National Poetry Month 2013, Week Two: Kathleen Jamie’s “The Overhaul”

April 12, 2013

kathleen-Jamie-600x600The past few years I’ve found myself increasingly engaged with poetry from across the Pond, Scotland in particular.

In part, through my appearance in ANON magazine, the “honourable mention” I received in the ESRC Genomics Forum Poetry Competition, and connecting with the Scottish Poetry Library.

My paternal grandfather’s family hailed from the central lowlands textile burgh of Paisley, across the River Clyde from Glasgow, which may explain why I’m partial to Scottish poets. (My Burns’ Nights were famous in the 1990s.) Whatever the case, I’ve found some kindred spirits of my generation among them.

Once such is Kathleen Jamie. Jamie “resists being identified solely as a Scottish poet, a woman writer, or a nature poet,” reads her entry in the Poetry Foundation’s web site. “Instead, she aims for her poetry to ‘provide a sort of connective tissue,’ as she notes in a 2005 interview.”

Her influences include Seamus Heaney, Elizabeth Bishop, John Clare, and Annie Dillard. Quite a foursome, that, and it shows or doesn’t show – rather, it is felt. She takes the powerful language of Heaney, the precise observation of Bishop, Clare’s perspective on landscape, and the natural history acumen of Dillard’s nonfiction.

Jamie’s poems are highly musical – meant to be read aloud, and “attend to the intersection of landscape, history, gender, and language.”

Her latest collection, The Overhaul, was published in the UK by Picador (where another Scottish-born poet of my generation, Don Patterson, is editor) and took home the prestigious Costa Prize.

Here is the title poem from this collection, “The Overhaul,” by Kathleen Jamie:

Look – it’s the Lively,

hauled out above the tideline

up on a trailer with two

flat tyres. What –


14 foot? Clinker-built

and chained by the stern

to a pile of granite blocks,

but with the bow


still pointed westward

down the long voe,

down toward the ocean,

where the business is.


Inland from the shore

a road runs, for the crofts

scattered on the hill

where washing flaps,


and the school bus calls

and once a week or so

the mobile library;

but see how this


duck-egg green keel’s

all salt-weathered,

how the stem, taller

— like a film star –


than you’d imagine,

is raked to hold steady

if a swell picks up

and everyone gets scared…


No, it can’t be easy,

when the only  spray to touch

your boards all summer

is flowers of scentless mayweed;


when little wavelets leap

less than a stone’s throw

with your good name

written all over them –


but hey, Lively,

it’s a tme-of-life thing,

it’s a waiting game –

patience, patience.



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