Stuart Kelly: Reprints and Revivals

May 26, 2010

A propos de nothing, we revisit a piece in Issue 2 of our Poetry Reader by Stuart Kelly.

The availability of classic Scottish books has never been better. The major figures of Scottish poetry are now, for the most part, represented by handsome, sensitively edited and illuminating volumes. Of especial note this year is Duanaire Na Sracaire (Songbook of the Pillagers): An Anthology of Scottish Gaelic Verse to 1600, edited by Meg Bateman and Wilson McLeod. Along with the four previous volumes, Gair nan Clarsach, An Lasair, Caran An-t-saoghail and An Tuil, this comprises a complete overview and immaculately detailed representation of Scottish Gaelic poetry.

Thanks, mainly, to Polygon/Birlinn, Carcanet, John Murray and Faber, the achievements of the Scottish Renaissance can now be seen in their full form. It’s not just the Collected editions of MacDiarmid, Mackay Brown, Maclean, MacCaig and others (including, of course, the still-productive Edwin Morgan: some lucky postgraduate will one day have a field-day trying to create a Complete Edition of Morgan). Many of the more marginal figures – Gael Turnbull, W S Graham, Kenneth White, Burns Singer and Veronica Forrest-Thompson –  have significant complete editions of their work, and a burgeoning and attentive critical corpus. Polygon, especially, have done much to put the prose works of poets on a secure footing.

As such, it seems regrettable in the extreme that the work of Sydney Goodsir Smith lacks a similar treatment. Although he’s there in Sandy Moffat’s group portrait ‘Poets’ Pub’, and his best known works (such as Under the Eildon Tree) are frequently anthologised, it’s a huge disappointment that he has yet to receive a proper Collected Edition. And not just for the poetry: MacDiarmid thought that Smith’s novel, Carotid Cornucopius, would do for Edinburgh what Joyce did for Dublin (it doesn’t; but it’s an intriguing and experimental work nonetheless). I’m keeping a gap on my shelves for SGS.

Another book I’d love to see would be a reissue of the 25 issues of Iain Hamilton Finlay’s influential magazine Poor.Old.Tired.Horse. One-word poems, concrete poems, an internationalist perspective and a fitting paper counterpart to the national treasure of Little Sparta. In fact, there’s a great deal of material from the ‘avant-garde’ or ‘experimental’ traditions that could bolster such a volume: what about Alan Riddell’s typewriter poems, Henderson’s Elegies for the Dead in Cyrenaica and Trocchi’s Sigma papers?

On the horizon, I’m looking forward to the collected prose and poetry of Alastair Reid (edited by Marc Lambert) (*these books, Inside Out:  Selected Poetry and Translations and Outside In:  Selected Prose were published in 2008*), and still hoping against hope that someone will publish an accessible edition of Walter Scott’s poems. I know he’s unfashionable, that narrative poetry’s out and that you can pick up a second hand edition in almost every second hand bookshop in the country – hopefully when the Edinburgh Edition completes the Waverley Novels, we might get to see the poems in a new light too.

Stuart Kelly is the Literary Editor for the Scotland on Sunday. He blogs at McShandy’s, and has two books forthcoming from Birlinn this summer.  This piece first appeared in our Poetry Reader, Issue 2.

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