15 Mar 2016

Jackie Key is Scotland's Makar

Jackie Kay Scots Makar
Makar Kay
Welcome to the Scots Makar, Jackie Kay! We are so happy that she was chosen for this role as she is a popular poet in both senses of the word.

A makar is a term now used in Scottish literature for a poet or bard, sometimes applied to a region or language  - Stirling Makar, Scots Makar, Dundee Makar.

The word highlights the role of the poet as someone skilled in the crafting of poetry and is normally applied to poets writing in Scots although it need not be exclusive to Scottish writers. I think the makar is expected to be an ambassador of sorts, but the hope is that as with Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay will also work wonders with children, and help introduce them to poetry.

As far as the term makar goes, William Dunbar even referred to the English poets Chaucer, Lydgate and Gower as makars.
And recently we found out that a few people didn't know what a makar was ... but more curiously, there were others who did know what it referred to  ... but thought makar might not be an appropriate title for this job, and that National Poet may be more fitting.

The Courier (15.03.16) reported: "Robyn Marsack, the outgoing director of the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, explained that the first Makar Edwin Morgan was uncomfortable with the title."

25 Feb 2016

The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop by Tom Hubbard

Tom Hubbard The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop
Tom Hubbard's Lucky Charm
The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop is a strange novel of misadventure and mystery, set in a hinterland of the imagination that many won’t recognise. That hinterland is not just rural Fife, but is represented in the form of a formidably unpleasant boarding school called Mauletoun House, where everyone takes a mauling of some sort.

Tom Hubbard, for those not yet in the know, was the first librarian at the Scottish Poetry Library, and he has been a professor of Scottish literature in Budapest, Connecticut and Grenoble.

Tom's CV declares him to be an unashamedly intellectual advocate of all that is good in Scottish letters, both past in present, and demonstrates that he has for decades carried out the undervalued task of presenting this to the world out with our borders.

Scotland is omnipresent in The Lucky Charm of Major Bessop, although it is a land of sudden sinkholes and values that haven’t been questioned since the days of John Knox.

21 Feb 2016

Tessa Ransford

Tessa Ransford
Tesss Ransford in Conversation
Tessa Ransford - Conversations with Scottish Writers, No.3

FRAS Publications

Walter Perrie’s Conversations with Scottish Writers series may on first appearance to be something of a modest resource. This suite of pamphlets however has so much to recommend it to our finer senses, giving voice as it does to a generation of writers, some of whom have now passed. 

Better still, the booklets in the Conversations series always get straight to the point and cover questions of the place of literature in society, funding for literature (which seems to come up in most of them), and the influence of Scottish letters on the world, and world literature’s influence on Scotland.

Crucially none of this stated from a marketing perspective and any other form of cultural bias. Staff of what was once the Scottish Arts Council and is now Creative Scotland, should probably turn away now, to the many more establishment-affirming sources widely available to them!

9 Dec 2015

Portrait of the Psychiatrist as a Young Man

RD Laing by Allan Beveridge
Allan Beveridge on RD Laing
The Early Writing and Work of R.D. Laing, 1927-1960 by Allan Beveridge

R.D. Laing is a figure one tends to associate with the late sixties counter-culture, a celebrity psychiatrist who rubbed shoulders with the Beatles, and various other worthies of the time. 

Allan Beveridge’s Portrait of the Psychiatrist as a Young Man instead discusses his formation through the first three decades of his life. It ends in 1960, not long after Laing had published his classic work on schizophrenia, The Divided Self.

The eagle-eyed will have noticed that Allan Beveridge has chosen a literary title for his work, referring to works by James Joyce and Dylan Thomas. Allan Beveridge, like R.D. Laing, is a man not only well versed in the field of mental healthcare, but also philosophy and literature. 

We can also thank Laing for leaving behind a wealth of material, from diaries to marginal notes, to clinical notes and publications. Beveridge has employed these well. He devotes entire chapters and sections to R.D. Laing’s love of literature, which was by no means unreciprocated.

19 Nov 2015

Cider Camp and Other Tales

Cider Camp and Other Tales by Craig Gibson
Drink up Thy Cider!
The line between science fiction and realism can be far finer than people realise. The idea of an island camp for “incorrigible alcoholics” is lurid, especially when we are told entry is voluntary. 

Worse, many readers will find themselves laughing at Cider Camp, despite the novella being nasty, grotty and grubby from start to finish.

Craig Gibson already has some notoriety in Edinburgh – hopefully Cider Camp will widen his appeal.

Cider Camp may be outrageous, but it is not that implausible. It’s topical, given the British Government’s austerity regime, and the relentless media stories about various undesirables – asylum seekers, welfare scroungers and the like.

Sending troublesome people to remote islands is nothing new. The penal colonies at Botany Bay and Van Diemen’s Land may be long gone, but Australia is keeping up the tradition. These days, its outlying islands are not being filled up with militant Aborigines and criminals, so much as anyone who tries to gain illegal entry into the Wonderful Land of Oz. 

Nearer to home, various islands are occasionally mooted as rehab centres too. Many of Scotland’s islands were cleared by social engineers, so it is not impossible they may be repopulated by them.

11 Oct 2015

Traduttore, Traditore

Sorley Maclean gaelic poet
Sorley MacLean
An old Italian saying has it that "traduttore, traditore " - to translate is to betray. 

The very translation of that short phrase communicates none of the alliteration and wordplay of the original.

My personal opinion is that prose is easier to translate than poetry. With prose this may be dependent on the style, but in poetry, there is almost always a certain compactness which does not lend itself to translation. 

Add to that all the issues of sound, wordplay, metre, brief allusions etc and you have a real problem on your hands. 

Even one of the most famous passages in the Bible, which has been mulled over continuously for nearly two millennia, causes issues. Ἐν ἀρχῇ ἦν ὁ λόγος (“In the beginning was the word”) states John 1. Logos is the term translated “word”, but it also gives rise to the English words “logic” and the suffix “-ology”, which gives an idea of the sheer range of its actual meaning. Archē (beginning) also has a much more complex meaning that the English allows.

9 Oct 2015

Lagan Voices by Neil C. Young

Lagan Voices by Neil C Young
'A socialist poet par excellence . . .'
If you remember the sort of things that Ewan McColl sang about then you will have a feeling for Neil C. Young’s Lagan Voices.

It is the sound of industrial city, with people at work, sketched in between the dirty river and the back alleys of a depressed town.  The river itself is the subject more than once:

You are no Liffey or Shannon,

Those sinewy channels of myth and rhyme,
No fiddles ride over your tide
Or lilt a Lagan lullaby,
Yet you have the ghost of me still,

My childhood all over your bridges and banks,
I kicked my dreams like stones
About the shambles of your wasteground,

5 Oct 2015

Border Lines by Stuart A. Paterson

Border Lines by Stuart A. Paterson
The poetry of the Solway Coast
Dealing with the subject of borders, you would have to think there would be an overt political sensibility in Stuart A. Paterson’s collection Border Lines, especially given his own clear passion for Scottish independence, expressed elsewhere in his output, but it ain’t necessarily so.

The poem At Douglas Hall takes place on the tide, the border between the land and the sea, which is constantly shifting and carries with it ‘beginnings & endings’ as well as borderline ballads. 

The poem Crossing the Border is one of the highlights of the collection and indicates the heart of the subject, and comes closest to the political, neatly summing up that post-Referendum low with its own tidal gloom:

Scotland long gone in the rear-view-mirror,
the heavy traffic north, lost round that
corner, the other side of yon
unsignposted junction we passed
40 mintes & a Referendum ago.

In fact, the capital R on Referendum seems to place it all in a context of muted hope, and possibly the exhaustion of the great event itself.

Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947

Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947 Eric Linklater
Be The Most Recent To Like This!
Those were the days.  In 1948, for three shillings and sixpence, one could purchase Scottish Student Verse 1937 – 1947, a kind of Be The First To Like This of its day, an anthology of the up and coming super-happening poets of the now.

Sorry - but in reading Scottish Student Verse in 2015 the first exercise was in seeing how many of the poets included ‘made it’ out of this collection of contemporaneous juvenilia, and became fully fledged adult poets, or indeed stars. 

There would have been an assumption at the time that the next generation of poets would have been restricted virtually to the university campuses, as there were not at that time many street or working class poets represented by the publishing houses of Scotland. 

Although there are always exceptions.  Look at that guy Hugh MacDiarmid.  He never had a university education although he went on to make poetic history.

Morning Crossword by Gerard Rochford and Esther Green

Morning Crossword by Gerard Rochford and Esther Green
... sapiosexual!
Images by Esther Green
Poems by Gerard Rochford

Morning Crossword by Gerard Rochford and Esther Green is a collaboration and not simply an illustrated selection of poems. 

Neither the illustrations of Esther Green, nor Rochford's poetry take primacy, although Morning Crossword does look and feel like a poetry book, and it is not possible to establish whether Esther Green's fine line drawings are in colour or not.

Either way, Esther Green's drawings are compromised by the book form.

Poetry is used to appearing on a page 280 x 400 mms in scope, but art is not.  Poetry loves that totally trad rectangular portrait size ... but art just comes as it is.