Sunday, March 15, 2009

Third Wish Missing

I mentioned Roddy Lumsden’s Third Wish Wasted collection the other day, mainly to do with the cover, and since then I’ve read the first 20 pages or so. I’ve really being enjoying it so far. I also read this profile of Roddy in the Scotsman newspaper, of which more soon (particularly on the “However, Lumsden is concerned at the dearth of emerging Scottish poets…” bit!).

Today I had planned to read more of the book, but…it’s gone, disappeared. I can’t find it anywhere. I had been reading it in a café on Saturday, but I’m sure I didn’t leave it there. Could it have fallen out my bag without me knowing? Could my daughter have taken it to read to her dolls (a game of hers) and then hidden it in her room somewhere? Could I have absent-mindedly shoved it into the bread-bin? I hope it turns up soon.

I can't complain too much. At a charity shop I picked up Frank O'Hara's Selected Poems for £1.50 and Robert Lowell's Life Studies - a first printing, 1959 American edition, for 99p.

Anyway, I now move to the next book on my list – DA Powell’s ‘Chronic’ and Colin Donati’s 2002 pamphlet ‘Rock is Water’ – his new stuff, by the way, is terrific, if his reading at the Great Grog last week is anything to go by.


Roddy said...

Hope you find the book, Rob!

I wish they'd made it clearer in that article that I'm talking about under 30s and with regard to the 'young poets' event at StAnza in those quotes. Hope you realise this.

Rob said...

Yes, the article isn't at all clear on that, so thanks for the clarification, Roddy.

I had thought of posting a list of strong, 'emerging' Scottish poets to illustrate how things are moving up a gear here - it is true that all the names on that list are over 30 (some not by much).

However, there are poets under 30, such as Julia Rampen, Claire Askew and (possibly) a few others, who are very good, promising writers in their early twenties, so I'm more hopeful about the future of Scottish poetry than I was even a few months ago.

Roddy said...

Claire isn't Scottish though. And Julia and Alice H are not even 20 yet. What I'm more baffled by is the lack of established poets who were born in the 70s and early 80s. I'm sure there are younger poets emerging - but who are they - I've asked lots of people in the Scottish literary / education worlds and very few names emerge - and these poets are not sending their MSs out or winning Gregory awards.

There are only 6 Scottish poets in Identity Parade (Manson, Jackson, Price, Herd, Clanchy and Davidson - another four live there) which picks from those who debuted since 94.

When Dream State was being put together, DO'R was selecting from poets mostly under 40 and managed to fill a chunky anthology with them.

I wonder how many Scottish poets of note under 40 we could name between us? Andy Philip, Cheryl Follon, er, your turn...

Andrew Philip said...

Yes, thanks for clarifying, Roddy -- not to mention the mention.

You're not the only person to feel the dearth: Bill Herbert explores it briefly in the endorsement he did for The Ambulance Box (which you can read in full at the link) and Donny O'R alluded to it when he spoke to Rob and me at Mirrorball. Heck, I've felt it over the past decade, when I think about it. And thinking about my time at Edinburgh uni, as you'll remember, there were precious few other Scots involved in student poetry and none I come across now in the poetry world.

Still, I agree with Rob that there are signs of hope among the poets in their 20s. There are some promising signs in schools too. For instance, I believe Gillespies, where former Shore Poet Allan Crosbie teaches English, had a clutch of Foyle winners this year.

Perhaps what we need(ed) is more good poets teaching, not in the academic creative writing courses, but in open access, informal or evening class-style courses. More of what you do in London (move back here!) and what Andy Jackson has been doing through Mirrorball.

There's no Poetry School up here. Looks like the furthest north they've got is Newcastle. Try searching their courses on "Scotland" (which is an option) and you get: "No courses match your search criteria. Try searching again with fewer stipulations." I suppose that's less of an issue now with internet courses becoming available, but maybe we just need to get on and do something about it. What and how I'm not sure.

rosswilson said...

Rob, where ARE these cheap charity shops in Edinburgh? I always end up in expensive second hand book shops that look fantastic but . . . put it this way, last year I picked up R.S. Thomas's Selected Poems for £2 (a bargain, I thought, until I realised it was an Everyman's Poetry edition and, yup, it had £1 on the back!)

Well, I aint from Edin burg . . .

I suggest you tell the SPL to build an extension before the launch of your next book by the way! I enjoyed the readings.

Roddy, I happened to read the Scotsman article yesterday. That Gregory award thing: frustrating for me as I turned thirty before I knew what the hell it was! (not that I would have been ready for it anyway, but still, my teeth are clenched!)A good excuse for not winning it? Hee hee . . . I hope to wash a pie doon wi a pint at Stanza next week.

Bill Herbert said...

Here's where I first started scratching my head about it on the Poetry International website:

Mind you, they had enough of a job distinguishing 'Scottish' from 'British' -- the Poetry Society asked me to pick poets for the former, only to have John Burnside chosen by another editor for the latter category. I wasn't asked to continue -- presumably it was felt a Team UK approach was sufficient.

Andrew Philip said...

Roddy said: "I wonder how many Scottish poets of note under 40 we could name between us? Andy Philip, Cheryl Follon, er, your turn..."

We mustn't forget James W Wood. In fact, James and I were discussing the presence/absence of new Scottish poets on Friday.

Andrew Philip said...

Interesting link, Bill. I'll add it to the comments on my post anent the matter (which is largely my first comment here with a couple of minor additions).

Anonymous said...

I'm glad so many agree it's a topic worthy of discussion - and that you manage along to the Poetry Breakfast event on Friday to hear more.

Rob said...

Scottish poets of note under 40? - well, I'd add Christie Williamson to the list - he is an excellent writer, in both Shetlandic and English, and his translations of Lorca into Shetlandic seem outstanding. That said, I take your point, Roddy. I can't think of any more who haven't already been mentioned - perhaps one or two will occur to me. It is strange that so few names come to mind.

There are several writers over 40 who might be described as 'emerging', especially in a UK context. The recent stuff that Colin Donati and Paula Jennings have been writing is superb. I was taken aback by some of the unpublished poems they read last week at the GG.

I think we can claim Claire Askew, as she has lived in Scotland since she was 9. I was sent a few poems by a young guy in his early twenties a few weeks ago and was surprised at how good they were. Not Eric Gregory winning, but the potential is there. I'd never heard of him. Whether he is Scottish, I don't know yet. I get the feeling that there are other good young writers around but they may not be at the stage of sending out manuscripts yet.

Andy, there are several ideas on how best to develop Scottish poetic talent. Your ideas sound like a good way to go. Who would do the teaching? (I don't expect you to answer that question on a public blog, of course, but the teacher is key).

Ross, it was a charity shop in Gorgie. The fiction was often £2-£3 but, for some reason, the poetry was really cheap.

Bill, thanks for the link. It's a good summary of where things are and how we got here.

Rob said...

Eleanor, I hope people get to the Poetry Breakfast too and I'll look forward to hearing all about it. Unfortunately, I can't get to StAnza until the Friday evening - frustrating!

Anonymous said...

We have plenty of young Scottish poets. There is far more scope for them in Scotland these days without their having to go to London, or submit to English publishers or magazines. Result: someone living and working in London won't notice them.

They are here, at the readings, in the slams, in Glasgow, in Edinburgh, in Stirling & in Aberdeen, and in Scotish magazines. Of the names you have been mentioning, who have not been included in these compilations, Christie Williamson proved himself equal to a major reading in Glasgow this week. He's from Shetland. Of those who were mentioned, I agree Claire Askew is outstanding. But we don't know them all yet - some I know are doing Creative Writing degrees & unwilling to jump yet to publication.
I also feel very uncomfortable with this 'Oh well Jan doesnt count as a Scot she moved in' line of argument..

I would hope that the young people's real wish is to write good poetry, rather than rise in these artificial hustings. There's no rush for a good poet to emerge.

I hope you have a nice poetry breakfast on this, those of you who go.

Sally E

roddy said...

Sally - I know there are lots of poets everywhere - I currently have around 100 poetry students at various institutions.

You say there are plenty of young Scottish poets - but you've not published any yourself recently, have you, eh?

Maybe 'someone living and working in London won't notice them' but I hope you don't mean that someone might be me - because I know my stuff and have my contacts.

As for 'who is a Scot' and all that - well no one cares less for that dread business than myself. But I can't publish Tim Turnbull or Kona Macphee and say they are Scottish.

Let's cut to the chase though (and the subject of this blog) - who do you think are the best Scottish poets born since 1970?

Anonymous said...

Of course it's great for the vibrancy of Scottish poetry that poets choose to make their home here and become "Scottish poets", but surely we want to be satisfied that there are also today, as there certainly were a decade and a half ago, plenty of talented younger poets who are products of a Scottish upbringing - whatever that implies, education, cultural expectations, etc. - becoming and developing as writers. Otherwise we have to wonder what's changed for the worse.
No-one's denying there are some talented "younger" poets, but as many as there were 15 years ago?
Someone who works in the school careers service told me recently that she finds Scottish pupils and Scottish parents these days particularly (as compared for example to those in England) focused on "a good career", a nice salary.
Also, there's been a huge emphasis since the 80s on "lifelong learning", which means that people of all ages are much keener now in going along to classes etc. While in itself that's a good thing, I do wonder if it's a discouragement to younger would-be poets if they join a class and find most of the people "middle aged" (ie 30s and up) or older. My knowledge of creative writing "evening" classes over the last 15 years has been thus. I'm not criticising the classes, just suggesting that the demographics of them might be making implicit impressions on would be younger poets.

Colin Will said...

Looking at the question of where 'emerging poets' emerge from, I wonder if we've got fewer open mike venues now than we used to have? ISTR that was how a lot of younger poets came to the attention of a wider public. It's also true that the number of poetry mags published in Scotland is fewer than it was, but I'm not sure that would have made much difference. I don't think the majority of poetry mags in the old days (however you define that) published much by younger writers anyway.

Colin Will said...

Forgive the afterthought, but I've also noticed that the majority of writing groups I'm familiar with have a predominantly middle aged membership. There's an invisible generation, it seems to me.

Rob said...

Sally, I agree the Scottish ‘scene’ seems more lively now than it was a few years ago (although Colin’s comments on middle-aged writing groups and a lack of open mics gives me pause for thought). And there are some very good small presses and chapbook presses. However, the absence of a major Scottish poetry press, with good distribution, is a significant gap. There’s only Polygon, which will publish one new collection a year (and have yet to publish a Scottish poet – that’s no criticism of Polygon, by the way, it simply asks questions of current Scottish poetry). We have no equivalent to Seren (Wales) or Gallery (Ireland).

I agree fully when you say, “I would hope that the young people's real wish is to write good poetry, rather than rise in these artificial hustings. There's no rush for a good poet to emerge.” In fact, I’d delete the word “young” from that sentence.

On ‘Scottishness’: I’d say, purely for the purpose of this discussion (and only for this), it’s best to see Jen H as not Scottish. This discussion is about the production of poets and how Scotland has produced very good poets at times, and not at other times. I don’t think Scotland can take much credit for producing Jen, as she’s lived in Scotland only for 2-3 years and ‘formed herself’ as a poet elsewhere, even if Scotland (Shetland, really) is important to some of her poems. She was a 'Shetland poet' for the event in Glasgow last week, which seems right to me, but not for a discussion on the emergence of Scottish poets. However, Claire A, born in England, has largely formed as a poet in Scotland, so I think it’s fair to regard her as Scottish. I agree with Eleanor. We’re looking in this discussion at “younger poets who are products of a Scottish upbringing - whatever that implies, education, cultural expectations, etc. - becoming and developing as writers.”

There are so many fine poets from elsewhere living in Scotland – well known names like e.g. Kei Miller, Alan Gillis, Kapka Kassabova, Tim Turnbull, Michael Schmidt, Jane McKie, Vicki Feaver, Kona MacPhee – and very good poets who may well emerge with a first collection within the next few years like the American writers, Ryan Van Winkle and Elizabeth Gold – but Scotland can’t take credit for their poetic talent.

I think Roddy’s question about the best poets born in the 1970s is a good one – we’ve mentioned Andy Philip, Cheryl Follon, James W Wood and Christie Williamson. But what other Scottish writers from that generation are currently writing at or close to that standard? Patricia Ace maybe? There may be others in contention, but I can’t think of any off-hand. There may be people in the Creative Writing courses whose work I don't know.

Anonymous said...

Sally Evans replied:

Roddy, Yes, I have published young poets recently (including Claire Askew last time), e.g. Richie McCaffery, Meghan McAvoy, Claire Quigley, Hazel Frew, Leona Mitchie, and I published you yourself when you were a young poet. (I dont seem to have your current address on my subscription list.)
Having said this I agree it's important to look for young people and they dont always come forward. They also tend to disappear sometimes as you will know.
Sally E

Andrew Philip said...

That's not quite right, Rob: Jen's been in Scotland (and out of it) longer than that. Didn't she discover her poetry vocation whilst a student at Edinburgh? One "Jennifer Hadfield", a "Final year student", had a poem in Edinburgh: an intimate city in 2000. Her biog declares that "Edinburgh is her first romance." I think we can take at least some credit for her development as a poet, and there seems to me to be something Scottish about the sensibility of her writing. These things are rarely straightforward.

Anonymous said...

Sally Evans:
Rob, the absence of a major Scottish press should be laid at the door of the SAC, who demolished funding for one press after another as they tried to set themselves up in the 80's and 90's. Including Akros, Scottish Cultural Press, diehard, Black Ace, and anybody else who showed signs of flexing their muscles. If you wanted to be a publisher in Scotland you had to do exactly what you were told, which meant being a dummy publisher. Many personalities in publishing have gone for complete independence since. This may slow things down but it doesnt stop their usefulness.
Sally E

Claire A said...

"Claire isn't Scottish though."

Well, that's quite a dismissal! But I beg to differ. I may have been born in evil old England, but as Rob says I have been living here since I was 9 years old, in the border country that my ancestors (Armstrongs) basically "ran" for hundreds of years. I have two Scottish grandparents (Scottish by Roddy's yardstick -- ie, born in Scotland) and three of my great-grandparents were Scottish born. Unfortunately I lived in the Midlands between the age of 3 and 9, so I formed a pesky and rather strange English accent that refuses to disappear. As a result, I was subjected to bigotry and rubbish throughout all my time at school here, and I have only now begun to feel that I am "allowed" to call myself a Scot. And I am damn well going to! Sorry!

And seriously: it's important to make the difference between "Scottish" and "Scottish poet" I think. I may have been born in England and therefore "not Scottish," but I never put pen to paper until I'd lived in Scotland for quite a while. Agreed -- you can't claim Kapka or Tim Turnbull (sadly!), but people like myself, Charlotte Runcie (another fantastic young Scottish poet cursed with an English accent) and the like have grown up in the Scottish poetry scene. We don't know anything else. Please don't reject us! :)

PS: thank you to everyone for their kind words!

Rob said...

Andy, yes, you're right. I wasn't thinking straight, probably because there's too much to think about in this discussion!

Sally, thanks for that background on the Scottish publishing scene.

Claire A said...

As for promising young poets emerging in Scotland... I have already ranted on to Rob about Dave Coates. He's not Scottish (he's from Belfast originally, lived in England for a long time, and only just settled here), but he's sticking around for a while. You can see some of his stuff at

There's also Char Runcie who I already mentioned. And on the topic of "young" poets, I was mildly amused by the Manhattan Review's recent "Young" British Poets event, at which the mean age of the writers was around 37...

Anonymous said...

Sally Evans:

I wont reject you, Claire and Char. When I came here in 1979 not only was English accent embarrassing for a poet, being a woman was! Yucch, I'm glad those days have gone. (and I published a small poem by Jen H before 2000. Hell, I've published everybody.)

Sally E

Rob said...

"Hell, I've published everybody."

And we are grateful, Sally! Truly.

Rob said...

I don't know enough about people. I had thought that Char R had only been in Scotland for a year or two. But I guess I must have got that completely wrong.

She is an excellent young poet.

Claire A said...

Rob, as far as I know Char is originally from Edinburgh. This whole English accent thing is a serious pain in the neck!

Roddy said...

I've talked to Charlotte about this before - and intend to talk to her about this before the StAnza event - I'll be happy to add the word Scottish to her biog when I publish her first pamphlet this summer. I believe her family is English but she spent her childhood between Edinburgh and Herts (I think).

Clare - my apologies - I thought you came to Scotland for university. Mind you, my best friend has a Scots Mum and has lived in Scotland 34 years, since moving from Yorkshire aged 8 - but is vehemently 'English'.

I hope you or Char soon break our long Gregory drought. I hear there is also a very good young poet from Uist on the MA at St A - I hope to meet him this week.

I don't agree with Eleanor that poets who move to Scotland 'become Scottish poets' any more than Bill, Kate C, Richard P or myself are no longer Scottish poets. Part of the Scottish poetry world sure, but not Scottish.

Sally - I was meaning in book / chapbook form, not in PS (and I'm sure it's a funding issue and not disinterest). Vital as poetry mags and open mics are, this is about book publication, wide acclaim - see my stats below.

Roddy said...

Number of Scottish poets winning Gregory Awards since mid 90s: 0

Number who won in the previous 15 years: 15

Oddly enough, 15 in 30 years is statistically about right - but why they should all fall into the first half of that period is what we must discuss at StAnza? And should Scotland be producing statistically more poets of note because of the perceived heightened place of poetry in our cultures?

Number of Scottish poets under 40 published by:

Faber 0
Picador 0
Chatto 0
Cape 0
Bloodaxe 1
Carcanet 0
Anvil 0
Enitharmon 0
Salt 1
Seren 0
Polygon 0
Canongate 0

Number of Scottish poets 'of any note' who we can name between us who were born in the 1970s: 4 (two as yet unpublished in book form, one with a first collection just out, one who hasn't been writing much since first collection some years ago)

Rob said...

Thanks for these stats, Roddy. They are sobering, that's for sure. Although the "one who hasn't been writing much since first collection some years ago" has a new book scheduled for next year.

Also I'm not sure EL was really saying what you think she was saying - the inverted commas around "Scottish poets" in her post are probably significant.

I wonder if there's a political dimension to this. Poets born in the 70s would have had their entire schooling (and some would also have gone through university) during the Thatcher and Major governments, a time when an activity (like poetry) that didn't bring in 'loadsa money' would have been viewed as particularly useless - with accompanying psychological discouragement.

Anonymous said...

Rob: Yes, for our "Voices of Scotland" strand of readings, I'll consider any poet who lives here, or grew up here and then moved elsewhere. Which of course is not to deny that they might prefer to identify themselves otherwise.
And re the 80s, politics, etc., yes indeed. But why should that have had an effect here which it hasn't had in other countries in the UK? And I'll be interested to ask the poets coming to StAnza from New Zealand, Switzerland, Lithuania, Italy, Canada, the US and Germany for their take on this.
Thanks for hosting this interesting discussion. We're hoping to be able to have a podcast of some of Friday morning's event so those who can't manage along will maybe get a chance to hear it later.
Roddy: Thanks for the stats.
Everyone: Thanks for your comments and thoughts. All most provocative and interesting.

Andrew Philip said...

My suspicion is that there might be a political element, but not in the way that you describe, Rob. An activity like poetry could be seen as a resistance against Thatcherite attitudes. There was plenty resistance against those attitudes in Scotland -- and northern England -- so perhaps that fed into the flowering of poets who began writing and publishing seriously in that period. Now, as Bill has pointed out, we have devolution -- a very different political settlement. for day job reasons, I hesitate to pronounce on the influence of the successive Labour Administrations but would expand on that aspect in private. However, I'll say this: we all know how cynical everyone has become about politics, and cynicism is not a creative state of mind.

Andrew Philip said...

Eleanor, I look forward to that podcast.

Rachel Fox said...

Don't forget Sorlil (Marion McCready). Creeping up on the to watch etc.

If you don't mind taking a tip afromn old (well over 40) English person (resident in Scotland) whose writing standards are yet to be verified

Rachel Fox said...

And who obviously can't type or poofread.

Andrew Philip said...

Marion has some poems in the new issue of Horizon Review, incidentally.

Rob said...

Marion's writing has really gone well in the last couple of years. Not sure she has an entire full collection's (as opposed to a chapbook's) worth of strong poems yet, although I could be wrong.

But yes, good to see her in Horizon, and maybe someone will become interested in considering a pamphlet or more.

Claire A said...

Roddy -- I think there's something about Yorkshire. My boyfriend, who is originally from Wakefield and who has lived north of the border for several years, has promised he "will never be Scottish"!

Re: Eleanor's point... I think there ARE poets who move here and try very hard to become "Scottish poets." JL Williams, for example -- who is from the States originally -- has tried really hard to integrate into the scene. Whether that effort can ever be successful, I don't know.

And those statistics are very sobering. The calm before the storm, let's hope?