George Mackay Brown on Poets


Yesterday was the centenary of GMB’s birth so to mark that occasion, here’s a poem he wrote about the art, craft, graft and spirituality of poetry:

Four Kinds of Poet


‘Here, now. A new time, a new place. Write something. This
is expected by publishers, readers. Try to render both actuality
and soul of the place, look, and write. Quick. Time passes. The
place is changing as I look and write. I wither. The place ingath-
ers in a mesh of words. Words, keep me, keep all, now: a poem.


‘This place is boring, like most places. There’s nothing I feel
inclined to say about it. When (out of boredom) I try to find
equivalent words, the place changes: a fog shifts, lifts. There are
the stones, piers, windows, chimneys, children of light and water
that once he saw in a good dream – long forgotten: a poem.


‘What happened here? congregate, ghosts, among the
weathered and cracked stones. Take my mouth, speak. dance.
There was nothing but ritual on earth once. I imagine cere-
monies. I will make masks: among those shadows buying and
selling: a poem.


‘Creation of a word, this place. What word? The word is
streaming across time, holding this place and all planets and all
grains of dust in a pattern, a strict equation. I am always trying
to imitate the sound and shape and power of the unknowable
word. Dry whisperings: a poem.’

While the last stanza reaches a mystical depth, the first three are not to be despised. For GMB, there was work, effort involved in the making of a poem. It did not only flow when the Muses stirred but was also the result of patient abiding, well-honed craft, willingness to attend to the particularities of place and the endurance of fabled memories.

For a Christian reader of this poet who was a Catholic Christian, this all makes perfect sense: ascesis yields to insight; patience paves the way to theoria, myth and ritual hold eternal meaning, and who could fail to see The Word in ‘the word’ of that last stanza?

Thank you, faithful interrogator of silence, for your many and beautiful imitations of the sound and shape and power of the unknowable W/word!

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