You're a gem, you're a holy cairn You're a clattering shaw You're a Tongland Bridge You're a Solway Firth You're a Big Water of Fleet You're an old song, you're a valley This feeling inside me could never deny me You're a red deer of the forest You're a wild goat of the moor You're a Bladnoch malt, A Whithorm Story, you're a friend, you're a glory. Nothing old, nothing new, nothing ventured Oh, you are definitely, so completely The brightest girl of the glen. You're a beeswing, you sing in a voice Like a freshwater spring Nothing older than time, nothing sweeter than wine You are my Pinwherry, You're my Loch Doon and Galloway, You're my Gatehouse of Fleet, You are philosophical, all Luce Bay, And Whaupshill Nothing I couldn't say.
Jackie Kay was born and brought up in Scotland. She has published five collections of poetry for adults (The Adoption Papers won the Forward Prize, a Saltire Award and a Scottish Arts Council Book Award) and several for children. She was awarded an MBE in 2006.Read more about this poet
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2008. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editors in 2008 were Rosemary Goring and Alan Taylor.
You can hear Jackie Kay reciting this jeu d'esprit. Inspired perhaps by a visit to Wigtown and its Book Festival, it name-checks many landmarks and sights in Dumfries and Galloway. On the simplest of levels it's a list but it is also an expression of love, the joy of being in a place you like being transferred to a person with whom you're besotted. The title is a nod to the old saw recited by brides down the generations.
My friend Ali Smith sent me a CD of Gilbert O'Sullivan- a singer we'd both admired in our teens. I was driving to Wigtown Book Festival playing Gilbert in my car, and suddenly, and unexpectedly, the landscape and the music seemed to meet. The place names sounded to me like his lyrics. So I started to make this poem up in my head which was also a love poem for a Scottish friend, mixing his lyrics from Nothing Rhymed with the journey to the book festival, and images of my book loving friend. And the whole poem seemed to come together. When I'd finished it, I didn't think it worked and was about to throw it out when I thought I'd send it to Ali anyway. Even bad poems can be personal gifts! But Ali liked it so much, that I looked and the poem again, and decided I liked it too. That's the strange thing about writing – you need another reader before you can properly see even your own work clearly. Self doubt often attacks the poems; and friends and first readers can rescue them. The other night I was reading in Lancaster and I read that poem for the first time because I'd heard it was picked for this. A young man came up to me at the end of the reading and told me that Gilbert O'Sullivan's daughter had been at Lancaster and she had been the one who had given him a copy of my book Trumpet. It's always best then to take risks when you write! Nothing old, nothing new, nothing ventured.