John Glenday

John Glenday lives in the Scottish Highlands. His first collection, The Apple Ghost, won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award and his second, Undark, was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. Grain (Picador, 2009) was also a Poetry Book Society Recommendation and was shortlisted for both the Ted Hughes Award and the Griffin International Poetry Prize. His fourth collection, The Golden Mean, was published by Picador in September 2015. He is currently working on a fifth collection which concerns graveyards and the dead who live there.


I Admit the Briar

I admit the briar has its followers
but I’m not one. Although I have come
to understand how the thing

that drives us forward is always
more briar than rose – a dogged,
blind, untended indecision,

forcing itself against the unfiltered light,
rooted in all but nothing.
I have watched the briar work its freight

of willing thorn and hopeless bloom through
a failing dyke far less determined than itself,
and lean out across the margins

of graveyard or parkland or freshly
mown lawn, eagerly, expectantly,
though it knows it can never be loved.


Gardens of Remembrance

Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’
McAlpine Road, Dundee

is the essence of the anemone.

Why rise so high above yourself,
if not to listen?

She hears and acknowledges
everything, but her petals cling

to their resolute whiteness;
not because they are indifferent

or unblemished, you understand,
but for the other reason.

Silver Birch
Tomnahurich, Inverness

Here’s the great secret of the afterlife:
here, wherever here is, time stalls
at the season of our death.

For me, the millpond’s first milk of ice,
the terrible, cluttered voices of geese
hurrying overhead; and all the birches

emptying, a pitiless fall of leaves,
their breath filling the tarnished rosebeds
without ever filling them.

Imagine continuously returning
to the earth a gift you never realised
you had been given.


It has been proposed
that some blossoms are too many
or too short-lived

or too small;
that it is not possible or necessary
for these to be counted.

It is possible.
It is necessary. And
they have been counted.


Pictish Cross-Slab


The breastplate moon, signifying
that shield we raise behind the heart;

the tarnished mirror, signifying everything
it will never see; the broken arrow,

signifying death; the twice-broken spear,
signifying death undone

and the old, dead warrior on his horse,
signifying an old, dead warrior on his horse;

all these I think I almost understand;
but the Cross, the mere, mitred wood of it;

his only child; the nails nagging
at wrists and ankles until the spirit

has spilled free; the agonising pull
of the obstinate, oblivious world;

tell me, what sort of God
would open his arms to these?

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