Kathleen Jamie

Kathleen Jamie’s latest collection of essays, Surfacing, is out now.

Poem: ‘Tree on the Hill’

Kathleen Jamie, 10 September 2020

Once upon a hill there grew a tree. Because it had been so long honed by the wind,it appeared, like an apostle in a painting, to gesture beyond itself toward some greater glory,in this case the landscape far below.

You could lean against the tree and watch the river become a firth, widening over milesas it prepared to meet the sea. You could watch as it bore away not just the winter’s...

Short Cuts: Queuing for Everest

Kathleen Jamie, 20 June 2019

When​ Chowang Sherpa joined us at Kathmandu airport for the flight to Lukla, he was carrying a flat-screen TV set, still in its box. The TV was on its way to Everest Base Camp. ‘Why?’ we asked.

‘They demand,’ he said simply, meaning his clients. Chowang is the owner of Arun Treks, an expedition and trekking outfitter based in Kathmandu. The short spring climbing...

Diary: At the Links of Noltlant

Kathleen Jamie, 6 October 2016

A tractor​ was lumbering towards me, so I pulled into a passing place. It was silage-cutting time on Westray, one of the most northerly islands of Orkney. The driver waved, but I stayed put after he’d passed. The morning cloud was lifting, and the passing place was on the crest of a hill giving views over much of the island’s north side. A cruise liner was anchored out in...

In Fife

Kathleen Jamie, 23 April 2015

A mile and a half​ from the small town in Fife where I live lies a loch called Lochmill. Half a mile long, it occupies a natural bowl in the Ochil hills, and is orientated almost exactly east-west. On its north and south banks grow sparse hawthorns tufted with lichen and old stunted oaks. At its western end, where the springs that feed the loch rise, Scots pines and larches dominate....

Three Poems

Kathleen Jamie, 11 September 2014

The Girls

A summer evening,                                         a rubber ball thumped against a harled 1950s gable wall,

– and pitched between chant and song, our lasses’...

The Exploding Harpoon: Whales

Kathleen Jamie, 8 August 2013

In April this year a sperm whale appeared in Oban Bay and remained there for nine days, long enough for word to spread and various experts to pronounce. That it wasn’t set upon, tortured and speared to death, as would have been the case not so long ago, surely marks a sea-change in human sensibility. On the contrary, if anyone had harassed the creature, well, they’d have been the one flensed. I happened to be passing through Oban en route to Mull so I joined the small group assembled behind the pizza parlour and public toilets on the pier.

Diary: In the West Highlands

Kathleen Jamie, 14 July 2011

Last Easter, my family and I took a holiday house in the West Highlands. The windows of the cottage looked onto a salt marsh, and beyond that, to the fast-moving waters of the Kyles of Lochalsh. Across the waters rose the hills of southern Skye, still dusted with snow. Nearby stood the unloved stone ruin of a barracks built to house government troops engaged on the Highland-suppressing...

Poem: ‘The Round-Up’

Kathleen Jamie, 20 November 2008

The minute the men ducked through the bothy door they switched to English, even among themselves they spoke English now, out of courtesy, and set about breakfast: bread, bacon and sweet tea. And are we enjoying this weather, and whose boat brought us, and what part of the country – exactly – would we be from ourselves?

The tenant, ruddy-faced; a strong bashful youngster; and two old...

A situation has arisen on Ben Nevis. I don’t mean a rescue, although as it happens the RAF and mountain rescue teams are bringing down a man and two boys who, the report says, ‘didn’t read the weather forecast’. The situation I have in mind has also arisen on Snowdon and Scafell, and it concerns the dead. Apparently, the biggest hills are covered in so many memorials...

Poem: ‘Glamourie’

Kathleen Jamie, 21 February 2008

When I found I’d lost you – not beside me, nor ahead, nor right nor left not your green jacket moving

between the trees anywhere, I waited a long while before wandering on: no wren jinked in the undergrowth,

not a twig snapped. It was hardly the Wildwood, just some auld fairmer’s shelter belt, but red haws

reached out to me, and between fallen leaves pretty white flowers...

Diary: High and Dry

Kathleen Jamie, 3 August 2006

There were eagle pellets on the summit of the Stack of Glencoul, spherical, the size of golf balls, composed of matted fur and bones. We’d seen an eagle earlier, soaring in the distance, and the summit of the stack was a nice scenic spot to regurgitate. It commanded a view, if eagles cared, down Loch Glencoul and its surrounding hills, out over Eddrachillis Bay to the waters of the...

Into the Dark: A Winter Solstice

Kathleen Jamie, 18 December 2003

Mid-December. It was eight in the morning and Venus was hanging like a wrecker’s light above the Black Craig. The hill itself – seen from our kitchen window – was still in silhouette, though the sky was lightening to a pale yellow-grey. It was a weakling light, stealing into the world like a thief through a window someone forgot to close. The talk was all of Christmas...

Diary: Gannets, Whaups, Skuas

Kathleen Jamie, 7 August 2003

I hacked off the gannet’s head with my penknife, which turned out to be one of those jobs you wish you’d never started. It was a Swiss Army knife, with a blade only two inches long, and a diving gannet can enter the water at ninety miles an hour: they have strong necks. It was early morning, low tide, and I was glad to have the beach to myself. When the head was at last free, I...

The Tree House

Hands on a low limb, I braced, swung my feet loose, hoisted higher, heard the town clock toll, a car breenge home from a club as I stooped inside. Here,

I was unseeable. A bletted fruit hung through tangled branches just out of reach. Over house-roofs: sullen hills, the firth drained down to sandbanks: the Reckit Lady, the Shair as Daith.

I lay to sleep, with by my side neither...

Diary: Counting the Cobwebs

Kathleen Jamie, 6 June 2002

Under the gutter of our house are many cobwebs, each attached at a slightly different angle to the wall. It’s an east-facing wall, so on sunny mornings the cobwebs are alight. A whole quarter of cobwebs, like an Eastern bazaar or a medieval marketplace with all the cobblers, all the spice sellers, all the drapers together in the same alley. The biggest measured about a handspan and a...

Diary: Whale Watching

Kathleen Jamie, 29 November 2001

Monday. A pre-recorded announcement, a few words of welcome in Gaelic then the safety stuff in English, hangs in the air behind the departing ferry. Little else is moving but the clouds, and water slapping on the concrete slipway, and bottle-brown fronds of bladderwrack. There will be another sailing to Mull in an hour or so.

A car arrives, with Monaco numberplates. It stops and the occupants...

Poem: ‘At Robert Fergusson’s Grave’

Kathleen Jamie, 22 March 2001

A bleary chiel, monger o targes an dirks redds his windae. Neist Holyrood Kirk

a shop chock fu o fudge. Taxis judder on the setts. Naething mixter-

maxter here: some douce sea-maws tak these white-washed wa’s for a new Bass Rock;

a kiltie tour-guide on an open-top bus intones ‘Mary, Queen of Scots …

to a wheen toorie-hattit tourists, huddlt and snell. The wan sun...

Two Poems

Kathleen Jamie, 29 July 1999

The Green Woman

Until we’re restored to ourselves by weaning, the skin jade only where it’s hidden under jewellery, areolae still tinged, – there’s a word for women like us.

It’s suggestive of the lush ditch, or even an ordeal, – as though we’d risen, tied to a ducking-stool, gasping, weed-smeared, proven.

The Black and White Minstrel Show

Out there...

Two Poems

Kathleen Jamie, 15 October 1998


Piled in the corner of a second-hand store in Toronto: of course it’s an immigrant country. Sometimes

all you can take is what you can carry when you run: a photo, some clothes, and the useless dead-weight

of your mother-tongue. One was repaired with electrician’s tape – a trade

was all a man needed. A girl, well, a girl could get married. Indeed each case opened...

Poem: ‘Interregnum’

Kathleen Jamie, 1 January 1998

So I’m moving between rooms with a tray, advertising McEwan’s, the kind we took sledging those distant snow-bright afternoons

– or funereal lacquer, with peonies, or that classic of my mother’s: a view of Windsor Castle inside a wicker pale. Whatever

– a tray, and on it: two glasses of Vouvray, or better: croissants and cafetière, my lover outstretched on...

Sperm’s-Eye View

Robert Crawford, 23 February 1995

The family, stuff of novelists as different as Rose Macaulay and James Joyce, Virginia Woolf and Lewis Grassic Gibbon, is absent from much great poetry of the early 20th century. T.S....

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James Wood, 5 August 1993

Poetry anthologies are now expected to make holy war; but what to do with The New Poetry, which strives so earnestly to turn its trumpet-majors into angels? The 55 poets collected here are, it...

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