Blog Our Sweet Old Etcetera

Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

Gerda Stevenson pays tribute to Margaret Tait at 100

This weekend we mark the centenary of Margaret Tait, poet and filmmaker. In 1992, Tait directed her only feature-length movie, Blue Black Permanent. Actor, writer, and singer-songwriter, Gerda Stevenson appeared in the film and has since been an advocate for Tait's films and poetry. We're delighted that Stevenson - who was, earlier this month, placed number 85 in The List magazine's Hot 100, where she was described as 'a woman of unfeasibly diverse talents' - has shared with us recordings she has made of three poems written by Tait, as well as the poem she wrote in tribute to Tait. 'Margaret Tait's Portrait of Ga' is taken from her new collection Quines (Luath Press, 2018) and won the Robert Tannahill Poetry Prize, 2017.

Margaret Tait’s Portrait of Ga

After a short film of that title by Margaret Tait; 1918-1999, Orkney; pioneering film-maker, poet, short story writer and doctor; Ga’ – Margaret’s family name for grandmother.

'Mother - I need to get you in the can,' I say,
your cheekbones cutting the light, hair flying loose
from its pins, like stray wool on barbed wire.
I know already what the sound track will be:
a smoky flute breathing that ghost of a march
you’re conducting right now with a fag-end.

Your wry smile gives me the green light –
the mouth’s hallmark curve, your own mother in it –
a glimmer of my Ga, and her mother – your Ga –
Viking quines, their lineage folding back through time
beyond the rainbow on today’s horizon,
invisible women in my wide-angle frame,
as you step away up the road’s incline;
and yet - there they are, in the jaunt of you,
that quiet defiance, happed in classic tweed,
breaking loose from buttons in a careless dance.

Cut to close-up: a shadowed interior - my lens drinks
the silver of your window-lit hair, then tilts
down the neck’s white flow, rests
on the brae of your shoulder, blue linen pleats
tailored with grace, like the years you’ve gathered.
There’s so much to see and hear in you - so many layers,
like the constantly shifting shells at Bay of Skaill;
a gurgling burn of word-play in your eyes,
on your tongue – your own kennings coined
for grandbairns’ delight; and always the skylark
and wind in your hearing, even between four walls.

Closer still: your thumbs and fingers
unveil a boiled sweet; slow pincer-moves
left and right, right and left, (life here
has shown you ambrosia moments won’t
be hurried), till the cellophane bud blooms,
and you slip its nectar between your teeth.

Wide shot - exterior: leaning into your spade,
you turn the earth; garden blossoms wag
in the breeze; the girl in you obliges
by giving me a birl, then you settle into a sunlit book;
ritual and rhythm in all your days as they blow
through each season, drawing to a close
on this Northern rim of the world.

Category: anniversaries