Category Archives: Poems

Les Citadelles



Alec Finlay and I have been working on a long poem about the journeys we made for The Road North, and two extracts have been translated into French, and published in the most recent edition of Les Citadelles. Philippe Démeron is the journal’s editor and also the translator, and he has chosen the poems ‘Loch na Tormalaich & Loch Duilleag-bhàite, Kilbride, Argyll’, and ‘The Groves of Isle Maree, Wester Ross’. Our swim among water-lilies,

shucking tangled legs
through greasy stems
I kick a lap
among the stars

becomes in Philippe’s French

pour dégager mes jambes empêtrées
dans des tiges gluantes
je donne un coup de genou
dans les étoiles

while this is our tree-list from Isle Maree and its French equivalent:

birch and chestnut
alder and beech
willow and dog-rose
sycamore and juniper

le bouleau et le châtaignier
l’aulne et le hêtre
le saule et l’églantier
le sycomore et le genévrier

We are in good company: elsewhere in the issue are poems by Kenneth White, Derek Mahon and John Montague, as well as an essay on the recent Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer, and poems by contemporary French poets including Armelle Leclerq and Roger Lecomte.

Armelle and Roger were my original connection to Les Citadelles. I met them in Bratislava in 2006, when we were all invited to read at the festival Ars Poetica. Roger is on the editorial board of Les Citadelles, and from that initial contact Philippe has translated and published several of poems in the magazine, for which I’m very grateful.

The magazine doesn’t have its own website, but click here for information about this issue, and here for more general information about the magazine. (Both pages are in French.)

The cover price is €10, and the ISSN is 1253-0557. (At time of writing, I have a spare copy, which I’m happy to send to the first person who requests it.)

Pandora’s Light Box

Lorna listening, White Gallery

Pandora’s Light Box is a collaborative project I worked on for over a year, from June 2010 through to September 2011. My brief, from Artlink, was to write a descriptive poem about the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery, to be recorded and presented in the gallery as an audio work for visitors both visually impaired and sighted.
Georgian Gallery, reading

Access to visual art for individuals with a visual impairment relies on verbal description, and Pandora’s Light Box takes that ‘practical’ form and extends it into an artwork in its own right.
Listening post, Round Room

I wrote the poem for two voices, and a recording of myself and Lorna Irvine reading it has been installed in the gallery at three specially designed listening stations, downstairs in the contemporary White Gallery and the historical Georgian Gallery, and upstairs in the Round Room. You can listen to the poem here.

These were designed by Frances Priest and made by Ronnie Watt; the recordings and sound design were made by Martin Parker and Jung In Jung.

A friend of a friend sent these photos of some lines from the poem which seem to have escaped from the gallery; based on this blog, we think it was Dora, one of the project volunteers, but she’s not owned up yet! And this blog describes the project from the perspective of one of the visually impaired participants.

As I cam’ in by Auchindoun

Ben Rinnes from Clunymore

I recently spent a week in Moray with Angus Reid, writing and walking. We stayed above the River Fiddich in the house of Mary Bourne, the sculptor who co-ordinated the Mortlach Storywalks project. The house has views west towards Ben Rinnes, the highest top in the area.
Auchindoun Castle

It also looks across the glen to the ruins of Auchindoun Castle, set on a low hillock above the River Fiddich. It was from Auchindoun that Adam Gordon rode out to Corgraff Castle; his burning of the latter is told in the ballad ‘Edom o’ Gordon’. The revenge attack is told in the shorter and less well-known ballad, ‘Burning of Auchindoun’ (Child #183).

As I cam’ in by Fiddichside, on a May morning
I spied Willie MacIntosh an hour before the dawning

Turn agin, turn agin, turn agin, I bid ye
If ye burn Auchindoun, Huntly he will heid ye

Heid me or hang me, that shall never fear me
I’ll burn Auchindoun though the life leaves me

As I cam’ in by Auchindoun, on a May morning
Auchindoun was in a bleeze, an hour before the dawning

Crawing, crawing, for a’ your crouse crawin’
Ye brunt your crop an’ tint your wings an hour before the dawning.

I made a few label-poems there.

last night the castle / drifted in and out of mist / samurai movie-set

above the settled land / we hear gulls and sheep / and gunshot

high summer / the thistles still await / their purple

Near the castle there are some ruined farm buildings – some are being renovated, but we looked round a particularly delapidated house.
delapidated downstairs

delapidated upstairs

We drove a few miles into the Cabrach to Rhinturk Farmhouse, still standing, still productive.
Rhinturk closed

Rhinturk open

A Renga for St James

This renga, or ‘verse-chain’, was composed at St James Mill, Norwich, over four days in early July 2009 by eighteen writers in all, and flows over 109m of hoardings on the north bank of River Wensum in central Norwich.

St James Place is a large riverside site currently being redeveloped, and the renga is the first part of the St James Collection, a series of temporary and permanent artworks for the site. The renga, like the Collection as a whole, draws on the history of the site as a monastery, and later a print works.

The whole renga is available here.

If you would like a printed version of the renga, e-mail me your postal address via the ‘Contacts’ page and I’ll send a copy out to you.

ctrl+alt+del

ctrl+alt+del describes itself as ‘a contemporary poetry foldable/printable ezine’. You can find it here. You print it out on a single sheet of A4 and there is a natty video that shows you hold to fold it. Issue 1 has work by Peter Hughes, whose pamphlet ‘Paul Klee’s Diary’ I enjoyed back in the mid-90s. Issue 3 has some mesostics by myself, and ‘twelve switches’, a translation I made of a poem by Arne Rautenberg (though as you may notice I can’t always count accurately). I like what CAD is doing visually – it reminds me of the late Duncan Glen’s magazine ZED 2 O, with its zany but thoughtful design.

The Syllabary

Norm

So what’s the norm in this neck of the woods?
Greetings and leave-takings for example,
pats, dabs, cheek-kisses, handshakes, embraces,
toasts, tips, quips, queues, curses, table manners,
neckwear, nightwear, refusals, condiments,
punctuality and superstitions,
the etiquette of stimulants, when not
to use the informal second person,
what’s for breakfast, shop-talk, the latitude
or lack thereof accorded foreigners.

Peter McCarey launched v.3 of his ongoing opus The Syllabary at the Scottish Poetry Library on Saturday 10 October. An ongoing, accumulative sequence of short poems each based on a single phoneme (consonant+vowel+consonant), you can read and hear an ever-varying selection of the poems here and also here (I think the latter is the newer site). Peter reckons he has about 2000 poems to write to complete it, but he’s also now initiated a parallel project, inviting other poets each to write one poem and again aiming for that 2000 (or so) mark.
I was allocated ‘Norm’, and read my poem on the night – I just now realise the symmetry of it, 10 lines each of 10 syllables on 10th October. Also reading were Richard Price, Angus Reid, Eleanor Livingstone, Alan Riach and Sandy Hutchison.