I did a reading with Margaret Christie and Henry Marsh in Loanhead yesterday and, unusually for me, I made it a themed reading. The onset of hard frosts here suggested a wintry theme might be appropriate, so that’s what I did. Here’s the set list, with comments. The reading lasted just under 20 minutes – I’m not bad at keeping to time.
I started with two from Mementoliths 2, one of my e-books, based on an out-of-print collection. Cairngorm lift was the first one. Lift is the Scottish word for air, so I used it that sense, as well as the English sense of upward movement. It describes the experience of walking through the snow in Glen Feshie, coming across the airfield where gliders are towed up in summer, and later hearing the little aeroplane flying overhead. The second one from this collection, Nightlights, echoes the aircraft subject, and was one of the first poems I wrote after moving to Dunbar at the end of November 2000. Dunbar is in a military low-flying training corridor, so we get a lot of Tornadoes etc zooming ovehead. The pair I saw that night were only visible by their engines and nav lights. After they’d zoomed out over the sea a shooting star flashed over. I took it as an omen, and wrote the poem.
The next one was Midcalder Millennium, from Sushi & Chips. It describes the village as Christmas and the Millennium approached. I suppose many poets wrote millennium poems, but I’m quite pleased with the final lines of this one.
At the end of it, a birth:
beyond the end the calendar moves
from three old nines
to three new zeroes,
and centuries of centuries to come.
Moving on to The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Café, I started with the Dunbar selkie poem Sealskin, inspired by finding the skin of a dead seal on the rocks along the coast. Then I read The Low Point, a poem inspired by reading William Dunbar’s marvellous poem ‘A Meditatioun in Wyntir’. Iron Road to Lhasa relates the train journey Jane and I made from Xining, in Qinghai Province, to Lhasa, in 2007. The wintry scenery of snowpeaks, frozen rivers and the tundra of the Tibetan Plateau were amazing sights.
From the new collection, The Propriety of Weeding, I read Watching birds, about a winter evening at Aberlady with pinkfoot geese, and Ice Age, a fantasy about a sudden return to a cold snap, which might happen regionally here, even as the planet’s average temperature rises. I went back to Sushi & Chips for my final poem, Winterlude, another early Dunbar poem. I’m quite proud of this one; it was read at a festival of readings and carols in Dunbar not long after we moved here. It ends like this:
No borders to bounty, no boundaries to taste,
no limits to wanting, because we can have.
And to those who have not? We give, we must,
for now we see that difference makes us all
the same. Need is universal, want is just the way
we choose to live.
And tomorrow I’m reading in St Mary’s Church, Haddington, John Knox’s old church, as part of the Scottish Music and Literature Ceremony. I’m reading three poems: Culloden, Knowes Dig, and Finding family. They cover Scottish history and prehistory, and personal ancestry. By a strange coincidence, I learned today that one of my genetic markers is characteristic of the first farmers to reach Britain. They were so successful, for a number of reasons, that their cell lines out-competed several other lines. They, no we, are spread widely in the Scottish population. I always knew I was of farming stock; I didn’t know how far back it went.