Norman Bissell writes poetry, essays and reviews and he is also an experienced teacher, lecturer and performer. His poems have been published in newspapers, magazines, New Writing Scotland and the anthology These Islands, We Sing. His poetry collection Slate, Sea and Sky, A Journey from Glasgow to the Isle of Luing, with photographs by Oscar Marzaroli, was reprinted in paperback by Luath Press in 2015. He has collaborated with leading traditional musicians and other artists in public performances and is director of the trans-disciplinary Scottish Centre for Geopoetics. He was awarded a Creative Scotland artist’s bursary in 2014 to write a novel based on George Orwell’s last years.
Reading Ryokan In The Rain
Reading Ryokan in the rain
a sad old man living halfway up a mountain
who wandered far then stayed put
and travelled further.
He wasn’t after anything up there
content with his own company
he delighted in simple things
snow on the pines, writing poems.
Sure now and again he’d go down
and play with the kids all day
and drink sake with the boys
he was a monk after all
but mostly he liked just sitting
letting all of life flow through him
listening to the rain, watching the moon
reading old scrolls under a flickering lamp.
Ryokan means good-hearted
and you can see why
he’s the guy who cut holes in his veranda
to let bamboo shoots grow tall.
He found love late in life
or maybe Teishin found him
it was her love that made sure
that he journeyed on.
In his poems you can touch Gogo-an
it’s all so clear and crisp
you can hear the leaves fall around him
taste his salt tears.
At night he feels lonely
up there on his own
next day spring is fresh and green
this is all there is.
What is it about him that affects us so?
one robe one bowl
the simplicity of a life
pared down to the bone.
Now here I sit
listening to the sound of wind and sea
knowing his is the way
to drink deep of the water of life.
From Slate, Sea and Sky, A Journey from Glasgow to the Isle of Luing (Luath, 2007)