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).

Default

‘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.

A poem by David White

It’s not every day that I get to say this, but today I have the pleasure of being the first person to publish a poem by someone. David White’s poem here is a very moving and amusing evocation of childhood. David lives in Alnwick, Northumberland. In fact, he lives on the same street as me! He’s the assistant editor of RnR Magazine and he also publishes a local cultural guide called The Beacon.

 

Andrew Maxwell, Superhero

We were superheroes once
Andrew Maxwell and I
My young friend
From two streets away
Our friendship one of those
That seemingly blossoms
From nothing
But happenstance
Initially

Inspired
By the adventures
Of Superman, Batman
Spiderman
And countless others
The scourge of criminals
In a fictional universe
Our imaginations
Spurred us on

A towel
Draped around my neck
(Superman wore a cloak)
And a bathing costume
Worn over jeans
(Reality intruded
In this respect
Particularly
No tights for us)
Andrew
Similarly attired

Our mission
Righting wrong
Though whether
Supervillains
Truly populated
Our small 1960s
Backwater town
We thought
Probably not

Undeterred
We raced down back lanes
And along walls
Across roofs
In the summer-holiday-closed
School
Our invisible quarry
Helpless
Against our determined
Youthful energies
And flights of fancy

No X-ray vision for us
No taking to the skies
No superpowers at all
To speak of
Save our imaginations
A powerful weapon
In the hands
(Or heads)
Of small boys

Our friendship
Would not last
I cannot now recall
Just why

I later heard
He did not live
To see
Beyond
His teenage years

Yet Andrew
Remains with me
A fond memory

His face and much else
Besides about him
I cannot conjure now
In the way
Vividly
We once
Were superheroes

A poem by Shug Hanlan

It’s easy to get caught up in the moment and think that all of a sudden we have the freehold on disease, that there was never such a threat to life as now. Shug Hanlan’s poem today is a powerful reminder that each generation has been marked, scarred and defined by a particular serious illness. In Shug’s own words this poem is about ‘a disease that affected my family before I was born’. Hailing from Falkirk and associated in the 1990s with Rebel Inc anthologies, Shug published a prose collection Hi Bonnybrigg and Other Greetings in 2000, and in recent years a number of pamphlets with Kerfuffle Press, including his latest poetry collection The Look-Out Man, available here.

 

TB STREET

The men are all away somewhere,
in the country breathing better air.
A hospital is where they bide,
tucked up in beds placed outside.

My dad had a fine old time,
joining the sanatorium conga line.
Other patients dressed in drag,
no one permitted to have a fag.

When he finally returned home,
it came at a cost.
A war won; a lung lost.
The recovery would never be complete.
My brother only saw a stranger
walking along a TB street.

A poem by Matthew Stewart

Our poet and poem del dia needs little preamble from me. Matthew Stewart lives between Extremadura in Spain and West Sussex and he works in the Spanish wine trade. He is also a very fine poet and an assiduous blogger, his site Rogue Strands is a go-to resource for poets and poetry-lovers. This poem sequence comes from Matthew’s first full collection, the widely-praised The Knives of Villalejo (Eyewear, 2017), and it expertly showcases Matthew’s blend of lyrical and emotional intensity twinned with his minimalist style.

 

Debris

(i)

At the dump

Small electrical, mate? A grin,
and he reaches for the shaver,
hurls it high into the skip.

Back at the car, you’re lingering.
My knuckles crampon round the wheel,
coated in dusty stubble.

(ii)

3B

Thoughts are unloading when the pen conks out,
but a dark rummage locates your pencil
perfectly wigwammed by a Stanley knife,

and words have scampered across the paper,
racing against the tip before it blunts
and a sharpener peels your work away.

(iii)

The touch

My address book reproaches me daily.
I used to leaf it, stroking squares of ink
where exes had been. The dead were crossed out
and their kids or spouses placed alongside.
Not anymore. Your malingering name
vanished today at the touch of a screen.

A poem by Roger Hare

Our poem du jour comes from Roger Hare, a recently retired community worker with an interdisciplinary and collaborative interest in all the creative arts. Although Roger’s poetry is new to me, this poem spoke to me much like Matthew Paul’s poems yesterday spoke to me. Contrails were once such a common occurence that I very rarely paid any attention to them. Now that planes no longer incise the sky with their jet engines (and that’s a good thing) they suddenly become interesting. Roger’s poem is also a message of strength.

 

Contrails Become Clouds

as their careful incisions in the sky
are teased into trails,
blown into diminishing swathes,
whispering
whisper
wisp.

Scalpel lines in our lives
are not so carelessly disposed of –
the courage of our own breath
being the wind it takes
to dilute memory to vapour.

A poem by Mario Relich

Today’s poem comes from Mario Relich, a retired lecturer in Film Studies at the Open University and Edinburgh College of Art. Mario lives in Edinburgh and his poetry collection Frisky Ducks and Other Poems (Grace Note Publications) appeared in 2014. Written in in January this year, its ominous atmosphere might well strike the reader as a  prescient one.

 

Winter Solstice

 

I could see nothing,

it was so totally dark,

I could have been blind,

a nightnare, I felt a fog

 

gradually enveloping me,

as I paced the deck

of an ocean liner, alone

and  utterly frozen.

 

I caught a glimpse

of the shore, faint lights

blinking in the distance,

and the ship getting nearer.

 

What I desperately  needed,

as I woke up, my blanket cold,

was the welcoming  safety

of a landfall in the morning.

 

But as luck would have it,

I was dealt an ace of spades,

for  I fell asleep again,

and this was my dream:

 

I stood on the deck,

and felt a shaft of pain,

ambushed by a shadow,

looming like an iceberg.

 

 

 

A poem by Sally Evans

To kick off this new series of poems in very uncertain times, we have a fine musical poem in the Sapphic ode celebrating creativity from the Callander poet, writer and bookseller Sally Evans, taken from her debut novel about poetry, planned for publication in 2021.

 

The Sun God

 

This small rectangular garden reminds me

how a friend of a friend finally took me

to a Mithraeum on a snowy morning

in someone else’s boots.

 

We sat, intruding on the spectacular

demonstration of sunrise in religion,

two of us brought together unwillingly

then scared by a goose.

 

In secret religions a creator dies

and love is at the heart of it in some way,

Maverick. Sex and religion are dangerous

to writers and poets.

 

This is a Sapphic metre. It has dance-steps

also a tune. I swore I would not give up

love for poetry. Both are bound together.

You have decided.

 

The goose will return soon, so will the sun-god.

Life will hassle and always be in the way

throwing me its obligations and delights.

Only gods can fly.

 

Served by the poets and archaeologists,

these rectangular gardens are our churches,

Damsons fall from the trees, but we won’t notice.

We will be working.