Green thoughts in a red shade

November 7, 2008

Granny Albyn's Complaint

By David Betteridge

Smokestack Books, 2008

65 pages, £7.95

Available from

David Betteridge — a teacher and teacher-trainer by trade — has produced a fine volume of poetry, celebrating the radical past, present and future of Glasgow, the Scottish city where he has spent the best part of his life, titled Granny Albyn's Complaint.

The 33 poems in this slim volume include verses inspired by Shelley's "The Mask of Anarchy" and Blake's "London", lines dedicated to Paul Robeson (who sang at the May Day rally in Glasgow in 1964) and Matt McGinn (a well-known singer-songwriter whose songs could be as politically sharp as they were funny).

It contains a poem celebrating the People's Palace History Paintings by communist artist Ken Currie (which you can see in the museum on Glasgow Green and a detail of which is reproduced on the front cover of Betteridge's book).

Although many heavyweight historical figures flit across the pages of Betteridge's poetry — Marx, Goya, Bhudda, Bach, Rosa Luxemburg and Nelson Mandela to mention only a few — laughter is seldom far away.

Even when Betteridge is castigating the "doomed dystopia" of contemporary capitalism, hope and optimism are never far off: time and again Betteridge returns to the resilience "of those, the uncountable, the discounted, those whose deaths and lives have gained them no memorial".

A good example is "Tree, Bird, Fish, Bell", a poem about dereliction and war lightened by the fact that the events it describes are being filmed on an antique camera by Glasgow's patron saint, Mungo.

The centrepiece of the book is a long poem, "May Day: Happy Returns", about the poet's reveries leaning out of his window on the evening following his 50th May Day rally on Glasgow Green.

Among the characters who appear in the poem are Franz Kafka, Currie ("our city's epic artist"), novelists Alasdair Gray and Alan Spence ("cartographers of Glasgow's multiverse"), Mozart, Beethoven (who has converted his ear-trumpet into a real one to play alongside Glasgow jazz band The Clyde Valley Stompers), footballer Jimmy Johnstone ("full of jinks, him of the Einstein space-and-time defying feet"), McGinn ("He was big, as Glasgow is"), and — of course — John Maclean ("our vision-holding Moses").

In the past few decades, Glasgow has been blessed by a succession of left-leaning artists and writers — Kelman, Gray, McIlvanney, Spence, and Currie, to name but a few — and this volume constitutes a fine addition to their formidable body of work.

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