Review: Neu! Reekie! #Untitled One

‘Edinburgh / and oh – harmonious diction’

Neu! Reekie! is a monthly showcase of poetry, spoken word, live music and animation ‘conceptualised’ by Rebel Inc.’s Kevin Williamson and ebullient young poet Michael Perdersen which has been entertaining audiences at Edinburgh’s Summerhall since 2011. #UntitledOne marks their first venture into publishing, presenting a thrillingly capricious poetry anthology and accompanying double album. The multimedia format testifies to Neu! Reekie!’s chameleonic approach and it really works, with musicians and wordsmiths from Scotland and further afield making a fitting and sometimes surprising complement. This is a measure of Williamson and Perdersen’s no-bullshit curatorial aesthetic for Neu! Reekie, celebrating the immediacy of performance and rooted in a central belt down-to-earthness, even as they embrace experiment and its tendrils stretch about the globe.

A major strength of the anthology is its diversity, bringing together established voices (Douglas Dunn, Liz Lochhead, Tom Leonard), rising stars (William Letford, JL Williams), doyens of the spoken word scene (Aidan Moffat, Hollie McNish), and writers more commonly associated with comedy (Lach), music (Scott Hutchison) and fiction (Kirsty Logan, Irvine Welsh). Apparently, the editors insisted that contributions file under the genre ‘poetry’, and it’s a pleasure to read these latter writers working in the form. Welsh’s characteristically bawdy take on the ballad ‘The Twa Rides’ not least among them.

The danger of such formal diversity is a collection that reads unevenly according to our own stylistic preferences, but thankfully this is not the case. Rather, there is a remarkable consistency of attitude throughout the book, which might be described as an earthy and unpretentious lyricism (see Helen Ivory’s ‘What the House Said’ – ‘When the sky feeds me birds, / I cough them up / In the middle of your parlour games’ – and George Gunn’s ‘Wound’), shot through with an impish, street-level sense of Scottishness (McGuire’s ‘The Glasgae Boys’ and Pedersen’s joyous ‘Highland Koo’). The same is true of the accompanying album, which serves as a triumphant snapshot of the music scene in Scotland today, encompassing everything from Stanley Odd’s hip-hop to the ska-inflected stylings of Emelle.

Indeed, the whole package – like Neu! Reekie! itself – gleefully dismantles the barricades between poetic and musical styles in the service of an immediate but complex art that actually means something. To this end, I’m not sure about the hashtag in the title, despite Williamson’s suggestion in the introduction that it’s ironic. To my mind, it’s a distraction from a collection which, with a couple of exceptions (most notably Moffat’s delightful textspeak ditty ‘#lessthanthree’), is less concerned with performed online personae and the micropolitics of Twitter outrage than with the quirks, instabilities and pleasures of everyday life and its emotional – and poetic – connections.

Nowhere is this exemplified more than in the work of Paul Reekie, the late Edinburgh writer, from whom Neu! Reekie! takes its name and who also inspired the title of the present collection with his excellent ‘Untitled’. Its closing lines serve as a touchstone for the anthology as a whole, ensuring poetry keeps its breath – and its teeth – in present-day Scotland:

“I take a class.

Kid says to me like this:

You’re giving us this Koobly Khan poem

and this Coleridge

What’s this to do with nowadays?

What’s Koobly Khan and Trainspotting

got in common?

Oh.

Say like: opium derivatives,

The fact that

drugs induce reveries that aren’t

imagination.

Edinburgh

and oh – harmonious diction.”

– Neko Karenin

 

#UntitledOne Edited by Kevin Williamson and Michael Pedersen
Neu! Reekie! Publishing; Polygon, RRP £12.99, 98 pp