You in your new cranberry sweater, glasses askew
reading about James Bond then Elgar.
Being nobody, at home with all the lamps on
and quite shapeless within beloved habits.
The unknown bird at dawn who laughs
an ascending scale of notes in our garden.
Opening a card of bluebells and wood sorrel
to find a letter written in neat fountain pen script.
A conversation lasting six and a half hours,
completing it without being put off or told off.
The vacancy for a part-time shepherd –
wondering how it would blend with poetry.
A slow breakfast at the foot of a castle while ruins
tell their stories and cows promenade the cliff.
A stroll along the pier in my pale blue duffel coat,
greeted only by the seal who wants to flirt.
Smoke spiralling from chimneys, the long breath
of a house, or its thoughts purified by fire.
Listening to Ave Maria, imagining Schubert asleep
in his glasses in case a new song woke him by surprise.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2005. 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 editor in 2005 was Richard Price.
Observation, warmth, concision and charm – and a cherishing of the 'Miniature Delights' of living well.
During my ten years of writing poetry I've experimented with many shapes and forms, yet still find myself drawn to perhaps the simplest of all: the list poem. It's probably no coincidence that I'm an incorrigible list-maker in everyday life too.
The appeal of the list poem often lies in its details; those that are personal to the writer, and yet also universal, instantly recognisable. Disparate items can be contained within the framework of the list. The ordering of items generates a further impact – either a random order with curious leaps, or more oblique links between ideas can be equally effective, and there might be some kind of momentum carrying the reader through to a climax. Above all, the poem has to transcend its inception as mere list.
My poems are often sparked off by images that intrigue and indeed obsess me, or by reading the inspirational work of other poets. 'Miniature Delights' is a fusion of both. On reading a delightful poem called 'Poems of Solitary Delights' by Tachibana Akemi (1812-68), it occurred to me that the beginning of a new year might be the time to enumerate and celebrate those little joys that add texture to the day.
The first draft was written towards the end of an exhausting visit to Edinburgh. I sat down at last over a cup of tea and the ideas flowed. (A not-so-miniature delight in the writer's life: the rare occasion when a poem almost writes itself...) The early drafts were lengthy – over thirty items – so first there had to be a rigorous culling, then a gradual paring down, until only the most resonant items remained. Although I rarely write rhyming poetry, I do love the quieter music of assonance, and read aloud constantly as I write, listening for the echoes of vowel sounds.
Once the poem was whittled down to its present ten couplets, I arrived at my favourite and possibly the most absorbing stage of the process. This consists of cutting out each stanza so it's on a separate slip of paper, then shuffling them around and playing with the order. The sequencing process is therefore physical as well as mental, involving an element of the intuitive; I don't try to analyse my decisions too closely, but was aware of subtle links, e.g. from home to garden, from letter to conversation and so on. Two of the stanzas had both glasses and music in common, and it seemed appropriate to place them at the beginning and end, thus granting the poem a circular structure.
Reflecting on 'Miniature Delights' nearly two years after it was written, I am struck again by the extent to which my poetry has been animated by the Northern landscape, not merely because I now live here, but also because it has awakened all my senses and taught me to obseve more closely than ever before.