Here I am talking to you across
all those years ago or none,
catching your voice on the sound
waves or maybe the sea waves.
Ridiculous man! What a way
to live – cadging money, squandering
yourself on drink, scribbling, scribbling,
talking to ghosts in the night. I am,
you wrote, a nervous man, feeling
unloved and greedy and lyrically manic.
‘O come to my arms my beamish boy.’
Back then, in time was now, when
you read your poems in a Scots parlando,
you towed my heart out beyond the safe reaches.
I would like to find some good words
for you. Ones that you’d like
that are not too fancy. Ones
that would help me come clear.
Sidney, there’s such a hullabaloo
of poet voices out there that
it’s hard to hear oneself speak.
But now here you are again, new
and newly Collected, interrupting
the silence with your wild tap tapping,
trying to speak – as you always did –
from one aloneness to another
or all of us alone together.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2009. 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 2009 was Andrew Greig.
I still remember my astonishment on reading W.S. Graham when I reviewed his first Collected Poems. A master 20th Century poet, he was largely overlooked in Scotland due to his long exile in Cornwall and his difficult nature. I like this poem because it honours him, and poetry, while subtly ghosting something of his tone. Memory, homage, these hold us together, binding present and past.
I met W.S. Graham about thirty years ago when he was the guest poet on an Arvon course at Totleigh Barton. I thought both the man and his poems were marvellous. The posthumous publication of his New Collected Poems prompted the memory of meeting him and, in turn, this poem. Graham was the maestro of the letter poem and of intensely moving elegies. I tried to borrow the spirit of his work to write this elegy for him. I wanted it to move about in time, to look back to hearing him read, to speak to him across the barrier of death – as he spoke to Bryan Wynter and Peter Lanyon – and to say something about the here-and-now writing of poetry. The lines in italics are from The Night Fisherman: Selected Letters of W.S. Graham. The poem is one of three elegies for writers in this collection, the others being William Scammell and Philip Toynbee.