Monday, 14 March 2016

Some British Isles

12:16:00 Posted by ChristoDGS , , No comments
Here are some British Isles:

The Scots writer, the late Hugh MacDiarmid states:

I was better with the sound of the sea
than with the voices of men
And in desolate and desert places
I found myself again.

I agree with him about the sound of the sea as I was born and grew up here in Blackpool on the Fylde Coast of Lancashire, but discovered how odd it felt to be away from the sea for any real length of time when I visited the European mainland for a holiday-while with school in the mid-1950s.

I am a believer that No Man Is An Island, and am gregarious, enjoying urban life and the companionship of others I choose to be with.  However the experience of being on or living on one of Britain's many small islands has always interested me, and while researching this piece I have discovered Island Poems by R S Thomas, Kathleen Raine, Douglas Duun, Kathleen Jamie, Seamus Heaney and Edwin Morgan as well as lesser-known poets.

Let us begin with my North Eastern friend Valerie Laws letting us live for a few moments on Lindisfarne:

The rainbow arch hangs in space
at Lindisfarne, a cannonball's leap
frozen in stone.  Hail and rain rattle
the walls like shot, the sea keeps up
its cavalry charge.  Cows graze
salt-bleached grass, descendants
of those spared by the monks
who spent more on gunpowder
than parchment.

There is more than 1,000 years captured here as, though Lindisfarne is most famous for the early days of Christianity and the chants of monks, Valerie is interested too in how the brothers not only carried out the painstaking work of creating illuminated pages of The Bible, but had frequently to defend themselves and their settlement against wild Scots known as Border Reivers - these were savage times, and they had an island to defend.

And as is so helpful in poetry, we can now leap to the opposite side of Scotland where there are North and South Uist off the coast,  Stewart Conn takes us there:

Uist, a smashed mirror.
I holiday here, to gather
strengths for the winter.
So I fire my peats, gut
trout, rub cold hands together:
reassured that when December
does come, I shall be far
from here.  Like all city dwellers.

This is very much me.  If I visit Oban and the Western Isles it is July or August and I am well aware that there is a long, cold winter ahead, but I do not return to the wild by catching my meals from the bounteous sea, nor huddling over a peat fire: hotel-living for me, a townie to the core.

Having visited North Uist with Stewart, it is only fair to visit South Uist too, again with Hugh MacDiarmid who writes of being on the Western Seaboard of the island:


I found a pigeon's skull on the machair,     (The machair is the land)
All the bones pure white and dry, and chalky,
But perfect,
Without a crack or a flaw anywhere.

At the back, rising out of the beak,
Were twin domes like bubbles of thin bone,
Almost transparent, where the brain had been
That fixed te tilt of the wings.

As the poem's title says, this is PERFECT.

No doubt you have clear recollects of islands you have visited and their effects on you.

Why not write a short poem about it ?

Major source: The Iron Press anthology 100 Island Poems of Great Britain and Ireland edited by James Knox Whittet pub. 2005

Thanks for reading this, Christo Heyworth.