Tag Archives: Jean Atkin

Poetry Map Poem 43: Wood of Cree

10 Sep


The starlings lean
like woodsmoke on the fields,
and blow away.

Bedded in leaves the Wood of Cree
aches in the gale
and sleepwalks into winter.

Rain maps the hills.
Our roaming thoughts
drain down to silt.

Your house is filled with hollow coats.
The mice climb in the walls,
familiar ghosts.

The starlings start to tilt,
they make an end, pull out their stitches,
fold, descend.

Jean Atkin

(First published in ‘Not Lost Since Last Time’, Oversteps Books, 2013)
To view our Map of Scotland in Poems as it grows, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/13/the-map-revealed/ . For more information on this project, and on how to submit a poem, see https://stanzapoetry.wordpress.com/2014/07/04/mapping-scotland-in-poetry/.

All poems on our poetry map of Scotland and on the StAnza Blog are subject to copyright and should not be reproduced otherwise without the poet’s permission.

Writing a place, invoking an instant: Jean Atkin on writing off the scale

4 Mar

Atkin, Jean,  credit Zvonko KracunOur guest blogger, Jean Atkin, has much to say that is relevant in this Year of Natural Scotland, having written extensively about  landscapes and places, including her recent pamphlet The Dark Farms (Roncadora Press). She will be launching her first full collection, Not Lost Since Last Time (Oversteps Books), at her StAnza reading on 9 March.

When I was 14 or so and dipping into a borrowed Penguin Classics paperback (no internet on those long 1970s afternoons) I read the words of an unknown Irish poet who had lived in the eleventh century.

‘In the black season of deep winter/ a storm of waves is roused along/ the expanse of the world./ Sad are the birds of every meadow plain/ at the clamour of winter, except/ the ravens that feed on crimson blood./ The dogs are vicious in cracking bones/ and the iron pot is put on the fire.’

I was astounded by the dizzying, momentary sense the words gave me of seeing a long-lost place exactly then through the eyes and thoughts of another person – even if they’d been dead for almost a thousand years and even if the coast country in question was now under a car park.

Dark Farms Glenhead

Dark Farms Glenhead

Place is strangely and intimately important to humans.  It’s our backdrop to memory, our stage set for pain and joy.  We grasp human emotion through the evocation of place.  Place holds significance so deeply that we visit scenes of atrocity with a sensitised perturbation about what we made be made to feel there.  There are ghosts.  The natural and built environment surrounds us all, and both is, and symbolises, who we are and what we inherit.

When poets write about place, they explore cycles of continuity and disruption.  Esther Morgan’s wonderful poem Bone China traces the event of the servant girl who smashed the dinner service and disappeared
‘That dawn she walked out of her story forever,

though her flavour salted the servants’ tongues for months,
and clearing the ground a hundred years later

of this self-seeded scrub of ash

I can still piece bits of her together – white and sharp –

as if the earth were teething.’ 

In her poem Glid, Jen Hadfield calls up measures of our own lives against an atavistic, ancient sense of place when she turns the camera on her ‘dissolving self’ and then
‘I turn the camera on dazzled
Everything –

Plain rain – the loch –

The incandescent horses


Forged black against the broch – ‘

Place is so very near to us.  Philip Gross’ poem Globe blurs the distinction between.

‘on the half-landing newel post, a near-

sphere, scratched and grainy, oiled

with the sweat of our palms,

            our turns and hesitations on the stair,


till it reflects, no, recollects us – ‘

And we know what he means.  Have you ever been back as an adult to the house you lived in until you were 6?  It’s most peculiar.

Places shape our memories and help to make us who we are.  They are more than backdrop – places are nothing less than creative atmosphere and texture for the stories we all tell ourselves to help make sense of life.  Places become mapped in our heads in flashes of detail: the particular click of a particular door closing in your face; the dark step you sat brooding on when you were banished from the family dinner table; the field where once you galloped on stubble, years ago, with horse sweat greying the backs of your fingers.

It’s not the Ordnance Survey.  It’s off the scale.  What you need is a poem.

Jean Atkin  http://thedogdaysofdumfriesshire.blogspot.co.uk/

Competition season?

20 May

Hamish Whyte reading at StAnza 2010

And yet more poetry competition news.  Warmest congratulations to Anna Crowe, StAnza Trustee and first Artistic Director, whose pamphlet, Figure in Landscape, yesterday won her publishers Mariscat Press the 2011 Callum Macdonald Memorial Award for an outstanding example of pamphlet poetry publishing. Anna and Mariscat’s Hamish Whyte were both present yesterday evening at the award ceremony at the National Library of Scotland in Edinburgh when Hamish received the Callum Macdonald Quaich and a cheque for £750. Anna gets the honour of being Michael Marks Poet in Residence at the Harvard Centre for Hellenic Studies in Greece for two weeks in July.  The runner up was JoAnne Mackay for her pamphlet Venti, and also shortlisted were: An Illustrated Book About Birds by Anna Davis, published by Anna Davis; Countervailing by David Betteridge, published by Rhizome Press; Lost at Sea by Jean Atkin, published by Roncadora Press; and Threading a Viking by Sheena Berry, published by Sheena Watson.

So one competition ‘declared’ but more to come.  There are a few weeks left to submit entries to the 2011 Edwin Morgan Poetry Competition, deadline 10th June.  And in an innovation this year, the winners and winning poems will be announced and published on the competition website in late July, in advance of the August prize-giving at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Prize positions will not be revealed until the award event but the public will have the chance to make their own guesses as to which is the winning poem.

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