They’re not about anything,
he’d always insist,
I simply love to hear my forms sing.
Critics heard a metaphor.
But after he died, his archive was found:
a thousand tapes of silence-
punctuated by sounds of adjustments,
occasional claps, foot tapping,
his mysterious shouts of Encore, Encore!
(First published under the pseudonym Bruach Mhor)
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2022. 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 2022 was Ifor ap Glyn.
Given this poem’s title, it’s perhaps appropriate that this is a quiet and measured piece- no linguistic fireworks here. It’s appeal is in its classic lyrical form; proposition followed by counter-proposition and then a wonderfully open-ended resolution. It’s like a piece of micro fiction, an enigmatic drama in miniature, that ‘starts in the middle and leaves before the end’ – but a poem nonetheless, because of its confident use of rhythm. And it’s only at its end that we fully appreciate the layered meaning of its title. Is the sculptor ‘unsound’, as in ‘mad’? Or is he working in a new dimension, (the antithesis of sound) that only he can appreciate in his recordings?
What inspired the poem? I don’t know, but I can guess at influences. The poem dates from around the time I became interested in welding sculptures, especially those of David Smith. But it isn’t about him or them. I live on the Isle of Mull which is blessed with numerous pieces of rusty farm machinery, which do tend to produce an interest in sculpture. I’ve also long been interested in the subjects of voices that only one can hear or “inner voices” and the various associated religious metaphors and claims to knowledge. What is it “about” in any sense which goes beyond the obvious? Again, I don’t know. But perhaps this is worth adding. People can be far stranger than we think and this can accompany great artistic or intellectual power.