BBC3 The Verb – Sea Special – Ira Lightman


On 13th July 2015 I was delighted to be asked by poet Ira Lightman, a regular on BBC3 The Verb, ( to collaborate with him on a commissioned poem using Standard Marine Communications Language in ‘dactylic hexameter’. We wrote the poem as dialogue, with me being rescued from the Corryvreckan whirlpool off the west coast of Scotland between Scarba and Jura by Ira, and then us voyaging together to Salford, Manchester.

We were to record at BBC Studios at Salford on Thursday 16th. I took the train to Newcastle where I met Ira and we travelled to Manchester together, returning later that day. The programme went out on Friday 17th.

We were very fortunate to have the spontaneous added atmosphere to our poem of fellow guests the Ballina Whalers humming background as we read. The Ballina Whalers are : Pete Truin, Jamie Doe and Sam Brookes, who sing sea shanties in gorgeous harmony.

South Uist poet Niall Campbell, winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award for his 1st collection ‘Moontide’, published by Bloodaxe, was also on the programme, as well as novelist Susan Sellers who spoke on Virginia Woolf.

A Petit Pot of my Writing so far …

In 2006 I attended a couple of Arvon courses, in June at Moniack Mhor in Writing for Children which was my principal interest at the time.  This was with Mhairi Hedderwick and Cathy McPhail.  In July I went to The Hurst in Shropshire and indulged in  Travel Writing with Rory McLean and Miranda France.

Between 2009 and 2011 I was really privileged to work with children in Primary One to Primary Five across schools in East Lothian, freelancing with East Lothian Council Arts Service.  The work was part of the Curriculum for Excellence, and designed to give the children a different learning experience to formal teaching by having an artist delivering poetry workshops during which the children achieved four learning outcomes.  The children produced some amazing work.

One child inspired me to write the following poem.  She was reluctant to participate in the poetry workshop; I encouraged her to draw a picture into which she might later put words.



The northern light paled her small face

as she stared at the Arctic wilderness

that stretched before her

and stilled her hand.


All around sea lions barked

and clapped their flippers

at the great sounds they made

eager to make more.


The wind carried her hurt voice

to a distant polar bear

who slipped across the floes

to crouch beside her.


His breath shrouded her head

and she inhaled a power

that cracked the ice

and melted a spark into her hazel eyes.


Her fingers brimmed with colour

and caused an Aurora Borealis

that crackled and danced a path

into her darkness till her story unfroze.


She traced the footsteps of the polar bear

to the edge of an iceberg where she grew a castle

frilled with trees and studded with flowers

guarded by rabbits and blades of grass.


And on the ramparts  –



This poem won 3rd prize in Thynks Publication ‘A Little Book Of Healing’.

In the early days I had several poems published, including in diaries on two occasions.  In 2011 I went to Chateau Ventenac and spent a week on a poetry course with Pascale Petit  It was during this course I was distracted by the deadline for a poem which led to  This poem has subsequently been published in Eiks an Eins here as well as numerous other websites, posted by Alastair Cook who was commissioned by to make the FilmPoem.  The Herrin Trail was long-listed for the McCash/Herald Poetry Prize in 2011.

A number of my poems have also been published in anthologies.



Poetry in the Yurt – Art Root 21/22 September 2013

We  were not just blown away by the words, but also the wind!  I arrived on Sunday morning to find the sides of the yurt were quickly being stripped off from the frame.  A quick call for help brought Anna Davis and friend down.  A contingency plan was hatched and we removed to West Barns Art Studios where we found a lovely bright corner to set up and continue our mission.


Art Root event 21/22 September 2013

Over the weekend of 21/22 September 2013 I took my place inside a yurt as part of the Art Root event. We had a lot of fun writing poems on paper plates etc.  I decorated the yurt with materials I had previously used during poetry workshops with P1-P5 in schools as part of the Curriculum for Excellence.  I was delighted Ute Penny wrote her first poem here, and brought her friend Elinor along too.

Ute and Eloner write poems in the yurt, ArtRoot 2013
Ute and Elinor write poems in the yurt, Art Root 2013

Filmpoem 24/ The Herring Trail

The Herring Trail was commissioned by North Light, based on the poem The Herrin’ Trail by Rita Bradd as part of my summer residency at McArthur’s Store in Dunbar. I spent 3 months there over the summer, working wit hthe fishermen using wet plate collodion (a photographic process from 1851), 120 film and shooting with 8mm and 16mm. This film has scant relation to that, as I’ve used film given to me by the British Council, which is deliberately digitally extrapolated.

Filmpoem 24/ The Herring Trail from Alastair Cook on Vimeo.

To be able to find such a wonderful poet in Rita was inspiring and I asked her to compose for the filmpoem on the Clarsach (or Lever Harp, if you’re not in Scotland) and i read the poem so that she might play. We premiered this at Sally Evan’s Callander poetry weekend in early September 2012 to a full house, with Rita playing live while I read over the film. Lovely to read in my native Scots, though not quite in my natural Galloway Irish/ Ulster Scots brogue!