The holy grail, distilled wisdom
of all the world, slips sideways
through the fingers of authority.
Never mind the years of waiting,
the great fish caught and gutted,
the dragon trapped in the pit,
the long simmered broth of herbs,
it always goes astray. The poet
is always that chance apprentice
sucking his clumsy thumb,
scarred, accidental, listening.
You can find a version of the story of the burned thumb here.
I write poems based in landscape and community, exploring the many different dimensions of the dialogue we hold with whatever environment supports us – biological, social, spiritual – how we live on the earth and with each other, how we react to the passage of time, what beauty we find in living, and the ways we deal with grief and loss and hard times. I’m influenced by my study of geopoetics, permaculture, folklore and the mythological traditions of northern and western Europe, and the mystical traditions of Christian monasticism. Currently I’m working on poems about herbs, the wild edges of settled lands and human communities, and the prospect of environmental and social upheaval.
I sometimes post poems on the blog, and you can also see them at Peony Moon, Well-Versed, and at Catapult to Mars here and here . There are some poems on the archive pages of the excellent READRAW website, curated by Mo Blake, Ian Hunter, G.W. Colkitto and Wullie Purcell. You can see the Filmpoem Alastair Cook made of Visiting the Dunbrody Famine Ship here.
This poem was written for the Dazzle Ship Project run by Marjorie Lotfi Gill, Signal in 2016
The Dazzling Beauty
Swans achieve it with pure and pristine class,
and eider drakes attempt their dazzle
for maximum swagger, out to attract.
But she, in her zebra stripes and flashes
of disco pink and golden epaulettes
wrong-foots observers. Is she alone, unique,
or many? Is she coming on? Or is she,
with fluttering eyelashes, a wink of blue,
a coquettish sweep of bright ribbons,
sailing away, indifferent, elusive, intact?
From Signs of the Times
Slow Plant Crossing
It might take a year or two –
a crack in a pavement, a small
subsidence in the tarmac,
but eventually those white
brittle roots, those floating seeds,
those twining tendrils will make it
from one side to the other,
knock at your door, invade
your basement, undermine your house.
this poem first appeared on Ginny Battson’s Blog Seasonalight, and is dedicated to her
There are people who know the world
in specifics – not gull, but black-backed,
(lesser and greater), black-headed,
common, glaucous and herring.
There are people who know the woods –
not trees, but oak, willow, hazel,
aspen, and lime, and not oak
but sessile or pedunculate.
There are people who learn the names,
the Latin, the genus, the cultivar,
making lists for countries and years,
and the life-list with all the ticks,
the bbjs, and the gaps they need to fill.
And then, there are other people
whose hands and eyes know everything,
who taste the wind for salt or coming rain,
who find the right leaf, or root, or berry
for health or flavour, without a word spoken.
There are people who know their gardens
like their family, their lawn like their own skin,
a new bird by the frisson the cat makes,
even before the stranger’s call
breaks into the grey still morning.
And who can tell us which of these
knows best, knows more, can teach,
protect or harvest earth and sky
and water for the common good?
Or shall we try for both, a lore
of senses, heart and mind at one,
where knowledge and compassion
are held in equal balance, equal trust?
From Wherever We Live Now
stillness of the old musicians,
singing at the bar’s end, eyes closed,
is a thing you wouldn’t notice, unless
you sing yourself. The skill doesn’t show
in dynamics and drama, it’s rubbed hard
down into the song’s grain till the voice
glides silky and free and nothing comes
between mind and melody. Sean nos
is of the soul, a music gathered,
in-dwelling, sung from the quick of the heart.
The Place of the Fire
The right place for a fire
is a good place for a human –
Dry and level beneath, air,
but not too much, and shelter
from wind and wet above.
It is safe where the fire is.
This brooding bird of a house,
its lintel a mossy breast-bone
we creep beneath, its walls stone wings
mantling our hearth-space where the fire’s
warm quiver feeds us, guards us,
quickens what grows within.
Glittering puffs of ignited smoke
drive ghost-pegs into the coal,
let out the prisoned light.
Soot-flags on the hearth-wall
welcome the stranger.
Later, the house walls sing with heat.
Under parched and wasted coals,
the red glow dulls. The ash
settles softly, a quiet inward collapse
like the gentling of your face
on the pillow, as you fall
deeper into sleep.