Poems, Stories and Writings

Poems, Stories and Writings

by Margaret Tait, Sarah Neely, Ali Smith

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Overview

Drawing upon a pioneering filmmaker’s poetry collections, short stories, magazine articles, and unpublished notebooks, this collection contains the full range of Margaret Tait’s writing. As it discusses Tait as filmmaker and writer in the context of mid-20th-century Scottish culture, this account offers valuable insights into her writing processes and how these might have translated into her film work. With poetry that is generous and independent in its vision of the world, this book will appeal to anyone interested in the crossovers between literature and film.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847776617
Publisher: Carcanet Press, Limited
Publication date: 11/01/2012
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 7 MB

About the Author

Margaret Tait was a filmmaker, a poet, and the founder of the film company Ancona Films. Sarah Neely is a member of the Stirling Media Research Institute and a lecturer in film in the School of Arts and Humanities at the University of Stirling. Ali Smith is the author of The Accidental and Hotel World and a contributor to the Guardian, the Scotsman, and the Times Literary Supplement.

Read an Excerpt

Poems, Stories and Writings


By Margaret Tait, Sarah Neely

Carcanet Press Ltd

Copyright © 2012 Estate of Margaret Tait
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-84777-661-7


CHAPTER 1

from origins and elements (1959)


    Elasticity

    Think of the word, elastic.
    The real elastic quality is the being able to spring back to the original shape,
    Not the being able to be stretched.
    So, metal is described as elastic
    And steel is the most elastic of all metals.
    It is specially manufactured to have the elastic quality of retaining its own shape.
    Steel is so elastic you can't budge it.


    Reading about Rimbaud

    Hell consists in a sense of having sinned.
    The idea of sin is the actuality of hell.
    That's all hell is,
    And sure it's plenty.

    The heaven within us
    Could be, equally, the sense of our own essential innocence,
    Intuitive sense of animal complexity
    Causing our inexplicable behaviour.


    'It's a mistake to write a poem that seems more certain'

    It's a mistake to write a poem that seems more certain of a policy or a belief or
    anything than you really are.
    Express the doubt too.
    Even express the confusion so long as what you see or half-see with your earth-vision
    is right there inthe thing.


    Emily

    Emily Dickinson shut herself in a room
    And wrote about her pain.
    She wrote too about joy.


    Water

    Water is an element in one sense but not in the other.
    Chemically, it is a compound
    H2O
    Two atoms of hydrogen to one of oxygen.
    Can you believe it?
    Gases,
    And they make that stuff!
    Light, lightest of all the gases,
    Of all the elements, in fact, –
    Hydrogen,
    Light and explosive.
    And oxygen.
    Business-like, useful oxygen,
    Combustible,
    Ready to combine with almost anything.
    I've always liked oxygen.
    Oxygen.
      Orkney.
        Ozone.
        The air we breathe,
    Oxyhaemoglobin,
    Life-blood,
    And it combines with that light explosive of a hydrogen
    And makes –
    Water, dammit!
    Waters of the world.
    You can build an igloo with it.


    Carbon

    Carbon
    Is diamonds
    And it's what we use in the grate or the gas-jet to warm ourselves by, making it
        combine with the oxygen of the air,
    Warm combustible oxygen.
    There's a flame,
    Warmth
    And carbon dioxide.
    That's all that's left of the carbon
    – a whiff.
    And carbon
    Is one of the essential elements of all living things.
    All organic matter
    Contains carbon.
    It's the scientific definition of an 'organic' substance that it contains carbon.
    Diamonds in the blood,
    Coal in the brain-paths,
    Heart, muscle, vessels, connective tissue, blood, lymph, alveoli of the lungs
    Ultimately made of protoplasm formed partly of the life-belonging element, carbon.
    Burning it in our bodies makes us warm too,
    Turning it into carbon dioxide that we dispose of then through our lungs into the air.

    That black inert-looking element, carbon!
    But think of all the things it can do.
    It's in rose petals
    And tree trunks
    And toads,
    Imprisoned in compounds represented by those alarming diagrams which seem so far
        removed from reality,
    Rings, chains, groups,
    Para-
    Di-ethyl-tri-benzy-
    Names all with a significance relating to the number of carbon atoms grouped together.
    Atom with a solid valency of four
    And just occasionally two,
    Yet as varied and adaptable as a live thing,
    The most varied and adaptable of all elements
    As of course is necessary for the one which is to be in all living material.
    That means, too, all material which has ever been living,
    Like coal,
    Like diamonds.
    And it gets into the organic compounds too –
    'Organic' because they have carbon in them –
    The alkaloids, and the latest medicines devised in the laboratory
    And synthetic things to wear or make tools of,
    The complex compound things with long many-hyphened names which are one long
        cipher quite readable by a chemist who has worked among those significances,
    Containing, all of them, this one black atom in one or other of its innumerable
        manifestations,
    Usually along with hydrogen and oxygen
    And just one or two other elements to give spice, uniqueness, point to the already
        great variety.
    The animal body is almost entirely made of hydrogen oxygen and carbon
    And nitrogen,
    And traces, as they say in chemistry,
    Of other things.
    After death, the animal body turns into di-hydrogen oxide, that is water, and ammonia,
        and carbon dioxide, an inert gas normally present in the air anyway.
    (Where did it come from?
    From the innumerable decomposing animal and vegetable bodies?)
    We breathe it in and we breathe it out.
    It stimulates us by reflex action to breathe deeper
    And then we breathe out even more of it, the waste product of burning up the carbon
        in all the cells of our bodies,
    Carbon, black inert carbon,
    Life-belonging carbon.


    Reputation

    The fairies, the bitches, didn't build the Pyramids;
    It was the Pharaohs, the buggers,
    As the colonel discovered
    In my uncle's joke.
    And the fame of little Moses in the basket
    Is perceived by some slightly different part of us from the part that knows the famous
        ten commandments
    Which he wrote on stone
    In later life.
    In those days in the basket Moses wasn't thinking of stone-engraven laws.
    He was crying
    Because he was hungry.
    Hungry for breast-milk was little Moses and he had been denied it,
    Left in a sweet little basket among the rushes,
    Little basket,
    Moses.
    He never forgot it,
    Never forgave it
    And went on proving his near-omnipotence for all of his life.
    So as not to say he was omnipotent exactly
    He put it all in the name of God.
    God could be omnipotent
    – People accept that –
    And Moses, wee Moses, the basket, could be his Spokesman.
    See?
    Easy!
    Ah well, it's not as easy as all that.
    It wouldn't have worked if he hadn't believed it himself,
    Believed that the One individual God of all the universe
    Selected him, Moses,
    To tell the folks down below
    All the news
    Of what Heaven expected them to do.
    So he wrote it down
    And intoned it,
    Preached and practised to them as hard as ever he could.


    Storms

    I wished for a storm to test my strength against.
    I cried for the gale-force wind,
    For electric explosions,
    For sheets of rain.
    I looked to the motionless wisps of cloud,
    To the serene blue of the sky
    And wished them transformed.
    I wished to be battered and to emerge triumphant.
    I love the beating heat of the uncovered sun
    And the magic stillness of a wet evening after rain
    And a calm of the sea which makes it look like heavy Melted deep-coloured stuff;
    But, meantime, through it all,
    I crave the wave beating
    Lashing the untamed earth I live on
    And the screaming of the wild atmosphere I live in.
    The violence of it pumps my blood faster.


    A Fire

    The tiniest twigs will nearly always light,
    Even if they're wet,
    And then, when they're going properly,
    Add the slightly bigger ones.
    As the flame rises
    It will dry off the more sizable sticks you've gathered,
    And once the fire is going well
    It will burn almost anything,
    Except of course the sodden solid masses of old rotten log.
    Tending a fire
    As a full-time occupation
    Is a feminine contentment.
    To watch the flames rise,
    Hear the crackle
    And judge the correct moment and the correct place to add the next bit of fuel
    Satisfies
    Some ancient impulse.
    Hearth-keeper,
    I build a little flame
    And keep it there, feed it, keep it going
    To warm you all by and feed you and cheer you by
    And cheer myself too,
    Cheer the deepest comfortless dark in my own self.

        Published in The Voice of Scotland, vol. 9, no. 1, 195


    Flood-water

    Flood-water came out of the sky
    As snow.
    It blocked the roads and made the surface slippery
    By freezing,
    And then it turned to rain,
    Melted all the hard stuff into mush.
    Great lumps of melting snow stuck in the fields,
    Made treacherous pools far too near to the houses
    And great splashy quagmires in all the roadways.
    Wet drowned the little birds.
    They shivered to death with their feathers all drookit.
    Water stood in the low places and the continual rain replenished it.
    We feared another flood.
    But the miracle always comes;
    The rain stops,
    The water slowly evaporates and drains away once more,
    Runs downward to the sea,
    Leaving behind a thorough soaking for all of earth's surface,
    Some of which, alas, it carries away in the rivers and into the salt ocean.
    But the sun dries the rest,
    Warms the generating seed
    Which then sends out little rootlets to suck in that useful water all around.
    In the end it's said to be all for the good
    Even if some were drowned,
    Even if some were lost.
    It seems to be in the long run positive and productive even with all that destruction.


    Sleep

    Sleep
    Joins us all.
    Sleep
    Is what we come out of,
    What we return to.
    Deep
    In our consciousness
    Is the great linking thing, sleep.
    Just one consciousness, the Brahmins say,
    One for all of us
    And we all dip into it like the porridge-pot in the middle of the table,
    Select our spoonfuls
    But dream of the rest.
    The rest is ours too, really,
    Or we are its,
    All living with little bits of the one huge consciousness thrust into us like the processes
        of the amoeba poking out and filling with particles of the parent protoplasm.


    'Protected in my little house'

    Protected in my little house,
    I watch the weather.
    How it beats at my window-panes!
    How it shakes my timbers!
    How it howls!
    Human beings can make themselves these protective boxes
    And lie snugly watching what goes on.


    To Anybody at All

    I didn't want you cosy and neat and limited.
    I didn't want you to be understandable,
    Understood.
    I wanted you to stay mad and limitless,
    Neither bound to me nor bound to anyone else's or your own preconceived idea of
        yourself.

    Singularity

    To be I
    Not we
    Is the last
    And first terrifying demand
    Which of a poet is demanded first and last and in the middle.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Poems, Stories and Writings by Margaret Tait, Sarah Neely. Copyright © 2012 Estate of Margaret Tait. Excerpted by permission of Carcanet Press Ltd.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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