‘there’s nothing either good or bad,

Jan 2, 2020 poetry appreciation

but thinking makes it so’. A trio of poems which see the coming of the new year from very different places. First, we have Ogden Nash’s ‘Good riddance, but now what‘, which finds the poet in characteristically wry mood. The apparent cosiness of the opening invitation—’Come children, gather round my knee’—is soon dispelled with the imagery of something ‘about to burst/… like a time bomb in the hall’. It brings to mind Dorothy Parker’s notorious way of greeting visitors or answering the phone: ‘What fresh hell is this?’. I love the fact that here Nash has the clock ‘crouching, dark and small’—small, as a bomb is, in relation to the size of the destruction it can wreak. Assume brace position. Be ready to duck. I can certainly recognise in myself a mood where I look at the future with that sort of attitude.

But then again, I can also relate to the mood of ‘Promise’ by Jackie Kay, the Scottish Machar, which you can read here along with our third poem, ‘Poem for New Year’ by Matt Goodfellow. (You can also hear Nicola Sturgeon read ‘Promise’ here.) I love the quiet realism of ‘Promise’, and the ambiguity built into the very title: promise as in the unbreakable pledge to undertake something; promise also as potential which may or may not be fulfilled. Kay’s claim is that the year ahead ‘appears/ like a blank sheet of paper/ clean calendar, a new chance’; not that it is all those things; similarly it acknowledges that those clean, fresh footprints can be whirled away by the wind. And at the end there’s the same ambivalence in the phrase ‘Promises/ made to be broken, made to last’. All of this adds up to a warm, uncritical recognition of the ways things are: that we can have so many hopes and intentions; that the hopes can fail to come to fruition, and we can fail to carry out what we once so genuinely intended to do. This, then, is neither a wildly optimistic nor a wryly pessimistic view of the new year. Just an honest one. And at its heart is the toast, ‘here’s tae us’. In the end, maybe that’s all we can do: love, cherish and celebrate each other. Survival through fellowship.

Our third poem, the Matt Goodfellow, keeps that second sense of promise in its sight. Potential. The ‘tensions in the sheep field’ recognises new life in the offing; ‘the pilgrimage of fins’—what an image!—suggests the annual, instinctual drive to reproduce, to continue. The final image of how the ‘clouds that shroud the mountain/ slowly, softly start to part’ is simple and quietly exquisite. There’s a gentleness to this poem: new life is stirring somewhere, not boldly leaping. But that the imagery throughout recognises nature’s rhythms offers a suggestion that, perhaps, we might hold onto a quiet trust that things will be ok; or ok-enough. Life will go on, the earth will still turn. I think maybe that’s what I want to hear this particular new year: the ‘ringing, singing in [of] change’, the ‘meadow-music in the dark’.

Let’s keep breathing. Here’s tae us.

2 thoughts on “‘there’s nothing either good or bad,”
  1. Lovely poems! Wish I could respond in equal measure, but am so glad to have poetry in my life – thanks, Lucy, and a happy 2020.

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