Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 397

Wednesday 9 June 2021, 12:32

Hamilton Roots

Driving along Mill Road, Neil Diamond singing
“LA’s fine but it ain’t home”
I think of home,
and Hamilton is home. 

In my privileged youth I wandered
in the Andes to Machu Picchu 

Watched the marvels of Milford Sound,
Franz Josef glacier,

In later years I walked on the snow
through Prague’s peerless centre,
was washed by mass sprays
from Iceland’s huge waterfalls

But you can keep all these
for I know home and my heart 

Union Street where I grew up
Where my parents lived till they died
Three weeks apart.
The huge chestnut tree
that afforded us a kids' outdoor home 

The back grass where I played so many games
Of football, rounders, athletics.
Ghosts of old friends are there still 

St. Mary’s school and church
People I still meet on the street
from those early days 

There are roots under the pavements
Brandon Street
Auchingramont Road
Almada Street.
My roots are there too,
old friends’ roots
my brothers’ and sisters’ roots
my mum and dad’s 

Ed is in Vancouver
Johnny in Portugal
Andrew, Den Haag
but I think of them
in Hamilton,
brothers here.

The Palace Grounds
where fairgrounds meant candy floss
and endless games of football
and putting 

deep as existence
keep you stable
in turbulent times 

I spent four years alone
working around the world
getting to know life
but life is an inner universe
a sanctuary, a place of nurture
and inner needs roots

My poetry does not need Paris
beautiful though she is
my poetry is Hamilton poetry
you may laugh
at Lanarkshire as home
for arts and spiritual strength
but if you laugh
It’s because
you understand neither.

Art is.
Spirit is.
Roots are. 

Global wonders
are formed by local love
spread outwards in tiny ripples 

I soak in Hamilton’s love
absorb it fully
appreciate its strength
 and give it out
to the world
if it wants to accept this gift
of Hamilton roots
to a shared world. 

Martin Stepek

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Categories: Poetry Map

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 396

Tuesday 8 June 2021, 11:03

Point of Sleat

The hard track starts where the road gives out
by the small white church. It switchbacks to a stop
at the empty crofts, one gull on a smokeless chimney,
the cold inlet of Acairseid an Rubh;
then it’s just a thin meandering path
through whin, bright sphagnum, brown peat and reed
to the lighthouse at the Point, the end
where there is nowhere left to go, but back.

Once, at the gate, there was a horse; it lay
against the wall. It seemed asleep. There were no flies;
finches fussed in the grass. The scale of its head
surprised; a fine fringe of hair on the crimped ear,
the eye wide open, bronze and blue as oil on water;
in this empty place, alive with small birds,
a flirt of primrose in the shattered quartz,
a mystery how its dead weight got here.

Another time, a highland man as big as monuments
strode, he said, to the wedding; dressed to kill
with sgian-dhu, and kilt, and froth of lace
below his beard; fluttering in the breeze
that danced with coming snow, a heather spray
tucked in his bonnet-band. The only guest
we saw all that day on the track down to the Point
where no-one seems to live but gulls and sheep.        

And once, as sleet and random fat white flakes
came down aslant the wind and failing light,
hunkered in the lee of the rock, the highland bull
we didn’t see at first; we heard its snotty breathing,
the shift and scrape of bulk; we felt the warmth
of a flank rough as a pegged rug, sensed the heft
of a blunt head, bright horn. It took no notice. That was it.
Once upon a time. No endings at the Point of Sleat.

John Foggin

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All poems from our Poetry Map of Scotland  are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet's permission.

Categories: Poetry Map

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 395

Sunday 6 June 2021, 18:15

The Falls of Shin

It looked and seemed like one enormous
pint of porter constantly pouring itself.
And I stood there in awe drinking this in;
the dark swirling body, the reconstituting froth
and the sheer sound of the stuff
just rushing and racing in spume.
My senses were birling and I had to leave
vowing that tonight, after our meal,
I would order a few sleek ones of my own
to see if I could find the salmon leaping
up to the font to confront the barman
whose hand had spawned this great torrent.

Jim Aitken

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Categories: Poetry Map

Poetry Map of Scotland: poem no. 394

Thursday 3 June 2021, 13:03

Gazing at Arran’s Goat Fell

the lapping of little waves
the sparkling sun on water
brambles ripe – ready to eat
light breeze shaking long grass
blue sky – blue as blue can be
     free from chem-trails

honking geese flying east
cows in a field half asleep
twee-tweet – an unseen bird
gulls white dots on wet sand
misty line of South Ayrshire
     foreground of white sails

the longing to linger here longer
the longing to make a painting

Larry Butler

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Categories: Poetry Map

Renga City

Tuesday 18 May 2021, 13:51

A guest blog post by Bill Herbert, of the Dundee Renga -- who StAnza collaborated with in February to create a crowd-sourced renga.

1. Jo (How it all began)

i. The circumstances

The Dundee renga has been going for a year noo, and recently we teamed up with StAnza to extend the idea to a wider (world-wider!) constituency, so this seemed like an opportune moment to reflect on what exactly we have done. Beginning with what, exactly, is the Dundee renga? Well, what it has become is a group-generated collaborative poem based on the old Japanese form, generating twenty brief verses a month and involving around thirty writers from Dundee and thereaboots, posted online for aa tae see at the Gude & Godlie Ballatis website, here.

I like projects that appear to arrive on a whim from nowhere, which are content to use the materials immediately to hand - the punk equivalent of the old Hollywood musicals trope of ‘let’s do the show right here!’ I suspect my affection comes more from the way this feeling of randomness resembles the internal spark of inspiration, but occurs socially, as if already a collaboration. If such projects take off, it feels like this moment partakes of the idea of synchronicity, the apparently meaningful coincidence, after which, hopefully, we can all take pleasure in the way they go on to generate actual meaning.

That’s how most of my collaborative projects have kicked off, from random encounters with future co-editors or co-translators to the political poetry blog, New Boots and Pantisocracies, which arose from a few (terrible) puns exchanged online with Andy Ching, linking Ian Dury with Coleridge and leading to six years of postings so far.

Similarly, a couple of Dundee-based haiku written and posted online by the academic, local history librarian, and folklore guru, Erin Farley, led to us wondering if a geographically-fixed renga could be generated by building an email group and asking them to write a verse a day for twenty days every month. (Yes. It could.)

ii. Background

I first took part in a renga sometime in the late 90s/early 00s when Alec Finlay led a day-long session in the Baltic in Newcastle. I then led another session in 2003 at his invitation as the kyaku, or guest poet, who writes the hokku, or opening verse, when we all met in the (reconstruction of the) Centurion’s House in Arbeia, the Roman fort which sits just across the Tyne from me in South Shields. I remember Eck plugging a kettle into an anachronistic power point to make a pot of sencha, just as he had in the Baltic, but with a somewhat different feel. That renga formed part of a chain written along Hadrian’s Wall, published as Writing on the Wall. My opener was

That gull could be cloud,
Lowry, a legionary:
its wing refuses.


I also remember being delighted that we managed to fit in a line of Virgil from Book 9 of The Aeneid as copied out (wrongly) by an unknown Roman child* and found at the fort at Vindolanda: ‘interea pavidam volitans pinnata per urbem’ -- the next lines make it clear that this is a tragic passage about a death in battle: ‘nuntia Fama ruit matrisque adlabitur auris/Euryali…’. (ll. 473–475, rendered in Dryden’s translation as: ‘Soon hasty fame thro' the sad city bears/The mournful message to the mother's ears.’) This was of course in the same year as the invasion of Iraq.

It seemed to me then and it seems to me now that the renga is capable of capturing complex layers of histories and cultures in just this way, the surrounding immediacies and keen observations of several individual minds, and turning them into a singular something, simultaneously capturing and enacting a quality I have come to focus on more and more over the twenty odd years since my first renga: ephemerality.

By that long Greek polysyllable, I’m gesturing at the universe of meanings the Japanese poets contained in terms like okashi (delight), aware (perception of transience), sabi (impersonal loneliness), or karumi (lightness) -- each of which would require a separate article to articulate. But I only mean that, in Larkin’s phrase, ‘Days are where we live’.

A newspaper is ephemeral -- in Greek it is, literally, εφημερίδα, ‘for a day’ - but as a way of approaching the day they represent, newspapers provide a unique combination of major and minor news, cultural summation and trivia, cartoons and games. Indeed, as Erin Farley has admirably discussed, for many years they contained poetry, often (and not only in Dundee) of a politically radical nature. We might read them from cover to cover, keeping clippings of everything that interests us, or we might not. Then the next day we might buy another one, or we might not.

Renga are a sort of newspaper of the soul, but not in the sense of the individual soul - rather, in their attention to both the inner and the outer, to phenomena and epiphenomena, and their grasp of the transformative impact of imagery or vocabulary, they capture the metaphysics of a social territory or milieu or, as here, a city. Whether they report on it or embody it is another question (see part 2).

Read parts two (Ha) and three (Kyū) of Bill Herbert's article will be published on Bill blog.

*But note a possible, less innocent reading here from Peter Kruschwitz.

Categories: News

Remembering Brian Johnstone

Saturday 8 May 2021, 21:25

Brian Johnstone, photo by Al Buntin

(c) Al Buntin

We have learned with much sadness of the death this week of Brian Johnstone. He was one of StAnza’s founders and a major figure in this organisation’s history, as well as being an acclaimed poet in his own right, recognised internationally through his readings overseas and translations of his poetry.

Brian was already well known in Scottish poetry circles for his own writing and as an events organiser when he helped deliver the first StAnza festival in St Andrews in 1998. As festival director from 2000 to 2010 he led StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, from its modest beginnings to recognition as a leading international festival and a major fixture on the Scottish cultural calendar. After he stepped down from this role in 2010 to concentrate on his own writing, he continued to support and encourage StAnza, serving as a Consultant from 2010 until 2013 and remaining a StAnza member until his death. In 2015, in recognition of his contribution to the organisation, he was appointed Honorary President. StAnza owes Brian a huge debt and he is remembered with fondness and gratitude by those at StAnza who worked with him from 1997 until 2020.

Anna Crowe was another of StAnza’s co-founders. She recalls what a pleasure and privilege it was for her to work alongside Brian and Gavin Bowd to plan a new Scottish poetry festival.

“From the very beginning Brian, who had a lot of experience in organising poetry readings, had ambitious hopes for what has become StAnza (the cunningly-spelled title was his idea, as was the logo). I was keen to make the festival international in scope, and Brian had the vision and energy to see how this could be achieved. He quickly saw that it would be crucial to the festival’s success to involve the new Byre Theatre built in 2001, and to make it our hub, and he used his gifts of persuasion to convince the theatre management of this new idea, namely that poetry would in fact bring big audiences. Following advice to make the festival independent of the University, we were able to attract our own funding, and Brian had a tremendous gift for persuading people to back StAnza. This was because he believed in it so strongly and funders recognised that commitment and were brought on board. Brian was a man of great generosity and human warmth, with a gift for making friends. With his artist wife, Jean, he welcomed many visiting poets to their house in the Fife countryside. He was a dedicated poet with a distinctive voice and passion for memorialising what others might overlook. His interest in music and art led him into fruitful collaboration. Brian will always be remembered as the man who made StAnza happen.”

Drew Clegg, one of StAnza's trustees, has known Brian from their student days and recalls Brian’s early experience organising events:

“When he was an undergraduate Brian was Entertainments Convenor at the university and in that role he brought Pink Floyd to St Andrews. Back then you might have seen the Floyd in London at the Roundhouse or in Paris or Berlin but St Andrews? Brian charmed them and they came and in that youthful moment we can see the quintessential Brian Johnstone. You aim high. You do the best you can do. You fetch the finest poets and artists in the contemporary world out of their usual metropolitan haunts and persuade them to come to Scotland, to the kingdom of Fife, to St Andrews. One among those ‘ finest poets ‘ is himself. He owns a reputation that will grow and grow that he might say with the wee stammering Roman poet Horace ‘Non omnis moriar’ – I’m not all dead. And poetry was but one of Brian’s superbly honed skills. He was a first rate photographer and the detail in his poems, little things caught in a rare light, things most of us would never even notice, is a consequence of the countless creative hours he spent behind the lens. He had been a primary school teacher and by a wonderful example of contingency two of the nurses who cared for him latterly had been in his class. They told how he had been an inspirational figure in their schooldays. All of us who were privileged to know him will not be surprised to hear that said of Brian. The man remains a marvel.

“After a long illness borne with grace he’s gone but has left us with such memories, such poems to read again and again, and of course StAnza, Scotland’s International Poetry Festival, an enduring legacy for those of us still here and innumerable generations yet to come. Non omnis moriar indeed!"

Brian and Jean JohnstoneEleanor Livingstone worked with Brian as Artistic Director and from 2010 as his successor as Festival Director. Brian’s wide knowledge of poetry, his commitment to StAnza and his ambition for it were the inspiration for her own involvement. He devoted huge amounts of time and energy to the festival and this enthusiasm was catching. His love of music and visual art shaped the inclusion of cross-arts element at the festival which became one of its unique features. Eleanor found him an excellent mentor.

“I learned so much from Brian that was essential in my various roles. I was fortunate in inheriting the relationships he had established – with funders and partners, with venues and the many businesses whose cooperation underpinned the festival’s success – and the procedures and processes he had designed and initiated. It was instructive and rewarding to work with him; he approached the challenges and choices which we encountered with flexibility and insight. And it was also fun – Brian was always great company. By encouraging my involvement with StAnza, Brian gave me an opportunity which changed my life. I will always be grateful for his generous and unfailing support up to and including for this year’s festival, even as his health was failing.”

Robyn Marsack speaks on behalf of StAnza’s Board of Trustees.

“Brian continued to be a genial presence at the Festival after handing over to Eleanor, putting his experience and his vast knowledge of poets and poetry at StAnza's disposal. Free of his director's responsibilities, he was glad to focus on his own work – in prose, poetry and musical collaborations – and indeed launched a new collection in April, The Marks on the Map, when dozens of friends were gathered online to celebrate the occasion. He will be greatly missed, but his hospitable spirit and devotion to poetry will live on in StAnza.”

We offer our deepest sympathy to Jean and Brian’s family and many friends in their loss: 'Always the bough is breaking / heavy with fruit or snow.'


Categories: News
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