Rachel McCrum, 2013 Recipient

Rachel-McCrumRachel McCrum is originally from a small seaside in Northern Ireland and has arrived in Edinburgh via Oxford, New Zealand and Manchester. She is Broad of Rally & Broad, Edinburgh's most wonderful cabaret of words, music and lyrical delight; and Stewed of Stewed Rhubarb Press, Scotland’s. Her first pamphlet The Glassblower Dances won the 2013 Callum MacDonald Award, as a result of which she was the Michael Marks Poet in Residence at the Harvard Centre for Hellenic Studies in Nafplio, Greece in the summer of 2013, and she travelled to South Africa as part of the Scottish Poetry Library/British Council Commonwealth Poets United project in spring 2014. She likes red wine, dark chocolate and once, she went sailing.



The Glassblower Dances (Stewed Rhubard Press, 2012), winner of the Callum MacDonald Award

Selected Poems

The Glassblower Dances

The words first appeared on a lamppost
on a dirty road between a chip shop
and some tired Turkish Baths.

They nestled amongst fat careless splurges of paint
and the neon screams of get tae fuck
and nae future.

Reading the phrase, passersby smiled
and thought no more about it.

But the words tucked themselves
into the minds of the people
on the bus.

Two days later, the handwriting was seen again
on a wall along a cycle path
and beside the hospital for sick children
and in a cafe toilet
and down near where the ships no longer came.

And people began to repeat it to themselves
in the early morning on the streets.

The phrase swirled out.
It appeared on the back of schoolbooks
and on library desks.

It moved beyond the city

was seen written on a rock
on a beach full of leaving birds
and on a bench
beside a bus stop
in a small grey town.

It was seen carved down the curve of a mountain

the glassblower dances.

As the words swelled
people began to talk.
A feature was broadcast on the local news.

And some were curious
and searched for understanding
on YouTube


but enough to understand
the rhythm that came through the feet
from earth to breath to arm
the flow of skill
the exhausted dogged passion
that was required for the alchemy of changing
dirt into something fluid, strong and beautiful.

The words grew.
And the City Council talked
of the cost of cleaning
but they could not calculate it accurately.

And well heeled sorts on a late night sofa
spoke of the shallowness of modern culture
and lamented the loss of the canon.

(but the thing about a scratch
is that you feel it
and sometimes it lets things in
and they incubate
and fester)

And some academics wrote a paper
on the sociocultural intertextual significance
of urban public expression

but it was rather long
and only read by eight people.

And linguists spoke of sibilants,
how they trace the brain with fingers of smoke.

And historians expounded on the history of glassmaking
how China, ignoring it until the Seventeenth Century,
invented fireworks instead of windows.

And the phrase didn't stop any wars
or bankers -
there were other words to try that job
and it was beyond this writer's ability
at this time.

But people smiled
and for a moment felt something in their chests had loosened
and wondered about things
that did not touch their lives.

And all this happened
because once a time
someone thought to write
upon a wall with joy

the glassblower dances.

I Go Sailing

For Margarida Jorge.
[August 2012]

Last summer, my father and I made the North Sea crossing.

Inverness spat us out the Moray Firth
crested by bullying dolphins.

The first day saw us breathless over swift clean waves
Racing beneath oil platforms because we knew
how to ride the wind.

The second day,
our stomachs dropped
as the sea rose up to meet us.

A heightening gale
and the pitch and maw of big water.

I held the helm for ten hours
cold, wet and muscles biting.

He, sixteen stone of bad hip,
lumbered under oilskins,
did what he had to.

Tying and retying salted sheets
reefing canvas pulling fat with windv

And with one brief lifeline
straining him to the foredeck.

Never so glad to see the sea
give up a sullen coastline.

In the harbour, we shoved
cheese rolls in our mouths sideways, apples,
and did not mention the crossing.

But after, ravelling up again
the family knot

I heard him tell my mother
‘She kept her steady’.

Months later, landsick and hung
tethered to the corners of my bed.

Fretting disappointment over
another wayward change of course.

He sent a message.
Signed off ‘your proud da.’

And I
like any daughter would.
Like any child would.


in the rented privacy
of my lurching room.

Explore Rachel McCrum’s Blog

A brief comment from Rachel McCrum about being in Greece, in 2013

The heat. The sun. The cicadas. Iced coffees during the day when it is too hot to eat anything, replenishing water and salt levels with cucumber and feta once the sun had gone down. The conversations, politics, poetry, everything, long into the night. The sheer sensory experience fed so much into my poetry, and then deeper into the levels of ancient history, myth, archetype, and the interplay between those. A moving away from the personal. The warmth and hospitality and honesty I was shown will never be forgotten. Thank you. 

For more information on the awarded pamphlet, click here

CHS GR mccrum pamphlet