The Tuesday Poem: Kathleen Jamie

Garrison Keiller’s online ‘Writers’ Almanac’  recently featured one of Kathleen Jamie’s poems with the comment that she was one of the most underrated poets writing in English today. At least he didn’t make the mistake of referring to her as an English poet. Kathleen Jamie is Scottish and the Celtic idiom and the rhythms of its language flow through every poem. They are as beautifully patterned as music, and there is never a wrong note. Every phrase, every word, every metaphor is so absolutely right and the construction and editing are seamless.

I loved the elegiac ‘Crossing the Loch’, which you can read on this link here at the Poetry Archive

But my favourite is 'Mrs McKellar, her Martyrdom' which is a wonderful character study of an embittered couple locked in terrible proximity. It begins

‘Each night she fills, from the fabled
well of disappointment, a kettle
for her hottie. Lying
in his apportioned bed:
Mr McKellar - annulled
beside his trouser press.’

And it goes on to address the problems of communication for an estranged couple ‘when word is a kind of touch’ The McKellar's neither speak nor touch, so:

‘Who mentions, who defers to whom
on matters concerning
redecorating the living room,
milk delivery, the damp
stain spreading on the ceiling.'

On principle, Mrs McKellar, will ‘die, lips sealed’ rather than ‘display/toward an indifferent world/the means of her agony/a broken toilet seat’.

In contrast to the emotional desert inside the house, outside ‘exquisitely, the darkening hills,/a sky teased with mauve.’

I also loved the sequence of poems on the birth of her child - but there wasn’t a weak poem in the whole collection. ‘Waterlight’ is published in America and features poems from 4 of Kathleen’s collections. For anyone who hasn’t read her before, it’s a good introduction.

Then, on the internet, I discovered that she had written a collection of what are described as ‘essays’. The book is called ‘Findings’ and it’s a series of reflections on the landscape, the natural world and our place in it. The language is simple, the thinking behind it profound. This has become her trademark, simplicity in seeing, a willingness to look, the resulting poetry and prose, "as close as writing gets", said writer Richard Mabey in a Guardian review "to a conversation with the natural world".

I’ve been reading one every night before I go to sleep. Last night it was on the need for solitude. ‘If we work always in words, sometimes we need to recuperate in a place where language doesn’t join up, where we’re thrown back on a few elementary nouns. Sea. Bird. Sky.’ And I wished that I was back in Kaikoura listening to the quiet conversations of the ocean.

For more Tuesday Poems, please follow this link. 


  1. This is wonderful, Kathleen, it brings tears to my eyes - I must and will read this woman. Thank you.

  2. Glad you both liked it. She really is worth reading.


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