Having long since entered the ‘third age’ myself, I find that poems about getting older have suddenly become much more interesting. Many really good Scottish ones on the subject were catching my eye, and I realised it was a very fertile ground for compiling an anthology. I’m very pleased to have been given the opportunity to do just that, so that other oldies can now share my pleasure in the wonderful poems (and we’ll let people of younger years read it too). The anthology has been published by Polygon: it is called Whatever the Sea: Scottish poems for growing older. Edwin Morgan’s poem ‘At Eighty’ sets the tone, and its opening line furnished the title: ‘push the boat out, whatever the sea’. The title encompasses the spirit of the anthology: a sort of setting out with determination and grit, and humour, into the later years of life, whatever might be in store for us.
There is a great deal of humour in the poems (Scottish humour, wry and dry, seems perfectly suited to dealing with all aspects of ageing), and much fortitude in facing up to the inevitable. We wanted the book to be as upbeat as possible, to celebrate the unexpected bonuses of maturity – yes, there are some! Lasting friendship and late love, a quieter acceptance of what life brings, with, in contrast, a livelier curiosity about everything, and – this is so strong – a heightened awareness of beauty. As Alison Prince puts it:
‘My absent mind is filled with the delight
Of sweet horizons and the heron’s flight.’
We hope Whatever the Sea will be a source of poems appropriate for reading at big birthdays and anniversaries, and of course it will in itself be a suitable gift for someone retiring. Sally Magnusson’s charming introduction, and Olivia Lomenech Gill’s delightful cover, both so true to the spirit of the poems, combine to make the book a lovely thing. It will be launched at an event here in the Library on 12th October at 6pm.
The poems, though, don’t shy away from the downside, when, in Helena Nelson’s words ‘our brave silks begin to fall from us’. So the poets do tackle aches and pains and how the mind changes, with a certain rueful acceptance. But it is in the last section, about our final destination, that the black humour and indomitable spirit really shine. Iain Crichton Smith urges that it should be ‘with pride / that we step outwards / into the darkness’, and Marion Angus’s ‘On a Birthday’ closes the book with a glance back at life, her ‘long, long look at the road I came, / So rough and dark and – splendid!’
Whatever the Sea: Scottish poems for growing older can be bought from the SPL website here.
Tickets are still available but going fast for the FREE launch of Whatever the Sea at the SPL on Wednesday 12 October, 6pm. They can be ordered here.