Michael Russell’s Selected Works

August 20, 2009

TennysonLast night was, as discussed yesterday, Michael Russell’s Selected Works at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Our Selected Works series is now 32 episodes old, and you can read some selections of previous pickers in our Reading Room. We’ve got a few interesting folk lined up for the autumn/winter programme, though I’m afraid we can’t reveal those just yet, but watch this space!

We went to see our Robyn in conversation about the poems Mike picked, the ones that he was sorry not to be able to fit in, and other things besides. His choices and a few remarks:

from ‘Requiem’ by Anna Akhmatova – MR pondered if we can ever grasp the full meaning of poetry in translation, and we learned that Akhmatova’s poems, written under the Stalinist terror, were learned by 10 faithful followers, and none were actually written down until 1962.

‘Death and Dr Hornbrook’ by Robert Burns – as a Troon lad, ‘as soon as the Christmas tree was down, the Burns books came out, in preparation for the annual recitation competitions in his honour’.

‘264’ by Jim Carruth – MR confessed to being a great fan of Jim’s work, and it was a treat to have him in the audience to read this moving poem about his father aloud.

‘The God Abandons Antony’ by C P Cavafy – E M Forster said of Cavafy that he ‘stood at an angle to the universe’, and MR has fond memories of reading him as a student.

from ‘Little Gidding’ by T S Eliot – interesting to think that T S Eliot and Akhmatova were writing, and not being published, at the same time, though for quite different reasons; Eliot made his home in England, and paper shortages during the war prevented publication.

‘Hallaig’ by Sorley MacLean – reflected upon the tragic shrinking of the Gaelic language, how this must be addressed and reversed, and how Sorley MacLean is one of the most important poets of the 20th century

‘I Explain a Few Things’ by Pablo Neruda – the poem by which MR discovered Neruda

‘At the Scott Exhibition, Edinburgh Festival’ by Iain Crichton Smith – a lovely anecdote revealed: MR had the pleasure of filming ICS on Coll while working at the BBC. In attempting to capture him in black and white, wreathed in smoke, several takes meant ICS had to ‘smoke like a beagle’!

‘The Lotus Eaters’ by Alfred, Lord Tennyson – an apt choice, in what would have been Tennyson’s 200th birthday! MR enjoys the public aspect of his poems, and the way the words ‘roll you on’.

‘Curiosity’ by Alastair Reid – ‘a remarkable man’, less known in Scotland as elsewhere for his translations or Neruda and Borges, and his writings for the New Yorker. MR revealed that he quoted a bit from ‘Curiosity’ in a speech, leaving everyone in the audience pondering which bit…

If curiosity gets the better of you, you can read MR’s selection and much more here in the SPL! And we wonder what you would pick as your selected works?

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