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Back O' Skiddaw
Back O' Skiddaw
A diverse collection of poems by Brian Campbell, including reflections on locations such as Mull, Florida and Bewcastle
Bookends/ Williow End Publications
Colour drawings throughout
Back O' Skiddaw: A collection of illustrated poems by Brian Campbell. Willowend Publications.
The cover shows a gathering of nibbling sheep beside a stone wall and, reaching backwards, the fields, trees and hedgerows running up to the bald green slopes of Skiddaw and the northern fells. This is Brian Campbell's landscape. This is his place, these are his people:
"austere high ground scraped thin across the fells,
farflung but mean in its fertility.
Feels tough. asks much. Breeds self-sufficient stock."
He knows the fell ponies which graze "in gently snorting groups" "where the Caldew gets into its stride / having skipped and hopped from Skiddaw's back".
He also remembers how in 2001,
"Masked men in gangs collect the luckless flocks" and how,
"Death fires deploy across the sullied fields
disgorging intermittent rags of flame
beneath dense drapes of drifting oily smoke."
He remembers the "grisly industry" and the stench of the foot and mouth epidemic and its eerie aftermath:
"then silence falls upon deserted farms:
another plague of emptiness begins."
The accompanying picture shows the black silhouettes of the legs of cattle against the smouldering red of flame beneath a choking grey pall of smoke. It recalls everything.
He also imagines fires on the Solway Plain from a more distant time:
"Raiders shrieking at the gate, farmsteads blazing close beside"
and people finding safety in Newton Arlosh church, "its thickwalled tower's blessed sanctuary".
The church is pictured, solid and still beneath the heavy yews that seem like threatening smoke. The path from gate to church is a vivid lime-green, passing lines of gravestones which seem to measure out the centuries. The church, "quiet, kempt, neatly compact" is "a little castle, sturdy in its stones".
Similarly, "The fluctuating fortunes of the years - splendid rise and sordid fall of kings" can be read in the cross in Bewcastle churchyard, "flecked, pocked, chipped and scrubbed / blasted and abraded by ideas and time". Looking at a photograph of the cross as he stands in a book store in "wealth-drenched" San Diego, he asks if the future artist might overcome the vanity of his self-regard and aspire to such "simplicity of structure, complexity of style". His two drawings of the cross trace in their easy simplicity "the chiselled scrolling wreaths of vine and grape".
Other poems take him to "the pewter skies" of Arran, to the "Tiny cell, spartan as a hermit's cave" that is a weaving shed on the Isle of Lewis and to derelict fishing boats on the Isle of Mull in "the twilight at the ending of our usefulness".
But it is at home where Brian's poetry belongs. He looks through "the winking boughs / of our new Christmas tree" at the old tree in the orchard which always bears "apples the size of turnips". They seem like "ruddy lanterns" in "light diffused through tranquil mist, /mother of pearl, dove-grey, apricot / around the sun's dim disc."
Perhaps, he is like "the lean old chap (who) chips cheerfully away /absorbed in mettlesome activity" who carved the font at Bridekirk.
The art of writing poetry in one's own landscape, of painting the world which lies immediately in front of one, is just such a "loving daily act / of carving stone for God's nobility / (as well as, just a little, for his own)".
This is poetry and painting of a gentle good humour, quietly profound and deeply appreciative of the place where it finds itself.
Brian Campbell's poetry and pictures will be on show in Wigton Market Hall for a week beginning Saturday, 24th October.
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