The holy grail, distilled wisdom
of all the world, slips sideways
through the fingers of authority.
Never mind the years of waiting,
the great fish caught and gutted,
the dragon trapped in the pit,
the long simmered broth of herbs,
it always goes astray. The poet
is always that chance apprentice
sucking his clumsy thumb,
scarred, accidental, listening.
The burned thumb is a motif in many folk traditions by which a young apprentice inadvertently becomes aware of the languages of all the creatures he shares the world with – something that resonates very powerfully with how I write. Most of my work is inspired by a relationship with the world I describe by the Irish word lúcháir – a word which is the Irish for ‘delight’, or ‘joyful welcome’ – also sometimes ‘glittering’ or ‘resplendent’.
It is related to the Scottish Gaelic luachair – the soft rush (juncus effusus)– and the Welsh llwych, ‘a spark’. The pith of this plant was soaked in tallow used to make rushlights and by association this word came also to mean ‘the gleam of light on water’ – a flash of beauty, enlightenment, and in Celtic tradition , a glimpse of the other-world. In early Christian times, churches, and especially graveyards, in Scotland were often sited at the reedy headwaters of lochs – the places where Heaven and earth are closest.
I write poems based in landscape and community, exploring the many different dimensions of the dialogue we hold with whatever environment supports us – biological, social, spiritual – how we live on the earth and with each other, how we react to the passage of time, what beauty we find in living, and the ways we deal with grief and loss and hard times. I’m influenced by my experience of growing and using herbs, and my study of geopoetics, permaculture, folklore and the mythological traditions of northern and western Europe, and the mystical and philosophical traditions of Christian monasticism.
I sometimes post poems on the blog, and you can also see them at Peony Moon, Well-Versed, and at Catapult to Mars here and here . There are some poems on the archive pages of the excellent READRAW website, curated by Mo Blake, Ian Hunter, G.W. Colkitto and Wullie Purcell. You can see the Filmpoem Alastair Cook made of Visiting the Dunbrody Famine Ship here.
I first came to Scotland when I married in 1977, from Liverpool, where I had been a teacher. From 1984-8, between raising three children, I studied medieval romances at Stirling University, under the supervision of the outstanding medievalist Felicity J. Riddy, taking an M.Litt. in medieval literature, and also began to learn about depth psychology and spirituality – particularly the mysticism of the Christian monastic tradition. As well as writing, I worked in the university chaplaincy from 1991-9, helped to run Stirling and District Youth Theatre during 1999-2002, and looked after an allotment and herb garden. You can see a complete list of my work here
I am deeply influenced by the work of Kenneth White and am a member of the Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. Other interests include permaculture and deep ecology, philosophy, folk music and legends, ancient languages and cultures.
I am a member of Scottish PEN, Scottish Writers Centre, Federation of Writers (Scotland) and Forth Valley Writers Collective, and I am currently working on the issue of inclusion and diversity in poetry (through the #derangedpoetess protest, and It’s Not Poetry).