24 Jun 2015

Score — sheet by Keith Murray

Aye, they have poetry in Aberdeen...
Score — sheet by Keith Murray, and published by Malfranteaux Concepts in 2012, is not the most recent collection by Keith Murray, but sometimes these things take time to arrive on one’s desk.

Keith Murray lives in Aberdeen and writes of the city unlike the few others who dare tackle the Silver City in prose and poesy.  For one, he doesn’t linger on the city’s obvious attractions and charms, and the odd nature of its love affair with oil.

There isn’t a sense of history in Score — sheet either, but in true poetic mode, the Aberdeen of Keith Murray is entirely appropriate to the gentleness of observation which lies behind his well thought out works.

It is a contemplative chapbook — the sort of poetry that considers ‘the scrape of a beetle against wallpaper’ or ‘rice paper windows revealing nature’s plan’ or ‘the sun a dot of pale gold / growing in the frazzle of bare branches’.

It's excellent stuff... although sometimes you will not know what Keith Murray is talking about; You crossed the deep, safely, waving, waving. feels to me like death, although I cannot be sure what is being addressed, other than perhaps the poet's own psychological depths. The impressions however are keen, and I loved the modesty and quietude of this collection, which is clearly the product of reflection and a poetic craft that has been honed over many years.

At other times, thoroughly peculiar moments emerge, such as for example when Keith Murray looks at local maps to see if the circus tents are on them, and attempts to devise a way in which the passing and seasonal nature of the circus can be made more temporary.

Chanonry, The Only Sound and The Night Ornithologist paint a quiet picture of poetic life; it is late night in Aberdeen and all is still.  The poet is alone and his thoughts are so clear, that he can capture them from the darkness which he is aware is ‘brimmed with song’.

We catch the poet holding photographic negatives up to the window, and begin to ascertain his use of metaphor. And he is able to create wonderful things in very few words, such as in this poem which looks at Allan Ramsay’s  1750 portrait of Thomas Shairp:

… he is frowning from worry
growing with the knowledge
that the paint is drying,
fixed before all the centuries he will lose;
his great audience he will never see.

In all Keith Murray’s collection is well worth pursuing, and in Murray we have as surefooted a poet as any in our country.  I am always advising people to look a little further than Edinburgh and Glasgow when investigating Scottish writing, and I know it is tough for people to do that, but they must.

This is of course where Scotland lets itself down; it’s the difference between parochialism and provincialism. 

Provincialism in letters is in effect the belief that only good things can emerge from our major urban centres, and so that is why you don’t hear much about poets from Aberdeen, and the Highlands, etc, and why you can’t find their books in the Central Belt.  

Of this, Scotland is essentially guilty. In the past, and maybe in the present also, I do not know, we have complained that our land’s resources are sucked up by the south of England, which garners all the attention in a Londoncentric vortex which has all the power, while of course we have a similar set up in Scotland, with the Central Belt having all the publishing power, as well as the best public projects.

While actually, the publishers of the Central Belt have little power at all, and Parochialism is our strength. Parochialism in letters does not necessarily mean something narrow in scope and outlook, but is representative of a kind of power that is entirely (as Patrick Kavanagh) has it, self-sufficient.

The opening line of The Scostman / Scotland on Sunday (Sunday 19th October 2014) review of Be The First To Like This – an anthology of ‘New Scottish Poetry’) rather predictably, and with the air of a typically asleep-on-the-job literary socialite reads:

THROW a stone in Glasgow or Edinburgh, it is said, and you’ll hit a young poet. But until now there has been no anthology to celebrate this ubiquity.

… once more conflating Edinburgh and Glasgow with Scotland. It is this habit that is ubiquitous, and not the poetry or the poets.  Of the 38 included in the anthology Be The First To Like This, it would appear that at least 24 were resident in Edinburgh at the time of publication, with only 6 in Glasgow, and most of the remainder staying in England, with a couple in Stirling. 

Although this is a rough guess, based on browsing blogs and twitter feeds, it presents an even further bias!

Aye — there is a poet from Aberdeenshire in Be The First To Like This, but there are poets from all over the world there, and this quick calculation considers where they were based, as it is this that seems to be an editorial criteria, which helps the editor decide who is worthy and who is not.

It’s not a big deal and I am sure the next anthology of Scottish poetry will include people residing in the Borders, in Aberdeenshire, in Moray and maybe even some from the Highlands and Northern Isles. Radical!

Or maybe not.  It might be the case that poetry really is better in Edinburgh, and that only the true poets of Scotland live there.  

One way we as readers can find out is to look a little further than the Barnton Roundabout in Edinburgh (the Scottish equivalent of the Watford Gap, where the North/South divide of England is facetiously said to reside) and seek out for example, the work of Keith Murray.

“Parochialism and provincialism are direct opposites. A provincial is always trying to live by other people's loves, but a parochial is self-sufficient.”
Patrick Kavanagh

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