World Porridge Day Tag Team

As part of my zealous efforts to keep up with the marmalade-packed Poetry Calendar, I have so far failed to observe the fiftieth anniversary of Dundee’s roadbridge ower the Tay, or the 200th anniversary of the local paper, The Courier and Advertiser – though I did mark the fortieth anniversary of the toon’s great second hand record store, Groucho’s, which perhaps tells you where meh priorities leh.

Xenochronicitous works are in progress on both these momentous anniversaries.

In the meantime and by meagre compensation, noting that it is, inexplicably, World Porridge Day, I recall not one but two poems in the habbie form on the matter, one directed at the foodstuff, and first published in Omnesia, the other aimed at the central character of the much-loved 70s sitcom of that name, starring the late Ronnie Barker, and posted on my Tumblr site.

To Porridge

‘Auld claes and parritch…’

Captain of oats, braw brose, fine gruel,
you are thi Scotsman’s constant fuel
fae New Year’s Dey till end o Yule
(we don’t do Simmer):
oan ilka morn ye bring renewal,
thi stammack’s zimmer.

Ye greet us lyk a fu-fissed mune
and guarantee tae fill wir spune
wi fushion – see, ye’re cratert roond
wi seas o bubbles –
tranquillity is aa yir tune,
and ease fae troubles.

Grey revolutionary fur guts,
jump-starter fur thi slo-mo slutz
that sends us loupin fae wir cots
intae wir sarks
(a dram in you gets slob and klutz
back tae thir wark).

When snaa faas owre thi Border’s pale
and Southron bairns can plunk aff skail
then even English journos hail
wir Northern mannah –
are sudden experts oan oatmeal
tapped wi a sultana.

Ye’re like a clood-occludit sun
that casts grey licht oan ivrywun;
thi siller ash on grieshoch; grun
ablow thi slush
that derns oat-germs that sune will wun
thru Winter’s crush.

Tho Doctir Johnson caaed ye food
fur foals – mair fulmar him – ye’ve plooed
thru Scotia’s lard-imprisoned bluid
and freed oor veins:
dae mealie puddins dae us good?
Great Oat, explain!

Hoo dae we luve ye? Some wi cream,
wi hinny, spice or jeely reamed,
while Calvin’s crew hae sauty dreams
o fare of auld,
powred in a draaer fur bothy teams
tae slice oot cauld.

‘Auld claes an parritch’ gaes thi creh
wance we hae drunk thi Daft Deys dreh
and neath a sober, saft grey skeh
we view thi year –
we’re nae whit bettir, but we’ll treh
wi sic guid gear!

Stammack—stomach; fushion—wholesomeness, strength; slutz—a leap in skating; sark—shirt; grieshoch—red-hot embers; dern–hide.

To Norman Stanley Fletcher

(for Susie Maguire and Richard Ashcroft)

Habitually criminal,
contrary tae oor Lordships’ will
wha caucht yir fingers in thir till,
you did yir time –
an innocence in daein ill
yir actual crime.

The laws of property serve those
wha serve themselves. Anither dose
o prison proved hoo you oppose
the pooers that bay
you still were free tae thumb yir nose
tho locked away.

Let Groutie gloat an Godber moan:
nor Barraclough, that streak o strone,
nor mim Mackay by drill or drone
brocht you tae heel,
though croodit roond, you crawed alone,
and wouldna kneel.

Altho a Fletcher – ane o thi best –
ye failed tae feathir your ain nest,
instead sent arras forth tae test
thae slammin doors:
yir keyhole wit aye hit thir breasts
thru loopholes galore!

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About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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