What happens to an image? What happens to a self-image? Or your view of something like the Firth of Forth, when it confronts a different view?
And where does Love fit in on this Valentine weekend? And where does woman fit in (with particular reference to women writers?)
We have some political poems with political sources, engaged magazines and publishers such as Smokestack and the much lamented Purple Patch. The longer parable poem at the end, by Joan Ure, the Scottish playwright who died in 1978, and whose publisher Joy Hendry sent in this poem, looks at the pressures of other people’s expectations, and thereby their own expectations, on women’s writing. That’s a whole generation ago, but what applies to different cases, what changes and what stays the same?
Which brings us back to Socrates.
Much appreciation to all these writers, David Whippman, Owen Gallagher, Rona Fitzgerald, Mandy Macdonald, and Joan Ure.
On the Forth Bridge
Morning: the whole firth is
silk stretched out, but look! gashed by
the wake of one boat.
Isn’t it pretty,
murmurs the cockney lady,
scrunching a crisp bag.
I watch the wake disperse.
Madam, I want to cry out,
this is the Firth of Forth!
First published in Haiku Scotland, no. 25, 2010
A Statue of Socrates
He is made of stone – squat, coarse-featured,
Not an appearance to win popularity or votes.
People like art they can understand,
Less demanding than this.
He is made of stone and cannot change
When the leaders decide that sculpture’s only purpose
Is to flatter the leaders (on whose importance
His blank grey eyes are unable to focus).
His pose is fixed in the asking of a question
Though by now questions are unpatriotic.
He is made of stone and cannot move
When public opinion tears down the statues,
Becomes a flood, rising to
A cup of poison.
He is toppled, submerged under slogans
And urgent cliches of the politicians’ brief time.
Much later, when the clamour has receded
He will be rediscovered , still posed
In the asking of a question.
David Whippman writes: Published long ago – much longer than three years — in Purple Patch I think
The Dark Stuff
It’s in a crossroads village like this
Kavanagh said poetry is made,
and just as I was about to fade
into the darkness of Biddy Jack’s
for a pint of black and open a fresh
pack of cards with the boys in the back,
a tractor spilled its load of turf
onto the road,
revealing a gun horde and,
this being where it was, three onlookers made
the sign of the cross, loaded the trailer
and, with a nod, the old fella drove off, forcing me
to sit at the bar, absorb the shock
and ponder whether poetry is made or not.
First published in ‘Tea with the Taliban’ Smokestack Books, 2012.
At Glasgow’s Charing Cross a young woman stops and shows
her child the moon, a bright yellow globe in an indigo sky.
In a muted restaurant with formica tables
sloping chairs and washed out walls, a man eats alone.
In a Dublin hospital the woman says I’ll have the operation
without anaesthetic as long as my baby is safe.
In Auschwitz, Primo Levi observes his birthday
with parcels of bread and hoarded scraps of paper.
I’m struggling on the hill, you take my pack
carrying us both home.
Published in ‘Tracks in the Sand’, New Voices Press 2011
The Tiny Talent
There was this woman and she had this tiny talent.
I call it talent for things must have a name.
She has this talent that it happened to be death
to hide. She knew this empirically because, having,
the first time, tried to hide it, she
broke out in a rash.
But she was Scots and difficult to convince.
No worse for that perhaps but we shall see.
The rash, unfortunately, cleared up quite soon.
‘It was no proof that I am hiding a talent,’
she said, ‘or I would have proof positive now and not
simply overnight!’ She said, ‘I’ll go and
hide my talent in another place.’ She did good
works and other useful things. This time she
fell down in a faint! She could not blame good
works, so on she went being ‘useful’ everywhere
she could. Next time, she wakened in a sweat.
‘The Devil’, she said, ‘The Great Deluder uses
ways like these and every one of them is to lead
a poor woman far astray.’ And it happened that
this argument made it easier to live with her family
who had always been suspicious of what she, now
and then, saw as her talent, for doing something else!
‘I’ll hide the talent again!’ she said, to her
mother and father, beginning to enjoy it a game.
To do her justice – and her parents too – I should
explain that if she had been sure it was a talent –
if for instance it had appeared in a halo of gold –
she should not have hidden it anywhere. She’d
have rejoiced to do something with it, however small,
and however useless alas at the moment it seemed to be;
for she was a serious girl with quite a primitive
racial memory which warned her all the time, as if
to some purpose which she could not divine, that
if you have a talent then it is Death to sit on it
for too long. In plainer terms, a talent
will not hatch out by being kept hidden and warm!
But how to blame her? How could she be sure,
when no-one had suspected her of talent but herself?
How to accuse her, when everything conspired to
suppress her need – talent or whatever it might be!
So she tried hiding it again, but this time with something
like finality about it – ‘This time,’ she said,
‘if something bad befalls me, I’ll believe in it!’
Oh it was not – I may say – a difficult talent to hide!
It was very small and quiet and had passed unnoticed
everywhere, because of the – shall I say – noisier,
if not all the time larger, talents about.
This time she hid her talent well, with tears she couldn’t
explain and had not expected anyway. She covered her talent
with flowers she couldnt afford to buy and felt guilty about.
Very soon it was that she coughed up the first very
beautiful gobbits of blood. There she saw the signs,
brilliant and red, if not exactly like a golden halo.
There it seemed, quite clear, the tiny talent she’d had.
Oh how that woman rejoiced! The thing was ridiculous.
No-one could alarm her with suggestions that the matter
was serious too.
‘It was a genuine talent after all!’ she told her mother
and father. They were weeping of course in the loving way
that mothers and fathers weep, over the fact that their children
have grown so far away all of a sudden.
This is a story that only seems sad at the end
but it is not sad because it is not a story but a
parable. It is good to know what they meant
when they talked of the talent, however small,
and that it is death to hide it. However late you
find it out, it is always good to know what it was
they meant, those few who’re describing things that
can’t be proved, but can be acted out
again and again.
First published in Chapman 27/29, Woven by Women, 1980.
Joan Ure, 1919 – 1978, was a playwright and poet from Glasgow.
Sent in by Joy Hendry of Chapman, who made efforts to contact the author’s executors.