Poetry history is taking place in Perthshire. It's doing this in glorious sunshine, with leaves brandishing all the shades of Autumn and rowan berries gleaming like jewels.
Of course I am referring to the Callandar Poetry Weekend. I was privileged to be at a little bit of this on Friday evening, reading a few poems from the most recent Grey Hen anthology, Get Me Out Of Here! Poems for trying circumstances. Such a pleasure to hear Margaret Christie, Eleanor Livingstone, Anne Clarke and Margaret Wood as fellow Grey Henners – in what a context!
Of course, if you’ve been, you will know. But if you haven’t, this is not an official poetry festival. This is a gathering, a consummation of poets, an ongoing party with reading and singing, much of it in a bookshop, or in the garden behind the shop. The space is crammed with hob-nobbing poets. Plates of cake and strawberries and olives nestle on tables between bookshelves and people. During bookshop readings, the space is restricted, so knees cram together on chairs and faces peer over shoulders. Meanwhile, the resident cat slinks in and out between stanzas while the imitation deer’s head on the wall, with its enormous antlers, officiates. Poets of all shapes and sizes consign their words to the attentive air and the walls of books absorb them. Later it’s time for a break and supper and conversation. People sing. Even the deer on the wall sings.
This is King’s Bookshop, Callandar, and the Poetry Weekend is originated, invented, perpetuated and hosted by the remarkable Sally and Ian King. Sally edits Poetry Scotland, among other tasks, writes poetry, keeps bees and warmly welcomes fellow enthusiasts. Ian once wrote a fair bit of crackingly radical poetry himself. Now he is a book-binder par excellence, restoring and re-binding old tomes (just now poets are seeping in and out of his workspace) and a book-seller and a jovial host. And of course, Sally and Ian are publishers too: they are Diehard Books and they are part of Scotland’s literary history – nobody could ever doubt this for one moment.
There are readings in the Kirk Hall across the road from the shop too. And Callandar itself is a lovely little town, nestled in the hills, relaxed and welcoming. If you’re not there this year, put Callandar on your calendar for next. . . .
It’s also my father’s birthday, or would have been. He died a long time ago, must be over quarter of a century. But I think of him probably more now, not less. He said his children were his immortality. He’d also tell me to shut up about this and get on with my day, but he wouldn’t really mean it. There’s not a lot of him left – some books with his name in them, the novel he never wrote, the signet ring my mother still wears at 87. There’s a poem about him in my last book, Plot and Counter-Plot, and since that’s a bit of him too, and since it’s his birthday, I’ll put it here as well. 'Schoolmaster of Rostherne', it says on the little stone where his ashes are buried.
Nobody could say ‘fatuous’ like my father. He called the Beatles 'long-haired louts from Liverpool'. When I was a teenager and setting out to a party in my mini-skirt, he said, "You look ravishing, darling. I just hope you don't get ravished.' He made sure I didn't get ravished by arriving to take me home long before it was time. I would beg to stay till eleven o'clock.
Because he was a head teacher, children called him 'Sir', a title he relished. When I was tiny I got confused and called him Sir Daddy.
So -- Joe Curry, known during my life-time as 'Howard' and to my mother as 'Howie', here you are.
The blowing of your nose was a trumpet
thrilling the house, rocking from cellar to attic,
shaking the stairs and banisters. It was a strict
aquiline beak that you called ‘Roman’ – at least
it would have been if you hadn’t broken it
and crooked it sideways in the mending. You ate
Club biscuits in majestic bites, then hooked
the wrapper over your royal snout and snorted
till we giggled. Quick to condemn, you sniffed
with curling lip at fads and fatuous fools.
Even in later years your granddad trunk
inhaled the world as fiercely, quivering over
a cut glass filled with amber. Presence flared
from your nostrils; little children warmed themselves
by dragon flames that lasted and lasted. Yes.