Line Drawing

Ross Wilson’s long-awaited first full collection Line Drawing explores the fault lines between people and the lines that connect us. Drawing on his experiences as a low paid worker and as a schoolboy boxing champion, Wilson takes a line for a walk between production lines, life lines, sword-lines and the wafer-thin line between civilisation and barbarism. Line Drawing is a tough-minded, tender-hearted book, moving from violence towards the possibilities of love and compassion.

Sample Poems

Thinking

Who knows what started it?
Probably not the man who hit
his brother, or the brother who hit
the floor. Probably not the girl,
her rouged lips a wound spurting,
ih’s yir brithir!
ih’s yir brithir!
I lost interest, wondering
if this spot by Dunfermline Abbey,
this club, Life, was where
Henryson wrote his fables,
and if thinking is what separates us
from animals.

Who knows what Cain was thinking,
cuffed in a van. Or Abel, buried
with the cause of all the trouble
under a rubble of chairs and glass.
Or the war-painted banshee
wailing like the Black Douglas
when he charged into blackness
seven hundred years ago, the heart
of the Bruce in his fist like a bomb
to throw in some Holy War
in the name of God or
some such thing our
thinking inspires us to fight over.

Line Drawing

Lines were scored in the dirt in early boxing matches when a knockdown, not a bell, concluded a round; if a pugilist couldn’t ‘toe the line’ or come ‘up to scratch,’ he was ruled Out of Time. To deter members of opposing parties from attacking one another in the House of Commons two red lines were marked, two swordlengths apart, on the floor. MPs were and are expected to stand behind these lines when a speech is in progress.

Emerging from Southwark Station,
looking for Tate Modern,
I imagined this area back when
bear-baiting and cock-fighting were common,
and actors strutted their hour at the Globe.
Stumbling on the Ring Boxing Club,
I thought, how appropriate
a space to exhibit the noble art
should be so near the Tate.
Then, a second thought
that was more of a picture:
Two-Ton Tony Galento, a boxer
from the thirties who trained on beer
and refused to shower weeks before
a fight; who, according to Max Baer,
stank ‘like rotten tuna and old liquor
sweated out;’ who, when asked
what he thought of Shakespeare,
said, ‘I’ll moider da bum!’
A hairy bear of a man, Two-Ton Tone
applied gouging, biting, butting, low blows
and kidney punching to what some
call the sweet science, others, the noble art.
In black and white footage of him
he brightens the screen like a cartoon.
The owner of a New Jersey saloon.

I saw him clearly in London
four hundred years ago, betting on
a chained bear versus dogs,
and toeing the line
men have always drawn in the grime.

You Don’t Hit a Man When He’s Down

To write about boxing is to be forced to contemplate not only boxing, but the perimeters of civilization – what it is, or should be, to be ‘human.’
Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing


I remember watching Frazier v Bugner.
Bugner was out on his feet,
Frazier about to him him again
before the referee could intervene.

Set to deliver a final punch,
this champion of violence stopped,
stepped back and let his victim
sag to the canvas in a delayed reaction.

What sportsmanship! What sportsmanship!
The commentator announced.
Those words and images returned to me
as I watched a man go down hard in a cage

while another ran at the prone body
to hit it again and again until,
finally, the referee pulled him back
like the auld saying:

You don’t hit a man when he’s down
used to restrain us, or most of us,
like a proverb few remember
as other ideas pollute the air,

whispering into the ear:
Survival of the fittest.
Strong eat the weak.
No such thing as society.

What’s in Our Hands

How could a man hit a man with a hammer?
We know the reason – drug-money.
But how could he grab and raise and swing
such a thing as a hammer, and bring
it down upon the head of another?

I once hit a man so hard his nose burst
over his trainers. Later, he laughed
at it still bleeding after a shower;
we’d been sparring, practising for
the real thing with big sixteen oz gloves.

A skinny teenager did that
with one left hook – my weak arm.
The hand I write with is stronger. It asks:
how could a man hit a man with a hammer?
And holds the answer in itself.

Ex-Factory Toun

Boab attended a Cambridge lecture
on the moral philosopher and economist,
Adam Smith.

Tired after a shift selling stuff,
the tsk of his lager can didn’t bring one
tut to a student lip:

the lecture, a recording on Youtube,
was at least five years old
and thousands of miles away

from his home town, Kirkcaldy.
Kirk caddy, the lecturer called it,
but what did he ken?

What ye watchin’ that fir?
Boab’s wife demanded to know,
that’s no fir the likes ih us.

He had to pause and scroll back
to what her voice made him miss;
someone had asked a question:

did Adam Smith
define wealth as money?
No, well-being.

A few days ago, Boab ate a pie
by the High Street bakers, observing
a plaque consumers ignore,

explaining how Adam Smith lived here,
and how this was where
he wrote The Wealth of Nations.

Boab had thought a visitor
could be forgiven for thinking
Kirkcaldy was called Toilet.

TO LET signs jutted over
shut shops all around him.
Under one,

the bollard of a beggar
was avoided by a man
on his way to the Jobcentre,

a Jobseeker’s Allowance booklet
stuffed into his back pocket
like an empty wallet;

the image of it clear as old photos
Boab had seen of the town’s
linoleum and linen factories,

now shut down, or in ruin.
Boab scratched his belly, feeling
something had to be in gestation.

For things had to change soon,
he thought, reaching
for another cold can.

Across the Tracks

Across the border they’d be chavs.
Here, they’re neds, and almost proud,
as if to be a ned was to have a trade;
their tracksuits overalls,
Buckfast bottles tools.

They drink by a stone in a park
near a railway station in the dark
unable to see what the stone’s
supposed to be. A lighter reveals
words about a civil war in Spain.

Across the rails a memorial garden
is maintained for lives laid down
in the Great War for Civilisation
and all the wars that came
after civilisation was won.

Wiy’s this stane here, no there?
What made this war diffrint?
Ma pal’s pal wis killt in Afghanistan –
what stane will his name be oan?
Just then, headlights of a police van

across the road, hit them
like an interrogation light, bright
with questions of its own.
A voice called like a cue to act out
the role they’d been given

or the life they’d chosen,
depending on what side of the line
we choose to see them from.
Near a public library and museum,
art gallery and memorial garden,

across the tracks, on the steps
of the Adam Smith Theatre, a man
and woman exit Macbeth
as three boy-men run by a train
and enter a scene they’ve no part in.

Reviews

‘A unique voice, and a very important one, on the contemporary Scottish poetry scene.’

Magi Gibson

‘Humour, tenderness and a political conscience that neither preaches nor hides behind a bushel. On top of raw power, there is also technique. Surprising imagery is commonplace in Wilson’s poetry.’

Christie Williamson

‘Emotionally honest and with his own take on a masculine vulnerability, Ross Wilson’s collection has much to say and says it from the heart.’

The North

‘Wilson’s world rarely appears in the softer, more comfortable bookish scenarios inhabited by much contemporary poetry, but this pamphlet gives the reader an insight into equally valid experiences.’

Happenstance