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.
And how could they believe it, those ancient societies –
a floating box, with all those animals, the food enough
for all of them, and the extended family, and servants,
all squabbling no doubt, and the questions of which
would get to eat which? And how would it float?
Yet every culture had it, the record of a great flood
still seen in the soil, and a story of a box
holding the seeds and survivors, renewing the earth.
Somewhere we believe that when the worst happens
there will be a shelter, a covenant with our God,
a safe haven for all of us, both clean and unclean,
and what we think of as goodness will save us,
send us a rainbow, shelter us all.
These are the places in between,
between the field and the mountain,
between the cattle and the sheep,
between the orchard and the road,
between the heather and the sea,
places where growth is curbed
by salt, or drought or altitude,
by rocks beneath, by standing water,
by wind, by fire, by lawlessness,
places for forgotten things, and things
no longer valued, the weeds and black bees,
the wrens and thrawn roots of Latin
the boys were taught in secret.
These are the places in between,
too small for the rich to care for,
where things grow stronger for neglect,
where questions thrive, and dreams, cut down
to the roots, grow hardy, come back strong.
From Wherever We Live Now
Slate Island Landscape
Stacked cliffs, and thick black slabs
provide settled horizontals,
walls, door-sills, the stepped coastline
lined and grooved, and leaved like pastry,
pocked and pointed with fools’ gold.
Between the cracks, ripples foam
of thyme, black spleenwort, toadflax
and the slim prongs of grass-roots.
Verticals are finer – blunt spears
of mown flag iris leaves, reeds in flower,
hard rush bristles and sprays
of hair-grass, and seeded sweet bent,
lit with small coppers and common blues.
Wind and sea lay a blue wet-on-wet,
and on it low green islands, with cells
for pilgrims heading west, and on, and out.
Blanket bog clothes the land
like a black melancholy, shrouding
the slopes in the weight of its slo-mo layers.
Grudges and peat break down slowly.
Bones of old loves and hates
are kept intact for ever.
Sphagnum can absorb
twice its own weight in tears.
Crazy insectivorous plants
thrive on trapped flies and imagined slights,
and lost birds wail, raking through pools
and stirring the endless mud.
Keep it safe, keep it undisturbed.
Under these tons of peat and apathy
enough carbon is sequestered
to melt the last chips of polar ice
and burn up every one of us
on the whole raging earth.