Review: Do Not Alight Here Again by Rachel McCrum and Ire & Salt by Jenny Lindsay

Alight Here as Often as Possible

Rachel McCrum and Jenny Lindsay are perhaps best-known for Rally and Broad, their innovative and highly acclaimed cabaret of spoken word and music which has been delighting audiences in Edinburgh since 2012, and Glasgow since last year. Their contribution to Scotland’s burgeoning spoken word scene cannot be understated; nor, indeed, can their great skill as performers of their own work. However, the flourishing of the performance poetry scene has given rise to a common question among Scottish poets; are you a stage poet or a page poet? Happily, McCrum and Lindsay prove this to be a false dichotomy with Do Not Alight Here Again and Ire & Salt. In both performance and print, their work glows with a lyrical intimacy and refreshing directness, borne out in two of the most immediate and compelling poetic voices in Scotland today. Demonstrating their fidelity to the idea that stage/page is no either/or, the poets launched their pamphlets with performances at either side of the central belt. At The Old Hairdresser’s in Glasgow, the evening’s ‘stage’ – a solitary microphone against a bare brick backdrop – could not be more appropriate. McCrum’s first poem, ‘Please Do Not Listen to the Sound of My Voice’, opens:

“Hello.

I am here to perform for you.

I do not have an instrument that you can see

but I have practised.

I am here

To read some poems I have written.”

No need for a visible ‘instrument’. Rather, this unadorned but carefully measured opening points to the crucial quality of presence; ‘I am here’. Both poets playfully tease at the limits of this idea: between print and performance, reality and fiction, history and everyday living, memory and hope.

McCrum’s Northern Irish background binds the question of presence to memory, both personal, as with the “message / signed off ‘your proud da’”, and cultural, as the poet laments how her “fathers […] have told our story badly!” In either case, these reflections have a tactile quality: ‘salt, bitter and vital’ and ‘sand’ that ‘breathed’. On stage and on page, these words have body.

Lindsay’s approach is more defiant – belligerent even – taking to the stage as if staging a coup. Her presence is rooted firmly in the historical present, struggling with vital questions of national and cultural identity in these economically, institutionally and existentially volatile times. See, for example, the acute diagnosis of millennial malaise in ‘b. 1979+’:

“question marks stop

home is where you

can build what you want

and we will, b. 1979+

pass the wine”

Elsewhere, the political polemics of ‘A ‘Very Scottish’ Spoken Word Provocation’ juxtapose violently –perfectly – with the staccato confessionalism of ‘Today’. In print, the latter’s prose lines stutter and cascade through contorted repetitions and internal rhymes (“Today is a 4. Smudge-drunk, swampy-mush-fug 4. Fuck the shops. Today is a 4.”). At The Old Hairdresser’s, Linday’s frank and heartrending delivery make it the most powerful moment of the evening. Her coup is real: for a politically-rooted self-expression that many would doubtless prefer mute.

Both McCrum and Lindsay are adept at building an intimacy – and tension – with an audience, so it is reassuring that neither intimacy nor tension is lost on the printed page. Performance and pamphlet are complement and counterpoint, and these collections important poetic documents of our time from two of Scotland’s finest cultural innovators. Go and see them perform; and be sure to pick up both pamphlets from the book stall on your way home.

Neko Karenin

 

Do Not Alight Here Again by Rachel McCrum
Stewed Rhubarb, RRP £5.00, 20pp

Ire & Salt by Jenny Lindsay
Stewed Rhubarb, RRP £5.00, 24pp