The August 2020 Poetry Roundabout

Poetry Roundabout
August 2020

Edited by John Coutts, Poet in Residence

If all the pens that ever poets held
Had fed the feeling of their master’s thoughts,
And every sweetness that inspir’d their hearts,
Their minds, and muses on admired themes;
If all the heavenly quintessence they still
From their immortal flowers of poesy,
Wherein, as in a mirror, we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit;
If these had made one poem’s period,
And all combin’d in beauty’s worthiness,
Yet should there hover in their restiless minds
One thought, one grace, one wonder, at the least,
Which into words no virtue can digest

Christopher Marlowe; from ‘Tamburlaine the Great’ [1587]


Austin Halliday On his final day at St Mary’s Primary School, Bannockburn.

Thank you, Mrs. O’Hanlon, for being the best teacher yet
You are one of the best teachers I will never forget.

You kept everyone happy and the whole school in place
With an instantly recognisable face.

Mrs. Benton you were the best P7 teacher I could ever hope for.
Every day with you was never a bore.

You gave fun and exciting work and everyone a smile,
So, thanks for making P7 worthwhile.

Thank you all the helpers for helping around the school.
You were kind and helpful and were never cruel.

You always tried to help people no matter what happened.
All the hard days over – you can now get to nappin’.

Thank you all the teachers for teaching all the things
Bouncing on the chance to teach – like a spring.

You taught all the things we will carry on for ever.
All the brain cells used, you just seem so clever.

A final thanks to all from Mrs. Strathie to Mr.Ivatt
You helped me from P1 [when I was kind of shy and quiet]

Everyone joined in and really pulled together
To make St .Mary’s Primary School the BEST school ever.

Reprinted from The Stirling Observer
Thanks Austin. John Coutts writes: When I was in in the Infants Class at Primary School- which is a long time ago, I liked most of the teachers but I was scared of Mr. Strickland, because the big boys told us he was ‘very strict’ and that we would catch it when we got in his class. I never got into his class and I think he probably wasn’t strict at all. But he sounded strict and he did look rather strict. Here is my poem about. ’A Strict Teacher’

Mr Strickland is ever so strict
He chooses the team; so I won’t be picked.

Mr. Strickland doesn’t like a din.
Mr. Strickland keeps you in.

Mr Strickland doesn’t like a noise.
That’ s why he SHOUTS at the girls and the boys.

Mr. S. has a big green door
Half way up to the second floor:

Hop, skip, jump and I go past,
Round the corner ever so fast.

Don’t look backwards – if you do
Mr. STRICT will be after you.

Don’t be daft! Of course I know.
Half his class have told me so.

Everybody says that Strickland’s strict.
So don’t you dare to CONTRADICT!


JS Munro writes: In 1994-5 (another life!) my wife and I spent a year teaching at a Chinese university in Chengdu, and on revisiting our Chinese files recently, I found a poem I’d written at the time after a visit to a local post office. I give part of it here, together with some of my present day reflections on the experience, which I have to say remains very vivid with me still.
Chengdu Poem

Chengdu, Sichuan province, 1994

At the Jinjiang post office I wanted
to buy three airmail letters.
The woman behind the counter was reading.
‘Duibuqi’, I said: excuse me.
She looked up, immediately identifying
the foreigner, the outsider.
Carefully I trotted out my prepared sentence,
my tongue stumbling a little on the unfamiliar sounds,
and wondering all the time if the tones were right:
‘Wo xiang yao san zhang hangkong xin.’
With mouth and eyes she smiled
as you would to a child,
and said something I couldn’t catch.
But I thought I heard
the word ‘Zhongwen’: Chinese language.
It may even have been a compliment;
at the very least, it seemed to be meant as an encouragement.
Then, to my inexpressible delight
she pushed over the counter
the three airmail envelopes I’d asked for,
and I came back out into the street
immeasurably enriched.

And now (Scotland 2020)
I ask myself if this is what it is to be loved:
a sense of Other as a vast unexplored hinterland
which Self can only glimpse from afar,
and yet from that distance, a smile
and a hand stretched out to give?


Helen McLaren writes: This follows on from last month’s offering about Gaelic songs and old languages.

The Eagle by Matthew Sweeney

My father is writing in Irish.
The English language, with all its facts
will not do. It is too modern.
It is good for plane-crashes, for unemployment,
but not for the unexplained return
of the eagle to Donegal.

He describes the settled pair
in their eyrie on the not-so-high mountain.
He uses an archaic Irish
to describe what used to be, what is again,
though hunters are reluctant
to agree on what will be.

He’s coined a new word
for vigilantes who keep a camera watch
on the foothills. He joins them
when he’s not writing, and when he is.
He writes about giant eggs,
about a whole new strain.

He brings in folklore
and folk-prophecy. He brings in the date
when the last golden eagle
was glimpsed there. The research is new
and dodgy, but the praise
is as old as the eagle.

Janet Richardson writes:I found a poem worth sharing in book titled “The Swallow, The Owl & The Sandpiper” compiled by Claire Maitland for The Sandpiper Trust which includes a poem sent by Her Majesty, The Queen, to The Sandpiper Trust, 18th September 2008.

The Gate of the Year by Minnie Louise Haskins

I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year
‘Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown.’

And he replied,
‘Go into the darkness and put your hand into the hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way!”

This poem was quoted in full by King George VI in his Christmas broadcast in 1939. J.C.


Anne Clarke writes: I’ve always loved this poem, John Agard’s ‘Listen Mr Oxford Don’, which makes what is essentially a political point with great humour. I thought it might raise a smile and at the same time be appropriate in connection with Black Lives Matter.
Listen Mr Oxford Don

John Agard

Me not no Oxford don
me a simple immigrant
from Clapham Common
I didn’t graduate
I immigrate

But listen Mr Oxford don
I’m a man on de run
and a man on de run
is a dangerous one

I ent have no gun
I ent have no knife
but mugging de Queen’s English
is the story of my life

I don’t need no axe
to split/ up yu syntax
I don’t need no hammer
to mash/ up yu grammar

I warning you Mr. Oxford don
I’m a wanted man
and a wanted man
is a dangerous one
Dem accuse me of assault
on de Oxford dictionary/
imagine a concise peaceful man like me/
dem want me to serve time
for inciting rhyme to riot
but I tekking it quiet
down here in Clapham Common

I’m not violent man Mr. Oxford don
I only armed wit mih human breath
but human breath
is a dangerous weapon

So mek dem send one big word after me
I ent serving no jail sentence
I slashing suffix in self-defence
I bashing future wit present tense
and if necessary

I making de Queen’s English accessory/ to my offence

Jock Stein writes: I have continued to write poems on books from the Old Testament megillot or scrolls. Here is one which matches one of our contemporary concerns.

Black and Beautiful

‘I am black and beautiful,
O daughters of Jerusalem…’ [Song of Songs 1:5]

A colour to dance upon prejudice,
stamp on a passport to pride,
clasp in the strong, safe muscles of conviction
that the human brush
is painting some respect
on the world’s white canvas.


Colin Gregory writes: I wanted to choose something by a Scottish poet. I usually visit Scotland in May (as well as August) and was sad to miss my trip this year. I thought of George Mackay Brown, whom I first got to know through settings by Peter Maxwell Davies. I have chosen his poem The Poet (used on the London Underground as one of the Poems on the Underground). He speaks of the poet putting on a mask and “moving among the folk”, which seems apt for our times.

The Poet George Mackay Brown

Therefore he no more troubled the pool of silence
But put on mask and cloak,
Strung a guitar
and moved among the folk.
Dancing they cried,
‘Ah, how our sober islands
Are gay again, since this blind lyrical tramp
Invaded the Fair!’
Under the last dead lamp
When all the dancers and masks had gone inside
His cold stare
Returned to its true task, interrogation of silence.


Jeffrey Kemp writes: The Federation of Writers webpage mentions your wish for unleashing “the power of positive poetical thinking”: I am submitting a poem titled “Blandness Is Better Shared.”

Can’t say fairer …

Blandness Is Better Shared

With Spotify,
I discover obscure musicians
less interesting than many
I dismissed decades ago.

I’d stop growing
a virtual library if
my earlier high standards
hadn’t fallen

but critical faculties fade
as age makes
hearing anything
a victory of sorts.

Teenage hopes
of gaining instrumental mastery
by osmosis (listening,
giggling, lying on the floor)

dissipated long before
the internet gave
direct debit access to music
ranging from mediocre to poor.

Now in my dotage,
I know the danger
of equating achievement
with laziness

but nonetheless buy off
my better judgement
for a tenner
each month,

thus compelling me
to find the
truly dreadful,
intriguingly innovative.

With such denial,


Sue Sexton writes: I have been looking after our daughter’s cat and it made me think of this poem which is I think not well known. All cat lovers will understand why it’s a weepy!

The Lost Cat by EV Rieu

She took a last and simple meal when there were none to see her steal –
A jug of cream upon the shelf, a fish prepared for dinner;
And now she walks a distant street with delicately sandalled feet,
And no one gives her much to eat or weeps to see her thinner.

O my beloved come again, come back in joy, come back in pain,
To end our searching with a mew, or with a purr our grieving;
And you shall have for lunch or tea whatever fish swim in the sea
And all the cream that’s meant for me – and not a word of thieving!


David Dalziel writes: I’ve just been editing and putting together some of Albert Orsborn’s work and I do like pages 123 and 124 of ‘The House of My Pilgrimage’ which contain the following.

There’s a light in mine eyes,
Just for you;
Never it shines in the throng.
Not even mine intimate
Friends get a glimpse of it.
Yet, when I look in your eyes,
Watch, and that light will arise.

There’s a touch of my hand,
Just for you;
One that comes through from the heart,
When it comes home to me,
That you belong to me;
That you are mine to possess,
Mine to defend and caress.

There’s a tone in my voice,
Just for you;
Tones are the music of speech¬
When the whole soul of me
Wakes into melody,
Deep, like a far-sounding bell,
Love sounds the note! Can you tell?

There’s a surge of my heart,
Just for you.
Oh, what a wild thing is this!
Insistent, desperate,
Something to regulate!
Yea, it were best for our bliss,
Life were not always like this!

Might this have been a love letter to his wife, or is it someone else’s work?

[Albert Orsborn, poet and songwriter, was General of The Salvation Army from 1946-1954. ‘The House of my Pilgrimage’‘ is his autobiography]



Christopher Marlowe gives high praise to poetry

‘Wherein, as in a mirror, we perceive
The highest reaches of a human wit.’

Now let’s hear the opposite view – and there’s no need to take it personally.

Attributed to Kings George II and George I

‘I hate all boets and bainters’

Also recorded as

‘I hate painting and poetry too.’


An epigram by Ponce Denis Ecouchard Lebrun [ 1729 – 1809 ]

‘On vient de me voler!‘
Que je plains ton malheur!
Tous me vers manuscrits!
‘Que je plains le voleur.’

‘I’ve just been robbed. I’ve lost the lot.’
‘Dear friend I share your grief.’
‘’They’ve taken all my poems, not
Yet published!’
‘Wretched thief.’
trs. J.C.

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