Saturday, 18 July 2020

Poems from the Backroom 125: Lindy Barbour

It's a beautiful night in the People's Republic of Penpont, the sun is sliding down between the distant trees and the few flat clouds are turning deep red. Its just the time to open a bottle of beer, or pour a glass of wine, and listen to this wonderfully tender poem by Lindy Barbour about youth, wasted time and friendship. Time is heavy on our hands just now and Lindy has delved into her past to create a small, succinct masterpiece, a paean to what it means everlastingly to be human. I just love it, and I'm sure you will too.

Lindy Barbour was born in Orkney and spent her early childhood there, moving later to Tayport in North East Fife. She read English at Oxford and returned to Scotland to work in the universities of St Andrews, Glasgow and Edinburgh, firstly as an academic librarian and later teaching Psychotherapy in the University of Edinburgh where she is currently working as an Honorary Research Fellow.  She has published papers on psychotherapy and literature, notably ‘Rodenbach, Grandfather and Me; echoes and premonitions of World War 1. Emotion, Space and Society, 2016 Vol.19 pp.94-102’, dealing with the traumatic after-effects of the war and the flu pandemic that followed. 

 Her poems have been commended in the Bridport Poetry Competition and the National Poetry Competition and her pamphlet ‘Where You Start From’, Mariscat, 2016, was the Poetry Book Society’s Autumn Pamphlet Choice. She has recently completed a small collection of poems on Walter Benjamin, one of which has been published in Gutter 20 and is currently working on poems
that connect with found music, anonymous voices, and the history of the south of Scotland.

Lindy reads her poem 'White Basin' commended in the National Poetry Competition:

Details how to order Lindy's collection from Mariscat:

The Harbour Steps

Lilias and I are sitting on the steps one evening
in the corner of the big harbour next to the boardwalk
outside the harbour master’s office.
It’s an industrial not a picturesque harbour.
To our left is the coal hoist and up on the right
is the massive turntable that was used
for putting locomotives on the ferry
before the railway bridge was built.
This nineteenth-century machine still works
and we used to play on it, till Eddie Gilmour crushed his foot.

We’re talking about the new tan T-bar shoes
she got in Potters’ in the Murraygait, and about my dress
for the school dance, a purple Dollyrocker,
and how everything in Richard Shops this year is purple, ‘Why?’
and our revision: Hamlet and Oedipus. Was Bradley right
when he said that Gertrude just wanted
to be happy like a sheep in the sun?
We think not.
Lilias thinks Gertrude is a fantastic name,
and that from now on she’ll pretend that it’s her middle name
much better than Margaret, and I agree.
Lilias asks me what I think about Pat Pow.
Is she overdoing the Sandie Shaw lookalike thing?
And I say, ‘The haircut is good but she should lay off the bare feet.
They’re dirty and she has a verucca. I saw it in gym and it’s green.’

We lower our voices, even though there’s no-one there,
to mention this cream we saw in the small ads in The Telegraph
that you rub on your bust to make it bigger, but conclude
that although it would be dead sexy we’d never get away with it
arriving in the post. This leads us into the big question:
these brothers that we fancy. My one, I’ve been in love with
since the school play, and hers, she says she likes
but I’m not sure she’s telling the truth.
It turns out pretty soon, surprise surprise, that wires get crossed
and we end up going out with the wrong brothers.
I go with mine for about a year and we have sex in the woods
but she is with hers, my original love interest, for ages,
and he dumps her at university and she gets an eating disorder.

Anyway, it’s then that the yells and wolf whistles
start up. Some boys on bikes are circling the area
at the station next to where the level crossing used to be
till they closed the railway only a month ago.
They’re opposite the Bell Rock pub and under the beige
bulk of Jubilee Buildings with that strange paved area in front;
benches that no-one sits on, and a rockery
that looks, we think, like a pets’ graveyard.
Their voices carry to us clear across the harbour.

Lilias and I, who never in our lives will enter a grand box
with diamonds on our pale necks and shoulders
to a salute of raised opera glasses or a flash of lenses,
hear these anguished tenor voices aimed at us and know
instinctively how we must respond. As one
we stretch out our legs down several steps.
We’re in our tightest jeans. We tilt
our pelvises and point our toes,
draw back our shoulders and stare
downwards intently from beneath our fringes.

And all the time the water in the harbour rolls
its quilting of gold light mixed with a bloom of oil;
its black reticulation of chains and mooring ropes;
its flotsam corner at the bottom of the steps, of cigarette ends
mixed with scum, its dark skirts of weed.

At the top of the steps is a square aluminium-clad bollard
where seven years later I sit to have my picture taken
wearing a nice tweed coat and brown and orange shoes.
It is the seventies by then, and I am three years married.

Scottish Field

Between the cover picture ‘Red Grouse in the Lammermuirs’
and the end-page advert for a well-known watch
you never actually own apparently,
but look after for the next generation,
two hundred pages of glossy lifestyle stuff.
“I am writing about a form of life
that does take place” says one contributor
perhaps defensively, “I don’t write about problems.
Not everyone’s dysfunctional”.
It’s clear the target audience is exclusive
but then again, it’s hard to tell if this
magazine that graces the coffee tables
of a thousand dentists’ waiting rooms
is for the aspirational or the arrived.
One thing’s for sure, this life is led by men,
only six women feature outside fashion
adverts and photographs of charity lunches.
Here men write for men. A dull parade
of plump-cheeked blokes in ginger tweeds
and v-necked golfing sweaters talk
up their adventures; a group survival test on Taransay
when three days hunger ends predictably
in shooting, gralloching and a barbecue;
the Caledonian Challenge; a life in motor sports;
the Cameron family from the Blairmore archive;
a farmer who’s web events guru for D&G
(Dumfries and Galloway, not Dolce & Gabbana.)
A token Glaswegian, survivor of an Arctic expedition
is praised, but yields a morsel of sensationalism
with a murder in his family. Then, ‘Summer Activities
and Events’ takes us from gardens, whisky, horses, golf
to golf, horses, gardens, whisky, “sampling the amber nectar,”
fine dining with Gordon and Fiona, Hamish and Fiona,
Alastair and Fiona, Farquhar and Fiona.
But get down to the point, the important stuff.
A couple of mill, old boy, will buy a serious estate−
salmon and sea trout fishing, rough shooting of grouse
and ptarmigan, and red deer stalking, an average
of twenty stags and twenty hinds, in short
there’s lots to kill on more than six thousand
acres of Sutherland−the epitome of emptiness.
They made a desert and they called it sport.
It is a form of life. It does take place.
But, thankfully, not everyone’s dysfunctional.

(From Scotia Extremis)

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