“Drams”

Carol Ann Duffy
Selected by Ian Bonaparte

The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

Of all the poets I’ve been reading lately, no one’s work sticks so tenaciously to my craw as that of Carol Ann Duffy. Or was that in my craw? Sound gets lip-service but needs prophets; her poems are liturgy to that end. Image and sound harmonize improbably. Here there are very, very few false notes. In “Drams,” unfamiliar (to me) words and proper names cascade and my initial incomprehension doesn’t matter; I am drawn into her landscape, her familial landscape—all distilled into the dram, the liquid tercets slugged just as fast.

—Ian Bonaparte


Drams

The snows melt early,
meeting river and valley,
greeting the barley.

*

In Glen Strathfarrar
a stag dips to the river
where rainclouds gather.

*

Dawn, offered again,
and heather sweetens the air.
I sip at nothing.

*

A cut-glass tumbler,
himself splashing the amber . . .
now I remember.

*

Beautiful hollow
by the broad bay; safe haven;
their Gaelic namings.

*

It was Talisker
on your lips, peppery, sweet,
I tasted, kisser.

*

Under the table
she drank him, my grandmother,
Irish to his Scotch.

*

Barley, water, peat,
weather, landscape, history;
malted, swallowed neat.

*

Out on Orkney’s boats,
spicy, heather-honey notes
into our glad throats.

*

Allt Dour Burn’s water –
pure as delight, light’s lover –
burn of the otter.

*

The gifts to noses –
bog myrtle, aniseed, hay,
attar of roses.

*

Empty sherry casks,
whisky – sublime accident
a Spanish accent.

*

Drams with a brother
and doubles with another . . .
blether then bother.

*

The perfume of place,
seaweed scent on peaty air,
heather dabbed with rain.

*

With Imlah, Lochhead,
Dunn, Jamie, Paterson, Kay,
Morgan, with MacCaig.

*

Not prose, poetry;
crescendo of mouth music;
not white wine, whisky.

*

Eight bolls of malt, to
Friar John Cor, wherewith to
make aquavitae.

*

A recurring dream:
men in hats taking a dram
on her coffin lid.

*

The sad flit from here
to English soil, English air,
from whisky to beer.

*

For joy, grief, trauma,
for the newly-wed, the dead –
bitter-sweet water.

*

A quaich; Highland Park;
our shared sips in the gloaming
by the breathing loch.

*

The unfinished dram
on the hospice side-table
as the sun came up.

*

What the heron saw,
the homesick salmon’s shadow,
shy in this whisky.
 

 

The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy

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Carol Ann Duffy is the author or editor of several volumes of poetry, including The World’s Wife, Rapture, and also books for children. She has received, among other honors, the Forward Prize, the Whitbread Poetry Award, the Lannan Award, and the E. M. Forster Prize for her work. A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, Duffy lives in Manchester, England, and is currently Professor of Contemporary Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University.

Ian Bonaparte is a digital marketing and sales assistant at FSG.

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  • Madhuri Pillai

    Loved the poems, like haikus, few unfamiliar words I had to delve into the dictionary.