Excerpts from Songs of the Tay

Research output: Other contribution


A series of shaped and found poems from the sequence 'Songs of the Tay', an extended poetic sequence that explores the presence and history of the River Tay. Based in part on an item in Dundee University Archives: Journal Kept at South Lights, River Tay, 1918, a bound volume with ornate cover, completed in handwriting under ruled columns. The ‘South Lights’ comprised the two lighthouses, now known as the ‘West Lights’ and ‘East Lights’ (or sometimes the ‘Low’ and ‘High’ Lights) on the shore to the west of Tayport, Fife, where they served as leading lights to show the channel for shipping. The journal is emphatically non-narrative: most of the entries record the weather – wind direction, barometer and thermometer readings and so on – plus a few practical details such as maintenance. But on leafing through the journal, I immediately felt the presence of occluded or unstated stories. Most obviously, the story of Charles Liness, a keeper who was away on Active Service during the First World War, from August 6th 1914 until May 14th 1919. Where did he serve, and what did he experience, and how did it feel to return, relatively fortunate, one might assume, to the relatively peaceful and ordered life of a lighthouse keeper on the peaceful south bank of the Tay Estuary? And then there are entries such as the dispassionate comment of 24th November 1918, some two weeks after the Armistice: ‘Lights Exhibited first time for four years & 2 months during the war’. Can we hear some exhilaration or relief in this professional record? These, and the little details such as visits of workmen to repair and paint the lighthouses and cottages, give an enigmatic but suggestive picture of lives lived in a time which has just passed beyond what we call ‘living memory’.
Original languageEnglish
TypeShaped and Found poems
Media of outputTextual Exhibition Content
PublisherLamb Gallery, University of Dundee
Number of pages6
Place of PublicationDundee
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2022


  • found poetry
  • shaped poetry
  • River Tay
  • Archives
  • Tayport


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