Read Raw Ltd

Promoting Creative Writing in Scotland

Featured Poet

John Glenday

John Glenday’s first collection, The Apple Ghost won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and his second, Undark, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. His most recent collection, Grain (Picador, 2009) was also a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for both the Ted Hughes Award and the Griffin International Poetry Prize. A fourth collection is due for publication in 2015. He was a judge for the 2011 UK National Poetry Competition and sits on the Board of the Moniack Mhor Writers' Centre, Scotland.

In 1990/91 he was appointed Scottish/Canadian Exchange Fellow, based at the University of Alberta. In 2010 he spent a month as poetry faculty at the Banff Centre, Alberta.

He has collaborated with the filmmaker Alastair Cook and is currently working on English versions of work by Iraqi and Kazakh poets.

He lives in the Scottish Highlands with two of his five children, two cats, two dogs and one wife.


Some say she looks like an old witch,

a dark caillich with a cat’s-tail of islands for hair.

Brine sluices the words from her cracked lips.

I say no. I say she’s as fresh as these flakes

of schist and quartzite I gathered yesterday.

Some say she’s barren: “Look how they scoured

her bairns from her womb with a dab of wool,” they say,

“and them scarce halfways down the road to birth.

The four airts buried them.

Their cries will circle the earth like little storms.”

I say no. I say she’s poor but whole and strong

and I’ve heard her children sing out in our half dark street,

barely a whisper before night.

Some say she’s bad news, a temptress, a whistler on ships,

that the man who sleeps with her will wake one morning

at dusk on a hillside under the brisk rain, his pockets weighted with sand.

I say no. I say, look at me: I’ve slept with her all the nights of my life

and still each morning when I wake I find her tongue in my mouth.

Listen to the song version of 'Alba', with music composed by Luci Holland.


And so they come back, those girls

who painted the watch dials luminous, and died.

They come back and their hands glow and their lips

and hair and their footprints gleam in the past like alien snow.

It was as if what shone in them once had broken free

and burned through the cotton of their lives.

And I want to know this: I want to know how they came

to believe that something so beautiful could ever have turned out right.

But though they open their mouths to answer me

all I can hear is light.

Edie’s Room

for Mary Stewart

Just before dawn, I was woken

by the soft hush of the dead about their work.

It was cold in her room; so cold

I could see the half-bright cloud of my life

hung out in the air between the darkness

and the moon. I can’t help but fall

for the dark each time it has to go.

It’s death, like any other death, leads on

from mystery towards brighter mystery.


All poems on this page are the copyright © of John Glenday