Razor echoes of gritty Glasgow

 

POETRY: A Thorn in the Flesh: Selected PoemsBy Eddie Linden Hearing Eye, £7.50

DESPITE YEARS on the London poetry scene, Eddie Linden, whose selected poems has just been published by the ever-resilient Hearing Eye press, cannot easily be placed. In his foreword to the collection, Patrick Campbell of the Times Literary Supplementsuggests that Linden is something of an institution: a name that is known, but one that may perhaps rest more on the margins of the poetry establishment. Certainly, his ventures as a reader in Scotland, in Ireland and farther afield have often been preceded by a reputation for unpredictability.

The mention of Linden can raise an eyebrow from those who know him well, but the proud self-confession that he is an “illegitimate, illiterate, working-class, Communist, homosexual, Catholic, pacifist poet” always ensures that his readings are worth attending.

As some explanation of his character, Who Is Eddie Linden?, a biography of his early years, was written by Sebastian Barker in 1979 and later adapted for the stage. A second biography is being written by John Cooney, now of the Irish Independent.

In 2005 more than 100 of his friends, among them the poets Leland Bardwell, Anthony Cronin, Paul Durcan, Seamus Heaney, Pearce Hutchinson, Michael Longley, Derek Mahon, John Montague and Joseph Wood and the artists John Behan and Gerald Mangan, came together in a published tribute called Eddie’s Own Aquarius.

An Irish Scot, Linden founded the original Aquarius, a poetry magazine, in 1959. Miraculously it survived, producing 26 issues over 33 years. The number of pages in each issue grew from 44 to 186. Reputedly, this was the only magazine in which Harold Pinter would allow his poems to be published.

With occasional guest editors, it was a continuing challenge for Linden to seek funding and afterwards to hawk the published magazine around bookshops and literary events.

Another chore of editorial responsibility was the constant offer of bribes and free lunches. In his poem Editor,he writes

. . . The postman hates me

Ye understand why,

And those poor bastards

Get upset if they’re

Left out.

Raised in sectarian Glasgow, where he claims the bitter divisions were perpetuated by politicians, Eddie escaped in the late 1950s to bedsit London. His best-known work, City of Razors, for his home city, is written and also delivered with particular intensity:

Cobbled streets, littered with broken milk bottles,

reeking chimneys and dirty tenement buildings,

walls scrawled with FUCK THE POPE and

blue-lettered words GOD BLESS THE RANGERS.

Old woman at the corner, arms folded, babe in pram,

a drunk man’s voice from the other pavement,

And out come the Catholics from evening confessional;

A woman roars from an upper window

“They’re at it again, Maggie!

Five stitches in our Tommy’s face, Lizzie!

Eddie’s in the Royal wi’ a sword in his stomach

and the razor’s floating in the River Clyde.”

There is roaring in Hope Street,

They’re killing in the Carlton,

There’s an ambulance in Bridgeton,

And a laddie in the Royal.

The thrust of personal experience propels this collection. Linden’s public readings or recitals can be theatre: marks may be missed and lines may be lost, but his integrity shines through. There is no apparent thought given to the order in which he chooses his poems, which he reads in a wild, declamatory style, rocking from one foot to the other, eyes often tightly shut, taking pauses that are unpunctuated. After a bravura on-stage performance, however, the poems can be appreciated further by a later, quieter look at the text, such as in The Miner, in tender memory of his father:

Your face has never

moved, it still contains

the marks of toil, deep in

blue. These slag heaps

now in green have

flowers instead of dust

and many men are buried here

whose shadows linger on.

Linden insists that “there is nothing intellectual in my poems; I never write unless I have something to say”. When he says it, he says it directly – but he chooses his words with care, never suffocating his emotional conviction for his subject. This impressive collection, some of which has been previously anthologised, is timely, and brings together a body of work that helps to define this idiosyncratic but sensitive man.