Monday, 28 April 2014


In the last week I have been north to Edinburgh and south to Millom. 


I went to Edinburgh to see the photographer with whom I am collaborating on an exhibition in Keswick next March.  We planned to meet in the Grassmarket.  As he was delayed by traffic (and an obstreperous swan on the road) I had an opportunity to browse in the Golden Hare bookshop, in West Bow.  

The Golden Hare is an independent bookshop, with carefully selected books "which offer thought-provoking content and beautiful design".  It also has a little gallery.  Everything is lovingly displayed and there is a good poetry section.  I bought Niall Campbell's Moontide (Bloodaxe).  Niall Campbell, who grew up in the Outer Hebrides, is the subject of a recent Scottish Poetry Library podcast.

Staying at the university bed and breakfast gave me the chance to take in another independent bookshop on my walk to the city centre the next morning - Looking Glass Books in the new Quartermile development on the site of the old Royal Infirmary, off Lauriston Place.  Looking Glass Books is in elegant modern premises and also has a cafe.  Food for thought.  Lots of comments about the books (someone has obviously read them!), and - like the Golden Hare - support for small presses (books you would never discover in the big chains).  A good poetry section - I couldn't resist the quirky Washing LInes (Lautus Press).


From Scotland's capital city to post-industrial Millom.  On Saturday I attended the Gala lunch of the Norman Nicholson Society to celebrate the centenary of the poet's birth.

To be precise we were in the LIghthouse Centre, Haverigg, a village just outside Millom.  The view from the windows was dominated by Nicholson's favourite fell, Black Combe. 
Good food, good company, interesting and moving speakers and the Holborn Hill Royal Brass Band.  Thanks to everyone involved in making a wonderful occasion.  A particularly nice touch was the pot geraniums and helium-filled red balloons for every table, a reminder of one of Norman Nicholson's best poems, "The Pot Geranium".

Norman Nicholson encouraged other writers and the society continues this encouragement.  At the gala lunch Philip Houghton read his poem "Echoes" and I reproduce it here with his permission. 

Here Phil uses "Scafell Pike" and reverses the view entirely.  Nicholson's "Scafell Pike" is a long thin poem about the highest mountain in England.  Phil says that in his own poem he looks "from Scafell Pike back towards Nicholson and his vantage point in writing the original poem. The poem ends by fixing Nicholson with a renewed permanence, after the longevity which he similarly affords Scafell".


Above a ghyll
On the Pike,
Towards the spire beyond his street
Peregrine-swept crag
Of this hallowed fell
Below, jag and crest
Of crooked lofts
Roofs of the town
Dormer peak,
The tallest room in Millom.

How sharp it seems,
Still here today,
Much more than plate-glass window
On the sky!
Condensing huff of inmates breath
Block out geranium and self –
A written strata of flowing verse
Topography an inch thick
By the willing eye.

Look again
In one hundred, a hundred and ten
Two hundred years
A poem. Prose
Where the chapel is;
Line and verse
Contain the ironworks,
Its stacks, the town,
Maybe its men;
But beyond where sea and sky mop up the day
The gravelled voice of fell-top seer,
Still here.

Phil Houghton
Copyright 15 March 2014

A contemporary poet stands at the place of Nicholson’s viewed subjects (this – the poem: “Scafell Pike”) and looks back at Nicholson from that vantage point, as though to echo his work back, across time, in this Centenary Year - and here, linked also to thoughts of the closing lines of the Nicholson poem:
Thomas Gray in Patterdale – “… and see/ The wide-eyed stranger sky-line look at me?”

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