Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • Blossom Time

    red, copper and yellow wallflowers

    There are many blossoming trees in this glen – it started with blackthorn and plum, and is just about to hit its peak with gean and bird cherry, pear and apple. The celandines are coming to an end, but the yellow on the gorse is thickening up, there are wild violets on the Cairn footpath, and I am watching a clump of wild arum which is just about to open. It isn’t a rare plant, but I’ve never seen in elsewhere in Scotland, and judging by my instagram feed, it seems to be having a moment just now. The trees are in the first flush of bright green opening leaves, and the birds are louder each day. I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many goldfinches in my life! The rain has brought on the garden enormously in the last three days, and I’ve been planting and sowing tomatoes, courgettes, chillis, dill and coriander. The new greenhouse has its first tenants

    young tomato plants on the greenhouse floor

    and the front garden, which was scraggy lawn and corporate evergreen when we came, is now flowery and interesting – though much too enthusiastic about weeds

    lilac pansies

    These pansies grew from seeds saved when I bought a few bedding plants last year. There will be earthwalker sunflowers behind them, and a rogue seedling wild rose which hitched a ride in one of the pots we brought with us, so they are good for birds and pollinators as well as colour. There will be native annuals later – cornflower, nigella and poppies, which will provide seed for birds as well as to save for next year

    A big part of my poetry practice is connecting with the territory, and though I mostly concentrate on the plants wildlife and weather, I have become very interested in the history and the engagement of the community here, which seems much livelier than in the Forth Valley. Every spare bit of ground that lies unnoccupied for more than a few months seems to have trees planted, and as I get to know the area, I am becoming aware of a lot of organisations dedicated to keeping the urban sprawl much greener than you might expect, such as the Friends of Holmhills Wood Community Park, or the Friends of the Calder. There is an active ramblers’s group, and plenty of walking routes, from the Clyde Walkway to the Rotten Calder path, which I mentioned in a recent post, and a lot of interest in the landscape and archaeology of the area. I’m rounding up Twitter resources because the bird site seems more dysfunctional by the day, and I really want to pay tribute to these accounts which help me enormously

    I am writing more thoughts about poetry than actual poetry just now, as there seems to be some activity around Ceasing Never, which I hope to share over the next week or so, and a revised edition of my translation of The Charm of Nine Herbs is going to happen at some point, but after a much longer lull than I was expecting, new poetry is finally happening – look out for moon and fire poems, and some weird mythology.

  • Far Field by Jim Carruth

    Polygon books £10.99 95pp.

    Far Field is the final part of a trilogy Jim Carruth has been working on for the last twenty-five years, and forms a magnificent culmination to what feels, for more than one reason, like a life’s work. Like its predecessors, Black Cart and Bale Fire and the standalone poetic novel Killochries, it deals with farming life in rural Renfrewshire, but this volume is more personal than the others. It focuses on his own family life, the family farm, the handing on of skills, property, and tradition.

    The first section, Landscape with Cattle deals with representations of rural life and features many poems about pictures by the Glasgow Boys, Crawhall, Guthrie, George Henry and EA Walton, who were famous for depicting rural life in less romantic perspectives than had been common. Yet Carruth finds even these pictures of ‘hinds’ and manual labourers self-indulgent, patronising and ignorant of the lived realities of the lives they depict, which are dark and harsh certainly, but also rich in family bonds, empathy with the beasts the farmers care for, and the beauty of accurate observation – cows standing in a river, in Crawhall’s Landscape with Cattle defy the artist’s attempt to recreate their calm presence, and the contrast with the fidgety birds that flit round them.

    As Carruth’s hind’s daughter says: This painting that does not show me true.

    The second part Earthstruck, builds on this sense of empathy with the animal life of the farm, the parallels between the life of the beasts and the life of the farmer, birth, death, illness, courtship, love, loss. The boundaries between animals and lovers, animals and family, blur with references to a review of Lady Chatterley’s Lover as a gamekeeping manual, a misread conversation where the roast lamb on the table is mistaken for a comment about the speaker’s lover, and the deaths of farm animals compared to the deaths of farmers. Some of the poems are humorous, nostalgic, sarcastic or affectionate, but most moving is Gone Out where a child’s tantrum because his father has slipped out to look at the animals without him is recalled at the father’s death.

    Somewhere beyond the cries of loved ones
    You’re walking your dogs in that far field
    Watching the herd, waiting for the next life.

    Gone Out

    In the final section, Stepping Stones, we move out to the wider community, to the landscape, to memory, and reflections of the future, and the book closes with Planting Aspen Saplings, father handing on the tradition and the responsibility to son. Aspen is an endangered species, but an important one to the Scottish landscape:

    You tell me of the tree’s offer
    To gall midges, birds, hare, deer

    The importance of relationships
    The interconnectedness of everything

    They do not thrive in shade, need light
    And space to grow.

    Planting aspen saplings,
    Son and father.

    Planting Aspen Saplings

    The echoes of Seamus Heaney I find in these poems do not feel derivative, but establish a connection between two poets aware of the influence of landscape and farming on their work, but each with their own different and unique perspective on it. An Irish/Scottish tradition which enriches us all.

  • Group Hug

    white hellebores in flower

    This is from our previous garden, but I noticed this morning that the hellebores I planted here are just coming into flower. There are iris reticulata out now too, and all the snowdrops and primroses. Daffodil shoots are more prolific than I remembered (did I really add so many?) and hyacinth, tulip and anemone have surprised me as much as they did last year. My seeds are beginning to germinate, even the immensely problematic dittany, which is very exciting, and the sarcococca, which seemed very unhappy in its pot, is thriving now it’s in open ground.

    We are just coming to the start of Lent, traditionally a season for conversions and makeovers, trying harder, cleaning up your act, but this year, I’m using mine for something slightly different. As poetry comes back, as we have started going to more events, it has become much more noticeable that the last three years have been A LOT. We’ve been so busy celebrating things getting going again, and making up for lost time that I think we are in denial about how burned out we all are. We had a long time of anxiety, bereavement, loss. We missed out on holidays, weddings, opportunities, the chance to say goodbye to people properly, the chance to meet new babies. Some jobs went and never came back. Some people died and we didn’t go to the funerals. People got sick and we couldn’t get the right help for them. We were alone and sad, and we couldn’t have hugs. And I haven’t even started on the political stuff – that is for another time.

    I think we need a collective group hug, metaphorical sometimes, literal too if we can manage it. We can acknowledge the grief. We can thank each other for the care we all showed, because that was so powerful. We stayed in with Netflix and banana bread. We observed social distances from kindness not fear. We created new ways of socialising, and developed some cracking gallows humour. Key workers from the NHS to the scaffies and delivery people kept things together, and neighbourhoods found diverse and creative ways to help each other out.

    Social media was my lifeline. I’ll never forget a distraught mother tweeting about her autistic child’s distress at not being able to get the only pasta he could eat, and then several neighbours left packets of it on her doorstep. I’ll never forget lots of anxious people taking to social media to express their concerns and politicians responding by asking for details and promising to deal with them. I won’t forget the zoom poetry and music that helped me keep going. I won’t forget all the pictures of the first reunions of grandparents and grandchildren when the lockdowns eased. And I won’t forget Janey Godley’s ‘Frank Get the Door!’ voiceovers that put everything into perspective. We were all lovely then, and if we’re less so now, it’s because we’re all exhausted, not because we changed.

    I think a puse for reflection and consolation might be indicated. I’ve been working on some ‘charms for the healing of grief’ for a project that’s in development, but I’m also going to use the next few blogposts during Lent to do some more extended creative things with it. But just for now, I’ll send you all a virtual group hug!

    snowdrops in dappled sunlight

  • Days of Growing Light

    witch hazel in full blossom

    What a difference a year makes. Last year our front garden looked like this:

    brick wall, scrubby grass, a pile of stones

    but this year the witch hazel is out, the first snowdrops – a generous gift from a friend who sent five clumps, including some very special varieties – and wild daffodils are just coming through, and the primroses, rather battered from the heavy rain we’ve been having, are settling down for a long session. Elsewhere, roses, fruit trees and the dwarf willow are in bud, and most of the new plantings have survived the winter, and are showing new growth.

    I’m not used to this. In the quieter garden in Stirling, you could guarantee that a lot of plants would sulk, succumb to the wet or take a dislike to the acid soil or the lack of sunlight and give up, but here most things seem to thrive – unless the slugs get them. We have begun the process of putting up the new greenhouse, much hampered by Celtic Connections, which has been marvellous, and the weather, which has not. The seeds are waiting for a bit more consistent warmth, but light is growing by the day, and it won’t be long.

    Celtic Connections has been a joyous release – noisy, enthusiastic, a riot of languages, instruments, musical genres, melodies and creativity. Several gigs were not only a delight to listen to, but thought-provoking and inspiring too. The Trio Kali were a member short, because of visa hold-ups, but they performed anyway, with Scottish musicians playing in. There had been a crossover project during the summer, with Scottish and American musicians learning Griot music from Mali, incorporating native American and African influenced styles into Cajun and Appalachian traditions, and ‘closing the circle’ – showing how traditional Scottish music crossed the Atlantic and was enriched by the cultures of African and Indigenous people caught up in the colonial process – an example of acknowledging the history of slavery and oppression through collaboration and cooperation that will stay with me for a long time.

    Roisín Remembered was a different example – a fusion of traditional and Classical music that brought together language, poetry and history as well as music. As I go deeper into Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, I’m beginning to appreciate that this is really important, and it throws up something quite dysfunctional in our attitude to ‘culture’ – our assumption that culture is elitist, or an optional add-on, unrelated to ‘real life’ is something most other cultures don’t share, and the need for poetry to justify the time and effort we spend on it would be incomprehensible to most people.

    The other strand throughout Celtic Connections seems to have been protest. From the roar of support when the missing musician from Trio Kali finally arrived, to the Songs of Sorrow performed by Angeline, reclaiming the stories of black people in the English tradition, to the protest songs by Eliza Carthy and the Unthanks, the political tradition of folk music has been reassuringly obvious.

    Celtic Connections comes to an end this weekend, and then gardening, editing and writing will begin in earnest. We are all slowly coming back into the light,

  • Returning to the Light

    snowdrops coming up through snow

    If it seems like a long time since I posted here, it’s because it is. There was Christmas and New Year, with its cold and rain and merriment – we did have a very merry Christmas this year – and then my daughter who has a complicated bunch of ailments, had an attack of the one we had taken our eyes off, and she has been very ill. It’s a bad time to be ill, but her support services have been there for her exactly as we would have hoped. Things are slowly improving, so I can now think about other things, as the days slowly stretch, and there is a bit more brightness about.

    Although it’s been very cold today, it’s been sunny and we’ve been thinking about the garden. All my seeds for this year have come, and I’ll be setting up the propagator for chillis and tomatoes at the end of next week. My Christmas present tiny greenhouse is here and we have been clearing the site for it, which gave me a chance to spot the new shoots of fennel and wild pansy, to hear the birds – suddenly noisier – and see how much the bulbs have been growing.

    tulips daffodils and auricula - plus emerging willowherb and hairy bittercress

    Mostly the garden seems to have come through the cold, though there is one lavender that looks to have succumbed, but I won’t really know for sure for a month or two – last night with its temperatures down to -6 came as a shock! Outside, there are hazel catkins out beyond the haggard at the back of the house. All the burns are full and running fast, even the ditch beyond the back fence, and a lot of the grassy places are waterlogged. Robins are getting territorial and once the fireworks at New Year finished we began to hear the strange mating calls of our local foxes.

    There has been a lot spoken and written this winter about using the dark time of the year for recovery and reflection, and I’ve certainly been doing a lot of that. Last year brought me a lot of change and new understanding, not only of the place I now live, but of the way my mind works, and what I bring to the dialogue I hold with the territory. This is taking my thinking about poetry in a completely unexpected and exciting direction. I decided to spend a lot of the year reading Irish poetry, starting with Seamus Heaney and Eavan Boland, but also Yeats, Moya Cannon and Kerry Hardie, and it opens new possibilities in my thinking about the relationship between place, community and language. I have begun learning the Irish language – you would think I might have started with Scottish Gaelic, living where I do, but somehow Irish fits my brain and my ear much more sympathetically, and I hope this will give me a way into Scottish later.

    I have a full editing list for this year, too, which looks very promising, and a poetics project on the verge of becoming real in a couple of months which I hope start some good conversations. Throughout the pandemic, the possibilities for decent poetry conversation have been limited, and I have so missed it, but I hope that we are finally coming back into the light!

  • The Absolute State of Poetry These Days

    As a one time reviewer who used to be praised for my honesty, I think I should probably declare that reviews in Northwords Now et al under the name of Elizabeth Rimmer are not those attributed to Ishbell O’Sullivan in this article

    though I’m fairly sure I was enough of a nippy sweetie to please Gerry Cambridge. No, they were by me, and I still don’t like Robin Robertson’s work, although I do admire his skill.

    I disagree with a lot of what Gerry Cambridge has to say, both about reviewing and about poetry at large, though I do see where he is coming from, and it has made me a think about the function of reviews, and why I do it. I don’t review so much these days, I don’t even write as many reviews on this blog as I would like, and reviews of any sort, and particularly poetry reviews, are hard to find anywhere. Neither Haggards nor The Well of the Moon have ever been formally reviewed, and though it hasn’t done sales any harm (would you mind if I casually mentioned that Haggards is being reprinted for the third time?) I think it would be nice to get more extended feedback than the comments I’ve had which were kind and insightful, and not solely complimentary.

    I do miss good extended poetry criticism. It isn’t generally taught in academia, and a lot of tutoring focuses on the creative and technical side of writing – no bad thing in itself, but it leaves a gap, a feeling that there isn’t a broad overview of a poetry scene that is busy extending itself in all directions. Newspapers and journals don’t publish many reviews, and pay for even fewer, so those of us who do it are doing it for love, focussing on what we’ve liked, and neither writers nor readers have time to waste on books which waste our time.

    So why do it at all? It doesn’t have any impact on sales, and it isn’t just to make friends and influence people. Firstly, to record the poetry that I’ve read and loved and want to go back to. So much poetry is published now that it’s very easy to read a good poem and like it, and then forget it instantly. When you come across something that really matters, you want to flag it up, not only for yourself, but for everyone else trying to filter the onrush of new books, pamphlets and journals.

    Often I write to try and understand what I liked about it, how it influences my thinking and develops my writing practice. Under this heading comes the analysis of the poets who hit that concept, image, technique I’ve been searching for, or that writer who shares my passions and instincts, that I want to have a conversation with. I don’t always agree with these poets, but they fascinate me.

    Often I want to have a conversation with friends and readers about what I’ve read, and let me tell you, you get more engagement if you have something positive to say than if you start by describing Rilke as the Jacob Rees-Mogg of poetry – which I did do once. I don’t believe in indulging silliness, pretentiousness or shoddy work, but a wanton display of savagery to amuse readers is no more likely to encourage honesty than a focus on the good stuff – and there’s plenty of that about. Let me share my treasures with you – I may get a bit excitable, but trust me, you will find something you like.

  • Reading the Hill

    I meant to post a couple of blogs between now and the last time but got distracted. Writing seems to have taken a back seat, as life has been busy with editing, admin, some live poetry events at last, and some long overdue family time.

    Reading, however, has happened apace. I am still discovering more about the history of this territory, thanks to some Twitter connections I made in October. (That sort of thing will be so much harder if Twitter really falls apart, as it looks as if it might.) There has been an awful lot of fighting here, it seems. Gang warfare didn’t start with the ice cream! But I’ve also discovered some excellent poetry and other stuff I’d like to share.

    Marsh, River, Raft, Feather by Clarissa Álvarez and Petero Kalulé, an innovative collaborative work published by Guillemot Press, that extends the range of poetic form and thinking about landscape. I will have to re-read this one a couple of times to get the full extent of its fascination.

    Subterranea by Jos Smith (Arc) which takes poetry underground into the geology and archaeology of South-west England. Uneven, but beautiful.

    Weeds in the Heart by Nathaniel Hughes and Fiona Owen (Aeon). This is not your usual herbal – it describes itself as a ‘sensory’ approach to herbal healing and interaction, which makes a lot of sense to me (as anyone who has been to one of my workshops will know!), but which is being made popular by the Seed Sistas at the Hackney Herb Garden. It includes a lot of psychotherapy in its information, but its real appeal to me is in the map, which connects plants and place and people in a beautiful visual way.

    Belonging: a Culture of Place by bell hooks (I like the statement those lower case names make!) It is published by Routledge but they seem to have done a shocking job of proof editing, so it might be worth finding another edition. This book brings together a lot of things I’ve been trying to say for years, but from the perspective of black small-holders in Kentucky, which makes me aware of dimensions of place writing that writers of place and environment really need to take on board, even here in Britain where relationships and access to land and indigeneity seem so very different. Like many people, I wasn’t really aware of bell hooks until she died, but I will be diving in to as many of her books as I can get.

    This website is going to get a bit of a refresh and future-proofing, and I’m very excited about its new look. One of the lovely things it will have is a Zotero plugin, so I can give you links to all these good things easily. When the relaunch is done, I will come back and edit all the links in, because these are books many of you are going to want.

  • Local History

    foreground seedheads of hogweed and thistles, background Cathkin Braes a line of trees, looking out over Glasgow

    I have been finding out the history of this place. It has been occupied for a long time, and there was evidence of neolithic burials and cairns until the golf course was laid out and some rather nice late Victorian houses were built. Apparently that path I often photograph, with the beech trees and the wild apple, was once a Druid Grove, and the hill we walk up to where the rifle range is now used to have Beltane fires until the Reformation. There were Roman Camps here on Cathkin Braes, and there were coal mines in the fourteenth century. One French observer noted that labourers would be paid in ‘black stones’, which they set on fire, much to his amazement. It has been multi-cultural, and multilingual too, with speakers of Latin, Gaelic, Brittonic, Pictish and English all occupying the area at one time or another.

    It is all fascinating, but a lot of recent history is quite discouraging. This bit of country has been fought over, picked up, put down, taken in battle, or given away as dowries in complicated and repetitive squabbles since the Romans left. Farming has been a struggle, and mining, weaving, iron and steel making, quarrying and engineering have all been tried here, and abandoned. The few who made any money moved on, leaving the poor behind. Listening to today’s news, I know how it felt.

    But there is another story too. The author of the book I read speaks of a both the independent spirit of this town comapred with a lack of self-confidence in Scotland at large, and this is quite evident too. This is a resilient community, and a creative one. Schools and libraries have flourished here, poets and novelists, including one referenced by Burns lived close by at Gilbertfield Castle. The park is the first public park in Britain, and still has the slogan ‘At the Expense of All, for the Enjoyment of All’ proudly displayed at its gate. The park is well used, football, nursery schools, mothers doing yoga, fitness groups and joggers, dog walkers and old people sitting on the benches in the sun. There’s even a community orchard. The community is friendly, welcoming and generous and we are planning great things for Halloween, which we celebrate with enthusiasm.

    It is the most bountiful place too. In the spring I was amazed by the blossoming trees, and now there are so many berries everywhere. We went along the Clyde Walkway to pick brambles, but there were also hawthorns and rowan berries, rose hips and elder, and even some wild apple trees.

    a wild apple tree full of fruit

    We picked enough brambles for jelly and crumbles, leaving plenty for birds and other foragers. I’ve started here the way I mean to go on, and maybe forge some new local history.

    a table with some tubs of blackberries, a heap of small wild apples two bowls of seedheads

  • August Roundup

    herb bed at the Meadows Community Garden

    The Edinburgh Festivals are all happening again, and it has been lovely to be out and about. This photo is of the Community Gardens on the Meadows where I had the privilege of giving a creative writing workshop. The gardeners are lovely friendly people, and the work produced was very inspiring and exciting, but it was also wonderful to see the garden I’ve been hearing about so long. There are vegetable beds, fruit bushes, a compost heap, a bug hotel and some deep beds constructed and cared for by a local primary school, seating spaces and a table for shared meals. There are no fences so as to encourage anyone passing to access the space, and even a book swap box.

    a noticeboard backed with a glazed cupboard, books on the shelves behind the doors.

    I’ve been to some book festival events, hearing Ada Limon read from her amazing new collection – she was meant to be there in person, but couldn’t, as at the last minute she had to be sworn in as the new Senate Poet Laureate. I had also been to a discussion about it hosted by fellow Squirrel Sam Tongue, and it was a particular thrill to hear Ada Limon read some of the poems we discussed. And then yesterday I had an editorial meeting with a new poet I will be working with in the next few months.

    I can’t overstate what a delight and joy it was to be able to talk poetry in real life, and I’m very grateful to the people who gave me the opportunities. I’m not sure how they felt about it, though, as I was so excited I overflowed with talk like a shaken lemonade bottle. There needs to be much more of this in my life!

    Over the next week I will be at Moniack Mhor and when I came back I will be at the launch of The Earth Is Our Home, an anthology dealing with questions of the climate crisis, war, migration and other issues affecting human inhabitation of the earth. It is edited by Gerry Loose, and the launch will happen at the CCA on Sauchiehall Street Glasgow at 7pm.

    Otherwise, I’ve been reading Don Paterson’s The Poem, which is a big deep dive into the mechanism of poetry, but full of the kind of linguistics I tried to escape from as soon as possible, working on a revised and annotated translation of The Charm of Nine Herbs, and assembling some new poems, at last. The garden has been in survival mode lately, but next month there will be bulb planting deep mulching and some rethinking of the borders. I am hoping to start newsletters again, not so often, but more regularly, with advance notice of what’s coming up, and some content that is different from this blog, so please sign up via my contact page if you would like to receive it.

  • Where Poetry Started

    Poetry in the Garden starts
    when Colin strikes the small Tibetan bowl.
    The warmed and singing bronze awakes
    a humming clarity, which sounds
    through noise of knife and fork, book sales,
    poets checking one another out,
    and gathers stillness from the rainy night.
    Later, Gaelic, Arabic and Greek
    will take the song from tongue to tongue
    goltraighe, geantraighe, suantraighe.

    This is from Orpheus Plays (2) in my sequence Eurydice Rising which was first published by Sally Evans in Poetry Scotland in 2006. People who have known me since then will remember the Poetry in the Garden gatherings in Callander which were hosted by Sally and her husband Ian, and were such a highlight of our lives for such a long time. And yes, that is where poetry started for me, after a long time away from it.

    ‘Colin’ is Colin Will, who celebrated his 80th birthday on Friday, and yesterday launched Swept Together: New and Selected Poems, which I had the enormous pleasure of editing. And he did open proceedings by striking the small Tibetan bowl both in 2005, to call us to order and again yesterday. I first came across Colin when he hosted the Open Mouse section of Sally’s Poetry Scotland website (which he designed). He also designed the first websites for the Scottish Poetry Library and for StAnza, for which he was Chair (twice) for quite a while. It’s fair to say that Colin has been one of the foundation stones of the recent Scottish poetry scene.

    We met at Callander, then began to come across each other at poetry events. He founded Calderwood Press and published several people who also became friends – Anne Connolly, Marion McCready and Lindsay McGregor among others. Sally was his first publisher, but in 2010 The Floorshow at the Mad Yak Cafe was published by Red Squirrel Press, and now we share the editing for that press with Sheila Wakefield, about a third each. In 2015 we both had poems commissioned by StAnza based on a photograph with tree branches superimposed on a beach scene. Mine was weird and about dementia (you can find it in The Territory of Rain, it’s called Sea Henge), but his was typical of Colin, close observation of landscape, warm and affectionate, and with a touch of wry humour. We launched books together at StAnza in 2018, his The Night I Danced With Maya and mine Haggards.

    Editing Swept Together was a chance to remember all those poems, all those times when our paths crossed, and to remember when poetry started, and it was a chance to make sure that the ones I remembered so fondly didn’t get left out – Buzzard, The Last of the Little Green Men, Wonky, In Time – and many more. My debt to both Sally and Colin (and also to Sheila Wakefield, whom I met through them) is enormous.

    If you missed any of Colin’s previous books, this is a chance to catch up. You will find some humour, some very sensitive and thoughtful explorations of human relationships, a lot of forceful environmental anger, some gentle and witty observations on aging, love, death nationality and friendship.

    You can buy it here. You’ll like it. A LOT.

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