Monday, 23 January 2012

Poem of the 18th century Publican: Robert Burns, you're bard! Hugh McMillan.  Well, who else?

The sun was shining on Dumfries, and I was tempted out a-Poem Hunting again with my trusty point-and-shoot. 
Inside the Coach and Horses on the Whitesands lurk short poems built on dreadful puns; Jackie Galley's marvellously strange thoughts on the Gulls of Dumfries;  Pippa Little's feline first footer...

I walked up Bank Street and back past The Stove, which already had a few window-readers.  So I moved to the next window and this time I read Chrys Salt's poem about Angus McPhee.  I read Roger Hutchinson's book at Christmas, and there's a wonderful blog too, written by artist Joanne B. Kaar Thanks Chrys.

 It really was a crisp and lovely day.  Through the narrow vennel to The Globe, which is packed with poems.  Where to start - Sarah Hymas (love this one), Josephine Dickinson, Polly Atkin, Rebecca Sharp, Angus MacMillan...  No sun down by The Globe, but I stood there freezing and reading.  So did a couple of other passers-by.

I warmed up on the way across to Burns' house.  Swarms of escaping schoolchildren packed the street end, while I read poems by Mike Barlow, Stephanie Green (very witty - see below), Jane Routh, Vivien Jones, JoAnne McKay, Fiona Russell and many more excellent verses. 

What fine places to place fine poems.  Thank you, Hugh Bryden and Dave Borthwick, who have probably seen enough melinex to last them till next January.

And I still haven't had time to read them all.

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Windows for Burns - poems all over Dumfries

It's January in Dumfries.  Which means the wind whistles through the streets, and it's nearly Robert Burns' birthday.

He would surely raise a glass to see the windows of some of his favourite hostelries covered in poems. 

On Friday afternoon I took a camera to find poems on windaes. (It was windae all right). And a cheerful man was holding onto the roof of his market stall with both hands. "I'm surfing!" he cried.
'Windows for Burns', invented by artist, poet and publisher Hugh Bryden and Glasgow University lecturer Dave Borthwick, expanded rapidly into an international event.  Hugh and Dave invited contemporary poets from Scotland and as far afield as the USA, Sweden and all over Europe to submit their own work for display as window poems, and received hundreds in response.

Tucked away around the participating venues, see below, you'll find poems from Jen Hadfield, winner of the T.S. Eliot Prize, Jean Sprackland, Andrew Greig and many other fine poets.  Hugh (who must be travelling even faster than the wind through Dumfries this month) even zoomed round Primary seven pupils at Heathhall, St Teresa’s, Loreburn, Holywood and Shawhead Primaries, who also have their window poems displayed.  How good is this?
So go poem-hunting. Windows for Burns is out there till 31 January, and you can find poems in
  • The Globe Inn
  • The Stove on the High Street
  • Robert Burns House Museum in Burns Street
  • The Coach and Horses on the Whitesands
And as part of the Big Burns Supper event in Dumfries 27th and 28th January, 30 of the finest poems will be projected onto The Stove, to mark its opening as Dumfries' new arts centre.  Have a poem and a pint with the Bard.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Poems are breath-maps

"Poems are breath-maps", says Alice Oswald. "They use punctuation and line-endings to show you how to reach and keep some of the air's invisible energy."
Here is her poem 'Marginalia at the Edge of the Evening'.

now the sound of the trees is worldwide
and I'm still here/not here
at the very lifting edge of evening
and I should be up there. Bathing children.
because it's late, the bike's asleep on its feet,
the fields hang to the sun by slackened lines
and when the wind blows it shows
the evening's underside
(when the sun sinks it takes
a moment smaller than a spider)
I saw the luminous underneath of a moth
I saw a blackbird
mouth to the glow of the hour in hieroglyphics...
who left the light on the clouds?
the man at the wheel signs his speed on the ringroad.
right here in my reach, time is as thick as stone
and as thin as a flying strand
it's night and somebody's
pushing his mower home
  to the moon

Here is a poem which is exactly a breath-map.  It flows so naturally.  Read it aloud to hear your own breathing place the flows and pauses of the poem. 

The poem has an informal, even exploratory feel. 
'and I'm still here/not here
at the very lifting edge of evening'

I love 'the very lifting edge of evening'.  It tells me something intense, something poised on a brink, that sense of crossing a border.  Right from the start, it positions the reader in time.  The evening unfolds, delightfully.

because it's late, the bike's asleep on its feet,
the fields hang to the sun by slackened lines'

I find these lines curiously visual.  A drowsy leaned-up bicycle.
Look.  Bicycles asleep.
The field pattern lines of hedge and wall reaching uphill to the sky and a setting sun.  But they are also fantastical, and suggest a moment apart from the everyday.  Time 'is a thick as stone/and as thin as a flying strand' so we can't fix it.  Something measurable has become harder to pin down. 

But then
'it's night and somebody's
pushing his mower home
   to the moon'
It's just an observation.  But playfully ambiguous.  Stay out at dusk and you might see a lunar mower.  Or just bats.

And as a mother myself, I warm to the line -
'and I should be up there.  Bathing children.'
The breath-map coded by the full stop.  Maternal responsibility and stolen time - distraction - all in one dot.