yes, how they must also scurry to and fro
In Moscow and Chicago plus dear old Glasgow.

Shaped by hidden forces chronically out of kilter,
Alkies and junkies gather over by the hot-dog shelter.
No sense of time, reason or rhyme;
With cold eye I identify, so sober, with the poverty and squalor,
For I have been here before, a witness to crime
That brings only emptiness and no sense of release
As they're heading out towards the big housing-schemes,
Wastelands that echo with countless despairing screams.

Nowhere to go, nowhere to go
Other than to soar real high on the killer snow,
To hear the air hiss through your veins
A headache of crack round the bend up those west-end lanes;
Streets, precipices and squares, endless rivers of fears,
Fat cats like moles seeking blind bolt-holes,
Violence and madness on the increase,
Drastic disturbance of meaningless peace
When nothing any more is what it appears.

They measure out dream doses on blackened spoon
And warm them over a low-burn flame,
The anticipation of intoxication never ever the same,
Giving wing to the hunger within for crack, cocaine and heroin.

Cheap children of stress and rampant progress
Bred to bleed in an era of greed and push-button ignorance,
Potential burglars, sniffers and dope-crazed muggers
Wriggling in the motions of an obscene dance.

The burden of freedom confined in its own prison,
An earthly prize of paradise, a forgiving living heaven.
And fights through the long nights of the big bad city
No anticipation given to yet another murderous dawn;
Sleepwalkers unaware of the compulsive small-talkers,
Normality a seal of approval on a foul sea of humanity,
Neons with their cruel stare under an insane moon.

All is still ... my feet are getting chilled ... and
I shiver knowing that nothing can stop us growing old.

How futile it was having tried to change the world,
A prophet with his sermon all off pat, condemning profit and credit,
Mass and class still all to be reached and told
Of their revolutionary destiny as the articulate proletariat
In a war where no one would get killed;
Street-corner orator,
Fighter, pure agitator,
Dead urgent and strident
Worker now writer,
Arrogant but oh so innocent;
Wild child, illiterate youth,
On a well-beaten path of prescribed truth.
Now much older and perhaps wiser -
But what is happening to the climate and weather.
No breath, no breath, like some silent death
No number on that chamber of Lady Macbeth.
It’s as if we've been through nothing at all -
Coming to an end but without ever having begun
A presence without any essence, having missed all the fun,
Sealed in the gravity of an eternal black hole
After a long flight without light from a nearby sun -
Holding on grimly to both ideal and soul.

So much seems perverse in this shrunken universe,
No sudden revolution, no utopian solution,
The ideal-full freedom-trains having gone into abrupt reverse;
The masses broken and thrown into confusion
By the treason of the clerks oblivious to Marx,
Magicians manipulating through illusion and tricks.

It's all trash and hash in this big dirty city ...
Dangling on a string between myth and reality.

Aye, there's nowhere to go for me and you
Other than to sign-on after a wait in the long dole-queue,
Like robots lining up for a diet of dangling carrots,
Mere fodder for the controllers of the markets
and rackets;

Nowhere to go in macho Glasgow
Where the punters know nothing of Michelangelo,
Gauguin, Pushkin or Arthur Rimbaud;
But oh how they scurry to and fro
In a one-way ball game with no-return tickets -
Too many out on the sidelines left holding the jackets.

Bitter sweet and sour is the air of the early-
morning hour,
The gutter spilling over with crap and litter,
Remainder and reminder of the people’s power
As once they take over it’ll all get better - I swear,
By dint of intelligent evolution
Spurning eruption and violent revolution,
For they’ve had enough of slaughter and torture
Like the blood spilled by all killed at Stalingrad
In that world inflamed by the mad and the bad,
Aware perhaps that it was a lot easier to die
Once it had been branded on each mind that

We’re out on a limb, still with it all to know,
Having no stomach for the climb up to a higher plateau.

For the rabble seem only to scrabble unable to climb
Perhaps aware as they are that most are living on borrowed time,
No longer adrift on that great Red Clyde tide -
It’s feeling free on a sea of rising crime
No matter the social disaster and loss of pride,
With ghetto-blaster, junk, claptrap and jeans,
Impervious to the whale-call wail of cop and rock-pop sirens.

Here we go, here we go, here we go,
Win a watch at the bingo then shoot the crow,
Or watch the crap and pap on the old TV
Another instalment imminent for that ever-present HP;
Time is the enemy, know your foe,
And wait for that next visit by the CID - our KGB
Who forget all about etiquette
When one is deep in debt, for who is illiterate?
The cold-hate state or the proletariat?
Ears shut to those who now state that it’s all old-hat,
And yes we would also love to be truly free,
The punter and the worker, that is, alias you and me.

For the struggle is still on, don’t believe otherwise,
They’ll call you a fool, they’ll spin you a tale
That this is bliss, a perfect paradise,
See for yourself, use your eyes;
Don’t be so fragile, develop a shell,
And suppress all those devious whats and whys,
For all is solid, nothing’s going to fracture
As man is the master of dear Mother Nature -
His butler a bland monster from hell.
Yet the older you are the harder
It becomes to retain in your brain the meat of your dreams,
The sensation of creation, the ticking bombs,
The dying suns and restless calms,
That hideous waste and taste for murder;
Distress and chaos made to order.

Time hangs so heavy after a bit o’a bevvy
And again I wait in that same old state,
Desperate to act and to participate ... But in what?
Seeking escape, an outlet, like some up-market Hamlet,
Whose principality revolves on poverty and property?
To join the con-men of Mammon who expertly exploit
And where the players are gamblers and nothing
is finite?
Where incest come with interest as do the queens
And those clowns with hollow crowns ... truly illicit,
Who ghost, fret and cheat behind silky screens -
But still lord it over the proletariat.

No way, no way, as they like to say.
For it’ll be off with their fine heads come the end of the day.
To die? To sleep?
Yes, those who choose to act like so many sheep,
Woolly and in total disarray.

Forget about your debt, save your rent.
If your intent on being subservient to yon privileged crew -
County gentry and establishment,
And sadly there's such inordinate precedent,
So submissive and passive and seemingly content;
Who? That drugged and ragged vast retinue
Of clock-watchers and rat-catchers,
Carpet-baggers beyond all pest control,
Back-scratchers as well as stabbers,
Humble grovellers on the dole,
Drained and untrained, stoned out of their minds,
Who meander towards the counter with lifeless hands.

Deja vu? How true for it’s the same old scene ...
Slow plod along a long road where men can be real mean;
I seek like-thinking friends,
To share all my fears and tie up the ends,
To rest my case on other grounds
And to have a go at truly coming clean.

The window reflects an anxious face
As our bus arrives at last at the terminus.

The system and scheme as always is quiet.
but treacherous.