Jim C. Mackintosh was born and raised in Perthshire and currently resides in Perth. Clare Cooper, co-producer of Cateran’s Common Wealth caught up with him to hear about how he is spreading the word about his craft and what poetry means to him.
Photo, Jim C. Mackintosh
W.H Auden said that “A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language”, what inspires your passion for language?
My passion for language stems from us, all of us, in the world and the use of language to describe, interpret and embrace all of our challenges, to use words sparingly but pointedly to highlight injustice and inequality, and raise awareness of particular things about which I am passionate. The beauty and power of poetry is its ability to say so much in so few words and importantly, the space around carefully chosen and placed words can be just as powerful as the words themselves.
Photo, Charles Bukowski
Which poets have you been most influenced by?
Like, I would imagine every other poet, my influences are varied and sometimes by only one poem. The more obvious candidates include Norman MacCaig, Seamus Heaney, but also from completely different tangents Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda.
But if I have to narrow the list of influences down to pure influence of shared belief and common purpose in their writings then I have three.
Hugh Miller. I recently won an award in a Competition run jointly by the Scottish Geodiversity Forum and The Friends of Hugh Miller. Its aim was to celebrate the work of Miller and highlight its continuing relevance today. Miller was a stonemason to trade from Cromarty who through that began to question his surroundings and became a geologist and from that a writer and poet with a passion for the landscape, his place within it and using words to share his discoveries.
Hamish Henderson. A giant of a man who straddles so many important causes but whose championing of spoken word, and the diverse culture of ordinary folk continues to influence me, most of the time without me even realising it. His phrase ‘Poetry becomes People’ sums up my relationship with his work perfectly. I am involved in the nurturing of a Festival later in the year to celebrate Hamish’s life and hope this will bring his words to even more fresh and willing minds.
Willie Soutar. Having sat, in my mind at his feet for years and listened to his poetry, I was fair chuffed to be invited to join the Soutar Writers Group. I had won an Award in the Soutar Writing Competition a couple of years ago and this led to the invite. It is a precious thing to sit in Willie’s room where he spent so much of his life bedridden and be able to read my feeble efforts to fellow writers.
St Johnston Football Club logo
You hold a very unusual role for a poet, can you tell us what it is and what you do in that role?
I am the Poet in Residence for St Johnstone Football Club. Having supported the Saints since before I was born, it was an incredible honour to be asked to undertake the role.
Last year, I wrote a piece for the Club’s Hall of Fame Dinner in Perth Concert Hall. This was my first exposure as the Club’s poet. You’ll not get much tougher Gigs – late on a Sunday evening, reading poetry to three hundred or so football fans who’d been enjoying the spirit of the occasion but it seemed to go down very well. Although the obvious aspects of my relationship with the Saints are celebrating the memorable moments of the Club’s life, it has opened up avenues which would not have become apparent if I had not been involved. One of the elements that has taken up much of my time in the last few months has been collating an anthology of poetry to support the Football Memories Project.
Football Memories, supported by the National Football Museum and Alzheimer’s Scotland runs over 100 groups across the country where people with dementia, whether football fans or ex-players can come together for a couple of hours on a regular basis to provide an environment where memory can be drawn out and the ‘good old days’ discussed using memorabilia and photographs as a trigger.
I have ‘persuaded’ nearly 40 contemporary poets from across Scotland to donate nearly 80 football related poems to the collection. Its aim being to raise awareness of the Project’s work, to provide an additional tool to be used in the Groups through the poetry and the photography that compliments it, and hopefully through sales of the book to raise funds for the continued success of the Project. The book will be launched in early June this year.
I’m also in the early stages of working with a Project to link Gaelic poetry and Football and next season will do more in relation to Schools.
Photo, Cateran Yomp, courtesy of Patter PR
You have also just landed a rather special commission from The Soldier’s Charity who run the Cateran Yomp. Tell us about that and when you’ll be able to share your poem for them with the world.
Yes. I am incredibly chuffed to have been asked to write a poem that highlights the important work that the Charity undertakes. The plan is to write the poem and do a couple of readings at the pre-Event briefings so not sure, but that might be when I can first share the work.
I have written the first draft, binned it and now have various words burbling about in my head. This is normal.
As you know, I’m in love with the Cateran Trail, Cateran’s Common Wealth and everything it represents, and importantly the opportunities that the initiative is opening up for local artists and people to engage with the landscape so to be involved with this was an easy decision for me. Although I have walked most of the Trail I will not however be taking part in the Yomp. That’s not part of the deal.
I’m hoping that we can work together on some other ideas I have for the area as well despite the fact that I hate the word Nature – although some would say it is irrational, perhaps inexplicable or even just downright daft. I blame David Attenborough really. He has gone out of his way to infect us all with his passionate support for stunning landscapes, unfathomable oceans and endless skies, all of them bursting with wondrous creatures and he has rightly shamed us, lambasted us even, for our feeble efforts to save the planet for future generations.
And I fully support all of that but it’s the nature word with which I have a problem because it is open to abuse. It perceives humanity to be separate and provides a get-out clause to excuse our inactions and absolve us of our duty of care
Photo of the Cateran Trail courtesy of Perth & Kinross Countryside Trust
Poetry can change the way we look and listen to the world, given how powerful it can be, why do you think it is an art form that is so often seen as marginal?
Poetry – what’s all that about? Elitist nonsense – is that not the likes of Shakespeare with all his to be’s or not to be’s, or Wordsworth and his daffodils or Burns with his haggis and mouse poems? That’s right, I remember being anesthetised in double English on a cold and wet Tuesday afternoon with that stuff – or so poetry is perceived.
It’s a bit like classical music when someone makes that sweeping statement that they don’t like it until you point out the various pieces they know, mostly through television adverts and they admit ‘Yes. I like those bits but I don’t like classical music in general’. Poetry suffers the same bad press. Now, I’m not saying there is anything wrong with loving Shakespeare, Wordsworth or Burns, in fact personally speaking I think Burns was a genius but they do not represent the entire world of Poetry. Yes, there are people pushing the boundaries of poetry all the time but I strongly believe that there is some form of poetry, a single poem or perhaps only a few words from a poem that will hook you and hopefully draw you into try some more. That’s my aim whether through being a Poet in Residence for a Football Club or through readings or events like the Yomp.
The tradition of poetry stems from spoken word (see Hamish Henderson again) and there is nothing more powerful than a poet reading their own work to understand the effect it can have. Is there where I plug my next events?
Photo, Pupils from Alyth Primary School with Marian bruce, co-producer of Cateran’s Common wealth
What would you like to do to get more people of all ages involved in writing and listening to poetry?
This could end up being a very long list but in short there are loads of ideas simmering away in my head at any one time. It’s about finding the right opportunity to explore the right ideas. For example, I’d love to do more with the Cateran Commonwealth and the Trail and have a bunch of ideas that would work for it but these would not be the same ideas that would work for a Football Residency so it’s all about keeping the lid on the pot and taking out what is relevant at the right time. I’m also pestering the Perth 2021 Bid on a regular basis to ensure poetry threads are woven through their plans.
With all the uncertainty and turmoil in the world just now, whose poetry would you suggest we read and why?
You’ll not go far wrong revisiting Hamish Henderson’s work especially his poems exposing the futility of conflict in war but I tend to read poetry that takes me away from the turmoil so most of the poems by Norman MacCaig which centre me back in the landscape become my comfort blanket.
And as I type this, I am surrounded by books from contemporary poets like Kathleen Jamie, Don Paterson, Sarah Howe, Jim Carruth, Sheila Templeton, Andy Jackson, Graham Fulton and my fellow Perthshire based poets Hazel Buchan Cameron and Jon Plunkett. You’ll not go far wrong with copies of their wonderful books and honest I’m not on commission.
Can you share one of your poems with us?
I’ll share two which come from entirely different perspectives. The first It used to be bottles was written for a pamphlet Refugees Welcome published by Eyewear in 2015 and highlights our difficulty in understanding their plight.
The second poem Old is Tomorrow is the poem which I won an award with in the Hugh Miller Competition last year.
Both of the poems are in my latest Collection, The Rubicon of Ash.
IT USED TO BE BOTTLES
It used to be something, once in a while
to read of a bottle washed up on a beach
with a scatter of words cast on another tide
saying hello from a dot on an old school map.
Sometimes, it would make the newspaper,
in the local section between a notable death
and a prize for jam or the odd photograph
of the potato that looked like your Granny.
It used to be bottles, now it is drifting shoes.
Sometimes, they will make the newspaper
but mostly they don’t because we’d rather
read about bottles and words from dots.
There are too many shoes, but none with words.
Their message is more subtle, imprinted
in the insole, like the rings of the felled pine,
counting outwards the life now surrendered.
Sometimes the message in the shoe is hidden,
covered by the wrinkled foot of the drowned
on another tide, on an old school map, a dot
shaded in pink where the Empire screwed us all.
It makes the newspaper, just another death,
not so much notable but just as a passing dot
until another odd shaped vegetable surfaces.
Oh, how we laugh and forget the insoles of the felled.
OLD IS TOMORROW
You can see it clearly, if you allow yourself, to pause, to breathe out
for the briefest of moments away from the grub
that befuddles our imagination, the digital bleed of information.
life itself is a school
always a fresh study
layers of past generations
mulch of past millenniums
the openings, the chasms
the marks of ancient furrows
successive soils laid bare in stratified gravel, moraines of memory unpicked
by him, to be scooped up, understood – learning
the memorial of time, a clock ticking past our fragile existence barely
a thin layer of history visible, relevant – brushed
by the frequent eddy of tides where humanity shifted along the shore
and in that shallow glimpse of our past, man
emptied his mouth of gravel and found the plough to till his story
and that the man
who keeps his eyes
and his mind open
will always find fitting
How long have we stumbled and understood nothing? Not him.
He walked with a steady pace: noticed the difference,
even a section of a few feet, our two lines of pointless text message lost
where in that time, he would find an archipelago
of islands, brushed by frequent icebergs, and the lift of creatures
sub-arctic molluscs, sand floods, a belief
in all that’s left under our feet, belongs in our minds, in our imaginations
though it may be
hard school masters
to speed him
on his lifelong education
I am sure of this – Hugh Miller’s stride was unbroken, in seeing our story.
His footprints apparent today in the unravelling
of our tomorrows, the unfurling coil of our layers, the unlocking of ourselves
to place fresh words on the shelf next to his.
Note: The words in italics are the last four lines from Hugh Miller’s book, My Schools and Schoolmasters.