Four new poems: Robert Ford, Mark Haworth Booth, Garry Mackenzie, Oliver Southall

New poetry by Robert Ford, Mark Haworth Booth, Garry Mackenzie and Oliver Southall


Spit, by Robert Ford


Inches only beyond where the ripe green of the dune-edge

peters out, contour lines of springtide jetsam stripe the

crushed shell and sand in streamers of blackened

wrack, driftwood, charred and uncharred, and

empty-eyed gull cadavers. At its very tip,

the final, urgent elbow-crook of the

exhausted river, a volte-face

of its patient waters before

surrender to the waiting sea.

Turnstones turn stones, and

the still-living shelter,

people-shy, plovers,


eiders, waiting

for another


to remake

the world




Ben Dorain: A Conversation with a Mountain, by Garry Mackenzie

Duncan Bàn Macintyre’s In Praise of Ben Dorain is an eighteenth-century Gaelic poem about a West Highland mountain and its herd of red deer. The work below combines an original translation of Macintyre’s poem, on the left of the page, with new material on the right, to form a conversation between the 250-year-old poem and the modern world.


Part three: ground


I love to rise

as dawn’s


on the sill,


that’s when it’s best

to do a circuit of the hills:

cold hill first, or maybe castle hill,

then back across the strath to monk’s hill,

down to cairn hill, congregation hill,

and the final pull over rugged slopes

to the hill of a thousand streams, Ben Dorain.

I’ll count at least two hundred deer –

this is the place

where they ought to be,

my simple-minded ones,

waking with light hearts,

luminous with joy.



From their slender frames

resounds a great music,

the clear honest melody

of their distant calls:

a hind will stitch

         her voice into the wind,

a sharp staccato

         bark with intervals

of five to fifteen seconds.

 Her role is to warn

the herd of trouble – at her bark

they’re instantly alert.

The leader carries the tune

alone, no other member

of the herd joins in

with this salute,

this gathering song,

this retreat.

It’s a special sound, when they start

with their keening and crooning.

I’d take it

over all the music of the Gaels

this sweet song

this breath

passed down through generations,

this ardent belling

on the face of Ben Dorain


(but look down there,

at the fussy grey hind

wallowing in the pool

while her herd bark –

she has funny ways, that girl,

when the mood takes her)


Do you hear that stag with the distinctive roar

hauled from the fathoms of his chest?

When he strikes up

you hear him in the next glen –

he roars

roaringly, he can roar

no other way;

the world

is its own

true self in him.

The young hind with the sweet lowing voice

leads her calf up the scree-slope;

they call to each other

across that great

longing of mother and child.


The stag’s vision is sharp,

his quick gaze steady

as he portions up the glen;

below his grey eyebrows,

beneath lashes and lids,

are pupils

as remote

from me

as Jupiter.

He’s a trooper, that one

who runs on ahead

with the vigour of a newly-kindled fire:


          you’re sure of yourself

             no falter in your step

       no restraint in your leap

       in the race of your being

 there’s no second place

  you sprint onward and onward

          without a backward glance

and no-one, two-legged or four,

  can keep up


                                                                     rough water      rugged water      narrow water

                                                                                                                coarse water


              over burns

           that flash



            like otters

        the stag




                                                                                      stony water      strong water      harsh water

fricative water

The hind is browsing on the heath,

her land of plenty:

heath rush and tufted club-rush,

robust young herbs

to put fat on your flanks –

a clump of bristles, a small sweep’s brush;

a bouquet of fibre optic cables.

To her that mountain spring

is sweeter than Sauternes,

than Tokay. It’s a well of fresh green shoots

at which she’ll drink         drink





Ben Dorain breathes        through its rivulets,

 those constant, descending scales

from ridge

to face

to moor

to the calm of the strath.


But the herd have other lines.

They follow them up and down the slopes

as the piper traverses

                                  his pentatonic range.


There are deer paths as old

 as those Ice Age pioneers

who browsed the tundra

of the Dogger Bank, antlers

 long since submerged by the rising sea


Their paths lead over slopes marked

by piss and oestrus,

by the stink of the rut.


        Their paths lead past the patch

where the stag, whose testes have swelled

in response to the long summer days,

is unsated in his rutting:

he runs an antler

through the grass

as gently as

a lover’s caress

as gently

as the hind


her calf,

until, in a minute or so,

he ejaculates

into the grass.


Their paths lead to rubbing trees and wallows.

Their paths lead round bogs where the

                     horseflies hatch.

Their paths lead to the land

where the forage is sweetest.

Field grass, freshly scythed,

    is not for you. You prefer

     the sedge and sorrel of the moor;


your tastes are for primrose,

St John’s wort,

tormentil’s yellow lobes,

tender spotted orchids

whose flowerheads cluster

on the meadow, spiked

and forked and glossy.


These are the delicacies of the hill,

the diet to brace you for winter:

across your back there’s a roll of fat,

and yet

you’ll never be less than light on your feet.


When a deer lacks calcium, say, or phosphorous, this is

manifested as appetite: food that’s rich in calcium or

phosphorous tastes better as a result. Hence, cast antlers

are eaten. Hence, the ribs and skull of another deer (its

carcass cleaned by crow and raven, eagle, pine marten,

the larvae of muscid flies, teams of sexton beetles) are



Sweetness to a deer is a food that’s rich in mineral salts.

Plants that grow high on mountain slopes are sweeter

than plants that grow on peat. In winter, deer prize the

club-moss revealed by thawing snow. In summer they

graze the peat-fee hilltops.

At dusk,

as the last

faint glaze of light

hangs over the cobalt hills


they are there

in the hollow

at the foot

of the mountain


this fellowship

of calves and hinds,




however long the night

no harm will come to them.


This simple home

with its generous table

is where they belong;


on the moor

in the mountains

they make their beds.


The rich colour of their pelts

brings me joy – they knew

what they were doing, those stags

who first made Ben Dorain their own.



A herring gull pattering, by Mark Haworth Booth


He’s a tip-tap man

tapping on the grass


a quick tip-tap

jumping up and down


like a peevish clown

like a tramp stamping


a little bit funny

a little bit absurd


a little Chaplinesque

a little ‘Great Dictator’


he keeps on tapping

head up eyes front


but his eyes aren’t funny

his black pupils set


in something colourless

something cold as ice


is he shaman or showman

tapping his fake rain


his rain dance won’t

bring the water down


it’s bringing up the worms

because they think it’s raining


it’s bringing up the worms

and now the gull is done


he’s bowing to his audience

and as he bends he stabs


stab stab stab



Swarm, by Ollie Southall

“the percentage of hot bees began to rise faster and faster. Soon 100% of the surface-layer had a thoracic temperature of exactly  35° Celsius, and at exactly that moment the swarm bees took wing.” Thomas Seeley, Honeybee Democracy



that clot

wine-dark in the acer

a shadow blockage


over summer foliage

proves a hanging scapula of bees

a viscous droplet of them


catarrhal epiglottis

they tighten against night

to unclench its held breath


as dawn shows

the yawning ululation of them

summoning one coming hour


isotherms blooming on the surface

in ripples of herald weather

the warming mantle lifted


to the burning queen core of them

their monad bodies

their belonging whole


shivered with becoming

in one patient being

one continuous


feeling for home




the eye inverts

spliced to its own



roiling aura

the pulsing shimmer

of world-


unmaking migraine

tarry honey

in each pain cell



ROBERT FORD is a writer living on the east coast of Scotland. He blogs here. 

MARK HAWORTH BOOTH is a writer living in north Devon. He is an Honorary Research Fellow at the V&A Museum and a Senior Fellow at the Royal College of Art. He was the first Visiting Professor of Photography at the University of the Arts, London. He is the author of Wild is the Wind, with the photographer Tessa Traeger. His website is here.

GARRY MACKENZIE is an award winning poet living on Scotland’s east coast. He is the author of Scotland, a Literary Guide for Travellers. Part four of Ben Dorain: a conversation with a mountain is published in Reliquiae Volume Six. Garry’s website is here.

OLIVER SOUTHALL lives and writes in London.

Swarm (illustration) by AMY JONES.


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Spit | Wezzleheadreply
May 2, 2020 at 1:42 pm

[…] published in The Clearing, […]

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