Monday, 20 April 2020

Poems from the Backroom 36: Andrew Greig

Absolutely delighted to welcome Andrew Greig into the Backroom this morning. I've always loved his novel Electric Brae and I've used it at times as some kind of strange codex to my life, but more generally he is one of these writers who have helped (me and plenty of others) define what it is to be a modern Scot and a modern human being, because he writes about the stuff that builds us, love, landscape, politics, adversity.

A fine prose writer, and a great poet, he is also a mountaineer, having climbed some of the world's greatest peaks and survived to write about them. His memoir 'At the Loch of the Green Corrie' about his friendship with Norman MacCaig is a hugely accessible side door into another great Scottish writer's life and the landscape that inspired it.

Much more information about Andrew's life and work and music can be found here:

More poems here:

Coming from the land of Max Houliston, one of Scotland's greatest accordion players, I was very pleased to see that two of Andrew's poems in the film are about the Accordion-Meister Jimmy Shand, who Max knew well and of whom he shared many stories, not all of them suitable to share here. In the last poem, the 'Old Codgers', he talks about sitting in Byers Road with "the rain, like death. just missing us."

Another beautiful example of Andrew’s poetry

Orkney/This Life

For Catherine and Jamie

It is big sky and its changes,
the sea all round and the waters within.
It is the way sea and sky
work off each other constantly,
like people meeting in Alfred Street,
each face coming away with a hint
of the other's face pressed in it.
It is the way a week-long gale
ends and folk emerge to hear
a single bird cry way high up.

It is the way you lean to me
and the way I lean to you, as if
we are each other's prevailing;
how we connect along our shores,
the way we are tidal islands
joined for hours then inaccessible,
I'll go for that, and smile when I
pick sand off myself in the shower.
The way I am an inland loch to you
when a clatter of white whoops and rises...

It is the way Scotland looks to the South,
the way we enter friends' houses
to leave what we came with, or flick
the kettle's switch and wait.
This is where I want to live,
close to where the heart gives out,
ruined, perfected, an empty arch against the sky
where birds fly through instead of prayers
while in Hoy Sound the ferry's engines thrum
this life this life this life.


  1. I've been away from your blog and a link sent by JoAnne Mackay brought me back. I adore Andrew Greig and also Orkney. Inspired by his poem I will redouble an earlier attempt of mine to capture the unique character of the islands

  2. Loved those readings. They brought back many memories of an elderly aunt who loved The Bluebell Polka.It's the first time I've heard Andrew read his poetry but it's inspired me to look out for more. I have his book 'At the Loch of the Green Corrie' about another favourite poet of mine, Norman MacCaig. Thanks Andrew and thanks Hugh for getting all these brilliant readings which I'm gradually catching up with. I hope this comment makes sense - the first I keyed in disappeared when I left it for a few minutes ...hopefully this won't end up as a mishmash of the two!