It’s about 15 years since a Scottish poet won an Eric Gregory Award (not including Frances Leviston who left Scotland at the age of 9) – awards made to poets under 30 who show particular promise. Before anyone assumes this is due to southern prejudice, Scottish poets won the award regularly in the years beforehand. The question of why so few young poets of talent have emerged in the past while shouldn’t be talked away. I’m told by one Scottish-based publisher that most of the strongest submissions are coming from outside Scotland. Major UK publishers seem to be queuing up to publish collection debuts by poets under 30 (some, I think, have rushed into it a few years too early, but that’s another matter), but none of the poets are Scottish. Major Scottish publisher, Polygon, has started to publish poetry again. Its first book was by Sam Meekings, a young English poet. Its second will be by an English woman, albeit one currently based in Scotland.
It could be that these things come in waves and that the Gregory Award recipients from the seventies, eighties and early nineties represented a peculiarly talented generation of Scottish poets who fed off one another. A few young women in their late teens and twenties are currently emerging who show promise and it’s vital that such promise is nurtured. Where the young Scottish male poets are is another matter! Perhaps it’s also worth asking where a new generation of poetry readers is likely to come from.
The emergence in Glasgow in the last couple of years of movements such as St Mungo’s Mirrorball and Vital Synz (their website seems to have disappeared), who offer mentorships and high-level workshops with skilled poets and editors, as well as programmes of live readings, might eventually lead to new, young poets breaking through. I don’t see anything on the same level happening in any other city or town. A few years ago, almost nothing was happening in Glasgow, but it’s now at the centre of things. Edinburgh’s complacency may well be its downfall.
This is the first post in an occasional series. I’ll take a look at
other aspects of the Scottish poetry scene every so often over the next few months.