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Poet of the Month
The inspiration for my poetry comes mainly from my love of the Renfrewshire countryside. I live within Muirshiel Country Park, and the diversity of sights and sounds and stories that it offers is a feast for the senses and a gift for any poet to work on. I hope that, like me, you will be captivated by the spirit of the wild moorland that permeates these poems.
Flickering Images (2004)
Composer Sally Beamish has written pieces inspired by Betty’s poems, particularly “Sangsters”, Cramasie Theid” and “Paisley Pattern”.
No artist sat down to design them
yet they are pencil-scored across the landscape
like an architect`s plans.
from peasant knowledge
of the fields, the marshes,
the massive shoulders of the hills
their cliffs and dips and rises,
and from man`s need
Through all the bitter winters
and function in their roles.
They hold the farms and steadings and the cottages
in stony arms
and on the hill
sheep use them for a bield.
Throbbing within them is a mini-world
in stylish ermine
glissade a sinuous route through labyrinthine paths
and pirouetting whitrits dart and snap
at panicky voles.
Wrens and wagtails find small window-holes for nests,
green velvet mosses and the grey lace lichens
keep them dressed.
If you had told the dry-stane dykers
that they were sculptors
they would have laughed
and said that they were only builders
doing a job:
yet like the mystic standing stones
dykes have become an art form,
and when the sun shines on them
with the light of evening
their cold greyness
They come alive
like golden snakes
rippling their way upwards
to a high horizon.
It came and went so fast
through the gloomy not-quite-dark
of a December dawn.
it was an angel
stirring a small round hole
in the sky directly above
with the end of his harp -
but for an instant liquid sunlight gold from out of Heaven
poured into my secret grey-walled garden
and on the earth
I was the focus
of a blessing.
Gold showered me, washed me, warmed me.
I stood, entranced
beneath tree branches dripped in gold
as a jeweller`s treasure trove.
Stone and winter grass were drenched,
brown-feathered winter birds exotic in the glow.
It was a beneficence.
Then it was gone,sky-hole obscured, suddenly cold.
Time for snow.
It came in dancing swirls
crystals and pearls
ten minutes and the ground was ermine-robed.
Hints for the Christmas dreamings -
Dream you a gold christmas
dream you a white -
from that December dawning
for the story of the golden Christmas night.
The first of May:
a clear night with the hint of frost
but with the sky horizon-blushed
in pink and pleasurable thoughts
of summer`s breath.
My first year here
has come and passed and nearly gone.
I feel the urge
to light a fire
in my cottage-garden wilderness.
Soon, dry twigs crackle
sparks spit out
flames flicker and leap high.
I throw and poke and prod until its heart glows white
and stand back as heat sears me
The Bonfire Moor.
Pagan men who danced round Beltane flame
and named this place
and vanished on a summer`s breath.
"Light the fire,
dance the dance,
taste the goodness of the earth".
It is enough.
Nearly forty years since the McKellars
moved from "Heathfield"
and the bulldozers breenged in
to lay it low.
There`s been no healing to its wound.
The gaps are raw and sore,
crying outrage still,
the stone walls not yet ready to collapse
and "coorie doon"
into the role of scenic ruin.
What was a neat patch
of parsley, golden wonders,
geometric cabbage rows
is now a sea of nettle
flowing strong into the shore of moorland grass
with the corrugated iron flotsam of a nissen hut
which housed the tups
one more reminder of a living past.
Beyond the dyke
even the birds have flown.
Where once there was the peewit cry
the drum of snipe, the blackcock dance,
there`s empty sky.
Only the sad wind
whistles and sighs and moans.
But one thing soldiers on.
Rhubarb fights back.
It wins the annual battle against nettle,
grows tall and strong and rampant red and fat.
Every year I gather it.
Every year McKellars lick their lips
in pink juice from my rhubarb tarts.
Old Archie McKellar`s ghost still barks
The best rhubarb in Renfrewshire!"
My hert has aye been pulsin
tae the rhythms
o the hills o Scotland.
I bide here
ma lungs a` scented
wi heathers an bluebells an thistles
an the ancient pine.
The name o ma faither`s line
alang wi Bruce`s on Arbroath -
I`m frae the Pictish time,
the mystic time.
Nae hamecomins, then, for me;
But gin my faithers had gaed oot
tae seek their fortunes
ahint the Cheviots
this Pictish bluid wad mebbies still hae raced
rid an rich
alang my veins -
so, welcome, a` you veesitors wi your Scottish bluid
tae the auld hame.
We`re no juist a clamjamphrey
o oor politicians
rattlin Wemyss-ware piggy banks
afore yer nebs
Hamecomins touch the hert.
They reach in deep.
May ye breathe the whiff o sweetness
frae oor wee white rose,
an wi MacDiarmid
Autumn is come
in its due time.
The year has made its circle.
Branches on the fruit trees
bend down towards the earth
Apples and plums
are sweet as wine
red-ripe for picking.
In the long-ago
I filled my basket
like the rest
with the fruitfulness -
apples and flowers and bread
and sprays of corn -
and laid it on the altar
in the golden harvest morning.
when the years have done
with their circlings
and Autumn is come
in its due time
the flowers are full-blown
for the harvest home.
And children still stand
at the altar
with their faces raised
to the shining of the harvest morning,
glowing like ripened wheat
with seed for the years.
they break free of the coarse grass under Windy Hill,
quickened and pleasured and purple-flushed
by the touch of a sunray,
evanescent as love`s first blush.
They come like in the scatter from a summer bride,
amongst the pearly bedstraw and the golden tormentil,
each one a digit
in the sum total beneficence
of the June bouquet.
Rites of Spring
Look high above the grand arena
of our Muirshiel moorland.
The white Nijinsky dancer
is taken to the blue
in a solo matinee -
gliding and leaping
to the wild Stravinsky music of the planet`s breathing
soaring on the impetus
of his life-force choreography.
Let your spirit surge and rise and whirl;
dance with the fierce white dancer,
join in his glee.
The age-old singing of the heart
in all the radiant earth`s glad lonely places
The Chiffon Time.
Come walk with me into the chiffon time of my remembrancing
to see the ones who once have been
grey mist dancers from the far-away behind the filmy screen
that sigh on a wind-breath of the in-between
behind a translucent magic
of quivering Muirshiel green.
One day we`ll fade with all those shadow dancers
to the misty grey of the far-away.
Tremors of air
the ones who once have been
beyond the magic Muirshiel green
to move to old tunes in all the ancient rhythms
glimmering in the joined-hand line
that passes through time.
The Purple Time
August is the purple time
the lush time
the luscious time
with the road-edge tangled in a mass
of summer`s last wild rampant rasps
over-ripe with sweet, bruised fruit
that trickles down its mulled-wine juice
for thirsty, intoxicated thrushes.
And there`s the fankle of the bramble bushes
darkening to a shine
for next month`s bramble-berry time.
And struggling out from this melee
and mauve scabious
and fat pink clover flowers all blushing
and from a patch
of just the grass
a scattered shower of purple pansies
held over from the July high-noon blooming.
But while there`s time still
look to the Queenside hill.
She`s covered in hot heather flushes
for in the year`s circle
is the purple time.
All poems on this page are the copyright © of Betty McKellar