Inspired by the Scottish Homecoming celebrations of 2009 which, amongst other things, marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Rabbie Burns, Thi 20:09 presents the boisterous tale of “A bus fu we past generations that huv shaped oor nation”. It is Dundonian poet Mark Thompson’s second poetry collection, following on from Bardfaethi Building Site (2007), which was praised by The Courier as “Working class poetry at its finest”.
Filled with famous Scottish faces from contemporary characters like “Thi Big Yin” to historical figures such as Rob Roy and Burns himself, in Thi 20:09 Thomson creates what he refers to as his “dream team” of twenty-four iconic Scots, with Sir Alex Ferguson in charge, of course.
Narrated by Thomson through the persona of the bus driver, there is an initial sense of underlying self-indulgence in his attempt at celebrating Scottish culture and heritage as a whole, rather than at a poetic level. Thomson’s role is to narrate and nothing more – there is no sense of self-worth or promotion on the poet’s part. Considering the company he finds himself in, this is probably just as well. As a result, despite comprising an undoubtedly ambitious collection of over fifty verses, Thi 20:09 never feels bogged down by its star-studded cast.
This is poetry driven, literally in this case, by Thomson and his easy use of Dundonian language and sense of comedy. Indeed, much of the episodic humour, served up with lashings of pop culture references (poor Mel Gibson), is laugh-out-loud funny. Loud being entirely the point. Thomson’s language – in itself, a hybrid Dundonian dialect – is pure aural poetry, meant to be read aloud and savoured in its sound and shape. The challenge in reading Thomson’s poetry is not in understanding or deciphering complex imagery, but rather in not reading aloud the entire collection, a test which this reviewer proudly failed on almost every occasion. Thomson’s playful look at Glasgow’s sectarian (or footballing) divide involving a green-shirted character sporting “nae teeth, an a puss fu o plooks” and his compatriot, draped in royal blue, who “hid sum teeth an no so many plooks” sticks in the memory; its quick and sharp delivery and sarcastic tones begs to be heard out aloud.
The collection has its shortcomings yet these are sporadic enough that highlights such as a sketch involving Alexander Fleming and “junkies” on “Pen ‘e’ cilan”, overshadow the less developed poems such as “Gordon Brown” or “Jackie Stewart” which, while remaining mildly amusing, are ultimately “throw-away” and distort an otherwise constant stream of amusement. After all, it’s not too common to read the line “‘Ir you sum kinda wide-o?'” directed at Alexander Fleming in the middle of a poetry book dedicated to the celebration of Scottish achievement and culture.
Although not exactly revolutionary, Mark Thomson’s Thi 20:09 is poetry that is highly amusing and infectious to read. It is an honest work that knows exactly what it wants to be and shows very little interest in overreaching or overstaying its welcome.