The PK Featured Poet 15 – Sally Evans
"I have never
earned much from writing, but that has its good side. I have
benefited from the freedom of being able to write exactly what I wanted,
without financial, occupational, or political pressures to conform. " - Sally Evans
As publisher and poet Sally Evans is well known and admired. She is often to be found offering encouragement to other writers and preparing the next edition of her poetry Broadsheet, Poetry Scotland. But for me it is in the poetry that stands as a unique and powerful statement to her talent. Every poem she writes holds surprises for the reader and reminds us that as well as publisher and mentor Sally Evans writes amazing poetry.
The PK Featured Poet 15 –
Why do you write poetry?
"Some people write books, and some people make lemonade carts." One of
Scottish writer Jane Duncan's characters came out with this remark, and I
reckon that's basically it. We write poetry because we're just the sort of
people who do so.
How did it start?
You're talking to the first person ever to mention Ted Hughes in an Eng
Lit exam. In 1960, or 1961 I can't work out which, the Northern Counties had
bunged Windhover from young Ted's Hawk in the Rain in the exam paper. Their
report said that one candidate had named the author. It was me.
After that bright start, I went to university and did Latin and Greek
instead. I loved Pindar and Sappho and Horace and Vergil, but I couldn't do
"proses", so I transferred to philosophy. I read lots and lots of English
fiction - already pleasing myself intellectually - and the habit of writing
got lodged pretty firmly.
What do you read?
To start with, the Latin and Greek poets, the Golden Treasury, and
moderns Hopkins, Dylan Thomas, Eliot, Auden, and Edith Sitwell. Very
metrical stuff. Sylvia Plath. Among the Scots, Henryson, MacDiarmid, Sorley
Maclean (in Gaelic). Edwin Muir ( hard to get hold of), Eddie Morgan. The
only American poets I ever read much of were Frost and Longfellow.
Currently, poetry of course, and great dollops of fiction, gardening
(proper books not magazine stuff), biography, travel, and old fashioned
literary reminiscences. Beverley Nichols is one of my favourites. I like the
way gossip links up between different books.
You live in Scotland?
I came here because of my ex husband's job - which was lucky because he
didn't like Scotland and I loved it. Perhaps it was the Welsh side of me
that responded so positively. I eventually remarried, and became Scottish
by marriage as well as by residence. We live on the edge of the Highlands,
at Callander <http://www.incallander.co.uk>.
What are your writing methods?
My writing routine or method has been dictated by the busy life
I lead. I can work virtually without sleep when I have either a deadline or
an inspiration. I've been using computers for a long time now, but I'll
still write anywhere - in pencil, in bed, making notes in the car at traffic
lights, in the garden, in fountain pen, on lined folio, old diaries,
discarded notebooks, or straight onto the screen.
What about the Internet?
Internet has revolutionised my habits. Though I had already found a
strong poetry community in Scotland so was not too isolated as a poet, the
internet doubled my contacts and brought me the world - a wonderful balance
to living in the country in the north. Other friends use the message boards,
but I find I'm at capacity with email lists. I have a computer beside the
cooker and buzz off comments on haiku or contributions to linked verse at
all sorts of odd moments through the day (and night).
To be able to write a poem and have an opinion on it - a criticism or
even a laugh - from the other side of the world and perhaps within minutes
- is poets' heaven to me.
I abandon a lot more poems now that I use the internet, - whether
finished, unpolished, or non starters. I've almost become a sort of poetry
journalist, in the sense of poetry as a moving diary. Whatever you write,
there is always someone out there to listen - the exact opposite of what
personal writing was like when I started out..
I also edit a poetry broadsheet, Poetry Scotland, which will be at issue
35 in this its 7th year. This means I see a lot of contemporary writing and
meet all sorts of writers through the pen. Poetry Scotland's website is run
independently but co-operatively by Colin Will, another poet well known on
the internet message boards. <http://www.poetryscotland.co.uk>
I have never earned much from writing, but that has its good side. I have
benefited from the freedom of being able to write exactly what I wanted,
without financial, occupational, or political pressures to conform. This is
equally true of the editing of Poetry Scotland.
The Stag from Bewick Walks to Scotland
From a sequence following a walk by Thomas Bewick, the
I responded to this story immediately I read about it,
I suppose because i
needed to reconcile two important places in my own life, Newcastle and
Scotland. I have always felt an affinity with Bewick's view of the world, so
was able to empathise it naturally. All this sequence is in the Arrowhead
book of the same name.
You say Loch KAT-rin when pronouncing the Trossachs
A trail under the trees
near Loch Katrine
and all is silent, barring
a bird, a wind-sigh.
God's creation rises
in the form of a great stag
his magnificent branchy horns and head
alert under an oak-copse
as he steps into the sun
ten feet away from me
as though he were an oak-tree come to life.
No, do not turn and run.
A pagan revelation,
personification of beauty -
I need this vision. When it is my duty
to sketch him from memory,
or from tame, toned-down specimen,
I shall draw on this meeting.
I am with him in the wild.
A touch of humour, immediately following the Stag. I
filched this episode
from my partner Ian, to whom it happened while taking a walk up the hillside
at night (not a good idea).
A moonless time.
I have wandered so long!
In darkness, I perceive
movement and sound on the road in front of me.
The track bends under trees.
I lift my hawthorn stick
and stand aside. Perhaps the animal
will pass in ignorance that I am here.
A too-close snuffle.
"Whoa," I bawl quietly, prodding the air.
The deer objects. He rushes me.
I wriggle from his shoulder,
shield my head form his horns,
run, and he is gone.
Another too-close scuffle.
"Scram." I bawl, not so quietly,
prodding the air, and catching soft resistance.
The farm hand jumps and runs.
I hear him swear. I call,
"Sorry mate, I thought you were a deer."
Garden Open in the Rain
"Drips with authentic highland atmosphere", wrote Lesley Duncan kindly when
she used this one for Poem of the Day in the Herald. It was from a visit to
the big garden in Callander, whose owner recognised her garden when she read
Mountain views in our vistas,
queues in the wet,
a trickle of gardeners furling umbrellas
under chestnut trees.
Roses drip from arbours, the burnlet
thunders through slippery lawns.
Gravel gleams past peat and greenery,
blue poppies in force.
Round by the stables we barter
for snowdrop bulbs,
compare delphiniums, replenish
our iris beds.
We trail through high herbs edged with box.
caves us at waterfalls where birds keep dry,
while for this hour
the sky's blue and white flower closes.
Going for a Spin
I met Sue Tordoff of write-away through this poem, which I sent her for a
feature she was doing on humorous poems. It came to me while driving - that
dull rounded gleam of "button coloured cars" being the first insight, from
which the rest developed. I always remember it on the stretch of road where
I began it. It's also, clearly, a net poem.
This untiring seamstress road
stitches meadows, sky to sky.
We in button coloured cars,
needling up to speed, zip by.
Hemmed in by embroidered trees
ribboning through Queen Anne's Lace,
where the hoop around the hills
holds velvet tapestries in place.
A tape is playing in the car
as we haberdash the miles.
I'll cut and pin this on the net,
notions to buttonhole your smiles
"On the Bridge"
A rhymed version of Niall Gòrdan's Gaelic poem, Clach dhubh an aghaidh an
with the author's approval. I just love Gaelic poetry, but don't often do
straight translations, though I have done two longer poems by Christopher
Whyte which will probably get published in a book at some point. Many people
are now learning Gaelic but few will reach the sophistication of traditional
If I were not so impulsive
though it lands me in the fire,
those who run down my own Gaelic
would not raise in me such ire.
If I listened to their nonsense
and to those who lie and spoil,
lead us into war, belittle
all our lands for wealth and oil,
if instead I listened to them
and withheld from them my rage,
then I think it would be me
I'd calmly throw down off this bridge.
From "The Bees"
The Bees is 2002 lines long, divided into seven equal cantos and a prologue
and epilogue. It is a satirical fantasy of the Bees and an Elephant Artist
in the Scottish Highlands. All sorts of non sequiturs could be incorporated
along the way. Gary Blankenship read it via email while it was in progress,
and gave me very valuable feedback. For elephant art see
<http://www.elephantart.com> Just a very little extract from near the end to
show how it works.
Ah well! The poet, as awareness grows
of Rice's friends, those of the human race,
has but two ways to deal with them - to have them climb Munros
or move them from the poem altogether.
They love to scramble to the tops of those
Horseshoes and ridges, checking clouds in hope of perfect weather,
take cars, book in at different small hotels
with names like Highland House or the White Heather,
and seek that paradise of rock and wide skyscape that tells
its secrets of a life above the burns
(which some call becks) and braes (which some call fells).
They'll walk a a few peaks in a day before the sun returns
behind the tops on its way round the seas,
magnifying the shadows of the ferns.
They're really happy up above the midges, roads and trees,
beyond the letters, calls and all the daily
unrelenting niggles of life, the breeze
so fresh. Then down they come for a romantic evening ceilidh,
which even southerners can join, provided
they don't sing something naff like 'Willow Wailey."
And finally, a kind of joke... A Slave lass' ane
This was the result of Christina Fletcher's "Bonkers" challenge on an email
list, in which we all wrote poems using only the letters of our own names.
The beauty of it for me was the personal magic of being the only poet who
"owned" this group of letters. A friend said the result was rather like the
language of Finnegan's Wake. It draws on little bits of Scots, French,
Italian and Gaelic before going completely "bonkers".
Aye! Yes! Yell sale!
All ye lasses see's alane
a lave an leaven lye, all leal,
yea, ell, allsell ales,
Val, Lyn, Nell, Syl, Sal, Eve,
Nan, Ann, Ella, Lesley, Lee,
all eleven sylvan vales
lean leaves even a slave lass saves,
lay salves, alas! aa avens een.
All's a yell, a vee, a lane,
aye, lyv else a vyle annal,
nay, nae yyn an yan, nane,
valleys, vales, sayaye or nay,
an nae even a s.a.e.
A la salle valla nella
les élèves leve.
Seven seals salve
Slavs Vlay an Lev.
Seven snayles vanely seal
an ellava valalla,
eels leaven snell slees,
lay, slay, ease ane yale.
Ye'll all ae ye ansa,
leave lees, a nave alley lessen
a sea sayle, a ness ae vane leas.
Eaves, alas, sans lens,
enslave nae sassy sleeve
as an ally ae Ensa.
Ess vy aye say easy
sly vassals save envy,
a vase, a naval vessel, elves
vlase vleenas slays na Sassan,
snaav an slass neals laen
vye level an eye ane ass,
snaevellan vans seave
all leny, elvellan leans ells
vlees y veeny, Allan, Nylan,
Les, Neal, Len, Aeneas, a yevvel
a lyan sleen yen ee, yallellass
yalvels vless vlass
senvel lalls, "slay va!"
Poems and text copyright Sally Evans 2004
Bewick Walks to Scotland, Arrowhead Press, January 2004, £7 post free UK
from Arrowhead Press <http://www.arrowheadpress.co.uk>
Millennial, a long poem. diehard, 1995
Looking for Scotland, University of Salzburg Press, 1996
both the above now £5 post free UK from diehard (on Poetry Scotland
The Bees, a long poem, diehard pamphlet, limited copies, sold out. Cover
photo of elephant currently mislaid. Reprinting when we have found the