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Unread 03-06-2010, 06:05 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
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Default John Beaton

Some years ago Paul Stevens asked me, "How important is a sense of place, of terroir, to you as a poet?"

I replied, "No more important than Ireland to Yeats, Wessex to Hardy, or New England to Frost." I might have added, "Or British Columbia and the Scottish Highlands to John Beaton."

Alan Sullivan called John to my attention nearly a decade ago with a poem about wolves, carnivores with whom I feel a certain kinship! It was apparent from the start that John's work had a strong sense of place, except that in his case it was the two aforementioned places. He has put together for us a reading which is a remarkable tour of his native and adoptive lands. I hope you'll enjoy the big voice of John Beaton as much as Alex Pepple and I have.


Poem List:
  1. "Songs of the Isles"
  2. "Strathcona"
  3. "Caledonian Pines" (From The Wolves Passed Here ebook)
  4. "West-Coast Run"
  5. "Intro Wizardry" (Published in Hatches fly fshing magazine and the on-line journal Buckeye)
  6. "To the Bluenose"
  7. "Qualicum Sunset"
  8. "When I Am Old"

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John Beaton Podcast


John Beaton Podcast


Songs of the Isles

It's Celtic Chaos at Loch Duich. The music session's finishing—
the barman pours folks out the door. They drive away diminishing—
vanishing into darkening glens, where Clearances once shattered
the homes and lives of crofting peoples; the sheep now flourish, scattered
like grace-notes fallen from fiddle-airs, or from songs of bygone aeons—
of Flodden's and Culloden's fields, and spray-sodden Hebrideans.
All night they stamped their musical feet and swirled the smoke and ale,
with claps and birls and hoochs and skirls, now silent, still and stale.

And I return to Plockton's shore, where I sit on a stone and wonder
whether I would've made a man among men, in the days of plight and plunder,
in the days when allegiances could shift, like seafarers under sail
changing course to avail themselves of the winds that would prevail.
This very dawn I stood upon the buttress across the Bay,
the watch-crag of Loch Carron's narrows, where lookouts perhaps one day
had sentried these Viking longship routes from Ivar Blacktooth's pillagers
as his ravaging bands swung inland to ravish the wives of villagers.

Before me lie the sheltered coves where the sailboats raced today.
Now their wooden hulls heave sideways, as the tide-wash ebbs away;
but their lapstrake lines and their gleaming curves seem to come alive again
to take to the waves of the Inner Sound like a timeless song's refrain.
And I see two square sails billowing as they swallow long sea-miles—
the dragon-ship of Somerled, Lord of all these Isles,
passes Eilann Donan's fort; one hundred and twenty-eight oarsmen
bend their arms to the beat of the gong to ram the fleeing Norsemen.

And Cathula beats that gong in tune to muscle and sweat and wave—
her tawny hair howls in the dark; she's his mistress and his brave
second-mate in battles and surprise night-time attacks
that set the coarse invaders to their oars with flailing backs.
With two hundred Irish gallowglasses, and with smoke and sleight of hand,
he routed a thousand Vikings; and with the will to understand
the needs of men who rally to the stronger shield and blade
he won his frays in minds, not bays, by allegiances he made.

I see beached goblet sterns becalmed, like the locals' sleeping faces—
our hearts in song's communion rose; I saw the shimmering traces
of unfulfilled but fervent longing, in glances, bare and vulpine,
watching sea-lochs simmering red, dark as quaichs of mulled wine.
And I realize that just like them, I'm another whose dreams of glory
are doomed to nullity for they come too late in history's story;
that I can love their songs and tunes, but I'll never swear an oath
or wager countless lives upon a wind-blown clansman's troth,

or snap my neck from the axe's path, or swing my sword in wrath,
or walk among the dead and maimed in the battle's aftermath,
or choose my friends for their usefulness, for repute of non-betrayal,
or commit my hand to venturings where death awaits all who fail.
And so I rise from my foreshore stone with a drowsiness in my head
and I cross the road and climb the stairs and go to my safe warm bed,
while the mute musicians lie in theirs in their glens of bleating song
and dream of fiddles, the wind-filled flute, the bodhran and the gong.


Well met there, you mountains,
you crags of Strathcona,
alone in dominions
of stone, snow, and mist;
your highnesses call me
to sky-smiting summits
that thrust through the storm-winds
like God's angry fist.

You've withstood the aeons
as hailstones assailed you
and rain-channel adzes
carved scars in your flanks;
your canyons bear pathways
eroded by footprints—
the imprints of pilgrims
on life's river-banks.

From warfare the Comox
sent women and children
to alpine asylum—
your cradled their womb,
but all of them vanished
and legend said giants
from ice-caves had tossed them
down cliffs to their doom.

So now it's Forbidden,
that Plateau in shadow
of Mount Albert Edward,
the lofty abode
where canvas-clad climbers
crawled two thousand meters,
and prospectors daydreamed
of striking your lode.

Your names, their survivors:
there's Lone Wolf and Ursus,
Tyee overlooking
the Gold River's gorge;
the Golden Hinde, Black Cat,
Augurpoint and Elkhorn,
Moyeha and Kookjai,
and King, Crown, and George.

Now wilderness parkland,
your name symbolizes
the union of coastlines—
the pioneer's hike:
old iron Strathcona,
Canadian Pacific
Railway's First Baron,
who drove the Last Spike.

Today I feel kinship
with those who have trodden
your ramparts and ridges,
your cirques and your scree;
in Paradise Meadows,
this great amphitheatre,
they once stood where I stand
and marvelled like me.

Caledonian Pines

The pines stand tall upon the lochan isles;
the ancient Woods of Caledon, they're all
that's left untouched by centuries of fire,
man's pall—a shroud of smoke from bens to kyles.

Age-toughened, brittle, jagged, gray of limb,
half-fossilized these hardy few survive,
remaindered by their moats of mountain rain,
alive, small stands, their yield not worth the swim.

Held high before their former fiefdom's hills,
last green crowns cock to high ground, heather-skinned;
old clans alone, their branches seed with moans
the wind that bears them barren freedom's chills.

West-Coast Run

I'm flying the footpath that curves by the creek
          on the mulch of the maples of fall
and the stumps of the old-growth, which stretched to the skies,
and the stumps of the old-growth, their cut-outs like eyes,
          are staring as if they could watch us—
but the hand-loggers felled them, from springboards they felled them
by kerfing above where their boles were broad-butted;
but the hand-loggers felled them, their boards in those notches;
          but the hand-loggers felled them. They died.

Now over the boulders that shoulder the shore—
          an octopus still on the stones
with its body sac slumped, with its suckers displayed,
with its body sac slumped and its arms disarrayed
          in a tide-tangled twist on the gravel;
this red devilfish, this dread devilfish—
a mollusk with muscle for clutching its captives—
this red devilfish, which the gulls will unravel,
          this red devilfish is no more.

But there's life in this landscape and wings for the wind
          for the herring have silvered the seas
and the Arctic-bound goose-flocks have swallowed their spawn,
and the Arctic-bound goose-flocks will mill and move on
          and will nest on more northerly shoals:
with immense susurrations, intense susurrations,
their thousands are thronging, assembling and trembling;
with immense susurrations, the multitude rolls;
          with immense susurrations, they rise.

And I fly like that flock as I run on these rocks,
          as my lifetime is measured in miles,
and I sing on the wind for the decades I've jogged,
and I sing on the wind for the joys that I've logged
          and rejoice while the forests regrow;
and I'll run on this coast, on this life-and-death coast,
till time, with its tentacles, twines round my tendons;
and I'll run on this coast in my mind when I slow,
          and I'll run on this coast when I'm old.


The pocket swirls in whorls of ruffled riffle
flanked by funnelling flumes of race and runnel
while fly-line dangles down the bouldered channel;
it slaloms the shoulders where lissome waters carom
and sparkling spangles jostle, solar blossom.

Then all the elasticity of sunlight
flows down his arm and flexes at the sweet spot
as he double-hauls and loads his fly-rod slingshot—
taut as the boom and gurdy of a troller;
it catapults, extracts the line like a molar.

As his back-cast springs and bends its graphite back,
the rod draws a starry flash like a lightning smack
and mints a constellation. A zodiac
forms in the air as his forward flick flecks arcs
with droplets blizzarding down in wizard's sparks.

The thaumaturgic aura casts its sleight,
transforms his rod and line to a pen of light—
he lifts his fountain-wand and starts to write.
His strokes are swift and slippery as Houdini's,
his motions smooth and shadowy as a genie's.

And he spells his casts in shade on jade reflections,
in line-rips shined with sprays of splash-torn sequins,
in glittery sweeps and swoops by jittery aspens.
His flourished cursives slish-slash through the haze
until the fly free-falls through the burnished blaze.

It drops like a seed on the pocket from the skies.
Will a sizeable sorcerer's prize materialize?
He focuses his Wiccan powers. A rise!
The grand surprise he strives to bring about?
He strikes at the magic trick of the vanished trout!

To the Bluenose

With a hundred and forty feet of hull
          and a quarter acre of sail,
you'd forge up under four lowers against
          head seas in a fifty-knot gale
with a ballast load of Atlantic cod
          and, pitching to the rail,
you'd stand on, with the strength of a church
          and the heft of a breaching whale.

And never had such a spectacle graced
          the Nova Scotian coast.
as your flying jib off Lunenberg.
          It was Canada's pride and a boast
that our great salt banker could fly as fleet
          as an ice-filled Gloucester ghost;
and you'd lead round the highflyer poles then schoon
          wing and wing to the finishing-post.

But the price of the cod was crosstree high—
          to harvest your Grand Banks quarry
you'd launch and loose your flying sets
          and, with flambeaux lit, each dory
would anchor a mile of baited line
          as their crews hallooed in the hoary
vapors that rolled from Labrador.
          Then they'd lead-line for death or glory.

They that go down to the sea in ships
          is inscribed on The Man At The Wheel
in Gloucester to mourn the five thousand drowned
          in filling a continent's creel.
And in Lunenberg harbor twelve hundred names more
          are dancing a stony reel
in a compass of pillars—if ever they rise,
          may they climb with your top men and feel
your halyards thrum and your backstays strain
          on the breakers of Banquereau
as you close-haul with a bone in your teeth
          and your weather-bilge bared to the blow.

Qualicum Sunset

This evening's sunset, though ethereal rose,
is not unique—I've seen its like before
          emblazoning this shore;
others eclipse it, robed and grandiose,
descending suns which, as they disappear,
                    draw a train
across the polar ice for half a year—
long, silken night that lets in astral rain.

I see no Ellesmere, but islands smolder,
anthracite to bank the sunset's fire.
          As clouds make ready to retire
the ebb-tide bares a sandbar like a shoulder
and ingle-benches empty—seabird flocks
                    seek nooks of calm;
they search for marsh and carr with goodnight squawks
and sky and sea close like a carmine clam.

In another life I'd clamber Brooks Range talus
or run the Sagavanirktok by canoe,
          my paddle breaking through
the sunset and aurora borealis.
But this is my life, and this fair coast, my home,
                    and this setting sun
deserves to be viewed, not with an eye to roam,
but as if it were the first and only one.

When I Am Old

Hie me to the hill-ground,
the high hill ground of Scotland,
to battle bladed wind-blasts
my forebears fought before me,
to stagger stammer-footed,
across the ancient highlands,
          across their schists and drifting bones
          across their shifting ruin-stones,
          where, witchily, the gray pine crones
          still call me to my history.

Leave me there to wayfare
the curlew-plainted wild moor,
to smell the sweet bog-myrtle
beside the peaty burn;
to stumble crumbling scree slopes
that roll with rutting stag roars,
          and rediscover drove roads
          and moss embossing lost abodes
          where blood-fed drovers rested loads
          bound south and trudging their return.

Let me find a lone shore
where fishermen lie buried
in graves of wave-flung flotsam
with neither name nor past:
to stand there like a Culdee
as mist-trails move unhurried
          on island hills and holms and voes
          where headlands creaked with yells of crows
          as birlinns swooned in hell-bent blows
          that heaved the shore and cleaved the mast.

Bear me to the black shed
where the blacksmith shod the plough-horse
to plod long narrow furrows
that pleat the folding field,
and when my storm approaches,
I'll stand before its raw force
by furnace flames of bygone ways,
          and anvils ringing down the days
          that forged my soul and bent these bays;
          I'm of this land—it's here I'll yield,
          to the stubble and seeds of the past.

(NOTE: If the podcast icon link doesn't work for you, then disable your popup blocker.
If you don't know how, then try the DOWNLOAD link below.)


John Beaton Podcast


John Beaton Podcast

Last edited by Alex Pepple; 03-06-2010 at 02:36 PM. Reason: Added podcast and poems
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Unread 03-06-2010, 03:10 PM
Alex Pepple Alex Pepple is offline
Join Date: Dec 1999
Location: San Jose, CA
Posts: 4,611
Blog Entries: 100

The podcast is now up! Many thanks to John for this fine reading performance.

Listen and enjoy, and your comments are welcome.

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Unread 03-06-2010, 06:26 PM
Catherine Chandler's Avatar
Catherine Chandler Catherine Chandler is offline
Join Date: Oct 2004
Location: Canada and Uruguay
Posts: 5,833
Blog Entries: 33

What a strong, melodic voice! Almost sung, rather than recited, with obvious passion for these landscapes. Especially fine are "To the Bluenose" and "When I am Old".

Very much enjoyed. Thanks for sharing these poems of place.
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Unread 03-08-2010, 01:24 AM
John Beaton's Avatar
John Beaton John Beaton is offline
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Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Qualicum Beach, British Columbia, Canada
Posts: 7,526

Thanks very much to Tim and Alex for setting this up.

And thanks very much for your comments, Cathy. (I`m currently in your neck of the woods, in Montreal visiting one our daughters at Concordia.)

As this site attests, electronic transmission has been a great contributor to the development of metrical poetry. I`m a strong supporter of using sound technology to make that transmission aural as well as visual. In my view, this podcast project moves the Sphere in the right direction.

I greatly enjoyed Tim`s podcast and I look forward to hearing more from other contributors. Just think of it: promenading to an iPod-ful of poetry podcasts!

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Unread 03-08-2010, 10:47 AM
Tim Murphy Tim Murphy is offline
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Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: Fargo ND, USA
Posts: 13,816

To me, it's not as though John's poems are sung. Chanted, rather, a style of performance I employ if I'm doing Iliad in Greek, or Beowulf in Anglo Saxon, but never employ for my own work, which works best when spoken naturally. But John, I think it works for you. Better than it did for Yeats. His material was better (so far!), but his nasal voice an octave higher. You are fortunate to have a fine meeting of matter and method. I am particularly fond of Bluenose, a great incantatory sea chanty; I have scooted before the bows of great ships with bones in their noses, and I've enough seamanship to know that when beating, your square-rigged tophamper is useless, and you sail on the fore and aft rig you can flatten to the headwind. What a marvelous poem. Alan, a truly gifted helmsman, always took the wheel when we were wing on wing.

I suspect we'll next be hearing Light Verse from Kilkenny. Then Beowulf, a public radio interview with Alan and me, augmented by interspersed tapes of the epic in both languages. I've a number of invitations going out, and Alex and I are eager to see your submissions.
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