North Idea, 2008  £4.00

Guga is the word for young gannets. A note at the back of this pamphlet explains that the poems here are side products of a longer prose work, The Guga Hunters. They’re accompanied by vivid black and white ink sketches by Andrew Morrison, five full-page illustrations to the twenty pages of poems. It’s a nice looking publication, a second artist, Doug Robertson, having contributed the cover drawing. In fact I found the inner artwork so arresting that at times it distracted from the text with images which dominated over those in the poems; but that’s a personal thing and this packaging of art and poetry is likely to appeal to others, including those attracted by the subject matter.

The collection opens with ‘How to Become a Gannet’ and ends with ‘Gannets Seen in Mourning’, but the poems are at least as much about men—and women, including one who turns into a gannet—as they are about the seabirds. But if the birds are just the starting point, it makes for an eclectic and creative mix. In ‘A Fowler’s Bride-to-Be Writes a Love Song to her New Husband’, the bride hopes that when they are bedded down together on fulmar feathers he

… would not possess
the gannet’s savage thrust
but the slow and easy rhythm
of a cormorant
diving for bright and gleaming fish.

Many of the titles are self explanatory, as in ‘The Gannets Observe Daedalus and Icarus’, but the poems feel strong enough to cope with that. Others have religious references as in ‘A Seabird-Hunter Contemplates his Faith’, when he hopes for “belief to be restored to us, its stubborn light to glow”.

Donald Murray creates some lovely lyrical moments. I did think the odd line could have been edited down, but that’s a small quibble, which should be forgiven, surely, in line with ‘Words for a Dying Gannet’, which ends on this note:

just like the fish forgives the gannet
and we must grant and give
pardon to those who shower a fleet of arrows
thick and fast upon all the days we live.

Eleanor Livingstone