Featured Publication – Lamping For Pickled Fish by Beth McDonough

Our featured publication for April is Lamping For Pickled Fish by Beth McDonough, published by 4Word.

Discovering Beth McDonough’s poetry is a genuine pleasure. Shine a light on her poems and they reflect that light back on the reader, sometimes more brightly, sometimes strangely distorted, but always leaving us with distinctive, unforgettable images and additions to the vocabulary of the world. Words collide and fuse to make new ones, ideas and insights are layered as she looks for meaning in nature, family and the quirks of human behaviour. Her poems range from polished and lean to richly abundant, with flashes of exploration and experimentation in how poems can communicate themselves. Beth is a distinctive voice, fully engaged with her subject matter and bristling with ideas and the tools to explore them.‘ Andy Jackson

Lamping for Pickled Fish is a book of sticky, sensual poems, that hook and tangle the reader; beguiling folk recipes and closely observed detail of daily life as densely woven as a bramble thicket. McDonough’s finely wrought sound-pieces are rooted in human feelings, failings and fears – under the carefully woven forms a voice tempered by humour and pain grows in strength and urgency. This is a collection packed with flavours – complex, dark and earthy, with occasional bitter flashes and drops of sweetness; tastes to reward the forager and linger long on the tongue.’ Nikki Magennis

Beth McDonough’s work is in search of a kind of holistic mapping of clear mind and right action onto the matrices of language and environment. These are vibrant poems of hiking, gathering, swimming, and, above all, seeing. Her language is grounded in the volubility of Scots but mesmerised by the precision and power of naming: plants become spells as she forages for their associations as much as for their berries and roots. This green-fingeredness of the imagination extends to her way with verbal music, which lends her work a distinctive and compelling blend of energy and yearning, as she seeks out the galvanic connection between rhythms of nature and the word.‘ W.N.Herbert

LampingForPickledFish cover



Seville bright, this morning’s sun grins,
rolls her confident complement
against January skies. Let me zest

what I can, then knife through
fluff thickened pith, to score
an acidic aroma, studded in pips.

I finger out segments, let nip
juices loch onto boards then cut;
need to keep this essence, not slight

that necessary sharp under sicken-sweet
covers. A season keens, pierces high
through any resistance of frost.


In all the wrong places
Afraid, I anticipated him – reckoned
killer boxes in the owner’s shed. I sensed
that macchja dense with his lives, head-rattled

all those words he’d claimed – scratch
scuttle, rustle, scurry, gnaw. He glutted
my dark. Nightly, I fretted him,

sifted seeds for scat. On the lane’s camber
I tensed, stared riddles at stink-wide
bins for humped moves. No shadow shot

from flag leaf drains. I detected no presence
in dykes. No quick through briar thicks. None. I
opened myself to planets and stars. There –
Rat, sleek along telegraph wires,
cork oak to cork oak, smooth
on summer low cables. Linear acrobat.

Previously published in The Scores


Peloton Mallorca, 2018

All hairpin legs, a sweat of serious cyclists,
clackers on stone. Venting over-shoulder shouts,
they’re intent on giant beers. And maybe cake.

In a synchronised de-helmet,
paper-bag faces, screwed hard at sun,
crumple further, seek the bar’s shade.

Now hear how these men
have conquered mountains, powered up just
by their fine-tuned unfettered strength

and some of those particularly fantastic
plastic-wrapped chemical snacks,
sixty rafts of fortified water. And

subtle adjustments to saddles,
minutely engineered accoutrements, then
lovingly curtailed dérailleurs…

and tiny fixed screens to tot up points,
compare the gradients’ percentages,
profile difficulties of hills. With stars.

Most of all, credit to that Vaseline
honeyed thick on unsunned parts
and regularly reapplied.

And those logos; tattooed really large
on blister eye bright Lycra, which now peels
thrillingly from over-greasy bits.

Add in their greatest near-misses –
old ice-cream lorries, atrociously
heading for Soller. Or what about

that rosary-counting pilgrim string
the team almost took out entirely
on a bend at the outskirts of Lluc?

Our natural heroes, who’ve had to pedal so fast
past all the Tramuntana’s high wonders.
Thank heaven their exploits are all Strava’d now.

They need that beer, that cushioned-up seat
and chunk of the cafe’s apricot cake
as they re-learn how to walk.

Previously published in Gutter


We need a name for what we want

Not quite Italian – their older, closer
Mezzogiorno tongue trips out some word
for those fierce greens fat turnips sprout.

Waiting for winter’s greedy sheep
and now the trugs of careful cooks – fat roots
turn up in lines on the hairst’s lost field.

My Paesano friends don’t understand
why Scots will stew that lumpen fleshy bit
of turnip, swede, this misshapen neep

but ignore its freshing shoots, bright
in nipping leaves. Rapine keen enough
for hand-formed orecchietti.

A passing farming man can’t quite believe
his own ears at their risked request.
He just laughs, perplexed. They’re welcome

to walk his land, for however long
they want, fill their tucked-in bags
enjoy whatever they covet and glean.

Previously published in Causeway


Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing and Jewellery at Glasgow School of Art, and taught Art in various sectors for many years. Approaching her half century, she returned to Dundee University to take an M.Litt in Writing Study and Practice. Her poetry is published in many journals and anthologies, and in 2016,  with Ruth Aylett, she wrote a poetry duet pamphlet, Handfast (published by Mother’s Milk Books). Her work has been placed in several competitions, including those held by the John Clare Society,  YES Festival, MMB, Compound Competition at Cheltenham Festival. Her work won first prize in the Off the Stanza Competition 2017, and in 2019, her poem ‘Samphire’ won first prize in the Science Poem Competition, held by St Hilda’s College, Oxford. She reviews for DURA, and was poetry editor there for five years. She produces the small magazine Firth, and Between 2014 and 2016, she was inaugural Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts. Currently a Trustee of Ochil Tower School, she is a huge supporter of the Camphill Movement.

Lamping For Pickled Fish is available from the 4Word website.

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