The Year of the Loch
by George W. Colkitto
69 poems, 71 pages
Price: £5.00 plus postage and packing.
Publisher: diehard, 2017
To order: diehard publishers, Callander, Scotland.
reviewed by Neil Leadbeater
Having recently reviewed a book of poems for Quill & Parchment by two Sunland / Tujunga poets who met every week on warm spring days in Sunland Park, California, to capture its transitory moments of beauty and peace I was attracted to the idea of reviewing a book based on a similar concept by a poet from my own country, Scotland.
This collection by George W. Colkitto, who is a Director of Read Raw Ltd, the Paisley Poetry Group and a member of the Burgh Poets, Stirling, contains poems that were written over the course of a year during visits to Castle Semple Loch, at Lochwinnoch in the West Central Lowlands of Scotland near Paisley. Castle Semple Loch is a 1.5-mile-long (2.5 km) inland freshwater loch that was originally part of an estate of the same name, and is now administered by Clyde Muirshiel Regional Park as a watersports centre. An RSPB bird sanctuary is located on the loch's southern shore. Colkitto’s poems, which were all written on site, bring the life of the loch and all who visit it sharply into focus creating a fascinating panorama of detailed description and quiet reflection.
Colkitto, with one exception, dispenses with all punctuation considering it to be unnecessary. For him, rhythm and line length do the work instead. The sequence begins in November 2015 and takes the reader through the year to October 2016.
In keeping with the poems, Colkitto’s titles are spare and to the point but his powers of observation are what make this book such a memorable read. Within no time at all, we the readers feel that we are there beside the loch experiencing the same sights and sounds that he is writing about, observing the petty squabbles as gulls fight over bread, hearing ‘a cacophony that makes for a harsh evensong’ or admiring swallows performing ‘an unrivalled aerial terpsichore’ as they circle above the loch. We see ‘evening starlings performing synchronised aerobatics’ and, with one eye on the weather, become aware of ‘chiffon mist,’ ‘powder puff skies,’ and keep watch over a loch that is likened to ‘a deep blue cheese-grater darkening under an April shower’.
Time and again Colkitto goes in search of solitude but, even here, the world can seem a noisy place. He hears ‘a car door cracking its warning shot,’ ‘the clink of spanners tightening outriggers,’ ‘the buzz of outdoor motors,’ and ‘the rhythm of rain on the car roof.’
The poems abound with wildlife: geese, swans, ducks and coots are only a few of the many types of birds to be found in these pages. ‘Swan Ballet’ is Colkitto’s Swan Lake:
the swan chorus sweeps the shore
further out two principals perform
courting heads synchronised as they dip
bright white tints of gold
pirouetting in low afternoon sun…
The contrast that Colkitto brings out between sound and silence pervades these poems. The sounds extend to human activity as well: there are ‘soaked children on a nature hunt,’ a family feeding the ducks, anglers, dog-walkers, spirited hikers, canoeists, people racing model yachts…keeping company with the loch is not always a quiet affair. These intrusions lend variety which is essential since the book is centered round a single location. Colkitto achieves this variety in a number of ways by tracking the different seasons, changes in the weather, the play of light and dark on the surface of the loch.
To give readers a flavour of the poems in this collection I will end this review by quoting in full the short poem called ‘Dreich Day’. ‘Dreich’ is a very expressive Scots word which, when used as an adjective to describe the weather means ‘dull’ or ‘dreary’.
This short poem has a lot going for it. After the alliteration in the title, there is the striking image of a scourer roughing up the smooth surface of the loch, the inclusion of a few Scots words, the humor of the fourth line and then the unexpected ending. Like all the poems in this collection, it is well thought-out, accessible and exact. In short, it is a model of precision:
Rain scours the loch
scudding towards the far shore
a few desultory ducks
as wet above as below
dipping into the water
a lone seagull hangs above watching
this is not a day to feed the birds
it is a day to coorie doon
take home the beauty