JAMES MCGONIGAL is a poet, editor and translator, formerly a school teacher and educationalist. His co-edited volume The Midnight Letterbox: Selected Correspondence of Edwin Morgan 1950–2010 has just been published by Carcanet Press. His last collection Cloud Pibroch (Mariscat Press, 2010) won the UK Michael Marks Poetry Pamphlet Award. For more on his work, please visit


Two Nuns at the Check-in Desk

This nun falls asleep with Jesus.
            The light is out. He does not snore.
His hair lies entangled with hers on the pillow
            or would, had it not been shorn before.

Her companion works for His Eminence
           in the bureau of social concern.
Her spiritual life is as greenly delicate
          and tough-rooted as fern.

‘This is Captain Christ from the flight-deck announcing
         our arrival ahead of schedule in Heaven today.
Local temperatures are pleasant, air-quality pearly.
         Please proceed now to Customs for your final x-ray.’



The Soul Register

How will you be set down, farm-boy,
in the Soul Register
when the minister climbs from his horse

to test you on doctrine and scripture?
Beyond the table’s edge
your mother hears the hiss of ash

settling, the buzzing of a fly
against one pane.
Stink of manure from the yard.

He opens your Bible (‘good’) at the Book
of Revelation
and asks you to read from Chapter IX.

Your soul, which will be set down,
still feels at odds
caught between hard rock and cloud –

the cold intense, that bird you saw
fierce in the memory
with its beak and curls, its face of a man.



The Rydale Spears

(Phylactery for Dorothy Wordsworth, May 1800)

I sat a long time
on a stone by the lake’s edge.
Tears came in a flood.

The wood rich in flowers
of yellow, palish yellow:
thick, round, double – sweet.

Corn starting to show.
Ash trees still bare. Beggar girl,
lain outside all night.

A blind man passed, driving
a beautiful bull.
He walked with two sticks.

Woman, three children –
paupers buried in one place:
a stone over it.

A half-crazed old man
showed me a pincushion, asked
for a pin, then pence.

Evening cool – not cold:
with spear-shaped streaks of polished
steel over Rydale.

I sat a long time
to watch the hurrying waves’
swift dance of spirits.


If you wish to read the poems in page view, the following link will take you to a PDF – James McGonigal poems

All works published by the Glasgow Review of Books are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommerical-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License and the journal reserves the right to be named as place of first publication in any citation. Copyright remains with the poet.

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The Glasgow Review of Books (ISSN 2053-0560) is an online journal which publishes critical reviews, essays and interviews as well as writing on translation. We accept work in any of the languages of Scotland – English, Gàidhlig and Scots.

We aim to be an accessible, non-partisan community platform for writers from Glasgow and elsewhere. We are interested in many different kinds of writing, though we tend to lean towards more marginal, peripheral or neglected writers and their work. 

Though, our main focus is to fill the gap for careful, considered critical writing, we also publish original creative work, mostly short fiction, poetry and hybrid/visual forms. 

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