Aye ok, Charles Lang
Speculative Books, 2020 £7.99
Lightness of touch
Charles Lang’s poems observe urban working-class life from a Glaswegian’s perspective. Written in the cadences of lowland Scots, there’s a musicality and lightness of touch to them, perfect for performance. Snappy and conversational, the narrator, known as ‘I’ throughout, offers insights into childhood, community, the beginnings of a working life and the Scottish love of ‘fitba’ (aka football).
Reading the poem ‘An Education’ I was reminded of Jackie Kay’s ‘Old Tongue’. There’s a playful singsong melody working the lines as the narrator explores the cultural tension between the pronunciations ‘watter’ and ‘water’ — with ‘canny’ deftly repeated for effect:
Anywiy, ye canny say
watter, it’s water.
But if ye’d say water
tae the boys in ma class
they’d say ye wur a teacher’s pet.
‘Go-Kart’ is a fun-loving cameo of boys being inventive with wheelie bin wheels and a broken door. Phrases such as ‘doon the hill at full pelt’ and ‘skint oor elbows n knees’ have great immediacy — capturing the spontaneity born of freedom outdoors. To be on the streets was to feel alive.
As a Scot myself, I hear the critical voice bearing down on the narrator when he encounters ‘The Career Service’. Facing an insistent run of advice in five stanzas of Standard English the narrator casually retorts ‘Aye ok, / I says, / nae bother.’ And, again, in ‘Visitors’, the Glaswegian — meeting a friend at middle class Camden Market — enjoys a ‘vegan mac n cheese’, then questions their social mobility in the last line: ‘Who do we think we ur?’
Aye ok tells stories in an authentic voice. Everyone in ‘Mitchell Hill Flats’ shows up as their community copes with current pressures, the one who makes it to Dresden too. But the poems remind us never get above ourselves; the tall poppy syndrome is at work. Sharp cameos of working class life, snapshots on the streets.