Tuesday, 2 June 2020

Poets from the Backroom 79 : Gerry Loose

I’m fascinated by stones and the messages they have or don’t have for us. In spurious vein for my next book I’ve translated Pictish Symbol stones into text speak but a far more serious project is involved in Gerry Loose’s new book 'The Great Book of the Woods', published by Corbelstone Press just a few weeks ago. Gerry Loose’s interpretations or translations or transliterations of the ancient Ogham script found on stones in Scotland and Ireland are evocative, lyrical and powerful. They are the legacy we wished to have, thought we had with Ossian, maybe do have. I know I'm a historian by training but history waves a wand for the imagination.

Ogham is a language that is also a codex for a pastoral society and a high caste of poets. It involves linear scratches, often on the edges of stones. The name itself might derive from 'sword cut'. It looks like a code and might well have been designed as such to deceive the Romans, the Christians or whoever. It dates from as early perhaps as the 4th century and exists in over 100 varieties. Excitingly, untranslated Ogham stones in Scotland might point to the vestigial traces of Pictish: the elusive ghost language of our earliest inhabitants. Below, Gerry reads two of his transliterations from Ogham and links to buy his fascinating book also appear below the video.

Gerry Loose lives on the Isle of Bute and works primarily with subjects from the natural world. His work is found inscribed and created in Parks, Botanic Gardens and in natural landscapes as well as in galleries, hospitals and on the page. Among his publications are 'Printed on Water, New and Selected Poems' from Shearsman Books and 'That person himself' and 'Oakwoods Almanac' from the same publisher. His awards include a Robert Louis Stevenson Fellowship, a Creative Scotland Award, Kone Foundation Award and a Hermann Kesten Fellowship.

His work has been translated into many European and Asian languages and he regularly reads at international poetry festivals.

In his Oghan inscriptions, and in some of his other work, Gerry Loose's poetry has a shifting dreamlike quality and walks that liminal division between the seen and unseen, between the human and the natural world, each succeeding image seeming more and more like parts of a story you once knew and should remember again. A marvellous poet.

Here he reads 'Plague', which is copied below, and two Ogham transcriptions: 

Gerry's website here: 

More Poems here:

Interview with the Scottish Writers Centre here:

Link to buy his Latest book:

The Plague

that first night thrushes woke & sang
old Tam left three eggs at the door
with these I kindled the yellow light in furze
on the second day oyster catchers piped
then flew to the roof of the abandoned school
the moon was not lit
on the third evening at eight o clock
people went to their windows
and applauded silence
when the fourth day arrived
we found the world had grown larger
hollow creel boats bobbed affirmation
after that was the next day
we told stories from beyond and behind
stories of yet to happen and end times
the sixth & Peg left a bottle of beer at the door
or maybe that was the seventh at dusk
and maybe she left a sea woman’s purse
the eighth day brought pennies to our eyelids
and seraphs who masquerade as wild geese
yes the eighth day still dawned still at dawn
the seventh day or perhaps the sixth
we all rose from where we had been
the youngest and then the oldest

Transcritions from Ogham

Church of the 3 Brethren Lochgoilhead

little saint of whitethorn
little quencher of wolf spark
welcome to the burial mounds

dear confessor of blood-red berries
sweet dweller of beehive cell
oaks make good gallow-trees

my heart

Blackwaterfoot, Arran, King’s Cave #1

son: to leave
friend: to stroll among trees
work: to ride horses
killing: to be swift
father: to shelter the hunted

Blackwaterfoot, Arran, King’s Cave #2

skinsilver birch
rowan of pillage
heather the udder brusher
poplar the horse trembler
oak of hill & adze

Scoonie, Fife
no name for        them
they grow deep within
tree proud bush proud
urgent     they ’re allies
though     they groan
shrivel         in the hunt
still bigger than a horse


coltsfoot the apple that suckles
sun hoof the vine that strangles
sun horse the yew that sickens


manifold the wheel
honey bees dancing
blush of the dying
breath of horses
wood brands burning
warriors at the breast
trees green leafing
world wheel whirling


begin with honey
& fellowship of trees
one third of a spear
& a shroud

return salmon
return sun
return spring well
bees are dying

Mains of Afforsk

beauty’s a boast
& kinship with saplings

with a glow of anger
& warriors’ gear

cherished hazel
& grace disappear

cypher unknown
& wisdom undone

(From 'Poems and Poetics')