Tracy Patrick: Braw Lads Are Marching Awa
Elderslie-born author Tracy Patrick launches a collection of poems from World War One penned by Renfrewshire soldiers next month at Abbey Books in Paisley. Titled Braw Lads Are Marching Awa, Brian Hannan from Abbey Books caught up with her to find out more…
Can you tell me why you came to do this book?
The book arose from research I was doing for a book of found poems based on the First World War in Renfrewshire. I started the project during the 1914-2014 centenary, but was interrupted by a period of illness, so it has taken a while to get off the ground.
I had intended to compose my own poems based on the material I found, but soon discovered the Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette published a lot of poems from local people during the period. I soon realised this work merited a book of its own.
What inspired you?
I have always been fascinated by the work of the famous war poets such as Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sasson, Isaac Rosenberg, Ivor Gurney, Richard Aldington, and many others. They seemed to have a truth and realism about their poetry that defied conventional death or glory narratives of war.
I also welcome attempts to expand the canon of war poetry to include more female poets, non-English speaking poets, as well as local material. Sadly, the reality of war in Europe has become more relevant again since I started this project.
How you went about it?
I went about the book by spending a lot of time in the Heritage Library, first in Paisley’s High Street, and again in Mile End Mile, where it is located while renovations are taking place. The Gazette published poems on a regular basis, and I made notes of the ones I liked, and took photographs, frequently going back over the source material to ensure there weren’t any I’d missed.
Then, once the selections were made, I started to typeset. I left out the jingoistic poems from earlier in the war, which expressed enthusiasm about killing ‘barbaric’ Germans, and were common across the country at the time.
How many and how often did the newspaper print them?
I don’t know how many war poems The Gazette printed during the war. Most of my selections come from 1915 and 1916. There is a noticeable decrease in poems after the Somme. As casualties mounted, propaganda became less effective, and war weariness set in.
The decrease in poems I think reflects that truth. I also noticed that The Official Press Bureau would step in and ‘amend’ poems before they were printed, as happened to Neil McFadyen’s poem, Attempt to Torpedo a Ship.
I’d love to know how the original version read, and what was changed. It demonstrates just how much control there was over what people were allowed to print and read, even in Renfrewshire.
What was the saddest poem you read?
The saddest poem for me is Evacuated to Hospital by A.L. Wilson, about the pitiful state of the war horses, “With hips that project like a rack / And ribs that a blind man could number / Sunken eyes and a razor-like back.” Another I find especially moving is, Sing me to Sleep, by Pte. Thomas Sharp, with its melancholic refrain, “Far from the starlights I’d long to be, / Lights of old Paisley I’d rather see; / Think of me crouching where the worms creep, / Waiting for someone to sing me to sleep.”
And the most inspiring?
For inspiration, I like A Marching Song by A.K.D. because it’s so funny in the face of adversity. I’m also inspired by how many of the poets wrote so naturally in Scots, such as in the title poem by L.W.R., Braw Lads are Marching Awa.
And which is your favourite?
It is very difficult to pick a favourite. I like Newton and Glennifer by J.K. because they celebrate Renfrewshire’s natural beauty. The poems in the collection abound with references to well-known Renfrewshire spots like Stanely Castle, the Candren Burn, Misty Law and Calder Glen.
Some refer to particular people, as in Archibald McPhee’s In Memoriam, dedicated to young George ‘Muddy’ Hunter who died at the Dardanelles, the youngest of five Paisley brothers fighting in the war. On the Road by Morag Morrison encapsulates the sorrow of those left behind.
Finally, I absolutely love the poem titled, Melodeon Wanted by Pte. William Morrison. Addressed to the editor of the Paisley & Renfrewshire Gazette, it gives some lovely mentions of Paisley, and does what it says on the tin, showing how the paper acted as a means of communication and connection for many soldiers, and not just from Renfrewshire.
Tracy Patrick will be appearing at Abbey Books, 21 Wellmeadow Street, Paisley, PA1 2EF for a book signing and launch of Braw Lads Are Marching Awa, on Saturday 1st October at 1pm. Copies can be ordered in advance. Book priced £8.