A Stream’s Tattle, Michael Longley
Mariscat Press, 2019 £6.00
The pull of water
Drawn always to water, I feel its pull in A Stream’s Tattle. In the opening poem (‘Eilean Bàn’), there’s the lure of the sea. The naming of place, and of Gavin Maxwell, brings thoughts of Ring of Bright Water. Charmed by the cover drawing, thoughts of otters hover. Here, on ‘the cliff path two / Out-of-season primroses / Pointed to the otter’s grave’.
At the sea, elsewhere, ‘Mweelrea in the distance’, there are recent traces of an otter (‘Prints’).
And ‘three visitations’ (in ‘The Walk’) offer three strong images, first of ‘Bottlenose dolphins surfacing between / The islands’, and second of a captured moment of stillness as
[…] a bitch otter
Paused on rocks just feet away, sea water
Streaming from her whiskers
And finally there’s ‘A family of whooper swans, two white / And three grey’ circling overhead near the end of the journey ‘from Iceland to Carrigskeewaun’. What a dream of a walk! It’s here I realise, more than ever before, the power of words for creating images in poems — poetry as painting, film.
‘Wild Orchids’ takes us to places where the wild orchids grow, past the ‘waterlily lake’ near the ‘otter corridors’, past ‘the higher bank of the Owenadornaun’, towards a different kind of ‘watery’ (see ‘Fen Violet’) place in the heart of the poem:
Dowdy neotinea maculata at my feet
Where the turlough below Mullaghmore disappears
Not knowing about turloughs, I looked in dictionaries (definitions seem varied) before returning to the more satisfying definition given in a referenced quotation in ‘Notes & Acknowledgements’ (which makes me want to read that book). Its meaning is sensed above and from its appearance in ‘Fen Violet’, to which ‘Wild Orchid’ seems paired:
You paint flowers, Sarah, as though they have souls.
We have stood side by side on Mullaghmore,
Clare’s holy mountain, the turlough nearby
With its watery comings and goings
This is my favourite poem in the pamphlet because of these beautiful lines, and because it ends with the flower of the title, the ‘rarest of all — / Submerged for part of the year’.