Friday, 14 April 2017

BEST SCOTTISH POEMS

The pick of the bunch - the Scottish Poetry Library has just published its annual guest-selected 20 "Best Scottish Poems", this time edited by Catherine Lockerbie.  

It's a wonderfully varied list and balanced equally between male and female poets. The poems are all on the SPL website, together with comments by the writer and the selector, and sometimes with a recording of the poet reading his/her work ("Outwith" is brilliantly performed by Katie Ailes). 

The subject matter includes the personal (Michael Faber's "Don't hesitate to ask"), social comment (Pippa Little's refugee poem "For Refuge" and Kate Tough's "People made Glasgow" are not to be missed), animals (sheep, pony, herring gull, cat).  There are poems on physics (J O Morgan's "We used to think the universe was made of" and Pippa Goldschmidt's "Physics for the unwary student") and list poems (Claire Askew's "Catalogue of my Grandmother's Sayings" and Andy Jackson's "Enquiry Desk").   There is a wry humour to several of the poems.  There are poems in Gaelic and Scots and Standard English. 

I have two particular favourites.   

James Aitchison's "Anthem"is a home-coming poem, about returning to Scotland, to "this land / of small things" - dwarf ferns, newts, frogs, a mistle thrush.  It's a fine poem where ageing and mortality are part of the natural course of things.  

Angus Peter Campbell's "Aig Cladh Hallan" / "At Hallan Cemetery" is reproduced in both Gaelic and English versions.  Despite the title it is anything but gloomy:

"This is the time, he says,
  to honour everything that is alive."  

To me there was an added dimension to this poem because I have been to Hallan several times when walking in the Outer Hebrides.  What finer place could there be to be buried than this western machair shore of South Uist with the sound of corn-crakes and oyster-catchers, the profusion of machair flowers and the Atlantic waves breaking on the shore?

To browse the poems go to www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk and click on Poetry and then scroll down to Best Scottish Poems.

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