The Burning is from my eleven poem sequence ‘Weaver of Grass i.m. Angus
MacPhee’ about the ‘outsider’ artist from South Uist who spent 50 years
in a mental institution on the mainland where, using the traditional craft
of the island, he wove extraordinary garments out of grass. Angus’ work has
caught the imagination of many writers, poets and film makers, but for me it
was the act of sharing in its destruction at the end of each summer that
caught mine, calling into question the compulsion of all artists to do
what we do – regardless of ‘ambition or bread’. Thanks to the
determination of art therapist Joyce Laing, at least some of Angus’ work
survives. Iconic. Wonderful, imaginative creations. Biodegradable and
magnificent. Reminding us all of the transience of things. In the resonant
words of one reviewer, ‘ I don’t know what this work means, but I know I am
richer for having seen it.
As spiders haul their thread from stem
to stem to weave the light, what do they care
if all that skilful labour’s lost when
wind unravels it – unpicking all their
careful artistry? As birds weave leaf
and stalk into their nests, abandoning
them to decay when fledglings leave -
only to build them back again in spring,
so Angus haunts the woodland hour on hour
labouring under branches, quiet, unseen
pulls buttercup, vetch, clovers - winding flowers
like wild embroidery into cloths of green -
makes mufflers; tailored jackets, sprouting hats
garments for a giant or a king
to stalk the hills and sport the finery that
he has wrought from his imaginings,
and then forgets; so all this fine attire
is left to rot and compost in the rain.
He watches gardeners rake them on a pyre
of autumn leaves: then crafts them all again
because he must; watches their ashes wind
up towers of smoke, soaring like elegies
to distant landscapes of the mind, making
of these most precious gifts, a sacrifice.
from Grass (Indigo Dreams, 2012)
Reproduced by permission of the author.
One of the 20 "BestScottish Poems 2012"