A green cover with a yellow scrolly image on the left hand side, and lower case title, in white, and author name, in yellowThe Inner Circle, Henry Bell

Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2022     £5.99

This fantastic city

A freelance editor, including of Gutter: The magazine of new Scottish writing, Henry Bell brings a vibrant kinetic energy to this pamphlet, Inner Circle. It speaks to the intimacies of life as a Glaswegian through charged sensory language. I’m half made of this city through my father and love how the poems sing of the habits and pride which identify the place with the catchphrase ‘People Make Glasgow.’

The poem ‘Thoughts of Keir Street’ offers couplet scenarios of tenement life. It’s peppered with smells of ‘rotting lamb’, decaying apples and mangoes, a burning building, and cooking. It’s a pacy poem packed with lively children, wee girls and Roma, a drunk and fireworks. All life is found here in its own universe.

Another, ‘we were being good’, is a piece about the essence of what makes Glasgow tick: football. The poem’s narrator is on a train reading a book on the Easter Rising, alongside Celtic and Rangers supporters. As the train passes through named stations, alcohol swims into the poem. We hear Celtic and Rangers fans ‘up on their feet / singing and banging the walls of the carriage.’ The stanzas heighten in energy when a passenger ‘covered in union jacks’ attempts to intervene as a peacemaker. His action is undermined by an incendiary unprovoked assault by one fan on another. Conflict sits unspoken in every moment of contact despite the encouragement to be good.

The poem ‘thi seccont burnin’ oozes fire in its use of Glasgow dialect. There’s muscular power in these verbs: ‘blisters’, ‘blinters’, ‘jinks an jouks’; and the poem specifies actual fires – for instance, ‘Glesga Schuil o Airt’ – as well as recession and the struggle towards renewal:

Clyde an fir
working hard
makin somehing

This pamphlet draws us into bedraggled neighbourhoods, football rivalry, personal testimonies and praise songs for Glasgow’s idiosyncrasies. Henry Bell’s storytelling is beguiling and fierce.

Maggie Mackay