‘poetry is still beautiful’

This essay was first published in a booklet, to accompany five poem-objects, an exhibition at Ingleby Gallery Edinburgh in 2012.

(I) father is the war of all things

Although their sources are unrelated, placed together these five poem-objects draw themselves into intimacy. The first text, 'father is the war of all things', transposes one of the fragments of the pre- Socratic philosopher Heraclitus. When I was at primary school, a signpost bearing the inscription the way up and the way down is one and the same appeared at the foot of our road. Every day that Ailie and I went down to meet Ramsay’s minibus in the morning and back up in the afternoon, I was less inclined to agree.

A few years later I encountered an equivalent, walking up the track in the pitch dark when the torch batteries failed, as they always seemed to, exchanging the world of eyes – fence posts, wireless-poles, sleeping sheep, molehills and thistles – for the lone I of the black Pentland night.

I followed the footsteps of my daytime self, feeling for the texture of loose gravel through the soles of my boots to tell where the ruts of the road led up, imagining where the gate would be, reaching out a hand for the cold metal of the top bar, keeping on until I could see the single low star of the front porch light.

Family walks at Stonypath followed a settled route. Dad would say, let’s go a walk to see the vale, and off we went. I hadn’t a clue what the vale was but, over time, a poetic fret settled over the asperity of the moor. We followed a sheep-trod close to a narrow, nameless burn with water-grasses floating in arrows across its surface. As we approached dad would give one of his wee smiles and, dipping his wellie-boot, say, you can never step in the same burn twice. Grown-up I learnt that, like the sign at the road-end, this phrase came from Heraclitus. His waters are elemental, but it was the grasses, in the manner of their floating, pointing downstream, that were the local revelation of time and flow.
Burns were IHF’s fondest things, for their gentle containment and for memories of fishing trips. At each new home his first letter to friends began with a description of the local burn and his hopes for the trout its pools and overhanging banks may conceal. Our walk to the vale returned home via a circular sheep-fank, down the eastern boundary of the Anston Burn, by sycamores where herons nested, suckered hazels and one wee pool that could take a two stroke swim. The burn hurried on to the River Medwin, which defined the valley’s different world of old woods, hump-bridges and red tarmac roads, remote from the poet’s hillside garden.
There is another burn at Stonypath, conducting the water into the garden, which IHF made by hand, laying a bed of stones filched from the dykes on the hill, planting grasses and ferns, in memory of the rills of the Boltachan that flows and falls by his Perthshire cottage, Dunira, where he lived in the 1950s.
If the Heraclitean burns at Stonypath are associated with childhood idylls, then the embroidered poem father is the war of all things recalls a contrary fragment: 'War is the father of all and king of all; and some he shows as gods, others as men, some he makes slaves, others free' (Kirk & Raven); to which we can add the emphatic: 'It is necessary to know that war is common and right is strife and that all things happen by strife and necessity' (Kirk & Raven). The poem, father is the war of all things, seems an autobiographical confession – though one which leaves open the question as to whether father is the subject or the source of war – but, together with its companions, it also reveals itself as a fragment
of philosophy altered. Performing a revolution, the text turns the ‘strife’ of the philosopher topsy-turvy: father and war demand to be exchanged, their dialectic symmetry renders the transposition inevitable.
The contention of the Heraclitean universe is refracted through our Darwinian and Freudian inheritances. The text resonates, but we have learnt from bitter experience – from the destruction that hid behind known knowns and known unknowns and unknown unknowns, things we don’t know we don’t know – to be suspicious of linguistic operations. They run the risk of nullity; a doubt remains whether this generation is capable of overcoming the cycle of conflict. It is left to the texts that
follow to attempt a resolution.


(II) mother’s word is ward

The source of the second embroidered text, 'mother’s word is ward', is a line in Paul Celan’s memorial poem ‘The Travelling Companion’.

            Your mother’s soul hovers ahead.
            Your mother’s soul helps to navigate night, reef after reef.

            Your mother’s soul whips on the sharks at the bow.

            This word is your mother’s ward.

            Your mother’s ward shares your couch, stone by stone.

            Your mother’s ward stoops for the crumb of light.

            (translated by Michael Hamburger)
In April 1970 the incommensurability of memory drove Celan to throw himself into the River Seine. The poet had already sought to escape his tragic inheritance, altering the ‘natural’ order of his name by the generative means of an anagram: Antschel / Ancel / Celan, as if such an act could reverse history. To friends, Celan spoke of a monstrous event, one embellished by guilt: holding his father’s hand through the barbed wires of a Transnistrian transportation camp, he was forced to let it fall when a guard bit fiercely into his fingers. Both his parents would die in the camps.
It is to the ‘mother‘ that Celan awards the muse-like gift of speech. The dyad ‘Mutter‘/‘Mündel‘, becomes, in translation, the surety of the mother’s ‘word‘ and the guardianship of ‘ward‘. It is she who, through her words, provides reassurance and protection.
From parliamentary elections and hill names – Ward Hill appears on maps of Orkney and Shetland – we know that a ward is a measure of the human world, an enclosure. From word to ward we catch language in metamorphosis, just as on the hillside at Stonypath the exchange of a single letter translates curfew into curlew, as the bird’s call tolls the tocsin bell for evening across this patch of earth.
To Celan, poetry revealed itself to be divinatory; a rite of speech in which words spill, reveal and prefigure; the poem, a message in a bottle which may someday wash up on heartland. He pictured his own unfathering and unmothering in the perilous reefs and menacing sharks of ‘The Travelling Companion’, imagery inherited from an earlier poem, ‘Love Song’, a shipwreck in which the lovers drown alone at home, peering through the translucent deck of a war-damaged flat. Such poems are written for the other, the one who comes after. Texts may be oracular, but the poem is fated to appear in time – in the strife of history and the deluge of wartime slaughter – fated to land among us as a remembrance.

(III) family is a shipwreck

This scene of dispossession sweeps us on to the third poem, 'family is a shipwreck', which reduces cosmological strife to a singular event. Given its position in the series, the text inherits the melancholy of Celan’s familial loss. The source is an essay by the Brazilian poet and theorist Haroldo De Campos, in which he characterizes the poem as 'a shipwreck in time and space'. The image is suggestive of a poem warding meaning into a fitting matrix, constellating words, identifying poetry with the plural form of human relationship, family.
De Campos inherited his image from Mallarmé, whose Un coup de dés was one of the inspirations for his Noigandres comrades in their revolution of the poem-constellation. In the pages of Un coup de dés blank space assumes the translucence of an immense sea, in which the phrases of Mallarmé’s poem float like the ribs and joists of a sepulchral shipwreck – a culmination of the wreck images that appear in 'Brise Marine', the sonnet 'A la nue accablante tu', and in the notes for the memorial poem for his son, 'Pour un tombeau d'Anatole', in which the eight year old boy figures as a sailor setting out on his final voyage. Over time wrecks loosen themselves from the catastrophic event of their foundering and, scoured by sand, bleached by salt, embed themselves as littoral, even loved, memorials.
The five poems are embroidered on handkerchiefs, with the same homely charm as the linen squares my mother would stich into sails of blue and brown for my father’s model boats. Being read in their familial context, De Campos & Mallarmé’s wrecked boats call to mind IHF’s fleet of vessels, the clinker-hulled fishing-boats, Fifies & Zulus, the sleek technological menace of the destroyer, the gasoline-honeyed island of the aircraft-carrier. His wooden toys and stone models shelter from storms and battle actions; look at their reproductions in books and cards, they are never scratched, damaged, nor sunk. The boat’s form was solace and shelter in the face of the ocean’s void, a curative for agoraphobia, a poem-vessel to tack through time.
Melancholy as the family poem may be, there remains the care of thread and sentiment of the handkerchief. The embroidered texts reflect upon and distinguish themselves, one from another; the five poems assume assigned places and, as they do, the texts themselves, with their interpenetrating meanings, become familial, renewing the possibility of a shared sense of belonging and relationship.


(IV) children are the revolution

To complete the coeval pairing of father & mother, the third poem, family, stands opposite a fourth: children are the revolution. Alone among the texts, this one has no source. It springs from the others, writing itself, as it were, by dint of the different positions they press one another into. The child is agent of memory; children learn to remember through song, rhyme and poesis, the technologies of language.
In the mythical account of history, fathers beget wars and children inflame revolutions. Here though, alert to the ways in which the texts work upon one another, we allow the pun, for it is children that revolve the familial wheel.
There is a playful echo here with an earlier poem-object, a small ‘tirlo’ windmill-turbine, the blades of which bear a circular text after John Cage:

            turning / toward / living

When the wind blows the poem disappears into a blur; when the breeze drops and the turbine is unproductive, the poem asserts itself, as an energy.


(V) our lives are a carrying stream

The fifth poem, 'our lives are a carrying stream', gathers the other texts into its current, immersing them in an awareness of time beyond individual or familial life. What is sewn may also be unpicked; each thread is a trace of the time in which the poem was patiently made, but, with the right needle, the text could flow in another way.
The text came via my mentor, the folk-singer Hamish Henderson, who characterized the tradition bearers and anonymous lineage of folk-song as a carrying stream, and the great songs as licked into shape like pebbles by the waves of countless tongues.

            Tomorrow songs
            Will flow free again, and new voices
            Be Born on the carrying stream

            ‘Under the Earth I go’

Hamish gave me an empathy for song and poetry, as he did for so many. When I first moved to Edinburgh I would do odd jobs at his home, fetching lunch and, as he had a gammy hip from an injury he’d taken at El Alamein, helping him get in and out of the bath. I’ve never forgotten a conversation we shared during one bath-time, reflecting on the war in the desert and the tide of history that flowed through the ruined tombs and the single column, 'die eine', at Karnak, a scene he recorded in the Eighth of his Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica. That afternoon Hamish was moved to recite the Tenth of Rilke’s Duino Elegies in German, from memory, tears welling in his eyes.
'There were our own, there were the others': more than anyone I’ve known, Hamish sought to go beyond the inheritance of contention. Being himself ‘fatherless’, he tried to elude the rhyme that bonds father to war. From the wound of his illegitimacy he embellished myths regarding his paternity, wrapping himself in the mantle of old ballads and the lives of the outcast tinkler-gypsies. Like Celan, with his Bukovinian polyglot tongues – Swabian, Yiddish, Ukranian, German and Romanian – Hamish insisted on the hybridity of cultural inheritance, growing up with English and Scots, hearing relict Perthshire Gaelic, to which education added German, French, Italian, and later, collecting songs in the fields, he caught on to traveller cant.

(VI) ground, river and sea

The stream of my own memory begins and ends in water. Its source is at Stonypath, outside the bounds of the garden, by the spring that rises on the moor which feeds the burns and lochans and provides the peaty water we drank. Over time, as accounts of the garden detach the landscape from the reality of our lives, the spring came to symbolize the familial spirit of the place. Few critics have cared to follow the burn upstream to that original spring, overhung with ferns and rushes, from which the farm
and garden were born.
These two summers past I’ve made journeys through the highlands and islands and, along the way, tied paper wishes to burnside alders, hazels and birch, in memory of friends. Following Basho’s Oku-no-hosomichi, one day I found myself exhausted – shipwrecked, if you like – in an enclosed glen part-way up the Inverianvie River, able to get beyond the waterfall, but still far from Loch a Mhadaidh Mor. When I got back I found that the namelessness of the glen resonated with Tom Lubbock’s brave memoir of living and dying, as he recorded the fading of language from the effects of a brain tumour.

            poetry is still beautiful

            taking me with it

            quiet but still something

            ground, river and sea

            my body my tree

            after that it becomes simply the world   

Later I discovered that some of these riverside sites were associated with the first goddess of Scotland, Annait, Anaitis, whose name was brought to these lands by semitic tribes from Anatolia, long after the ice had receded.

Annat – Annet – Andat – Anaid – Annatland – Anatiscruik – Annatstoun – Annatfield 
Longannat – Craigannet  – Ernanity – Coire na h-Annait – Alt na h-Annait
The first site was Balnahanaid, by the River Lyon; the second, the well Tobhar na h-Annait, at Kilbride, and the nearby temple at High Pasture cave, where archaeologists recently discovered the wooden bridge of a 2,300 year-old six-stringed lyre; the third site, a temple mound by River Bay, Waternish. The goddess is traditionally represented by a votive stone which the river has smoothed into a female form. These Annait were ritually washed in the water, and at these sites the community cast the ashes of their dead into the river to be carried under the earth, down to the underworld. Annait, travelling companion, Earth Mother, Bride, who John Latham recalled in Niddrie Woman, whose new name is Gaia: there are no sacred texts describing her mythology and yet, in little burns and springs, She is the source from which the carrying stream flows on.


            shafts of winter light
            pink the hoar
            on Beinn Na Caillich
            and glint a sun ring
            over the garnet aureole
            of Beinn an Dubhaich
            catching Annait’s
            river-worn form
            laid by a hazel burn
            in which bone & ash
            were cast to wash
            down the chthonic sink

            (High Pasture Cave, February 1)


Kirk & Raven, Heraclitus: the Cosmic Fragments (Cambridge, 1954)
Michael Hamburger, Poems of Paul Celan (Persea Books, 2002)
Haroldo de Campos, Novas (Northwestern, 2007)
Hamish Henderson, Collected Poems and Songs, (Curly Snake, 2000)
Stéphane Mallarme: Poems in Verse, translated by Peter Manson (Miami University Press, 2012)

 The linen handkerchiefs were embroidered by Jean Malone

With thanks to Peter Manson, Luke Allan and Richard & Florence Ingleby

photography Ingleby Gallery, 2012


The Orchard, Jupiter Artland

I conceived A Variety of Cultures in May 2010, during a week-long residency in the stable cottage at Jupiter Artland, just before we set off on the road north. The orchard contains apples and a few plums: an essay in eco-poetics, it will grow season by season, gradually transforming ladders with fruit trees into fruit trees with apples. The ladders, made by Alistair Letch, are oak and, placed alongside the trees, which are still young, their measure anticipates the pruned canopies of ten, fifteen, twenty years hence.

A book, with an essay by Kathleen Jamie, photography by Hannah Devereux and Robin Gillanders, and drawings by Hanna Tuulikki, will follow in August 2016. There is a film documenting the work here.

            A VARIETY
         OF CULTURES


A Variety of Cultures refers back to ‘rosary’, a garden sculpture and planting that I created in a park in Frodsham, England (since decommissioned), with ladder trellis and rose varieties, drawing upon Nietzsche’s notion that, within each of us, there is a ladder which we climb.

The orchard at Jupiter Artland is a continuation of the place-aware artworks and growing or living sculptures, on the themes of pollination, biodiversity, and the relationship between cultural and biotic forms, which I have installed at Brogdale (National Fruit Collection), University of Warwick and University of Stirling.

After John Butterworth we used to say…

culture is a matter of taste and variety

taste is subjective and varies
according to soil and climate

orchards are a product of classical humanism
and vernacular tradition

the apple is the greatest product
of English culture

fruit offers a rounded history

an orchard is a wood
infused with blossom

an orchard is an archive
of locality

the only sure security
lies in diversity

be gentle to the root
for the best fruit

we prune for form :
content follows

pruning is training – with a knife

fertility cannot be forced
at the point of a blade

for John Butterworth, author of Apples in Scotland.

from ‘Alec Finlay's Variety Of Cultures’

‘Alec's new work is an orchard of apples and plums. Just outside the ha-ha, fifty-five trees have been planted, each a different UK variety. Rather, it is not yet an orchard, but it will be given time, maybe 15 years. That's part of the point: the work makes a claim on the future. It will require care and attention, and will change over the years, literally growing.

'That's part of it', Alec said, 'the work extends in time. Also, it's about the coming together of all varieties, in these days when we're anxious about such matters. These apples are all cultures, coming together.

- And they have wonderfully evocative names. Surprisingly perhaps, given our climate, Scotland alone boasts 16 apple varieties, among them the Lass O' Gowrie, the White Paradise and the Bloody Ploughman. There is a poetry here, etched on the little metal labels tied to the trees.’

Kathleen Jamie

apple growing is a matter of…

the right soil
the right site
the right pruning
the right weeding
the right manuring
the right picking
and the right storing

AF, after Raymond Bush (1943)

photography and illustrations

Book cover and interiors: Robin Gillanders, Autumn 2015
The Orchard: Hannah Devereux, Spring 2016
Apple: Hanna Tuulikki, 2015


Jupiter Artland
the road north - Falkland
the bee bole
glass apples
Hannah Devereux
Robin Gillanders
Hanna Tuulikki 

Alec Finlay is represented by Ingleby Gallery

LAGI: Glasgow

The Watergaw, 2016

In 2015 I was invited to be lead artist in one of three teams competing for the LAGI Glasgow commission – LAGI stands for Land Art Generator Initiative, and you can see more of their work here. The brief was to create a scheme that combines public art and renewable energy technology for a site on Dundas Hill, by the canal. 

In their working lives artists’ happen on such unexpected opportunities. In recent years I have been asked to create a memorial to organ donation, worked with people who have brain tumours, studied marine renewable energy, and worked with Gaelic place-names. There is no formal or skill-based professional training for such varied subjects; there is only being an artist. Each situation requires one to think through problems, around constraints, into issues and, above all, listen imaginatively, to what’s being said and what’s being concealed.

Early word-drawing sketch for LAGI Glasgow, AF, 2015
Imagining Dundas Hill from a name and aerial photograph doesn’t prepare one for the patchwork of abandoned industrial buildings, new build grey hangars, railings, and brambles. Dreaming is brought to an abrupt halt by problems, and much of the work is solving and salvaging the damage of the past. The hillside was leeched with a mixter-maxter of toxic matter, the leavings of two centuries of industry. The first issue we saw was how to guide rainfall off the hill. Now, this could have been left as a problem for the site developer to solve, but in my experience the attuned artist tried to solve each problem, even if it seems to have no bearing on aesthetics. This skelf in the fabric of the site came to define the essence of our concept: flow of water, flow of energy. 



Early system diagram for LAGI Glasgow, AF, 2015

The organisers defined the aims of the project as the application of ‘interdisciplinary creative processes into the conception of site-specific, solution-based public art interventions,’ proposing ‘a creative inquiry into the aesthetics of renewable energy, which would balance art and energy production’. The three proposals are being exhibited at the Lighthouse this June.

My collaborators were Rolf, Felicity and other members of erz, Glasgow, who I knew from the hidden gardens, and a new friend, the architect Riccardo Mariano, who is based in Berlin. Riccardo devised the fragment of rainbow which would have been projected in the sky every few days, its beam triggered by energy output, and I suggested the title, the watergaw, after MacDairmaid’s poem. From the off the discussions flowed in a way that was a pleasure to share, without any of us being restricted to our professional roles or training. The initial concept came together within the space of a weekend, with the help of Ben Spencer, as an interlocutor and encourager. We all remain proud of the proposal in terms of its ambition, scope, and the integration of energy production, technology, and community.

We were of one mind in our determination to avoid the BIGness that dominates such competitions – some previous LAGI schemes include architectural geegaws, in which the technology is simply an add-on, as with the solar armour plate on this floating duck. 

 ‘Energy Duck’, Pochee, Khan, Leger, Fryer, 2014 LAGI Copenhagen

Taking the risk of interpreting the brief in a generous way, and choosing to believe the expressions of concern that the community – a new housing estate is planned for the hillside – should be a priority, we considered other energies, such as wellbeing, and the slower effect of the sun on flora and foodstuffs, as well as kwh output.

The result was a combined energy system which utilized every resource on the hill: wind turbines (wind-callers) – a given in a site such as this – a water source heat pump (the give-and-take), a micro-hydro installation (water-caller) in the Monkland canal pipe, and, while the hillside was still bare, the potential of planting willow as biomass (the willow field). The other teams proposed schemes with one energy output. Our technologies were integrated with newly conceived artworks, iterations rather than decorations, the most pleasing, to me, being Riccardo’s wind-callers, adapting the highly efficient QR-wind turbines into Ossianic harps.

In our view a scheme such as this had to feature a district heating system – common on the continent but regrettably rare here – if it was going to be serious about energy conservation. Following the flow, and utilising every possibility the technology offered, we also incorporated an innovative growing space for the community, using the warm water produced by the heat pump. A thicket of issues around diet, wellbeing, mental health and poverty has reached such a crisis point in Glasgow that, again, we felt the scheme had to address this directly.

Wind-caller, 2016

Of course, we spent far too long developing the project given the small amount of funding available, but, as with any truly integrative scheme, we learnt much from one another, and that knowledge will be carried forward. The three teams proposals take their place in a much larger discussion about how art should function in the civic realm, how energy technologies relate to communities, and what the future of social relations and health are in a contemporary city.



I was struck by one of the judges’ comments in the feedback that the watergaw, the most visible of our artworks – visible in the LAGI-sense – would have less impact because it would only appear intermittently. Experience tells me that the fate of all static sculptures is to fade into the background of time, simply by dint of their immovability, whereas a fragment of rainbow appearing periodically on the skyline of the city would be a wee delight, giving folk a surprise, and no doubt garnering a Glasgow nick-name. If anything, the project confirmed my resistance to large-scale objects.

It was odd, in a project that stresses engagement, that three of the judges, including the chair, didn’t attend the interviews, but perhaps that’s the nature of working in the public realm today?

There is a description of our project below, and after that I have included a few of the draft poems that I composed on the burns and rivers of the watershed of the canal. The winning project can be viewed online. It features a new kind of bladeless wind generator that has been coloured shades of green.

the watergaw

The watergaw is a luminous ephemeral artwork that matches LAGI’s ambition: its breathtaking generosity will delight visitors and, coming and going as lightly as the weather, the excitement of seeing it light up the sky will become an ever-present possibility for the people of Glasgow. It represents energy usage in an iconic manner; symbolises the potential of the water cycle, which mediates all living things, and translates the passage of time and the elements into an inspiring measure of renewable energy generation. The watergaw is the centerpiece for a system-based scheme of landscape design, energy production, and public artworks that support regeneration at a city and neighbourhood scale.

Watergaw is a beautiful neglected Scots word meaning a patch of rainbow in the sky. The plan and diagram show Dundas Hill transformed. The water cycle and energy circle form an integrated system combining to release the generative potential of the site. LAGI projects strike a balance between striking visual impact and successful energy generation: blending ingenuity and generosity – ours combines gallus wit with a hint of sober Scots common-sense. The system diagram maps our Land Art Generators – wind turbines (wind-callers), water source heat pump (the give-and-take), micro-hydro installation (water-caller), and potential biomass planting (the willow field)– all integrated with newly conceived artworks. 

The proposal meets the challenge of producing energy within an existing network, designing a utility scale renewable system that is also an iconic destination. The practical issues pertaining to water-flow guided us. The canal yields energy via the water-caller, a micro-turbine installed in the Monkland pipe, at Pinkston Basin, and heat, produced by the give-and-take, a water source heat pump. The water cycle ingeniously combines cold water, piped up the watershed, a new public walkway, to the pools that feed the watergaw, and warm water, piped to the growing glass, which produces fresh produce year round, and provides a ‘village hall’ for the community and welcome for visitors. The hot pipe emerges en route to warm two espalier shelters offering protection from the wind for fruit trees, and warming heated benches. There is scope to support the creation of a district heating system. 

the water-callers

The water-callers were listening devices that would have been installed by the Monkland canal inflow pipe. The pipes would have resembled a waterside organ, and broadcast audio recordings of the watershed burns blended with voices performing the poems. Inscribed river names give the meaning and linguistic origins of the names.

(I) Kelvin

“Thir dyvers springs joyned beneth the kirk of Monyabrigh, begins to be cald Kelvyn and fals in a litle loch”
(Geog. Coll. 1644)

my course is habitual
though I remain prone

to erasing my line
on the floodplain

if you forget to plan
for a long day’s rainfall

reedy river, bawling water

Kelvin: possibly a Brittonic name, ‘to rise, stand up’, or Old Irish ‘sprout, shoot’, like the Welsh calaf, ‘stalk stem’. For much of its upper course the river is slow-flowing through a marshy reed-infested floodplain. The name could also derive from Kalona, Old Irish for ‘to shout, cry’, giving ‘shouting river’. Two men died in the great spate of December 1994 when their car fell from the shattered bridge at Gavell. 


Geographical collections relating to Scotland made by Walter Macfarlane,
ed. A.Mitchell (3 vols. SHS, Edinburgh 1906-1908)
Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin.

(2) Finglen Burn

where the bank is steepest
pale grass strips

   show where the snow
   was moored the longest

take yourself a seat soft
as those that furnished

   Caronia, Scarey Mary,
   The Empress, and The Queen

shining glen water

Finglen: from Gaelic fionn ghleann, ‘white valley’; probably referring to the banks and grass colour, rather than the water. The burn rises in the Campsie Hills and joins the Glazert Water. Harris Morris established a furniture company near Lennoxtown in 1884: well respected, the Morris company made chairs and cabinets for liners, including the Clyde-built Cunard line with their famous red-striped funnels – The Caronia (nicknamed ‘The Green Goddess’), Queen Mary 2 (‘Scarey Mary’), The Empress of Scotland, and The QE2 (‘The Queen’). The factory ceased production in September 2015.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin

(3) Aldessan Burn

all water being water

I find myself a riddle

for I will lose all trace

of identity when

I force the whin-

stone linn and fall

through my name

while I will remain

all the same stream

the force

Aldessan: from Gaelic Allt Easain, the waterfalls torrent. The burn descends from the Campsie Fells and, shortly after the Spout o' Craiglee waterfall, it becomes the Kirk Burn.

Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin

(4) Doups Burn

from Cauldstane Slap
to The Cloven Stone
the path is a loan

from Stone Close
to Doups Burn
the drove is a debt

from Siteasy
to Berry Muir
the tryst is in sight

backside burn

Doups Burn, from Sc doup, ‘fundament’, the polite term for the buttocks. The Doups Burn flows into the Castlerankine Burn.

A drove road leading to the famous tryst – sheep and cattle fair – at Falkirk passes Doups farm, visible in the remains of a double-line of stone dyke, typical of Lowland drove loans – a loan is Scots for a driving path for cattle. From here the drover would have seen his destination, Falkirk, for the first time. The names are taken from a local Banton estate map (1805), except Cauldstane Slap, which marks the old Borders drove road at the north edge of the Pentland Hills. The Cloven Stone resembles a hoof, being split in two – it is now concealed by thick forestry. The innovation of banking loans, introduced by the old Royal Bank of Scotland and Bank of Scotland in 1728, was a great help to drovers; many bills would circulate through different hands over long periods before being cashed at the tryst at Falkirk.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin
Heritage Paths: The Cauldstane Slap and Cross Borders Drove Road
ARB Haldane: New Ways Through the Glens

(5) Craigdouffie Burn

take me down
over and over

so that I can feed
over and over

this body of water
over and over

which will sustain
over and over

the narrow channel
over and over

between sea and ocean
over and over

dark-crag water

Craigdouffie: from the Gaelic creag dubh, anglicized to ‘duff’, refers to a small cliff above the ruined farm, the dark crag. The burn has two sources: the western rises in boggy ground near the Tak-Ma-Doun Road; the eastern rises from a spring near the ruins of Craigdouffie farm. It then runs through the Boiling Glen to join the Banton Burn. The Tak-ma-doun road is steep in places, so the sense may be a humorous “take me down safely”. It is popular with cyclists and motorcyclists.

The Craigdouffie Burn feeds Banton Loch, a reservoir constructed in 1778 as the main water source for the Forth and Clyde Canal. The canal still depends on the daily flow of millions of gallons of water from the reservoir, which is also fed by Banton Burn and a lade running from the Garrel Burn.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin

(6) Bonny Water

“Great economy in point of fuel
great economy in point of cleanliness”

(Esse stoves motto)

the best range in The Wild West, made in Bonnybridge
when the furnaces belched smoke on the water



the hollow spring

Bonny Water: interpretations of this name vary: Bony, derived from a Celtic root, possibly connected with Gaelic bonnag, ‘a jump, a spring’, (Johnston); Bonnyrigg, from the Scots Bannockrig, a bannock (Dixon); Bonnyfield, Bonnyrig: place in a hollow, and slope at a hollow; or the Gaelic bonnan, little hollow, and ruigh, slope, (Milne).

James Smith emigrated to Jackson, Mississippi, where he established a metal works producing stoves. He later returned to Bonnybridge, where, together with Stephen Wellstood and George Ure, he founded the Smith and Wellstood Columbian Foundry by the Bonny Water. The firm produced the Esse stove, featuring a variety of designs, including Moariess, Sultana and Kitchener. The recent Ironheart model combines cooking and heating, while “going back to Esse’s earliest, mid-19th century design principles.” Smith and Wellstood closed in 1994.


Peter Drummond: An analysis of toponyms and toponymic patterns in eight parishes of the upper Kelvin basin
Norman Dixon: The Placenames of Midlothian, Phd thesis University of Edinburgh, 1947
James B. Johnston: Place-names of Scotland
John Milne: Gaelic Place-names of the Midlothians


The Lighthouse
9 June - 29 July 2016


breathe in

remember the value
   of rhythm

   breathe out again

when you confront
   your mountain

breathe in

after Balfour-Browne

paths are maintained by use

paths are never straight, no matter how flat the country

trust a deer path over a human path

paths decide between us

a song for a path, a pibroch for a great wood

plan a path with broad feet and narrow eyes

a path moves the edges of the mountains

paths are interludes in-between episodes

a path should merge into the wild on either side

a path translates muddled ground into arranged land

a path holds the foreground and assembles vision, just as far as the horizon

a path is not static

after Frank Fraser Darling and GF Dutton

Adam’s credo

not ‘character building’ walks
   but free will

not Duke of Edinburgh Awards
   but joy

not interpretative boards
   but abiding mystery

not ‘challenge walks’
   but awe

not avalanche alerts
   but humility

after Adam Watson



selections from gathering: an ongoing poetic mapping of the Cairngorms inspired by local place-names and their meanings sourced from Adam Watson’s detailed survey, The Place Names of Upper Deeside.

Gathering was commissioned by Hauser & Wirth, for the Fife Arms Hotel, Braemar; the project was launched in 2015 and will conclude in 2018.

The artist residency at University of Aberdeen is funded by The Leverhulme Trust; the project was launched in July 2016 and will conclude May 2017.

For this project collaborators include:

Hannah Devereux: photography
Gill Russell: maps and walks
James Dyas Davidson: photography
Rhynie Woman: foraging
Studio LR: design
John Murray, Ian Murray, Peter Drummond, Adam Watson: place-names


Glen Feardar: Hannah Devereux, 2015
Glen Gairn: Hannah Devereux, 2015
Glen Derry: Hannah Devereux, 2015
Glen Ey: Hannah Devereux, 2015
Glen Muick: Hannah Devereux, 2015

for more poems from gathering see: Reliquae, Volume 3


Billia Croo

This long poem features in Ebban an Flowan, the world's first poetic primer on marine renewable energy, by myself and Laura Watts, with photographs by Alistair Peebles, two of which feature here. The book focusses on the Orkney Islands. Billia Croo is a bay on the west coast; it hosts the main EMEC test site of for wave energy devices. 

Billia Croo test site; Alistair Peebles, 2009


after Barry Cunliffe

culture is richest where there’s
the greatest ratio
     land : coast


this patch of the western
ocean’s coruscating garden

recalls my favourite song
(mishearing) the sea’s very hum-

drum … – but no, there’s not
one ocean, not when such an

infinite mix of blues can
outshine the maps cerulean


the sea is there for a solan
to push his wings against

or plunge in, reinventing
the medium – when the light

comes right through them
the waves lets slip wrack

and tangle, pitching round
until they go breaking on

the boulder beach, crashing
under Row Head, hassling

brittlestars and urchins, or splash
near the shelduck’s dozing

on their green sun shelf –
there’s no need to worry

that any wave is wasted
when there’s all this motion


along the bay there’s
the promise of a new world

from each new device connect-
ed to the cable that runs

out under the wild rocks,
into the diamond space

inside those three buoys –
this is where the metal

gets salt-wet : and that’s
the only true test – the problem

is elastic : what kind of roots
will grip fast with moorings

subject to ebb, flood, flux,
in a surge of such force?


what’s solid was once liquid
as with rock and sand

which nature divided –
like us – these waves were

tugged and formed, in
slowness, slowness that

we’ve lost, for there’s no
way to relearn the tide’s

happy knack of infinitesimal
growth, except by sloshing

around, or waiting, stranded,
on the heave of the moon

Oyster wave energy device, EMEC test centre; Alistair Peebles, 2009
ebban an' flowan
a primer for marine renewable energy
Alec Finlay and Laura Watts, with Alistair Peebles
pb, 56 pages, morning star, 2015; edition of 500 copies

10.00 GBP
13.00 EUR

ebban an' flowan can be purchased from our online bookshop
or from Amazon
Listen to the interview featured on Radio Orkney here, starting at 16:05 minutes.