Many of you no doubt will have heard about James McKay because you are well read, brainy and like fine things. The Higgledy Army have long been fans of his work and when we asked him to say something both brainy and beautiful about flowers for our site, he did just exactly that.
James has got a new book coming out which we all have to buy otherwise Tinkerbell’s ears will be in the post…
Poems like flowers are lightweight, intense, highly coloured. A small and sustainable luxury.
When you collect them, they become an anthology: the word ‘anthology’ means ‘collection of flowers’.
You grow them, as you would flowers. Poems germinate, they need time for incubation, and they grow at their own pace.
Some are best pretty much ignored, they look after themselves until you feel like writing them down and then they’re done.
Some demand hot-house attention to detail and constant fretting over, and still refuse to blossom like you wanted them to.
The main thing is to keep the mind fertile, receptive and clear of weeds.
As the great John Cooper Clarke has it, the main advantage to being a poet is that nobody can ever tell you that you’re not working.
My new book of poems, Quiet Circus, is being published right now by Vintage Poison Press: you can follow every thrilling development at www.mckaypoetry.com.
To best encourage new poems, apply quantities of rich, well-rotted literature – which is all riotously floral.
Love poets of all ages have pretty much had to wade through drifts of roses, lilies etc. to get at their beloveds.
Erasmus Darwin (grandfather of the famous Charles) made his name and fortune with the book-length, best-selling poem The Loves of the Plants (1791), in which he outlined the theories of Linnaeus (I’m not making this up).
Best of all, this: writing around 1760 while confined to a London lunatic asylum, the poet Christopher Smart misses his garden:
from ‘Jubilate Agno’
For the doubling of flowers is the improvement of the gardners talent.
For the flowers are great blessings.
For the Lord made a Nosegay in the meadow with his disciples and preached upon the lily.
For the angels of God took it out of his hand and carried it to the Height.
For a man cannot have publick spirit, who is void of private benevolence.
For there is no Height in which there are not flowers.
For flowers have great virtues for all the senses.
For the flower glorifies God and the root parries the adversary.
For the flowers have their angels even the words of God’s Creation.
For the warp and woof of flowers are worked by perpetual moving spirits.
For flowers are good both for the living and the dead.
For there is a language of flowers.
For there is a sound reasoning upon all flowers.
For elegant phrases are nothing but flowers.
For flowers are peculiarly the poetry of Christ.
For flowers are musical in ocular harmony.
For the right names of flowers are yet in heaven. God make gard’ners better nomenclators.
For the Poorman’s nosegay is an introduction to a Prince.
Thanks James old bean. I do hope we get the chance to meet again.
February 3, 2011 @ 11:40 am
‘For flowers are musical in ocular harmony’, love it!
A pleasure to read some poetry, I never seek it out and yet am always reminded when I come across a poem how much I appreciate it.
‘keeping the mind fertile, receptive and clear of weeds’ sound words from James for life generally. I will hold onto those……..if I can, as my mind resembles a garden sieve.
I worked in the new Bethlem hospital in London……goodness knows how Christoper Smart was able to write in the old one………how he must have longed for his flowers amidst such misery and torment!
February 3, 2011 @ 5:19 pm
Wonderful words Martine. Thank you. I have been working in medium secure mental hospitals for much of this year…its always so tricky to expect people to recover when surrounded by high fences…indeed its enough to make most of us ill. After a 13 hour shift to be ‘let out’ and smell the cow parsley that edged the path to the car park was nothing short of enlightening and the colours in the undergrowth would positively throb after the stark white of the ward…how it must be to be locked up for sometimes years because of an illness must lend itself to a melting of the soul. Clearly people need to be protected from some of the men that I helped nurse but I would challenge any right minded individual to spend a year in that environment and come out without a mental illness.
I no longer work in mental health but would be really keen on having patients come and spend some time helping in the garden…this won’t happen this year but I hope it will next. :)
February 4, 2011 @ 12:46 pm
…much of last year…not this year! …oh how time flies.
February 5, 2011 @ 5:04 pm
Indeed it is always the dilemma of an institution as to whether it heals, harms or merely contains. I have worked 12 hour shifts in 7th floor (!!!) mental health units and in huge Victorian hospitals (sold to developers and now converted into expensive “villages”). Whilst I wouldn’t advocate shutting people away due to mental illness, (unless absolutely necessary) the beautiful grounds and views of the big hospitals did have a part to play in healing. Patients who had known both, told me that they missed being able to take tranquil walks and sit in the sunshine and admire the scenery.
Hospitals used to carry out their own horticulture and farming, with patients being happily involved in this……..many spoke fondly of their memories and of their work. Perhaps in its way it was more a caring community than the modern concept of ‘Care in the Community’?
I really like your idea of involving patients in working with you and it has given me something to think about for the future.
Sorry to woffle on, mental health care is one of my other passions!
February 5, 2011 @ 5:11 pm
Oh………I forgot to say…… your description of coming out after a day in a secure unit is quite profoundly accurate and beautifully written :) Sure your friend is the only poet?
February 5, 2011 @ 11:43 pm
Bless you! Flattery get’s you everywhere…there is a flower grower somewhere who utilises the help of patients…I shall have a hunt to find out who it is…
February 1, 2011 @ 4:17 pm
Love the phrase about applying rich well rotted literature- maybe all that stuff i’ve read in the past will produce something wonderful one day?
February 1, 2011 @ 3:06 pm
“For the right names of flowers are yet in heaven.” …is my fav…sometimes other gardeners look down at those who don’t know names, common or botanical for flowers…I couldn’t give a monkey’s…I know how they look…and smell…and when they do well and when they fail…I KNOW them…its just I don’t know what someone else has named them in the past. Sometimes naming things changes the way we perceive them too…ignorance can be its own teacher…
February 1, 2011 @ 12:27 pm
If I were forced to pick a favourite line from that passage, I’d be torn between the “living and the dead” line and the “poetry of Christ” one.
January 31, 2011 @ 8:29 pm
I am not very good at poetry but I loved the idea of flowers being good “both for the living and the dead” and it’s always brilliant to see the words “warp and woof” used. Which reminds me – how to remember which is the warp and which is the weft? When my Wise Uncle George was a young fireman in days of yore and had to darn the hoses, he was to told to “sew vertically up the woof and then turn weft”! x (Works better if said in a stupid childish voice).