Ruaraidh MacThòmais aig 90

November 1, 2011

Robyn reflects on making books, typography and Ruaraidh MacThòmais

The ratio of pleasure to anxiety in book-making varies considerably: in the case of Mar Chomharra: Ruaraidh MacThòmais aig 90 (Derick Thomson at 90: A Celebration) I think the ratio was 3:1, there being a slight anxiety as to whether it would be ready for 31 October. As it was proofed by the Gaelic scholar Ian Macdonald, and our own Jane Alexander caught a mistake in the English – ‘planning’ for ‘planing’ – unnoticed in the original edition, the normal anxiety over typos was very faint.

The pleasures are obvious: celebrating the work of a great poet; gathering in choices from – among others – Aonghas Macneacail and Liz Lochhead, and seeing the patchwork of pages turn into something elegant in the hands of designer Gerry Cambridge. A man of many talents – poet, photographer, naturalist, teacher, editor of The Dark Horse and typographer – Gerry chose ‘Tacitus’ as the title font and apparently it’s the first time this font has been used in Scotland. Another reason to buy this limited edition, bilingual pamphlet, as your introduction to or keepsake of the poetry of Derick Thomson.

The launch this week was hosted by Glasgow University’s Celtic and Gaelic department, where Prof Thomson was an authoritative presence for 28 years. He was also a founder of Comhairle nan Leabhraichean (the Gaelic Books Council), which published the pamphlet in association with the SPL. Younger Gaelic poets Peter Mackay and Niall O’Gallagher were among those paying tribute to Derick Thomson as a poet of Lewis and Glasgow; Niall indeed suggested that Thomson should be regarded as one of the trio of great writers about Glasgow, alongside Edwin Morgan and Alasdair Gray:

and if a Dante survives
he doesn’t have far to go
to find an Inferno;
but my Paradiso is lost
somewhere in Glasgow.

’s ma tha Dante fhathast ann
chan eil fad aige ri dhol
gus a lorg e Inferno;
ach tha mo Pharadiso-sa caillte
am badeigin an Glaschu.

from ‘Air Stràidean Ghlaschu (15)’ /‘On Glasgow Streets’ is from Smeur an Dòchais / Bramble of Hope  (Edinburgh: Canongate, 1991). Niall O’Gallagher chooses it in Mar Chomharra: Ruaraidh MacThòmais aig 90.


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