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Andrew’s story: ‘The Poet’ by George MacKay Brown Wednesday, 25 November 2009

Posted by carryapoem in Stories.

I first encountered the poem on The London Underground, 1996. A simple rural soul, accustomed to vast East Lothian skies, I was teetering on the edge of noise-induced madness when… there was ‘The Poet’, on a poster, speaking of ‘the interrogation of silence’, the true task of the poet. I later found ‘A Work for Poets’  in Following a Lark, which I immediately recognised as a companion poem, and ‘Prologue’ later still in The Storm, as I worked my way backwards through GMB’s corpus.

It made me smile, seeing ‘The Poet’ and its hymn to silence in the aural hell-hole of the Underground. But the ludicrous context also made the voice of the poem louder and clearer; it fairly boomed amid the echoing cacophony of chatter, squealing brakes and clashing metal, all crushed into the claustrophobic rat-runs linking the platforms and levels. And, ironically, though I’d ‘read’ the poem dozens of times before, I hadn’t really heard its still quiet voice until then. And I thought: yep, that’s just right.

The three poems express my experience of poetry perfectly. It’s not about entertaining an audience, or getting published, or creating something for posterity, or expressing some supposed subterranean self, or communicating an ideology or ‘truth’, because all that vanity is ultimately forgotten again in the pool of silence from which it’s begotten. It’s about being alone and content with that final silence, and singing nevertheless, simply for its own sake, to no other purpose than the joy of singing.

I do actually carry it now! On a wee bit of folded paper in my wallet, sandwiched between my supermarket loyalty cards.

You can listen to George MacKay Brown read ‘The Poet’ on the Poetry Archive.

Andrew McCallum is poet. You can read more about him here.


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