Writing the poem Ripening by guest author Sheila Templeton

Thank you Val, for inviting me to write for your blog. In our discussion about what might be interesting for your readers, we came up with the idea that I might go through the steps of working on a poem. I’ve chosen my poem Ripening, because it won first prize in the McLellan Poetry Competition a few years back. The judge was Janet Paisley.

I started this poem in 2002, five years before sending it to the McLellan Poetry Competition and, for most of that time, the original poem had been left…to sheilamature, moulder? I don’t know! I felt very stuck with it and had given up…temporarily, as it turned out. Sometimes, I think it’s very good to put a poem away for a while. And in this case, I had no option, as it was going nowhere.

It had begun life as an exercise in a poetry workshop run by Alison Chisholm at a residential writers’ workshop down in Derbyshire, England. I cannot now remember the original prompt, but I know that I had this phrase ‘green rodden time’ in my head and I wanted to write about that as a metaphor for childhood/maybe teenage-hood. ‘Rodden’ is the Scots word for a rowan tree and I had this image in my mind as ‘green rodden’ meaning the unripe berries of the tree…hence youth or childhood.

The first version of the poem was in English. I discarded ‘rodden’ for ‘rowan’.

Rowan Berries

In green rowan time I wanted to be you,

skinned my knee on scraping bark

following you, stuffed my pockets

with hard berries, praying

you’d run out of ammo.rowan

You made aeroplanes of balsa wood

and jewelled tissue, flicked a lethal propeller

making contact with the wind.

I held the end of the string.

Now rowan berries hang heavy,

dark crimson clusters, ready

for picking, soft creamy flesh

no use for our old games

I am too busy to help fly your plane

busy rubbing rowan fruit between my fingers

skinning ripe berries, crushing juice

to stain my lips

In the mirror I see you

watching me.

This felt a bit clunky, stilted. The ending was not right, nor the title. I liked the idea of the contrast between them as children / then adolescents, how girls often mature emotionally, before boys do…but I felt the poem just wasn’t working. I put it away.

Then, when I got it out to see if it had any life…5 years later…the first obvious solution was…to re-write it in Scots. I don’t know why I had not thought of doing this in the first place! After all, my first thought had been ‘green rodden time’. And writing it in Scots changed the tone of the poem. The content stayed much the same…but re-writing it gave it both a new focus and richness…made it more muscular, I felt…the verbs got stronger…always a crucial thing in poetry. And it gave me the title Ripening...which of course is what the poem is about. I usually find that once I know what a poem is about…that’s when the magic happens, the stuck bit frees up. Also, the Scots tightened it up…and an ending line was then easy…because, again, this was what the poem was about…friendships in childhood become something different in adolescence. I am not saying that in my work, every poem would benefit from being rendered in Scots…but in this case, the poem was improved by it. Every poem needs its own language and for this poem, the clue was in my original idea ‘green rodden time”… my childhood was spent in Aberdeenshire, Scotland, speaking Scots, so to write about that vividly, it needed my native tongue.

The final poem became:


In green rodden time

I wanted tae be you.

Scarted my knee

on reuch scabbit bark,

stappit my pockets

wi hard berries prayin

you’d run oot o supplies

an need mine.

You made planes wi balsa

an gaudy coloured tissue,

wheeched a sharp propeller

makkin contact wi the wind,

file I held the hint o the twine.

Seely tae chitter, ice-tangled

fyle you ignored me.

Aenoo, rodden branches

hing hunnerwechted, dairk

ripened, riddy for pickin.

Saft crame flesh, nae use

for the games we played

lang syne.

An I’m ower thrang

tae help flee your plane.

Thrang rubbin bricht berries

atween my finger-eyns,

slowly staining my lips

tae silk in the munelicht

waitin for you tae land.

diggingSheila Templeton

Won 1st prize in the McLellan Poetry Competition 2007.

Published in Digging for Light by New Voices Press 2011.

Anthologies of Sheila’s poetry, Tender is the North and Slow Road Home are reviewed on this site: https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2014/06/22/tender-is-the-…eila-templeton/ , ‎ https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2014/10/31/slow-road-home…eila-templeton/. Janet Paisley’s novel White Rose Rebel is also reviewed: ‎https://bookreviewstoday.wordpress.com/2013/04/07/white-rose-reb…-janet-paisley/.


1 Comment

  1. Reblogged this on sylviasanders51's Blog.


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