Recently we’ve come upon a few poems featuring “sea-changes”, as The Tempest‘s Ariel would say, such as Iain Crichton Smith’s “Gaelic Stories” and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill’s “Parthenogenesis.”

Stories of human beings metamorphosing to and from shapes of sea-dwellers, whether as mer-people or in seal form as selkies, are not unique to Celtic culture, but appear in many folktales worldwide. The folktale motif of the “Animal Bride” is prevalent enough to have a catalogue number in the Aarne-Thompson folktale classification index: #402. Admiration for bodies of water and for fish in their own right has featured in many of our poems more specifically. Fish are a subject of respect, such as the salmon as a symbol of wisdom, and the river has appeared as a powerful feminine entity, not to mention close relationships with Lochs and oceans.

The Shannon River, the same that welcomes the salmon in Ni Dhomhnaill's poem

The Shannon River, the same that welcomes the salmon in Ni Dhomhnaill’s poem

Selkies themselves sit at the centers of many northern European stories. According to the Celtic Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore: “in Ireland [and] Scotland, … eating seals was considered a form of cannibalism” (411) From Scandinavia to Ireland, folktales describe otherworldly men and women taking the forms of seals (or is it vice versa?), shedding their seal skins on rocks or onshore, and having relationships with ordinary land-dwelling people. The seal skin must be stolen and hidden or destroyed in order to make a selkie live on land, and often a child of a selkie and a land-dweller unknowingly enables the selkie parent to escape by finding the skin’s hiding place. In some stories the selkie is hunted as a seal and killed after returning to the sea, bringing curses on the killer and family, but in others the ending is perhaps more heartbreaking: the selkie parent (usually a mother) stays forever just out of reach, appearing as a seal from far off to the children but never acknowledging them, as in an Icelandic version:

Once in the east of Mýrdalur a man went along the cliffs on the seashore early in the morning. He came to a mouth of a cave and heard the sound of merrymaking and dancing inside. Nearby he saw many seals’ skins. He took one of the skins, brought it home and locked it in a chest.
In the daytime he came again to the cave. There sat a young and pretty woman who was naked and cried desperately. She was the seal whose skin the man had taken. He let her dress herself, comforted her and brought her home with him. She has become attached to him, but did not get on with others. She often sat and looked at the sea.
Some time later the man married her. They lived in harmony and had children. The farmer kept the seal’s skin locked up in the chest and had the key with him wherever he went. Many years later he once went outdoors and left the key at home, under his pillow. Others say that the farmer went to celebrate Christmas with his men, but his wife was ill and could not go with them. While he changed his clothes, he left the key in a pocket of his everyday wear. When he came back home, the chest was open, and both the woman and the skin disappeared.
She had taken the key, looked into the chest out of curiosity and found the skin there. She could not resist the temptation, bade farewell to her children, put on the skin and plunged into the sea. And before she plunged into the sea, they say, she whispered:

Where have I to flee?
I’ve seven kids in the sea
And seven kids on dry land.

They say the man grieved much for that. Afterwards, when he went fishing, a seal often swam round his boat, and it seemed that tears ran from her eyes. Ever since that man always had good catch and was lucky.
When their children went to the shore for a walk, people often saw a seal that swam in the sea not far from them, both when they were on land and near water, and threw motley fish and nice sea shells to them. But their mother never came back.


The aforementioned Encyclopedia also mentions the uncannily human appearance of the seal, engendering human empathy: “Seals do bear some resemblance to human beings, especially in their wild moaning calls and in the direct gaze from their soft dark eyes. Fishermen sometimes spoke or sang to seals, who were thought to speak back, usually begging that no harm come to them or their young” (411).

A Harbour Seal.

A Harbour Seal.

John Sayles’ movie, The Secret of Roan Inish, centers on a displaced Irish family’s selkie story. I won’t ruin it for you in case you want to see it, but suffice it to say it beautifully translates the wonder, tension, and pain of the selkie story onto film. Roan Inish has been dear to me since my childhood, and it has one of the best soundtracks I know. The “Selke Song,” a lullaby used in the film, is actually song called “An Mhaighdean Mhara,” which is a song about a mermaid.

mermaid's song












(lyrics and translation given under the video)

The selkie story is deeply tied to longing, displacement, and an appeal to otherworldly origins to explain traits in families. Poets choosing to write about selkies (especially in Crichton Smith’s case, as is the form of his poem) need only mention the barest outline of the folktale, and their poems are granted access to a very old, unique, and complex mixture of circumstances and emotions.

New Irish Singer Hozier

I never know for sure if I’m actually up with music trends or not, but my friend introduced me to Hozier the other day, and I wanted to share some of his music with you all.

Photo via

Photo via

For those of you who don’t know, Hozier is the stage name of Andrew Hozier-Byrne, a blues/soul musician (singer-songwriter) from Bray, County Wicklow in Ireland.

In his most famous single, “Take Me To Church,” Hozier sings of a tension between his feelings and his upbringing (in Catholic Ireland), and the accompanying music video chronicles the abuse of a homosexual couple at the hands of their community. The song went viral on YouTube and Reddit after it was released last July, and Hozier’s fanbase and fame has been growing since then, with the release of his second EP.

Watch the video here:

According to some interviews Hozier has done, although he himself states that the Catholic Church isn’t the cause of the human rights violations about which he sings, he’s adamant about the need for societal change, on a person-to-person level. NYMag’s The Cut did an interview with him, where you can learn more about his personal influences (including James Joyce!), his stance on LGBT rights, his hair (?), and the way he views his musical career.

Billboard caught up with his record manager to answer questions, which you can read here.

Huffington Post’s Gay Voices also wrote about “Take Me To Church” and the music video, which they compared to the Russian anti-gay policies that made headlines last fall before the Sochi Winter Olympics.

And here’s a live version of his song “Cherry Wine,” which may be my personal favorite.

The Scottish National Anthem

As a result of the conversation that the class had last Tuesday when I presented on Norman Cameron, I am going forward with my final paper looking into the ways that exoticism has an influence on his poetry. As I touched on briefly in class, Cameron spent significant time over the course of his life in different countries and therefore has much experience with other cultures. These cultures had an intense effect on him. I am looking at the ways in which exoticism and his native Scottish nationalism dual in his work.

As this has become my key focus, I thought it would be valuable as a background to look up the Scottish national anthem. I was hoping that through studying the lyrics of the anthem I would become more familiar with some of the cultural symbols and key important factors of Scottish nationalism that I could then look for in Cameron’s poetry. My idea was that if I found some of these symbols, etc. in his poetry I would be able to develop a deeper understanding of Cameron’s relationship with Scotland and his Scottish identity. However, this lead was temporarily stifled when I turned to Google and found that there is no official national anthem of Scotland.

Upon further research, I found that the reason for Scotland’s lack of an official national anthem is that for a long time, the Scottish Parliament felt as though the selection of such an important national symbol should be left to the Parliament of the United Kingdom, and for Scotland to choose one on their own was a direct undermining of Scotland’s loyalty to the United Kingdom. In 2004, the Scottish Parliament did more thinking surrounding this issue of national rights and created a petition stating that the selection of an official national anthem should be left to Scotland. While the petition got the government and the country as a whole thinking more about the selection of an official national anthem, ultimately no action was taken.

However, the lack of and OFFICIAL anthem does not mean that there are not unofficial anthems that are used for the same function. Some of the national favorites include:
1) “Scotland the Brave” was used in the place of a national anthem at Scottish sporting events until the 2010 Commonwealth Games.

2) “Flower of Scotland” was used as the victory song of the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Since these games, “Flower of Scotland” has been used as the national anthem at sporting events, most importantly at the matches of the Scottish rugby union team and the Scottish national football team.

3) “Scots Wha Hae” is another patriotic song of Scotland. Robert Burns wrote the lyrics to this anthem in 1793 (before the creation of “Scotland the Brave” and “Flower of Scotland”) and was written to the tune of a traditional Scottish song, “Hey Tuttie Tatie.”

In 2006, the Royal Scottish National Orchestra created a poll in which citizens from all over Scotland could vote for what they believed should become the official national anthem of Scotland. The results are below (thanks, Wikipedia).

“Flower of Scotland” 41%
“Scotland the Brave” 29%
“Highland Cathedral” 16%
“A Man’s A Man for A’ That” 7%
“Scots Wha Hae” 6%

Currently, there is still no official national anthem of Scotland. In most accounts that I have read, there are almost always members of parliament pushing for further discussion, but these groups are never able to recruit and convince the majority of the Scottish parliament that this is an important enough issue to move forward with. For the record, other Celtic countries (such as Wales and Ireland) do have their own official national anthem. Wales’ national anthem is called “Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau” (translates to “Land of My Fathers”) and Ireland’s is “Amhran na bhFiann” (translates to “A Soldier’s Song”).

To “Falter” or to “Prosper?” Scotland’s Potential Independence Considered

On Sunday I was listening to the weekend edition of NPR News, and the topic of Scotland’s potential independence came up.  NPR decided to explore the story was through economics, but what I found interesting that NPR juxtaposed two completely opposing views.  The two articles were entitled, “Scotland Could Prosper Outside the United Kingdom,” and “An Independent Scotland Could Falter Economically.”  What do we believe?

According to the article posing secession as a beneficial economic step, Scotland is, as Fiona Hyslop, a member of the Scottish Parliament puts it, “relative to the UK,” in a very good economic place, bolstered by its oil and gas industries.  Yet Hyslop says that the distinction between England and Scotland would not necessarily have to cut one off from the other, for the currency would be shared, and social relationships between the Scottish and their friends and family in England would be maintained.  Additionally, no passport would suddenly be needed to travel from the UK into Scotland, as it is a member of the European Union.  The only thing, really, that Hyslop emphasizes would change with a Scottish secession would be the political bond between England and Scotland.  She believes that the Scottish have been inadequately represented in the government.  She wants “the people who live and work in Scotland” to be heard in government, instead of having “governments we [the Scottish] haven’t voted for controlling big issues.”  This stance is definitely a nationalist position, wanting to return to the “pre-1707” Scotland during which Scotland was seen as an equal power in Europe, for, right now, Hyslop remarks, “The union [between the UK and Scotland] was meant to be a parliament of equals, but it doesn’t sometimes feel like this from our position.”  (Source:

On the other hand, the article “An Indepenent Scotland Could Falter Economically” warns us of the economic risks secession would take, refuting many of the ideas Hyslop sets out in her interview in the previous article.  Ari Shapiro, who reports for NPR, has spent time in Glasgow to get a sense of the Scottish sentiment toward the potential secession.  Shapiro notes that Hyslop’s statement about currency and Scotland’s membership in the European Union is incorrect: the Scottish pound may not stay tied to the English pound, according to British finance minister George Osborne, and Scotland may have to wait to apply to become a member of the EU, according to European Union president Jose Manuel Barroso.  Additionally, Scottish pensioners would feel negative effects of secession, for the British pension they share currently is significantly satisfactory, as Shapiro found out in an interview with the former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.  Still, after speaking to residents of Scotland, Shapiro realizes that they share the same nationalist feeling as Hyslop, noting, “For them, it is more of a vote based on the heart than the head.”  (Source:

I’m still pondering what exactly these two articles predict.  Clearly, nationalist thought and Scottish pride are widespread sentiments, but they beg the question of whether “the heart” is stronger than “the head” when the referendum actually comes around.  Is moving back to Hyslop’s pre-1707 past tempting enough for the Scottish people, or would they like to maintain their relatively comfortable economic status?  I’d be curious to know how pressing this issue of secession is in the everyday lives of the Scottish people.  Do we hear a more governmental/political leadership voice in these articles than we do of “the people?”  Do these “official” voices block out the true Scottish sentiment?

British Poet Laureate

While preparing for my presentation on Carol Ann Duffy I did some research about her role as the British Poet Laureate. One of the first things I found out was that during her first year in the position Duffy wrote a poem for David Beckham called “Achilles” after he injured his Achilles tendon and was unable to play in the 2010 FIFA world cup. I quickly became confused as to why such a prestigious sounding role was responsible for writing original verse about soccer stars and decided to delve a little deeper.

According to the official website of the British Monarchy, the role of Poet Laureate is an honor given to someone whose poetry is of national significance. When the post was first created the intention was for the Poet Laureate to write original verse for special occasions such as royal birthdays, anniversaries and events. Now however, the position has taken on a more honorary nature and there is no obligation for the poet to produce work for such occasions. In its current form the Poet Laureate holds their position for ten years with a stipend of 5,750 pounds and may choose if and when to write.

The Poet Laureate is chosen by the Monarch following advice from the Prime Minister. In Duffy’s case Prime Minister Tony Blair recommended her along with a list of other candidates to Queen Elizabeth II who made the final decision. It took ten years on the short list for Duffy to finally be appointed to the role. She was originally passed over in 1999 when Andrew Motion was given the position. It was speculated that she wasn’t chosen because she is not a typical “establishment.” Blair was nervous about how “Middle England” would respond to Duffy being the lesbian daughter of a dedicated unionist. Now that she has been appointed, however, Duffy is the first woman, first openly gay, and first Scottish Poet Laureate.


Carol Ann Duffy being appointed by Queen Elizabeth II

As you can imagine the position has changed significantly since Henry VII appointed the first Poet Laureate in the early 1500’s. Originally poems were written exclusively for royal events, however, Duffy’s list of works demonstrates an increasing diversity in themes. As previously mentioned she has written about David Beckham’s injury but she has also covered LGBT rights events, climate change, the banking crisis and the Icelandic volcanic activity that disrupted air traffic in 2010.

While you probably haven’t heard of most of the past Laureates there are some familiar names on the list including William Wordsworth and Cecil Day-Lewis (Daniel Day-Lewis’ father).


Cecil Day-Lewis with his wife, daughter and son (Daniel)


Exploring the Symbolism of “Stripping the Willow”

Hi, all!

Last Tuesday, we discussed Kathleen Jamie’s poem “The Queen of Sheba” in class. I don’t remember who in class asked about the significance of the line “she wants to strip the willow,” but the question really stuck with me. I was convinced that willows had specific meaning attached to them, dealing with wisdom or some other aspect of Truth or knowledge– although I think now that may just have come from the Disney movie Pocahontas’ Grandmother Willow character.

Nevertheless, I wanted to push the symbolism a little further, to see if there was any background that we could be missing as non-Scottish readers. I did some research first on “symbolism of the willow” and found a number of websites (with perhaps questionable credibility) that were just begging to tell me about the magical/otherworldly powers of the willows.

Wikipedia shared that “in English folklore, a willow tree is believed to be quite sinister, capable of uprooting itself and stalking travellers.” (Also, in Japanese culture, willows are connected to otherworldly spirits like ghosts!)

Through my travels around the internet, I also learned that willow trees have medicinal uses, like to relieve colds, fevers, pains, and rheumatism. Willow trees are associated with the moon, with “the ability to adapt and adjust to life,” and with “the enhancement of psychic abilities.”

EHow shared that willows connected back to ancient Greece: “[Greek] Mythology tells us that the poet Orpheus received his gift for music and poetry after touching a willow in a grove sacred to Persephone, and the willow was linked to those skills.”

The OED, too, was pretty unhelpful, sharing very little by way of significance (and also not acknowledging the connection one website was CONVINCED about, in which “willow” and “witchcraft” came from the same root word).

Although I always use sites like Wikipedia and Ehow (and who doesn’t believe a website called “What’s Your Sign? Celtic Meanings of the Willow Tree!” last updated in 2003?), I still wasn’t quite sure of a literary reference to fit with the passage. Jamie speaks of “stripping” the willow, which I found particularly interesting– would you strip a willow to use its bark? Would you strip a willow to make a switch? So, on the off chance it was an idiom, I Googled the term.

As it turns out, “strip the willow” is a Scottish folk dance.

From just Googling the term, I found the following videos, which illustrate the dance of “stripping the willow.” The BBC version below also teaches you how to “strip the willow.” The dance has been around since the 1600s, and so it would be common knowledge of Scottish readers of the poem.

So when the Queen of Sheba wants to “strip the willow,” just as she wants “the keys to the National Library,” she is asking for part of Scotland, to participate in the culture and the history of the area to which she’s come. This makes her transformation of all the young women in the poem even more powerful– she takes part in the culture and reappropriates her own role in it (and the girls’ too, by extension).

The Child Ballads

During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Scotland experienced a boom in interest in Scottish heritage, one that sent many would-be-scholars scurrying to the hillsides in search of folklore to publish in anthologies. Some of these men (for they were, by and large, men) succeeded in their task and published volumes of Scottish ballads and folklore. One of the most successful and most scholarly of these entrepreneurs was Francis Child, who published 305 different ballads throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, later compiled into a single work called The English and Scottish Popular Ballads. His work is notable for several reasons. Each of the “ballads” he records is actually a story type, under which he would often file several versions of the same story. The entry I am most familiar with that on the ballad of Tam Lin, Child Ballad 39, which includes nine variations on the tale I was familiar with. These inner ballads represent regional variations within Scotland, as well as changes the story seems to have made in being told in America, and England was well. This, along with Professor Child’s own notes on the subject (which were published alongside the ballads in the 2,500 pages that make up the completed work The English and Scottish Popular Ballads, ranging from a tracing of the history of the ballad to analytic comparisons) makes the study of the Child ballads a fascinating look into the way Scottish culture comes into contact with the English, and the changes that occur in a story in order to make it suit the interests and lifestyles of different peoples. It was also well-loved for it’s tracing of the history of the ballad form as far back as Ancient Greece, and in so doing setting Scotland’s lyrics up as a sort of culmination of western literary styles. Child’s ballads have also been noted for having darker themes than most ballads, as a whole, though they do also deal with lighter elements of love and do include happy endings (as Tam Lin does end on a light note, with Janet succeeding in her rescue of Tam and their creation of a family together).
The earliest poem in the collection a date has been put to is “Judas”, dated to the thirteenth century, though most of the ballads appear to have been composed in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. It is likely many of the ballads were recited to Childe orally, though the music you can find them set to today was written in the 1960’s by Bertrand Harrison Bronson and was not included with Child’s original publication of the works. While it is interesting to note that the ballads Child recorded were still alive enough for a modern scholar to find and record the music that went with them, it I odd that Child did not include the music in the first place. His removal of the music from the ballads moves them, after all, out of the realm of Oral Literature and into a form more akin to that of traditional English poetry. His distancing of the lyrics from the music might, then, have been an attempt to put Scottish literary heritage on what would have been seen as an equal footing with English literature. Yet, at the same time, he was collecting ballads, and made no secret of the fact that these were traditional tales for the Scottish people rather than works of solitary genius.
One of the largest difficulties with the ballads collected by Child, is thus the use of Scottish, English, and American variants of the ballads, rather than simply Scottish versions. The use of all three, it is true, makes his work more scholarly than others, as it allows a reader to trace the way the story changes with place, but at the same time it seems to undermine the movement that Child was a part of. The collection of Scottish ballads was part of a greater nationalistic movement to assert a Scottish literary heritage, after all, yet here is Child connecting those Scottish Ballads to English ones. His choice, given his being an American, could easily be read as being against a separate Scotland, as an assertion that Scotland’s heritage the same as that of England. As Balmoral become, during this period, one of the Royal Residences for Queen Victoria, making it difficult for any outsider to see Scotland and England as separate entities, a move such as this would make political sense. It also fits with the profile that has been constructed of a lover of ballads as being the same group of men who loved pastoral English poems. It can also, however, be viewed as an attempt to highlight the differences between the Scottish and English ballads, acknowledging the similarities while stressing the differences in orality and form that are the Scottish heritage.


The Loch Ness Monster on Apple Maps? Thoughts About Land and Nationality

Today I noticed that a Loch Ness Monster sighting is trending on the Internet!  Apparently Loch Ness Monster enthusiasts have found a mysterious shape in the loch on Apple Maps.  They’re claiming that the shape looks like the monster.  Adversaries say it’s a boat wake; sighters fight back that there is no boat in sight around the wake, as the only boats visible are those moored at the loch’s shore.  You may read the full story here:

This returns me to our class discussion following Edwin Morgan’s poem “The Loch Ness Monster’s Song,” and what it means to fabricate a following of a creature that ties itself so closely to the land.  Much of the poetry we’ve been reading this semester relies on landscape for its settings and content, and I think the Loch Ness Monster branches off this tradition of identification with the land.  I’ve thus been pondering about the relationship between landscapes and nationality in Scotland.  I also wonder, who is entitled to become a believer in Nessie?  What kind of person believes — Scottish? Celtic? International?  When does one start believing, and why?  How does the legend of the Loch Ness Monster relate to Scotland’s cultural history?  Is it significant that the monster is female? (Apparently, to answer this last question, it’s because the name Nessie sounds female! This leads us to interesting questions about the relationship between gender and nation as well — what happens when the nation is a female? Source:

In my search for some light to shed on the rest of my questions, I found (unsurprisingly) that Nessie has her own website,, which is “Ultimate and Official.”  The website offers a shop where fans can buy a variety of paraphernalia.  What does it mean that the Monster has been commodified in this way? Does the “Ultimate and Official” website now own/profit from the historical legend?  Now that Nessie has been made “Official” in this way, how does that change or deconstruct or even crystallize our perceptions of how the monster should appear?  I wonder about the importance of having a unified conception of the monster and how that speaks to the people who participate in the legend.  I’d wager to say that having a unified image provides a center for [the myth of (?)] the monster, in that it is a foundation off of which people can build.  And the vagueness of the monster’s appearance welcomes new followers in so that they may easily believe they’re seeing the monster.

Still, in returning to the Apple Maps “sighting,” The Wire wonders, “Is this the work of Scottish nationalists?”  (Source:  This question implies that “Scottish nationalists” could be using the monster sighting as a ploy for attention given the current question of whether Scotland will break away from England, answering one of my original questions of how having a monster might elevate Scottish cultural history and nationalist sentiments.  Now I ask, if the monster intrigues an international audience, are Scottish nationalists using the monster to elevate Scotland’s global relevance?  Or, on the other hand, given the monster’s international application, does the fact that the monster is in Scotland specifically even matter?  Put differently, I am curious about how much the country matters when the setting of Loch Ness is so famously recognized.  Does this bring Scotland forward, or push it into the background of global thought, the foreground of which is the Loch and its Monster?  Clearly right now the Internet is abuzz with the sighting, but I don’t think we are being drawn any further than that — in other words, I hesitate to agree with The Wire in saying that this is a nationalist plot because the Internet seems to be selectively paying attention to Nessie but not to Scotland in general after the sighting.

Phonetic Poetry

I was struck by Tom Leonard’s poetry (Six O’clock News and Jist ti Let Yi No), which was written phonetically in the urban Glaswegian accent, a technique I had not previously seen. I was curious to learn more about how phonetic poetry functions and its literary context. In literature, phonetic writing for the most part occurs in dialogue as opposed to narrative. Its function in poetry is similar; it more effectively calls up a particular voice. The British newspaper The Guardian described Leonard’s work as “bringing excluded voices into poetry…” By writing his poetry phonetically, Leonard forces the reader to hear these excluded voices rather than a universal standard accent, such as the BBC English accent he addresses in Six O’clock News:

this is thi
six a clock
news thi
man said n
thi reason
a talk wia
BBC accent
iz coz yi
widny wahnt
mi ti talk
aboot thi
trooth wia
voice lik
wanna yoo

 A similar use of phonetic poetry that captures a colloquial accent is found in older E.E. Cummings poem: poem II in ViVa, Oil tel duh woil doi sez:

oil tel duh woil doi sez 
dooyuh unnurs tanmih essez pullih nizmus tash,oi
dough un giv uh shid oi sez.    Tom
oidoughwuntuh doot,butoiguttuh
braikyooz,datswut eesez tuhmih.    (Nowoi askyuh
woodundat maik yurarstoin
green?    Oilsaisough.)—Hool
spairruh luckih?    Thangzkeed.    Mairsee.
Muh jax awl gawn.    Fur Croi saik
ainnoughbudih gutnutntuhplai?

yoozwidduhpoimnuntwaiv un duhyookuhsumpnruddur

A Standard English translation of Cummings’ poem:

I’ll tell the world I says
do you understand me as he’s pulling his moustache,I
don’t give a shit I says.  Tom
I don’t want to do it, but I got to
break youse,that’s what he says to me.  (Now I ask you
wouldn’t that make your arse turn
green?  I’ll say so.)—Who’ll
spare a Lucky?  Thanks kid.  Merci.
My jack’s all gone.  For Christ sake
ain’tnobody gotnothin’toplay?

yousewiththepermanentwave and theukeorsomethingorother

Another source of inspiration for Leonard was the American poet William Carlos Williams, who did not write phonetic poetry. However, Williams’ poems were “patterned by breath rather than metre,” in the same way that Leonard’s are; they share a focus on the sound of a voice. Earlier, we read Leonard’s Jist ti Let Yi No, an imitation of Williams’ famous poem, This is just to say. Leonard’s poem escalated from simply being patterned by breath to being spelled phonetically, creating a specific accent to further fill out the speaker’s voice. The direct creation of a specific accent is crucial to Leonard’s poetry. He has expressed that in order for spelling and syntax to be “correct,” they must indicate accurate and specific pronunciation, not simply the universal standard:

I. In speaking of reality, there is a standard

correct mode of pronunciation.

2. In writing of reality, there is a standard

correct mode of spelling and of syntax.


3. In reality, correct spelling and correct syntax

are synonymous with correct pronunciation.”

In reading more about Tom Leonard’s unusual style of poetry, I came across the tradition of ‘sound poetry.’ This form is related to the concepts behind Leonard’s phonetic poetry, in that “the phonetic aspects of human speech are foregrounded instead of more conventional semantic and syntactic values;” however, sound poetry often dispenses with words altogether and focuses only on sound, sometimes using only onomatopoeias—“bridging literary and musical composition.” While Leonard’s phonetic poetry keeps actual understandable language in order to better convey his message, he may have taken inspiration from the tradition of ‘sound poetry.’


Macaulay, Ronald K. S.. Standards and variation in urban speech examples from Lowland Scots. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins Pub., 1997. Print.





Readings for Thursday

Hallo All! I’m hoping you all check the blog on a regular basis, as I couldn’t think of another way to do this….Here are the poems I’d like you to read for Thursday! See you then!
Selected Poems of R.S. Thomas

A Welsh Testament
All right, I was Welsh. Does it matter?
I spoke a tongue that was passed on
To me in the place I happened to be,
A place huddled between grey walls
Of cloud for at least half the year.
My word for heaven was not yours.
The word for hell had a sharp edge
Put on it by the hand of the wind
Honing, honing with a shrill sound
Day and night. Nothing that Glyn Dwr
Knew was armour against the rain’s
Missiles. What was descent from him?

Even God had a Welsh name:
He spoke to him in the old language;
He was to have a peculiar care
For the Welsh people. History showed us
He was too big to be nailed to the wall
Of a stone chapel, yet still we crammed him
Between the boards of a black book.

Yet men sought us despite this.
My high cheek-bones, my length of skull
Drew them as to a rare portrait
By a dead master. I saw them stare
From their long cars, as I passed knee-deep
In ewes and wethers. I saw them stand
By the thorn hedges, watching me string
The far flocks on a shrill whistle.
And always there was their eyes; strong
Pressure on me: You are Welsh, they said;
Speak to us so; keep your fields free
Of the smell of petrol, the loud roar
Of hot tractors; we must have peace
And quietness.

Is a museum
Peace? I asked. Am I the keeper
Of the heart’s relics, blowing the dust
In my own eyes? I am a man;
I never wanted the drab role
Life assigned me, an actor playing
To the past’s audience upon a stage
Of earth and stone; the absurd label
Of birth, of race hanging askew
About my shoulders. I was in prison
Until you came; your voice was a key
Turning in the enormous lock
Of hopelessness. Did the door open
To let me out or yourselves in?

The Gap
God woke, but the nightmare
did not recede. Word by word
the tower of speech grew.
He looked at it from the air
he reclined on. One word more and
it would be on a level
with him; vocabulary
would have triumphed. He
measured the thin gap
with his mind. No, no, no,
wider than that! But the nearness
persisted. How to live with
the fact, that was the fear
now. How to take his rest
on the edge of a chasm a
word could bridge.
He leaned
over and looked in the dictionary
they used. There was the blank still
by his name of the same
order as the territory
between them, the verbal hunger
for the thing in itself. And the darkness
that is a godfs blood swelled
in him, and he let it
to make the sign in the space
on the page, that is in all languages
and none; that is the grammarian’s
torment and the mystery
at the cell’s core, and the equation
that will not come out, and is
the narrowness that we stare
over into the eternal
silence that is the repose of God.

It was all arranged:
the virgin with child, the birth
in Bethlehem, the arid journey uphill
to Jerusalem. The prophets foretold
it, the scriptures conditioned him
to accept it. Judas went to his work
with his sour kiss; what else
could he do?

A wise old age,
the honours awarded for lasting,
are not for a saviour. He had
to be killed; salvation acquired
by an increased guilt. The tree,
with its roots in the mind’s dark,
was divinely planted, the original fork
in existence. There is no meaning in life,
unless men can be found to reject
love. God needs his martyrdom.
The mild eyes stare from the Cross
in perverse triumph. What does he care
that the people’s offerings are so small?

Children’s Song
We live in our own world,
A world that is too small
For you to stoop and enter
Even on hands and knees,
The adult subterfuge.
And though you probe and pry
With analytic eye,
And eavesdrop all our talk
With an amused look,
You cannot find the centre
Where we dance, where we play,
Where life is still asleep
Under the closed flower,
Under the smooth shell
Of eggs in the cupped nest
That mock the faded blue
Of your remoter heaven

Taken From
Thomas, R. S. “Amen.” Poems of R.S. Thomas. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas, 1985. Print.