Megan Burns

Thesis title: Glasgow’s Red Clydeside and the Politics of Poetry

Start year: 2020


Supervisor(s): Professor Simon Kövesi, Professor Daniel Lea

Research topic

My project aims to recover and explore poetry by working-class writers from Glasgow’s Red Clydeside (c. 1910-1930), a period characterised by socialist industrial action and anti-war efforts in Glasgow and surrounding areas. James Connolly once wrote that ‘no revolutionary movement is complete without its poetical expression’, a rule to which Red Clydeside is no exception: poetry of the period ranged from texts published in socialist pamphlets, to poetry columns in local newspapers, and even the song sheets and chants of the picket lines. Whilst much of this poetry has been collected in political archives across the UK, it has so far been ignored within the field of literary study—even within the niches of working-class and Scottish literature.

Through recovery and serious literary study of these poems, the project poses a challenge to not only the traditionally exclusionary attitude to working-class voices demonstrated in the British canon, but also to the elitism of Scotland’s own literary renaissance (a movement which overlapped significantly with Red Clydeside). Clydesiders’ poetry directly fed into and effected the political action of the period: workers’ poems helped to build solidarity, reaffirm values and keep the momentum of the cause. The pro-strike poetry of ‘The Worker’, for example, supported and urged large-scale collective action; similarly, the poems and songs of the Socialist Sunday Schools explicitly aimed to build a new generation of socialists. Yet the project argues for these texts not as simple historical documents, but as irreducible aesthetic objects in need of dedicated textual analysis. Raymond Williams’s concept of the structure of feeling is argued for as an invaluable way into the historical importance of these texts without eschewing their literariness.

The project is particularly concerned with the following: poetic depictions of Scotland’s contemporary political landscape; gendered representations of the role of the worker; uses of Scots language and dialect; and the function of the production and circulation of these poems in the political struggle itself. Finally, the project also aims to consider the extent to which the poetry challenges historical narratives of Red Clydeside. The period has frequently been viewed in one of two ways: as a left-wing movement that, whilst militant, posed no real threat to power; or as a legendary period—a revolution that never was, but which came close. Which narrative does the poetry support—if any?


Trade unions, class, socialism, Glasgow, cultural materialism, Socialist Sunday Schools, dialect, Scots

General research interests

Scottish literature, working-class literature, 21st century poetry, literature of Glasgow

Academic School / Department

School of English and Modern Languages


  • ‘Form and Struggle in Two Novellas by Agnes Owens’: University of Northampton, ‘Working-Class Women Write!’, 2021
  • '"Women of the world, we greet you": The Political Verse of Helen Crawfurd', Scottish Network for Religion and Literature, 'Unforgettable, Unforgotten? Continuing the recovery of Scottish women writers, c.1880-1940', 2021

  • 'The Political and the Aesthetic: Poems from Red Clydeside', International Working Class Academics Conference, 2021

Further details

Academic and professional training

  • MSt English (1900-Present), University of Oxford (2019)
  • MA English Literature, University of Glasgow (2017)

Scholarship and prizes

  • Research Studentship - Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences

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