Sepia map of the region, with delicate green cap title across the centreThe Firth, John Glenday   

Mariscat Press, 2020      £6.00

Contemplation amongst wild native things

It’s an honour to write a review of John Glenday’s pamphlet. His work is imbued with fluidity and sensitivity, qualities which make The Firth  special. Wildflowers too.

Like a mature grain whisky, laced with peat and complex notes, the poems exhibit depth of flavour and quality. They contemplate elements of the natural world by the Firth of Tay where the poet grew up, widening to an exploration of family (‘the living and the lived’), memory and connection. Reading the poems, I felt entranced, alongside the poet, by beauty in the smallest things, often wildflowers: the essence of being alive.

‘buddon point’ is a poem specific to the view across the ‘ashy/olive/dapple-grey’ firth towards Tentsmuir Forest, a place I know. The narrator offers his reader an understated sense of searching for a true self in ‘that dark wood’ across the shoreline’s ‘seam of bitterness’, at the river’s ebb — the ebb of life, perhaps? Life with all its bitter-sweet experience ‘rests under the shade of the trees’.

if only we had faith enough
we could walk there now.

The four couplets of ‘at barry links’ place us at a forlorn railway station, at the start of an imagined journey. The images remind me of Edward Thomas’ poem ‘Adlestrop’. There’s a stillness, encapsulated in the quiet abundance of plant life, ‘commuting vetch’, ‘jostling daisies’ and ‘a thousand skylarks’. I hear a Vaughan-Williams crescendo with a nod to endangered bird species.

The narrator’s late father ‘is walking the shore path’ with him in the prose poem ‘at the mouth of the dighty’. The latter is a local burn — beautiful, filled with kingfisher, sycamore, butterflies. The lines of the poem are intimate, respectful and rich in subtlety. They slip between the past, present and future of three generations as ‘blether’ takes place on the walk — and end on this philosophical note:

the whole grey/white/grey invisible depth of
whatever lies beyond, weightless and listening and
next to nothing

The Firth is an elegant set of poems, a fresh sea-air homage to every part of a connected life, and a delicate celebration of continuity.

Maggie Mackay