Heritage Resources

12 poets for 12 months

In celebration of the new foyers at the Theatre Royal, Scottish Opera commissioned 12 writers to each create a poem. We received 12 wonderful pieces that capture the writer’s memories of being at the theatre.

We will release a different poem here each month. You can also pick up postcards at the Theatre Royal in Glasgow and the Scottish Poetry library in Edinburgh.

The poetry project was kindly supported by the Edwin Morgan Trust and Dr David Summers Charitable Trust.

  • Final Curtains
  • Final Curtains

    In that moment when the operas you’ve been to
    flash before your eyes: a maelstrom of maestros,
    a diversity of divas, a concurrence of high Cs.
    From the first one I saw, the shock of a dead girl
    emerging from a sack, to sing like an angel;
    decades later, after the thrill of the brass, Don
    Carlos cloistered from the flesh-creeping Grand
    Inquisitor; a profusion of Figaros and Giovannis
    in their progress to marriage-bed or furnace roar;
    a tender duet, then a little page twinkling back
    for his new mistress’s handkerchief; the thunderous
    downfall of the Gods and Valhalla in flames
    a prelude to consoling wings and redemption;
    or with Butterfly lying, transfixed, before us,
    the release of heart-break, in a torrent of applause.

    Stewart Conn

Listen to Stewart Conn read his poem.
  • In Number One Dressing Room
  • In Number One Dressing Room

    on this, the last night of the run
    before beginners and after her five-minute call
    just time for one last time
    to centre herself, apply one last scoosh
    of that antique cologne she wears to
    get in character with just this character,
    bin the dregs of it, kiss
    her lucky rabbit’s-foot mascot that
    got her grandad through the war, drop it
    in the maw of her packed carpetbag.
    She’s counted the champagne corks,
    chucked them, unpeeled from their blu-tack
    the goodluck cards from friends,
    stacked them on top of the drawings
    from her children that sent their
    lots and lots of love but gave her guilt.
    The over-the-top flamboyant flowers
    her agent sent are drooped and dying,
    ditto the bonny bouquets from friends,
    even the single rose from her secret lover.
    She smears the lipsticked messages and kisses
    on the merciless mirror, risks
    a final check in it, bares her teeth.
    God, but she’s glad of that nap under her wrap
    before the half – one last night to get every last thing right!
    There’s a plane ticket in her handbag.
    Beginners, and out she goes along breezeblock corridors
    to the wings, the wings
    which give her flight.

    Liz Lochhead

Listen to Liz Lochhead read her poem.
  • On gratitude for Opera
  • On gratitude for Opera

    Most operas are considerably less than possible:
    All art is unrealistic, or parts of it are;
    No real children would stray into an enchanted wood
    To be seized by a witch; no ring nor real gold
    Would confer such powers as opera allows;
    But the gratitude we feel is real enough,
    The tears we shed for Mimi or for Butterfly
    Are not contrived; we cry buckets
    At those endings where our hero or heroine
    Falls to the floor in the dying moments
    Before the curtain falls, just as our smiles
    Are genuine enough on a less harrowing ending;
    So when we leave the theatre we feel
    Somehow better, more enriched than had we
    Never gone in that welcoming door to hear
    This most charming of arts, this most generous of gifts.
    Alexander McCall Smith

Listen to Alexander McCall Smith read his poem.
  • The Performance
  • The Performance

    I know a man whose burden is a beautiful
    brown cello. He carries the instrument in
    a cumbersome white case. The case is dented
    and scratched, and has seen sunsets from
    Santiago to Berlin. The man that carries
    the case frowns at every hill. He grumbles
    as he shoulders his way through busy streets.
    He secretly envies the flautists. But the
    case carrier and the musician are not the same.
    They are separate in one body. One translates
    the great composers through memories of
    childhood. The other drinks whisky and spits
    phlegm into his sink. They both remember
    a visiting cellist who asked their class to raise
    a hand. The hand was measured. The musician
    says it was to test the strength of his fingers.
    The case carrier will tell you that the cellist
    never looked him in the eye. 

    William Letford

Listen to William Letford read his poem.
  • Der Ring des Nibelungen
  • Der Ring des Nibelungen

    sixteen hours
    in the field

    to complete
    the harvest cycle:

    to reaping blade

    dry days
    are our gold

    ripe barley
    our song sung loud

    black clouds
    approaching like gods

    could wreck all
    our bale towers

    our labours drowned
    in rain’s theatre.

    Jim Carruth

Listen to Jim Carruth read his poem.
  • Seat 13, Row F
  • Job Centre: Opera Desk, Sopranos

    Soprano. Let me see. Well, there’s a
    crying need for Butterflies – kimono, sword and blood bag
    all laid on. In Royalty, a bunch of Queens (per usual):
    on top, one Scot, one not (a headless/barren choice of fates)?
    One blond Germanic bombshell (good at self-defence,
    but, frankly, dies on fire).
                Not quite your thing? Ok? Let’s try
    One seamstress, coughs to death (small frozen hands required)?
    One gormless jester’s daughter (bring own sack)? Hm?
    Slightly morbid, granted, still, they’re not the worst: this
    smart one – Cunning Vixen – winds up skinned.
    No, since you ask, no presidents, no judges,
    no inventors – just no call.
    No suicides, you say.
                Look, confidentially,
    see? Over there?
    The Glitter and be Gay desk? Worth a punt.
    They’ve Sprites and Sexy Servant Girls, and
    Tarts-with-Heart-of-Gold – there’s even Nuns.
    Don’t mention it! You’re welcome. And if
    those run dry, Contemporary.
    Say I sent you.
    They’ll know why.

    Janice Galloway

Listen to Janice Galloway read her poem.
  • Seat 13, Row F
  • Seat 13, Row F

    Ticket stumps in wan han’ an’ programmes in the other
    She guides us tae oor seat.
    Just as six follows seven, twelve follows thirteen
    An’ with dimmed lights follows –

    Fu’ ae aw the hope ae Hope Street
    Unwrapped like hard-biled sweets

    Waiting… to be carried away on the backs ae lights too bright
    Corsets too tight, seats wi’ restricted sight, weans oan sugar high as kites
    Interval drinks that ur overpriced, ice cream tubs but never ony choc ice

    Empty tubs stashed unnerneath hopin’ naebody will see
    Downed pints ae lager, folk bursting fur a wee
    Walls built wi’ laughter and a moat filled wi’ tears
    Seat wi a number, a nicht tae forget whit we fear.

    But no long noo til the big light comes oan
    Wings clipped and snipped as we skulk oor way home.

    Johnny McKnight

Listen to Johnny McKnight read his poem.
  • You, in the chair
  • You, in the chair

    Memory takes an interval, jaws drop
    like curtains as those loved for minutes take
    a fall, fall in love, break a leg, break

    apart. Words designed to draw emotion,
    words etched on brains, heard anew: a rose is
    a rose, and your smile and frown confirm you,

    as muse who directs from the gallery,
    the title you’ve re-scripted; your faces
    act as storyboard; their mouths as puppets

    strung by words and your reaction, Gulliver
    until you applaud – if you choose to do so,
    of course. Without an ear a song is just sound;
    the eye which reads the page creates the words.

    Plays are not for actors. Theatre is
    a conversation led by those in chairs.

    Kelsey Birt

Listen to Kelsey Birt read her poem.
  • An Opera to Last a Lifetime
  • An Opera to Last a Lifetime

    Before we’ve learned to say,
    we sing. Before learning, only song.
    Breathing song, seeing-hearing-smelling-tasting-
    touching everything-and-everyone song.

    Then words came. Words mean.
    Words matter. Words weigh out what
    it is we feel, what it is we do;
    what we are, what they are.

    Tearing apart what once was one –
    into here and there, into now and then,
    into theirs and yours and mine.

    And so, if we would live again,
    if we would share our lives again –

    Let’s sing and sing and SING!

    Ron Butlin

Listen to Ron Butlin read his poem.
  • second date at the theatre royal
  • Second Date at the Theatre Royal

    It was Wallace and Gromit, for God’s sake,
    but I forgave you anything then;
    laughed at your mock limp
    ten minutes before curtain up.
    Your sister recommended it –
    she had kids and received wisdom
    while we had only electricity,
    sparks when our elbows touched.
    It was almost too much,
    not knowing we were all set,
    me, nervous enough to leave half-way through,
    so you could hug me at the underground,
    and point me towards home.

    Ciara MacLaverty

Listen to Ciara MacLaverty read her poem.
  • Un Bel Di<br /><br /><br />
(One fine day)
  • Un Bel Di
    (One fine day)

    This time I tell myself I will not cry.
    I will not let Puccini rip the heart
    right out of me, won’t let poor Butterfly
    undo me utterly. I’ll stay apart,
    above it all, in this gilded circle
    up in the gods, beyond the world of things,
    enjoy the passing show, the spectacle,
    and not be caught by it. But then she sings.
    We all wait for the night to pass, the dawn
    to break, we all stand watching on some shore,
    looking for that ship on the horizon,
    the plume of smoke that signals hope once more.
    She sings it, Un bel dì… And it’s no use –
    I weep for everything I love and lose.

    Alan Spence

Listen to Alan Spence read his poem.
  • hall of a thousand lights
  • The Theatre Royal’s gorgeous transformation to the Hall of a Thousand Lights

    As fast as Glasgow burned its theatres to the ground
    it built them back again – we couldn’t do
    without our plays and tunes, we need a dance
    and song to keep us going. This gaff’s given us
    the lot: couthie comics, rude rhymes, romance,
    camp and catchphrase, flicks (with music), Ali Baba’s
    thieves, diverse monsters (Mary Shelley’s, Columba’s),
    wafting Rhine Maidens, our very own Marie Loftus,
    a masked ball, a harlequinade, a circus,
    Dan Leno’s Orlando Dando, Henry Irving,
    and Sarah Bernhardt for one matinée only –
    not to mention the sensational telly
    (One O’Clock Gang still daft in the memory).

    Whatever walls come down, go up, go round,
    this magic box holds all, swirling, birling
    in the waiting darkness the works shine through.

    Hamish Whyte

Listen to Hamish Whyte read his poem.