It is 1st May, and we are among the 'fair field full of folk' gathered on Glasgow Green to celebrate May Day. On every side are Chartists and Suffragettes, trades unionists and Communists, tourists and film-crews, artists and asylum seekers, the homesick and the homeless, the long-time-dead and the yet-to-be-born. Helen Crawfurd and John Maclean are here, so are Edwin Muir, Ronald Stevenson and Edwin Morgan, Rosa Luxemburg, Paul Robeson and Nelson Mandela, Matt McGinn and St Mungo, a chorus of voices coming together in dialogue and potential unity in the Dear Green Place that is - or might be - Glasgow.
Granny Albyn's Complaint is a love-letter to the city where David Betteridge has spent the best part of his life. Lyrical, narrative, satiric and reflective, his poetry celebrates the city's radical political and artistic traditions, in despair and hope, struggle and advance, continuity and loss, and all the lovely flarings-up of human achievement. Green thoughts in a red shade.
'This is me,' she said, lurching, smiling,
'road–testing my new leg, a wee bit extra every day.'
She slapped her thigh – plastic, maybe; maybe steel –
then told me, 'Life's a pig, the way it's shafted me.
But I'm fighting back, you know. Oh, yes!'
Her aim, as she explained: to walk once more
the route she marched, with others, long years past,
the whole road South, to Parliament, For Jobs Not War.
The woman pursed her lips and frowned –
in pain? in prayer? – then into gear, and off!
As if a drunkard on the heave and ho
of some ship's deck, she staggered fast
to where a side street was. There,
puffed, at the corner, turning back, she paused
and gave two signs:
a thumbs–up, then clenched fist.
We are the nothings you walk past.
Your lowest and least,
we live in the margins of your power.
Expendable, 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.
Suffering most, we learn most.
Our slave–songs make symphonies;
our longings, creeds.
We dig your graves.
'Well grubbed, old mole!'
Under the furrows of old Europe
the ruin and the saving
of its steady, backward way: coal,
coal upon coal.
fired by this unhappy good,
the anarch Progress forced its change,
lavishly and all–consumingly, on every land
and every suffering folk
that came within the blight and suffering
of its rule of smoke.
Unimpeded by disablements of care,
within a century
the iron masters and their human tools
then went on to wreak their marvel
on the other continents of looted Earth.
Their legacy to us:
they redefined and laid to ruthless rest
the past that they inherited,
and brought, heroically, our doomed dystopia
to the titan fury of its birth.
' a fine volume of poetry'
'Spout not slogans and then have the bloody arrogance to call your bloody slogans the new poetry of the Left. The poet has to be a wordsmith, and have a feel for the music that is inherent in the language of his own people. A poet of the Left has to have these qualities, and more. There is more to Socialism than a hatred of capitalism - though that is not a bad starting point. But love is more fundamental to the Socialist spirit than any other single factor. This is why I like very much this selection of poems by David Betteridge.'