J.O. Morgan on the titles he’d like to see back in print.

Four books by Ted Hughes. Each an example of his interest in artistic collaboration, of different ways to present a book, of books that have a particular singular theme – not necessarily narrative in form. The pictures in these books are not presented as a mere aid to the richness of Hughes’s wording, nor to make the poetry more accessible to younger readers. On each the phrase is  “drawings by” not illustrations. The pictures are distinct within themselves. Their artistry to match in pen and paint what Hughes achieves in language.

1963 – the earth-owl and other moon-people
Six years before Buzz & Neil set their prints into the lunar dust, Hughes showed the terrors that might await them. The fluctuating length of lines and simplicity of the rhymes fit perfectly the playfulness; as intriguingly inventive in form as the host of hostilities the moonscape provides. On the moon, even numbers can kill. R.A.Brandt provides the drawings. They are hazy. Shadowy. Like bark rubbings. A specific indistinctness that allows the horror depicted to complete itself within the viewer’s mind.

1978 – Cave Birds (an alchemical cave drama)
The foot-long format of this book suggests why it received no reprint. On the left of each double page: a poem, as rich in death and viscera as ‘Crow’. On the right: an ink drawing by Leonard Baskin, as scratchily feathered and bloated as the drawing for ‘Crow’. The similarity of form and execution is clear, though the story within: less so. Does each picture match each poem? Sometimes it would seem: no. As though two separate trains of thought had come together inone book, both offered up for careful vivisection.

1984 – What Is The Truth?
That same big-page format. The story:  God and his Son descend by night to the hill top of a rural village, to summon souls from sleep and hear of creatures that the villagers have encountered. The farmer’s soul sings of partridges to be shot, the farmer’s son of his tamed badger, Bess. Chalk and charcoal drawings by R.J. Lloyd intermingle with the text; busy imagery, space-filling; many show the bright circle of the moon. The songs are long, are stories in themselves. The book’s question will be answered by its end.

1986 – Flowers and Insects (Some Birds and a Pair of Spiders)
The most conventional of the four books. Individual poems with a naturalistic bent. With here and there a watercolour by Leonard Baskin; impressionistic plants, sharply detailed beasts. A deft examination of minute complexity in living things. These works exemplify how poetry need not merely be collective, how poetry need not merely be words. If only they were back on the shelves – they wouldn’t linger there for long.

J. O. Morgan’s book-length narrative poem, Natural Mechanical (CB Editions, 2008) won the Aldeburgh Prize and was shortlisted for the Forward Best First Collection Prize. This piece first appeared in our Poetry Reader, Issue 6.

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.

In honour of World Book Day we thought we’d reprint and revive our Lizzie’s Reprints and Revivals piece, first published in our Poetry Reader, issue 3.

‘Bold, unpatronising choices’ and a rival to Burns? Lizzie MacGregor, the Scottish Poetry Library’s Assistant Librarian and Scottish poetry specialist, picks the poetry she’d love to see reprinted.

Is there any book more important in the role of poetry in your life than the anthology you use in school? The one that gives you your first taste of the poems that make you catch your breath, the one that you read when you don’t have to…

In 1970 Oliver & Boyd published a gem called The Ring of Words: an anthology of Scottish poetry (edited by Alan MacGillivray and James Rankin).  In the words of a fellow librarian, whose school book this was, it is a collection full of bold, unpatronising choices. Indeed it is; ‘The Blythsome Bridal’ and ‘Saunders MacSiccar’ rattle along beside a handful of fairly difficult poems by Edwin Muir and some unexpected choices from other twentieth-century greats. There are not-so-well-knowns, like a startling poem in Scots by James Bridie, and some totally un-dumbed-down Dunbar and Drummond of Hawthornden. There may well have been a little more editorial freedom when it was published than would now be the case, judging by the fairly riotous gaggle of women in the eponymous section, and the distinctly non-politically correct tale about the First Hielandman.

Scotland has been well-served by general anthologies in the past few years, and The Smoky Smirr o Rain (Itchy Coo, 2003) in particular was directed to readers beginning to explore Scots poetry, but we would be the richer of a repeat performance of The Ring of Words. Although it is almost 40 years old, the selection is fresh; though some of the poems require thoughtful reading, why presume today’s young people would not be interested? Work in Scots is plentiful, but it does omit Gaelic poetry, a serious lack which could perhaps be addressed in a new edition.  And since it was illustrated by the type of black and white line drawings that those of us of a certain age will forever associate with school texts, it might be better to let the poems speak for themselves. As they most certainly do.

A new selection from the work of one of the most frequently-requested Scottish poets would also be very welcome – not Burns – W.D. Cocker. Though best known for his much-recited humorous pieces and pictures of Scottish farm life, he handles descriptions of the enduring human condition with a deft touch, and his tales remain just this side of the couthy. One can’t say Cocker is due for a revival, since he has never gone away, but it would be good to get his poetry back into the bookshops and onto public library shelves, and to give his other work an airing – the retellings of stories from Scottish history, and,  not least, his First World War poetry.

Frank Kuppner on the titles he’d like to see back in print.

It would be distinctly excessive to suggest that I spend much time deep in contemplation, whether anguished or otherwise, about out-of-print poets, presumably dead, who might deserve to be republished – I seem to have enough problems of my own in that general area to keep myself occupied – and, for tedious technical reasons, your kind invitation to contribute to the Reprints & Revivals column did not reach me until shortly before the proposed deadline, so my initial impulse was merely to thank you for the friendly thought and let it go. However, it crossed my mind just in time that there might be a welcome opportunity here for me to offer a more or less off-the-cuff vote of thanks for a slim but often brilliant body of work which massively impressed and delighted me in my late teens; which pretty much since then has always seemed to me to be oddly under-appreciated; and which, if nothing else, brings back to me with great and touching keenness the feeling of exhilaration and energy and almost infinite potential-in-waiting of those now so alien years of irrational (not to say, insane) optimism – (pre-Internet, pre-PC, even pre-decimal coinage! was I really alive then?) – before mere sardonic reality began to do its usual grind-you-down stuff with (to not quote Hopkins) the brakes, glue, contrary winds, indifference and nail-file.

Indeed, some of it may even be technically still in print. Certainly I remember that, quite a good while ago now, Polygon published a Selected Poems of D.M. Black, and that this happened after I had more than once expressed my enthusiasm for the man’s work (how crucially I can no longer recall, if I ever quite knew) to Polygon’s then leading-light, Peter Kravitz. Indeed, such was my enthusiasm for the early publications (The Educators, The Old Hag and, perhaps most of all, With Decorum – before the poet took a sort of formal expression, Eastern Religion turn which rather threw me off his track) that I suggested he should announce a multi- volume, chronologically arranged edition of the Collected Poems and at all costs publish Volume One. Not that there wasn’t more to Black’s oeuvre – (long narratives like Notes for Joachim, for instance; and did I just imagine something called Parsifal?) – but I felt that all this early material should be back in print immediately, en bloc, as a matter of some urgency. It reached so many uncanny, difficult-to-access places that were well worth getting to, by means of a technique of dazzling flair and apparently effortless, almost ridiculous panache which reminded me of no-one else. And – though, I suppose, this may only be ignorance and dubious judgement talking – such is still pretty much the case.

Frank Kuppner was born in Glasgow in 1951 and has lived there ever since. He has been Writer in Residence at various institutions. His latest book is Arioflotga (Carcanet, 2008). This piece first appeared in our Poetry Reader, issue 5.