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LONG READ: North literary talent shines at virtual poetry evening

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Sharing poetry is an enjoyable way to spend an evening and a recent zoom event proved to be both inspiring and memorable as several poets came together to share their work.

An evening with George Gunn was hosted by North Coast Helping Hands and organised by their coordinator, Donna Murray, as part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival.

Held on Monday, May 17, the event showcased the literary talent of poets across the north coast and beyond.

Renowned poet and writer George Gunn.
Renowned poet and writer George Gunn.

“Poetry brings people together,” said George Gunn, the renowned poet, writer and playwright from Caithness, whose latest book Chronicles Of The First Light, published by Drunk Muse Press/Poets Republic, will be available shortly.

His play Call Me Mr Bullfinch was commissioned by the Royal Lyceum in Edinburgh and Dogstar Theatre will tour next year around the Highlands and Islands with his play The Fallen Angels Of The Moine.

“All of them, everything I write is about the North of Scotland, my beloved Caithness and Sutherland,” said George.

With George’s cheery banter putting everyone at ease, the evening commenced.

From imaginary characters to kith and kin, local areas to places far away, the array of poems flowed, from past to present. As stories were told, many evoked nostalgic moments from cherished days.

Writer and poet, Clive Grewcock from Golspie gave an interesting take on his childhood, growing up in Thurso.

Cauliflower Patch tells the story of Clive hunting for his pocket knife after his brother tossed it into his neighbour’s cauliflower patch.

But it’s much more than that. It makes one aware that as we grow older we can dip into our past, which is always present, our senses, from sight and smell often triggering memories, emotions and feelings which surface quite spontaneously, sometimes without much thought.

Clive Grewcock.
Clive Grewcock.

Poems flowed from Mandy Beattie, Wick. Astro travelling through the years was the subject of Asleep, Awake and Black Was The Yellow On The Broom gave a moving account of the Clearances.

Graeme Watson, support worker for suicide prevention charity Mikeysline gave an analogy of the word ‘Normality’ through each letter. He also read out a poem Just Another Year by his niece Alison Campbell of Befrienders Highland.

Graeme Watson, a support worker for suicide charity Mikeysline. Picture: Fiona Burnett
Graeme Watson, a support worker for suicide charity Mikeysline. Picture: Fiona Burnett

Jon Miller from Ullapool intrigued everyone with his poem which read like a thriller, ending with a twist.

I Stand Waiting by Meg Macleod from Thurso, painted a scenario most of us can relate to during the long dark winter months when we crave more light to lift our spirits and make us feel alive.

She encaptured the long wait through to deliverance when light suddenly “opens up the world again”.

“It’s a celebration of time, when the sun comes back,” said Meg.

Celestial Beauty’ written and shared by Linda Coultry from Gateshead, Newcastle, was inspired by the sunsets she viewed while sitting on her doorstep during summer months, looking out across blazing fields as the sun gradually set.

Linda was delighted to participate in the event. “There’s nothing like this down here and it’s really nice to be part of this.” she said, later reciting Truth Hurts, a poem she wrote after her acceptance of the loss of her mother.

“In terms of inspiration, for me it is about the emotion that is so strong it can’t be contained,” said Linda.

“I have to be able to ‘feel’ what it is I am writing about, which is why I think poetry is a good medium for me as poems can be short enough to capture even the most fleeting of moments.

"I do tend to have a strong connection with items that hold memories and with nature when I write.”

I Will Remember You, written by Fiona Burnett from Loch Eriboll, was inspired by the death of her uncle, a former fisherman on Loch Eriboll.

She remembered him through the different seasons. "When the cuckoo returns, when dragonflies hover. When wagtail and sandpiper appear and the great northern diver sits proud on the sea, I’ll think of you."

While Juniper Lockdown described the ‘new norm’ which she encountered on her seven-week stay in Edinburgh, looking after her elderly mother during last year’s first lockdown.

"Two metre distance, what an existence. No more hugs, masks hooked on lugs. Sirens screeching, home school teaching."

Jane Mackay from Talmine, Melness, recited an amusing poem her husband George wrote many years ago entitled One Sunday in Melness, a true account of their lunchtime soiree at the Craggan Hotel in Melness, when a table licence operated at that time.

The arrival of two policemen put the wind up everyone, resulting in seven men and a woman frantically trying to hide, and ending up in the loo together, only to hear raised voices through the door from the policemen, banging on the door insisting they vacate the loo immediately as they needed to pay a visit themselves!

Back in the Days of Tanners and Bobs was recited by music teacher Fenella Whittle from North Coast Campus offering another trip down memory lane.

“Back in the days of hot ginger beers, when children remained so for more than six years. When children respected what older folks said, and pot was a thing you kept under your bed.”

As the evening drew to a close, Marion Macdougall from Tongue offered a recording of Over The Hill To The Craggan by the late Hugh Macleod, a former teacher in Peterhead, originally from Achininver, Melness.

Hugh’s mesmerizing Highland voice took you on his journey from his home over the hills, sharing his thoughts as he went.

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