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The Cold Wind of Dawn

London, Jonathan Cape, 1966.

Author’s presentation

     The Cold Wind of Dawn, my first book of poetry to be published in English, is divided into three parts : “Virgin Territory”, “Zone”, “Naked Ground”. The middle part is urban and communitarian, more specifically, anarcho-nihilistic. The first and third part are concerned with a larger, more-than-human context. The first part represents an entry into this context, the third part a radicalisation of that initial contact.
     The landscape is recognizably Scottish : a lowland and highland Scotland seen as though (which is geologically the case), the ice-sheet had disappeared only recently, leaving a territory of deep fractures, abrupt nonconformities, acute oulines. The townscape is that of an industrial civilisation on the wane and a humanity alienated, stunted, bruised and brutalised.
     Back of all that, there is an emergent mindscape, the attempt to move into another dimension. If a religious-apocalyptical vocabulary is still used, it is as combustion, not as faith. The impulse is to get back through to a beginning (“dawn”) with fresh energy and without illusions (“cold wind”), a whole energy-field.
     This book is the first expression of that energy-field.

Near Winter

Let winter now come

ox-laden sky
cold spume of rivers
nakedness of moors
mist in the forest
let winter now come

the spoor of animals
blue in melting snow
the sun polished hard
birds and berries
bronzen shadow
water icy and thin
black crust of earth
oar glint of stone
let winter now come

seaweed covers the moon
wind harrows the firth
the islands glint in fog
I fish in cold waters
my boat black as tar
the horned rowlocks
creak to the oar

let winter now come.

New Moon

These walls have grown sullen, and I
lodged between a dairy and an antique shop
between a station and a library, read
no future, live no present, sick
with a bellyful of memory, my skull
like an old tin can that rattles, yet

the sun will move northwards, rising
in the frozen heavens, and the day
will lengthen. New at the month’s
beginning, the moon, on the fifteenth night
being close to earth and very full
will raise the tides like whales along the coast.

Song about the uselessness of life

We were brought up hale and hearty
though our mother’s breast was clarty
and a whisky dribble sometimes touched our lips
we were dragged up by the ears
through a maze of ragged years
and our staff of life was Tally fish and chips

When the nation came to call us
we were fourteen and quite gallus
and we thought the future held the promised land
but the City quickly taught us
that a man’s own work and thought is
what the sparrow’s to the eagle, to the mighty ocean, sand

We were there to aid production
meant to work without objection
and the prize they held before us was : a wage
just to keep ourselves alive
so the happy few might thrive
and eat the cake of righteousness within their gilded cage

So the slaved enslave the slaves
since we first dwelt in the caves
and Society’s a hellish rigmarole
you may think that the Creator
planned it all when on the batter
and may turn your arse sky-blue for the saving of your Soul

You may try to get together
call the other man your brother
and the venture may seem hopeful for a spell
you may form associations
you may draw up regulations
but your brother’s son will twist them all to hell

About the problem that remains
we have often beat our brains :
is it worth while hanging on then after all ?
there must be some solution
to society’s pollution
if you find it, don’t forget to give the call.

The Cold Wind of Dawn
(sections 2, 3, 4)

Over the great world the cold has come
the voice of the great companions is dumb

the old moon follows its path through the dark
the sun of our days is red and stark

there is sorrow in turning one’s mind away
I am lonely as the wind that opens the day

The bone of my hand the bone of my skull
and the sharp cry of the arctic gull

I cried in rage for a tongue of fire
I travel through winter with that desire

hold the boat calmly on her course
till the wind of dawn springs into force

The wave in the darkness pulses slow
a floating buoy sheds a momentary glow

the sky is filled with unseen flight
in the east appears a ragged light

I hear a low wind over the firth
and the day bursts out from its night of birth.

Many of the poems in The Cold Wind of Dawn were printed in Wild Coal which was published in France a few years ago in a limited edition. […] White's later poems are more intense and concentrated than his earlier verse, more savage in their delineation of the world of nature, more impassioned and uncompromising in their celebration of man’s unity with created things. […]
Mr. White is a poet of rare quality.
     John Press, Punch

Kenneth White’s voice is one of affirmation and joy ; the same exultation that is found in Burns, Blake, Whitman and Lawrence ; a passionate longing to communicate through a poetry that is not removed from the layman, too many of whom were bored or scared away from poetry long ago. […]
White’s first volume of poems, The Cold Wind of Dawn is a remarkable achievement by any standards. […] Many of his poems vibrate with an organic energy that is far too rare a force in much contemporary verse.
     Graham Ackroyd, Akros

The wind of the title poem whistles through this book, not always gaily by any means but often with intensity and passion, necessary procreators of genuine poetry.
Kenneth White’s first collection of poems to be published in England (following two in France) reveals a young poet acutely aware of himself, in the Wordsworthian tradition, in relation to his environment – of grim Glasgow streets, but chiefly of the elemental world of storm, sea, and stars, a world of woods and the wild wind crying through them. […]
After so much of the “stone for bread” sort of writing today, wilfully  contrived to swell the trivial into significance, here is what many of us need : refreshment for the soul.
     Phoebe Hesketh, The World of Books

The poems are all of a piece with the prose : high-flying if not high-flown, vibrant with stress. Again the Whitman influence is strong. He sees himself big, dares all. He believes in himself ; there is no trace of irony, humour or self-deprecation. He may be wise ; the world tends to take writers at their own valuation, and his innocent arrogance is refreshing, if open to parody. Shrewdly he says : “Personal force can work wonders ; without it talent is nothing.” […] I hope his mastery of language will grow, for his ambition demands, and deserves, no less than mastery.
     Maurice Wiggin, The Sunday Times