Valerie Gillies

Valerie Gillies, the first woman Makar (Poet Laureate) of Edinburgh, writes poems that are beloved in Scotland, and beyond. An internationally known and highly regarded poet, she is the author of ten poetry collections and many award-wining volumes including Each Bright Eye (1977), The Ringing Rock (1995) and The Lightning Tree (2002).

Gillies is an inspirational teacher of creative writing in schools and universities. As a literary arts practitioner, she has worked in psychiatric and general hospitals with Artlink, and in community arts with Lapidus. She is co-editor of the Scottish Poetry Library’s first-ever interactive poetry map of Scotland, which pinpoints locations and living poets. In 2005, she received a Creative Scotland Award to write The Spring Teller—her poetic journey to lost springs and legendary sources, medieval well houses and healing waters.

In the words of Douglas Gifford, “Born in Canada, brought up in Lanarkshire, educated in Edinburgh and India, Gillies writes a richly varied poetry which celebrates life.” As reported in The Scotsman newspaper, “Valerie Gillies writes like the wind and jinks like a hare in the fields of language.” Gillies home is in Edinburgh with her husband, the Celtic scholar William Gillies.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 2010

The Well of the Outstretched Hand

for Rebecca Marr, photographer

Massed thunderclouds storm along Loch Ness.
We turn into the dense wood, put it on like a coat
for shelter. We’ve come a long way for this well.
Hunkered down, Rebecca is drinking from cupped hands
when I see something white cresting the bank
to shake a glossy fern above her raven hair.
The ghost swift moth is flying out of the wood,
maybe, whose hindwings flash brightly.
Or the sun splashing the roadside hedge-parsley,
these foamy flowerheads. Or uncurling fronds
of mist rise above the rill, this white hand
hovering over whoever drinks, to share the light.

THE SPRING TELLER (Luath Press, Ltd, 2009)

A Place Apart

for the Quiet Room, Marie Curie Hospice, Fairmilehead

Here is a quiet room where you can stay
And you do not need to say
Anything. Three windows look out east
Toward a distant coast that calls the geese.
One window holds the southern hills,
Moorfoots and Pentlands to wander at will.
This shelter-belt of trees is closer in
Where branches bend in every wind,
Birds can perch or take their flight,
And leaves can turn to face the light.
The high stars rise, wheeling by again
Above the deep stillness of the hill and glen
And only a moment ago a Scottish king
Came this way to the Balm Well’s healing spring.

THE SPRING TELLER (Luath Press, Ltd, 2009)

Robert Burns’ Mither at the Well

Grant’s Braes, East Lothian

Ah’m gaun tae the well

wi my stoups,

hummin a sang.

Mony words, muckle drouth.

Ah mind anither well

ayont the braes

years an years back

the length o Alloway.

Ma bairn at knee-hicht,

he wisna twa year auld,

paidlin in the well-strand,

crawin gey bauld.

He gied a first seuch

o fontal words

that flowed sae free,

like only bird.

A clear mouth has aye

its well-heid.

Puir lad, he’s awa

whaur the well’s niver dry.

THE SPRING TELLER (Luath Press, Ltd, 2009)