Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Maundy Thursday

Years ago I gave a book of Ansel Adams photography to my parents, for Christmas – they had been on holiday in Yosemite. There is surely no better photographer to capture the immense beauty of these ‘scapes’ of land and sky. If I could take photographs like his, I would be happy. I guess I’ll just have to stick to phone boxes. My dad described the naming of ‘half-dome’ as typical American pragmatism. I owe him this poem!

At the exhibition in the City Art Gallery, I came to realise that photography is meaningless without a viewer; as music is without a listener, or poetry is unread. Seeing his statement – which I quote at the head of this poem – I felt drawn in by his work, the way one is drawn by a warm person, a close friend or even, a lover. But with all art, or for that matter, psychology or (especially) journalism, nothing is quite what it seems.

Maundy Thursday
for my Saintly One
“There are always two people in every picture:
the photographer and the viewer”
Ansel Adams

I stood downscent of you in the dimlit gallery.
The diminutive frames could barely contain
the monochrome truth of this colossal rock.
American pragmatism names it ‘Half Dome.’
But I saw half a Monolith, a broken world,
a shattered heart, sheer; a barefaced scar.

Elsewhere, nomenclature boasted Californian Grandeur:
El Capitan thrust the clouds that should have capped its tower;
the stark twin spires of Cathedral Peak
poked the shattered skies, dwarfed the trees reflected in the lake.
Yet beyond the power of Yosemite or Yellowstone’s omniscience
I felt a darker hour approach, deeper than Creation’s omnipresence.

In steely light, a single lake – Mono – aptly named
lay like a flattened wall. A white, knuckled hand
with branches gnarled and twisted sinews
weighed a balance of sky and blackened waters
pocked with clouds, poised to scratch upon the

Tears streamed down a fissured face, cascading
like a Bridal Veil (a blatant sobriquet):
yet another fall. And there, in the Nevada spume
you saw the covenanted spectrum arched across the foam
in multiple shades of grey.
I saw a temple curtain, rent hopelessly in twain.

Drawn to each other, lured, I sensed a rising surge:
Hernandez Moon hovered in a sky of jet.
Beneath the slow dissolve of wispy light
You picked out a village, trees; a cemetery;
the blades of grass among the crosses etched in white.

Then, an oak tree, in stark symmetry
against a sunset silhouette.
I saw another moon, a single silver piece, a set
Of friends betrayed, deceived, rejected;
Bare branches stripped, punished through neglect.

Finally, as if to mark the end of Lent.
the moon and sun converged, aligned in black and white
(or was it that I should meet this punishment
because I saw darkness rather than light?)
Not everything can be described as such:
Assuming it was a lunar eclipse
I longed (again?) for strong lips
pursed to pipe a song about a lamb.

How wrong a poet can
be. It was in fact the sun
polarised by over-exposure,
like one who tried to dance
with the devil on his back:
the brightest part of the picture
turned to black.
Oh my love.

Exhausted and bleak I caught the bus to Leith
(a choice of two little ducks or the Number 1
- whichever route, I knew I was alone).
Later that night, the friends I had neglected
sang then slept,
while in another cathedral - not the rocky crop depicted -
my Saintly One wept.

Friday, 18 September 2009


This is a poem for my sister, Jo, with reference to Luci, a character in my novel. The title is taken from the ink-blot tests used in optometry and psychology. It is also the title of a song by Rickie Lee Jones. While it is true that the ink-blots are coloured, I should point out that my sister’s drawing was, in fact, in black and white.


for my sister

This is the picture I see.
Just scraps really. Of – from –
childhood; scribbles, doodlings.
Of my sister’s first attempt
at a smiling angel,
which made mummy smile at least.
(now mummy keeps it in a tiny
silver frame, next to a smiling
grandson on the mantelpiece).
I think of Luci’s Roar, or her bloody,
gory sunsets, dripping tears.
Or a crucifix, draped in musical
notation, hung in the music-room.
Rorschachs of the mind;
the silent intellect, shaped, drawn.
You remember, Jo, the one you drew
in your teens, inspired by a line
in a rock-song: “And yesterday
I saw you standing by the river…”
The perspectives were not quite true,
but I liked its skew-whiff charm.
The young boy could have been me,
I don’t know.
And so I took this image today,
walked down to the Waters again,
found a bridge that might have been
the one in your picture. Then
I looked up to the hills; (Blackford,
Pentlands, Calton, Salisbury Crags)
and thought back on my childhood.
How my fraternal love for you found
focus in your profound perspicacity,
far beyond any picture, any image.
Your angel will never quite forget.
And me? I can’t get my angel to smile.
Instead I picture your wise spirit
to give me strength at this time.
It says more than words.

Monday, 14 September 2009

Festival Fireworks

For some time, Meadowbank Stadium, which was built for the 1986 Commonwealth Games, has been under threat of closure. There were several public meetings around the time of this poem’s composition, leaving me unsure of what tense to use since the demise of this frankly rather unattractive landmark seemed to hover in the balance – and remains so to this day (depending on what day you’re reading this.)

Its greatest asset to the community is the annual firework display around Guy Fawkes Night. A better result would be that a spark ignited and razed to the ground the disgusting brick offices just beyond it. Then, my good friends who live opposite would be able to see right across to Leith – and beyond. The poem was written at the end of the 2007 Festival Celebrations; a summer I’ll never forget, quite.

Festival Fireworks
for ‘The Soprano’

The floodlights of Meadowbank Stadium are still
in the rain-sodden sky, like stuck fireworks.
The weather worse than dreich,
I venture out in the soggy streets

to Sainsbury’s for toilet-roll and gin –
life’s essentials – and imagine the spectators
at the Castle Tattoo; the rhythm of dancers and drums,
as the best of Scottish beats down on both.

If Meadowbank - once host to others games,
given its stay of execution -

hosted the same military pomp,
would equal crowds have flocked,

or hogmanay’s Great Display
fallen to the axe for a gust of Dunedin’s wind?
History and tradition keep folk
afloat, even in this diluvian Festival.

Sometimes we long for fireworks.
Now, all I crave as the water soaks my shoes,
is a warm sofa, Bombay Sapphire, and a kiss,
a breath, a touch of your soft, soft face.

Or better, the ecstasy of your voice
igniting the wet, black sky.

EH7 - Seven Poems

These poems were written between September and August 2007/2008 – not the best twelve months of my life. They are recorded here in chronological order rather than by date of completion. Several refer to some of the events in the local, national and international news.
EH7 is the postal district of Edinburgh where I stay; and also the name of a local community magazine which was going to publish some of the poems, though I never saw them in print.

Festival Fireworks


Maundy Thursday

Underground Edinburgh

Twelfth of July, 2008

Dogging in EH7

When Will We Learn?

Wednesday, 9 September 2009

The Occasional Poem

The opening title of my last blog, for those who remember or knew, was Pictures, Polemic, and the Occasional Poem. This one may be rather the opposite. If I could place my music on here, that would be ideal since music, as Elaine Feinstein once said, is always deniable. Instead, I’ll be brave and post more poetry than pictures. It will contain, I suspect, a certain amount of polemic anyway. The pictures may have to wait, or be restricted to telephone boxes. The reason for this will become apparent in subsequent scribblings.

To begin: a set of seven poems, appearing over the next few weeks.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

If I say I am...

If I say I am a writer, this suggests that everything I write has, beneath the written word, some deeper significance. That is, I may use devices such as allegory, irony and pun to illustrate the things I mean to say. A story or poem, article or essay can be read as just that, or the reader can look between the lines to understand me as a person; as a writer. Which is not to say that a piece is worthless if taken purely on face-value: the words themselves should be readable, the language, beautiful or even, moving.

This statement, with a small amount of tinkering over time, was written many years ago, when I set on my journey as a writer. I still hold to it, a ‘motto’ if you like. Even more so, now that many folk will want to read into my work elements that may or may not explain what has brought me to the position I am in. What position? Having to retain anonymity, although thinly disguised. Yet, in doing so, I welcome any understanding, interpretation or engagement with my work, on whatever level you see fit.

You may be a fellow-blogger, a random surfer, friend; or perhaps some other strange twist has led you to these words. I once said that if I reached forty and had not been published, I might as well give up. Whether I meant, give up writing, or give up living is open to debate. Unfortunately, I began the rapid descent towards the latter a few years before I hit the big 4-0; the rest is history. Now I’m back.

This could be seen as a form of publishing – vanity, you could say – and since it is not the first, I could claim to have ‘published’ before my given deadline. Also, my work has been performed in public, and printed through other forms, recorded and broadcast, and released into the great wide world of cyber-space. Now, there is nothing remaining of that oeuvre; the Grey Ribbon has faded, there is nothing in Black and White, and my Facebook wall has fallen to dust like a crumbled tower. Only a Group of Devotees remains in Limbo, where I – like the urban spaceman – do not even exist. What a strange twist.

But I am still alive, still ensconced in my turret, putting the pieces together again, having been knocked off the wall by all the Queen’s men. I may be hiding behind my words, languishing in my Ivory Tower; a Tin Angel sitting alone in the dark, with darker moods; wallowing, struggling, suffering for my art.

But, as I have said before, not everything in Black and White…

The ellipsis remains.

Even so: the window is open. Come in and have a look around.