Read Raw Ltd
Promoting Creative Writing in Scotland
Poet of the Month
I was born and brought up in the North East of Scotland, apart from a three year spell in East Africa. Most of the N East experience was spent at my grandparents' home in Aberdeenshire, so growing up with that older generation probably added more Doric vocabulary to my everyday speech.
Like every other child of that generation in Scotland, I grew up bilingual. Broad Doric at home, in the street, at play...'proper' English at school. As a teenager, I wrote a lot...not poems, exactly, but long journal accounts of teenage hopes and fears, interspersed with descriptions of what I saw around me, especially sunsets! I was very strong on sunsets, aged 14. All writing of course, in correct very grammatical English. It never occurred to me to write in Scots.
Then at university, I did a degree in history, having discovered that analysing poems to death in the study of English Literature really did not suit me at all. It wasn't until I got a blissful early retirement from teaching that I began writing again...and it was like a dam had burst. I scribbled every day for the the first year and the scribbles turned into poems, which began to be published...and even win prizes.
In 2007 I won the Robert McLellan Poetry Prize with Ripening and also the McCash Scots Language Poetry Prize for My Land. I have a pamphlet Slow Road Home with Makar Press 2004 and have been published in various magazines and anthologies. I am currently Makar for the Federation of Writers Scotland and I have a New and Selected Collection due to come out later this year with New Voices Press.
I write in both Scots and English. Often, poems with earlier memory connection just seem to naturally write themselves in Scots, because childhood remembering comes in that language. Sometimes I will write a poem in English, then realise it needs the richness of the old Doric to say what I really want.
When I was looking to see what I would select for this web site...and thank you very much, Read Raw, for this opportunity...I realise that things haven't changed hugely since I was fourteen years old! I still write about failed relationships...and what I see around me. Some things never change?
It was the land where the ocean bends
in Gaeldom, where the ice green waters
of the North Sea race round
to the kinder Moray Firth.
An duthaich far an lub an cuan
We have lost the language
now, of those who came before
but their music sings still in the naming
of our places, in the weeping of whaups.
In green rodden time
I wanted to be you.
Scarted my knee
on reuch scabbit bark,
stappit my pockets
wi hard berries praying
you’d run oot o supplies
an need mine.
You made planes wi balsa
an gaudy coloured tissue,
wheeched a sharp propeller
makkin contact wi the wind,
file I held the hint o the twine.
Seely tae chitter, ice-tangled
file you ignored me.
Aenoo, rodden branches
hing hunnerwechted, dairk
ripened, riddy for pickin.
Saft crame flesh, nae use
for the games we played
And I’m ower thrang
tae help flee your plane.
Thrang rubbin bricht berries
atween my finger-eyns,
slowly staining my lips
tae silk in the munelicht,
waitin for you tae land.
A Bonnie Fechter
That winter, snaw flew its feathers thick
smoorichin the hale Rannoch Moor.
I thocht the warld wud be white for iver.
Danny the Keeper said the stags
wud have tae come doon,
else they'd sterve tae death.
We'd niver seen red deer afore.
But these beasts wernae ony shade o red.
Ivery day as the licht hid ahint the Black Mounth,
they floated ower the high fence at the side o the line,
sepia angels biggen a brig ower cloudy drifts
against a grape slate sky. I thocht their hooves
could niver touch the grun,
until the day we heard a scraping
ootside the kitchen door. He was big.
His antlers telt a lang story, a hero's story,
of territory defended and hinds protected.
He eased back a bittie, but didnae flee.
At my mither¹s nod, I threw the tattie peelings
scudding intae the kirned up khaki snaw.
And waited and watched while he took his time,
his fine big heid lowered wi nae loss o dignity.
And so he lat me feed him ivery day, as the licht
left the sky. Nae to touch or stroke, but he'd lat me
look intae his een and watch him,
until the day he didnae come. The day I looked
and shouted and poked aboot the frosty dyke.
But nae use. My pail o slippy tattie parings frozen
in the night where I'd left it. I splashed bilin water
tae saften it for him. But nae sign.
Winter gnawed on,
until Danny the Keeper said ower a nip and a fag
'Thon's a grand auld beast deid doon by the burn.
Funny that. How they hide awa, when they ken
it's their time. Like an auld war hero. Like ony
bonnie fechter fan he kens his time is up.'
Your room’s tidy.
You’ve left it
pillow sitting up
like a plump visitor.
I’m glad of this damp towel
crumpling a corner.
‘Okay to have a bath?’ you asked.
Okay was you
sprawling careless limbs,
over the settee.
A cornflake mountain
drowned in milk.
Locust stripped fridge,
Dead Head Comics,
flicking T.V. channels,
driving me daft.
until I squatted down
into your eyeballs.
‘What’s that you’re sayin Mum ?’
That time you slammed
a fist into thin wall,
and you...wet newspaper,
chalky plaster mixed
in a jam jar,
tongue sticking out
‘Calm down Mother. It’s FINE!’
has left a space
an empty place.
My hand finds it
every time I climb
a bumpy, gritty patch,
unpainted and never
Eggs Through The Post
You sent me eggs when I was far from home.
Six eggs in their carton, through the Royal Mail.
Which arrived completely intact. You never thought
for one moment it could be otherwise.
I swear, at your birth the Godmother must have made
some deal. You always pulled things off. Remember
the sewing of us into long awaited party frocks
10 minutes before departure? Zips were for wimps.
You knew the eggs would be fine. That I would not
be left holding a brown paper package oozing life
through glue-yellow and broken shells trickling
through my fingers, a smashed mess, like
I'm holding here today. What you are telling me
now. This chest-caving news you've heard alone
and kept until we could be face to face.
How can this doctor know who you are?
You. I want to hug you, but your bones are too light.
I want you to hold me so I know I'm not broken.
Sing to me. Sing me a world that's whole.
Send me six eggs through the post.
A chair is placed in the middle. Everything
is folded; the kitchen table against its wall,
leaves slotted into place so the space is opened
for us. This is the old way. She will sit
there, head bowed listening to the minister
try to tell the life of her man, their story.
She straightens herself against the pine
of this chair he made and is glad she asked
them to bring him back to the house. Unthinkable
after sixty years he could lie anywhere else.
She looks at her hands lying still in her lap
and I see him cycling those sixty miles,
Dyce to Crimond then back again, on Sundays,
best suit, a paper bag of mints in his pocket,
she waiting for him in her landlady's parlour.
[11th August 1999. Excitement has been building for several years now in anticipation of the last total solar eclipse of both the 20th century and of the Second Millenium. The path of totality begins in the North Atlantic where the Moon’s umbral shadow touches down at 09:31.]
It is the silence I remember. We sat on the terrace
of the Dean Gallery Cafe, waiting for darkness
to eat the sun. It is dangerous to look directly
into the heart of the sun, its white-brightness,
you said. So we wore dark glasses and sipped tea
and smiled at each other. It was still light enough
to see the poems we'd written. That was enough.
Then you took two pieces of paper. Graph paper,
why did you always use these small squares?
a legacy from engineering days? And measured,
making a hole with a pencil, holding it so the sun
would contract into one thin white-hot beam, as if
we were trying to start a fire. And we watched,
absorbed, careful, brushing away scone crumbs,
expecting the moon's shadow to edge on to the table,
a nibbling away of light, three minutes of Totality.
Perhaps we didn't concentrate enough on this
external happening, this phenomenon of nature,
for we could detect no change. Our small sphere
of light still burned its mandala on the squared paper.
Yet everything fell silent. Birds too, in a ragged way,
without orchestration. The singing grass held its breath.
All chatter stopped, as we felt the sun's warmth
withdraw into an uneasy, marvellous twilight. You laid
down the sheet of pierced paper and we sat, wordless,
looking at each other across a table in that half light.
All poems on this page are the copyright © of Sheila Templeton