Inspired by Artists

This year is the centenary of Joan Eardley’s birth and there are a number of exhibitions being held to celebrate that fact.

Joan Eardley was painting in Glasgow in the late fifties and early sixties at the same time as Herbert Whone. In his book Glasgow in Transition, there is a photograph of the two of them at one of the exhibitions in the McLellan galleries in Glasgow.

Reading more about Joan Eardley online recently and thinking of the various exhibitions planned to celebrate her life, I read Edwin Morgan’s poem about one of Joan Eardley’s paintings that he owned. (This was on the Association for Scottish Literary Studies Facebook page.)

Reading that poem made me decide to do some more work on a poem I had written recently


There were always a few

stacked against the wall

in your attic studio

ready for the next exhibition.

Your Yorkshire landscapes

taught me how to see

beauty in old gates,

neglected farm buildings,

carts abandoned in corners,

mill chimneys beside canals;

scenes of a work landscape

no thatched prettiness .

You’d moved back to your roots

after a time in Glasgow

influenced by Eardley so

Glasgow trams, tenements

were superceded by Yorkshire

gritstone.  I remember

heady scents of paint and turps

as I entered your studio

a room filled not just with easel,

paintings , piano and fiddle

but fossils, curios collected

over years to inspire, as you did.

You nurtured deepening thoughts,

philosophical search and now

you live on, not only in your art and books

but in many memories and hearts.

i.m. Herbert (Bert) Whone – 1925 – 2011

 musician, artist, writer and friend

Glasgow tram (photo of a card)

Colne Valley near Slaithwaite (photo of our original oil painting bought 1967)


Finding that Elusive Solitude

Creating something whether it’s a painting, a sculpture, a magnus opus or a short poem, we need to find that elusive thing called solitude. It is possible to create when in a busy place surrounded by others and with constant interruptions but Mary Oliver knew how much easier it is if we can rely on having the luxury of a quiet time to ourselves. In her book of essays Upstream Selected Essays, she wrote –

Creative work needs solitude. It needs concentration, without interruptions. It needs the whole sky to fly in, and no eye watching until it comes to that certainty which it aspires to, but does not necessarily have at once. Privacy, then. A place apart — to pace, to chew pencils, to scribble and erase and scribble again.
But just as often, if not more often, the interruption comes not from another but from the self itself, or some other self within the self, that whistles and pounds upon the door panels and tosses itself, splashing, into the pond of meditation. And what does it have to say? That you must phone the dentist, that you are out of mustard, that your uncle Stanley’s birthday is two weeks hence. You react, of course. Then you return to your work, only to find that the imps of idea have fled back into the mist.

As she noted, it’s not always others that interrupt our train of thought. We need to somehow keep our minds focussed on the job in hand and not let our minds wander, drift off along another path which leads to a dead end. This is so much easier said than done.

When learning to meditate many years ago, I was told to acknowledge thoughts that come into my head, then put them to one side and return to the stillness. Occasionally, one of these uninvited invaders might actually be bringing a useful insight – in which case we accept it gratefully!

Sadly, I have only recently come across the work of Mary Oliver but better late …

Inspired by Shells


Many of my poems have been inspired by the coastline of the Machars. The various beaches all have different characteristics – some have been a treasure trove of sea glass, some present my favourite colour as they’re edged with swathes of marram grass, while others have pebbles that look as though they’ve been tie-dyed.

Yesterday we wandered over shingle that was dotted with limpet shell rings in and amongst the marram grass and I was reminded of my poem  Shell Villanelle  which was published in Markings magazine some time ago.

 Shell Villanelle

The hard ridged edge, the smooth inner shell,

we search the beach for your limpet rings.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


We gather until our pockets swell

‘Just collect limpets, no other things.’

The hard ridged edge, the smooth inner shell.


Patterns of brown, ridged lines on the shell,

some with colours of young gulls wings.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


Once your eye is in, ‘There’s more!’ you yell

Our search continues as the curlew sings.

The hard ridged edge, the smooth inner shell.


Your pockets are bulging, mine are as well

as we make our way to the landings.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


We empty our pockets of those magic shells,

gaze at the colours and patterns on the rings.

The hard ridged edges, the smooth inner shell.

Ovals, circles; from the shore we know well.


Inspiring People,Inspiring Words

Some years ago I was given a beautiful book that had an unusual cover made from embroidered patchwork. The pages were not just ordinary paper, but handmade.


I looked at it; felt that this was just too special to use for scribbled notes, drafts of poems etc. So, I decided I would just use it to record quotations that I had found inspirational. These quotations came from a number of sources – quotes that I discovered when reading either books or pieces online. They have become quite a treasure trove to look back through and find inspiration.


Inspiration also comes from nature, from music, from paintings and people.  I owe so much to so many sources…


Samuel Beckett, in my opinion anyway, is one of the most thought provoking writers. He must surely be one of the most quoted and, bearing in mind my references to Dante in a previous post, I have to remind you of Beckett’s comment

All I want to do is sit on my ass and fart and think of Dante.

But possibly my two favourite quotes of his are

Words are the clothes thoughts wear.


Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

The latter is on the wall in my study beneath a portrait of Beckett – something to inspire me when my thoughts are naked.

Inspired byWalking

This Christmas I’ve been reading a book about Andy Goldsworthy’s work.

Andy Goldsworthy’s Holes Sculptures

Andy’s sculptures

holes of



Sculpted holes

sculpted in slate

stone, brick, leaves.




ephemeral holes

producing an indelible memory.

Even a glimpse of



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I’ve been fascinated by his sculptures for many years. He uses stones, pebbles, wood, leaves etc. found walking in the countryside and by the sea. He too moved to Dumfries and Galloway and much of his inspiration comes from places within walking distance of his home.This afternoon we were walking along the coast near the Isle of Whithorn – for me the source of so much poetry. I think I’ve commented before on the fact that although we’ve travelled to many other places, most of my work has been inspired by this corner of south-west Scotland.

With a coastline like this

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where we can walk for hours without seeing another person; it’s a constant source of inspiration and a place that lifts the spirits no matter what the weather.

A Sense of Being

A sense of oneness,

after a search for meaning.

A sense of fullness,

when the mind is empty.

A sense of being,

when time stands still.

Inspired by the Landscape

Although we have travelled to very many places in the UK over the years and further afield – even to the other side of the world in New Zealand – as I look through my collection of poems there are far more inspired by this corner of Dumfries & Galloway than anywhere else.

Here we have the sea and so many different types of coastline where we enjoy sandy beaches, clifftops carpeted with nature’s own patchwork of spring squill, thyme, saxifrage , bluebells, celandines and then there are miles of merse, salt marsh or inks as they’re known locally. Here in winter, we get huge flocks of geese grazing.

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A version of the following poem was published in an anthology ‘Singing Over the Bones’ in 2010 to celebrate Wigtown Women’s Walk.

Salt Marsh Defined

 They call it merse, salt marsh, inks

where there’s the boardwalk and a stone

marking the two Margarets’ death.

That  black sulphurous layer

they call merse, salt marsh, inks.


A feeding ground for Greenland’s geese;

land for grazing Galloway cattle;

where granite marks the deaths

of one eighteen, one sixty three,

they call it merse, salt marsh, inks.


Margarets Wilson and McLaughlin

Eleventh May 1685.

Now we hear the cries of birds,

shiver in cold sun, remember them

by the merse, salt marsh, inks.


The martyrs’ stake marks the spot

So we remember how

By the merse, salt marsh, inks

These women stood defiant,

Proud of their covenanters’ vow.


The Martyrs’ stake commemorative stone was surrounded by sea after an unusually high tide.


Inspiration while Ironing!

Ironing is not one of my favourite jobs, but one day it did inspire the following poem which was published on Poetry Scotland’s Open Mouse.


Ironing Nellie’s Hanky

One hanky, edged with tatting

lies on the ironing board.

Tatting, not tat or tatty, but

lace lovingly crafted by Nellie.

The hankies I bought for her,

instructed ‘plain, nothing fancy,’

bought from ‘Hanky Man’- there each

week at Monday market.

In Nellie’s hands, they morphed

into gifts fit for a queen or princess.

She sent them too – to both. And received

letters of thanks, on their behalf.

Tissues couldn’t tell such a tale.

This hanky now ironed, lives on.

Nellie doesn’t. Eighty odd years

behind her, over sixty years of

climbing the lane to her house

that was home for generations –

in her weaver’s cottage she spent

many an evening by the window

as long as the light held – because

daylight was always best.

Hands slower, stiffer then

but still nimble enough for lace

tatting. Not tat or tatty but delicate,

full of memories knotted into each

hanky. This one lies here now

neatly pressed on my ironing board.

The Hanky Man too has gone

from the market stall.

Hankies – soon to be a part of

history, gazed at in museum cases,

mostly cotton checked or coloured

and those edged with lace.

Tatting, not tat or tatty.



Finding Solitude

Sometimes we need to escape from the noise and demands of C21st life and find a way to recharge our batteries. Living near the sea in a quiet corner of Scotland certainly helps.



I sit on the rocks alone.

Evening sun casts a soft light over

shimmering sand and sea.

Footprints of others

are gently washed away

by the incoming tide.

A choir of keening oystercatchers

has left the shore.

All is quiet.

Discordant thoughts  – expand

tumble into the silence

shatter the peace.

Gradually, the rhythmic sound of

waves washing the shore performs

a therapeutic mental massage.


Peace drifts in with the tide.





Finding Stillness

If I’m to improve as a writer, I need to have time to think and time to just ‘be’.

How much does the life of any writer influence his/her writing? Is it only possible to write well about happiness when my life is happy, sadness when I’m sad and so on? If I am in the depths of despair, am I better able to create something profoundly moving?

What is it that inspires – is it our own lives more than the lives of others? Can we learn more by reliving the past through the lives of others? Developing this thought, is it possible for great works of fiction to influence the lives of others as much as works of philosophy? Can we see ourselves in the great dramas of this age and the past – surely the answer is yes and, if that is the case, then dramatic works and fiction can lead to a greater understanding of ourselves and others.

Can a diet of TV dramas, soaps and reality shows affect people’s aspirations and lead to unrealistic attitudes towards real life? Will young people be misled into thinking what their lives could be, should be like?

Does illness always focus the mind of writers and composers? Does the thought of imminent death or serious illness provoke the creative urge and desire to produce something for posterity. Without that there is always the thought that there’s ‘plenty of time to do that and I’ll get round to it one day’, but it’s no good relying on a terminal illness to prompt the inspiration for a masterpiece of literature. We need to be  aware of time passing and make the most of each day.

So many questions and only by living, wondering, observing and being consciously aware can we attempt to come near to answers. Finding those moments of stillness to think is essential.