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John Tennant

Edwin Morgan

Tennant's Stalk - that's my monument.

Talk of the town, top of the walk, tells them to stop,

Any that trudge by that well-named Sight Hill.

It tapers elegant to its hourly bloom,

Thick smoke, acrid, highest anywhere,

Four hundred and thirty blessed feet

Above my empire, my chemical empire,

My blessed St Rollox, biggest anywhere,

My eighty acres of evenhandedly

Distributing industry and desolation!

Chief of all chimneys, carry your noxiousness

Into the clouds and away from my employees,

Settling if it must where I cannot see it!

I am in business for the uses of the world,

Bleaching powder, soap, sulphuric acid,

A thousand casks a week from my cooperage.

I'm standing here in the midst of furnaces

Which I understand and command - oh yes,

If there is anything new or strange in chemistry

It will not be the case that I have not heard of it.


Boasting, in my Glasgow way? Well, perhaps.

I am a chemist with passions. I am a character,

They say. Take my wife. I don't mean take my wife,

But just consider. We are not married

Except by good old Scottish cohabitation.

She is a total non-person to my family.

My brother, well we don't get on, that's that.

My sister-in-law, put bluntly, is a bitch.

My dear Rosina was a factory girl,

She may be beautiful, she may be bright -

She is beautiful, she is bright -

But a lassie from St Rollox, that's not on.

Well well, I've put their gas in a peep,

That claque or clat of bitches who can't stand

Class mix - my grand house in West George Street

Has, or should I say boasts, a fine brass plate

For MR & MRS JOHN TENNANT. And that's us.


How can a rebel be a capitalist?

What's the problem? I have a yacht - of course! -

And some have tried to poach my butler - fat chance -

But who was it marched through Glasgow in '32

To see the great Reform Bill safely through?

Who was it planted a doctor in the work

To give free treatment to all? Who ran

A factory school for workers' weans? Who

Cranked up mechanics' institutes? Who stayed

In the centre of Glasgow when the nabobs and nobs

Hustled out to suburban palazzos?

I'm bluff and gruff and tough enough,

If a foreman is a pain in the arse

I tell him he's a pain in the arse.

My eyebrows are bushy, and if my finger is in my fob

You had better watch out if you are skiving your job.

But, or rather BUT,

If ever you are down on your luck

You can come to me, you can run

With a secret misery, I can cut

Corners for you, nothing is shut

That John Tennant cannot get unstuck.


I come back to my Stalk, my obelisk, my watchtower,

My beautiful slender avant-garde polluter.

What poet would sing those acres of grey ash,

That ghastly guff of hydrogen sulphide?

Who cares? I'm happy to stand in for Homer.

His gods would have cackled with joy

To see my new-born boy

Poking manfully towards their heavenly rookery.

I marked the occasion - oh, did I not!

I gathered a posse of friends to hansel the Stalk.

Ladies and gents, I said, you're going to the top!

Such cries of horror, it was like a play.

I relished the moment, lifted a hand

For the clamour to subside. Just a joke, folks.

I don't need steeplejacks. It's inside you're going.

The bricks are the best money can buy,

They are new, they are brilliant, not a smitch of soot.

Please admire them as your rise past them.

Climb? Not a step. You will mount like magic

By a system of hissing steam-powered pulleys -

O James blessed Watt, late of this parish! -

Emerge at the viewing platform, safe as houses,

And sweep your eyes around like modern gods.

What's that sir? Insurance? Christ man

This is Glasgow. You are pioneers. Get in.

There's a woman in the Stalk before you.

Yes ma'am? Skirts? That's taken care of.

No one will look up your furbelows.

The ladies will sit in a basket, like balloonists.

The gents will be in buckets, like Brahmins.


Well, up they went into the half dark,

Clutching their ropes, listening to the pulley,

Silenced by the mystery

The summit was all light and air and chatter.

The smoky city was shunting fiercely below

But the height, the horizon, the haze was their hope

As they looked at, looked for, Scotland.

The firth, the masts and sails, the Arran hills,

The river winding south through glasshouses,

Eastward a faint glint of spires - Edinburgh?

We don't want Edinburgh! Find Ben Lomond!

They found it, and they found much else

As they leaned on my parapet, not paradise

But a throb of the great paradox,

Useful filth, mitigated pain,

Crops of brick and iron, with or without rain.


From Painted, Spoken No 5 (2002)