A Poetry Conversation
Yesterday I went to Glasgow to hear Iain Anderson in conversation with Alan Riach and Norman Bissell about the poetry of Scotland.
This was a pretty good event even before it started because it gave me a chance to meet up with friends I met at the Atlantic Islands Festival on Luing last year, and there was some fantastic music by the Juniper trio, and poems by both speakers, but the conversation was also substantial, inspiring and thought-provoking.
It was nice to hear some very positive thoughts on the curriculum in Scottish schools – Scottish literature is alive and well and in safe hands if these educators are anything to go by, and there was a good deal of justified (in my opinion) optimism about the future generation of poets coming through. They drew attention to the riches of Scots and Gaelic available to writers in Scotland, and advocated that Gaelic should be in every primary school and nursery. Alan Riach made the sound suggestion that we should treat Gaelic as the New Zealanders treat Maori. Not everyone speaks it fluently, but everyone gets to experience the sounds and structures and concepts of the language as part of their personal and national identity.
Both speakers talked about the influence of place, landscape, communities, and language on poetry. They believe that the best art comes from the interaction between people and the world around them – “a heightened awareness of the things that are there that really matter, that you have to assent to” -such as landscape and weather, the facts of material life. This was given particular point by the fact that Alan Riach had recently broken an ankle falling on the ice, and he read a poem about it, referring to ‘the mercilessness we walk in’.They talked about Hugh Macdiarmid and Norman McCaig, Sorley Maclean and George Mackay Brown, but also musicians like Margaret Bennett, who was also taking part in Celtic Connections, and painters like William McTaggart Joan Eardley and William Gillies who shared this readiness to be regenerated and inspired by the geography.
It seems characteristic of Scottish culture that there should be this cross-fertilisation between disciplines. As they said at the end,”Closed compartments are only good for sinking ships. What we want is dialogue!”