Friday, 21 June 2013


It's the Summer Solstice, the Longest Day, a day for poetry and magic.

For the Poetry Reading Group the brief was simple: bring in some poems about midsummer, about the solstice.

And people did: How the Lovers Found True Love After All by Marvin Bell, set to music and performed as a duet between a singer and a double bass. I brought Strawberries by Edwin Morgan, a beautiful love poem, and Summer Solstice, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka, by Marilyn Krysl:

... small crabs, the bright yellow of a crayon,

had come onto the sand. Their numbers, scattered
resembled the galactic spill and volume of the stars. ...

And there were poems by Vera Rich about midsummer in Orkney, written after a visit in the 1960s. I had never heard of her and have yet to search the archives here for her poems. But I will ...

Once I get my head out of my septic tank!

If you want to write or read, especially about the finer things in life, don't move house. Especially don't move into a new house with a new septic tank, when you have never encountered such things before. The builder says septic tanks are like death: nobody wants to talk about either!

I had to tell the poetry group that my head was elsewhere. They were full of sympathy and advice.

To start off a septic tank, 
get a bucketful from someone else's
and tip it over the sill. Then
throw in some roadkill:
dead rabbit, dead duck, dead rat, 
no matter,
though rats, it must be said, 
can be problematic ...

Well, it might be worth writing a poem about! Though I'd rather shake the similarities to friendship cakes, ginger beer plants and sour dough out of my head first.

While we're mining this scatalogical seam, I might mention that Stewart Bain, after a long absence, made a guest appearance on the Orkney Library Facebook and Twitter pages again this week, with the photo below and the caption: "Panic over. It turns out the staff on duty this morning actually found a Jobey in the book drop box ..."

It is Stewart who put Orkney Library & Archive on the cyberspace map with his Westray wit, gaining him fans from all over the world, including big name writers such as Val McDermid. 

My favourite this week was: "You have to hand it to this lass, looking alluring whilst gutting fish is something not many women could pull off. Jim Dale from the Carry On films doesn't seem one bit interested though.... "

But let me end by wishing all readers of this blog

A Very Happy Summer Solstice!

And here are some skies from my house taken the last few evenings ...


Thursday, 20 June 2013

ONDINE, UNDINE, UNDONE: Amy Sackville Brings 'Orkney' to Orkney

When Richard, a sixty year old Professor of English, takes his slippery young bride to Orkney for their honeymoon, it is clear from the outset that she will slide away from him one way or another. 

Finn wife, mermaid, selkie, undine ...? the references to mythological creatures mount, the sea imagery swells with every page till the book is flooded with salt-watery light.

The cottage on an unnamed island in Orkney, where the honeymoon couple find themselves marooned, becomes the setting for the deeply psychological under-sea struggles of the professor and his wife.

For Orcadians, the attempt to use Orkney dialect words and phrases will doubtless raise a wry smile. But that irritation aside, the book builds in intensity and other-worldliness right up to the inevitable ending. There are echoes of Mary Shelley, of Wuthering Heights, of Possession, and there is a kind of heightened professorial language harking back to earlier times. The Orkney depicted also looks to a mythological past.

I'm partial to a bit of watery imagery myself; as a child my favourite story was Andersen's The Little Mermaid. And we are lucky to have the prize-winning author of Orkney come to these islands to talk about her book.



Wednesday 26 June
5.00 pm
MacGillivray Room
Orkney Library


Contact Orkney Library:

Tel: 01856 873166