Hello, Stranger Poems

Wave Back by Jim Mackintosh

23 September 2021

Jim Mackintosh is an enabler as well as a fine poet. We have just had a new Makar announced from some smoke filled (or cake filled) room of self-appointed poetry experts but in my opinion the job of the Makar should go to someone who has spent their life spreading a love of, and a love for poetry, someone who is committed to seeing it turn in the popular perception from a dry arcane pursuit to an expression of joy: returning it to the people from whence it came. This is no criticism of Kathleen Jamie, a very gifted and accessible poet indeed, worthy of the greatest honours, but rather of the selection criteria.

Such a Makar could be Jim Mackintosh who has worked tirelessly to promote poets and poetry. He is the Makar of both the Federation of Writers (Scotland) and the Cateran EcoMuseum. He is the Poet in Chief at the Hampden Collection and poetry editor of Nutmeg Magazine, the only sports journal in the UK with a poetry section. He is the Programme Manager for the Hamish Matters Festival and, between 2016 and 2019, he was the Poet in Residence at St Johnstone FC. He is the author of six collections of poetry, the latest being Flipstones published by Tippermuir Books in 2018 and also editor of three other anthologies, Mind The Time (2017) for Football Memories, The Darg (2019) celebrating the centenary of Hamish Henderson’s birth, and, hot off the presses from Tippermuir, ‘Beyond the Swelkie’, commemorating the influence of George Mackay Brown

Here Jim reads Wave Back, a searing indictment of attitudes to immigration.


The UK Government determined to distract our attention from the pandemic and their tragic mess of handling it by focussing us on migrants crossing the English Channel in rubber dinghies. On 10th August, 2020 a BBC TV crew pursued one such desperate huddle of people live on TV in an appalling disregard for the basic principles journalism and our humanity.

An open wound exposed in our humanity

salt water lashed, soaked in fear. They know.

They understand every mile, every day

plummeting into unknowns. This is today.

A shadow blends tightly into her mother,

blinks on every surge up, the flop down

puddles her tears into the dinghy floor swill.

Her father’s knuckles shimmer like mussel shells.

As he bends and swivels on every bale of water

the wracking cough of the engine muffles

the prayers of the others. Nine souls huddled.

Not by choice. In Orange vests. On white water.

Fifty short yards away, the distant reporter bobs.

Notes prepped. Statistics studied. Scoop ready

on the spot should the Channel Threat Commander

fluff his lines. Allowing the innocent to drown on TV.

Over the centuries, packed into caravans on water

desert, tarmac we’ve shifted on the bruised edge

of oppression. It’s bow wave pulling too many under,

swelling the insatiable belly of privilege. This is today.

The series is curated by Hugh McMillan, poet and writer, Ambassador for the Scottish Poetry Library in 2020 and Editor of its anthology ‘Best Scottish Poems’ for 2021.