Since childhood I have been fascinated by islands, and since 1991 have been fortunate to live in the Hebrides, firstly as teacher on Colonsay, and latterly on Islay. Holidays are almost always taken on other Scottish islands. Each one different, each with its own unique history, and all endowed with a wealth of varied landscape and abundant wildlife.
In combining my interests in islands and writing, I am working towards a collection of island poems. In these I aim to capture something of the essence of each island that I visit. So far I have covered the Outer Hebrides from the Butt of Lewis to Vatersay. Of the inhabited islands of the Inner Hebrides, only Raasay has yet to be visited. A few uninhabited islands have been explored too, and each island has resulted in scores of photographs, wildlife records and a poem or two. One visit is never enough. I hope to be able to return to all of them.
Colonsay where I was Headteacher of Kilchattan Primary School from 1991 to 1997, and Islay where I have lived since 1997 will have a prominent place in the collection. The rest will range from Lewis to Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides; from Skye and the Small Isles to Gigha in the Inner Hebrides and from Orkney to the Clyde islands. I may even include poems from Lindisfarne and from the islands of the Pembrokeshire Coast.
The poems will be concerned with landscape, people, natural history, history and incidents that have captured my imagination. As long as there are islands I will continue to visit and write about them so this project is likely to continue for a very long time. In the meantime, some of the poems have already appeared in magazines and anthologies, and it is likely that others will follow.
Sometimes there is nothing to show there's land across the sea. When clouds convert to mist that sits on the sea's surface, the mind relies on memory to add the lines of islands, the rise of distant hills. When mist drifts and lifts, the outlined islands, shapes of distant hills emerge like wraiths, like shadows of themselves, until sun scalpels through, reveals each detail sharp against a blue so clear, the miles of ocean seem to disappear and I could walk across the water.
First Published in ‘These Islands, We Sing’ - Ed. Kevin MacNeil, Polygon, 2011.
In 2015 this poem featured on the Crionn Photography website along with some beautiful photographs of views from Skye.