I am one speck of dust passing through.
I am silk thread unraveling
the caterpillar inside her cocoon.

I am the blood of winter
sun beyond the horizon
and I float a murmur of starlings.

I brood a melancholy song
whispering blue into the wind.
I glide the last seeds from the sycamore.

I hunt the moon with moth-silver wings
and streak midnight skies with electricity.
I skim my love with words touching skin.

I breathe one thought between me and you.
I am one speck of dust passing through.


Photograph by the author

Before the Storm

Mast bells peel strange lands, humans float
confetti in dark pools. Through the crimson door
beyond the promised mountain, the sun stills
my enemy, my friend. The oak tree
marches shadows across blue fields. Birds sing
grey lullabies to the dispossessed
and marsh marigolds play torch songs.
Stone eagles wait for night, fly, swoop high
in peach schnapps skies. My breath, in out, in
out, my chest shrivels old party balloons.
Skin stings, cold bees devouring ears, eyes
don’t see, fingers don’t.
My pen is not mightier,
the world ink fades.
I become invisible
wind turning pages,
the last ship leaving.


Photograph by the author

Highland River

Everywhere you look in the Highlands there are wild seas, sparkling waterfalls,  crystal rivers and lochs.  Rain falls almost every day.  Northern Scotland is a realm of water.  Perhaps that is why so many people choose to make it their home.  Human beings, like other animals, have an instinct to gather near water.  Water is a source of sustenance, essential to survival.

Many of the novels of acclaimed Scottish novelist Neil M Gunn (born 1891 – died 1973) focus on a watery theme:- Morning Tide, The Silver Darlings, The Grey Coast, The Drinking Well and Highland River which won the 1937 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for fiction.  Neil Gunn was born in Dunbeath, a tiny coastal village which is a half hour drive from my home.  His father was the captain of a herring boat and Gunn’s writing explores the harsh lives, isolation and landscapes of Caithness fishing communities.  Gunn was a socialist and a political activist committed to Scottish Nationalism and independence.  His writing has a Zen-like intensity with an underlying mysticism, detailed descriptions of landscape and the slow unfurling of events.


Photo by the author


Visitors to Dunbeath harbour today will see a striking bronze statue of a boy wrestling with a huge salmon.  The statue illustrates a dramatic scene from Highland River when nine year old Kenn captures a salmon with his bare hands.  The novel contrasts this childhood struggle for survival and dominance with the brutality of World War 1 when an adult Kenn joins the British army.

Within the first two pages Gunn introduces the novel’s main protagonist, establishes the remote community setting and the landscape whilst building dramatic mood and tension.  It is an example of Neil Gunn’s great skill as a writer.  Here is a short excerpt describing when Kenn on a cold morning, reluctantly goes to the river pool for water for the breakfast tea just before he sees the salmon:-

“Out of that noiseless world in the grey of the morning, all his ancestors came at him. They tapped his breast until the bird inside it fluttered madly; they drew a hand along his hair until the scalp crinkled; they made the blood within him tingle to a dance that had him leaping from boulder to boulder before he rightly knew to what desperate venture he was committed.”


A tangle of creel baskets at Dunbeath harbour where small scale crab and lobster fishing has replaced the thriving herring industry of the early nineteenth century.


My first experiences of poetry happened early in childhood.  My maternal grandfather wrote a poem for me each year to commemorate my birthday.  It would be penned carefully on the back of his birthday card.  I am sad today that I did not keep these special tokens of his love.

My first poetry book was A Child’s Garden of Verse by Robert Louis Stevenson.  A beautiful blue leather bound copy with gilded page edges was presented to me at Primary School as an Attainment Prize.  I was nine years old.  Again it reinforced the idea that poetry was something precious.  I began to write my own poems.  I recall a gem that began with the lines, “I was playing in the dairy/when I first saw the fairy”!

At the age of sixteen I was initiated into contemporary poetry (together with sex) by my Glaswegian boyfriend.  He introduced me to the music and poems of Leonard Cohen.  As a Christmas present he bought me a little book of his poetry and I still have the battered copy on my bookshelf.  Cohen’s poetry is often overlooked as he is best known for his songs.  I like his short poems which seem to have a mysterious  double meaning.  Here is one of my favourites called I Heard of a Man:-

I heard of a man
who says words so beautifully
that if he only speaks their name
women give themselves to him.
If I am dumb beside your body
while silence blossoms like tumors on our lips.
it is because I hear a man climb stairs and clear his throat outside the door.


I read Cohen’s romantic and political poems over and over again, learning some of them by heart.  At the time I had no idea poetry would become such a vital element of my life as it is now.  For me, poetry is therapeutic but more importantly, a way to communicate difficult emotions and experiences to others.

What were your first tastes of poetry?  Were they positive or negative?  Did you learn poems by rote in the classroom?  Or did your parents read to you?  Do you remember your first ever poetry book?  I would love to hear how you were initiated into the wonderful world of poetry.




And here is a YouTube video of Leonard Cohen singing one of his most famous and poetic songs:-

Autograph Book

Where are U
Gerard Duvall?
2 cute 2 B
4 gotten.

Leather coat,
groovy French name,
eyes cool as mud,
auburn mane.

In teenage shade
U left your cabbage
heart 4 me,
white as paper.

frozen kisses,
in my book.

I counted
empty pages


Note:- Before the age of Facebook and digital ‘likes’ adolescents used autograph books with pastel colored pages to collect signatures and messages from their friends.  These often included humorous rhymes.


Original Photograph- The Seeds of Love, created by the author.