Saturday, 26 April 2014

Primroses etc

Two weeks fly by. The poem every day trial was de-railed by a trip away. First there was relief not to have to expose these seedling poems to the harsh light of cyberspace, and then, I have to confess there were some days when no poem got written at all. Not that I didn't write every day; the novel gets its daily scribbled page no matter what at the moment, and my notebook is full of neat blue ink lines. Just not poetry, or not every day anyway. There have been some bursts onto the page though, so in the spirit of NaPoWriMo, here are some of them.

a big beary bumble bee
feeding on arctic bearberry


we                 all


more             space



the fuse is lit
life smoulders
through mats of fibres
sap wicks up
lusting to bloom


All the primroses say

Wake up! Winter's over.

Come and peer down on us
with eyes full of willow catkins.

Which of our two shades is primrose yellow?
Why not the other one?

Violets are so blue.
Celandines so gold and glossy.

You have to bare your soul
or bees will not come.

We are not afraid of the pig
though he seems wary of the way we gaze at him.

We may look innocent but we are sex machines.

Pin and thrum. Vive la difference!

Of course we do this every year. 
It is not a ritual. It is survival.

Birds are singing of love and so are we. 
What do you mean you cannot hear us? 
Are you listening?

Thursday, 10 April 2014


Here is a poetry seedling for #NaPoMo2014


Poems are like seedlings.
Keep them moist.
Gentle them.
Some wilt.
Others succumb to frost.
Bring on the rest
but not too quickly.

Pot up.
Give space.
Nip out lush growth.
Show care.

Then harden them off
for the cold world out there.
Ready them
for wrath and wonder.

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Of edges and boats

It's been a busy few days of work, plus we bought a sailing boat on Monday - Happy Daze! Getting daily poems onto here has therefore not been feasible, so here's the backlog.

The first is a musing on the edges again, after our exciting trip down into the underworld of High Pasture Cave at the weekend. And then there are inevitably a couple of nautical poems, including one which is just a shopping list for the boat in vaguely iambic pentameter. These are all definitely seedlings that look vulnerable to dying back, but in the spirit of the thing, I shall bare them to the world. I have to say showing such raw work feels a bit like going out in my underwear.


shine a torch
turn the light off

let waves wash in
wash out again

speak this tonguetranslate into an canan eile

rub off the paint
apply another layer

old bracken collapses
new fronds unfurl

the moon wanes
waxes again

the day lengthens
but still the fire is welcome

conflict happens
peace is possible

the edge is thin between action
and inaction

all boundaries are made to be broken
all edges are crossable

Happy Daze

Although every boat requires love of a kind
different from the care we lavish on each other

I am won over by freshly-polished wood,
talk of hinges, well-worn sheets,

hooked by dreams of shrouds
making music in a summer evening breeze

the song of undercurrents, trickles under keel.
In any future year I might let my probing fingers

press into the red flesh below the waterline,
scratch at the pitted scabs beside the crusty anode

but it is spring and barnacle geese
are skeining for the northern isles,

Faroe, Iceland, Jan Mayan, Svalbard,
ice-fringed coastlines where balugas rise

and dive. I must be on the ocean
tracking Pytheas along the wrack-scent margin,

while the nights are brief and pale.
Thule beckons in the wind among the trees.

Shopping list

The ropes go up the eight yard mast then down(although today, because the stick is prone,
they run along a horizontal line and back);
we're measuring them, and making plans
for when good sailing weather will arrive.
The boat has overwintered in dry dock.
Her shrouds are slumped. She does not look alive.

The best of it is drawing up the shopping list:
new sheets, halyard, anodes for the keel,
barometer, a plumbline and a tender,
a scrubber for the hull and anti-fouling,hasp and hinges where the rust set in,
life vests, coastal charts and mugs for tea.
Soon we'll be all set to go to sea!

Sunday, 6 April 2014

High Pasture Cave

Yesterday I went down Uamh an Ard Achadh, the cave at High Pasture on Skye, with Martin Wildgoose, the archaeologist who has been exploring this incredible site for the past 10 years. The picture, drawn by him, shows how it may have looked when it was in use, between 750BC and 100AD. The crescent-shaped structure is a huge burnt mound, made from stones heated in a fire and then used to heat water. In front of this is the original cave mouth, which is now sealed.

The ceremonial cave can now only be reached through about 130 metres of underground passages, through limestone, with pools and subsurface streams. This is where Martin took me.

It is absolutely exquisite, with black chert boulders and white marble stripes among grey limestone. The surfaces swarm with stalactites and needles, scallop patterns and calciferous growths like elves' ears and rows of teeth, as if there are people frozen into the stone. The running water chuckles and sings continuously, and everywhere drops of water gleam and glitter in torchlight, making the whole place seem to be lined with gems. It is utter magic.
The site was clearly used for ceremonial purposes, and it seems most likely to have been linked to the Celtic goddess Brigid. There are lots of pointers to this: when the sun comes over the hill at Imbolc at the very end of January (a date sacred to Brigid), it would have shone directly into the cave. Within the cave there are burials of the bones of whole cows (which were sacred to Brigid), as well as many objects linked to women (beads, hairpins, querns etc) which were ritually deposited. Brigid was the goddess of smelting and there are signs of metal working in the cave as well. It seems many people may have been cremated on the sacred fire outside, and then their remains brought down to the underworld and perhaps offered to the running water within. Brigid is also goddess of poetry, and so I wrote yesterday's poem by trying to imagine what might have been sung or said by those using the cave.


stone from a shore
from sea to pasture

body to flame
from breath to fire

ash to the cave
from higher to lower

wish to water
from now to ever

time of wonder
over, under

In 100 AD the cave entrance was blocked up with clay and boulders, and guarded by a buried woman, together with her dismembered infant child and foetus, and the foetus of a pig. Who was she? Why was the cave sealed up after almost a thousand years of ceremonial use? We will never know.

And finally today's poem, a cave haiku:

drinking in darkness
a handful of pure nothing
cupped from a cave pool

Friday, 4 April 2014

Spring Butterfly

I like to test the boundaries of what a poem is. Does this count?

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Damp again

The first skeins of geese went over yesterday (or the first I've seen anyway) and reminded me of what the Vikings called the whale-road north... Today, after ten days of clear, dry weather on the back of an endlessly drying east wind, it is damp once again, and this poem is the result of the change in the weather.

I'm not sure about it, and if it weren't for my National Poetry Writing Month commitment, it is the kind of poem I would usually consider a fragile seedling, which I'd put in the 'nursery' folder to see if it will grow into something I like over time. But as I have made a poem-a-day commitment,  in the spirit of being open about what actually comes down the pen, here it is.

Rain pause over, spring resumes

The stick that was white is wet again.
Birch buds bursting
look like a struggle
but damp earth
smells as if it will ease them.

Are the willows sorry for the primroses?
No. Nor are the primroses
as lonely as they seem.
Nothing is forlorn.
This is just how it is now

while the air is still
as thin as birdsong
and the pull of the whale-road north
is strong enough
to wind the wind-skeins up again.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

A month of poetry

All these spring shoots must be getting to me. It is NaPoWriMo, or National Poetry Writing Month, and the challenge is to write a poem every day. This isn't the kind of challenge I would normally rise to, but somehow the idea has got under my skin. After yoga last night, I wrote a little poem, and this morning, another. In the spirit of the enterprise I've decided to give it a go, not only trying each day to see if there is a poem there waiting to begin, but also to display the raw, tender little seedling poems here as they appear. I won't necessarily get them up onto here each day - there are lots of other things going on this month. But we'll see how it goes.

I am squarely obsessed by sailing at the moment, both with dreams of the coming season and memories of past experiences on the water. Last night's poem is from the former, and this morning's came from a look back over notes I made in the arctic last year. We had the trip of a lifetime sailing north from Scotland to Svalbard and around Spitsbergen in June and I haven't written much about it really. As the geese have now begun flying north over us, don't be surprised to find me full of arctic reveries.

So, here's last night's poem.


I am dreaming of sailing over the edge
where depth seethes and imagination fails

   a sail furls
   a rope coils

      a whale may rise 

And for this morning's it might be worth knowing, if you don't already, that a less-than-berg-sized chunk of ice fallen off a glacier (dangerous to sailers) is called a growler.

Ice teaching

'Man might be more tolerable, less fractious and smug, if he had more to fear.' J A Baker, The Peregrine. 
 Staring out from between two cliffs
   a small blue glacier
      scarred by its battle with air and water
         has nowhere to go.

Slow, incremental motion
   moves a mountain
      but the sea's toothed skin
         consumes from below.

The boundary between ice and sea
   is frazzle
      then pancake
         then floe.

We need nature to be fiercer than us
   to show us like a naughty child
         to growl at us, no. 

Tuesday, 1 April 2014


You know it's spring around here not only by the primroses, but also by the fact that on good days there is always work to be done on a boat. There's this one, called Ripples, which has new gunwhales and rowlocks this year, as you can see. She is now painted and launched and looking lovely on the running mooring in the loch.

Then there's Vigilance, Bill's old fishing boat. She's still in the harbour in Lochinver, but as the weather improves the day will no doubt come when it'll be time to bring her round to Loch Roe.
Perhaps we are crazy, but we are talking about also getting a sailing boat. Is there any other way to get beyond 'competent crew' to being actually able to sail, confidently? I doubt it. Both Ripples and Vigilance are beautiful in their own way, but oars and engines just don't do what a sail can do!

Each summer for the past few years I've spent time on other people's yachts, but there are real limits to how practical (and affordable) that is, and to how much we will ever learn if we're not making our own mistakes on our own vessel. I also have a sneaking suspicion there's a lot of sailing poetry to be written, once I can be alone on board - the lexicon of sailing is so delicious, all those sheets and stays, not to mention all the knots!

So, we're on the look-out for a cheap boat. Any offers?