The Why?s Man

"My art is place specific and people specific." George Wyllie

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"George Wyllie is a seriously playful artist. All his life he has been driven by the desire to play, driven to make things, to ask the big questions, and the wee ones too, as freely, as straight-forwardly, as outrageously and with all the fun, the indomitable life force of a child, all the long-lived courage of a wise-man, the whys-man,who knows the worst, as well as the very best, that human-kind is capable of. He celebrates us in all our glory and ludicrousness.

His structures are poems, just as the poems in this book are structures.

He makes me happy in the way that ooh... Alan Davie, Joan Miro, Mozart, Edwin Morgan, Alexander Calder, Robert Burns in merry mood, Don Marquis, e.e.cummings, The Simpsons, Adrian Mitchell, Ivor Cutler, John Sampson (my friend who can play two flutes at once), can make me happy.

My good friend, and George's Bill Paterson, who worked with him on A Day Down A Goldmine, once suggested George and I should do some sort of theatre piece, a revue, together. Just we had a title, Wyllie & Lochhead, he said would work well (at least here in Glasgow and with wrinklies like oorsels...). I was well chuffed that Bill thought me fit for collaboration with such illustrious company. Never got round to that yet, did we? But - for George's seventy-fifth birthday - I was proud to be asked to write a poem in honour of the occasion. Whether it's any great shakes as a poem or not, looking at it now, well, the fundamental things apply, and I feel I can't do better than resprise that now, as I wish this fine and long overdue book well."

Liz Lochhead (March, 2012)

Foreword to "Some serious, Some not, Some not even that", poetry collection by George Wyllie, published 2012. Reproduced with permission.



A Wee Multitude of Questions

for George Wylie

On his 75th birthday


Who is the man

'it pleases as much to doubt

as to be certain'?


Whose faith

is in the questioned faith?


Which Great Scot

(pronouncedly Scottish) pronounces


most Scotchly with a question mark and a

glottal stop?


Who puts a question mark at the centre of everything?


Who lives unbowed under the slant of Scottish weather,

loves the white light of stones,

walks on wiry grass

and, feeling the electric earth beneath him,

turns his wide gaze to the open sea?


Who was the young sailor

who walked in a place of ash and char, fused glass, bone?

Who saw that, aye, rocks do melt wi' the sun

and let pulverised granite run through his fingers

like the Sands of Time Shall Run?

(The name of the place was


and in the middle of the word

was the hugest question-mark.)


Who will surely

interpret for us the monograms of the stars?

Who is the man

whose name belies his nature?

(for 'wily' he is not; there is

craft in it, and art, but no guile.  He is true

and straight, his strategy is honesty, and to ask -

in all innocence

in all experience -

the simplest, starkest, startling



Who makes biting satire out of mild steel?


Who wishes to avoid Incorrect Assumptions leading to

False Conclusions?  Wants us to question mark,

yen, buck, pound?


Who in A Day Down A Goldmine asked us to resist

the Golden Fleece, the Big 'I-con'

that would swizz us all to sell our souls?



Berlin Burd

faced an absurd


(Which the bird keeked over

and The Wall keeled over.)


Who, one Christmas, made

gorgeous guano-free robins

cheep in George Street, Edinburgh,

more multitudinous

than were starlings once in Glasgow's George Square?


Which George is the Captain of The Question Mark

and Daphne his first mate?


Whose Jubilee

was happily misspelled Jubliee on page thirty-five

of his lovely, jubbly, jubilee catalogue?


Who decided a locomotive might descend a staircase

and a tramcar might have wings?

Who made the out of order

Standing Stones walk?

Who made Holyrood into almost Hollywood

for the Festival fringe?


Whose spires inspire us,

unquestionably celebrate?


What the devil was the de'il

wha danced away wi the exciseman?

(Art did! Art is the very devil that danced

awa wi the exciseman.)


Who is the Mad Professor up all night in the attic

inventing The Great British Slap and Tickle Machine?

Who is our ain

National Genius, wir true Caledonian McBrain?


Who speculates about what is

below the surface, douses, divines?

Whose rod is not a Y

but a why?  Whittled to a ?

(His 'by hook, by crook' he advances with, slowly

over rough ground in his good grasp;

his shepherds crook;

his boat hook

hauling us aboard - hang on to your sou-westers,

shipmates, it'll likely be a bumpy ride.)


In the dark spaces of our heads

divers, multitudinous, unmarked, the questions float

         above a straw locomotive and a paper boat.


By Liz Lochhead

[From The Colour of Black and White (Birlinn, 2003)]

Reproduced with permission

Liz Lochhead reading the poem
Extracts & Images

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