Blog Our Sweet Old Etcetera

Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

Times Ten

Image: Le temps nous est compté by Andoniaina Nambinintsoa RAZAFINDRADOARA, under a Creative Commons licence

In June, we asked the public to help us and Voluntary Arts Scotland celebrate the diversity of voluntary arts activity in Scotland. Over the summer, we launched My Time - Poetry inspired by voluntary arts. We were looking for poems on the subject of how we can use our time to work on arts we are passionate about. We've chosen ten poems sent to us that we liked best, one of which will feature in an exhibition next year about community-led arts. The identity of the poem that has been chosen will be revealed at a later date. Our latest blog features all ten new poems.

Funded by Creative Scotland, My Time is a Scotland-wide participative project taking place over 2017 and into 2018. In additon to the exhibition, other poets will also team up with voluntary arts groups to write poems based on their experiences. In addition, the project will stress the connections voluntary arts groups have with the area in which they are based.

The Doctor prescribed Hula Hooping

I am a one-woman Corryvreckan
three thousand turns until I break.
Bruises rise with each rotation,
sweat surges like a tide in flood.

This circle suits me like
a lover’s touch, a wedding ring. 
Each swing a hammer down
on sadness, each loop
a lengthening of the light.

Lynn Valentine


Edges of teapots and fruit dishes
made presentable.
I mothered bluebirds from lifeless liquid.
From cast moulds cream necks stemmed, a wing,
two eyes, clay skeletons firing in the kiln.
Many would fold, cleft beaks, bubbles in the spine,
children I buried with the wastage.
Some lived to be glazed in a frost-blue coat.

I fettle, work words.
Shaving, replacing, whittling away
at the bone, back-bent. I peel the bark
of tree stumps, thread smoke through the needle eye.
Picking wild oats with dirt tracks on my palms
I weed the changes in me, out.
The moth floating dead in the glass like a star,
a golden cross when the sun comes.
Some lines leap, some die, lungs full of ink.

But here I place the bluebird, a solitary tack
on a cork board, and its wings flutter a little between blinks.
It whispers will you remember me tomorrow?
I ask the same of my flock of broken loves,
blueprints stained with coffee and dust.
These are the measurements, incisions.
These are beginnings and ends,
stacked lines, trimmings of trying.

David Linklater


They called it pottering,
Or sometimes
His hobby.
Or sometimes just plain
Something that whiled away his lonely hours,
You know,
Now that the wife had passed on.

That’s what they said.
Though no-one,
Could begin to understand his passion or his pain,
As he sat with album and tweezers
And the stories of a thousand lives
Spread out before him
In inch by inch rectangles of perforated paper,
Legends engraved in cancellation ink,
The living DNA of lives gone by preserved
Like flies in cloudy-clear amber
On yellowed gummed-backed strips,
Albums caressed by the hands of the long dead,
Their copperplate script an elegy
To lost loves and broken hearts,
Tiny haikus of love,
Shards of pink envelopes marking the passing of years,
Philatelist arias more poignant than any Puccini score
And twice as as heartbreaking,
All archived in the dusty albums
Lovingly stored in the all-embracing library of his shed
Where you can always find him

Max Scratchmann

Give me your Hand

Touch finger tip to finger tip,
thumbs, index to index,
tall man to tall man,
ring to ring, pinkie to pinkie.

Take this invisible gift
in the cradle of your hands
shield it, as it flickers in the draft
of all our cold, dreich days.

Here is a word without vowel or consonant.
It is a language you have never heard before
but understand immediately.
We will never be the same again.

Stephanie Green

rain bleeds the sky
into loch ewe

Gillian Dawson

Line Dancing with Dolly Parton

What a way to make a
living for the swap from synthetics to
denim beaten soft with country music
squashed into a dance
line. Overtly patterned shirts blur with
under-seasoned personalities as we
sway, stamp, grapevine through our hour,
allowing it to drive us crazy
if we let it.

All taking precious post-pay-packet moments,
no, casting a lifeline from labour,
crediting ourselves with that rare, precious honour:
joy. Respiring deeply, perspiring neatly. Step
two three four
shuffling majestically heeled cowboy boots
across a glossy varnished town hall floor.

Now on borrowed time,
our finite helium souls inflated once more,
we resume our verse,
stumble to the kitchen, reminding ourselves of
our allocated fun. Lives topped
up to their measured limit, we wish,
for nothing more than that one hour per week.

Andrew Keay

Stitch in Time

I slip between the tick and tock.
With needle stab and drag of thread
I build silent silken cocoon. Artful
sleight of hand and, stitch on stitch,
my fingers birth newness, joining
where before was Not. In the gaps
of in-breath and out I move with no
thought, empty of all but the now.
And when the time comes and my
thread must be cut, I do so quick,
sharp, strong. Deft, natural in this
place like no other I move freed
from gravity’s depressions, I fly
for a time. And that is enough.

Maxine Rose Munro

At The Heart

It’s Tuesday morning and women’s voices,
in three-part harmony, sing out Smokey Robinson,
I don’t like you, but I love you – while outside 
in the yard toddlers send up an insistent
decant scat. In the hall an amalgam of creamed
butter, sugar and sifted flour wafts.

Upstairs needles pirouette, like dancers
in Morag Alexander’s class, pulling
silks through linen in back stitch, split stitch,
stem stitch, French knots. On other days,
at other hours, threads of French and German
slip from practiced tongues, and lips are pursed

and shaped to give a visual voice to those
for whom the world has turned its volume
down. It’s here we come when our lives
suffer an infarction, an arrhythmia, a block.
It’s here we come to pick up the rhythms
again, to pick out a beat on practice pad,

to fall safely on a crash mat, to dance again,
to reel. It’s here kinship finds support,
it’s here that kindness and care
are more than abstract, it’s here they are
“doing words”. It’s here, in this centre, this
Old Victorian school, with its boys doors & girls doors,
that a community finds its heart.

Anna Dickie

The Brass Band Contest
                   (for the Renfrew Burgh Band)

With a tug of the jackets and shuffling of chairs
and adjustments to stands that are perfectly placed,
the baton is raised with a stretch and a flick and
like greyhounds in traps they are off up and running,
for the prize of perfection, for them, just this once!

Pony-tailed blondes and greybeards with paunches,
lawyers and labourers, clerks and accountants,
mothers and carers, workers and students,
all shapes and sizes, when braided and cuffed
they’re only the sound they make with their band.

Muted trombones wail like trains on the prairies,
feverish cornets, warm flügel and horns rise
above huge silver basses booming like liners.
They whisper like mist when it says pianissimo,
blast triple sforzando for storming finales!

The applause is for how they arrived here today
from scout huts and band halls on nights after work.
With stars as a backdrop on stage in the town hall
the glint and the shine of colourful stage lights make
dazzling reflections on their moment of fame.

When it’s over they judge – so how did they all do?
The shame of split notes and poor entries forgotten
they head to the bar where they all let their hair down.
Not caring for prizes and medals or cups, just
that their own brilliant band will march on for ever.

Mary Thomson

My Time

My time is not my own,
dandelions draw me on.
Floating petals
breezing free,
I am the guardian of the garden.

Wife and worker,
daughter, carer,
dog walker and dish washer


I care for each one,
grow you up
give you sunshine.

But once a full moon comes this


within the clouds.
A gap in tides
my space in time.

The wave starts whispering
cautious courage.
I clasp the pen
and I begin.

Kirsten MacQuarrie

Category: poems