Sunday, August 14, 2011

Poetry Paradise Review Week 15

Hello Everybody, and welcome to another Poetry Paradise.

I am constantly impressed by the calibre of writing on this site and would like to thank all reviewers for sharing their knowledge and unique insights in supporting the talented writers and poets featured here.

Anyway, onto the I am featuring a book entitled The Poetry of Scotland : Gaelic, Scots and English 1380-1980, edited by Roderick Watson. The book features poetry from John Barbiur (The Bruce) mid 14th century to Scottish songs of the 18th & 19th centuries to Robert Louis Stevenson in the mid 19th century, of course some Robert Burns, and finally the somewhat feminist writings of Liz Lochhead in the late 20th century.

The language of the earlier poems is a bit tricky for novices like me, but Watson offers ample notation to set the context of the piece and to explain some of the more complicated aspects of the language.

The contents pages are both chronologically and thematically listed for ease of reference, and I found this really useful as the book is very comprehensive and therefore quite lengthy. Personally love being exposed to poets I would not normally come across so this book was an absolute joy to read. I would recommend allowing yourself to just experience the flow of the language though as you would need a doctorate to understand every Gaelic word :)

Here is an extract from Sir Richard Holland's

The Buke of the Howlat
(circa 1450):

All thus our lady thai lovit, with lyking and lyst,
Menstralis and musicianis, mo than I mene may;
The psaltery, the sytholis, the soft sytharist,
The croude, and the monycordis, the gittyrnis gay;
The role, and the recordour, the rivupe, the rist,
The trumpe, and the talburn, the tympane but tray;
The lilt pype, and the lute, the fydill in fist,
The dulset, the dulsacordis, the schalme of assay;
The amyable organis usit full oft;
Claryonis lowde knellis,
Portativis, and bellis,
Cynbaclanis in the cellis,
That sounds so soft.

And the more modern writing of Edwin Morgan with Glasgow Green (circa 1970's)

Clammy midnight, moonless mist.
A cigarette glows and fades on a cough.
Meth-men mutter on benches,pawed by river Fog.
Monteith Row
sweats coldly, crumbles, dies
slowly. All shadows are alive.
Somewhere a shout's forced out - 'No!' -
it leads to nothing but silence,
except the whisper of the grass
and the other whispers that fills the shadows.

'What d'ye mean see me again?
D'ye think I came here jist for that?
I'm no finished with you yet.
I can get the boys t'ye, they're no that faur away.
You wouldny like that eh? Look there's no two ways aboot it.
Christ but I'm gaun to have you Mac
if it takes all night, turn over you bastard
turn over, I'll -
Cut the scene.
Here there's no crying for help,
it must be acted out, again, again.

This is not a delicate nightmare
you carry to the point of fear
and wake from, it is life, the sweat
is real, the wrestling under a bush
is real, the dirty starless river
is the real Clyde, with a dishrag dawn
it rinse the horrors of the night
but cannot make them clean:
though washing blows
where the women watch
by day,
and children run,
on Glasgow Green.

And how shall these men live?
Providence, watch them go!
Watch them love, and watch them die!
How shall the race be served?
It shall be served by anguish
as well as by children at play.
It shall be served by loneliness
as well as family love.
It shall be served by hunter and hunted in the endless chain
as well as by those who turn back the sheets in peace.

The thorn in the flesh!
Providence water it!
Do you think it is not watered?
Do you think it is not planted?
Do you think there is not a seed of the thorn
as there is also a harvest of the thorn?
Man, take in that harvest!
Help that tree bear its fruit!
Water the wilderness, walk there, reclaim it!
Reclaim, regain, renew! Fill the barns and the vats!

shall find its wine.

Let the women sit in the Green
and rock their prams as the sheets
blow and whip in the sunlight.
But the beds of married love
are islands in the sea of desire.
It waves break here, in this park,
splashing the fresh as it trembles
like driftwood in the dark.
Scottish poetry is said to engage with all people with little focus on class or social exclusion. I think these poems, though centuries apart, exemplify this idea beautifully. Both deliver direct 'unflowery' verse, speaking of the human condition with a frankness rarely found in the more romantic styles of poetry (although the Scots do romantic poetry pretty well too it must be said).

I will leave you with one final poem by Liz Lochhead which I feel summarises this traditional philosophy of Scottish poets and their works:

Poets need not
be garlanded;
the poet's head
should be innocent of the leaves of the sweet bay tree,
twisted. All honour goes to poetry.

And poets need no laurels. Why be lauded
for the love of trying to nail the disembodied
image with that one plain word to make it palpable;
for listening in to silence for the rhythm capable
of carrying the thought that's not thought yet?
The pursuit's its own reward. So you have to let
the poem come to voice by footering
late in the dark at home, by muttering
syllables of scribbled lines -- or what might
be lines, eventually, if you can get it right.

And this, perhaps, in public? The daytime train,
the biro, the back of an envelope, and again
the fun of the wildgoose chase
that goes beyond all this fuss.

Inspiration? Bell rings, penny drops,
the light-bulb goes on and tops
the not-good-enough idea that went before?
No, that's not how it goes. You write, you score
it out, you write it in again the same
but somehow with a different stress. This is a game
you very seldom win
and most of your efforts end up in the bin.

There's one hunched and gloomy heron
haunts that nearby stretch of River Kelvin
and it wouldn't if there were no fish.
If it never in all that greyness passing caught a flash,
a gleam of something, made that quick stab.
That's how a poem is after a long nothingness, you grab
at that anything and this is food to you.
It comes through, as leaves do.

All praise to poetry, the way it has
of attaching itself to a familiar phrase
in a new way, insisting it be heard and seen.
Poets need no laurels, surely?
their poems, when they can make them happen -- even rarely --
crown them with green.

Liz Lochhead

I recommend this book for range of styles included, subject matter covered, ample explanatory notes and it's vast chronological range. If you are going to indulge, sit down in front of the fire with a nice hot drink - or perhaps a cool drink next to the pool if you're in the Northern Hemisphere :) and enjoy the genius of centuries of Scottish poets.

Cynthia Marston


Anonymous said...

fabulous perspective shared, Cynthia...

Anonymous said...

What a truly amazing blog post...

Anonymous said...

Thank god some bloggers can still write. Thank you for this article.

Anonymous said...

That was a truly great piece...

Anonymous said...

You'r completely correct on this writing.

Anonymous said...

This surely makes perfect sense to anyone!