Kettilonia, 2005 -  £3.00


In one way, Donald Murray has it easy. Hakka muggies, maragan dubh, broch of mousa—every one is a gift. Add storm petrels, the Kirk, cairns, crofts, moors and lochs, and you have a virtual treasure box for any poet. It’s a box to be dipped into with restraint, however, to avoid cliché and over-poeticism. In the main Murray manages this, casting his characters and their narratives against the rich visual and linguistic backdrop of the Scottish Isles to nice effect; in homage to Antarctic explorer Thomas F. MacLeod he writes: 

Deny it if you can—and yet these stones

picked up to place on Shackleton’s remains

revealed how much of the island was contained

within the frozen marrow of your bones. 

Murray’s best poems have real weight and heft; they are vivid, touching and sometimes amusing. In ‘Harvest of Whales’ he conjures up a causeway of whales, back to back, from Minch to the mainland; in ‘The Girl who Taught the Fisherman to Read’ he tells a beautiful and poignant story of unfulfilled anticipation, and in ‘Illuminations’ he has a dig at daft tourists and the commercialisation of the natural world: 

Constellations chime with jingles while tourists

                                                          watch and cheer

how science transforms heaven with its muzak

                                                          of the spheres. 

But sometimes Murray comes over all didactic. In ‘Gutting Knife’, his Gran is “bent by poverty and gender”; in ‘Fish Farming’ (a discussion of the merits or otherwise of the process), the girl leaves “like a salmon … breaking free of cages that had held her too many years before”. This is both obvious and tub-thumping. Murray also rather spells it out in ‘Fish Factory Girl’, who puts her ex-lover in a fish-box labelled “For Dispatch and Disposal; Never to Return.” And in the otherwise delightful ‘Lewis Seaman in Germany in the Sixties’ he doesn’t need to tell us it’s the Silver Beatles. We can work it out.

Hilary Menos