Welcome to our Guest Blogger for May, Kay Ritchie (age 68).

According to George Eliot, ‘It is never too late to be who you might have been’ which, as a late starter, I’ve always found rather comforting. I’d reached my mid-twenties before I went to art school, my forties by the time I got to university and was hitting sixty when I started writing.

It took several stumbling steps and misconceived career choices before I became a freelance photographer in my thirties and a BBC Researcher/Producer in my fifties.

Salman Rushdie in Gunter Grass’s house, Berlin, for Channel 4’s ‘Voices’ 1985

Derek Jarman

Derek Jarman in conversation with Lindsay Kemp at Sadler’s Wells, London 1987

Although I’ve often felt like the steel ball in a pinball machine, some stranger striking me off different targets, never quite finishing the game, I’m grateful, as I approach seventy, for the circuitous journey which has brought me, eventually, to a precious place of walking and writing.

Thanks to workshops with Donny O’Rourke, Magi Gibson, Larry Butler, Marjorie Lotfi Gill and, as a Clydebuilt mentee, with Gerrie Fellows, I have persevered.

Much of my writing is about certain things that have happened to me, objects found or people who excite me to discover more of their story.

In 2003 I was in New York making a programme about Woody Guthrie. Musician Rob Wasserman & I were on our way to a performance of Jack Kerouac’s Haikus at St Mark’s Church, when the following occurred.

transform-ation
.
(apologies to Lou Reed for transforming the true meaning of his lyrics)

left the archive nora 250 w.57th
tired hungry grabbed
pastrami on rye from a neon strip-lit kiosk &
a yellow taxi cab heading down-town in the rush
rob recalling busking round europe
double bass in tow
times square flashing mesmerising messages
traffic snagged up slow
me hearing hermann’s taxi driver not lookin’ at
but hopin’ that ours isn’t called bickle
rob on his cell hey lou nope no can do
we’re heading for east village to hear laurie read
haiku
she read jack
k-k-k-k-k-k-k e r o u a c
then when rob dropped me back at 59 w.44th
(thurber’s scribbly walls parker’s squabbly table &
lerner & lowe’s showy sound track)
tho’ we didn’t drink sangria in the park
feed animals in the zoo then later a movie too
I knew I’d be coming back ‘cause
it’s such a perfect day I’m glad I spent it with you

On a visit to Paisley Museum I came across a tiny pair of wooden clogs and wanted to know more about the wee boy who’d worn them.

Hogmanay

Maybe she was scrubbing, polishing away the old,
having dressed him in his Sunday best
sent him to swap jam-jars for tuppence at Galbraith's -
his entrance fee to the matinee
that final day.

Maybe he found a seat or had to stand amidst
the brothers and sisters and babies and friends
and cowboys on the silent screen.
Maybe when the woman played the upright
he sang-along

Are you comin to the Glen?
Are you comin wi' me?

Maybe when they shouted out FIRE
he joined the stampede,
leapt from the balcony, fell down stairs,
choked from the reek of
nitrate, vomit.

Or maybe he was already barefoot, limbs
tangled like unwound celluloid
spooling under layers of bodies
caught around another's legs
like wayward shoelace.

Unaware.

(In memory of Harry Green, aged 5, one of the 71 children killed from asphyxia and crushing at the Glen Cinema, Paisley, December 31st, 1929. His small clogs are displayed in Paisley Museum.)

A lot of my poems celebrate exceptional women who inspire me - suffragettes, historical figures, artists.

Tightrope Walker

(i.m. Alice Ernestine Prin – Kiki de Montparnasse - 1901 - 1953)

no net below
just faces gaping
till she topples
through kaleidoscope reflections of herself
naked climbing stairs
dancing with a bear
hair bobbed comme un garcon
cheeks stained red geranium
pubes and eyebrows shaved
redrawn with burnt out matchstick
or whatever shade has caught her mood

they call her La Reine
the dadaists
surrealists
futurists
come to be amused
by her risque performance
describe her face as cat-like
her profile as stuffed salmon
her scent as chicory Pernod
but she's Guerlain's 'L'HEURE BLEUE'

when she climbs on tables
lifts her skirts
shimmies shameless Chez Kiki
garter hose and more
they buy her hashish red wine
paint her
sculpt her
film her
water-mirrored
smashed in glass
through flames
in sculpted wire

she is a Jean Cocteau
Max Ernst
Man Ray
a tightrope walker

dancing in the sky

I’ve written a lot about living, working and travelling in Spain and Portugal, throughout the 1980’s & 90’s, a very special time when I was immersed in Iberian culture, especially Flamenco, Fado & Latin American music.

Local children in Nazare, Portugal

After the death of my mother and my partner David, I hand-made a chapbook, I’ve been eating Iberia, 10 poems & 4 photographs, to honour them and to thank dear friends who supported me while I was nursing them.

This poem was inspired by a visit to Manuel de Falla’s house in Granada.

Opus

At last we pass through an opened door.
Blue. Inside too as cool as
this distant misty Sierra Nevada.

Hats hang in the hall. Not three cornered.
Just panamas.

Flagstones matted in rush.
All hush as sweet light oozes through
Alpujarra curtains ripe as Seville oranges.

I am haunted by ghosts.
Your cotton-filtered cigarettes dance
will-o'-the-wisp into and out of each room

while Miles sits spell-bound sketching
Spain in some dark enchanted corner. Me
in a blue wicker chair where you and

Federico drew up mysteries and magics
puppets and politics around your round table.

When we take our leave I believe you have bewitched me.
I will go home and listen on a loop to El Amor Brujo
then paint my doors and windows bluer than blue.

In 2018 I started out for Santiago de Compostela. I wanted to walk with my mother and David, then leave them at peace. I felt really vulnerable and had no idea if I had the courage to step back out into the world after several years of intense caring. But that June, I walked, alone, for 12 days, from Porto to Vigo, along the Atlantic coastline.

washing by the sea

Washing flapping in a fishing village by the Atlantic Ocean

Swallows scud cobbles Peregrinos prepare for Portuguese rain
I glimpse a rainbow light candles which reflect in lapis lazuli leadlights
lay wild flowers knotted with fennel on stumbled upon shrines

I roam with Brian an Australian bush walker expletives Prussian blue
Hugh an Anglican vicar & Ellen a Dane who feasts on nasturtiums
orange yellow sweet tends my feet with alcohol entices me to eat almonds dates natas

shrine with flowers

One of many shrines along the camino where I laid flowers

Despite losing two toenails, I found it a magical and healing experience. This June I hope to walk from Porto into Santiago, joining the stone & water route at Pontevedra.

It seems it has taken till my sixties for me, at last, to have found my feet.

Transform-ation appeared in The Glad Rag Arts Zine Issue No 2, Hogmanay was in Reel to Rattling Reel, Tightrope Walker was in Gutter No 12 & Opus appeared in New Writing Scotland 31. Other poems have been published in Tracks in the Sand, Shorelines, Treasures, Making Waves, A Star in the Hand, Honest Error, Landfill, The Belonging Project, The Hold my Purse Project: Women & Travel, Poets’ Republic & Brushes with War. I came 3rd in the Federation of Writers (Scotland) poetry competition 2013 & have performed at various events, including Aye Write, Women’s Aid, Scottish Refugee Week, 100 Poets read 100 Poems, the Edinburgh Fringe & the Inverness Film Festival.