'Every one of us is a stone': Hands Across the Border

In September 2014 the Poetry Society took on a commission from Hands Across the Border to work with former Foyle Young Poets Jake Reynolds (England), Haf Davies (Wales), Julia Rampen (Scotland) and Charlotte Higgins (Northern Ireland) to generate poems exploring ideas of national identity, the concepts of borders, crossings, unions and separations - and what it is to build something together as a community.

Hands Across the Border is an initiative set up to mark the Scottish Referendum with a cairn built by thousands of people from across the British Isles at Gretna Green (situated on the Scottish-English border).

Charlotte Higgin’s poem, ‘Cornerstones’ was selected to be carved into the rock and the work was celebrated at an event on the 13th September 2014 at the Gretna Green cairn, featuring readings from Charlotte Higgins and 13 year old Magnus Dixon.

Earlier on in the summer, BBC's The One Show commissioned  one of  the Poetry Society young poets (Former Foyle winner Grace Campbell) to write a pro-YES poem for a speakers corner piece - read it below.

The cairn at Gretna Green, September 2014. Copyright (c) Hands Across the Border

Cornerstones  ~ Charlotte Higgins

Every one of us is a stone
dappled grey and edges age-worn rough
alone, we are solid enough

but together, we could make towers, mark paths,
build a home that is safe from the night
make infinite ripples from pebbles skimmed
on the loch in the gloaming light

we could make prison walls, barbed-wire crowns
or we could be cornerstones
piled up together we’re cairns, immemorial –

we cannot make it alone
but built up together we’re trailmarkers, trailblazers
we’ll lead you –
we’ll keep you –
home.

Two Million Steps ~ Charlotte Higgins

On the road down South,
there isn’t even a line –
the miles fall away,
replaced by kilometres on the road signs
and underneath the English, Irish names
Dún Laoghaire, Dún na nGall, Baile Átha Cliath –

but the landscape doesn’t change
the brooks don’t flow through fields of gold
the grass still blows
not a blade more or less free
because we call this blade home
and that one another country

Between Scotland and England
is it not the same?
We have built up walls
inscribed new names
but walk from Gretna to Carlisle with me
tell me that we have changed countries

from Land’s End to John o’Groats there are
two million steps in all
point me to the one where England falls away
and Scotland rises in its place
tell me how much has changed

If, in these islands, there is space
for the ragged Causeway coast
and there is space for King’s Cross Station,
London, joy and hope and smoke
and there is space for all the highlands
rising in the heather dusk
and for the valley-mines, their sprawl and song,
that’s more than space enough –

If we can fit this in one country,
why can’t we fit all of us?
 

Last Chance Love Letter  ~ Haf Davies

I’ve heard alcohol makes writing this kind of thing easier
so I’m drinking the whisky you gave me last Christmas
but I still don’t know what I should say.
It’s too late to wine and dine, flash the cash,
or apologise with some other rhyming cliché
when you’re sharing meals and a mortgage.
But if you stay, I’ll do what you asked:
less complacency, more compromise.

I’m sorry I didn’t listen,
that I dismissed your outrage as hormones,
and assumed we only disagreed
because you didn’t understand.
Being aloof and assertive served me well
with strangers under strobe lights,
but you’re a companion, not a night-club conquest.
So I’ll hold your hand while you say your grace,
and clear a space for you in the study.

I’m not suggesting we start doing everything together
or renew our vows barefooted on a beach,
none of that ‘I don’t know where I end
and where you begin’ nonsense:
I end here, and you start there.
If you stay, we can rebuild that boundary,
redefine our differences and mark where we meet.
I won’t overstep or undermine.
Please don’t leave, I’ll be better this time.
 

Worry and Comfort ~ Jake Reynolds

worry moors at door creaks,
beds dead weights on floors,
hinges downstairs heaving:
sound of someone leaving.

a fugitive, born in taking
out the bins, children
quiver at squares of cold
air. this is fear. this is

sweat before beading.
thunder-grumbles trump
pining bellies, starved
on darkness, louder

than a heart. you see
them already running,
laughing, hands plaited
in furnace-finger figurines

before you even learnt
how to tie a tie or
turn the house off at night.
in dreams kerbs elude you,

screams escape as mews
yet love returns like fever,
scoops you in its arms,
offers leverage: a totem or

token of i-won’t-go. you learn
the world is divided into two:
the Comfort and the Worry.

the bet: love will not leave home.
wagers weighted on open palms:

1) words parcelled in a promise.
2) a wallet teeming with paper greens:
a new kind of solace.

Frontier ~ Julia Rampen

Seagulls skirl
over red cliffs,
smell of salt
in crevices.
Lobster pots
litter the harbour,
a knocked-out tooth
boats pass through.
Rockpools
a tart reminder
of rival territories.
Sea flays
the harbour wall.

We skim stones:
patter drowning
stifled conversation.
Sometimes a border
shows itself too late.
Sun drags shadows
across pebbled sand,
casts seaweed
as jewels,
gilds blessings
on the tyre
once a seal

until black water
is gnawing our boots
and scales flicker
in night’s net.
The smugglers’ caves
only a different pitch
of dark.
They left messages.
We reach inside words,
feel life’s grit,
loops tightening,
uneven wall.
Stumble forwards,
write secrets of our own.

Referendum Blues ~ Magnus Dixon


"May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."
Pin badges prick leaf-littered September air
as leaflets trickle onto my doormat like neon tears.
We are all tangled in conscience and current affairs.

Pin badges prick leaf-littered September air.
The parties spit statistics, yet the people need more;
we are all tangled in conscience and current affairs.
I see the future as a room of opening and closing doors.

The parties spit statistics yet the people need more.
Our children are unborn, yet their futures are bruised--
I see the future as a room of opening and closing doors,
yet we are stuck-stuttering, unable to choose.

Our children are unborn, yet their futures are bruised
as leaflets trickle onto my doormat like neon tears.
Still we are stuck-stuttering, unable to choose--
"May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears."

 BBC One Show Referendum Commission

Grace Campbell ~ Independence

In the end, it is not about nations
just a world less weighted in one direction—

Not a severing of what exists, but
creating what does not. In the end

Something fairer is all we ask
of this future like a flagless ship.

In the end, between the warring voices
a mute parenthesis remains.

None will know unless they brave
that leap that is the soul of change.