Petrol gauge on the red, but I turned North again in Tarbert to retrace a couple miles and photograph this beautiful mountain – Sron a' Sgaoth (?)
I was a bit raddled by the time I'd crossed North Harris and Lewis on flooded roads, and gone astray in the outskirts of Stornoway. I'm not great at reverse parking these days either. I revived at the Golden Ocean, finishing off the set list while wolfing chilli squid so hot it blistered the roof of my mouth. Big Mamma Frog asks how a poet decides what to read: in my case, the set list is a bit of a comfort blanket, part of the process of persuading myself that it's alright to stand up in front of a group of people and speak. Which poems I read depends a bit on who I'm reading to, where I'm reading, what's on my mind.
I know plenty poets who decide what to read as they go along. I couldn't, but I often substitute, remove or add poems, as I did that night. I shared a stage in the Library Cafe with the Gaelic poet Anne Frater, whose collection Fo’n t-Slige is not easy to get hold of, although her work does appear in Kevin MacNeil's new anthology These Islands We Sing. Anne opened her reading with a set of wry love poems, explaining it took her a long time to 'find her prince' after which I decided to begin with 'Love's Dog', which I don't read very often these days. (Talking of 'Love's Dog', I'm typing this whilst heavily leant on by a spaniel, Max, the 'Orchid Dog' of my first collection, Almanacs.)
I wish I knew Gaelic. But if you don't know a language, you've still the pleasure of dwelling on its song, undistracted by meaning, even punctuated with the words 'laminator' and 'serial killer'. In fact I'm not sure how much information I take in from a single hearing of any poem: an image or phrase or two usually sticks, little more. A great deal of the pleasure taken in someone else's reading is in its ephemerality. Of her English translations, though – Frater's first line invariably plunges you into the heart of her poem. There's absolutely no word wasted, and no blousiness in her imagery, with an added sere edge in poems about the loss of the Iolaire, and about the Iraq War.
Thanks to the staff of the Stornoway Library for their hospitality, and Peter Urpeth for introducing the event, and for organising this Poet's Tour. And for a fine night in the Criterion afterwards, with fiddle, banjo, whistle, bodhrán, dancing and the good company of writer and artist Ian Stephen among others. I'll be AWOL for a couple days now, next reading in Wick on Tuesday night.