I love poetry, and I’ve always loved poetry. My unerdgraduate dissertation was on the work of the franco-scottish poet Kenneth White, whom I researched, met, spent lots of time with and grew to deeply appreciate. We always celebrate Burns’ night in our house; usually with a fairly raucous Burns’ supper – with a twist. Because a few of our friends are English we widen the poetry scope for the evening and everyone brings their favourite poem, and shares it. I have ofter relied on Lochead, Morgan, MacCaig and Douglas Dunn for these evenings. Mostly Morgan ( The Apple Song is one of my favourites – good for these sort of nights!) sometimes Brian Patten and McGough, but among all of these , MacCaig stands like a giant for me. His subtlety and elegance and the way he distills language and thought to perfect formed droplets of beauty, shining like smiles, just totally enchants me.
I met him a couple of time as a student, working in a bookshop, and I wish I’d known then just how lucky I was. He was one the most utterly modest, charming, affable, humble, respectful, entertaining and all round lovely chaps – I wish Burns had been a bit more like him, not that I knew Burns of course.But I do wonder – you write one funny poem about some staple food of the day and you become a world-wide star. You get celebrated year on year across the globe. Australians organise social clubs to remember and honour you. But do the poems measure up to the mighty MacCaig? We talk about Burns’ humanity; A Man’s A Man for A’ That rings out with spirited, generous, brotherly compassion, but did he have as much respect for his own wife?( ooh controversial? maybe!). Compare to MacCaig: a quiet man; a kindly gentle person, respectful and appreciative of the world he inhabited and the people in it. Our friends knew little of MacCaig when they first started coming to our Burns nights, but slowly and surely they too have been captured by his quiet and subtle charm. Some of us on twitter have been talking about a MacCaig evening – let’s celebrate MacCaig – it’s the least he deserves! Let me share with you one of my favourites by him, written in honour of another giant of our shores – Hugh MacDiarmid ( I share a birthday with him and named my son after him – Diarmid).
After his death
It turned out/that the bombs he had thrown/raised buildings:
that the acid he had sprayed/had painfully opened/they eyes of the blind
Fishermen hauled/prizewinning fish/from the waters he had polluted
We sat with astonishment/enjoying the shade/of the victorious words he had planted.
The government decreed that/on the anniversary of his birth/the people should observe/two minutes pandemonium.