Website of poet Elizabeth Rimmer


  • Light and Airy

    a clump of speedwell

    If you’re used to seeing flowers growing in lawns where they are cut down to size every time the mower comes out, seeing them growing in open ground is quite a revelation. We have buttercups waving their yellow heads on knee-high stems along the footpath, self heal more than 20 centimetres tall, and these speedwells, which I thought were short stemmed, creeping at ground cover level, coming up light and airy, and creating a sea of blue in some places that I almost mistook for bluebells. This gives a feeling of lightness and movement to the understorey of the trees, and adds to the sense of exuberance I’m getting this spring. We are in peak hawthorn time now, with elder and rowan just beginning, and the place looks like Fat Sam’s at the end of Bugsy Malone, sprayed with foam everywhere.

    I wrote about the blossom last time, because it was the first thing that impressed me about the new territory, but this year I have been struck by the number of lime trees. They are everywhere, sheltering the Kirk, lining avenues in the park, ornamentals on the mowed verges, but in the older parts of the Lang Toon, they were used to demarcate the boundaries of front gardens, and many of them are still there. Some of them have been allowed to grow

    a tall lime tree in full leaf

    some are cut back to the bare minimum

    pollarded lime stumps

    but this one gives you the idea of the look the original planners must have been going for in the days when a pleached lime avenue was the must-have for the professional owners of the new suburban villas.

    lime trees in full leaf, pruned into arches

    In a small diversion that isn’t as devious as it first appeared, I’ve been reading this essay from my friend and fellow geopoetician, the ethnologist and activist Mairi McFadyen. https://www.mairimcfadyen.scot/fragile-correspondence/2023/essay dealing with the clearances and the consequences of the community buyout of Abriachan Forest. She talks about how the loss of language leads to the loss of local knowledge, the exploitation and degradation of the land, and in this case, the removal of the local people. It’s a wonderful essay, raising many of the issues and preoccupations that inform my poetry, and I can’t recommend it warmly enough.

    But the point I’m working towards is that the Lang Toon doesn’t really have those problems. On the contrary, throughout its very long history, people have been brought here to serve whatever needs the ruling classes felt were important at the time, and abandoned. These houses were built for the managers of the mines, all gone, and later of the electrical industry, all gone, and now we are mostly a commuter town with people living here and working in Glasgow or East Kilbride. This too has consequences for land use, local knowledge, and community building, and though I feel there are grounds for optimism, I realise there are a lot assumptions I’m going to have to unpick as I go into the next poems, the next book.

    This may be a slower process than I like. One of the long-standing medical conditions that plague this family has struck again, and we have someone in hospital. He’s getting good care, but not being able to drive makes things very complicated! There may be very little activity on this account for the next few weeks.

  • A Dark Age

    a tiled fireplace with a coal fire

    The news this week is awful. The Ukraine disaster is too big for me to process, much less comment on, but the news about universities is something else. For a long time, universities have treated their teaching staff badly, with poor wages, short-term contracts, hours of unpaid overtime and late payment of expenses. If you could go the pace, this was compensated for, to some extent, by paying into a reasonably good pension scheme that was continuous across the whole sector. Up to now. This week, that went.

    At the same time, the government plans to restrict access to university to those with GCSE’s in Maths and English, which discriminates against students with specific learning disorders or non-scholastic backgrounds, cap the number of university places available, and spread the repayment of student loans across forty years instead of the current thirty.

    I imagine the sciences will survive, somehow. But this is an all-out attack on the teaching of arts and social sciences. They will become the exclusive playground of the wealthy and privately educated. We are looking at a new Dark Age. The Vandals are at the gates, and it looks as if practical experience and exposure to the arts will be lost to 90% of the population.

    Well, no. Not quite. The usual routes are closed, but this is not a situation that is unfamiliar to people of working-class heritage, especially if you have Irish roots. In penal times, it was forbidden to teach a Catholic to read and write, and the Irish set up guerrilla ‘hedge schools’ to teach boys in secret. My great-great-great grandmother (the first Honora in my poem We Carry Our Grandmother’s Ghosts) allowed her barn to be used in this way. Scholars from these schools went to France and Spain to train as priests, and some of them arrived among the best-qualified of their year. Many working-class communities in the north of England, set up study groups and evening classes, often with the support of the Non-Conformist and local Catholic churches. Both my great grandfather, a Catholic) and my husband’s great-grandfather (a Congregational Minister) were heavily involved in the setting up of schools for working class childeren in their areas of Liverpool and Southport. My father benefited from organisations like these, having missed out on a scholarship to grammar school because his father couldn’t afford the uniform, and was able to finish with post graduate qualifications in Adult Education. He was passionate about on-going training for adults in industry, and many of his diatribes about British attitudes to their workforce come to mind to this day.

    The Folk Revival of the sixties and seventies wasn’t just archaeology by the middle classes nostalgic for Merrie England – it tapped into a reservoir of genuine surviving traditions, music played, sung and taught within communities, (particularly in Ireland and Scotland) with high standards of musicianship that are now recognised by academic institutions like the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, where traditional music is taught alongside Classical – and some very interesting crossovers are happening. The brass band culture of northern England and the choral singing tradition of Wales provided high standards of musical training that mainstream culture seems to have denied.

    We are going to have to go back to those times. It is time for those of us who got the education (especially if, like me, you are from the generation that got grants to go to university) to share what we’ve got. There are cautions to this. It isn’t going to be as easy to validate teaching if you can’t just refer to a university board, so we’re going to have to learn some skills in discrimination, and fast. Plus teaching takes time and is work, which must be properly rewarded. But I notice a lot of people who have quit academia are putting on courses, running workshops, setting up retreats and if the living is still precarious, it isn’t quite so stressed. Students don’t have to make the same commitments either of time or money, and many go out of their way to make courses accessible to disabled people or people who can’t afford to pay commercial rates. We just have to get past the idea that only full-time ‘professional’ working counts, that only a degree can prove your talent.

    And what am I going to contribute? It’s hard to say. I have limitations on my time, my health (and constraints from my family’s health). I don’t quite know what I can commit to. But I have a library, which is full of books I would be willing to lend. I’m up for using my newsletters to share material that might be useful (feel free to make suggestions!). And I’ve signed up to the Rebecca Swift Foundation’s Women Poets Network, which might enable me to help out. It is based in England and seems to make some strange assumptions about Scotland, but I’m hoping it might create opportunities to light a few lamps as we go into the dark.

  • A Quick Round-up Before the Holidays

    School’s out for summer! So I will be looking after Lucy a lot, and posts will be when I can get around to them. But beofre I disappear into the cake-making, flower-pressing, music-learning, story-reading, picking up and delivering to activity classes over the next weeks, I thought I’d catch up with what has been going on – there was more than I thought!

    I was at the launch of the Stirling Fringe Festival on Thursday night. This has been unaccountably below the radar up till now, but it looks like a truly inventive and wide-ranging mix of artistic activity, and I’m hopeful that a new era of the arts in Stirling is about to dawn. And not before time, either. The most exciting thing about the night, however, was meeting a local artist who will be having an exhibition during the fringe, Tamsin Haggis. We had a long discussion about creativity and geo-poetics, so I am really looking forward to seeing more of her work.She has a fascinating website, which you can see here, and I’ll be posting a link in the sidebar shortly.

    Creativity was also on the agenda at a reading and discussion I went to in the Scottish Poetry Library on Friday, with Christian McEwen, who wrote the very popular book World Enough and Time. She is a very nice woman, and has a lovely voice and reading style,but it did leave me rather thoughtful. Every now and again I find myself up against something that just doesn’t work for me, although everyone around me seems to love it.I don’t do well, I discover, with the notion of ‘slowing down’ and ‘wasting time’ to liberate creativity. I don’t have any bother with generating creative ideas. I do have bother turning them into useful working projects. My brain goes in fits and starts, often buzzing with way too much to do, sometimes spinning its wheels in a depressing morass of exhaustion and frustration. The trick, I’ve found, is a steady pace, enough to keep up the momentum, not so much that I lose the plot, and (horrors!) engaging the much-maligned intellect. Shifting my left brain (always a Cinderella in discussions like this) up a gear gives a project a bit of traction, and rewards the dullness of structure and habit with a satisfaction that I find genuinely liberating. Nimue of Druid Life discusses the same kind of thing here, but I’d be interested in other readers’ comments.

    In addition to keeping up the momentum on the transaltion of Virgil’s Eclogues (feel a tub-thump coming on about the relationship between the state and ownership of land, but that will have to wait a week or two)and Bernard Lonergan’s Insight (I’ve hit a hard bit, there’ll be nothing about that for a good while, till I get my head round it) Cora Greenhill introduced me to the poetry of Moya Cannon. That was a real revelation. Her poetry is on much the same ground as mine, but in many ways could not be more different. I’ll be reading and re-reading Carrying the Songs a lot over the summer, and reviewing it some time in the autumn.

    I haven’t been walking the territory much this year, but today I noticed that the wild roses and the elder flowers were in full bloom. My hayfever is too bad this week to be outside much, but the garden seems to be getting along without me. We are harvesting lettuce and gooseberries, and the strawberries are filling out nicely, though there’s none ripe yet. The roses are in full bloom, and the lavenders are just beginning.

    The house martins nest that was raided by the gulls is full of cheeping again, so I hope that brood#2 has better luck than the first one! I was weighing up this year’s nesting season, and it doesn’t seem too bad. I’ve noticed fledglings of sparrows, dunnocks, blackbirds, greenfinches, jackdaws, great tits, mallards, goldfinches, crows and magpies – and the gulls, of sourse, now very large and mousy brown, but still roof-bound. And ospreys, though these weren’t actually on my patch, but at Aberfoyle, where you can see live pictures from a webcam in the mini lodge.

    And this brings me rather breathlessly to a stop for a while. I hope to be posting over the holidays, if rather erratically, but otherwise, I will be back in august. Happy summer, everyone!

  • NaPoWriMo Day#5

    Anda Union

    Music from the grasslands.
    Thousands of horses
    will gallop through my dreams.

    I never meant to write so many haikus this month! But we’ve had to deal with an acute episode in a family health situation, and I feel very fortunate to be able to grab some quiet time to write anything at all! Anda Union is the name of a Mongolian band we heard during Celtic Connections. It was a wonderful night, not least because it took place in the Gllasgow Art Club, a venue of unbelievable elegance. Do check out the website – there are clips of their amazingly rich and complex music on it. Ever since then I have wondered how Scottish music relates to our landscape and our sense of home – wind music? rain? the sea? What do you think?

  • aftermath

    It seems a long time since I put anything up here, and of course it is. Family goings on, etc. have got in the way. In a large family like mine there’s always something going on, but we did have a whole swathe of people getting ill and needing attention, and I got ill myself and so it goes.
    It hasn’t all been family and dull stuff, however. My Zen folk music poem, Sean Nos was accepted by Brittle Star and will appear next week, and I’ve put together two more submissions, which I suppose will take the usual ages to feedback. When I was at Lumb Bank I got some useful background about why magazines sometimes take so long, such that frankly, sometimes you have to be grateful that they get back to you at all. And it makes those editors – Sally Evans, Joy Hendry, Louise Hooper in my experience – you may know more – who take the time to be kind and constructive, so much more to be cherished.
    Come to think of it, good, honest accurate criticism is worth its weight in gold from whatever source. I was going to give a roll of honour, but I bet I’d forget someone. I’ll just take the opportunity to thank you, all of you.

  • Digging for Bait

    Picture by Paul Rimmer, a rock pool at Ardnamurchan.

    This is one of the poems from The Eurydice Rising sequence, which was published in poetry Scotland last year. It has a lot of Shetland references because I was originally inspired by the Shetland ballad King Orfeo, (it’s quoted in the first stanza), in which Orpheus is a piper, and actually gets Eurydice back. The title is also a Shetland reference. If you don’t want to tell where you got your bait for fishing you would say Sjussamillabakka or stakamillabakka – as non-committal as you could get!

    Digging for Bait

    Da notes o’ joy.
    Stakkamillabakka –
    Da notes o’ noy.
    Sjussamillabakka –
    Da god gabber reel,
    dat meicht ha’ made a sick hert hale.

    Between the sea and the shore.
    Stakkamillabakka –
    Between the rocks and the shore.
    Is where I got this poem,
    On water-polished shingle, where the sea
    Drains bubbling
    Over ribbed and wrinkled sand
    And popping bladderwrack.
    I found it in a rock-pool, cold as shadow,
    With a gull’s feather floating in it,
    And a thin blue sheen of petrol
    Hazed like a mussel shell.

    Sjussamillabakka –
    The place without landmarks.
    Stakkamillabakka –
    Don’t look back.
    Sjussamillabakka –
    Never the same place twice.

  • all gone quiet

    It’s cold. It hasn’t snowed much to complain about here, we’re too close to sea level, but the three and a half snowflakes that did fall are still sitting among the snowdrops and fennel stems because the ground is too cold and hard to melt them. I’m putting together a sequence of Irish poems into a collection called Rushlight. There are more of them than I realised.
    All the sick people here are getting better – the grand-daughter is even well enough to begin pinching food from other kids’ plates at nursery. The house is gradually becoming less silted up with redundant paperwork, books, utensils that might be useful one day and invoices for things we no longer possess. I even started gardening again, until the snow came back, and now the ground is too hard.
    Meantime the rest of the country seems to have totally seized up.

  • happy christmas

    Thanks to family activities – illness, a death, a party – and responsibilities on behalf of our local community council, work has almost come to an end for the year.
    I’m making plans for next year, however, and hope to be back with poems and short stories in January.
    Happy Christmas everybody.

  • family stuff

    Work seems to be grinding slowly to a halt. I get distracted by Christmas shenanigans (our village Christmas lunch and carols, catching up with friends before we get too busy, shopping, cooking, cleaning —)and also by family stuff. We have one daughter at home, and her erstwhile flat-mate staying for a while, and a grand-daughter not far away who wants to play a lot. Plus a vast extended family who are moving into Facebook along with the poets I like to keep up with.
    So there’s not much new work going on. About four poems started, another three in prospect, and a short story called Lithic Flake. But mostly I’m reading, and I’ve come across some excellent new fiction – Sue Gee, John Banville, Stevie Davies. They have given me a lot of ideas for Recusant, which is going to be a more multi-layered and multi-centred novel than Saracen Woman ever was, and is going to let me put in some more of the things I’ve learned from poetry.
    Poetry is strugglng. I seem to be reading more rhetoric about it than poems, which can’t be right.Hugh Macdiarmid is a discovery though. His Lallans poetry (despite the neologisms and obscurity) is so much better than the English. It is more direct, more simple, and so can carry so much more than more writerly stuff. This seems counter-intuitive. Perhaps it suits his mind-set better, or perhaps using a familiar culture he is able to imply more without stridency.

  • the new novel

    We went to the Crannog on Loch Tay on Saturday to do some research for the new novel. What you can see is a reproduction of a real Iron Age Crannog further up the loch, and there is a chance to see the building,and learn about the methods of construction and try out some Iron Age skills like spinning or making a fire or turning a lathe. They hold festivals and story-telling sessions there and it was really interesting in spite of the very patronising guide. And the weather was fabulous. Even more remarkable considering the appalling rain and wind we’ve had before and after. I have not seen such wonderful leaf colours in years. I love Perthshire. If it wasn’t such a long commute to Kilsyth I would up sticks and go there now.
    All this made a very welcome break in the major tidying up that has been going on in this house. Naomi has been sorting and organising all the stuff she brought home from university, and I’ve been doing a clear-out of surplus books, clothes I’ll never wear and hobbies I’m not up to any more. It as very dusty but the house is fit to live in again. Meanwhile Katherine has been doing the same in her house, as Lucy is just on the point of becoming mobile, and now I am houseworked out. It is good to be back at work, and thinking about the aesthetics of traditional singing, and the authenticity of reconstructive archaeology.

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