I used to lie in wait to see the clover open Or close, But never saw it. I was too impatient, Or the movement is too subtle, Imperceptible And more than momentary. My five-year-old self would tire of waiting And when I looked again – All closed for the night! I missed it Once more. Cinematographically I have registered the opening of escholtzia On an early summer morning. It gave me a sharp awareness of time passing, Of exact qualities and values in the light, But I didn’t see the movement As movement. I didn’t with my own direct perception see the petals moving. Later, on the film, they seemed to open swiftly, But, at the time, Although I stared And felt time not so much moving as being moved in And felt A unity of time and place with other times and places Yet I didn’t see the petals moving. I didn’t see them opening. They were closed, And later they were open, And in between I noted many phases, But I didn’t see them moving open. My timing and my rhythm could not observe the rhythm of their opening. The thing about poetry is you have to keep doing it. People have to keep making it. The old stuff is no use Once it’s old. It comes out of the instant And lasts for an instant. Take it now Quickly Without water. There! Tomorrow they’ll be something else.
Margaret Tait was one of Britain's most unique and individual film makers. She produced over 30 films, including one feature, Blue Black Permanent (1992), and Hugh MacDiarmid: A Portrait. She described her films as 'film poems'. She also published three books of poetry, origins and elements (1959), The Hen and the Bees: Legends and Lyrics (1960), and Subjects and Sequences (1960).Read more about this poet
Margaret Tait reading 'Now' (originally published in origins and elements, 1959), from Poems, Stories and Writings, edited with an introduction by Sarah Neely (Manchester: Carcanet, 2012). This recording is made available online with the permission of the Estate of Margaret Tait and is © Alex Pirie. Image of Margaret Tait, in the projection room at Filmhouse, Edinburgh 1992 © Alex Pirie.
These recordings have been digitised from tape recordings made by Tait at various points throughout her life. Some were produced to send to her friend in New Delhi, Saulat Rahman (who also starred in Tait’s film, Three Portrait Sketches, 1951). Recordings were also likely to have been made for radio. Tait’s work occasionally featured on Radio Orkney and there were also suggestions that her poems and stories were aired in the US. Peter Hollander, a US-based filmmaker and co-founder of Ancona Films, wrote to Tait in February 1960 with news that a professor in Boston wanted to do a radio program on Tait’s poems and stories for a series called ‘Reading I’ve Liked’. While it is not known if this proposal was ever realised, it is likely that the recordings were made with this kind of project in mind.
The recordings were digitised in 2011 with funding from the AHRC.
Dr Sarah Neely, University of Stirling