Saturday, 2 May 2015

Kirkconnel's bard


(The bard is Alexander Anderson ('Surfaceman'), 1845-1909)

Kirkconnel's bard sang progress, engines' strength
made greater by the discipline of rails,
his rhymes and grammar sound, his metred length
of line hard-fixed as ever was with nails.

Nick Drake sang questions, ways lost, light flown, blue
of waves and sky the video shows grey,
gates waited at in hope of looking through,
a plea for somebody to show and say.

Kirkconnel's bard praised Whitman's free lines, praised
his fellows, wrote in voice of the bereaved
mothers.  Read in our day, is he appraised
with more along the track than he believed?

Would he have prayed, trusting in God to hear,
that Nick Drake's heaven-signal stood at clear?

The above poem was my contribution to the 26 project 'Under a northern sky' -- the brainchild of two 26 members, Sandy Wilkie and Michelle Nicol , one from Glasgow and one from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and both fans of the singer Nick Drake.  Michelle's account of the proceedings is at .  Project participants were assigned one song by Drake and one station on the Carlisle route from Newcastle to Glasgow, and asked to write poetry or prose, performable in under 3'44", that linked the two.  My station was Kirkconnel and my Nick Drake song 'Way to blue'.  And on 25 April 2015, as many of us as could made that journey by train, reading our own contributions, and those of the people who couldn't be present, at or near the stations in question.

I was lucky in that Kirkconnel has a literary figure of some note in Alexander Anderson.  I won't link to all the poems of his that I allude to, but I should perhaps say that my last line picks up on 'Stood at clear' from his collection Songs of the rail.  A train driver is questioned after a rail crash:

"Speak to him-quick!" they bent and said,
"Did the distant signal stand at red?"

Broken and slow came the words with a moan,
"Stood—at—clear," and poor Jim was gone.

I turn'd my head away from the light
To hide the tears that were blinding my sight,

And pray'd from my heart, to God that Jim
Might find heaven's signals clear to him.

I believe the narrator is deeply disturbed by the probability that signal didn't stand at clear, and that a much-loved friend has died with a lie on his mouth.  Is there more to be said on this by readers who know Alexander Anderson's work better than I?

No comments:

Post a Comment