Tag Archives: John Beaton

John Beaton, ‘A Sweetness Absent From the Ocean Air’

Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.
Thomas Gray, Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard

The Weeping Window bleeds ceramic poppies
that blush St. Magnus’s cathedral wall
and each seems miniscule among them all—
the throng comprises nigh a million copies:
one bloom per British serviceman who died
in World War One, a massive flower bed
entitled Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red
displayed in London where it dignified
that War’s centenary. Now part has traveled
to Orkney, here to mark one century
since dreadnought fleets waged battle on the sea
near Jutland. Lifelines tangled and unraveled—
in two short days eight thousand men and more
succumbed as riven battleships went down.
With Princess Anne, the envoy of the Crown,
their relatives are welcomed at the door
of this, the Viking edifice erected
in memory of Magnus, who eschewed
bad blood in favour of the holy rood,
a man of peace, nine hundred years respected.

Some families take pause and stare, as if
they hope the flower avatar of their
lost sailor lad will wave. As they repair
into the church, the poppies stand up, stiff
like soldiers at attention on parade;
their stems are wire, their heads are crimson clay
and, grouped, they seem ethereal, a fey
honour guard shipshapedly displayed.
The British and the German brass bands march
along the harbour front then through the streets;
this day there are no triumphs or defeats—
they gain the church grounds through a common arch—
and then the pipe band, clad in kilts, assemble.
No instrument of war can so foment
bravado then bestow such dark lament:
Great Highland Bagpipes set the air atremble,
the Weeping Window work of art revives,
more vehemently, the ones who drowned and bled,
and now we see, in child-tall blooms of red,
a sad cascade of young, foreshortened lives.


John Beaton writes: In the late spring of 2016, my wife and I, on an annual trip to Orkney, attended a commemoration ceremony. The venue was St. Magnus cathedral, a magnificent edifice of Viking origin in Kirkwall, the main town on that little group of windswept islands off the north tip of Scotland.  To commemorate the centenary of the 1914 outbreak of World War I, artists had created a display outside the Tower of London: 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British soldier killed in that war. To commemorate the centenary of its largest naval engagement, the Battle of Jutland, organizers had taken a subset to Kirkwall and set it up as ‘The Weeping Window’, a dramatic crimson cascade from a lancet window high on the cathedral’s central tower. This poem describes the ceremony.
It won Goodreads Poem of the Month for December 2017 and has been previously published on the Thomasgray2016.org website and in my recent book, Leaving Camustianavaig (Word Galaxy Press).

Photo: Tom O’Brien, The Arcadian/ Orkney Media Group

Potcake Poet’s Choice: John Beaton, ‘Shadow-casting’

Cast your line toward the sun
and let your shadow fall behind you.
Face the glare, absorb its stun,
and cast your line toward the sun
for casting shade makes wild things run;
so face the brightness though it blind you—
cast your line toward the sun
and let your darkness fall behind you.

John Beaton writes: “It’s often said that fly-fishing is about more than fish—that it has mystical, or at least meditative, aspects. I feel that way. This little poem illustrates how my fly-fishing thoughts one day wandered from the river-bank to philosophy.

The title echoes a term from the book and subsequent movie, A River Runs Through It. Away from the river Brad Pitt may have become a hellion but, on the water, he’s a magician. Supposedly, by casting repeatedly in the air he can make the trout think a hatch of flies is taking place. It’s a dubious concept, but the term suits the way light and fly-casting in the poem take on metaphorical significance.

The poem has been previously published in Gray’s Sporting Journal. Its form, which comes from medieval French poetry, is the “triolet”. The triolet has only eight lines and some repeat. The first, fourth and seventh lines are almost identical, as are the second and eighth. The rhyme pattern is ABaAabAB, with capital letters denoting repeats. My version has four-beat lines (“tetrameter”) and the beats in the first line are: CAST your LINE toWARD the SUN.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a poetry performer. This poem appears in his book “Leaving Camustianavaig” published by Word Galaxy Press. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.


Photo: ‘Deschutes shadow-casting’ from John Beaton

Launch: Potcake Chapbook 10, ‘Travels and Travails’

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking, but surely we’re going to get back to casual international travel again some day soon? The 10th chapbook in the Potcake series is now being mailed out from London, and I trust it augurs well for the happily peripatetic. As usual, the chapbook contains an assortment of the bright (D.A. Prince), the dark (Tom Vaughan) and the flippant (Max Gutmann), with everything in between, and all in rhythm and rhyme–and illustrated of course by Alban Low!

Returning poets are A.E. Stallings, John Beaton, Julia Griffin, Anthony Lombardy, Marilyn L. Taylor, D.A. Prince and Tom Vaughan; joining them are Amit Majmudar, Mike Cooper, Jean L. Kreiling, Ed Shacklee and Max Gutmann. (The links in the names are a mixture of websites, bios, and places to buy their books.) Most, but not all, of the poets are listed on Sampson Low’s webpage of Potcake Poets.

Let’s get everyone vaccinated so we can all start travelling again!

Potcake Poet’s Choice: John Beaton, ‘Bedtime Story’

The sun has smouldered low. Its flaxen light
drizzles through the birches to the snow
where sheep stand still as hay-bales, beige on white.
A shepherd with a shoulderful of straw,
brindled by the shadows, softly walks.
The sheep flock round; he swings his load to strew
the strands on pillowed drifts like yellow locks,
then hastens homewards bearing sustenance
against the ghostly dark. He holds small hands
and spins his children tales of happenstance
and golden fleeces in enchanted lands.
Their minds woolgather. Snuggled down in bed,
they drift on snowy pillows; yellow strands
of hair glow like the hay their father spread.

John Beaton writes: “My wife and I have five children and one of my great delights was reading to them in bed when they were little. We covered a lot of ground, from Shel Silverstein’s poems and Roald Dahl’s stories to whole books like “Watership Down” and “The Old Man and the Sea.” This poem came to me when I was looking at the painting “Shortening Winter’s Day” by Joseph Farquarson (shown above). It was reminiscent of the place where I grew up in Scotland. The image of the shepherd feeding sheep in the gloaming light evoked the feeling of security and contentment that imbued those evenings of reading. I recite my poetry and tend to write for sound almost as much as for sense. I like the sounds of this one. Also, when picking subjects for poems, I’m more drawn to happiness and beauty than to sadness and misery. All in all, this poem fits my preferences quite nicely.”

John Beaton’s metrical poetry has been widely published and has won numerous awards. He recites from memory as a spoken word performer and is author of Leaving Camustianavaig published by Word Galaxy Press. Raised in the Scottish Highlands, John lives in Qualicum Beach on Vancouver Island.


Launch: Potcake Chapbook 6, “Wordplayful”

06 Wordplayful

The sixth in the series of Potcake Chapbooks, ‘Wordplayful – poems to amuse and amaze’, is now beginning to wander around on both sides of the Atlantic (and hopefully further afield). This one is a little different from the earlier ones in the series: puns and puzzles, poems that can be read vertically or in reverse, wordplay in a variety of forms… but, yes, all formal poems, stuffed full of rhyme, rhythm and rich language.

Returning Potcake poets are Marcus Bales, John Beaton, Ed Conti, Daniel Galef, Chris O’Carroll, George Simmers, Alicia Stallings, Rob Stuart and myself; newcomers are Sam Gwynn, Bob McKenty, the unlikely Noam D. Plum and the elusive Dervla Ramaswamy. Mini-bios and photos for most of them are on the Potcake Poets page.

Alban Low has again provided all the art work, but he will now be taking a five or six month break to work on other things, especially the annual Art of Caring exhibition which opens in St George’s Hospital in Tooting in London in May, and moves to St Pancras Hospital in July – or at least it did in 2019. But Alban promises to re-engage with us in the early summer, by which time we may have more idea of what further Potcake Chapbook themes to pursue.