December's been as hectic as usual, not much time for writing poems though I've got a good collection of odds and ends waiting to be turned into poems.
I flicked through the latest Poetry Scotland which came in the post this morning only to find a wee poem of mine in it which I had submitted around three months ago and had never heard anything back about! So that was a surprise, a very nice one! It was my Gantocks poem which I retitled 'Who Am I' as suggested by honest man.
I have all my lovely new books in front of me. The W.S Graham collected is one I've been waiting to get my hands on for a long time. He was brought up in Greenock which is just across the Clyde from me, where some of my relatives live and where I spent many a weekend staying with my grandparents. So I'm particularly interested in his Greenock poems and delighted to find a poem which mentions Dunoon, the town I live in!
I want to write some thoughts on Hugh McMillan's latest poetry collection, Postcards from the Hedge, which I've been recently enjoying. It's a gorgeously produced book containing fifteen poems, each poem is accompanied by a full page black and white illustratory drawing by the artist Hugh Bryden.
This collection of poems illustrates the breadth of style in McMillan's work that I've really come to admire. He writes, with apparent ease, some very funny, and very 'Scottish' poetry. He also writes beautiful, tender poems. His use of imagery in 'Romantic Break in the Rainy Season' is surprising yet so deliciously accurate: "we are slow as salamanders. / We leave wet lip marks, / and footprints sunk on the stairs.", and the playful "Our children gurgle like little reeds in rapids".
McMillan's skilled use of imagery fills his work with really lovely lines. In 'Beech Loch February 2008' he writes "the treetops laid like matting / thick enough to walk across the sky" - again, so fresh yet so exact. This poem ends with a surprisingly evocative yet unsettling tone that becomes a familiar feature in some of his, particularly landscape, poems:
the breeze rattles leaves like tin,
and we shiver, shake our heads,
as if we'd been dreaming
that a God has left the wood."
The unsettling tone is particularly strong in 'Lochinver'. The narrator is in a phonebox at night by the sea, in the middle of a storm which "howls like a dog", and where "in orange fog, / a ship spews out whiskery fish". The use of end-rhymes and half-rhymes in this poem (I particularly like 'fish/Dumfries' and 'schooner/sailor') intensifies the tone and creates a sense of inevitability about the poem which ends with the understated yet extremely effective:
"and the rain sounds like drums
in this bubble of yellow light,
emptiness everywhere like the tide."
Out of the funny poems, my favorite has to be 'My Feet':
"My feet think my head's had it easy,
up there in the fresh air all these years,
And the ending, which makes me laugh everytime I read it:
"I think if my feet ever met my head again
they'd give it a good kicking."
I haven't even mentioned the fact that McMillan is a history teacher and many of his funny poems take the rip out of Scottish history, in a gentle teasing way of course!
Unfortunately, from what I can gather, all 300 of Postcards from the Hedge have been sold out - this tells you how good he is, it was only printed a few months back. However you can get a hold of some of his earlier collections, see details on his blog, plus you can read some of his poems on his blog also. I've recently ordered McMillan's Aphrodite's Anorak and looking forward to getting into it.