Monday, 29 June 2009


The Old Man of Hoy - the Orkneys

Seascape: The Camera at the Shore
In the rockpool a child dips (shrilling)
Fingers, toes.
Below the widest ebb it opens,
The lost sea rose.
Then, drowning rose and reef and rockpool
The west inflows ...
The Atlantic pulse beats twice a day
In cold gray throes.
Shy in a rock-caught crumb of earth
One seapink shows.
Scotland, scattered saw-teeth, melts like petals
In the thin haze.
Lucent as a prism for days, this shore, until
A westerly blows.
Then stones slither and shift, they rattle and cry,
They break and bruise.
Shells are scattered. Caves like organs peal
Threnody, praise.
Tangles lie heaped in thousands, thrust and thrown
From the thunder and blaze!
Silence again. Along the tidemark wavelets
Work thin white lace.
Among that hoard and squander, with her lens
Gunnie goes.
George Mackay Brown (1921-1996)
George Mackay Brown was born in Stromness in the Orkney Islands where he spent much of his life. Before his death in 1996 he published, to great acclaim, over fifty works, including poetry, plays, novels, short stories, essays, children's books and his autobiography.
Last week I travelled to Orkney by ferry in the early morning mist, by midday the mainland island was bathed in crystal clear light. I bought my copy of The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown from the Stromness Book shop at 1 Graham Place, Stromness. The owner of the shop sat quietly with an aura of stillness about him - I was struck by the similarity in appearance he had to my dear friend Michael who died in late 2006. Strangely, the bookseller was also American and shared the name Campbell, he showed me a photo of a beautiful Swedish woman who had been his wife until she died just over two years ago. Our conversation lasted only minutes before I had to rush off but the encounter stayed with me.
This post is for Ian and his wife Pen ... happy beachcombing!