The winter sun just hangs over the ridge of the Coolags. Its setting will seal the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice. At this season the sun is a pale wick between two gulfs of darkness.
So wrote George Mackay Brown, the observant eye of the great Orkney poet seeking out the touch of magic conjured up by the Neolithic architects who created Maeshowe with hard-hewn rock and a knowing eye on the heavens. Continue reading
Remember that ancient Chinese saying –
And may you live in interesting times?
It sounds like benediction, blessing,
but no, it’s contrary, not what it seems.Alan Spence Interesting Times: 2021
Alan Spence the fifth Makar of Edinburgh has written a poem to be buried in the ground. A time capsule poem for future generations. It was his last official commission at the end of his four years as poet laureate for the capital city (the original three year term was extended by a year thanks to Covid).
With the Makar’s blessing, I had started to post this wryly gentle poem before Putin invaded Ukraine. A time capsule poem reflecting on our shared experience of the last two years seemed to belong in what was likely to be the last scheduled publication of Sceptical Scot [and it came to pass, see Sceptical shuts up Shop statement – not buried but safely secured in the archive of the National Library of Scotland]. With obscene cruelty the President of Russia had added his own crude lines to the Chinese curse.
Pause for thought. I’m not sure why the poetry of Gael Turnbull moves me so much. Perhaps because he was a hands-on doctor as well as a poet – and I often think of my GP brother working at the sharp end of the pandemic, meeting real people in real life, taking the occasional breather to make a black joke.
“I’ll be mighty pissed off if I die in my last year at work,” he texted last March as Covid put paid to his plans for earlyish retirement and the local health authority struggled to meet demand for personal protective equipment. Nevertheless, I was proud to discover, he insists on seeing his patients in person, distrusting the evidence presented on screens: “Doctors need to prod patients.”
Being ninety we are
the generation whose fathers fought
in the First World War
Old age is a bit of a mystery. How did we get here? How much further are we going?
I wrote this for Sceptical Scot poetry section, fired by a new poem by an old friend and prose by John Harris which hit a spot. A tender spot. In a looking glass world, the over-70s face indefinite lockdown while Covid-19 rampages through scandalously unprotected care homes.
I’m not ninety, not yet anyway though I have lived in hope that I might have inherited some of the genes of my Great Aunty Ada who survived Spanish flu, served as a nurse in the Spanish Civil War, dug her new garden as a ninety-year-old and died at the age of 106 just before the turn of the 21st Century.
Would she have survived Covid-19? I don’t know. But I know she did not really consider herself old until she was nearing her 100th birthday. So I also delight in the robust letter of Hella Pick to the Guardian in protest at ‘an insult against a massive group of able-bodied, hard-working people who are making important contributions to society.’ She is 91.
And look to France where plans for Monday’s (11 May) cautious opening up initially excluded the over-70s but government backed-off after a deafening uproar from the ‘soixantehuitards’. Ah, 1968 – the year of revolutions. Lets not give in. We will need plenty adventurous rebels of all ages if we are to discover the means to ‘build back better’. Now, please read on and (if you haven’t already done so) take a trip to Sceptical Scot to explore further.
Trees are cages for them, water holds its breathNorman Maccaig: stars and planets
Where to look? From the back door, red lights twinkle on cranes neck-stretched above the chastened construction site of Edinburgh’s St James ‘retailopolis’. Builders banned. Animation suspended. Coronavirus stills and silences city life as we have known it.
I look up to the night sky. As a child I found that starry darkness a dizzying immensity, struggling with the eight times table my mind was never going to fathom infinity. Still can’t. No, I do know my times tables, but I can still go dizzy with the endlessly intoxicating dazzle of starlight.
That helps on a day when news is far from uplifting. One of our very best baby boomers, Edinburgh Festival (born, like me, in 1947), is cancelled until next year. So, necessarily confined to our own Covid cage, I find comfort in the liberating poetry and music I chose for Sceptical Scot last week. I hope you might too.
Another day, another chaotic train journey from Edinburgh to Glasgow. Not much poetry on the tracks right now but one fine day I think I will board the West Highland Line with a musician and film-maker to capture the sight and sound of the best rail journey in the world.
This train is for Mallaig. The rolling stock has seen better days but for those lucky enough to be heading north there’s five and a half hours of magic along the line.
On a Wednesday morning early I took the road to Derry
Along Glenshane and Foreglen and the cold woods of HillheadSeamus Heaney: The Road to Derry
It’s almost always personal. My latest poetry blogpost for Sceptical Scot provides a selection of five poems for the General Election. I wanted to balance the persistent drumbeat of divisive politics with different voices. I kept more intimate feelings to myself.
Don’t be afraid. The words shine in a dark space at the end of the Seamus Heaney exhibition. The words he texted to his wife shortly before he died in August 2013
At the mercy of the elements, does Henry Dundas
aloof in St Andrew Square still ponder having been
the most powerful politician of his day? Stewart Conn
Politicians come and go. While that stone-hearted rogue Henry Dundas looks down on the Christmas crowds let’s start with a moment of poetic (and blissfully Brexit-free) mischief. Here’s the very much alive and kicking Darren McGarvey…
I thought back to another year I knew
Autumn, lifting potatoes and stacking peats
On Mull… Ruthven Todd
There it is. Reading aloud from his latest book, Alexander McCall Smith nabs a furtive shadow from another time with a few lines from Ruthven Todd’s poem written in 1938. Continue reading