Wintering by Brian Johnstone



Brian Johnstone is a poet, writer and performer whose work has appeared throughout the UK, in the Americas, Australasia and Europe. His poems have been translated into over a dozen languages and are included in the UK Poetry Archive website. He has published seven collections, most recently the pamphlet Juke Box Jeopardy (Red Squirrel Press, 2018), shortlisted for the Callum MacDonald Memorial Award 2019, and the full collection Dry Stone Work (Arc Publications, 2014). His memoir Double Exposure was published by Saraband in 2017. He is a founder and former Director of StAnza: Scotland’s International Poetry Festival.

























House-swallows have some strong attachment to water…and, though they may not retire into that element, yet they may conceal themselves in the banks of pools and rivers during the uncomfortable months of winter.

Gilbert White, The Natural History of Selborne






At summer’s close, a level branch would see them

    all in line, perched in readiness for what

         no-one was sure. They quit


their favoured places – eaves and chimney stacks –

    all of a piece, so swiftly none could swear

         they’d seen them take to wing.


The limbs that saw them gather in their scores,

    spread out by rivers, ponds and meres,

            gave some a clue. The soft soil


of the banks might offer habitation, make a place

    to see the winter out. But others, not at all

         convinced of this, and noting


how they skimmed the water’s surface after flies,

    theorised they found a refuge in the deep

         there to sojourn safely


throughout the coldest months. And knowing

    none of this, the swallows made

         for Africa, instinctively.


The moon, the depths of ponds, their very banks,

     each in plain sight. Who knew of Africa,

         if it was anywhere at all?



Brian Johnstone



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Gilbert White

Gilbert White Poetry Event