The Kilmarnock Burns And Book History

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The Kilmarnock in wrappers (Image by kind permission of Robert Burns Birthplace Museum, National Trust for Scotland)

Patrick Scott is Research Fellow for Scottish Collections and Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of English Language and Literature at the University of South Carolina. His work on the Kilmarnock Edition is a must read for all fans of Rabbie Burns.

Allan Young and I have just published the first-ever attempt to track down all surviving copies of Burns’s first book, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect (Kilmarnock: Wilson, 1786), the Kilmarnock Burns (1). Mr Young started working on this project fifteen years ago, and I have been collaborating with him for the past two years. We located just eighty-four surviving copies, which makes Burns’s book three times rarer than the Shakespeare First Folio.

At one level, this project might seem merely antiquarian. As early as 1903, the purchase of a Kilmarnock by the Burns Monument trustees was fiercely denounced in an Aberdeen newspaper:

Really, I think it is absurd for the Burns Trustees to throw away so much money […] Private individuals may spend their thousands on first editions if they choose: but could the memory of Burns not be honoured in a more practical way than by giving £1,000 for a book which is to go in a glass case and be looked at by tourists? (2)

Yet one of the big recent shifts in literary studies has been the growing interest in ‘book history’, and in the material forms in which we encounter literary texts. Mr. Young and I were not just listing the eighty-four copies, but trying to describe them and track their stories. After 230 years, the ravages of time and the pride of former owners have left marks on each surviving copy. Many copies carry ownership inscriptions, annotations, or bookplates. Some include manuscript poems, a few in Burns’s hand. Successive bindings and re-bindings mean that the copies vary quite a bit in size. Some have tears or missing leaves, and even after repair and replacement, most restoration leaves detectable traces. The accumulative of such changes makes every copy distinctive, and through reading these differences one can reconstruct changing attitudes to this book, and to Burns himself.

Like much about Burns, the story is very easy to oversimplify. To its first readers, in July and August 1786, Burns’s book made its appearance in plain blue-gray paper wrappers, with the page edges untrimmed, and it was available chiefly through local distribution to subscribers in Ayrshire itself. The wrappers were fragile, and the paper spine cracked away easily, so few copies survive in this original form, but one is at Alloway, in the Birthplace Museum (the same copy that drew that protest in 1903), and it can be viewed on the RBBM website. (3)

But just as Henry Mackenzie’s ‘Heav’n-taught ploughman’ would morph into the late Victorian National Bard, so the Kilmarnock’s original fragile wrappers would in time typically be replaced by fine bindings in gold-tooled full morocco, from such noted London binders as Bedford or Rivière. The majority of copies now surviving are in a binding from this period, though not all quite as spectacular as the one illustrated below, which Ross Roy used to say was more appropriate for the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayam than for a Kilmarnock. (4)

The Kilmarnock rebound: full red morocco, gilt, by Rivière, ca. 1900 (Image courtesy of the G. Ross Roy Collection, University of South Carolina / photo: Robert Smith)

Such bindings were not only a statement about the importance of Burns, but also of the owner’s wealth and status, and the best examples are collectible in their own right: indeed, most copies in fine bindings were housed in their own protective morocco slip cases or boxes that to the casual eye look equally impressive. By 1900, Burns was not only a prestige author, but an international one. Both buyers and prices had changed: instead of an Ayrshire farmer the typical early twentieth-century Kilmarnock purchaser might be a Scottish peer or an American railroad baron. Burns’s original subscribers had paid just 3 shillings (15p), but in 1929 a copy sold at auction for £2,550 (£140,000 at current value). In 2017, while there are still six copies in Ayrshire, and twenty-five in Scotland, there are at least forty-eight in the United States.

The contrast seems obvious enough. A Kilmarnock as originally issued was all of a piece with hodden gray, hamely fare, and a’ that. The Kilmarnock as later collected was a precious icon of world literature. Relatively few of the later collectors aimed to build a comprehensive collection of Burns editions. Most of them were adding a Kilmarnock alongside other Great Books. Indeed, part of its prestige in the market was its inclusion in One Hundred Books Famous in English Literature, a collector-list published in 1902 by the Grolier Club of New York.

Both sides of this contrast need more nuance. The original page format and paper show the Kilmarnock was always intended to look superior to John Wilson’s previous books. The distinctive title-page decorations, also used throughout the book, seem to have been specially purchased to reflect this ambition. The paper covers were intended to be temporary, and most purchasers had their copy put in a more serviceable binding; Burns himself told his friend John Richmond ‘you must bind it neatly’. (5)

These early bindings, rather than the copies in wrappers, show best how Burns was read by his Ayrshire contemporaries. Distribution also qualifies too populist a narrative. As Richard Sher has pointed out, the immediate economic success of the volume came more from the backing of a few major supporters than from individual subscribers; over two thirds of the 612 copies were bought by just seven names. (6) In November 1786, when a letter to the Edinburgh Evening Courant complained that ‘not one’ of Ayrshire’s ‘Peers, Nabobs, and wealthy Commoners’ had ‘stepped forth as a patron’ to Burns, Gavin Hamilton fired back that, of the original print run, ‘the greatest part […] were subscribed for, or bought up by, the gentlemen of Airshire’. (7)

On the other side, even in the 1890s and early 1900s, many individual Kilmarnock owners on both sides of the Atlantic have not been people of great wealth. Duncan M’Naught, longtime editor of the Burns Chronicle, was parish schoolmaster of Kilmaurs, but owned two Kilmarnocks. One of the most famous wrappered Kilmarnocks was owned in the 1890s by A. C. Lamb, proprietor of a temperance hotel in Dundee. By 1900, too, many copies had become tatty, and the elaborate bindings played an important role in their survival. Unlike the Shakespeare First Folio, the Kilmarnock Burns is a thin volume that, in an undistinguished early binding or in bad condition, could well be overlooked when an owner dies or a house is cleared. Part C of our book contains several anecdotes of this kind. It was not till the collector generation that the special importance of the surviving wrappered copies was recognized, and the competition between collectors who couldn’t get one put a special premium on other copies with early inscriptions or manuscript material. Once a Burns manuscript had been bound up with a Kilmarnock in red morocco gilt, its survival was ensured. It was many years later before university libraries and other public institutions took over this role to any significant extent.

The Kilmarnock in a contemporary binding: full calf, gilt spine with label, edges trimmed (The Earl of Glencairn’s copy / image courtesy of Dr. William Zachs)

In his own times, Burns’s poetry was disseminated in many different ways, not just in books, from manuscript and oral transmission to newspapers, chapbooks and broadsides. Burns himself wrote a satiric squib about fine bindings and insect damage in an aristocratic library:

Through and through th’inspired leaves,
Ye maggots, make your windings,
But, oh! Respect his lordship’s taste,
And spare his golden bindings.

Two centuries later, the importance of Burns’s own poems means that all Kilmarnocks, whatever their binding, can be of great research interest as well as of monetary value. Even a copy that is damaged or imperfect tells a story. It is often through the material form in which Burns’s first book has survived, in the ambitious ‘improvements’ made by earlier owners and in the traces of neglect or mishandling, that we can now reconstruct the varied ways in which Burns has been valued.

End Notes
1 – Allan Young and Patrick Scott, The Kilmarnock Burns: A Census (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Libraries, 2017). The discussion here draws from my introductory essay, ‘Describing the Kilmarnock’, pp. xxi-xxxvi, which gives fuller references.
2 – Aberdeen Journal, July 29, 1903, p. 10.
3 – Robert Burns Birthplace Museum object 3:3135
G4 – . Ross Roy, in Burns Chronicle Homecoming 2009, ed. Peter J. Westwood (Dumfries: Burns Federation, 2010), p. 415.
5 – Letters of Robert Burns, ed. G. Ross Roy (Oxford: Clarendon, 1985), I: 50.
6 – Richard Sher, The Enlightenment and the Book: Scottish Authors & Their Publishers in Eighteenth-Century Britain, Ireland, & America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p. 230.
7 – The exchange is reprinted in Donald A. Low, ed., Robert Burns: the Critical Heritage (London: Routledge, Kegan Paul, 1974), pp. 65-66.
8 – Poems and Songs, ed. James Kinsley (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968), II: 906.

On The Antiquities of Arran (4): Machrie Moor and the Samothrakean Mysteries

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Is it possible, still, that the ancient gods can influence the modern world. Recent investigations of mine have landed my personal supposition on the notion firmly in the YES camp. It all begins with my first glimpse of Samothraki, last summer, about this time of year actually, when I remarked to myself how like Arran the island appear’d – a great mountainous heap on an isolated island, with lower levels spread either side of the peak. Fengari Mountain & Goat Fell are both about the same size & rise like jagged dragonsteeth from the sea & anyone seeing both peaks can only assume they were crafted by the same forces.

On Samothraki is the anciently famous Sanctuary of the Great Gods, which I visited last year & was inspired to recreate the Mysteries once held there – Alexander the Great’s mum & dad were two initiates who met during the ceremony. On visiting the sprawling complex I was inspired to recreate the Mysteries from the scraps of detail recorded millennia ago – the following two posts ( a video) show the idea & its fruition.

Reconstructing the Samothrakian Mysteries

The Samothracian Mysteries

Roll on a year & I am conducting a chispological survey into the antiquities of Arran – see what I can dig up that has been missed. So let us revisit Machrie Moor, an amazing place I was last at a few weeks back. A century ago scholars had decided that because they found sepulchral remains in the circles of Machrie Moor, then this was their main purpose. However, holy sites in Britain have always evolved. It is not uncommon in the south of England especially to find a church built upon the site of a Roman temple, which in turn was erected on some pagan place of worship. It is possible, then, that the Machrie Moor complex had also evolved, from Pagan through Cronos worship into this fresh hyperbasis upon which I shall now attempt to show its one-time relationship with the Great Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothraki.

We begin with a 20th century American author, Jean Stafford, who noticed the connection between Corrie & Cora, inventing a rather spurious story about her being related to Alexander the Great, but adding an interesting detail that her ancestors had migrated from Samothraki to Arran. A strange start, admittedly, but as a Chispologist I see the latent possibility in the village Corrie of being connected to the Goddess Cora, also known as Persophone, the daughter of the great mother nature goddess, Demeter. This leads us then to Strabo, who on discussing the geographical writings of Artemidorus of Ephesus [late second-century BC], we read that, ‘his report about the goddesses Demeter and Core is more credible. He says that there is an island near Britain on which sacrifices are performed like those in Samothrace for Demeter and Core.’

Of course that only narrows the Samothracian mysteries to an island off mainland Britain, but the fact that the rites were performed in this area is both astonishing & also unacknowledged by academia! Those mysteries, by the way, were said to have been founded by two legendary heroes & brothers, Dardanos and Iasion, who became associated with the divine twins known as the Dioscuri. This then leads us to Diodorus Siculus’ discussion of Timaeus [early third century BC];

Historians point out that the Celts who live on the shore of the Ocean honor the Dioscori above other gods. For there is an ancient tradition among them that these gods came to them from the Ocean.

The Sanctuary of the Great Gods
Machrie Moor

One way of looking at that information is to place Dardanos and Iasion voyaging along the fringes of north west Europe, coming across the Samothracian looking Arran & deciding to set up a sister mystery ceremony. Perhaps. But if they did, then it must have been at Machrie Moor, a series of stone circles which seem to mirror the areas at Samothraki thro which the initiation ceremony convey’d. In the following image of Samothraki, the buildings themselves were erected over many centuries but noble patrons, but like I said before, these constructions may have been novel ‘improvements’ on earlier layers, which could well have been stone circles or something akin. This is a quote from my own post on Recreating the Samothrakean Mysteries;

The physical evidence of the Mystery ceremony can be found at the Sanctuary of the Great Gods on Samothraki, a sprawling religious pan-centurial site which contains the three sacred precincts which the initiate had to move through in order to complete the Mystery procession. These were the preliminary Myeses, the Telete & the Epopteia. One school of thought states that after a prospective initiate had been prepared in the Sanctuary’s Sacristy, the Myesis took place in the Anaktoron’s main hall, followed by the Telete in the inner adyton at the building’s north end. Once this concluded, the mystai (initiates) could proceed to the Hieron where they acquired the higher degree, the epopteia.

I will leave this post with one last hint at the background to what I now believe is the sacred colony of Samothraki that had been set up on Arran. We begin with a passage from Diodorus Siculus discussing the mysteries;

And Iasion is reputed to have been the first to initiate strangers into them and by this means to bring the initiatory rite to high esteem. And after this Cadmus, the son of Agenor, came in the course of his quest for Europê to the Samothracians, and after participating in the initiation he married Harmonia, who was the sister of Iasion and not, as the Greeks recount in their mythologies, the daughter of Ares.

This wedding of Cadmus and Harmonia was the first, we are told, for which the gods provided the marriage-feast, and Demeter, becoming enamoured of Iasion, presented him with the fruit of the corn, Hermes gave a lyre, Athena the renowned necklace and a robe and a flute, and Electra the sacred rites of the Great Mother of the Gods, as she is called, together with cymbals and kettledrums and the instruments of her ritual; and Apollo played upon the lyre and the Muses upon their flutes, and the rest of the gods spoke them fair and gave the pair their aid in the celebration of the wedding.

The claim is also made that men who have taken part in the mysteries become both more pious and more just and better in every respect than they were before. And this is the reason, we are told, why the most famous both of the ancient heroes and of the demi-gods were eagerly desirous of taking part in the initiatory rite; and in fact Jason and the Dioscori, and Heracles and Orpheus as well, after their initiation attained success in all the campaigns they undertook, because these gods appeared to them.

The key nugget here is the mention of Agenor, who I believe is present in the Pictish King List as Agam/Agnoiun at the very start of the Pictish arrival in Britain.

The children of Gleoin, son of Ercol, took possession of the islands of Orcc, that is, Historend, son of Historrim, son of Agam, son of Agathirsi

Cruithne, son of Cinge, son of Luctai, son of Parthalan, son of Agnoiun

Which leaves us perfectly poised for the next installment of The Antiquities of Arran, where I shall be associating the island with the Hyksos diaspora…

On the Antiquities of Arran (3) : Sacrifice on Stronach Ridge

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There has been a new development to my time on Arran. But before we step forth upon the evolution, here is one last sonnet from my Sannox explorations, with rather a lovely name I think;


Following the bob of the deers’ head guide

I scamper’d up my first Arran hillside

Not quite a goat, not even younger man

But, damn it, let me do the best I can

For I shall dwell the best part of a year

Upon these stones, where bones of mountaineer

Who died a lonely death, a broken pile,

Lies hidden in some crevice peristyle;

On scene-sunk ridge I gulp’d a morsel thrill

But storming midgies meant no standing still

Until I froze, & found I’d lost my hat

A good one, & my only one at that

Destin’d to join the lost lives Arran’s claim’d,

Ungarnish’d & ungarden’d & unnamed.

As for my personal progression, I have found a patron here, who seems a fan of my poetical intellect & historical instincts. One could say Clio & Calliope have gone to work. The gentleman lives in England, but has a holiday home on Arran & after a most serendipitous meeting he has leant me his house &, better, still, his copious cornucopia of archeology books, including many on Arran itself.

A couple of days after we met he took me on a small expedition to the woodlands behind Brodick School, parking the car near the entrance to Glen Rosa. It was not too deep into the forest that we came across certain slanting rocks on which were carved cup marks & some images that looked like circles & keyholes. 

I also noticed certain channels & after a while I I began to get the notion that because there were two channels per circle – the legs of the keyhole so to speak – there might have been some kind of oracular purpose based upon the blood flow of sacrificed animals, or even humans. I.e. putting a bird or a human heart in the circle & seeing where the blood flowed, either the yes or the no channel.

My new friend said he’d never heard that before & a few days later after he’d left for England I began to analyze his library in search of more information on those markings.

In the very famous 2 volume Book Of Arran by J.A. Balfour (volume 1 – archeology 1910), there is a chapter by Fred T Coles entitled ‘Cup & Ring-Marked Rocks: Stronach Ridge, Brodick,’ which immediately gave me the name of the place I had become curious about – Stronach Ridge. In 1910 Mr Coles had made a special examination & drawings of the site for the Proceedings of the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, which Balfour reprinted.

Of the images, Coles writes;

These designs, though never hitherto noticed in Scotland in anything like the same number, have their cognates elsewhere. For example, on a rockat Gillroannie, Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, there occurs just such a plain oval ‘boss’ as is found here on Stronach Ridge… & in Yorkshire, on a stone near the Panorama Stone, & on other surfaces in that neighbourhood, near Ilkley.

In a later book of the 20th century, ‘Exploring Arran’s Past’ Horace Fairhurst adss a little more correlative knowledge;

Examples of comparable decorated surfaces occur notably at Kilmichael Glassary & other sites in Mid-Argyll, & again around Gatehouse of Fleet. Boulders with man-made cup markings on them are common in various parts of Scotland, including Kintyre, but they seem to be scarce on Arran.

As a scholar of Pictish history, I also noticed the similarity between the ring marks & one of the Pictish symbols, monicker’d the ‘Disc & Rectangle.

At this point in my study I would like to bring to your attention a certain passage in Hector Boece’s 16th century history of Scotland. In recent centuries Academia has debated & argued its way through the possible meaning of the Pictish symbols, but perhaps Boece knew the answer all along; 

Those who died fighting the Britons should be honored with conspicuous monuments, and obelisks should be erected over their tombs to match the number of men they had killed. A large quantity of these obelisks can still be seen in the Highlands. In later times the custom arose that the tombs of the most famous and distinguished men were held in veneration like shrines, and men would build cairns of stones and erect large ones on which were inscribed the shapes of fish, snakes, and birds (that age used these instead of letters of the alphabet for writing arcane things), to advise passers-by who they were and what fair things they had achieved in life.

A very early Pictish presence on the island could well be connected to the cairns mentioned by Boece & also Thomas Pennant, who tour’d the Scottish highlands in 1772. Of the cairns, Balfour writes;

The Chambered Cairns of Arran are chiefly distributed over the southern half of the island. It is probable that many examples of this class of monument have disappeared owing to the extension of cultivation. Since the date of Pennant’s tour (1772) a number of great cairns which he describes have wholly vanished.

I shall be analyzing the very early Pictish connection to Arran in the next ‘episode,’ which the cairns might be a relique of. My studies are definitely gonna happen now, I’m sure, for I’ve been bless’d with a sense of security & permanence. My bookshop is up & running, as is the ground coffee beans element which I’ve introduced to my ‘revenue stream.’ Indeed, I feel rather safe, blessed even, to continue my investigations into the Antiquities of Arran.

Samuel Johnson on Pope & Dryden

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Sir Joshua Reynolds famous portrait of Dr Johnson
Sir Joshua Reynolds famous portrait of Dr Johnson

Dryden’s page is a natural field, rising into inequalities, and diversified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation; Pope’s is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and levelled by the roller.

As tradition ebbs & flows, so fashion comes & goes, & there can be no more of a fashion in English poetry than the more than a century long fastidious passion of the neo-classical couplet. Beginning in the mid seventeenth century & lasting all the way up to the dawn of the Romantics, of the poets who composed in the form there are two which may be considers as the true musical composers of the language. If Milton was a church organ, then Dryden & Pope were symphonies with strings. Pope’s reputation as a poet has always fluctuated. Some ages dote all over him, while others deny him even the title of a poet, as in Hazlitt’s;

The question, whether Pope was a poet, has hardly yet been settled, & is hardly worth settling; for if he was not a great poet, he must have been a great prose writer, that ism he was a great writer of some sort.

For me, Pope was a poet inhibited by poetical experience. Physically invalided, he never really travelled & his poetical creation was confined to books & his prodigious imagination. But a poet he has to be, his Iliad is the greatest transcreation in the English language, a real store house of my language’s phraseology, diction & vocabulary – a true epic lacking only its author’s original muse. Indeed, it was Dryden’s own work with the epic of Virgil that seems to have inspired Pope to his Iliadic task. Coleridge writes, in his Biographia Literia;

Of the two poets, & their differences, Samuel Johnson remarks with acute dissemination. The following passages come from his 1781 ‘Life of Pope,’ so obviously contains a slight bias to Pope, but it is in the comparison with Dryden that we gain such an accurate judgement of both men’s abilities.

In his perusal of the English poets he soon distinguished the versification of Dryden, which he considered as the model to be studied, and was impressed with such veneration for his instructer that he persuaded some friends to take him to the coffeehouse which Dryden frequented, and pleased himself with having seen him.

Dryden died May 1, 1701, some days before Pope was twelve: so early must he therefore have felt the power of harmony, and the zeal of genius. Who does not wish that Dryden could have known the value of the homage that was paid him, and foreseen the greatness of his young admirer?

Pope had now declared himself a poet; and, thinking himself entitled to poetical conversation, began at seventeen to frequent Will’s, a coffee-house on the north side of Russel-street in Covent-garden, where the wits of that time used to assemble, and where Dryden had, when he lived, been accustomed to preside.

He professed to have learned his poetry from Dryden, whom, whenever an opportunity was presented, he praised through his whole life with unvaried liberality; and perhaps his character may receive some illustration if he be compared with his master.

John Dryden

Integrity of understanding and nicety of discernment were not allotted in a less proportion to Dryden than to Pope. The rectitude of Dryden’s mind was sufficiently shewn by the dismission of his poetical prejudices, and the rejection of unnatural thoughts and rugged numbers. But Dryden never desired to apply all the judgement that he had. He wrote, and professed to write, merely for the people; and when he pleased others, he contented himself. He spent no time in struggles to rouse latent powers; he never attempted to make that better which was already good, nor often to mend what he must have known to be faulty. He wrote, as he tells us, with very little consideration; when occasion or necessity called upon him, he poured out what the present moment happened to supply, and, when once it had passed the press, ejected it from his mind; for when he had no pecuniary interest, he had no further solicitude.

His declaration that his care for his works ceased at their publication was not strictly true. His parental attention never abandoned them; what he found amiss in the first edition, he silently corrected in those that followed. He appears to have revised the Iliad, and freed it from some of its imperfections; and the Essay on Criticism received many improvements after its first appearance. It will seldom be found that he altered without adding clearness, elegance, or vigour. Pope had perhaps the judgement of Dryden; but Dryden certainly wanted the diligence of Pope.

In acquired knowledge the superiority must be allowed to Dryden, whose education was more scholastick, and who before he became an author had been allowed more time for study, with better means of information. His mind has a larger range, and he collects his images and illustrations from a more extensive circumference of science. Dryden knew more of man in his general nature, and Pope in his local manners. The notions of Dryden were formed by comprehensive speculation, and those of Pope by minute attention. There is more dignity in the knowledge of Dryden, and more certainty in that of Pope.

Poetry was not the sole praise of either, for both excelled likewise in prose; but Pope did not borrow his prose from his predecessor. The style of Dryden is capricious and varied, that of Pope is cautious and uniform; Dryden obeys the motions of his own mind, Pope constrains his mind to his own rules of composition. Dryden is sometimes vehement and rapid; Pope is always smooth, uniform, and gentle. Dryden’s page is a natural field, rising into inequalities, and diversified by the varied exuberance of abundant vegetation; Pope’s is a velvet lawn, shaven by the scythe, and levelled by the roller.

Alexander Pope

Of genius, that power which constitutes a poet; that quality without which judgement is cold and knowledge is inert; that energy which collects, combines, amplifies, and animates — the superiority must, with some hesitation, be allowed to Dryden. It is not to be inferred that of this poetical vigour Pope had only a little, because Dryden had more, for every other writer since Milton must give place to Pope; and even of Dryden it must be said that if he has brighter paragraphs, he has not better poems. Dryden’s performances were always hasty, either excited by some external occasion, or extorted by domestick necessity; he composed without consideration, and published without correction. What his mind could supply at call, or gather in one excursion, was all that he sought, and all that he gave. The dilatory caution of Pope enabled him to condense his sentiments, to multiply his images, and to accumulate all that study might produce, or chance might supply. If the flights of Dryden therefore are higher, Pope continues longer on the wing. If of Dryden’s fire the blaze is brighter, of Pope’s the heat is more regular and constant. Dryden often surpasses expectation, and Pope never falls below it. Dryden is read with frequent astonishment, and Pope with perpetual delight.

This parallel will, I hope, when it is well considered, be found just; and if the reader should suspect me, as I suspect myself, of some partial fondness for the memory of Dryden, let him not too hastily condemn me; for meditation and enquiry may, perhaps, shew him the reasonableness of my determination.

The chief help of Pope in this arduous undertaking {The Iliad} was drawn from the versions of Dryden. Virgil had borrowed much of his imagery from Homer, and part of the debt was now paid by his translator. Pope searched the pages of Dryden for happy combinations of heroick diction, but it will not be denied that he added much to what he found. He cultivated our language with so much diligence and art that he has left in his Homer a treasure of poetical elegances to posterity. His version may be said to have tuned the English tongue, for since its appearance no writer, however deficient in other powers, has wanted melody. Such a series of lines so elaborately corrected and so sweetly modulated took possession of the publick ear; the vulgar was enamoured of the poem, and the learned wondered at the translation.

Poetical expression includes sound as well as meaning. “Musick,” says Dryden, “is inarticulate poetry”; among the excellences of Pope, therefore, must be mentioned the melody of his metre. By perusing the works of Dryden he discovered the most perfect fabrick of English verse, and habituated himself to that only which he found the best; in consequence of which restraint his poetry has been censured as too uniformly musical, and as glutting the ear with unvaried sweetness. I suspect this objection to be the cant of those who judge by principles rather than perception; and who would even themselves have less pleasure in his works if he had tried to relieve attention by studied discords, or affected to break his lines and vary his pauses.

On The Antiquities of Arran (2): Machrie Moor, Stonehenge & the Worship of Saturn

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The History of the Isle of Arran

Time has advanced my stay on Arran by a few weeks now, leading to me leaving my job at the hotel & in a few days opening the island’s first second hand bookstore in many years. A suitable base for a poet to have his office, close to both the opening of Glen Rosa & the sea, I hope to lead a fulfilling expedition into the antiquities of Arran. It will be called NINE BEES BOOKS, with the nine bees standing for ‘Burnley boy Bullen’s braw banter, butties, brews, browsing & …’ I think I might check ‘booyakasha’ in there somewhere. The butties & brews reference alludes to my wanting to sell proper ground coffee & open a spinach & sandwich bar.

As for my previous employment, I left the hotel after an incident. To cut a long story short, if you dont sub your breakfast chef a bottle of wine til morning, he won’t be making breakfast. That’s an old Burnley proverb, that is. But its also given me the freedom to be true to myself – a poet should be working on poems in the morning, not poached eggs. Then history in the afternoon, where I have made an important early breakthrough, I believe. 

On the western side of Arran one finds the cosmically wonderful series of stone circles upon Machrie Moor. I visited the area the other day with my wee dog Daisy, who had escorted me to Arran with a load of stock for the Nine Bees. While she was cuddling up to the tourists I just sat awhile & ponder’d on the history of its ancient uses – long lost to us now; BUT, I believe I have made the first into exhuming the first bones of their religious rituals. The key is simple – understanding that a double circle of stones, such as those erected at Stonehenge & Machrie Moor (number 5), are astral mirrors of Saturn & its ring(s). This infers some kind of ancient worship of Saturn (Roman), or Cronos (Greek), of which there is definitive evidence, both epigraphical & archeological.

1: Epigraphical Evidence

In Plutarch’s moral essay ‘On the Face appearing in the Orb Of the Moon,’ the journeys of a certain ‘stranger, are narrated to him by Sylla the Carthagean, who had heard the tale himself from the servants of the temple of Cronus in Carthage, where the ‘stranger’ had recently visited. The key passage reads;

An isle Ogygian lies far out at sea,’ distant five days’ sail from Britain, going westwards, and three others equally distant from it, and from each other, are more opposite to the summer visits of the sun; in one of which the barbarians fable that Saturn is imprisoned by Jupiter, whilst his son lies by his side, as though keeping guard over those islands and the sea, which they call ‘the Sea of Cronos.’ The great continent by which the great sea is surrounded on all sides, they say, lies less distant from the others, but about five thousand stadia from Ogygia, for one sailing in a rowing-galley; for the sea is difficult of passage and muddy through the great number of currents, and these currents issue out of the great land, and shoals are formed by them, and the sea becomes clogged and full of earth, by which it has the appearance of being solid. That sea-coast of the mainland Greeks are settled on, around a bay not smaller than the Mæos, the entrance of which lies almost in a straight line opposite the entrance to the Caspian Sea. Those Greeks call and consider themselves continental people, but islanders all such as inhabit this land of ours, inasmuch as it is surrounded on all sides by the sea; and they believe that with the peoples of Cronos were united, later, those who wandered about with Hercules, and being left behind there, they rekindled into strength and numbers the Greek element, then on the point of extinction, and sinking into the barbarian language, manners, and laws; whence Hercules has the first honours there, and Cronos the second. When the star of Cronos, which we call the ‘Informer,’ but they ‘Nocturnal,’ comes into the sign of the Bull every thirty years, they having got ready a long while beforehand all things required for the sacrifice and the games … they send out people appointed by lot in the same number of ships, furnished with provisions and stores necessary for persons intending to cross so vast a sea by dint of rowing, as well as to live a long men in a foreign land. When they have put to sea, they meet, naturally, with different fates, but those who escape from the sea, first of all, touch at the foremost isles, which are inhabited by Greeks also, and see the sun seng for less than one hour for thirty days in succession; and this interval is night, ended with slight darkness, and a twilight glimmering out of the west.

A shorter version of all that would go something like this: Greek colonists settled North America – the great continent – sometime in the distant past. Every thirty years – when Saturn enters the sign of Taurus – some of them set off for a holy island, somewhere in the ocean beyond Britain, said to be where Cronos – ie the earthly deification Saturn – was imprisoned. Once on the island, the acolytes would remain an entire cycle of Saturn then move on, one of whom ended up in Carthage to tell the tale. Plutarch writes; ‘he had a strange desire and longing to observe the Great Island (forso, it seems, they call our part of the world), when the thirty years had elapsed, the relief-party having arrived from home, he saluted his friends and sailed away.’

2: Archeological Evidence

If we look at the plan of Stonehenge & the planet Saturn from above, the resemblances are stunning. The two sets of rings are there, as is the central sphere. Around the latter at Stonehenge are two circles of post-holes – the inner containing 29 holes & the outer 30. These numbers actually correspond to the moment when the long-term observation of Saturn corresponds with the long term observation of the sun. A synodic periods is the time required for a body of the solar system to return to the same position relative to the Sun as seen by an observer on the Earth, which in Saturn’s case is just over 378 days. After 29 of these periods, we reach the same number of days – more or less – as those ticked off by 30 solar years. Thus Plutarch is accurate when he describes Saturn worship on a 30 year solar cycle, & anyone who happen’d to be at Stonehenge, & the first circle by reading the post-holes calendar would have known when the new acolytes would have been setting off from ‘The Great Continent.’ In addition, there is also a ring of 56 chalk-filled holes, known as the Aubrey Holes, which could relate to 56 synodic periods of Saturn matching 717 lunar months, & the fact that one more synodic period equals 59 solar years –  when the configurations of Saturn in the sky are repeated exactly two days later inthe solar year – perhaps to check the accuracy of the whole lunisolar calendar.

Ancient Observations of Saturn

The problem is – how did the ancients know about the rings of Saturn. We cannot see them with the naked eye, & apparently could not until the 17th century & Galileo’s invention of the telescope. HOWEVER, there are numerous & wondrous astronomical observations made by our ancients, among whom the ‘myth’ that Saturn was ringed, or held in chains, had spread far & wide. Perhaps the Greeks or some other people such as the Harrappan civilisation had possessed lenses adapted for the observation of celestial bodies, or were the rings around Saturn were visible to the naked eye at some time in the past? But however the ancients knew of the rings, they definitely knew.

In the Zend-Avesta it is said that the star Tistrya (Jupiter &, later, Venus) keeps Pairiko in twofold bonds, relating to Saturn’s girdle of two groups of rings. The text actually reads, “Tistrya, bright star, keeps Pairiko in twofold bonds, in threefold bonds.” A third ring around Saturn was observed in 1980! 

The ‘Pairi’ phonetic of the Zend-Avesta is present in the New Zealand Maori name for Saturn, Parearau. The word pare denotes a fillet or headband; while arau means “entangled”—or perhaps “surrounded” in this case. IIn The Astronomical Knowledge of the Maori, Genuine and Empirical, published by Elsdon Best in Wellington, NZ in 1922, he writes;

Parearau, say the Tuhoe people, is a wahine tiweka (wayward female), hence she is often termed Hine-i-tiweka. One version makes her the wife of Kopu (Venus), who said to her, “Remain here until daylight; we will then depart.” But Parearau heeded not the word of her husband, and set forth in the evening. When midnight arrived she was clinging to another cheek, hence she was named Hine-i-tiweka. Parearau is often spoken of as a companion of Kopu. Of the origin of this name one says, “Her band quite surrounds her, hence she is called Parearau.”

An ancient engraved wooden panel from Mexico shows the family of the planets: one of them is Saturn, easily recognizable by its rings (see Kingsborough, Antiquities of Mexico (London, 1830), vol. IV)

The Egyptian apellative for Osiris was “the swathed” & in Egyptian legend Isis (Jupiter) swathes Osiris (Saturn). 

The rings of Saturn are referred to by Aeschylus in his Eumenides: “He {Zeus} himself cast into bonds his aged father Cronus”

Mithraic representations of Kronos with his body encircled by a snake (see F. Cumont’s The Mysteries of Mithra [1903]) may attest to a memory of the rings of Saturn. Similarly, the Hindu Sani (the planet Saturn) shown in an ancient woodcut reproduced in F. Maurice, Indian Antiquities (London, 1800 – vol. VII), and described by the author as “encircled with a ring formed of serpents.” 

The Babylonian Tammuz, who represents Saturn, was called “he who is bound.” 

The statue of Saturn on the Roman capitol had bands around its feet.

An epigram of Martial reads, ‘these chains with their double fetter Zoilus dedicates to you, Saturnus. They were formerly his rings.”

In his Saturnalia, Macrobius writes, “Saturn, too, is represented with his feet bound together, and, although Verrius Flaccus says that he does not know the reason . . . Apollodorus says that throughout the year Saturn is bound with a bond of wool but is set free on the day of his festival.” 

In the early second century AD, in his Fourteenth Discourse Dio Chrysostom writes, “And yet the King of the Gods, the first and eldest one, is in bonds, they say, if we are to believe Hesiod and Homer and the other wise men who tell this tale about Cronus.”

The shrines to Saturn in Roman Africa portrayed the god with his head surrounded “by a veil that falls on each of his shoulders,” in a way reminiscent of the planet’s rings. See J. Toutain, De Saturni Dei in Africa Romana Cultu (Paris, 1894)

… & so on. The fact that the ancients knew that Saturn was surrounded rings is beyond doubt, the only question is how they knew. Perhaps Saturn was closer to Earth in the past, or a telescopic eyeglass was invented by some long lost civilisation.

Daisy & a ‘stranger’ at Machrie Moor

Cronos Worship off North-West Europa

Returning to Machrie Moor & its wonderful Saturnine first circle, one gets the feeling that this place especially of the Scottish stone circles is connected to Cronos worship. What else we know comes from Plutarch’s essay & some geographical speculations. A couple of weeks ago, while on Arran, I had a radio interview with the main Faroe Islands media company, who are thinking of putting a story of mine on their ‘Good Morning Faroe’ show. It basically goes that the prison island of Kronos was on the Faroe Islands themselves. My reasoning was that at the southern reaches of the islands – in Sudouroy, near the village of Lopra – stands a pyramidical peak – man made or natural – called Kirvi. Thename contains the initial phonetics of Kronos, & transchispers easily into the Akkadian (3rd-2nd millenium BC) version of Kronus – Kaiwan.



Pin on Terra
Mount Kirvi

The fate of Cronus differs across texts, but with Orpheus he is incarcerated in the cave of Nyx, a cave of night or darkness, which perfectly reflects the extreme northerness of the Faroe Islands & their ‘eternal’ nights & days. In Plutarch’s moral essay, Obsolescence of Oracles (DeDefectu Oraculorum) one of the speakers is a certain Demetrius, who in an aside remarks upon the eternalimprisonment of Cronus. He relates that Cronus was confined in a cave on an island close to Britain, guarded as he slept by the ancient Briareüs and various other daimones (demi-gods). The Faroe Islands are indeed close to Britain, & even record a local folk lore about Holy Man inhabitaing Sudouroy long before the Norse arrived.

As for the prison island given in Plutarch’s ‘On the Face of the Moon,’ somewhere in the ‘Cronian Sea,’ for me it feels as if Ogygia is phantasy – there’s no island 5 days west of Britain – but the three islands referre’d too are Iceland & the two equidistant’ islands the Faroe archipelago,& Greenland. The latter island then fits well with it being 5000 stadia – about 600 miles, from the ‘Great Continent’ – North America.

The sea is difficult of passage and muddy through the great number of currents, and these currents issue out of the great land, and shoals are formed by them, and the sea becomes clogged and full of earth, by which it has the appearance of being solid. That sea-coast of the mainland Greeks are settled on, around a bay not smaller than the Mæos, the entrance of which lies almost in a straight line opposite the entrance to the Caspian Sea.

The Gulf of Maine is both on the same latitude as the Caspian Sea &about twice the size as the Sea of Azov, called ‘ Mæos’ in classical times. The Gulf of Maine is the best waterway that matches Plutarch’s ‘great number of currents, and these currents issue out of the great land.’ Under the surface, the elevated sea flooor of George’s Bank shapes the floow of currents and divides the Gulf of Maine from the Atlantic Ocean south of Cape Cod. Two major currents, the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream, meet just outside this boundary. Within the Gulf of Maine, the coastline alters the course of cold water owing into the Bay of Fundy, forming a gyre that deteects water southward. As ocean water moves throughout the gulf, it transports heat, sediment, nutrients, and a variety of small organisms unable to swim against the current known as plankton. Currents carry the building blocks of the ecosystem on which all other marine life depends. This of course matches Plutacrh’s ‘ shoals are formed by {the currents}, and the sea becomes clogged and full ofearth, by which it has the appearance of being solid.’

In the same area, the native American tribe known as the Iroquois seem related to the ancient Lycians of Anatolia, who were said to have originated in Crete when it was still polulated by pre-Greek ‘barbarians.’ Is it possible, then, that at the same time Crete sent out its ‘Greeks’ to Turkey, some also cross’d the Atlantic. The matriarchal gynococracy of the Iroquois certainly recalls the Lycians of Anatolia as described by Herodotus.

One custom {the Lycians} have which is peculiar to them, and in which they agree with no other people, that is they call themselves by their mothers and not by their father; and if one asks his neighbour who he is, he will state his parentage on the mother’s side and enumerate his mother’s female ascendants. If a woman who is a citizen marry a slave, the children are accounted to be of gentle birth; but if a man who is a citizen, though he were the first man among them, have a slave for wife or concubine, the children are without civil rights

Lafitau, an early 18th century missionary to the area, show that the name of the Thracian goddess Bendis was derived from the same root as the Iroquois endi or enni, which meant both the ‘day’ and the ‘sun’, the bringer of light. In addition, as each Iroquois village was divided into three ‘families’, of the Wolf, the Bear and the Turtle. So also were the Spartans divided into the three Dorian tribes, and archaic Rome had its Tities, Ramnes and Luceres, whose names are too ancient for us to understand. We also have the name ‘Iroquois’ itself, with its Basque roots (koa denotes where a person comes from) suggesting another link to ancient Eurasia.

THE STORIES OF MY POEMS (1): The Ballad of You & I

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A few days ago I created a new poem, a phantom of a thing, a Coleridgean Xanadu’s worth of random & intense creation, its turned out to be quite a captivating piece. Not knowing what to do with it, but knowing it needed to get out there, I put it up on my Facebook Page to be greeted with the following response;

That poem was absolutely brilliant btw. I’ve read it 20 times. You are a creative genius. I know what you mean when you say you don’t know where it came from. It’s like an old soul enters your mind and spits out something beautiful.

The ballad’s arrival into my ouevre triggere’d off a remembrance of something TS Elliot once said, the essence of which is that once a new poem reaches consciousness & the social fabric, all the other existing poems kind of get shunted about as it makes its way into the ‘club.’ This led me to thinking about my own poetry, among which are my definite favorites & those which contain what I would say is the true juice of the Parnassian stream.

It is time, then, for a general survey by myself of my classic pieces, the best poems of 23 years or so. Being the poet behind them I should also remember how they came to life, which is often entertaining in itself. So without further ado, I shall initiate, ‘THE STORIES OF MY POEMS’ with my very latest poem, THE BALLAD OF YOU & I.



Tis seven years since last I wrought

Such wordstuffs from this water,

Sithen I’ve wander’d port-to-port

Drunk with the Devil’s daughter.

“Fix him a drink,” the barman wink’d,

She slumps, “make mine a double!”

The blaze-eyes of the firepit blink’d,

The room was full of trouble.

Three sailors from a foreign isle

Rode storms into that bar,

Not knowing that the Prince of Guile,

The Lord of the Morning Star,

Has sent a temptress succubus

& she has been my lover,

Nights long & raw & glorious

Nights one after another

Caught in the webbing of her scent

Slow lashes hypnotis’d them

Her tongue-tip tickl’d with intent

Thro’ lyrics which surpris’d them

She knew their nations & their names

Sung of their secret meetings,

Their lies, their shames, their cries of blames,

Their guises & their cheatings

“There is an earthly beckoning

Where God provides no armour,

Some call immortal reckoning,

While others call it Karma,

While sometimes someone else steps in

The one I call My Master,

Who suckles on the swirls of sin

& bids the world fall faster!”

She held them with a lightning eye

All they could do was listen,

The clock struck midnight, on the sly

The firepit starts its hissin’…

“Its off to Hell for you my boys!”

She heckl’d as the sailors

Heard caustic noise of torture toys

By awful, bawdy jailors!

With sulphur-flash they dissapear’d

Into the firepit embers,

& how each voiceless face appear’d

Nobody quite remembers.

In any port, in any age

Your fate might be my fable,

She lithe & lovely on the stage

& me sat at the table.


Quite an atmospheric piece. It began on a visit to Bara Pond, a hidden gem in East Lothian own’d by the descendents of William Younger, the Edinburgh brewer whose ales swam the world & whose HQ was on the site of the modern Holyrood Scottish parliament. In 2016 I was living in some cottages nearby & working on Axis & Allies. Having finished a series of new tryptychs, & genuinely felling I’d completed my Iliadic epic (it took another 5 years, actually,) on concluding the last tryptych I tossed my pen into the waters as if it were Excalibur being hidden by Sir Bedevere. A day or two later I realised I’d miscounted my tryptychs & had to bang out another one, repeating the whole ritual once more, but the sentiment & poesis were there.

The place where my pens lie, & my new poem began

Roll on to the first of July 2021, a few months after actually completing Axis & Allies. Well, I’d been dropped off by Emily nearby as she went to work near Gifford. With me was my delightful wee lhasapoo, Daisy, & off we went into the woods of Bara. On reaching the very spot where I tossed the two pens I was struck by some ethereal force & just began composing. By the time I’d walk’d back to Emily’s cottage near Garvald, a half hour later, the whole poem had arriv’d whole, written down from memory only. In fact I even left out a stanza with tentacles coming from the fire – there was a nice pentacle rhyme – but I’d use the motif before in my Pendle Witches ballad.

The darker elements must have come from a recent watch of a lengthy youtube antimasonic film, & there was a little bit of cocaine floating around my mind that night when I musing on the film trying to get to sleep. I very rarely take the drug, I was celebrating quitting my job in a hotel on Arran & opening up my first bookshop on the island, in fact drugs have more or less left my system completely, so I guess my subconscious mind was ripe & clear for the seedtime.

Over the next week I sent it to a pal, Teri, who initiated the following dialogue;

wow, thats a fucking poem! (Teri sent 1 July at 18:31)

nice one.

thats what i thought

your stuff is up there with Burns, you have a great style

ta – its a bit tam o shanter that one actually

yeah but it is really good. A bit RL stevenson

it came outta nowhere – composed it in a oner after visiting a poetically special place for me in east lothgan – it was like alchemy

you have a talent aye there

I then read it to Emily while driving in the car thro East Lothian, who was like, ‘where did that come from?’ but enjoy’d it a great deal. So my poem became approved for the world, from which my personal survey of my deeply beloved art has begun.

Damian Beeson Bullen


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Brighton Fringe
28 th May – 27 th June, 2021

‘Nevergreen’ was a film created by a team of 10. Written by Gus Mitchell it was rehearsed, shot and edited during 2020 London lockdown. Freshly brought to this year’s Brighton fringe. Starring Katurah Morrish we were met with film footage of a living room that was minimal, though very stylish if dated. She took her time to introduce Rachel Carson who died at 56. Rachel was a writer, scientist, ecologist, and she in her time delved further than most into the world of nature and its assured
place in poetry.

Katurah’ energy as a huge fan of Rachel’s life and writings had her singing her praises in the indoor scenes of this movie/documentary/ theatrical event. We stepped with Katurah into a wood. It was a nice looking day, Rachel’s story was told intimately as we listened to her poetry that was so well constructed and sorted out.

She was alone outside in the wood and as time passed she told her emboldened thoughts “I grew up by the river.” Her illustrious poetry brought about such great happenings as she led her way in and out of existence using nature and imagination to make complete circles like the seasons passing.

The visual illustrations where all by the artist Ana Zoob, having movements of blues and greens and purples. The sound of bird song met with the sound of howling of wolves nearby. This contrasted with her narration of reading Rachel’s poetry that she spoke with long and big meaningful pronunciations.

Taking time to set the scenes she spoke with longing about the deep blue sea. She probed everything to find its essence, its journey, examining minutely with rhetorical resonations and revelations. Her questions were her greatest friend and she took on whatever journey she would find until the next journey.

The act of visiting the trees and rocks was shown as Katurah spoke in sincerity which was nice to be part of. It was told as if there and Katurah compelled us to listen with great focus on the things we were seeing in this journey into the beyond. Performed with a slight smile on her face, it began to speed up, as in a certain place a sense of urgency was introduced. All with wonderful visual art by Ana Zoob of souring and heartfelt illustrations of birds, insects who morphed in and out of life and served as a backdrop as the Direction of Eloise Poulton passed seamlessly.

But when she came to man she began to unravel. And with simple images of city skyline went into the destructive journey of man as they drag all else to the bottom in an inane and out of date striving for power. Rachel was saying that to be in nature is a far finer truth than it is to be separate or outside and without nature, logically suggesting that there is no place without nature, therefore we cannot be without it.

To strive into it, and think about it, and lie down in it and even gently touch a tree and rub leaves. And celebrate the poetry all around us and interwoven into all things. It had striking imagery and production and a very good case for the power of nature that is also in us, pleased and putting a slight smile on our face too. Making this point at the right time and certainly in the right place, But sharing it into an offering to the fringe of something so well written and finished.

Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly

Lord of Life

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Brighton Fringe
28th May – 27th June, 2021

For our next act in the 2021 Brighton Fringe came the amazing ‘Lord of life’. The Rhino loomed like a hero in pen and ink illustrations of Sally Scott who could never have drawn like that without reverence and compassion for the magnificent animal. In gentle terms this piece of poetry was selected from Norman Morrissey’s book ‘For Rhino in a shrinking world’.

He wrote about an account he had with a Rhino who visited him in his tent when he was asleep one night. The smartly short piece delivered such an amazing an endearing comment upon these animals and the situation we are putting them in. How can we be harming these creatures who as Norman wrote and Harry Owen and Roddy Fox were to read we are torturing for ornament and so called medication.

With these feelings flying the words came with a soft and sweet flavour which confronted our idea of what these animals are; graceful teachers who ever so gently breathed upon him like a kind nurse to nurture him and to ease his day. He wrote that it was an old white rhino with such touching poetry as to bring joyful and gracious tears of love to our hearts, it was really that deep.

The book ‘ For Rhino in a shrinking world’ was written towards the end of Morrissey’s life, making it all the more poignant as we imagine his encounter to have been quite magical though obviously very real. It was a movie of illustrations put together by In Tandem (which is poetry put to imagery) from the spoken word recited by Owen and Fox.

A beautiful eulogy whose message came from the heart and broken heart of one who loved the animals. We were left at his side and were taken beside the rhino itself as it so compellingly lives and breathed among us. With the slightest of composure set the editing of the film as to marvel at. So simple, soft and real, and so true and right in this time.

Daniel Donnelly


On the Antiquities of Arran (1)

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It has been almost seven years since my return to Burnley & my survey there into the Brunanburh battlefield. With every atom in my body almost completely regenerated, its time for another historical dig. This time its to the island of Arran, off the west coast of Scotland. For a domicile I have two areas, both at Corrie. The first is its splendid hotel where I will be making breakfasts in the morning, & the second is a derelict bunkhouse where I will be camping & cleaning up the mess for its aristocratic landlord in return for my staying there. Its not quite Howard Carter & Lord Canarvon at the Valley of the Kings, but it is a distinct version of such. The reason being is that on Kintyre there are connections to Mycyneae & 18th dynasty Egypt, while Arran is the name of a Bronze Age prince from what is called Caucasian Albania (modern day Georgia) – this region is where the Picts are supposed to come from originally, so there’s the starting point for my studies – there’s about 1000 new sites been uncovered on Arran by Historic Environment Scotland using LIDAR techniques (light detection & ranging), among which might be crucial clues which connect Arran to the Picts & places like Caucasian Albania – that’s my hunch.

Arran is a cosmic island – the Goat Fell area is stunning & towers over Corrie. The rest of the isalnd is also beautiful – there is a coastal road all the round & another which halves the island. On one side is the mainland & the other the fabulous finger stretch of Kintyre, giving the illusion of being at the heart of a gigantic lake – a dragons’ eye jewel set in a pearl of amber. There are enough hillforts & stone circles to get started on before I even attempt an investigation into the radarfound sites. There’s also plenty of philology to apply my chispological techniques onto, & , yes everything is sweet today having been given confirmation about my camping spot. I do have a little gout however, I;m on the verge of 45 & staying at a hotel isnt helping my alcohol-abstinence, but all is well really.

On Arrival On Arran

Remember the moment Arran came real
Sat on a stone by a sunbathing seal
Perch’d upon pyramid, sea splash & splish
& God has put a dog’s head on a fish
The eldest led like lions oer the bay
The youngest lifted heads & look’d my way
One shifted weight & slid into the sea
To settle on a shallow shelf near me
She knew I was a poet, I could tell,
Perhaps it was my solitary dell
Of silent thoughts, thro’ these I did commune
With nature’s ancyent, all-beauteous boon,
A sprig of scented poesy enters mind,
The future real, the past a dream behind.

I shall be here now for several months. My library is already taking shape – the grandaughter of the famous Scottish playwright, Robert Mclellan, lives up at High Corrie in her grandfather’s cottage, & has already furnished me with some poetry – I shall be composing three conchordia while I am on the island. Also into the mix goes an almanc being created my my fellow breakfast chef/server, Tony, who is almost at the end of a three year composition of an incredibly comprehensive Arran almanac. He has leant me several books too – writing them down in a little notebook of his own so he’ll get them back. These include The Isle of Arran by the aforementioned Robert McLellan, & the Arran Coastal Way by Jacquetta Megarry.

Also in the library is Nigel Tranter’s ‘The Bruce Triology’ which I shall be raiding for one of my new conchordia – The King & the Spider – based on the early stages of the rise Robert The Bruce to the Scottish kingship. Another book is This Dear Place, written by a local lassie & ‘one of the Few’, Lesley Paton Cox, a labour of love which in her words, ‘wanted to speak about the people of our Corrie & Sannox past… to ensure that information about the folk of our two villages, their ancestors & their home here would be available for future generations.’ This book then planted a seed to create a conchord about the Highland Clearances. The other conchord will be MADCHESTER about the 89-90 halycon age of The Stone Roses & Happy Mondays.

Holy Island, off Lamlash

So we’re off – the gardens of study & creativity has been planted & it is time to water them through the summer season…

Damian Beeson Bullen


Lyra: Bristol Poetry Festival

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Lyra: Lyra at Heart

Getting into this year’s two week online Bristol Poetry festival was a joy in itself, with another fine example of online organising. This time the team of Co-Directors and social programmers had something striking to say and the festival‘s aim and title of Festival Reconnection. To say that something was afoot would be a good reference as to the way that online poetry can hold the audience who are just out of being knocked by lockdown though it has now been lifted and hopefully businesses are coming back. So let’s come back from this 2021 Lyra’s protective theme of total and real Reconnecting.

It fell to Prof. Nick Groom to introduce us to and capture us by his expert story of a Bristol poet named Chatterton or Thomas Chatterton. Prof Groom who is a speaker, published with his themes of range and identity, his books include ‘The vampire, a new history’ which I haven’t read and know nothing about. In the fact that Groom’s experimentation in lecturing itself, would bring his world of writing set to explore Chatterton’s influence on Wordsworth’s writing and more.

Lyra: Prof. Groom: Chatterton’s books

Nick Groom

He looked at Chatterton’s work and took the single lines from his poetry to examine how the premierist soon to be a gifted writer and how he early on went into creating through his stronghold phenominality we could have called him a phenominalist. Chatterton’s stories were very much influenced by his take on equality but his immortally kind and understanding stature only lasted until his suicide at the very tender age of 17. His tragedy was sealed. This tragedy shows him probably to be the youngest poet ever to write with such clarity in these manners, matters and more.

A Chatterton Quote would be, “Flowereth nodded on his head”, to me meaning something very gentle, to his, “…to hear his joyous song.” a line to speak for itself. Through most of his light and striving the dedicatory lecture compared Chatterton’s world to the world of today; finding reconnection in his remarkable relevance in the world of today and at the hand of humane starting to rebuild.

The Lyra festival was presented in association with the magnanimously rich in literature; Bristol Poetry Institute. Of whom a Bristol poet Caleb Parkin was in conversation with Madhu Krishnan. Their task was to hold a definitive discussion where the reconnection of our natures will and other natures to be taken in; to drink in the vast possibility’s in future by way of for everything. Going into a better and further look into the world of earth’s nature’s and the powerful nature of Poetry, which is why we’re all here.

A special thanks has to go to Danny Pandolfi a Co-Director of 2021 Lyra and Beth Calverley this years honoured festival poet, who does no end of positive work using poetry to help people to express themselves, she goes deep into this work but from what I saw always with a smile and amazing willingness.

Lucy English

Listening to her charm the place she read her poetry like it was from the sky above. And I would like to thank the other co-director Lucy English who is a spoken word educator and reader at Bath Spa University and is a Co-Director of ‘Liberated words’, so there was a coming together of big worlds in the poetry scene. And I would like to mention Josie Alford who was Marketing & Social media management and is said to have quite a stage presence.

Lyra: In the Event Of…

This event saw a great discussion and Q&A with Danny and Lucy in the launch of the theme of ‘Reconnection’, and all of its physical, natural and environmental implications. That led to poet Caleb Parkin whose pamphlet “wasted rainbow” was commented on by Nadu Chrisman to open up a discussion about the institutes and live world of spoken poetry. With our interests at hand the feedback opened to being interactive and somewhat centred around lockdown.

Madhu Krishnan & lyra Caleb Parkin

With the ecosystem and ecology of poets resulting in greatly helpful organisations whose textured aesthetics, novel form, narrative prose, seemed to surmount looking like (and helping us look into)) the life of the tree who are like their own point of origin and conclusion, seeking the elixir. Brought about loud and important ways to try and treat language specifically in a different way (a term of service that can disintegrate words, and lays out language).

Delving and enveloping the interesting tension in a poem of the individual feelings and focus for the reader and the listener. All of which proving a fascinated interest in dominance and seeing life on earth as a tilted experience. As a kind of “…perpetual loading icon.” That obviously never ends, or a “…pixelated fish”, perhaps indicating no resistance. The philosophy and reaches of the proposed ethics of poetry, within the festival frame plan took us from tip to toe. Offering completed poems and breaking down these poems to see fundamentals where questioning is really quite stylish and purposeful in the field of where to get ideas.

Lyra: Frogs and ‘Liberated Words’

Fiona Hamilton’s “Smell of fog”, reached in and plucked a frog from a naked patch of earth. Whose metaphor struck the almost dumbed senses of frogs that can’t self-isolate! The frogs as a species are a perfect depiction for fertility and interrelatedness. And in this offering was held the deeply fascinating work of eco poetry in action.

As a further introduction to ‘Liberated Words’,who from humble beginnings in the 2012 which was like a year at the Bath Spa University. Lucy directed Reconnections in her screening of poetry films that for Lyra were heritage, family heritage and connection. Sarah Tremlet produced books of poetry films commemorating her much loved film genre. She is a poetry film maker, theorist, and author of the ‘Poetics of Poetry’ film starting in 2005. In her meeting with Lucy English in 2010 they connected and decided to make poetry films about teenagers with autism, all in the name and deliberation of Liberated Words. ‘Liberated words’ and the ‘Arnolfini’ (the Bristol international Centre for Contemporary Art) have hung out many times over the years to the benefit of both.

All of this in the Reconnections: Poetry Film Screening

And in the subject of identity of things like minors, where there may be a duo of poetics of place with 5 examples of Lia Vile Madre who was a medieval gypsy whose heritage collections led to the object of the film ‘A bird on a tree’. So came: the ‘Bird’ Poem’ which was a commission from the Centre for Arts and Wellbeing, literally at the top of the tree. As the poetic wheels of motion rolled along the lines went from, “…feathers always fascinating us…” grouped with, “…love’s me to the winds.” And “each new bird roosts for me!” all hailing a triumphant noise to the sounds and senses of an earthly paradise. Leaving us with feelings of “…favourite colours, rainbows.”

The films scanned one after another in their very short form. Taking us through extraordinary stories of what they called “scattered feather dust.” And spoke of the “bloodlines” of poetry filmmaking with new departures from Ezabel Turner whose pamphlet ‘Wonder of the traveller’ put bones on the road in connection with rural communities. So the film ‘Blood lines’ was in colour and of a green forest at hand. With “…open bravado door”, something sensual and similar, coupled with “songs and seasons wave at you”. All of which completing her surmount of the old depth of reading and writing.

Lyra: Identity in the Mirror

In further film mode of poetry it was seen by Yvonne Redicks whose words became something confident! That creating this world of lyrical semblances in the green and purple lines of, “that night is steep.” With “…ring of his ashes…”, and in the “…line of figures…” completing the theme with a terrific comment on “…still born brother.”

Moving away from film poetry we were invited right into a panel discussion that curtailed on programmes that were done and dusted, and showed us the many implications for thriving as a poet in the world of institutional and established themes whose opportunities being hopefully set to be fed and grow. Our discussion starred the inevitable voice of reason, Dr Edson Burton and with the voice of experience, Lawrence Hoo and facilitator (with some style), Ngaio Anyia.

Ngaio Anyia

The three of them were entrepreneurs at panel discussions, though there was a feeling of real relish from one being to another in this online way. Covering an abundance of tracks they talked about; Art & dissent: Bristol’s radical history. In this title the scope was placed for coverage to be their subjects and advertise them in the hope of bringing them to social matter.

About the plight of humanities African persuasion, communities build on being burnt to the ground classically, culturally and in the institutions. All of this has happened in what I can see as a sustained attempt to control these sections of the community’s across the world with a flag placed in Bristol at the Lyra. A jumping off point for Lyra was to heal the gaps of heinous injustices. I merely use this language because of how well the story was put together by the three even though only as a list of white crimes none of which were made with palatable events.

Lyra: Lawrence’s Analysis

Lawrence Hoo

Analysing Lawrence’s contributions against enslavement he looked at freedoms and civilisations, to build an unrelenting onset with his strength and willingness of experience. When talking with Dr Edson, the points were almost all reiterated. This was celebratory from the point of view of feeling free to speak out. The three did just that and asked us to do that too. There are so many things now going on in Britain, as to think something big may be happening, some kind of all-encompassing wave of truth brought about by writers and poets. But for the moment we will use the distinctive goings on in Bristol and in Lyra 2021.

Onto something inevitable in a made and unmade process. Keith Pipers words were eloquently articulate in a continuation of slave trade books, scenes and most importantly movements. And by now we were seeing familiar faces of the festival with for example Dr Edson talking about Pipers works and feelings. Also getting together with Meshin Decello and Vanessa Kisuule the animation films brought a presence that is unique to this type of art. Developing different voices and activism there was a direct energy alluding to a society that ignores poetry as it ignores people. But for that very reason the need is in offering a call of and for poets to be recognised.

Vanessa Kisuule

In an examination of spoken word in the UK, seeing its history and significance, we welcomed Peter Bearder who further dissented the festivals accessibility. Looking at barriers he performed to the wider world with representative dealings and collaborations for presenting. Part of his creative, playful, physically competitive environment, and in the use of venues such as pubs and clubs. He showed us who could have the discipline for the performances and techniques. A surmounting elaboration of the modern music; dub, punk or hip hop. We could see the implications almost every time.

Though we frequently delved into the many themes of Reconnection the work was also brought into modern day focus. The focus that is needed to see our world as they expand in the relevance of the past or the past relevant to now as alluded to in Prof Groom’s sage like lecture in the events of Chatterton’s 100ds of years old legacy.

Lyra: Cutting Edge

Showing how surprising it is to see cutting edge life of many eras ago and in the time lines of seeing the future. Looking into the African situation of suffering can still be constructed by departmentalising it. Not the work or the poet but the theme. Pete used minority identities to compose and measure these abducted transferences. Cutting in with edgy progressiveness and offering a resistance against the all-powerful commercial marketing. Who if we look at it are also ran on a basis in slavery.

Using performance poetry to convey anything is always a striking phenomenon because of its nature, history and popularity. So for Langston Hughes it was a perfect opportunity to honestly talk about and discuss black America, and its history and its place in the world today. How do you cut through built up distrust? How do you even respond to terrible events? Again by breaking down of systems; for example exposure of Artists, or in the maturation of art form instead of the watered down work of the market.

Lyra: A Kick from Poetry Kitchen

In the aptly named Poetry Kitchen the in-depth knowledge took another turn at the deep end. Including and inviting us to the art of gathering scenes together by using criticism to provide a space for the hippest questions about the 20th Century. Spoken word phenomenon is as to what it is for having already been very impressed by it. It is a world where cherishing differences and critical language come together to agree on spoken word direction having already taken its place. Once again creating Reconnection’s and having a real love coming through bringing the delight of poetry into being; speak and ye shall hear. Lem Susey induced in us to a need for growing black poets becoming a very busy international hub to help create these things for communities and neighbours to share. It, as so much of Lyra festival is, grass root identity, to be striven for and used to debunk fresh acts of violence or the perpetration of…, to create a new culture with an open and tearful eye for the present as on the past.

Lyra: Reconnect

There was no end in this fortnight long online festival to the bountiful world of spoken or read or performed poetic‘s in stances and conundrums. All bound together and clasped together but all with poetic sincerity and connectivity in mind. Poetry of the world puts the highest thinking in place and watches with gentle turmoil as the acts of behaviour viewed across the globe. With this international conceptual thriving the reflections and commiserations shed light on the soul (or the planet) as a thing we know and will know for some time to come, even going back to the old religious celebrations. A healthy, natural absorption occurs; with the never ending qualities holding fun the day. Hence the festivals inclusivity of Lyra to talk loudly as with any other poetic organisations of today, in a world of bringing careful tenderness towards affliction’s of any kind.

Beth Calverly

This is how good and well the distributing of poetry can get out and to as many populaces and cultures as is possible, enter Beth Calverley who was festival poet 2021. She is a 2020 British Life awards and Arts finalist with a collection of ‘Brave Faces & other smiles’ to accompany her verse and poetry press releases. She makes the endearing step towards mental wellbeing for all with her workshops and projects. She performed with her good friend Bethany Roberts whose songs and spoken word had them smiling in different ways.

Lyra: Make the Reconnections, Final Word

The aptly named “Spellbound” was a work of genius. It held the reflection of so many things that poured out of the violin, the music and the voice. We could easily see why Beth is flying and why she was named Festival Poet; imagine the lives she has personally touched. Then to the poems and poets; what this comes down to is written word of poetry. The listening to it, imagining it, understanding it and always making it your own! I’ll leave you with some quoted lines to sooth you but also to wake you up;

The wonderfully positive snippets of a place where; “…the weather was awful.” to the reasoning response “…comfort eyes.” And “…sense my voice friend…” to “…hold this yellow thread…” leaving us with “…sing myself undressed…”
To the bleak “…ghosts don’t bring wine…” looking for “…gold wrapping paper.” But within a “…clammy abyss…”

It was the protest styles that grabbed us with plentiful ideologies of how things play out and come to happen I leave you with the line; “Some poems force you to write them.”


Reviewer: Daniel Donnelly