The Look-Out Man,

Shug Hanlan

Kerfuffle Press, 2019  £3.50 (plus £1.00 postage)

Original review can be found here.

Voice mastery

In this collection, it seems to me that voice is the key. The speaking voice is deliberate and carefully controlled, but it changes sharply from one poem to another. Often it’s dead-pan and unmistakably Scottish (even when writing in English). The concluding poem, for example, titled ‘The Reason I write Poetry’ (and the whole poem is the answer to that title) reads:

Pretty soon,
is giving you cash,
drink and free drugs,
just for being creative.

This strikes me as a sort of performance voice, engaging, funny, slightly rueful.

But in ‘Spoilt Rotten’ the voice (and the persona) is different: ‘His poor mither still irons his shirts. / [ ... ] That laddie has no consideration / for any cunt but himself.’ Still, it’s a wry humour that underpins the effect in both cases. So you might think you’ve got the measure of this poet.

Hardly. ‘The Reef’, a poem in the first person, is strangely mournful. I liked it without understanding it at all:

I can just about hear Sarah
softly flitting around
above blasts of wind
clawing though
slim cracks in my bedroom window.

But two more short poems, deliberately placed on facing pages (‘Cash, Edinburgh 1999’ and ‘Bread, San Francisco 1960’) fascinated me with their overt voice-play. The two pieces express a philosophy of life (arguably precisely the same philosophy) in different voices. In the Edinburgh version, the speaker is talking about sharing:

It wiznae like right,
this is your cash
an’this is ma cash.     
Nae point in writing things doon.
Ah jis live from day to day
ah jist do.

In San Franciso:

It wasn’t one of those
this is your bread
this is my bread situations.
I don’t like to clutter my life up.
I just dig it
and feel the thing.

I found the juxtaposition fascinating. It looks simple, just a bit of a joke — but I think it’s more than that. I would like to hear the verbal links from this poet in live performance. I think they might add another voice again.

Sometimes voice is everything.

Helena Nelson

Oil Rig (Prog) Rock

Written by JR Hartley

To all the noises normally associated with an offshore oil platform; the deafening roar of the drilling-floor, clamps grinding against steel piping and helicopters whirring overhead, we must now add, according to Shug Hanlan’s recent booklet Xploration, the sound of mellotrons, wild guitar noodling and horn and keyboard driven instrumentals.

On Hanlan’s rigs, Prog Rock, like the North Sea, swells just below the surface. It is a place run on unorthodox lines by a Dutch mime artist turned oil mogul where the workforce is divided between opposing musical factions. A musician, Mike Silverside is introduced only to mysteriously vanish after a gig on the northern coast of Fife. Investigations to locate Silverside give Hanlan the chance to play with hard boiled noir dialogue and uncover the dark underbelly of the Dumfries music scene.

Hanlan has been relatively quiet since his 2001 cult collection “Hi Bonnybrig and Other Greetings” but a change of scenery has brought out the best in his comic talents. Xploration puts a smile on your face as it searches possible, skewed sources of alternative music and sustainable energy.

Bonus material appears in the form of two previously published short stories, “Dr.Quinn” re-imagines the Wild West’s finest female physician as a respected book reviewer and “The High-Jumper’s Fear of his Hard-on” details the difficulties of an athlete suffering from chemically induced erectile dysfunction.

Copies of Xploration and the follow up Ship-reX (reviewed elsewhere) can be obtained from the Kerfuffle Press website priced £3.50.

A Sunken Treasure - Ship-reX by Shug Hanlan

Written by JR Hartley

Hard to imagine that there was a time when Shug Hanlan was mentioned in the same breath as fellow Scottish authors Irvine Welsh, Ali Smith and Alan Warner (all featured in the same 1997 anthology, “Ahead of Its Time”). With a new booklet, Ship-reX, Hanlan has resuscitated his literary career as a seafaring, less droll, version of Ivor Cutler.

It’s sometime during the mid-1960’s and for the residents of Chungymouth, life in a Scotch shipping village goes on without any outward influence from the modern world. Out at sea, broadcasting form a ship called The North Star Grassman, the Pirate Radio station, Radio Reefer is bringing the sounds of the swinging sixties into their tight knit community. The fission in fishing traditions and comic, pop culture tensions this produces amongst Chungymouth’s population, the teenage female community especially, are played for delicious, salty, effect.

Things are not all peace and love at Reefer Radio either and on board the good ship North Star Grassman, bitter rivalries are brewing. Differing musical tastes are the springboard for a personal falling out when a Peel like, late night DJ, Seaslater Syd, squares off against Kinky Ken Kensington, the station supremo whose bedside manner makes Jimmy Saville look like Florence Nightingale.

Hanlan spares us the concrete details of the actual sinking but when the pirate ship is washed up on the sands of Chungymouth, the reception committee is led by the village’s most violent miscreants known as the Lean, Young, Hard Crew. Compassion is in short supply but there are laughs aplenty.

In an additional short story “Wasps”, Hanlan may have inadvertently stumbled on a new literary genre; Rugby Union Magical Realism.

Copies of Ship-reX and its predecessor, Xploration (review to come), can obtained from the Kerfuffle Press website priced £3.50.

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