Welcome to award-winning poet, Sheila Templeton. Sheila, aged 78, had a nomadic childhood ranging from Aberdeenshire to East Africa. She now lives in Glasgow. Sheila is a former teacher who now writes full-time. She writes in both English and Doric (the form of Scots language found in North East Scotland).
I'm delighted to offer some of my poems for the Autumn Voices Blog. I've chosen a mixture of work...old and new, but all are poems I include at readings. I find some poems 'read' better than others. Maybe it depends on which poems I like best, for we all have favourites amongst our own work.
Eggs Through the Post is a tribute to my mother. She died in 1992 and I was able to see her a lot in the 4 months she had between diagnosis and passing from this life. So we had a lot of good and healing conversations. I wrote a lot at the time, journal work really, expressing what I was feeling. And I also tried to write a few poems, none of which worked very well. They were either too distant, or too cliched. It took nearly 20 years before I wrote this poem, which I was happier with, in that it combines humour and grief. It feels authentic. I think she would recognise herself in it. I certainly hope so!
Eggs Through The Post
You sent me eggs when I was far from home.
Six eggs in their carton, through the Royal Mail.
Which arrived completely intact. You never thought
for one moment it could be otherwise.
I swear, at your birth the Godmother must have made
some deal. You always pulled things off. Remember
the sewing of us into long awaited party frocks
10 minutes before departure? Zips were for wimps.
You knew the eggs would be fine. That I would not
be left holding a brown paper package oozing life
through glue-yellow and broken shells trickling
through my fingers, a smashed mess, like
I'm holding here today. What you are telling me
now. This chest-caving news you've heard alone
and kept until we could be face to face.
How can this doctor know who you are?
You. I want to hug you, but your bones are too light.
I want you to hold me so I know I'm not broken.
Sing to me. Sing me a world that's whole.
Send me six eggs through the post.
I wrote several poems when my son left home to go to university. Wolfman is my favourite. It took me a long time to get it into shape, including working on it on an Arvon course in 1998. I remember coming home from the course and ditching the poem, because I was so frustrated. My son had left home in 1997. But a couple of years later, I got it 'out of the drawer'...and distance again did its magic. I found a way to combine Wolfman, dressing up, a student life...and the deep missing when your child leaves home.
You had to wear it straight away
going home. A whole month's pocket money.
Innocent drivers paled at Wolfman
sitting by my side and we laughed.
That was the Halloween we cried
and shouted at each other, when
we discovered even my fixing fingers
couldn't stick enough hairs
to wolf mat your smooth paws
– and made up over a pair
of customised old gloves.
Then I waited for your glory flushed face
above a bag of sticky night treasure
untasted, as you began planning
next year's triumph.
'Start growin ma hair NOW
to gell up for Dracula. An buy
fangs an greeny-white face
stuff an can you sew a cloak
a real one...swishy...with
a red silk lining? '
Children are chapping on
my darkened door.
I should be putting out
bowls for nuts and apples,
arranging little towers of silver.
But I sit here seeing you prowling,
padding around faraway streets,
swishing that new student cloak.
And I wonder how can it be
Halloween, while Wolfman
lies in his box upstairs.
My Land won the McCash Scots Language Poetry Competition in 2007. I've now been fortunate enough to win this competition 3 times. I was living in Ayrshire when I wrote
My Land so I used what I hope is more southern scots, though my native Doric breaks through with a word like bosie...a warm bosom hug.
Plays meltin slow airs oan the fiddle. Gars me greet.
Struts like naebody else. The kilt wis invented for struttin.
And struts darkly wi white gloves and orange sashes.
Has lochs lyin aboot Ayrshire like sma cups
o watter held in ribbed broon corduroy hills.
And licht sillered ower the Firth o Clyde
ice skimmings in simmer time, wrinkled
like a saucer o new jam pushed wi a finger
tae test for setting.
Leaves sic a sweetness oan my tongue
of dusk pink clover sookit dry each simmer.
And minds the sharp smell o blackened neepie lantern
chipped awa sae patiently, my faither sitting by the Tilley lamp.
Draws skeins o geese tae wild grey lochs
arrowing oor Northern winter skies.
Has a squint smile, no brimmin wi confidence,
tho teems wi heroes, sung and unsung.
Can niver say I love you, but hugs me,
awkward and fierce. Gies me a bosie.
On Midsimmer Eve was written because I was reading a pamphlet written by John Burnside on poetry,
A Polemic on Poetry, I think it was called... and I was enthralled both by what he was saying and also the Sami myth he quoted to illustrate his theme. It was around midsummer at the time and I was thinking of all the midsummer rites... but perhaps how the truest way to celebrate midsummer would be to listen for that 'beating heart deep in our earth'. And how if a young woman did that instead of joining in all the fun, how alone, yet how happy she would be.
On midsimmer eve
I winna seek tae meet my luve
lik ither lasses. Nae for me
the midnicht runes, the folded
fresh plucked rose, garlands
o lang fennel, orpine, green birks
decked wi lilies, the giddy loupin
ower the boon fires. Raither
I wad lie alang the warld's curve
its sweet spine, watch sunset's
lowe dee smeerless in the West
half-grown shinin corn reeshlin
a promise o steepled stooks,
my licht a moth-glimmer mune
– and daur the seelence;
daur tae listen for it, that still
waarm beatin hert happed deep
in aathing we ken o earth.
A Sami myth says that in the beginning, the god who made all things took the beating heart of a two year old reindeer and set it at the centre of the earth. This is the rhythm of the world, the pulse of life, the source of all being and as long as we can hear its beating, all will be well.
I wrote Dislocation at the time of the war in Bosnia. A news item, a few seconds of refugees making their sad way up a mountain, trying to reach a place of safety. And this boy just stayed in my mind. There's something unbearably sad about a boy trying to be a man before he is old enough.
Somewhere in my mind, at my shoulder
he's still there; that pause he takes
on the edge of a rocky path
forcing itself up the grim slap
of a wintry mountain.
His jacket's too big, woollen,
twenty years out of fashion
a man's jacket – bleached grey
like the sky and the low clouds.
He's going to be tall, but his body
still has that soft outline
that tender plumpness
boys have – just before they grow.
His mother climbs ahead of him
holding tight to a little one.
It's sleeting on their bundled lives.
He stops, looks back at what's below
whatever is left. Even from this distance,
of camera lens – and the miles between –
I can see, more clearly than I'd choose,
he hates that he is crying.
Who knew is a new poem. It was Highly Commended in this year's William Soutar Poetry Competition. I have written several poems about my sister, who died 5 years ago. She was 9 years younger than me...and the shock and the missing her are still finding expression in my writing. We never actually walked to school together, because of our age difference, but describing that walk to school and the mystery of the beech buds gave a frame for the poem, which is really about the mystery of cancer, chemotherapy...and the complexity of grief.
I unpicked a bud once
from the beech hedge across the road
yes, that hedge we shouldered
every day on our walk to school
held it in the palm of my hand
to investigate its green-packed
tight-sheathed brown tissue;
peeled off outer layers and, impatient,
dissected with my thumb nail to expose
what we didn't expect – this tender core
of pale veined pink.
But the leaves come out green...
We never could explain it. Any more
than discovering just today
as I perch on your hospital bed, that
chemotherapy brings new eyelashes
– an inch long, curving. All our lives
we've had the exact same lashes – straight,
short, downright stubby.
And now, look at you. Just look at you.
Have to be some compensations, you say,
grinning. And I try for a smile.
Seelence recently won the Neil Gunn Writing Competition Adult Poetry section. It is a poem about learning to appreciate silence through walking with my grandfather. He was a man who delighted in the beauty of being outside. His favourite place was a view of the hill called Bennachie in Aberdeenshire. When I was thinking about what silence is, all the many aspects of what we mean by the word, what came into my head was 'silence has to be learned'...or rather... appreciating silence in nature has to be learned. And so this poem emerged.
taks its time
needs the quait
o a bairn's han, slippit intae
the calloused roch
o Granda's waarm grip
the pair o us
jinkin roon the back wye
tae keep oot the road o the Saabath fowk
makkin their sonsie steps hame
mangs for the skinklin o blaik an fite wings
abeen the siller o an April sun
as peesie-weeps daunce their spring
listens tae the lang sough and clack
o beddie-steens shiften an shachlin
unner thrang clair watter
disna murn the sair fack o daith
bit mervels at the bleedy orrals
flooerin a tod's den
says tak tent far ye plunt yer feet
aye mynd tae waak doon
the side o a park greenin wi early corn
has tae be hard-lairnt, lik aathing else.