Friday, 13 April 2018

In the bathroom with Norman MacCaig

I seem to hang around with poets in the bathroom.

I follow Carol Ann Duffy's principle of keeping poetry handy to read in those spare moments. And I am probably one of only a handful of people living who can claim to have washed Hugh MacDiarmid's bathroom floor when the cistern flooded.

Hugh MacDiarmid's bathroom sink in Brownsbank Cottage

Today I had an encounter with the poet Norman MacCaig a Scottish poet of whom I am very fond. He was a friend of many including Seamus Heaney. And I like the way he opens up a landscape and shows me how, by drawing its lines, we can see its shapes, patterns and pathways all the better. Something I would aspire to. Plus he used to hang out at nice pubs in Edinburgh such as Milnes Bar with other poets: always a good idea.

Coming across his Collected poems, I used them as a kind of divination tool and I Ching.

The outcome was good. Section 3 of the poem No end, no beginning written in 1968.

When you, in your unimaginable self,
suddenly were there, shut boxes opened

and worlds flew out coloured like pictures books
and full of heavy lethargies and gay dances:

when I met a tree, my old familiar, I knew
this was the first time I was meeting it;

and the birds in it singing - for the first time
I could crack the code of their jargon.

And the boredom and the loneliness
in the lit rooms of monotonous streets became

terrible and pitiful - you made me a member
of the secret society of humanity.

The future that had been failing muscles,
sagging flesh, cindering eyes -

all mine, all only mine - swarmed in the air
and spread its new meaning back

into every yesterday. Flux, revolution
emerged into sense, into their own

explanations. I could understand them,
not wholly, but I could understand them

as I could know, not wholly the meaning
of your still hand, quiet look, a way of walking

that takes you from the first garden to the future
where the apple hangs, still, on its dangerous tree.

Norman MacCaig

The only problem with this poetic dark art is that this poem literally has no end and no beginning. I don't want to know for the moment. I am only going to live in the present.


You can find more on Hugh MacDiarmid's sink here And more on Norman MacCaig at his Scottish Poetry Library page here

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