Sally Magnusson's great foreword sets this book up perfectly: "I opened this marvellous collection at a delicate time. I was still reeling from the trauma of handing over my brand new senior railcard for the first time, hoping against shaming hope that the ticket inspector would look at me, look at it, raise an inquiring, lightly flirtatious eyebrow and murmur, 'Surely some mistake, madame?' He did not."
Age comes to all of us. This reviewer is not yet the owner of a senior railcard, but isn't far off being eligible for one. "Whatever the Sea: Scottish Poems for Growing Older" is edited by Lizzie MacGregor, the Assistant Librarian of the Scottish Poetry Library. Poetry gives us new ways to think about growing older, and can show the ways in which it is both a universal and a very individual phenomenon. The poems in this book are hugely varied in outlook, but for the most part take a "glass half full" rather than a "glass half empty" approach. They are divided into a series of themes, including "age has drifted down", "well seasoned", "us along the way", "old age blues" and, perhaps inevitably, "as time draws near".
The collection's title comes from Edwin Morgan's "At Eighty", which begins, "Push the boat out, compañeros, / push the boat out, whatever the sea." This is one of a number of poems in the collection to draw on nautical metaphors, whether in the form of years or tides ebbing and flowing; or battered old vessels weathering storms; or perhaps most memorably in Rab Wilson's "The Greater Sea", which begins" Oor boat is rigged tae face the greater sea". Most of the poems in the book are in English: the few in Scots come with sufficient marginal translation to allow comprehension, while a few more in Gaelic come with complete English translations, allowing them to be enjoyed in either language.
It is of course possible to read any book from cover to cover in page order, but to my mind this is a book that is perhaps best enjoyed by taking a more random approach. Turning to it now, and letting serendipity guide my hand, I encounter "Old Age Blues" by J.B. Pick, whose first verse reads: "I don't know what I used to know. / I don't say that it isn't so, / I've just forgotten. That's a Blow. / When you know nothing, then you go." Less positive in outlook than most in the collection, perhaps, but still deeply thought provoking.