Who? – Beth McDonough


Aye. Ye do. She pops in quite often.
The wumman wi the handicapped son.
Sometimes he shouts oot during Mass – what a laugh!
Canon doesnae mind of course – the young lad says things
we cannae quite make oot. Funny, even so.
But that’s ok. God’s fine wi fun. Bless them aa.
They say God gies you nuthing ye cannae manage.
Eh believe that too. They’re special, folk like that.
They’re verra nice. Usually they sit
twa pews up frae Mr McNee the St James heedie
and Susie, his docter wife. She knit s such lovely hats.
Somewhere near to Jean. Jean frae the cafe at the docks.
Ken she’s bought a new caravan at Inver?
He’s getting right big now. Bigger than her. And strong.
But they urr strong, urren’t they? The handicapped.
When they decide to go, they damned well will!
Well, must be hard. He’s gettin a gey big lad.
Eh see them (her an her man), catch him
by the rucksack straps when he’s breengin for the front.
He wears yon pack a lot. No, Eh’ve no idea why.
Must be a struggle in that hoose. But bless them aa.
Lovely folk. Been in this Parish for, uh… years.
In fact they had him Baptised here.
I see he takes Communion now. Oh bless.
God is good. Part of oor Church femily.
Aabuddy kens his name. We aye say hello.
Never make a difference. Ken.
I see her recently daein stewardin duty.
The young lad isnae ayeways there.
It’s guid they get a break.
Eh like to ask her fur her son. Ken she’s pleased.
You ken her fine. The wumman wi the handicapped son.

Beth McDonough’s poetry is widely anthologised and published in MagmaGutter and elsewhere. Lamping for pickled fish is published by 4Word. She swims year round in the Tay, foraging nearby.

I’ve never told anyone this, but – Beth McDonough

I’ve never told anyone this, but

he was the dragon that no-one believed in,
ensconced on his too-grey rock.
Quite huge, in a gap of mazed whins,
doing his blinkless, very lizard thing. At me.

I was seven when we stopped, somewhere
in Dumfriesshire I think, coming home
from a Lake District stay. A picnic spot,
time for wander alone. Perhaps a pee.

He was the fat lizard who should never have been.
Escapee dragon, or mythical reptile, but
not your average, just over the border beast.
That’s a lamb. Or a shy adder maybe.

He was the dragon that no-one believes in,
because when you’re seven you have sense.
You wash your hands, go back to the car,
tell no-one of all the great dragons you’ve seen.

Beth McDonough’s work is often Tay-centric. She swims there, year round, and forages nearby. Her poetry is in numerous places; she reviews in DURA. In Handfast (with Ruth Aylett) she explored autism. Lamping for pickled fish is published by 4Word.

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.

Elevenses at the dunes’ end – Beth McDonough

Elevenses at the dunes’ end

We settle for the safety of scones,
in the bistro bedecked
with an astroturf floor.

Wiry seats, but if we like
we can sit on that bright plastic grass
which extends over benches, up walls.

In midday’s heavy gloom,
netted fairy lights out-starry glass
on the half-tented garden’s low roof.

Had we just waited for night,
a huge orange moon might spacehopper in,
all squint rubber grin and bent ears.

The scones were home-made and light.


Beth McDonough’s poetry appears in Causeway, Shooter Agenda and elsewhere; she reviews in DURA. Handfast (2016, with Ruth Aylett) explores family experiences of dementia and autism. A pamphlet is coming…

10th of October, Time Immemorial – Beth McDonough

10th of October, Time Immemorial

Revenge is sweet? My arse! You’ll suck it sour.
Go, lug fruit home – observe it breed a bowl
of maggot-writhe. My fly coachload, winged-black
with foul disease will batter down your panes.
Those jells will whersh, and piddle thin; your pies
will turn; your crumbles whiff of piss; your tarts
fall festering, and stink; they’ll dribble bloodied inks.
Do pour a wine – that rancid fruit shall make
mere vinegar seem fine, and any thought
of winter liquor – gone! Aground and bruised
I pluck out spines and curse. Of course you know
me, shit-brain! I spit my vengeance, darkest gob!
Hell won’t mend ye, bastard bramble bush!


Beth McDonough’s poetry appears in Agenda, CausewayInterpreter’s House and elsewhere; she reviews in DURAHandfast (2016, with Ruth Aylett) explores family experiences – Aylett’s of dementia. and McDonough’s of autism. She was recently Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts.

At Eighteen – Beth McDonough

At Eighteen

This birthday slippers in,
scuffs autumn’s first frost.
You exist, fragile in rowan leaves
veined into pavements. Whatever I lift
rips a little, risks more loss. New damp glues
your thinning reality close, holds you
unique among so many walked-on patterns.

Cobbled to here, the road slows
an uneven ahead, which now
runs into breathless space.
Though branches collar October,
a throat opens to sing the firth’s
floated celebratory light.


Beth McDonough trained in Silversmithing at GSA, completing her M.Litt at Dundee University. Writer in Residence at Dundee Contemporary Arts 2014-16, her poetry appears in Agenda, Causeway and Antiphon and elsewhere and her reviews in DURA.

Handfast  (with Ruth Aylett), Mother’s Milk Books, 2016 charts family experiences – Aylett’s of dementia and McDonough’s of autism.