I remarked in an epigram to a poem in 1996 that the three subjects of poetry are love, death and poetry – Fishing In Gairloch from Looking for Scotland. I have seen this statement made elsewhere recently. We start with Angela Topping’s poem about the death of her father, and then we will see where else we arrive in this spectrum.
We have had poems here by earlier poets before, after all, these poems were published long enough ago, and I’m posting two poems by weaver poets from the town of Paisley in the 18th – 19th centuries, because I have promised to give out information relating to both of them.
First, Read Raw Ltd of Paisley are running a new open poetry competition The Robert Tannahill Poetry Prize. it has a substantial prize fund and sections for open English language poetry plus a prize for a poem in Scots. Look it up and send your poems in.
In addition, Claire Casey, also of Paisley, has just published two ebooks, The Weaver Poet: The Songs (Tannahill) and Lines Written on a Summer Evening (Wilson).
Wilson’s poem is in flowery literary English, and shows the doubtful habit of some poets of addressing inanimate objects. The poem may be said to be about poetry, since he is asking whether any poets have ever recorded this beautiful vale, and in the slightly comical last line we wonder if he means he is not himself counted as a poet.
Tannahill had a more demotic voice and became very popular with the mill workers. The song I’ve chosen is in the voice of a woman, and the ‘desert isle’ mentioned is a Scottish island – heather not palm trees! and it is certainly a love poem.
A single sonnet stanza from Aidan Andrew Dun’s Unholyland: The Ramdam is our final poem. Look out for the full three-book epic poem Unholyland: publication imminent from Skyscraper Press. In this poem and this stanza (Jalilah is about to give a rap at a poetry reading) we have the whole gamut.
I don’t understand what death is
that can split us apart like a knife
parting the green flesh of a plum.
We never allowed anything
to come between us before.
There was no reason for us
ever to quarrel. So why allow
this cruel death to sunder us?
I have to find a way back
to connect with you again,
you who have passed through
the skin of the night into my pores,
you who permeate the page
I write on, always looking
over my shoulder for the truth
you hope to read there.
From I Sing of Bricks (Salt 2011)
Alexander Wilson 1766 – 1813
Address to Calder Bank
YE hoary Rocks, ye woody Cliffs, that rise.
Unwieldy, jutting o’er the brawling Brook;
Ye louring steeps, where hid the Adder lies,
Where sleeps the Owl, and screams the sable Rook;
Ye rev’rend trunks, that spread your leafy arms,
To shield the gloom, that darkling dwells below;
Ye nameless flow’rs, ye busy-winged swarms;
Ye birds that warble, and ye streams that flow.–
Say, ye blest scenes of Solitude and Peace,
Strayed e’er a BARD along this hermit shore?
Did e’er his pencil your perfection trace?
Or did his Muse to sing your beauties soar?
Has oft at early Morn and silent Eve,
Responsive echo stole athwart the trees;
While easy laid beside the glitt’ring wave,
The shepherd sung, his list’ning Fair to please?
Alas! methinks the weeping Rocks around,
And the lone Stream, that murmurs far below,
And Trees and Caves, with solemn hollow sound,
Breathe out one mournful, melancholy–”No.”
Image: Calder Vale
Fly we to some desert isle
There we’ll pass our days together,
Shun the world’s derisive smile,
Wand’ring tenants of the heather:
Shelter’d in some lonely glen,
Far remov’d from mortal ken,
Forget the selfish ways o’ men,
Nor feel a wish beyond each other.
Though my friends deride me still,
Jamie, I’ll disown thee never;
Let them scorn me as they will,
I’ll be thine-and thine for ever.
What are a’ my kin to me,
A’ their pride o’ pedigree?
What were life, if wanting thee,
And what were death, if we maun sever!
Aidan Andrew Dun
The Rambam (6, xxii)
One thought never came to Moshe’s mind
as the helicopter still hovered,
as the rap began to unwind,
as the dead were discovered
in their hilltop villages lying,
named again and death-defying.
‘How could Jalilah, aged sixteen,
transmit, in language raw and keen
her traumatized race-memory;
how could a young girl redefine
the agony of Palestine
so truthfully and so tenderly?’
If Moss had let his thoughts activate
his answer would have been: ‘Jah is great!’
from Unholyland: the Rambam, Hesperus Press 2012