Thursday, 11 June 2020

Poems from the Backroom 88: Beth McDonough

The coronaverse is a smaller place than we're used to, and, as today's guest Beth MacDonough says in introducing her poem today,  we have become much more acquainted with the small sacred paths round our homes since lockdown, and the local detail of nature. I've seen expressed a general feeling that we may emerge from this trauma once more attuned - as our ancestors were- to the natural world. Maybe, but in the meantime nature’s sensibly keeping out of the way in my neck of the woods. No deer are strolling through Pringleton, no otters are floating on their backs down the Scaur. This is a shame because poets like to write about that kind of stuff. I am reminded of Kenneth Koch’s response when finally visiting Michael Longley’s earthly paradise in County Mayo, Carrigskeewaun, the focus of his countless poems about otters. "Where are all those otters, Longley? I see only sparrows and house sparrows at that!"

It's maybe different on the Tay where much of McDonough's poetry is centred. She's also maybe closer to the otters than the rest of us because she's a wild swimmer and in fact is working on a collection of poems on that topic. Her poetry generally shows an acute observation of all the motifs of nature - with both a practical and mystical eye- and divines from them portents from the past, clues for our future. 

Beth McDonough has a very artistic background. She trained in Silversmithing at Glasgow School of Art and then studied for a M.Litt at Dundee University. She was Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts from 2014 to 2016. Her poetry may be read in 'Gutter', 'Northwords Now', 'Poetry Salzburg Review', 'The Interpreter’s House' and many other journals and anthologies.  'Handfast', from Mother's Milk Press, a poetry duet pamphlet, with Ruth Aylett,  was published in May 2016. There, she investigates her experience of her son’s autism, as her co-poet considers that of her parents’ dementia. McDonough's solo pamphlet, 'Lamping for pickled fish', has been published recently by 4Word.

Here she reads 'Leftovers', speculating what the future legacy of the virus may be:

 More poems by Beth here:

An Interview with 4Word:

More Poems and Reviews of 'Lamping for Pickled Fish'


Native plants, of course, and yet,
how hard it is not to suspect
these spiky berried lines are left 
from an older hedging purpose. 

Some rudimentary bush
dug up close for edging land 
between what must have been two burns,
before the making of a road of sorts. 

A place perhaps for catching trout, 
or snaring handy rabbits. Often, 
still, there are deer around, 
if a paucity of otters. 

Maybe other people used these woods, 
in older times, through different plagues.
Little bits of wall, and surely yes, 
these gooseberries, all now feral shrubs.

But this isn't as far as you'd wish to think 
from the closed carpet shop and postal depot.
I wonder who the grozet-planting folk
might have been, ponder what they left in stones.

What will we leave the next ones here 
from these too long, too sore weeks? 
Decades will bring more pestilence, 
with brief escapes from shuttered griefs. 

I smell the now-reopened KFC, 
see that our viral-lives also deposit 
messages to future runners. In styrofoam, 
crimped Irn Bru cans, an unscrewed Buckie bottle


Let me try to explain,
chalk out how that word gauzes dusk.
In slowed descents, in silting air
become aware of mugging heat.
You’re captured in the absence of sun.
I’d lead you through specifics, beyond causes
but we must pinpoint where I stand.
No path leads out. There’s no reliable map.
Watch this thinnest dust
ghost below doors, shift between boards.
Come to sediment your lungs,
suffocate all valid exit points.
Seven veils danced from nowhere.
When this lifts,
if this lifts,
I’ll try to explain.


  1. I like the gentle yet realistic voice of these poems very much. And, of course, our shared concern for the natural world. Thank you.

  2. Lovely poems Beth. Enjoyed hearing you read Leftovers. Loved Calima.