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Listening to Writers, a Poem by David Forrest

A writer visited my school. No cape or pipe but you could tell. I still have the notes, dictated word for word: If you want to write then first you must read (I think they also sold books). So I tried Jenkins, Gunn, Greig then Java and C. read Shakespeare like it was Dickens and Dickens like it was Shakespeare. I felt jealous of their many words crowding out the blank of the page and wrote nothing, nothing, nothing.

The writers on YouTube said travel. So I opened up my laptop in Paris and closed it in Berlin. I tapped my pencil against a table in Manchester and bit the end off in Bucharest. I came and saw and wrote nothing in Europe.

The writers on the scene taught me how to scream. I repeated the same lines in different places until the gigs started to rhyme with each other and other writers clapped the titles. The words found a sound that was different, I think, depending on who was listening – I wondered if they were ever mine. I edited, repeated, edited, repeated. I tried to write but felt edited, defeated.

I stopped listening to writers. It was nothing personal. Purely professional.

I met Sammy at the church foodbank. The name he gave me but not, I think, the name that was given to him. Maybe he’s called Samir. Or maybe Sammy was the first person Sammy met when he arrived in Scotland. He talked about life in Damascus when he was a child and life in Glasgow now as though nothing had happened in between. I heard the words but listened to the spaces.

Spent Wednesday evening at a café in Gibson Street. It was a Scottish culture night, in Scotland, but the people I met there were from Mexico, China, Syria, France… some of us stumbled through our first ceilidh, others their first Dabkeh. We learnt each other’s comings and goings. We took a trip to Skye, and a trip to Lidl and a trip to the Necropolis. As the weeks went by I saw the city appear again, as though a stranger had described it to me. Told its story. Unhidden its poetry.

What does a writer do, they asked.

Look inside themselves, I used to say.*


David Forrest is a Scottish writer and spoken word artist based in Glasgow. His work focuses on love, justice and spirituality. David's first collection, From Glasgow to Damascus (Palewell Press) is available now. For more information please see

*This poem was originally published in "From Glasgow to Damascus" (Palewell Press)


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