NewsWatch: "Alasdair's Desk": a poem by MLitt Creative Writing graduate Scott Hay
1 March 2023
The University of Strathclyde's MLitt Creative Writing gives students the opportunity to engage with working writers and industry experts to hone their literary practice.
As a centre for Gray Studies, the study of the literary and artistic contributions of Glasgow polymath Alasdair Gray, students are also offered the opportunity to undertake a placement at the Alasdair Gray Archive, which restages Gray's working studio set-up.
In 2022, celebrated poet and non-fiction writer Michael Pedersen was commissioned to visit the Gray Archive. He wrote a new poem, The Armchair Monologues, in response to Gray’s famous green armchair, and performed it at Oran Mor as part of Gray Day 2022. This acted as a model for students who then produced their own creative responses to texts, images and artefacts in the Archive.
Scott Hay, an MLitt graduate in 2022, took inspiration from Gray's desk - the breeding ground where numerous iconic artworks and novels such as Lanark, 1982, Janine and Poor Things came into being.
Here, Scott reads an excerpt from I Am Alasdair's Desk. The full text of the poem follows below.
I am Alasdair’s Desk
I do not remember anything of my life before you. I am sure I had one, I must have.
I wonder: was I loved?
Was I useful?
Did I play my part?
The earliest thing I can truly recall is the cold wind that howled down Bath Street,
the sempiternal rain that enveloped the street in a fine shimmer – causing the whole world to look like glass.
Outside the offices of Rutherford and McPherson, I saw many an unfortunate soul depart from that messenger-at-arms.
None of them gave me a second glance.
All too consumed in their own frivolities.
All falling behind. Owing The Corporation their Rate.
I sat sedentary on the street; forgotten, discarded, no longer fit for purpose.
but you …
You small, grey deity, snapped up this unwanted trifle and renewed me.
You breathed new life into withered wood.
The Great Creator.
My broken frame, renewed by swift and delicate hands.
My hinged and sloping top, oiled, and well kept … for the most part.
You drilled legs into my undercarriage.
They weren’t quite a match for my pale white top, but neither you, nor I minded this hodgepodge of material that made me … me.
You loved me for what I was, and I loved you for all that you were.
I remember what you said of me, to that man who visited us in your second wives flat:
“A magnificent brrroad desk.”
I don’t think anyone saw my potential in the same way that you did.
Not before, and nor since.
I travelled with you, I lived with you, I created with you.
For fifty years, I was always by your side. Your creative partner, a refuge point.
I know all your works, I knew them as soon as you did, as well as you did.
Before anyone else, you afforded me insight into your mind. I know all there is to know.
That Duncan Thaw, those Poor Things, those Unlikely Stories, I know them all.
I can still feel their forms, their shapes, and their significance on my wooden top.
I relished the feeling of sharpened pencils scratching pasty paper atop my gnarled slope.
Ink mixed with paper to become art, poetry … legacy.
I was the centre of our universe.
I was the centre of creation.
Your words, your art, your life: all birthed from me.
You say you loved me, you showed me love but at the same time, I was treated as an object. Something to be used.
Paper strewn across my top; ink splashes mottled my form and painted me in an interesting and crude style.
Black ink, white paper, too much Tipp-Ex … and your disgusting prune juice paints.
You treated me however you liked because you knew I wouldn’t care, I couldn’t care.
You knew I would never leave; I couldn’t leave.
You became a part of me, just as I became a part of you.
I knew I was the centrepiece of your universe, without me you would have been nothing, created nothing, birthed nothing. I owe my life to you, and you owe yours to me.
That garish green chair and those monumental shelves stacked with tomes always stole my limelight, but I knew that I was your most important muse, and that was all that mattered.
I knew, and so did you, even if you pretended you didn’t.
I hated when you would draw, when you would paint, when you would spill your coffee, your ink, your brains all over the place and on to my top.
I relished your words, your writing.
I longed for their caress … to feel your pen touch your paper and permanently mark your presence on my weathered face.
Paper provided a barrier, but still your words etched their way on to my soul.
It is lonely here without you. I still see some familiar faces, but many of those who visit me now are strangers.
Strangers who have come looking for some part of you.
They sit. They stare. They imagine what it was like to be you, but no-one truly knows.
Only I do.
I am Alasdair’s desk.
I have always been Alasdair’s desk.
I will always be Alasdair’s desk.