Devouring Poetry

The Olympic flame threads through Dalkeith, Thursday at 7 p.m.

Self, your mouth is stuffed with good Scottish shortbread as you write.  Didn’t you, earlier today, wind up in the Dalkeith parish church, some lovely space where, it distressed you to learn, a man named Rev. William Calderwood undertook, between the years 1659 and 1680, the torture and execution of 60 women accused of being witches?  Didn’t you see the church, the monument erected in memory of this Reverend, and didn’t you wander around the cemetery, wondering at the skulls and angels on gravestones memorializing generations of Scotts (related to Sir Walter, self and a companion wondered?) and Hoggs?

Today, however, is a day for bounty.  Self discovered a book of poetry called Flannergraphs, by Joan McGavin.  She wants to order copies when she gets back to California, and give one to niece, give one to Jennie, give one to dear friends, her hairdresser, the woman who massages self’s aching neck every other week, the Vietnamese women in the nail salon, everybody.

Self, just listen to how dramatic you’ve become since getting to Scotland! History is terrible, but it is also beautiful.

And, Alastair, could you just do self a wee favor and stop serving up those vegetable and barley soups, whole thermoses of them, that get sent up to self’s room every lunchtime?  Today the soup was accompanied by pasta salad.  She’ll never be able to squeeze into a plane seat, when it’s time to head home.

Here’s a Joan McGavin poem called “Flood Warning, River Almond”:

Brown fast high past die cast water
Wave and slap branch fall trap rewrite map water

The river smooths back tresses
of trees like supine mermaids.
The waterfall so much reshaped
boasts its full curved belly.
Four mallards fly for the estuary
direct, as if summoned.

Log drift earth lift stone shift water
All choppy loud stroppy roar floppy water

The weir pool spews its load over and again
and it’s not been eating wisely:
squashed bottles, footballs,
tree stumps, polystyrene chunks
arc and arc, as if this river
has made itself bulimic.

No dip don’t trip let rip water
All tossing de-mossing no crossing water

Avoiding the spray, three boys
set up their fishing gear, sure-fingered

(To be continued)

More than anything, self is in love with the sound of words, especially here. Today a bus driver said to her: “When we’re near the place, I’ll give ye a shout.” She just doesn’t know how to reproduce that on a page. But it sounded so great.

About Joan McGavin: She has degrees from Edinburgh University and the University of California-Santa Barbara. She teaches Creative Writing at the University of Winchester.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

Oh, the Deeply Forested Crags!

View 1 from the Hearth Room

View 2 from the Hearth Room

Tuesday: More Reading

This is for the young Canadian woman who self met yesterday, while trying to locate the Surgeon’s Hall Museum.  The woman (who looked to be in her 20s) was visiting a friend who had just started a Ph.D. program in World War II History at the University of Edinburgh.

From Colette Paul’s story, “Marginalia,” in The Year of Open Doors:  New Fiction From Modern Scotland, edited by Rodge Glass:

She’d felt restless the rest of the evening, and had started to write a letter to her friend from home, trying to describe it all.  He hadn’t gone to university:  he was working in his father’s office, typing invoices.  His letters were full of what he’d been reading and thinking about.  It’s true what Marx said, he’d write, religion is the opium of the people; despair is the only viable position, if you really have your eyes open in the world.

*     *     *     *

She was careful to imply her full and exciting life, saying she didn’t think she could ever go back to India, India was on its last legs:  he wrote back to tell her he was jealous.  Sometimes she wrote long, gloomy passages about being depressed by the state of the world, but these felt as theatrical and untrue as her portrayal of herself as a social butterfly.  In truth she experienced, almost daily, bursts of elation followed by bursts of utter desolation, and both scared her in a way she could not explain.

Colette Paul won the Royal Society of Authors Short Story Prize in 2005 and has had her work serialised on Radio 4.

Self loves nothing more than curling up in her cozy room to read!

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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