We met with Perth Pioneer Jim Mackintosh who is the first Poet-in-Residence for a professional football team in Scotland. Jim took up the honorary position with St Johnstone FC in 2016 and the role has uniquely placed him to use poetry to connect communities, engage with peers and raise vital awareness and funds for the Football Memories Project for Dementia Sufferers.
Jim is a man who is constantly thinking about poetry and how it can be interpreted in different ways by different people, through his books, through live performances or even by engaging people on the street one-on-one.
“Poetry to me is finding the right bundle of words in the right order, but importantly respecting the space around the word, allowing them to breathe… it’s also about defining enough to spark the reader or the listener to realise their own images, and visions of their own interpretation of what you’re trying to say.”
“It can be a memory from your childhood, a memorable incident…. or it can be a line from the newspaper, you can have a particular line or phrase which you think needs a poem so you try and work around that. Sometimes you’ll just write those words down and see where it takes you and a lot of the time it’s never where you thought you were going.”
Jim first began his love affair with poetry as a teenager, where he would spend his time scribbling fragments of poems in notebooks and napkins. It wasn’t until he was older however, that he discovered his family possessed a generational affinity for poetry.
“I think what I didn’t realise, even until my second book was published and my dear old mother said to me ‘oh yes son, you’re grandmother wrote a lot of poetry and so did your father’ and then you discover that there are books of poetry going back a hundred years in the family.”
Throughout his life Jim has published five books, but refuses to use the number of books he’s penned, or sales milestones as measures for his success. Instead Jim believes that publishing a book is a simply a way of closing a chapter.
“Books are in some ways a passport to letting you get on with other things… you can revisit every poem you’ve ever written and you could change every one of them. There’s very few poems where you think ‘yep, that’s it, not doing any more’, and that’s what poetry tends to do.”
Jim has a long founded respect for icons in poetry such as Robert Burns and Shakespeare, but finds that this idea of poetry can often pigeon-hole contemporary poets, ‘lumping them in’ with ‘double English on a Tuesday afternoon’.
As a modern poet Jim enjoys thinking of new ways to connect with people using poetry, whether through live performances or digitally. An active social media presence has helped him sell books across multiple countries including the USA, Canada and Australia; however he credits the support of St Johnstone FC in getting him where he is today.
Describing himself as a fan of the club since before he was born, Jim wrote a poem about the side’s victory in the 2014 Scottish Cup, which happened to fall on his birthday. The poem was picked up by the local media and Jim built his reputation with his fellow fans.
The following year marked a more sombre note, as club legend Willie Coburn, a noted player in the 60s and 70s passed away suddenly. Jim was called upon to pen a poem to mark Willie’s passing, which was warmly received. These efforts and others subsequently led Jim to becoming the country’s first poet-in-residence for a professional football team.
“A poet in residence for a football club is an incredibly rare thing, certainly in Scotland at the time I started it… but it’s kind of a combination of things, first and foremost we’re letting it evolve, it’s maturing, it’s a slow burn thing.”
“St Johnstone has a huge tradition and continues to develop a community aspect, so they’re always up for different things, and it fits quite comfortably there through the children’s football, through the Trust which is called Saints in the Community, and projects like Football Memories.”
The Football Memories Project for Dementia Sufferers is a national project which Jim has been involved with in recent years. The charity helps people with Dementia to meet on a regular basis and share memories of players, matches, goals and incidents from football matches in their younger days.
“Essentially the principle is to generate discussion to trigger memory to get the mind active and all these people have, to varying degrees, the onset of dementia. But also there are other illnesses… people that are going along as well because it’s relevant. It’s that social aspect which is also important.”
Jim contemplated writing a book for the charity, instead opting to organise a collaborative effort with 40 other poets in Scotland, including the new Makar Jackie Kay. The project also opened up opportunities for unpublished poets, who knew someone touched by Dementia, to make contributions.
Jim hopes the project will generate £25,000-£30,000 for the project, with 100% of the profits going to the Football Memories charity.
Jim has a busy year ahead, performing at 8 festivals primarily to promote the Football Memories book, Mind the Time but also has collaborations with fellow Perth Pioneer Jon Plunkett at the Corbenic Poetry Path and at Innerpeffray Library. He is also working on links with the Cateran Commonwealth initially through the Cateran Yomp in June, and is also teasing out links to the Threshold Artspace with another fellow Perth Pioneer Iliyana Nedkova.
Definitely a busy year when underpinned with the continued evolution of his role as St Johnstone’s Poet-in-Residence.
To mark becoming a Perth Pioneer and to celebrate the links between St Johnstone and the City of Culture bid, Jim has written a poem called A Slice of Roots.
The poem considers where the Club sits in relation to its surrounding history, how its location and its existence is a very new layer of culture on top of centuries of other influences and challenges the reader/listener to embrace their own ideas of culture.