Friday, May 1, 2015

The Poet Laureate; Jim Carruth

Today I have a special treat for you. A poet!  Glasgow's own Poet Laureate no less who is a charming young(ish) gentleman called Jim Carruth. I  can be rude about him because he knows me and would be highly suspicious if I was nice to him in any way at all.

The story of  his rise to success, and his part in mine will become clear as you read on....

                                                 Here's Jim's Poster from Glastonbury

Congratulations on becoming  Poet Laureate! How did that come about?

The previous laureate Liz Lochhead took over the role of Scottish makar and she felt that she could not do both roles and resigned from her role as Poet Laureate of Glasgow.  It was vacant for a while and then a small committee representing the literary sector and the council came together and made their choice in July 2015. It is not something you can apply for and instead you are just told their decision so it came as a huge surprise.  
I have been heavily involved in the Glasgow Poetry scene but have never had a full collection out so I didn’t expect it – but was delighted and of course I said yes. It is a great honour.   

What’s the oddest thing you’ve had to do as  Glasgow’s favourite poet? The oddest thing you had to do at Johnstone Writers Group Mystery Night was to turn up and help solve a crime wearing wellies, a white coat with an inflatable cow under your arm.

There has not been too many asks as yet under my poet laureate role but I have always been keen to support anything that raises the profile and accessibility. A number of years ago we had marathon read in Royal Exchange Square and I ended up reading to a crowd of Goths at 3 in the morning.
I am not sure who was most surprised.

I remember you telling me that at the time. Drunks wandering past in the small hours of the morning hearing poetry and thinking they might have had wayyy too much to drink.
But how did your  upbringing inform your writing? The lands you grew up in, the fields you walked. ( This is a picture close to the land Jim's family farms. Beautiful isn't it?)

                                           Murshiel Country Park

My early writing didn’t touch on my rural childhood at all – they explored anything but – but weren’t overly successful . One of those pieces of advice that came out of the writers groups was that to find your true voice you should try writing about what you know. So that is what I did and found out quickly I had so much to say. My first success came when Homecoming  a poem about returning to my family farm after years away one a local Renfrewshire poetry competition.
It was clear that I had a passion for those that work the land and for their words and language and lifestyle which are largely ignored today. I am so comfortable with the rural landscape I often bring current national or international issues into that arena and look at them from through a local lens.         
Jim wrote a response poem that is engraved on this wondrous statue. It's about Cumbernauld - that place I blogged about being the home of serial killing zombies! Jim saw the town in a much more favourable light.

                                       And here she is at night...

Obviously as a crime writer the plot/character drive everything.  What inspires a poet and when you see something inspirational do you jot it down or just sit and wait for the inspiration?

                                        Jim (notebook in hand) with Andy Scott, sculptor

I am always scribbling odd lines and ideas on scraps of paper through a typical working week and then have a look at them on Saturday morning to see if there is a possible poem lying there.

I have also set myself challenges of longer term sequences. Killochries my verse novella is a case in point. I have been working on it for almost 10 years.     

Every time I try to write poetry, I end up with a limerick, usually rude. Do you find poetry is easy to write?

Easy answer is it depends – I would rather be writing than not even if the end result is unsuccessful. There is something to do with the process which I enjoy and I love having a real strong idea and image to work on. 

I was once struggling with an image I was trying to trap in my head, and the image was important as it was the emotional drive to my first novel. Jim came into group and read a poem about a blonde walking along a cold beach on the Western Isles. And that was it. I asked him if I could steal it, and he let me. That image is still in my head, wild and haunting,  her beauty against that of her environment. So I asked him if  he had to pick the most evocative image he has ever written about what would it be?

I am not really sure. I found it hard to find an appropriate response to my mother’s death from cancer in 2008 and that last month looking after her.  Eventually I described our last conversations with her as a special kind of harvest – trying to keep her memories safe.   The last two lines are as follows
                                These rushed few short days with you
                                bringing in the bales before the rain.  

We have had our mutual pal Betty McKellar here on Murder Is Everywhere with a poem in
Scots. Do you consider that you write in Scots? For Scots?

I write very few poems in Scots and when I do – I do it for a reason. There are however odd Scots words that are part of my vocabulary and are second nature so I add them in without thinking. because it is part of my voice. In Killochries  I made a deliberate decision to have the shepherd to speak in Scots to add to the alienation he felt from the man from the city who goes to work with him.

Do I think I write for Scots.  Never really thought about it. In many ways I write it at a more local level than any national agenda but with the view that the local can have something to say to a much wider audience. 
Jim's new book is called Killochries. It's getting rave reviews from poets (and some err... 
normal people!). Tell us the story of getting published with Killochries? What drew you to writing the story in that form? It was one of the highlights of Aye Write, the big literary festival in Glasgow over the last three weeks.

I experimented with variations on the form of the verse novella for Killochries over the last five years and eventually plumped for the published form which is a very sparse fragmentary text which charts the relationship of primarily two men over the course of four seasons. The form provides  a sense of the long silences between the men and also the stripping away to the bare essential a lifestyle of this kind brings.  I was keen to provide the space for the reader to bring to the story. Some fiction gives little scope for the reader’s own imagination. You have trust the reader.

I was very surprised when the first publisher I approached said they wanted it 

What do you read to relax? Do you enjoy a good murder?

I read odd books of fiction and non fiction -normally what my wife has about the house, but mostly I do read poetry to relax. I read about an hour a day of poetry. Any type of poetry. I have always loved poetry and that was the trigger for me wanting to be a poet rather than a crime novelist.    

I will let him away with that as he always asks after the welfare of DI Costello, my female detective.

                                       The hard drinking poet. Milk.

You were the highlight of Aye Write, so what’s next on the agenda?

I am keen to look at promoting and reading from Killochries over the next few months. 
I have small virtual gallery exhibition of my jazz inspired sequence  Grace Notes 1959
In addition I am hoping to publish a small chapbook exploring the voices of a wildebeest migration in the Autumn and to start to pull together a selected poems to show to publishers.
Also I have ongoing commissions from the Lord Provost and I have been asked to judge Scotland’s largest Poetry competition in July – so all go    

I thought I would have a go as this poetry thing uses less paper and less punctuation than writing a novel....

There was a young man called Carruth
What rhymes come oot of his mooth !!
He is a poet
And we all know it,
But he thinks me incredibly uncouth...

Caro Ramsay  1st May 2015


  1. As a former member of the JWG you come across as very normal Jim. Did you recover from the madness or was it just too mad for you?

  2. Thanks, Jim, very interesting!

    Caro: Oh no, you surely must realize,
    The error you make when you limmerize
    In this public space
    And with a straight face
    It's something we really should criminalize.

  3. Isn't it wonderful, Caro, when friends can accept you for what you are? And even better when inspired to say nice things, though if they're fiction writers....

    But when it comes to poets they only know how to tell the truth. And I must say, those two lines on Jim's last conversations with his mother made me a fan.

    These rushed few short days with you
    bringing in the bales before the rain.

  4. I do try with my weekly blog.
    Though sometimes, it's a bit of a slog.
    But we have reached a new low
    from the first comment you know,
    that figbane is really a DOG!