Saturday 14 November 2020

The Occasional Backroom: Mandy Haggith

In the midst of new lockdowns, we are well overdue a laugh. I have been long inclined to use humour in poetry to lever the door open for some important truths, and so does today's guest in the Backroom, Mandy Haggith. Her serious issues are ours' and will prevail long after Covid. Are we all really going to reboot our relationship with nature when all this is over, or was that all just lockdown wishful thinking to keep us whimsically occupied while we gear up top start again exactly as before? 

Mandy Haggith has been a passionate environmental campaigner all her life. She lives in Assynt and teaches Literature and Creative Writing at the University of the Highlands and Islands where she runs a project about tree poetry called A-B-Tree, inspired by the Gaelic tree alphabet. Her first novel won the Robin Jenkins Literary Award for environmental writing in 2009 and she has been poet in residence at the Edinburgh Royal Botanic Gardens and Inverewe Gardens. Her books include four poetry collections, a poetry anthology, a non-fiction book and five novels. Her 'Stone Stories' trilogy are based on Iron Age history and published by Saraband. 

Here she reminds us why we should never take the piss out of a walrus. Great rhyming couplet at the end!

You wouldn’t want to wrestle with a walrus

Cos his head’s like a dustbin with three foot tusks
He’ll kiss you to bits with his suction lips
His whiskers’ll tickle till you lose your grip
His penis bone’s like a walking stick
And he won’t feel your punches, his skin’s so thick.
He is two tonnes of blubber and built like a bus,
No you wouldn’t want to wrestle with a walrus

He farts like a rocket and he belches pepper spray
He flaps his flippers like he’s practicing for flag day
He’ll scratch you with his nails if you try to pin him down
Or push you down the sandy beach and roll you till you drown
If you grab him by the flippers he will squash you with no fuss
No, you wouldn’t want to wrestle with a walrus.

He can hang out under water, he’s a deep sea diver
He’s like jaws with claws, has no sense of humour either
He looks kind of cuddly when he gives you a wave
But taking him on is neither big nor brave
He’s got 20 of his pals lying out there on the isthmus
No, you wouldn’t want to wrestle with a walrus.


in from the riverside
where the putter of boat engines dulls

you practise scales
by a low pool among trees

long slow notes climb up your flute
as rain drops ring

young sad notes
almost as still as the leaves

sweet green notes
tugging at the sleeves of ghosts

pulling over the water
like a kind of grieving

reeling us in
to stand in the rain


(From Castings (Ullapool: Two Ravens, 2007)

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