On YouTube an American woman describes climbing the 287 steps as: a tight, claustrophobic, nasty business and with remnants still of the acute vertigo that ten years ago had me bedbound I struggle to watch her selfie-stick video spiral ascent of the narrow stone staircase. I almost feel the worn steps under my feet, the cold stone against my arm, and I’m eight or so years old with my dad in the days before selfies, one of many tourists, waiting, waiting; hungry for my turn to see the improbable sweep of Edinburgh city tiny from above laid out between hills and water, and both of us with aching legs of height-fear and the climbing, climbing weak legs and crowded by the other tourists, pressing anoraks and big cameras and loud voices and I’m not really getting enough from the famous monument, and begin to feel the emptiness after all of the beautiful carved figures and faces. Now, Wikipedia shows me pictures of these and the names of the many nineteenth century sculptors who chiselled their way into this history, a couple of them were even women. And Scott was carved of white Carrara marble and sits with his quill pen, and his dog Maida, looking out. But I can’t see him without the image of his infant self, disabled, but undeterred, enticed to crawl swathed in curative freshly flayed Smailholm sheepskin and bathed in the fae and bloody tales and ballads of the borderlands, and the voices and lives of the folk who made him.
About this poem
Katy Ewing says, ‘I was reading Scott’s Ashestiel memoir and at the same time I attended an excellent writing workshop about how we as writers with physical limitations or illnesses can access nature and I became interested in this monumental man’s childhood memories of life-changing illness and the intersections between physicality, experience and imagination and the poem flowed from that – of course, there are also layers about tourism!’
Tom Murray says. ‘Katy is a poet who digs deep and trusts her poetic instincts. A memory of climbing Scott monument as a child. ‘the emptiness after all of the beautiful carved figures and faces.’ Where was the man Scott in all that carved stone? A poem that goes in poetic search of the Scott, and finds him, not as the grown man, a writer, the almost mythical figure but Scott as a boy in Smailholm in his own creative landscape.