Sunday, 3 February 2013


As soon as the dog barks in the morning I know the post has come.  On Saturday, amongst the clutter of junk advertising, there was a large brown envelope – a mailing from the Scottish Poetry Library (SPL), containing the latest issue of Poetry Reader.   Good - something worth reading.

This newspaper-style publication from the library is always interesting but this one is the best ever.  The theme is nature, a theme which the Scottish Poetry Library (whose motto is "By leaves we live") will be celebrating during 2013.  The front page opens with Thomas A Clark’s lines “In the half-light of dusk” taken from one of his walking poems, “At dusk and at dawn”.  It’s published in The Path to the Sea, one of my favourite poetry books – ideal reading for my summer jaunts to the Scottish islands.

Jennifer Williams (SPL’s programme manager) leads with “Translating nature”: “It is important work, this translating of nature.  The poet’s job is to be attentive.  For arguably we will treat nature, and ourselves, with more respect if we recognise that it is not an other, a thing apart – but rather the thing we are.”

Lizzie MacGregor (SPL assistant librarian) writes about Nan Shepherd, whose wonderful prose response to the Cairngorms, The Living Mountain, I discovered last year.   It was good to learn more about this little-known author, including the fact that she wrote poetry as well as prose.

Poets can get a bit defensive at times.  The reprint of Christian Wiman’s  “A defence of poetry” from Mastery and Mystery is one of the best arguments for the importance of poetry I have read for a while.  He includes an illustration from the Arctic.  Why not exploit this remote environment for oil?  Well, it’s a National Wildlife Refuge.  “The breeding ground of the porcupine caribou, what the hell is a porcupine caribou?  Drill, baby, drill.”  But there is such a thing as “quantum entanglement” – a succinct phrase for the web of interconnections that rule the planet.

It’s the same with poetry – “who knows what atomic energies are unleashed by a solitary man or woman quietly encountering some arrangement of language that gives their being – shunted aside by chores and fears and who knows what – back to them?”  Now I see why there’s a photograph of a spider’s web on the Poetry Reader front page.

If you are in Edinburgh pick up a free copy of Poetry Reader Issue 12 Winter 2013 at the Scottish Poetry Library (Crichton’s Close, just off Canongate)
If you are elsewhere I'm sure the good folks at the SPL will post you a copy if you send them an A4 SAE with a large letter stamp on it.

Last word from Mark Tredinnick: “Nature’s the story, I keep saying, and we’re in it.”

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