The poems in this collection, written by a dermatologist, are not specifically about medicine or medical issues. Threading through them, however, is a sensibility that sees both the natural world and human relationships in terms of the great cycle of awakenings, rising passions, complex relationships, change, aging, and death. Many, though few run more than a page, have a narrative thrust; they offer windows on ordinary life that tie the particulars of events and encounters to large, seasonal, mythic rhythms and stories.

History is present in many poems, in the character of Persephone, for instance, in lacings of Gaelic language, in allusions to old stones and fires and (in the final long poem) to the historical Macbeth, immortalized inaccurately. Natural objects--bird songs, dolphins, nettles, an old pear tree--feature largely as anchoring images of poems that move gracefully from memories to metaphors, linking life observed with interior life lived alertly by a poet who plumbs small experiences for cosmic connections.


For those who have a particular interest in things Scottish, these poems will certainly be a pleasure. Not merely regional, they do evoke images of highland paths (as in the title poem where the speaker stands on a path "stony and sharp" among "sedge and thistle") and tea on cold afternoons.

The most explicitly "medical" poem in the collection, "Tea-dance" recreates a difficult and poignant moment between a dying mother and the daughter who is trying to move her into a wheelchair while her mother lets out an anguished acknowledgment that her husband will very likely marry again. It has a strong ring of truth in its rendering of awkward moments when the practical necessities of the sickroom seem a painfully wrong setting for contemplation of great losses.


Standing by Thistles was nominated for the Saltire Award (1997).


Scottish Cultural Press

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