Category Archives: Poetry

November 2018

So. Just home from an all too brief trip to Slaley Hall, for the last time.  Nothing lasts forever and we, as a group, have decided it’s time to move on.  Journeying there for the first time by electric car, we called in at various chargers in the Borders towns.  I was struck by the commemorative work in evidence for the 100th anniversary of the Armistice, the official cessation of hostilities for World War 1, although God knows the seeds of World War 2 were being sown, even then.  Anyway, in particular, Coldstream, a town with significant  connections to the armed forces, had poppies everywhere, knitted, sewn, crocheted, fashioned out of metal, and in gardens.  It was significant and notable.

Tonight, listening to a special edition of Antiques Roadshow being broadcast from Etaples, I noted a speech from an unnamed participant,which seemed, to me, to sum up so much of what is happening just now.  Whatever you think of the BBC, they did broadcast this.

“Well, looking back in time, I think these people went through hell with the lid off, and I stand in awe of what they endured, and the price they paid, so that we could live in freedom.  But looking forward, I would wish that every politician would come and visit a place like this so that they can learn what happens when politics fails.”

When politics fails.

Transcription my own.

Today is the 100th anniversary of the death of Wilfred Owen.

One that got away

Patagonia

by Kate Clanchy

I said perhaps Patagonia, and pictured

a peninsula, wide enough

for a couple of ladderback chairs

to wobble on at high tide. I thought

 

of us in breathless cold, facing

a horizon round as a coin, looped

in a cat’s cradle strung by gulls

from sea to sun. I planned to wait

 

till the waves had bored themselves

to sleep, till the last clinging barnacles,

growing worried in the hush, had

paddled off in tiny coracles, till

 

those restless birds, your actor’s hands,

had dropped slack into your lap,

until you’d turned, at last, to me.

When I spoke of Patagonia, I meant

 

skies all empty aching blue, I meant

years.  I meant all of them with you.

 

Penguin’s Poems for Love, 2009, selected by Linda Barber.

Lightworks

Aberdour beach just before sunset in February, after a long week at work.

Hill and train line
Paul by the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Saw this exhibition yesterday,  small but interesting (who said eclectic?) collection of paintings by the Glasgow Boys, including Arthur Melville, E A Hornel, George Henry and William J Kennedy.   Fife has some wonderful artworks to behold, in amongst the various legacies of mining, farming, fishing and Royal politics.

We also hope to visit Lumen, site specific light installations in Edinburgh.  A lumen, as we all know, is a measure of the total quantity of visible light emitted by a source.  It’s Latin for light. *

This song has nothing to do with light, except perhaps its seasonal absence.

*On the same dictionary page, lumpen as in proletariat, from Germanic Lumpus, a rag.  And lunette, from lunus, which is the official name for the middle of the hairline at the back of your neck.   And you thought it meant spectacles on a stick.  Ha.

Jigtime

Corporation Road II

 

On my red swing I swept

high as its iron

chains allowed, the sky

 

I rushed toward disdained

to gather me; I birded up,

dizzied by its blue, its ungovernable clouds –

 

come back, said the Earth

I have your shadow.

 

Kathleen Jamie,  The Bonniest Companie, Picador 2015

Memories of Shieldhill swing park, flaking paint and iron scented hands, climbing the chute steps and staunchly certain that I was closer to heaven.

Adamantine

After a jolly nice scone with coffee at an Edinburgh garden centre, and a good blether with Rosemary and Susan,  I was reminded of this lovely poem by D H Lawrence.

Bavarian Gentians

Not every man has gentians in his house
in Soft September, at slow, Sad Michaelmas.

Bavarian gentians, big and dark, only dark
darkening the daytime torch-like with the smoking blueness
of Pluto’s gloom,
ribbed and torch-like, with their blaze of darkness spread
blue
down flattening into points, flattened under the sweep of
white day
torch-flower of the blue-smoking darkness, Pluto’s dark-
blue daze,
black lamps from the halls of Dis, burning dark blue,
giving off darkness, blue darkness, as Demeter’s pale lamps
give off light,
lead me then, lead me the way.

Reach me a gentian, give me a torch!
let me guide myself with the blue, forked torch of a flower
down the darker and darker stairs, where blue is darkened on
blueness,
even where Persephone goes, just now, from the frosted
September
to the sightless realm where darkness is awake upon the dark
and Persephone herself is but a voice
or a darkness invisible enfolded in the deeper dark
of the arms Plutonic, and pierced with the passion of dense
gloom,
among the splendour of torches of darkness, shedding
darkness on the lost bride and her groom.

Mum grew alpines, including gentians, with a wee bit success; Sherry loved the gentians because they reminded her of so many trips to the Matterhorn and Rosemary liked the one Mum called a periwinkle.  Indeed, she recently gave me a plant too.  I have called it periwinkle for so long that I have to cudgel my brain to come up with the correct name which I think is Lithodora?  Anyway, it means “stone gift” which would seem appropriate!

Another work in stone below, a few weeks ago I was on a mission to obtain various articles via the legendary charity shops in Stockbridge when I passed by this edifice I have not noticed before.

Stockbridge St Stephen Place

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Three bridges I

 

 

 

 

 

 

Above a shot of the bridges taken from the high up layby between Aberdour and Burntisland.  At least one member of the family will be able to  walk over the new Queensferry Crossing on the open weekend, before QEII arrives to sanction the moniker, and we look forward to seeing his pictures of that event.  I hope that we manage to drive across on the first day.

Lastly I thought of stone and blue together and arrived at diamond, from an old story in which a bloke went mining for those stones in Africa, hit a layer of impenetrable blue rock and gave up, but not before chopping out a slab to carry around with him to remind himself of his hubris.  The sun weakened the stone slab over the years, and of course it cracked open to reveal a giant stone of many carats.   The word diamond comes from  Ancient Greek ἀδάμας – adámas “unbreakable” hence adamant.

 

Summer-y

Oh good grief, I was sure I had posted at least once  in June, outwith Dad’s birthday, but I see the last one was May 28th.   Poor old BTW always suffers the most appalling neglect in the summer, it’s shocking behaviour and someone somewhere needs a strongly worded email.   In our defence I see that June encompassed the following activities: West Fife show with Rieko, Royal Highland Show, finding a spot to take pictures of HMS Queen Elizabeth*, at least three peregrinations** around Vane Farm, a trip to Beadnell with Team Discovery, three visits to the wonderful new museum and galleries in Dunfermline, and some catch ups with old chums, all the while working on new songs for the band and oh then there’s the day jobs.  Photos below include the two statues resident in the gardens of (deep breath) Dunfermline Carnegie Library and Galleries, they are of Tam O’Shanter and Souter Johnnie.  And yes, we already know of interactions with traffic cones.   The picture of the heron was an attempt to capture the beautiful yellow and blue flowers in the wetland meadow, mayhap they would show up better after some gentle photo massage.

We had a brilliant 9th anniversary visit to Beadnell – the girls won the quiz!! – and were the skies ever so big as viewed from Alnwick beach?  Our 10th is obviously going to be a no holds barred, take no prisoners 72 hours of complete anarchic mayhem, I’m sure that’s what Roger said.

Some happy news of family and friends of which more anon, but huge and hearty congratulations to Emily Sanderson and Christopher White, who graduated from St. Andrew’s and  Edinburgh Universities respectively.

Lastly, and most importantly, Paul’s astronomy club was written up in the Courier, with no mistakes or factual inaccuracies and some ace pictures.  The photos were taken in March of this year.

Researching the subject of neglect, I found this rather lovely poem, and what do you know, it comes down to birds in the end after all.

Neglect

 

Is the scent of apple boughs smoking

in the woodstove what I will remember

of the Red Delicious I brought down, ashamed

 

that I could not convince its limbs to render fruit?

Too much neglect will do that, skew the sap’s

passage, blacken leaves, dry the bark and heart.

 

I should have lopped the dead limbs early

and watched each branch with a goshawk’s eye,

patching with medicinal pitch, offering water,

 

compost and mulch, but I was too enchanted

by pear saplings, flowers and the pasture,

too callow to believe that death’s inevitable

 

for any living being unloved, untended.

What remains is this armload of applewood

now feeding the stove’s smolder. Splendor

 

ripens a final time in the firebox, a scarlet

harvest headed, by dawn, to embers.

Two decades of shade and blossoms – tarts

 

and cider, bees dazzled by the pollen,

spare elegance in ice – but what goes is gone.

Smoke is all, through this lesson in winter

 

regret, I’ve been given to remember.

Smoke, and Red Delicious apples redder

than a passing cardinal’s crest or cinders.

 

—R. T. Smith

Years ago I read or heard on the radio a spooky story about burning an apple tree, anyone recall that?

 

Team Discovery at Beadnell Towers
Bowbridge Alpacas at West Fife Show, Kelty
Heavy horses, West Fife show
Dunfermline Museum
Dunfermline Museum gardens
Cook family with Paul, Gillman hide, RSPB Loch Leven
Swallow, Vane Farm courtyard
HMS QE, from Limekilns harbour
Spooky wifey, Beadnell
Grey heron from Gillman hide
Lapwing

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

*a frankly massive aircraft carrier built in Rosyth.

** peregrination from the Latin peregrinus, meaning foreign, and also obviously that’s the root of the peregrine falcon, “young birds being captured in flight rather than taken from the nest”.   Eh, thanks Chambers Concise Dictionary, is that one of those hidden jokes you lexicographers put into your oeuvres?   Because if it is, I don’t get it.

Fly pie

I reckon about a month is a long enough gap, jings, who knew?  The intervening period has seen the usual blend of life and all its pleasures, vicissitudes, ironies and fleeting glamours. Stand out items include: making your niece, nephew and sister in law walk along Aberdour beach in a howling gale, whilst happed up cosy and warm with your mother in law having a cheery blether; visceral and redemptive theatre in Charlie Sonata,  a new play by Douglas Maxwell with peerless Sandy Greigson in the lead role; jaunts with my new ‘scope; Lily’s Christening.  All amongst the challenges and changes of family life, best feet forward in one respect which is particularly pleasing.  Like the poet John Bunyan we may have times in the Slough of Despond*  but we pick ourselves up and carry on.

With that in mind, here is a beautiful poem from the latest by Liz Lochhead, the collection is entitled Fugitive Colours and this is In The MId-MIdwinter.  It also appears in the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best Poems of 2016, edited by Catherine Lockerbie, who besides being the person who set up the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and a long time arts correspondent for The Scotsman, was also in the year above us at school.

It includes the lines “I saw the new moon late yestreen, wi’ the old moon in her arms” which I do not have to tell you come from the Ballad of Sir Patrick Spens. Espousing the synchronicity with which BTW is slightly akin, that very  ballad will have its musical debut next week.  The tech rehearsal for this was marred by me having a throat like barbed wire, let’s hope that resolves itself.

Last words: it turns out that the word outwith is Scottish.

Loch Leven is experiencing a major cloud of non-biting midges.  Dear knows there were enough last weekend, but now it seems to be an veritable explosion, helped, I wonder, by the six week drouth.  Having ingested way more than the intended total of zero, we might give it a by today.  But we did see a pair of ruffs and heard tell of a long-tailed duck.  However, no view equals no write up in the journal.

Flying Scotsman goes through the Bay tomorrow evening, if I can work out the timing I’ll try for another photo.  Oh, and this song is keeping me cheery on the walk home from work.

*spell check gave me the Slough of Desmond which puts a wholly different slant on it.

Tolling

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main..
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne, Devotions upon Emergent Occasions, 1624.

I go and it is done: the bell invites me.

Hear it not Duncan, for it is a knell

That summons thee to heaven or to hell.

William Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act II Scene i, circa 1606.

National Poetry Day

Rosemary and I exchanged poems yesterday, both by Norman MacCaig.

Blue tit on a string of peanuts

A cubic inch of some stars

weighs a hundred tons – Blue tit,

who could measure the power

of your tiny spark of energy?  Your hair-thin legs

(one north-east, one due west) support

a scrap of volcano, four inches

of hurricane: and, seeing me, you make the sound

of a grain of sawdust being sawn

by the minutest of saws.

Norman MacCaig 1980

 

Moment Musical in Assynt

A mountain is a sort of music: theme

And counter theme displaced in air amongst

Their own variations.

Wagnerian Devil signed the Coigach score

And God was Mozart when he wrote Cul Mor.

 

You climb a trio when you climb Cul Beag.

Stac Polly – there’s a rondo in seven sharps

Neat as a trivet.

And Quinag, rallentando in the haze,

Is one long tune extending phrase by phrase.

 

I listen with my eyes and see through that

Mellifluous din of sharpness my masterpiece

Of masterpieces.

One sandstone chord that holds up time in space –

Sforzando Suilven on his ground bass.

Norman MacCaig 1967

 

Equinoctial thoughts

The January man he goes around in woolen coat and boots of leather.
The February man still shakes the snow from off his clothes and blows his hands.
The man of March he sees the Spring and wonders what the year will bring,
and hopes for better weather.Through April rain the man goes down to watch the birds come in to share the summer.
The man of May stands very still to watch the children dance away the day.
In June the man inside the man is young and wants to lend a hand
and smiles at each newcomer.

In July the man in cotton shirt he sits and thinks on being idle.
The August man in thousands take the road to find the sun and watch the sea.
September man is standing near to saddle up another year
And Autumn is his bridle.

The man of new October takes the rain and early frost is on his shoulder.
The poor November man sees fire and mist and wind and rain and winter ere
December man looks through the snow to let eleven brothers know they’re all a little older.

The January man he comes around again in woolen coat and boots of leather,
to take another turn and walk along the icy road he knows so well.
The January man is here the start of each and every year,
Along the road forever.

Dave Goulder