THE Scottish spoken word scene is in rude health. Poets and performers in the last few years have been entertaining crowds in Glasgow and Edinburgh, the like of which fly in the face of any claims that modern poetry is an academic obscurity or a dying art.

Events such as Neu! Reekie! and Rally & Broad combine music, performance and poetry, and are a far cry from the idea of traditional poetry readings where audiences are buttonholed into reverent silence.

Polite applause and solemn nodding are out the window. Foot stomping and raucous cheering are the order of the day.

The movement is growing fast. Jenny Lindsay, one of the organisers behind Rally & Broad, has just announced a new collaborative project called SHIFT/, “an artist-led collective for the current scene”.

SHIFT/ was started in Autumn 2014 by Rachel McCrum and Bram Gieben and will launch “seven unique and ambitious solo shows” at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August. These shows will combine “poetry and performance, theatre and spoken word” to explore radically divergent themes, from “Scottish culture to Lovecraftian buffoonery ... love and ecstasy to revolutionary nihilism”.

Last year Colin Waters, poetry editor at Vagabond Voices and communications manager at The Scottish Poetry Library, compiled an anthology entitled Be The First To Like This (BTFTLT) which captured on the page the multifarious and unashamedly modern voice of this new generation of Scottish poets.

Released in October 2014, BTFTLT’s success has led to a new series of poetry books from Vagabond, called Triptych. The first of these, to be released in May, is entitled Triptych One: Our Real Red Selves. It showcases work by Harry Giles, JL Williams and Marion McCready.

I met editor and poets at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow on Saturday, where they were previewing the collection at the Aye Write! Book Festival. Waters explained that Vagabond’s new poetry series is inspired by “the Penguin Modern Poets that you used to get in the sixties and seventies”.

These books are suited to cycles of poems. Drone, by Harry Giles (pictured below), is a tragic-comic tale of an anthropomorphised military drone; Marion McCready’s The Birth Garden is an unnerving exploration of the horrors of childbirth within the medical establishment; and JL Williams’ hallucinatory History of Fire returns to the subject of war.

“It’s really quite a savage collection of poetic sequences – it’s about two polar opposites: war and childbirth,” said Waters. Another theme which links these often quite violent poems is the de-humanising effects of the machine age.

Giles’ Drone originally had its public debut at Rally & Broad as part of a collaborative audio-visual show with sound artist Neil Simpson, and this is where Waters first encountered the poems.

“Quite often this is how I come across poets I like for the first time.

“There’s so many spoken word nights in Glasgow and Edinburgh now ... one of the last times there was such a vibrant outpouring of spoken word nights was in the 1970s, around the time when young poets like Liz Lochhead were coming up”.

Waters drew a connection between the fervent discussion about the future of Scotland and Scottish identity that happened in the lead up to the 1979 Devolution referendum and the similar discussions that are happening now.

“I think when Scotland is involved in these sorts of debates they want the poets involved as well.”

This doesn’t mean today’s poets are writing directly about Scotland, and there is a confidence in their writing, and in their voice, which means they don’t have to.

Many of the poets are more comfortable writing about internet dating or complex physics. Politics, however, is never far away. Marion McCready said: “I certainly take the view that, as a woman, if you’re writing about the personal, it’s political anyway. I don’t directly write about political events but I guess we’re all poets because we were all changed by reading poetry. If you affect someone’s life then that’s a form of political change.”

One of the few poems that does confront Scotland is Giles’ Brave, which features in BTFTLT and is a very Scottish celebration of contradiction. Harking back to the Beat poetry that shook America in the 1950s and 60s, Waters described it as “Howl for the Yes generation”.

The poets were refreshingly honest about the politics of the spoken word scene itself. Giles, who started the popular open mic night Inky Fingers, was keen to point out the failings as well as the successes of the movement: “I think the Scottish poetry scene in general is very welcoming, and it continues to grow and provide professional roots, but it does face challenges. One of which is a concentration in Edinburgh and Glasgow, and a struggle to bring people in from outside the cities, and another is in diversity. It’s very white. I’ve seen a lot of nights with majority male bills. We’re not reaching a range of poets I think we should be... but I know there’s a lot of people working on that.”

JL Williams (pictured below right) and Giles have both read and performed at these nights, which is not the case for McCready, whose poetry deserves to be more widely heard. She lives in Dunoon on the Argyll and Bute peninsula and her poetry imbues nature and natural processes with an eerie violence.

The title of Triptych One can be found in her poem From a Garden. McCready’s verse uncovers fascinating detail about the history of childbirth over the last century. “It’s amazing what you find out,” said Waters. “There’s something called twilight sleep, where they [the medical establishment] used to knock women out and they’d give birth without knowing it and have the children brought to them.”

Even if it has progress to make, no one could doubt the Scottish spoken word circuit continues to be an energetic success, and the place to find new experimental Scottish poetry.

As for the present, one can only hope the spoken word circuit continues to broaden its range and provide a stage for Scottish poets. All the evidence suggests there’s more to come from Scottish poetry, and on the basis of the these three poets, the standards are high.

Our Real Red Selves will be released on May 27. There will be a free event on Thursday, June 4, at the Centre for Contemporary Arts in Glasgow featuring all three poets.

Be The First To Like This (BTFTLT) is out now (Vagabond Voices, £11.95) and Our Real Red Selves can be pre-ordered from the Vagabond Voices website:

SHIFT/ will preview at Summerhall in Edinburgh on August 5. Visit