One poem by James Aitchison

Today’s poem is a rather poignant one, not in tone but in the circumstances surrouding it. James Aitchison is a poet who lives in Stirling. He was born in Stirlingshire in 1938 and has written a number of superb poetry collections over the years including a study of Edwin Muir’s poetry (The Golden Harvester) and the fascinating and ambitious New Guide to Poetry and Poetics (Rodopi, 2013) which explores the nature of poetic creativity. He’s a poet I discovered when I was starting to write poetry in earnest myself and he’s someone whose work I treasure very highly and return to regularly for guidance.

People who have encountered Aitchison’s poetry before probably know that one of his main themes is the mind itself, an epistemological focus on how it works (or not!), ranging from an awareness of our primeval pre-human consciousness to the very heights of artistic endeavour and how this is achieved. Today’s poem is a playful meditation on the mistakes we make as learners and looks at the eventual decline of the mind.

I began my intro here saying that this poem is a poignant one. This is because last year, shortly after this poem was written, Aitchison had a near-fatal stroke which resulted in some serious neurological and physical impairments. But he remains hopeful for recovery and is looking forward to writing poems and gardening once more. I wish him the very best and I am honoured that he has given me his consent to share this poem with you. His most recent collection is Learning How to Sing (Mica Press, 2018).


‘Have you crossed your teas and dotted your eyes?’
The headmaster was a gentle man.
I thought he’d spotted something on my face.
I was seven and barely literate.
I said, ‘Yes, sir,’ to agree with him.


I don’t notice my default spelling faults
until I’m keying in my longhand text.
Twowords are fused; a word’s las letter is los;
in ‘gentle’ and other ‘tl’ words
I often cross the ‘l’ and not the ‘t’;
the dot is usually adrift from the letter ‘i’.

Twigs and small branches of my brain’s dentrites
die back or break off. I’m seven years old again.

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