Edinburgh International Book Festival
10.15: Kathleen Jamie
Kathleen Jamie packed so much poetry in to this hour the atmosphere in the Spiegel tent could have turned claustrophobic. Thankfully her poems cleared the air with their precision and clarity. Jamie eschewed long introductions and read sixteen poems from her 2012 book, Overhaul. She also read extracts from a new work, Frissure, a collaborative venture with visual artist Brigid Collins, and a new poem commemorating the Battle of Bannockburn.
She opened with ‘The Beach’, about the curiosities the sea throws out during storms and those ‘brave souls’ who comb the shore afterwards, ‘eyeing the driftwood’ and ‘hankering for a changed life’. The debris left behind by the riotous elements was a consistent theme. In one of the Tay sonnets, ‘Springs’, the ‘shucking and shoving’ of the River Tay opens up ‘evidence of and inner life, secrets/ of your estuarine soul’. The arresting final image of crows descending on a dead salmon was one of many that hung around in this reviewer’s mind long after the reading finished.
In ‘The Stags‘ the ‘weighty, antique polished antlers’ of these great beasts rises above vegetation in the Cairngorms. A reading of ‘Roses’, which incorporates the words of revolutionary Rosa Luxemborg, highlighted that Jamie was not content to fall back on a simple Romantic exploration of the self in nature. Politics and the wise words of everyday folk are slipped in to her poems but never crowd out the flora and fauna.
Frissure came out of Jamie’s recovery from breast cancer. After surgery she was looking at her new scar in the bathroom mirror when she noticed how it resembled the ‘low shores of an island’ or the ‘stem of a rose’. She asked artist Brigid Collins to transform the shape of this scar into forms from the natural world. Jamie has written accompanying prose-poems to Collins’s drawings. She poignantly described sitting in Collins’s art studio in Leith, looking around at the clutter and feeling like her ‘soul was being regrown’. Frissure seeks to move the body back into a landscape ‘it never left’.
After a brief question and answer session Jamie stood up to read a final piece. The poem is currently being carved on to an oak beam and will be unveiled next year at the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn. She wanted to write something that was not nationalistic or victorious and, true to her word, the poem conjured a vision of the land that ‘belongs to nothing but itself’