Robert McLellan Poetry Award 2022

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Carol Lee hosting the event – from left to right; Penny Stuart, Morag Smith, Annaliese Broughton, Hollie McNish

Arran Community Theatre
August 27th 2022

On the very last Saturday of the Edinburgh Fringe, 3 weeks after my first of far too many reviews there, I found myself culturally convalescing on my home island of Arran. Looking at the listings as one does in the dog days of summer, I suddenly noticed the Robert McLellan festival was in full flow. My pal lives next door to his idyllic white cottage at High Corrie on Arran, & it is not hard to figure out why he was such an important literary artist to Scotland, so inspirational is that scene. I personally find his dialectical Scots even harder to penetrate than Burns – but I did crack the latter after 6 years of living in Scotland & I’ve only been on Arran sixteen months, so let’s give that one time to gestate.

From Sail or Stay by Cicely Gill (26-8-22) – part of the McLellan Festival – photo by Michael Scott

So… to the poetry prize given in Robert McLellan’s honour, the fifteenth in succession. A hefty whack of cash goes to the winners, & it was ‘awards night’ last night. The winners were to be announced after Hollie McNish had chosen the ‘best’ from a shortlist of 114, whittled down to 8, the finest quintessence of this year’s seven hundred entries. These had trickl’d & thunder’d in from all over the world, & there will be a comprehensive awards night on Zoom later in the year to celebrate the victorious pantheon. Yestreen, however, saw two of the ‘commended’ poets & the winner all poised to perform on stage, all female, & all clearly serious agents of the ancient art of poetry. Of the ‘commended,’ Penny Shutt gave a rather prosaic poem about her crush on an English teacher, while Morag Smith endear’d us all into an internal exploration thro’ her poem call’d ‘Lost.’

Our winner, Annaliese Broughton, from not faraway Ayr, is currently in the ascendency. A poem of hers, New Meanings, is being animated by the BBC, & fangirling (her own expression) next to Hollie, she nervouslessly took the stage & deliver’d the prize poem in that orphean pitch that lies somewhere between the common tongue & the discourse of the gods. A gritty, edgy & heart-warming epistle to child poverty, it resonated even more in such a middle-class enclave as Arran.

After our three poets had left the stage, they were replaced by the recent gregarious joint-winner of the Edwin Morgan award, Michael Mullen – a fellow Rutherglennian like Mr Morgan -, oozing confidence, & a poet of some substance as he bounces toxic masculinity of his kevlar-armour’d bardic brain. As an award-winner he wryly asided something along the lines of, ‘I’m an award-winner & can read out what I like now,’ & continued to do so, excavating his oeuvre for some proper classic barb’d wire down the brain, but in what felt like couplets of heptameter & Sanskrit sloka. ‘Sad Boy’ was well good, especially. I could definitely tell how his talent first brought him to prominence.

It was now the interval, & the wine was on donation in the Brodick High School, where Arran’s fine community theatre resides, but as I enter’d the day’s twilight I was suddenly struck with the will to walk home & chew the ambrosial morsels I’d just ingested on a hike back to Brodick. I’d already travers’d most of the route on the way to the show earlier on. Burnley had won 5-1 at Wigan & in such a supremely happy mood I thought let’s get all poetical on the day’s ass  – & hiked off up the hill to Lamlash. I veered off at one point, found a Pictish stone I’d never seen before hidden in a gorgrous forest clearing (how Arran), got stuck in a bog – which was luckily dried out it being quite droughty these days-, then dragg’d my way through prickly thorn-bushes (why did I wear shorts?) onto the Lamlash golf course & the safety of the main road. Sweeping my legs for possible sheep ticks (why did I wear shorts?), I realised I was now in quite a receptive mood for the poets once I reach’d the school. In fact I was mad for it.

The way back was much more convivial, fired up & fuell’d by the spirit of poetry, & with the dwindling twilight never quite striking blackness I made it home in time watch Burnley’s highlights – yet more poetry, especially the second goal -, then took out a copy of Attilio Bertolucci’s ‘The Bedroom’ & drown’d myself in the Italian language. I can darely say, after three weeks of reviewing the Fringe & my very recent isit to the 15th Robert McLellan Poetry awards, my own poetry mojo is back!



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