GUB by Scott McKendry – review

February 6, 2024

GUB is a parcel of poems, alive with Belfast vernacular and spitball zen. It sees heaven in a gravy chip. It is wise to Captain Beefheart, Snap! and Roxy Music. The guy in the ice cream van serves up Embassy Regal on the sly until he is shopped by a tout. But hey, he was once a boss feature of the Lower Shankill and he made a classy entrance: 

“Venetians bend, youngsters are beckoned, dentures go dloop
into tumblers
as a subaquatic ‘Greensleeves’ heralds the approach of Swushy Morello.”

The people here are contrary and various. Local paramilitaries have pledged their protection to migrating greylag geese. Elsewhere, a leading Womble (the UDA, like the creatures of Wimbledon Common, are always on the scrounge) finds himself related through marriage to a Republican warlord. The pair are passing Harp tins and hot dog garnish to each other at a reception, “as if they both hadn’t considered sticking that barbeque fork into the other’s throat.”

There are thematic riffs and singular wit. GUB layers up a sense of place and a fond character to this North Belfast parish – a kind of Under Milk Wood with Union-coloured kerbstones. In the poem, All I Want’s My Goose Back, McKendry borrows from Alison Millar’s documentary film, The Men Who Won’t Stop Marching and refits the viral complaint: “I want my goose back, or you owe me a tenner, dickhead.”

Away from the shadow of the Black Mountain, the poet visits Istanbul, which lets him consider WB Yeats and Sailing to Byzantium. Art and soul are measured while the local smithy makes a necklace for the poet’s dad. Scott wears his learning lightly, even when he creates an alter ego, Monsieur Guillaume ‘Willy’ Forgèt, and elsewhere writes a series of pieces in a phonetic script he calls Eejit or Belfastwa.

The sass and caprice of the lines may conceal a bleaker tone. Denmark Street recalls a lost friend and a storm-lashed farewell. It sighs sweetly, not unlike Richard Brautigan and his wry adieus to a receding dream.

Meantime, the greylag geese have arrived from Iceland and have settled for a while by the sectarian murals where the flats once stood. Their feathered relations are in Inner Mongolia, feasting on rice, but the Belfast blow-ins must improvise:

“On this estate, they make do
with Tayto crumbs and cones of dropped pokes.”

You take your nourishment where you find it. A great collection.

Stuart Bailie

Gub by Scott McKendry is published by Corsair / Little Brown.


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