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Appreciation A reminder of what the good things in poetry are

Tim Wells pays tribute to RODDY LUMSDEN

AS A teenage ranting poet, one of the many things raged against was the nepotism of established poetry. It’s frustrating that in my 50s poetry awards are no different. I suppose the best thing to do with most awards is pay them no heed and wish the winners well.

This week said farewell to the poet Roddy Lumsden (pictured), who died aged 53 last month. Roddy would boycott award ceremonies but then be sat in the closest pub, having asked several to text the names of the winners.

A beer is generally better than wine, canapes and having your shoulder looked over for someone more important as you chat to someone you barely know.

The business of poetry draws the life from it. I was glad to be reminded at Roddy’s funeral just what the good things in poetry are. He encouraged and taught so many poets and put poetry at the centre of his life.

In particular, Roddy was key in establishing the mix of spoken-word poets like myself with the more bookish. The page/stage divide is often talked about, frequently by the arts organisations that maintain the myth of it so as to draw funding to “challenge” it.

Roddy, and myself, thought that the page/stage divide was no divide at all. He read widely, saw diverse poetries, was a precise writer and an engaging and entertaining live reader himself.

He read beautifully, with a honed nuance and a lively wit. He was instrumental in organising readings that brought all sorts of poets together that saw them seeing each others’ work up close, bouncing ideas and styles, and saw British poetry taking exciting directions.

The poets themselves, not arts organisations, were the heart of this.

For a year, we shared a flat. Roddy’s room was full of teetering piles of dictionaries and poetry books. It’s not unfair to say that his room would have devoured Marie Kondo. He had a passion for folklore and I was surprised to hear him telling people that our flat was the scene of some poltergeist activity. Strange smells it seems, vanilla smells, had been emanating.

He must have known it was me who was washing coffee cups and plates but I didn’t have the heart to tell him I’d been sliding vanilla-scented air fresheners under his bed.

At the funeral, we shared stories about the lad and there were so many. He was a delightfully peculiar fellow, who said of his writing: “It’s more affiliated with social folklore rather than sending out a political message. A focus on the concision of language: keeping it subtle yet saying so much in so little time.

“I’m more interested in the surface of the skin, rather than what’s underneath it. For example, I would rather write about a man and woman warring rather than what they are warring about.”

The service caught Roddy well, there was poetry, music and some humour. The pub afterwards saw several generations of poets reconnecting and sharing memories. There were some tears and rightly so. Roddy would have counted every single one.

I told a few people the tale of how one time Roddy, the Bay City Rollers’ Les McKeown and myself were all having a drink in the Three Johns pub – two of Scotland’s finest artists in one place.

Poetry can be lonely, depressing and a business where administrators are the centre rather than writers. It was good to be reminded that the heart is communication, language and joy. Roddy encouraged so many of us and even the awkward, outside edge and troublesome can find a home in being individual.


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