When I returned to Glasgow in the mid-1990s, after living with the teuchters up north for a bit, I settled in the West End of the city, as it transpires a bit of a haven for artists, writers and students. It wasn’t a part of the grand plan but I wasn’t complaining. The West End is peppered with book shops, galleries and wee out-of-the-way knickknack shops, but it was a small concern on Byres Road, run by a family of Asians, that caught my eye, one that sold bags, shoulder bags, hand bags, travel bags – you get the idea.
It’s common in that area to find adverts in shop windows, especially ads for bed-sits since Glasgow University is only a few minutes walk from there, however, in the window of this particular shop was simply a “daily poem”. I read it – it was suitably dire – and thought no more about it. But the next time I was there, I made a point of checking in again and this became a regular thing for me. I started paying particular attention to my fellow shoppers; I wasn’t alone, people would go out of the way, even cross the street, specifically to have a look at that poem. And here I’d thought that poetry had pretty much had its day.
The poems were a mixed bag it has to be said; some were pure drivel, rhymes-and-whines, but not all. Every one had been handed in by members of the public. After a good few weeks – spontaneous I am not – I thought, well why not, and ambled along with my own humble effort only to discover that the shop had closed its doors. In the window was the final poem but, rather than the usual A4 sheet, the whole window had been devoted to the last poem along with a thank you to all those who had contributed over the years.
I felt a bit lost. I wasn’t alone either. Others made their way to the shop. I tried to gauge their reactions. On the whole it was hard to tell. I think most people look sad most of the time. The closest image that comes to mind is that of a dog wandering over to its bowl only to find it empty and there’s no one for it to fuss over to fill it.
For the record, here’s that poem no one ever got to see.
Every day I come and look
(every day I can)
at the poem in the window
to see if it's changed
(and it always has)
but it's never more than a poem.
Every day I'm drawn
(it's an act of faith)
but there are never any answers.
April 23, 1996
Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense
Thursday, 18 October 2007