I have been in a magic place this Saturday evening, down a steep rocky path by a burn under hazels through bluebells, to Magi McGlynn’s bender in Balquhidder glen, outside which we sat round a wood fire and listened to Stefan the Dutch musician sing his poem-song about Magi and the place where we were. Echoes of the Brave was one of the lines in the song, which we went over in detail, but it’s a fairly new song, so all I am able to offer is this small quote. This weekend’s poems are about atmosphere, magic and the things that cling to places in our minds.
Perhaps the oddest incident in these poems is Ian Blake’s woman in Bewley’s in Dublin, eating cream cakes and weeping. Bewley’s itself is a famous location. The poet’s small vignette of the coffee house is enough to bring the background home to us along with the strangeness of the woman’s behaviour, never forgotten. So, place and a ritual of sadness.
In Judith Taylor’s poem we have the positive example. Encouragement and delight come from the auguries she instances in her poem. Place seems secondary, but it is there, and it is coastal – the harbour, the lighthouse, the estuary. And with everything seen and interpreted by two people against these backgrounds, it becomes a powerful love poem, in which two people choose and create their own place.
Sam Gilliland’s poem set in a rather desolate place has him transported back to childhood and, even more strongly, to a sense of the long-ago Crusades. There is little comfort in his belief that his memories will finally disappear, yet in the heart of the poem he pictures the summer, the dance and the jewels once seen there.
Lastly, in Leamington Spa you can be taciturn with John Yates, as he wanders his home town with that sense of unexciting familiarity, sharply painted amid the facades that are fleetingly compared to Edinburgh. Disenchanted though he is, he brings to the poem a strong sense of expectation of place and what that place, or the expectation of it, can do to you.
Many thanks to these poets. Hoping more of you will send previously published poems next week (email them to sally evans 35 at gmail dot com). They can be published as recently as three years ago but let’s also have more older ones, from the last century/millennium. You may send your own pictures to go with your poems if you wish.
Cream Cakes at Bewley’s
It must be all of forty years ago –
Dublin, Bewley’s upstairs, Grafton Street,
one teatime on an autumn afternoon.
Well-fed, well-dressed that so-suburban way,
of careful hair, discreetly necklaced pearls,
she sat genteelly taking sips of tea,
one finger poised (undoubtedly Earl Grey),
eyes far-focussed well beyond the walls,
the soft-soled waif-like waitresses and me,
eating cream cakes as if hypnotised,
reaching blindly for them one by one.
And all the time great tears rolled down her cheeks –
great rolling tears, as she ate on and on.
Mourning a much-loved daughter? Wayward son?
Widow new-bereaved of husband dear?
Terminal news in quiet consulting rooms?
Remembering lost young love long since gone?
Emma Bovary at the end of the affair?
How we all need secret rituals
to buff-up happiness or stifle pain
as, into darkest corners of the night
sneaks perfidious Time, that sly old thief
who steals away what memory would keep bright,
unwraps the rawness of long-bandaged grief.
Whenever I see cream cakes, even now,
she’s there. She takes possession of my brain
weeping, eating cream cakes on and on,
and I am back in Bewley’s once again.
First published in Remembering Falstaff and Others, diehard 1999
When I saw you again, that same year,
my heart flipped like a switch
and the world lit up.
I tried to ignore my own partial reading,
but everywhere we looked
I kept on noticing things that blessed us.
All those ducks in the harbour
under the floodlamps, on that first night,
with their soft, approving murmur;
and the sparrow that guarded our window.
The faithful blink of the lighthouse
and the slow turns of the tide.
And there, at the very edge of my senses – just
Beyond touch – you; the last person to fall
for this sort of nonsense, love.
But you were prepared to see my mother’s stupid dog,
who ran to anyone, as an omen.
How strange we were in that new light
And even now, we look for signs
in the passing world when we need them
say, a second heron, just where we expect
a second heron; or better still,
a sudden burst of dolphins in the estuary,
beyond the caravan site.
From the author’s first pamphlet, Earthlight (Aberdeen: Koo Press 2006)
Barneyhill Moss revisited
I have been here before,
In this sacred place,
In the grey gown of rain
And in the sleek frost of winter
When the brittle beauty of tinselled grass
Crackled underfoot like ice slivers,
Or when snow bled through the sky
As slightly as a moth’s breath,
Daubing me a white-plumed prince
Whose allegiance to the lance
Ran ochre fires in the eyes of Saladin.
Listening to churches call wayward children
To the dark rood of hymns
I hung suspended in youth’s fragile cage
And held their songs trembling on my lips
As the rhyme of sadness ran through my veins.
Adagios of sorrow cutting through chilled
Air with the keenness of a scimitar.
But I have also seen this bleak moor,
Where stunted bracken at its edges
Sucks grimly at grudging soil,
In a wild, gypsy dance of summer,
Drunken bees courted flowers lazing amidst
Heather, and emerald green moss frescoed
Rocks with jewels as they supped their
Wine in the sun’s warmth.
Now, as plaintive curlew’s cry pibrochs out,
I am aware that these memories will fold
like pages in a book that will close,
And remain forever closed.
First published in Poetry Scotland 1999
Across the Leam from Mill Gardens
The clock drips from the parish church.
As I cross the bridge
to Jephson Gardens
it is early February
and the pigeons remain unfed
by council decree.
“Mind your head”
the entrance to the underpass reads
the only piece of graffiti left in
this oh so heavenly place.
Mothers walk their babies
this as every morning in Royal Leamington Spa.
Operatives tend the grounds
to ill- afford the prices in this town so high.
“A Lady with dirty petticoats”
once described, a fairytale
town with Cinderella absent,
a beauty with a mole or two.
But, did Victoria with all her majesty foresee
that behind all the façades and
the remnants of imperial glory
lingers young people robbing
the well-heeled for the next hit?
Leamington, my home, that saved me a spiral
Now I rise ever mindful of the pitfalls,
ever mindful of knowing my position
in the order of things.
First published in Wake Your Mind Magazine, Leamington. This poem won the Yellow Book Prize which was presented at the House of Lords