A haunting music full of subtlety of thought and religious echoes. -- Charles Bainbridge, The Guardian
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About John Glenday
John Glenday had published four collections of poetry at the time of his recording for the Poetry Archive: The Apple Ghost (Peterloo Poets, 1989), which received a Scottish Arts Council Book Prize; Undark (Peterloo Poets, 1995), which was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation: Grain (Picador, 2009), shortlisted for both the Ted Hughes Award and the Griffin International Poetry Prize; and The Golden Mean (Picador, 2015), shortlisted for the Saltire Scottish Poetry Book of the Year and Winner of the 2015 Roehampton Prize.
Glenday’s poetry is often characterised by a subtle, finely-tuned attention to the natural landscapes of Scotland, observation of which gives rise to mediations on death, religion and nationality. These are delivered, sometimes, in highly musical, lyrical long lines (‘the way / the morning breaks against itself marks progress / of a sort; like a prow digging under, ploughing the hour white’), but also, occasionally, in deceptively plain language which, when extended over a prolonged syntactical unit, can warp and buckle unexpectedly. ‘A Westray Prayer’ displays all of these qualities. With extraordinary deftness, the poem strings together a range of registers, tones and concerns – pastoral, political, devotional – concluding with a couplet whose powerful simplicity is more than earned by the swerves and nuances which precede it:
Let us now give thanks
for these salt-blown
where outgrass and timothy
shrink from the harrow of the sea
where Scotland at long last
wearies of muttering it own name
where we may begin
to believe we have always known
what someone in his wisdom
must have meant
when he gave us everything
and told us nothing.
In other modes, Glenday demonstrates his ability to connect different orders of experience – the personal and the historical, the local and the global – in an equally intricate fashion. In a witty, moving poem, ‘Tin’, Glenday responds to the demand for a love poem (‘another love poem’) by unexpected means:
my thoughts were immediately drawn to the early days
of the food canning industry –
all those strangely familiar trade-names from childhood:
Del Monte, Green Giant, Fray Bentos, Heinz.
From this seemingly light opening, the poem develops into a mediation on forms of containment, which touches on the Arctic explorer John Franklin, nuclear waste, tinned peaches, and, implicitly, the history of the love poem itself. The idea of the ‘strangely familiar’ seems, in many respects, descriptive of much of Glenday’s work, in which aspects of everyday experience to which we have become habituated – time, weather, language – are scrutinised so closely, and with such patience, that their basic, irreducible oddness is restored. That this activity of poetic composition is sometimes presented as purposeless, meaningless, or like speaking into a void (as in the conclusion of ‘Imagine you are driving’) only reinforces the impression that these are remarkably intimate poems, both in their hopeful address to the reader and in what they disclose; an impression only deepened by Glenday’s careful, gentle readings of them.
John Glenday's recording was made at The Byre on Nov 18th 2016.
Poems by John Glenday
Featured in the Archive
Books by John Glenday
Scottish Arts Council Book Prize for 'The Apple Ghost'Prize website
Poetry Book Society Recommendation for 'Undark'Prize website
Poetry Book Society Recommendation for 'Grain'Prize website
XE Nathan Prize for 'After Versalius' (from Undark).
Roehampton Poetry Prize for 'The Golden Mean'Prize website