The remarkable Andrew Greig

I had forgotten, until tonight, that on my bookshelf was ‘A Flame In Your Heart’ by Kathleen Jamie and Andrew Greig. Published in 1986  by Bloodaxe, it is a moving collaboration in which Jamie and Greig take on the voices of a young couple in 1940, a girl and her spitfire pilot.  The book manages to be both intense and languid, delicate and muscular, the two voices blending and weaving perfectly to tell a tale of love in war.

Most people interested in contemporary poetry will know of Kathleen Jamie, but I was ignorant, until now,  of the career of the remarkable  Andrew Grieg. Thankfully, with online access to poetry resources like writers and publishers websites it’s never too late to catch up.   Grieg has won many awards for his novels, poems and music
and his website is here .

I have just been reading some of his Greig’s poems, one of which I’ve typed out below. Grieg has often written about climbing. I used to do a bit of climbing (if you count one failed attempt at Mont Blanc and a few outcrops and ridges in the UK and France) and am always drawn to poems about this subject.  The story of how Greig came to be a climber is remarkable.
Greig was writing about climbing before he ever climbed. Mountaineer Mal Duff read some poems and took Greig’s metaphors literally. Duff invited Greig on a real expedition to the Himalaya and over the years the poet climbed higher and higher.
I find this poem musical, risky and true.

on Mustagh Tower

In these high places we are melting out
of all that made us rigid; our ice-screws
hang loose on the fixed ropes to the Col.
Monday in the Himalaya, the clouds are down,
our objective is somewhere, but obscured-
let it soar without us for a day!
We lounge in thermals on the glacier,
brewing and ‘shooting the breeze’, that improbable
project of conversation among the living.
Laughter rings across the ice. Why not?
None of us will die today-that’s immortality
you can draw on in a cigarette,
harsh and sweet, the way we like it.
Steam rises from the billy, Sandy pours.
It is true high, worked for, that we pass
hand to hand between us with our brews.
Men on ice, going nowhere and laughing
at everything we cannot see but know
is there-among the cloud, on the Col,
a hand of some sort is tightening our screws.

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