An Autobiography in Poetry
A Man Passing Through: Memoir with Poems, Selected and New
By Gordon Jarvie
Published by Greenwich Exchange
Herons Near Fife Ness
One, two, three, four:
the Cambo herons stand like sentries
all along Balcomie’s cold and rocky shore.
Five, six, seven, eight:
the fishing can’t be half bad
if they stand here morning, noon and late.
Grey and sleek and pointy
they never disappoint, eh?
Their cry? Raucous and coarse,
long throats a-croaking, rough and hoarse.
They loiter with intent
their fish-hunger to vent.
They’re languid yet so focused
on their next meal, like the locust.
The privilege, the thrill
to watch them stand so still.
Mankind, the moral midgets –
we are the frantic fidgets.
I stand and look upon a grey North Sea.
Bird-watching makes me peckish:
it’s nearly time for my tea.
Eagles or Buzzards?
for Sally and Frances
We ducked low branches, tripped on hidden roots,
the snow lay thick enough to call for boots.
But sun came slanting at us through the trees
while wind had dropped to silent puffs of breeze.
The scene was something out of Robert Frost
or Tolstoy: a glistering pinewood of the lost.
Subconsciously we listened for sleigh-bells
coming at us from across white Grampian hills.
That’s when we heard it – high up in the sky
an eerie mewling yelp to make blood thrill
and then the answering call from further up the hill.
Eagles or buzzards? Well, we couldn’t see
for trees, but then at last we found a bit of sky
and saw two soaring, gliding – too far away, too high.
In Hibernia Antiqua or Tir nan Og
after Hilaire Belloc
Do you remember, Miranda, when the hiker at the lonely B&B
was charged one and sixpence for his breakfast and high tea
as he walked the Connemara coastline in 1963?
Do you remember when a bottle of Guinness
(price: eleven old pence) was thrown in for a nightcap?
‘Drink it down, there’s a good chap, for a right good nap.’
When a chipped cupful of rawest firewater poteen
induced a heavy dream-filled sleep of eighteen
lost hours, snug in an ancient armchair by the fire?
When your host refused to speak in the English
in case you turned out to be a spy from Dublin Castle
come to check your farmer host was using his Irish –
for which they paid him a welcome Gaeltacht grant?
Or are these just tall stories from the olden times
à la Marco Polo, Mandeville et al? I wonder.
Gordon Jarvie was born in Edinburgh and educated at Trinity College Dublin and the University of Sussex, where he gained an MPhil in 1968. He has worked as a teacher and editor at Purdue University in the USA, as well as for publishers such as Collins and Oxford University Press.
A well-known editor and prose writer, in the 1990s he began to focus more on his poetry and has produced poems both in English and in Scots. His collections and pamphlets include Ayrshire Recessional (1998), Time’s Traverse: Poems 1991-2001 (2002), Climber’s Calendar (2007), La Baudunais (2009), Out and About: Poetry Mainly from the East Neuk, Fife (2012) and Bessy Bell and other Irish Intersections (2013).