My brain swims empty and light
Like a nut on a sea of oil;
And an atmosphere of quiet
Wraps me about from the turmoil and clamour of life.
I stand apart from living,
Apart and holy I stand,
In my new-gained growth of idleness, I stand,
As stood the Shekinah of yore in the holy of holies.
I walk the streets smoking my pipe
And I love the dallying shop-girl
That leans with rounded stern to look at the fashions;
And I hate the bustling citizen,
The eager and hurrying man of affairs I hate,
Because he bears his intolerance writ on his face
And every movement and word of him tells me how much he hates me.
I love night in the city,
The lighted streets and the swinging gait of harlots.
I love cool pale morning,
In the empty bye-streets,
With only here and there a female figure,
A slavey with lifted dress and the key in her hand,
A girl or two play in a corner of a waste-land
Tumbling and showing their legs and crying out to me loosely.
About this poem
Introduced by a variety of writers, artists and other guests, the Scottish Poetry Library’s classic poem selections are a reminder of wonderful poems to rediscover.
Billy Liar on ‘My brain swims empty and light…’:
I love poetry in many different forms – as lyrics, as beat poetry and in its more traditional forms. However, for the Reading Room, I really wanted to select something that meant something to me, now, as an individual, and as an Edinburgh-based artist.
I began my search in the Scottish Poetry Library one determined afternoon. When I started out writing songs, I mainly wrote about teenage dreams, washed up on the slimy streets and closes of Edinburgh. About fighting and about drinking, about girls and very much about being young and out of my mind.
This made me automatically want to search for a poet who was a young man who had written extensively about fighting and drinking, like I had when I was younger. I found many, and almost had my heart set on a Robert Fergusson poem but in the end I went for a poem I feel is much more important.
Most of the songs I have been writing recently are about the bigger picture than just drunken recollections, as my previous songs have been. They are about the people behind the stories, the faces behind the names, the truth I feel, rather than just the experiences.
I was immediately drawn to Stevenson’s poem because it has a strong sense of honesty and reminds me of the city that I was born and grew up in. It is a beautiful poem and in many ways it sums up my feelings about Edinburgh. I see it as a city of parallels, dark and light, good and evil, constantly fighting against each other for power in the streets and closes, and I feel Stevenson’s poem captures this struggle perfectly. The characters are timeless, you could come across them on Princes Street today.
Stevenson’s ability to create an authentic sense of place is undeniable and is something I strive for in my own writing.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!
Billy Liar x
Billy Liar is a Scottish acoustic punk poet, who is on a one man mission to cling onto integrity and honesty in music. He sings up-tempo acoustic based anthems, about life, love, longing, falling out and falling down. He has gigged all over the UK, with bands such as Oi Polloi and UK Subs, and in 2007, was even asked personally by notorious American punk band, Amen, to join them on their UK tour. In 2006, he received the backing of Kenny MacDonald, the manager of The Proclaimers, and in 2007, he released his first EP, which included the track Come Back To Edinburgh, which has had plays on several major radio stations.
In 2007, he also toured throughout the UK and France, with the Golden Hour (a Scottish poet/artist/musician collective, based at the Forest in Edinburgh), even performing at the famous Shakespeare And Company bookshop, in Paris, before busking outside long into the night, fuelled only by the cheap wine that kept flowing, and the cheers of the crowds that stood watching and singing along. He has just recorded his second EP, titled It Starts Here, and it is soon to be released. It was produced by Acey Slade (who sang and played guitar in Trashlight Vision, and played guitar in Murderdolls/Amen/Dope), and featured Robin Guy on drums (who has played with Faith No More/Amen/Lars Frederiksen/The Business/Rachel Stamp). Nick Mailing was the bassist and studio engineer.