Category Archives: Scotland

Guest Post: Shannon MacGregor on the Glasgow Scene

Hello all! I’m delighted to feature another guest post on the website today, this time from the incredibly talented Glasgow-based spoken word artist Shannon MacGregor. Shannon came onto the scene like a thunderbolt in 2015, wowing crowds with her sharply written and dynamically delivered work. She recently represented Team Glasgow at the 2017 UK UniSlam. In addition to being an inspiring poet and performer, Shannon also supports the scene by co-organising Aloud, the poetry open mic at the University of Glasgow.

Here, Shannon shares some insights on her experiences being an artist in the Glasgow spoken word scene. Enjoy! 

Photo credit: Perry Jonsson.

Photo credit: Perry Jonsson.

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Aiblins: New Scottish Political Poetry

Hello all! My apologies that this site has been so quiet over the past couple of months; I’ve been quite busy working on several projects so I haven’t had the time to post as regularly as I’d like. However, more posts on spoken word are coming! I have several drafted plus a couple guest posts lined up for you, so stay tuned . . .

For now, though, I’d like to share with you news of one of the projects that’s been keeping me busy this year. As many of you will know, my MRes research (Univ. Strathclyde, 2014-15) focused on poetry written for the 2014 Scottish independence referendum, specifically investigating narratives of national history and identity woven through this body of work. Early in my research, I was introduced to Sarah Paterson, a fellow researcher doing similar work through her PhD at the University of Glasgow. We wanted to connect more researchers, artists, and activists engaged in this field, so we co-organised a conference for Sep. 2015 at the National Library of Scotland entitled ‘Poetic Politics: Culture and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, One Year On.’ The conference was opened by Scottish culture minister Fiona Hyslop and featured talks and performances from cultural figures including Robert Crawford, Scott Hames, Liz Lochhead, Alan Bissett, and many more.

One of the ideas discussed during the conference was the ephemerality of much of the poetry (indeed all art) composed during/inspired by the referendum campaigns. Much of it was performed a couple times or shared privately but not published in any sustainable, accessible fashion. Sarah and I had discussed how, as researchers, this made our work more challenging as we had to gather material from the individual poets; and also that it was a shame that this work wasn’t more available more widely for folks to read. So, we decided to take a small step towards remedying this issue by co-editing an anthology of contemporary Scottish political poetry.

My co-editor Sarah Paterson and me with our book!

My co-editor Sarah Paterson and me with our book!

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Poetic Politics: A Selection of Contemporary Scottish Political Poetry

Hello, everyone! I’m very excited to finally share a project I’ve been developing for a while. Last year, Sarah Hamlin and I co-organised a conference called Poetic Politics: Culture and the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, One Year On which took place at the National Library of Scotland in September 2015. The conference focused on the cultural legacy of the referendum and featured artists, politicians, and academics from across Scotland, including former Makar Liz Lochhead, Culture Minister Fiona Hyslop, and poet and scholar Robert Crawford. One of the themes discussed at the conference which struck me the most (discussed articulately by National Library of Scotland Referendum Curator Amy Todman) was the ephemerality of many of these cultural responses, and the difficulty of collecting and archiving this work. So many poems were shared live at rallies, or posted on private social media pages, but never published in any sustainable or public way.

So, in an attempt to bring more of this fantastic work to light, Sarah and myself are publishing an anthology! We’re undertaking this project in partnership with Luath Press, and will be working with a larger sub-editorial team of researchers from a variety of fields (English Lit, Scot Lit, Politics, History, etc.) to bring a wealth of perspectives to the table when combing through submissions.

If you have written any poetry engaging with Scottish political issues, we would love to read your work! The call for submissions is on our website; submissions are due May 15. Poems need not respond to the Scottish constitutional question but may address a wide range of political issues. We welcome work in any language, although translations are required in English, Scots, or Scots Gaelic for any poems not in those languages. Although the anthology will be a physical, print-based book, we also welcome submissions of performance-based poetry (in video or audio format) for consideration for publication on our website.

If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to get in touch! -Katie

Best Scottish Poems of 2015: A Response

Update: there’s a great discussion going around this post where I linked it on my Facebook artist page – check it out here and please do join in! -K


Yesterday the Scottish Poetry Library released its annual list of the Best Scottish Poems of 2015, a selection curated this year by novelist and poet Ken MacLeod. It is a fine list containing a variety of excellent pieces, and my hearty congratulations go out to each poet named there. In no way in what follows do I mean to question the merit of these excellent poems, or MacLeod’s judgment in choosing them. However, upon reading through the selections this year I was disappointed to see that not a single performance-based poem was selected, and reading MacLeod’s essay accompanying his selections it became clear that only text-based, print-published poems were considered in the pool for selection. This frustrated me because I feel that this selection method passes over the rich offerings in performance-based poetry produced over the last year in Scotland, and reflects a blind spot towards one of Scotland’s richest literary traditions. In this post I will address why this is frustrating to me and encourage that the pool might be widened in future years.


A wee disclaimer: I’m writing this with the utmost love for the SPL. It’s my favourite haven in Edinburgh and I think the folks there do wonderful work encouraging and supporting poets and lovers of poetry. I also think the SPL usually works very hard to publicise and support all sorts of poetry across Scotland, so this seems more a rare instance of oversight for them than symptomatic of bad programming (more on all the great work they do later).

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StAnza 2016: Reflections

I was delighted to spend this past weekend performing and volunteering at the wonderful international festival for poetry in St. Andrews, StAnza. It was my second time attending the festival, and I had an incredible weekend of hearing/watching/reading/making/performing poetry, chatting with other poets and organisers, and a huge amount of stimulus and inspiration. My head is buzzing with ideas that need out! So here I’ll share some of my reflections from the festival. There are lots of other folks blogging about their experiences as well – check out Carly Brown’s posts as the StAnza in-house blogger here and Dave Coates’ reviews on his (awesome) website, here. You can also search the #StAnza16 Twitter hashtag or check out the @StAnzaPoetry Twitter feed to see the live-tweeting from the weekend.

Kevin and me after our Poetry Cafe show with our friend Tracey Rosenberg, who's in charge of the bookstalls at the festival.

Kevin Mclean and me after our Poetry Cafe show with our friend Tracey Rosenberg, who’s in charge of the bookstalls at the festival.

The packed house at Five O'Clock Verse on Friday.

The packed house at Five O’Clock Verse on Friday.

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Spoken Word Interview

Different kind of post this week! Recently I was interviewed by Rebecca McBride, a journalism student writing an article on the Scottish spoken word scene. Since I haven’t discussed how I got into spoken word or my influences on this blog much yet, I figured I’d post the interview here. Hope you enjoy! Continue reading

Guest Post: Halah Mohammed

This week I’m handing over the pen (keyboard?). We have an exciting guest post from Halah Mohammed, a spoken word poet from Brooklyn, New York who has been traveling the world on a Watson fellowship this year researching autobiographical narratives shared through spoken word poetry. She blogs about her experiences and posts interviews with poets here. Recently she came up to Scotland to check out the slam scene here and attended events including Loud Poets, Rally & Broad, and Last Monday at Rio. She also interviewed poets – excerpts from her interviews with Carly Brown and Catherine Wilson are posted here and here, and more interviews (with Agnes Torok, myself, and more poets) are coming soon. Halah kindly agreed to write a guest post for this blog on her perceptions of the Scottish word scene. Enjoy! Continue reading

Slam Ethics: Once Qualified, Should you Continue Competing?

Last week (Thurs., Jan. 22) I was delighted to win the Edinburgh University Literature Society January Slam, thus qualifying for the Scottish National Slam (which will be held Feb. 26 in Edinburgh). However, I faced a bit of a dilemma because I was also slotted to compete in the National Library of Scotland Burns Night Slam the following Monday (last night, Mon., Jan 26). Part of me felt that it would be unfair to compete in the Burns Night Slam considering that I had already qualified for Nationals and, in the chance that I were to win, I would be removing someone else’s opportunity to qualify (especially considering that the NLS slam was the last open qualifier for Nationals this year). However, I had been invited to compete in the slam and my name had been used in promotional material, so it also felt unfair to the host to remove myself from the slam with only a couple days’ notice. Currently there are no rules regulating whether poets who have already won a slam are permitted to continue competing, so this decision was entirely up to me. It sparked an interesting question that I’ve been discussing lately with other poets in the Scottish slam scene: should poets who have won a slam and thus already qualified for Nationals be permitted to continue competing at slams? Continue reading

Accessibility in Slam: the Debatable Fairness of Exclusive-Entry Qualifiers

Last week, a discussion was initiated on the Facebook event page for the Scottish National Slam regarding the fairness of the Glasgow Student Slam, which I am co-organising with students at universities across Scotland. The debate involved many prominent members of the Scottish spoken word scene, and became quite animated as many people weighed in. As it can be difficult to convey the nuances of one’s position through a Facebook thread, I’m posting here on the nature of the discussion and explaining my perspective within it. I’d like to emphasise that I respect the opinions of all involved and I appreciate that this debate is occurring. Discussions such as this one are healthy and necessary to determine the values of the Scottish slam community on how to ensure fairness within the slam competitions in Scotland. By expanding on my opinion here I seek only to fully explain the thinking behind my position and open the discussion to a wider audience, not to beat a dead cat. Continue reading

Does an American Accent help with Slam Poetry?

A comment that I keep receiving after performances is that I “sound right” when I perform slam poetry because of my American accent. I’ve been told by multiple people that my slam performances sound “authentic” since they’re done in an American voice, so lately I’ve been trying to sort out the cultural factors underlying that perception and the implications for my poetry practice as an American performing abroad.

Slam poetry originated in the U.S. and the infrastructure to support large-scale slam competitions is the most strongly developed there. In the U.S. exist the major television and radio outlets for slam poetry (Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry, NPR’s Snap Judgment, etc.), as well as world-famous slam venues (the Bowery, the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, etc.), and the U.S. National Poetry Slam is a major annual event supported by its own non-profit organization, Poetry Slam Inc. Due to the globalizing effects of the Internet, many slammers around the world learned the craft by watching American slammers on YouTube. This leads to an association of the slam genre itself with American culture and with the American voice (although, of course, there are myriad “American voices”: here I refer to the American accent as opposed to an English, Scottish, Irish, or other English-language accent). So, to some people, slam poetry sounds “proper” and “correct” when done in an American accent because it’s being performed by a member of the culture where it originated. Continue reading