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Sally Evans



Poetic Adventurer in Scotland

Though born in London, Sally Evans has lived in Scotland since 1979 . She is long naturalised, being the Editor of Poetry Scotland and an ex Branch Secretary of the SNP. Married to a well known Scot, and running Kings Bookshop Callander along with diehard publishers and the Callander Poetry Weekend, Sally is a champion of both Scots and Gaelic poetry and recently took on editing the Poetry page of the Scots Language Website.

Her past books include Looking for Scotland (Salzburg), Bewick Walks to Scotland (Arrowhead), Millennial (diehard), The Honery Seller (Firewater Press), A Bewick Tapestry and The Great North Road (diehard pamphlets) and The Bees, illustrated by Reinhard Behrens, (pre Carol Ann Duffy, diehard). Sally also has two books in the pipeline, Anderson's Piano, and Poetic Adventures in Scotland, as illustrated (photo Dominque Carton). A merciless plug, but far and away the best picture of her taken lately.

"My children grew up and went to school in Edinburgh," says Sally,"so I am still rather Edinburgh oriented, though I have done quite a lot of work in Stirling. I write many poems on the highland landscapes, too, but I feel I have never done justice to Glasgow. I've been there for some great events, but not often enough. I've heard Les Murray read there twice. I heard the Somalian poet Gaarrye read with his translator Bill Herbert, a truly electrifying event attended by dozens of Glasgow Somalians, and I came recently to talk about Sylvia Plath's bee poems at a Red Squirrel event.

Mirror was written for an educational project "People, Peat and Poetry" on Flanders Moss, near Stirling, I am very excited by the Filmpoem which Alastair Cook made from this poem: Filmpoem 23. 


Mirror (Flanders Moss, near Stirling)


I hear the water swishing down,
this equilibrium of rain.

I think of waterfalls and trees
leaves dipped with liquid weight,

river floods that rush and foam
from clouds and burns to every firth

but more, how the wet-sated moss
blinks this raised mirror full of light,

invites parched earthlings to stumble
and plowter in its star-shaped pools,

or patchy depths and aqueous animals,
their lives made possible by mist and rain

as my life has been made possible in Scotland,
this country I love for its rain.


The filmpoem can be viewed here



A Sylvia Plath poem I didn't read in Glasgow. It is not about bees, but very much how I feel about Plath:


Intellectual Property [Sylvia Plath]


Who owns Plath?
Faber, the Feminists or Hughes,
or Otto Plath?

Whose are her pennings, whose
the course of her thudding words
that gave back

rhythms and colours lost so long?
Who heard that wonderful certain song?
Who owns Plath?

Let us look back
but once. The careering path
of the female comet, domineering, strong

havoc in an old monarchy,
establishment torn along
lady and gentleman gender borderlines,

orderliness long gone,
lands in a parish of pauper poets.
No harping tycoon

owns these trapped diamonds,
sparkling in dark laurels
under a sad moon.

Only the god who threw her down
to remind mortals of the Muse's crown
owns Plath.


Here's Thomas Bewick, the Newcastle engraver, in Glasgow in 1776, from Bewick Walks to Scotland:




Met up in Glasgow's urban commonroom
with more from the apprentice network,
Geordie and Scots intelligible one to the other,
and Glasgow, like a larger Sunderland,
creeping round its nursling river --
less of a horse-pond than the Wear or Tyne.
Here come ribaldry and rhyme,
beerslopping through the door of the hostelry,
Sauchiehall Street pie jokes, rural horrors,
the debunking of modest lasses. But my art
is my mistress, much more demanding
in that I have not satisfied her yet.
I watch her, every whim and curio.
When I become an impresario,
old master of art whom the world may forget,
remember, or pigeonhole (it matters not)
she will still be my mistress, though I hide
her like a dowager in imagined pride.

Now here 's a country poem. We were walking by South Loch Earn:


Through the silence


Muffled yaffle through the silence

Tall close trees mottledwith lichen
in the cleanes tair,
dry, cool evening, palewhite sky,
quiet pathway, none
but my companion and I
passing by

drumdrumdrumdrumdrum again
-- silence even deeper --

We look upward, crane our necks
you are safely hidden
Bewick said your young will run
up and down trunks before they fly
but no such sight for us
not in front of us do you


Don't you ever bother singing?
Need you, with the small wood ringing

Silence springs back into place
like a branch you flew away from.
In the gaps between your sound
we hear profound seclusion
in your haunt.


Poets' lives often inspire me, especially women poets, like Plath, above. Here's a poem from a year or two ago, about Kathleen Raine:


Kathleen Raine remembers Sandaig


I lost Gavin Maxwell's otter.
It walked out one day,
a passing scoundrel clubbed it down,
dead in a ditch it lay.

Gavin wanted travel and fear,
he wanted sex with men
in Tangier and in Agadir
where the pains of death are ten.

Our great affair was fate, not love.
His lover I'd never be,
and to prove it I refused him
when, to prove it, he once asked me.

Now I am dead and Gavin too,
we shall not meet in heaven
(this death-pain was unknown to him,
I know there are eleven) .

His books sold tens of thousands,
my poetry books sold tens.
Now on the beach at Sandaig
let other lives make sense.

Now on the beach at Sandaig
let other otters run,
and on Northumberland's bleak moor
our double past be dumb.

Now where shall we go? A bit of The Bees? It's a very long poem, in terza rima: A Satirical Fantasy of The Bees and an Elephant Artist in the Highlands.
Here are the Munro-climbing humans, near the end:


from The Bees, canto seven


.... The poet, as awareness grows
of Rice's friends, those of the human race,

has but two ways to deal with them: to have them climb Munros
or move them from the poem altogether.
They love to scramble to the tops of those


horse-shoes and ridges, checking clouds in hope of perfect weather,
take cars, book in at different small hotels
with names like Highland House or the White Heather,


and seek the paradise of rock and wide skyscape that tells
its secrets of a life above the burns
(which some call becks) and braes (which some call fells).


They'll walk a few peaks in a day before the sun returns
behind the tops on its way round the seas,
magnifying the shadows of the ferns.


They're really happy up above the midges, roads and trees,
beyond the letters, calls and all the daily
unrelenting niggles of life, the breeze


so fresh. Then down they come for a romantic evening ceildh,
which even southerners can join, provided
they don't sing something naff like Willow Wailey.


But sadly, there's a disaster on their way to the hills:


The Bees, end of canto seven


.....this necessity of function.
Roz is behing Ros, as the two cars start

out from the Aberfeldy road at Ballinluig junction,
The main road's busy: there 's no gap this side.
Three stags step out, with a compelling unction,

on the grass verge. Three drivers mesmerised, two cars collide
into a heavy lorry: sides implode.
The occupants of both the cars have died.

The driver of the artic. lorry which has left the road
is slumped in the Pitlochry polis car
shaking like a leaf. He's shed his load.


The ambulances drive straight to the morgue. The queues stretch far
north, south and west. The road is closed for hours.
The polis have nightmares. The Rozzes are

heartlessly despatched, I fear. So are their friends and ours,
the scuptor and the poet, who paid more
than lip-service to art and all its powers.

Thus Rice, the master of the house, came down to the bees' door
and knocked to tell them somebody was dead.
That was when Tramp, who'd painted well before,

produced his masterpiece, the one that's known as 'Watershed.'
It's in a gallery in Inverness,
a bright riot of grey and white and red --

And what did the bees do? they understood, and mourned. They bless.


I must leave you with Tramp, in the gallery with his masterpiece, drawn by Reinhard Behrens.




All poems on this page are the copyright of Sally Evans









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