The Scottish poet Norman MacCaig was born 100 years ago next month. The remote north-west Highland community of Assynt is preparing to mark the centenary with a week-long celebration of his poetry, from 5-13 November 2010, including talks, readings, film showings, art exhibitions, guided walks and ceilidhs. Performers include Liz Lochhead, Alan Taylor, Alan Riach, Sandy Moffat and Wendy Stewart.

Norman MacCaig, who died in 1996, spent many of the summers of his adult life in Assynt, taking his family there during his long holidays as an Edinburgh school teacher. He wrote much of his best loved poetry inspired by Assynt, which he called ‘this most beautiful corner of the land’ in his long poem ‘A Man in Assynt’.

Mandy Haggith, who is co-ordinating the celebration for local community arts organisation Top Left Corner, said, ‘Norman MacCaig’s poems about the people and landscape of Assynt are variously witty, philosophical and moving. Whether it’s with a mountain like an anvil, a lochan like a stained glass window, or a toad that looks like a purse, his poetry helps us to see the land and nature in a new and fresh way.’

The week will also celebrate new poetry inspired by MacCaig and Assynt, written by children and adults. Some of the 279 new poems written for the Norman MacCaig Poetry Competition, in particular the winners, will be made public on 9 November, when the competition judges, Alan Riach (poet and professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University) and Alexander Moffat (former head of the Glasgow School of Art), will present their insights into MacCaig’s place in Scottish culture.

Poems by local school children are being displayed around Assynt. Poet Kenneth Steven recently visited Lochinver Primary School, Stoer Primary School and Ullapool High School to introduce the children to the poetry of MacCaig and to inspire them to write poems of their own. Kenneth said of the children, ‘They were just brilliant, they really were. It is a privilege to work with children who have been born into this landscape, to open a door to them and draw their own words through it.’

Mandy Haggith said, ‘The 44 local children who have written poems for the celebration have done a marvellous job of proving that Assynt is still an inspirational place for new poetry. This is one of the most exciting aspects of the celebration. We’re not just looking back to the past but also giving space to a new generation of writers. MacCaig said in his poem ‘Rowan berries’, “I’ll be /that fine thing, an ancestor.”  And so he is.’

Many people in Assynt remember MacCaig fondly. One of those, Wilma Mackay, from Inverkirkaig, said ‘I think it is really good that we are making sure the younger generation know about Norman’s poetry. I think he’d be pleased to be remembered by Assynt people – he really loved this place.’

Artists are also taking part in the celebration through an exhibition of art by local people at the Leisure Centre in Lochinver (5-13 November) and an exhibition at An Talla Solais in Ullapool (3-21 November), entitled Response 2: Norman MacCaig, of artworks responding to his poems.

For more information contact Mandy Haggith,

Thanks to Hi-Arts, the Andrew Tannahill Trust for the Furtherance of Scottish Literature, the Highland Culture Programme, Polygon books and our local Highland Councillors for financial support.

You can read MacCaig’s poem ‘Aunt Julia‘ in our Reading Room, chosen by Anna Gibson as her classic poem choice.