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“Crossing the Loch,” by Kathleen Jamie

August 24, 2010

A poem that rows toward the cottage on the sickle-shaped bay.

I have these three memories of Kathleen.

One: First week of the program, first individual tutorial.  I brought drafts that I’d uneasily convinced myself were joshing and playful.  Something stupid.  Kathleen read them then asked, “What are you doing here?”  I started to explain what the draft was about.  “No,” she said. “You didn’t bring your family around the world to write this.”  I felt like she’d unscrewed my kidneys, spat on my daughters, and left me with the check.

I was sick and angry, and I walked and walked that afternoon: The cathedral and castle, North Street to the West Sands, a break to sulk over espresso at Beanscene, up and down the Lade Braes.  After another queasy day or two, though, she was right. (Faithful are the wounds of a friend.)  I had to work with courage in ways that needed no rationalizing.  Or else go home.

Two: She used this word regularly, mindfulness.  At first I just heard, Pay attention! Pay attention to this when you write, kids.  Pay attention to that when you rewrite.  Like a checklist in a workbook.  The more she said it, though, the more mindfulness seemed to name the care with which we work, the caring with which we care for what we work on.  And it came to mean, for me, a kind of alert serenity and responsible labor married together as wisdom for making the choices a poet is always making.

Three: I don’t remember which poem of mine we’d just vivisected in workshop when Kathleen asked, “Have you read Michael Symmons Roberts?” and recommended his book Corpus. She was offering me the book as a kind of teacher, and when I bought it that week at the late Quarto Bookshop I found a hero.  The man knew what Jairus’ daughter ate on her resurrection afternoon, what John Donne would have made of DNA sequencing, what it feels like to be reassembled post-mortem.  I read the book every couple of weeks for the rest of the year.  (OK, Symmons Roberts will have to fill up the Feed for a week, like Mary Karr did not long ago.  You’ll hear for yourselves.)

“Crossing the Loch” is in Jamie’s book Jizzen (Picador, 1999).  And here’s a link to Jamie reading several of her poems aloud.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 25, 2010 9:53 am

    Kathleen’s honesty was forthright, challenging and valuable indeed! I still remember a creative writing class in “Podunk high school” when my creative writing teacher tried to encourage and challenge (or maybe rebuke) me when he said, “You’re like an iceberg that only shows the tip…“. I heard only “ice/cold”. I wish now that I’d have taken his poetic language to heart and gleaned more, but I was embarrassed and offended back then. I lacked the maturity to walk it off, then bravely get to work as you did in Scotland when you had to “work with courage in ways that needed no rationalizing“!.
    Sometimes poetry seems to me like wild celebration… with restraint. Mindful, skillful, particular and brave. Thank you for the nourishment from this feed!

  2. August 25, 2010 4:44 pm

    Thanks for the link! Great site. I’ve loved Kathleen Jamie’s work since I first read “Mr. and Mrs. Scotland are Dead.”
    Great choice! Thanks again!

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