The July 2020 Poetry Roundabout

Poetry Roundabout
July 2020

Edited by John Coutts, Poet in Residence

‘The lunatic, the lover and the poet
Are of imagination all compact…
The poet’s eye, in fine frenzy rolling,
Doth glance from heaven to earth, from earth to heaven,
And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.’

Yet another varied collection of insights, information, inspiration and entertainment! A big ‘thank you’ to all our contributors!

 

Tony Crowther writes: I love birds and Scotland. To imagine a better future … is simple, relaxing and resonates and inspires me.

On an Eagle’s Wing

Carried away
on a golden eagle’s wing
Soaring over isles, lochs and bens,
my spirit sings
From imagination hope springs

 

At a time of statue-toppling, Ian McNeish recommends

Ozymandias of Egypt by P.B.Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
stand in the desert. Near them on the sand
half sunk, a shatter’d visage lies, whose frown
and wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
tell that its sculptor well those passions read
which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
the hand that mock’d them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!”
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
the lone and level sands stretch far away.

 

Agnes Fanning recommends ‘Lord Ullin’s Daughter’ by Thomas Campbell,
and adds: ‘There’s also a lovely version of the poem put to music, read by Jude Law

A Chieftain to the Highlands bound,
Cries, ‘Boatman, do not tarry;
And I’ll give thee a silver pound
To row us o’er the ferry.’

‘Now who be ye would cross Lochgyle,
This dark and stormy water?’
‘Oh! I’m the chief of Ulva’s isle,
And this Lord Ullin’s daughter.

‘And fast before her father’s men
Three days we’ve fled together,
For should he find us in the glen,
My blood would stain the heather.
‘His horsemen hard behind us ride;
Should they our steps discover,
Then who will cheer my bonny bride
When they have slain her lover?’
Outspoke the hardy Highland wight:
‘I’ll go, my chief – I’m ready:
It is not for your silver bright,
But for your winsome lady.

By this the storm grew loud apace,
The water-wraith was shrieking;
And in the scowl of heaven each face
Grew dark as they were speaking.

But still, as wilder blew the wind,
And as the night grew drearer,
Adown the glen rode armed men-
Their trampling sounded nearer.

‘Oh! Haste thee, haste!’ the lady cries,
‘Though tempests round us gather;
I’ll meet the raging of the skies,
But not an angry father.’

The boat has left a stormy land,
A stormy sea before her-
When oh! Too strong for human hand,
The tempest gathered o’er her.

And still they rowed amidst the roar
Of waters fast prevailing;
Lord Ullin reach’d that fatal shore-
His wrath was chang’d to wailing.

For sore dismay’d, through storm and shade,
His child he did discover;
One lovely hand she stretch’d for aid,
And one was round her lover.

‘Come back! Come back!’ he cried in grief,
‘Across this stormy water;
And I’ll forgive your Highland chief,
My daughter!- oh, my daughter!’

‘Twas vain: the loud waves lash’d the shore,
Return or aid preventing;
The waters wild went o’er his child,
And he was left lamenting.

John Coutts adds: Ulva was sadly depopulated by the Clearances. The island has recently been the subject of a Community buyout.

 

Helen McLaren writes

One of the advantages of lockdown has been the opportunity to revisit books I haven’t picked up for years. I bought my copy of Iain Crichton Smith’s ‘Selected Poems’ at a reading he did at the St Magnus Festival in Orkney. This was, and still is, one of my favourites.

Gaelic Songs
by Iain Crichton Smith

I listen to these songs
from a city studio.
They belong to a different country,
to a barer sky,
to a district of heather and stone.
They belong to the sailors
who kept their course
through nostalgia and moonlight.
They belong to the maidens
who carried the milk in pails
home in the twilight.
They belong to the barking of dogs,
to the midnight of stars,
to the sea’s terrible force,
exile past the equator.
They belong to the sparse grass,
to the wrinkled faces,
to the houses sunk in the valleys,
to the mirrors
brought home from the fishing.
Now they are made of crystal
taking just a moment
between two programmes
elbowing them fiercely
between two darknesses.

 

John Coutts writes: I’ve been visiting our local park – standing below the Wallace monument. On one occasion I was too preoccupied to notice anything, until….This poem attempts to convey one of those ‘beyond words’ experiences.

To a birch tree

During the coronavirus lockdown

You stood still. I passed you by
Unaware of grass or sky.
Pestering thoughts beset my brain
[Same obsessions, same old pain]
Grumbles buzzing in my head….

Then – but how? – you stopped me dead.
No, not dead – but wide aware,
Free to catch my breath and stare.
Breezes stirred; your branches quivered.
Greenest leaves awoke and shivered,
Shielding tapered trunk and silvery bark…

Time also held its breath and granted me
Sight of perfection in a mortal tree.
[Just one of several in our little park]

Becalmed in joy I stood, but then
Time began to stir again.
Why not stand and watch forever?
Hovering commonsense said ‘Never.
‘Off you go: return to duty.
Share your glimpse of hidden beauty.’
Briefly blessed, I made my way
Through the park to everyday;
But not so weary as before,
Locked in self-concern no more.

 

Jock Stein writes: I have been writing a book called ‘From Ruth to Lamentations’, and have got as far as the book of Job. The attached is one of the poems about that book. It deals with the three cycles of speeches made by Job’s three supposed friends, ending in lockdown for Job.

Cycling (Job 4 – 26)
Lockdown takes me round the block
of Job, for exercise;
I ride and think, I think and ride,
my thoughts go round and round.
1
How wise the words of Eliphaz,
how sharp the crit of Bildad;
clear the answer Zophar gives
to Job, down on the ground.
A vision comes to Eliphaz,
a poem to his friend,
elenchus to the third, Zophar,
to keep Job on the ground.
2
‘You’re just a windbag, Job my friend,
God punishes the wicked.
Pay attention to the wise,
we speak from hallowed ground.
This virus that has knocked you down
is what all sin deserves;
it eats the skin, it shrivels up
the roots beneath the ground.’
3
‘God is on high, beyond the clouds,
so make your prayer to him;
agree with God, and be at peace,
he’ll raise you off the ground.
It’s up to you, Job, take our word:
repent, and turn to God.
If not, you maggot of a man,
you’ll stay down, and be ground.’
. . . . . . . . . . .
Locked down in the book of Job,
his friends have turned the key,
and left him pleading innocence
all through three cruel rounds.

 

From Clive Wright: Here is … a very small offering. It was written (alas, inevitably) when I was on a cruise – and is ideally delivered in a corny Devon accent!

To catch sharks and great whales on his mission
‘Twas Ezekiel Jones’s ambition.
When he caught but a sprat
– Alas, that was that.
He is planning a new expedition.

John Coutts adds two ‘post-modern’ limericks.

There was a young bard of Japan
Who wrote verses that no one could scan.
When they told him ‘twas so,
He replied ‘Yes, I know,’
I always try to get as many words into the last line as I possibly can.

There was an old man of Tralee
Who was horribly stung by a wasp.
When they said, ‘Did it hurt?’
He replied, ‘ Not at all!
It can do it again if it likes.’

 

If this great world of joy and pain…’ by William Wordsworth, Poems of Sentiment and Reflection

Colin Gregory writes: This poem has special significance because I used it as part of a pageant I directed for the Millennium. The drama group I belong to started off by presenting large scale outdoor pageants, the first in 1910. For the Millennium we decided to revive one. It will be the 20th anniversary of the final performance on Wednesday (8th July). The original had a huge cast; we managed 100, with 60 children, which was quite an undertaking. I chose the Wordsworth poem to be sung at the end (I composed the tune): it seemed to me to encompass our need to treat one another and the earth better.

‘If this great world of joy and pain
Revolve in one sure track;
If freedom, set, will rise again,
And virtue, flown, come back;
Woe to the purblind crew who fill
The heart with each day’s care;
Nor gain, from past or future, skill
To bear, and to forbear!’

 

On the edge of extinction

Today 7,000 languages are spoken. Fully half are expected to die out before the year 2100, continuing a centuries-long trend.

‘Dahwdezeldiin’ koht’aene kenaege’,
ukesdezt’aet.
Yaane’ koht’aene yaen’,
nekenaege’ nadahdelna.
Koht’aene kenaege’ k’os nadestaan.’

(I am beginning to write in our language,
but it is difficult.
Only the elders speak our words,
and they are forgetting.
There are not many words anyhow.
They are scattered like clouds.)

John Elvis Smelcer, writing in Ahtna language, Alaska.

Poems from the Edge of Extinction: An Anthology of Poetry in Endangered Languages, edited by Chris McCabe, is published by Chambers.

‘Share[s] folklore, songs and a richness of world views with a vivacity that heightens their collective call to protect the planet’s linguistic, and cultural, ecosystem.’ Financial Times

And Gaelic is included as one of the endangered languages! J.C

 

James Coutts is learning Polish – he has translated Ośla łączka, [‘The donkey’s meadow’] by Tadeusz Dąbrowski

Ośla łączka

When I write this poem, it gets smaller
When I approach the mountains they get smaller and disappear behind the flat and quiet hills
When I read the mountains I am speechless at the view.
The best poems finish in the middle.

‘The donkey’s meadow: a popular name for a very easy ski slope, with a very small slope and short length, intended for children and beginner skiers.’

Tadeusz Dąbrowski (born 1979) is a Polish poet, essayist, and critic. He is also the editor of the literary bimonthly Topos and the art director of the European Poet of Freedom Festival.’ [from Wikipedia]

 

Anne Murray writes: Many of the poems of R.S. Thomas I find helpful and reassuring in times of doubt and distress. This poem is no exception, as far as the sentiment of it goes. It is also a beautifully crafted piece – the layout, line endings and stanza breaks are all just perfect. I hope others will like it too

Moorland

It is beautiful and still;
the air rarefied
as the interior of a cathedral

expecting a presence. It is where, also,
the harrier occurs,
materialising from nothing, snow-

soft, but with claws of fire,
quartering the bare earth
for the prey that escapes it;

hovering over the incipient
scream, here a moment, then
not here, like my belief in God.

 

And to conclude [almost]

Roger Clarke writes The Greek poet Callimachus famously declared: Mega biblion mega kakon – ‘Big book, big bane’. The Russian poet Pushkin, too, favoured brevity. He wrote:

CONCISION

In wordiness I’m glad to own myself deficient;
in weighty lexicons no benefit I see.
To bring true happiness – dear comrades, trust in me –
all words may be too few, but one may be sufficient.

(translated by Roger Clarke)

 

A final thought from JC –
‘…And as imagination bodies forth
The forms of things unknown, the poet’s pen
Turns them to shapes and gives to airy nothing
A local habitation and a name.’

Do poets always deal in ‘airy nothing’, or do they sometimes help us to glimpse ultimate reality?

If you would like to contribute to the next PoetryRoundabout, send your chosen poem – your own work or a favourite to johnjcoutts@gmail.com by Friday August 7th.

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