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,
Nothing I couldn’t say.
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.