I watch the city shrug its clothes back on.
An appaloosa spatter gathers scent
that hits the brain the way it hits a lawn:
it quenches, hard as mint. I think it meant
to come inside, but only leaves a note
in droplets on the door; at Hogmanay
it settles in the lungs and in the throat
and whispers too a hush of seaside spray
that sweeps below the ribs and keeps its snow
flakes back from hopeful tongues. I’m breathing when
the rainsmell pours my throat a dram, and so
I open up the window wider, stand again
here in our cloud and wincing, hats and boots,
a pearlish weeping reaching for the roots.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2011. 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 2011 was Roddy Lumsden.
The youngest poet in this year’s selection, Runcie has recently returned to Edinburgh (having grown up partly in England, partly there) after study at Cambridge and a spell in London. This seemingly traditional poem (a sonnet about snow) succeeds by being surprising from the off – the weather is ‘an appaloosa spatter’ which quenches, and this set of odd touches continues through to the unusual ending (this is zeugmatic parataxis, I believe!) with its curious list announced by a clever shift of metre, the extra foot in line 12 breaking up the pentameter pattern.
I wrote ‘Staying In’ when I was missing Edinburgh while away at university one January. It was raining outside and I was writing a dissertation about Romantic sonnets, when it occurred to me that the rain in South-East England felt very different from how it is in Edinburgh. I was obviously reading a lot about sonnets for my course, and I was very interested in how they work and their possibilities. It’s still a form that fascinates me – it can be a useful pivot for balancing concrete and abstract, and overlaying several different ideas or places at once. Sonnets also reflect how I think about Edinburgh at Hogmanay: a balance of stark architecture against fireworks and unpredictable weather, with a slightly sad, folky booziness seeping through the buildings as the year turns. I hope this poem also makes a structural glass window to look through and see Edinburgh from a distance, the way it was to me at university as I set an imagined idea of the city over the reality of a rainy English afternoon.