People Made Glasgow
Shame in our hulls why else would we drink to incoherence jump on the heads of passing men punch our women tell our children in a checkout queue, ‘Ah hate bank holidays cuz it means Ah huftae look at youse fir three days no two.’ The whip’s crack comes a little after the whip’s stroke. People Make Glasgow obese, rotten-mouthed stroke-felled, emphysemic tumour-choked aye, an proud ae it. What we murdered them for we kill ourselves with. The whip’s crack comes a little after the whip’s stroke. Brutalised Africans made Glasgow amazing disgrace, how sweet the civic amnesia… mansions without plaques unrevised street names no memorial. So, sign-up for the new city tour - The Glasgow Merchant Experience! below deck on the Waverley 100 unclothed families close-chained to plank beds 30 dead since it left Dunoon! On the dock, a real live auction! Feel the excitement as you bid for your very own slave!
Kate Tough is a Glasgow born and based poet, novelist and short story writer, who writes for a variety of Scottish and overseas publications.Read more about this poet
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2016. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2016 was Catherine Lockerbie.
Kate Tough is another prodigiously gifted new (ish) poet, with a novel to her name already and poems appearing in many periodicals and anthologies. This poem comes from her first full poetry pamphlet and in some ways is not typical of much of her work, which is 'found' poetry, often highly visual, snatches of odd reality grabbed and re-arranged. This, though is an angry narrative, brimming with contempt for marketing and swaggering stereotypes, laying bare the dark history which Glasgow prefers to forget in its desire to portray a gallus and egalitarian image. Poems which need footnotes don’t always appeal – and this poem doesn’t necessarily need them – though I was astonished and ashamed that I did not know 'Amazing Grace' was written by a former slave-trader. Poet and poem are fearless here, and galvanising.
I’m a resident native who senses Glasgow’s contradictions…
- From ‘second city of the Empire’ to ‘sick man of Europe’ within 100 years.
- Deservedly voted ‘world’s friendliest city’ by Rough Guide travellers; yet we can struggle to nurture ourselves and each other (domestic violence spiking after Old Firm matches).
- Champions of the oppressed, Glasgow was thanked by Mandela for its committed anti-apartheid campaign, including renaming the South African Consulate’s street Nelson Mandela Place to cause embarrassment; meanwhile, many streets remain named after merchants who profited from slavery.
- Glasgow’s the only Atlantic trading city without a memorial to its role in that horrific brutality.
- In 2013, I learned that a teenager was once enslaved where I often walked (Greenbank House). It affected me deeply. Then I overheard a mother addressing her children and, again, felt pained. Thereafter, the poetic premise coalesced – that a contemporary sickness has its roots in unredressed wrongs.