All poetry, photographs and artwork © the individual artists who can be contacted through the links below

Monday, 1 November 2010

Poems Read at St John's

poetry that connects and transforms
poetry on a different level

Tessa Ransford and friends: seventeen poets from various parts of Scotland took part in a series of readings at St John’s Church at the west end of Princes Street in Edinburgh, as part of its Festival of Spirituality, during the Festival of 2010

Under headings such as metaphysical, inner journey, echoes, hauntings, travels, seascapes, translation, international, community, eastern, cross-cultural, thoughtful, these poets offer artistic integrity with contemporary relevance, with archetypal and topical references

Poems by the seventeen poets can be found on these pages. Singer-songwriter Toby Mottershead joined us at the readings in the church on several occasions with songs such as ‘the angels’ share’. Ruby Elizabeth Littlejohn lent us her textile artwork: Return to Eden, which shone behind us as we read. A violin solo by Christina Knox of a piece to celebrate ‘The Seafarer’ by composer Sally Beamish was performed on the occasion when a translation of this anglo-saxon poem was read by Jila Peacock

We hope you will enjoy these pages and come to next year’s series of poetry readings at St John’s during their Festival of Spirituality in August 2011.

On the home page you will find a poem from each of the performers.

On the page About the Poets you will find information and links to the poets' websites.

The Photographs page will show relevant and related images.


There are no maps for poets in this country.
The compass finger, mindless on its post
will not direct us on this dangerous journey.
An unfamiliar landscape tells us we are lost.
Above the bramble and the rambling wood
the wheeling dragons search for bones
of luckless travellers who have misconstrued
the alien symbols on the milestones.
We have nowhere to go but where we are,
our options closed, the exit double locked.
We may not take direction from a star.
The stars are out and all the roads are blocked.
How can we dare this nightmare territory?
the shifting contours of the hills and coasts,
the gibberish signposts and the season's enmity.
What hand our touchstone in this land of ghosts?

Chrys Salt


This is why I don’t quite believe
in equations. Haven’t you noticed
how the pattern hovers over the surface,

so that it is not simply a rule
of one motif to one featherlet, hook or barb,
say, in the barn owl.

Look at him, gowned,
almost wearing ermine, but rather
than the soft shell of him being dotted

with stitches, or marks
where the tails used to be,
there are kohl-rimmed, almond eyes on him –

he has been branded mine by Isis
who says: slate clean, if you love me,
and his real eyes are pools of I do.

He is a go-between, the envoy of an instant
dappled with late sunlight
and then the white sheet of him

drawn swiftly upwards
through water, blotted to be born,
stung with eyes that never sleep

on the back of his head.
He hears with most of his face.
You could not startle such a being.

Dawn Wood

Market Street, Albania

This street is crowded in the mornings,
coloured dresses hanging outside shops,
metal pans flash sunlight,
voices rise and fall, a shout of greeting,
women’s laughter -
then the warble of a songbird.

In the afternoon, the shops and kiosks
are all closed. A thin cat hesitates
in front of delicate wrought iron gates
leading to a garden with a palm tree.
The house is shuttered, silent, in the heat.

The cat slips through the gap between the railings.
There is no shade of tree or awning in the empty street.
Even the caged bird’s song is paralysed with heat.

Morelle Smith


Silver light.
Fog rubs out the Hamnavoe hills.
The sea is still as mercury.
An eerie silence fills the space.

A wind-up lantern glows
within each tent,
tinfoil lines the caravan windows.
Campers drift to sleep
and the only sound
is the rub of my waterproof sleeves
- one-two, one-two -
and the tread of booted steps.

The sky is a bowl of hidden stars,
the moon on the first wane
nestled like a jewel in a velvet
blue box.

Some indistinguishable cry of a bird;
a dark blob, like a selkie, shifts.
The sea laps a soft murmur against rocks,
slipping into cracks of curved wall.

I look up again 
and the moon has gone, 
its residual glow penetrates 
the blue clouds
like patches of coloured crayon,
a child's scribble.

Campers turn off their lights.

The storybook street unfolds
as I walk across flagstones.

Nalini Paul


I AM, he said
not of this world
man’s world divided
not one tribe or other I
not this side or that
not profit or loss I
not black man or white
but daybreak and evening
springbreak and falling
new birth and dying
man in the midstream
pass between mountains
no-man’s land desert
the happening moment

I AM, he said
I have no division
into man or woman
into time or space
what flames not for me – is dead
is against me
that not against me – is with me
is life
Life for the New Age
happening always

Door between neighbours
open am I
child born of lovers
incarnate I
between man and nature
in works of art
between clashing armies
in blood, blood spilt

I AM the Teacher, he said
follow me;
I partake of wisdom
you share with me

I AM the Healer, he said
trust in me;
I partake of wholeness –
draw health from me

Outcast of men I
beyond jurisdiction
prophet and poet, I
beyond contradiction
victim and priest I
enabling communion

I AM the High King
whom to betray is treason
but also the slave I
insulted without reason.
I AM without family
yet the son of man
I AM without country
yet Israel’s promised one

My tent is pitched among you
in body, heart and mind;
where two or three are gathered
thereupon my dwelling find;
my glory is not hidden
for those with eyes to see
but I AM no different from you
so you seldom notice me

Except when I AM
all at once
and new worlds are born;
or slowly I become
so that death is transformed
taken up into me
and my tabernacle of divinity

The world is my tent
in the roaming universe
whose creator is lord
of exploding stars
of all that becomes
and turns into me

I AM he said

Tessa Ransford, written in 1979
published in Light of the Mind, the Ramsay Head Press, Edinburgh, 1980


Long this enfeeblement, this lack.
All the fat cattle of Munster, the black
sturdy cattle of Scotland I would give to be well
if I had them, even the great bull of Cuailnge
to be out again on the hill
hale and watching a Summer’s dawn and see
the new sunlight washing Glen Artney.

As fee for my healing I would give
the high white horses of Manannan, sportive
and brisk, sturdy horses of the Fiann
hardy of spirit. The trumpets of Fionn
the spear of Cu Chullain, all to be well
if I had them, out with my love on the hill
at day’s ending, and Voirlich limned by the sun.

The shield of the king of the Sidhe
harp that brings sleep to a darkening soul
I would pay both gladly to be well.
Time unrelenting as the sea
has struck me hard, the wound is mortal
white spray lies heavy on me, blazon
of snows over ice on Sgurr nan Gillean.

All these good I would give and gladly to be well
if I had them, but poor and feeble
now have nothing to give for my bargain with time
nothing but words and some rhythms, a rhyme.

Walter Perrie

Diocesan Regulation for Churchyards
(Taken from a notice in the Masham Churchyard)

The surface should be kept level and free of grave mounds as far as possible.
Spring flowering bulbs may be planted on the turf provided they do not interfere
with the cutting of the grass. No other plants, shrubs or trees permitted.

Raised kerbs, railings, paving, plain or coloured chippings are not permitted.
Neither are built-in vase containers, figure statuary, etched or sculptured features
(such as open books, birdbaths, hearts and horseshoes) cameos, portraiture or photographs.

If desired, a flower container may be set in the ground at the head of the grave.
The container must be made of unpolished aluminium and be removable.
Small posies may be placed on the stone tablet…but nothing permanent.

Hazel Buchan Cameron


To lay everything
down first and best
in rows for the wind

sheaves lapped
and stooked
for drying draughts

by the balance
of practised art
in droves and drills

fetching the grain-gold
to ripeness in rows

by scythe or sickle
by hand downswept

gilding the grain
to perfection


                            Alexander Hutchison




They don’t like it
when their old bedroom
becomes the spare room

when you ask them to remove their stuff
and they say
what stuff
and you say
that stuff in the chest of drawers
stuff in the wardrobe
stuff in boxes under the bed

and they say
oh that stuff
there isn’t room in my flat for that stuff

and you say
it has to go
and will they come and sort it
take what they want and you’ll get rid of the rest
and they say
yes they’ll come

and they come
but they don’t sort it or take it
and it stays

and you offer to sort it for them
but they say
no they’ll sort it
and it stays

until the day comes when
you empty the stuff in the drawers
and the wardrobe
into black plastic sacks
and put them in the hall
by the front door
with the boxes from under the bed
ready for them to collect
but they don’t collect

and you move the sacks and boxes into the garage
out of the house
and it’s a squeeze to park the car
but they’re out of the house

And by the time they come and take them away
if ever they do
other boxes are under the spare bed
boxes of toys
for their children to play with
when they come to stay.

Pauline Prior-Pitt

Leid Caaed Love

Mak your leid cam fae your hairt,
it's no your creed, it's no your airt,
for you're the ane maun tak your pairt
tae mak your leid be love.

(leid - language, culture)

William Hershaw

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