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Collected Poems by Carol Ann Duffy

Picador, 2015, 583 p, including indexes of titles and first lines.

Duffy’s Selected Poems was one of the Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read. I’m counting this compendium of 10 of her books of poetry as a reasonable substitute. Looking at that Scotsman list I see I have now read five more on it than when I made the original post.

 Collected Poems cover

The book contains poems from nine of Duffy’s previous collections, Standing Female Nude, Selling Manhattan, The Other Country, Mean Time, The World’s Wife, Feminine Gospels, Rapture, The Bees, Ritual Lightning, plus her, as the blurb has it, “much-loved”, Christmas Poems.

Standing Female Nude I have already read. As for the rest:-
From Selling Manhattan we have the embedded metaphor of a poem written as if by a ventriloquist’s dummy, revelation of the stories that roil beneath the surface in a Model Village, Absolutely deploys an impolite word to great effect, Yes, Officer conveys the plight of an accused person, Politico references Glasgow’s coat of arms to deplore the betrayal that was the city’s industrial decline, Mouth, With Soap the purposelessness, in the grand scheme of things, of minding your language, Correspondents and Telegrams relate love affairs carried on through different communication media, and for personal reasons I loved the Jane Avril Dancing fragment of Three Paintings.
In The Other Country, Originally reflects on the experience of losing a part of your identity when as a child your family moves elsewhere while Too Bad seems to be about a hitman. Poet For Our Times rather wonderfully rhymes poet with show it and Serbo-Croat.
In Mean Time, the poem Litany expresses the enduring memory of the shame of speaking outside the bounds of politeness. Stafford Afternoons the lack of surprise in encountering a flasher. Prayer evokes the lyricism of the names from the shipping forecast.
The poems from The World’s Wife are brilliant reimaginings of myths, fairy tales and figures from history from the female viewpoint. Mrs Darwin, Frau Freud, Mrs Sisyphus and Mrs Icarus are particularly biting.
Feminine Gospels contains what its title suggests. Beautiful is about famous women throughout history, and how they were treated. The longest poem, The Laughter of Stafford Girls’ High, might as well be a short story.
Rapture’s poems are mostly about love; fine on an individual basis but faced collectively begin to merge into one another. However, the sentiment “Falling in love is glamorous hell” seems about right and “When did your name change from a proper noun into a charm?” captures that ecstatic first flush perfectly.
While some of the poems in The Bees do concentrate on or refer to that insect many do not. Three – LastPost, New Vows and Premonitions – reflect on the possible consolations the reversal of time could bring. The first of those and The Passing Bells derive inspiration from the work of Wilfred Owen. Big Ask examines the evasions those in power practice to avoid embarrassment.
Ritual Lightning must have been a very small volume when it was published on its own, with only 17 or so poems. Liverpool is a reflection on the Hillsborough tragedy, Birmingham demonstrates that extreme Islamophobia is no newcomer to these shores, White Cliffs’s “something fair and strong implied in chalk/what we might wish ourselves” shows up the distance between actuality and sense of self, Pathway is a remembrance of the poet’s father, while The Crown’s last three words, “not lightly worn,” are more a modern day desideratum than a historical truism.
The “much-loved” Christmas poems turn out to be five in number. The 11 page long Mrs Scrooge is of course inspired by A Christmas Carol and reworks that in a reversal. The always joy-dispensing Mrs Scrooge has outlived her husband but still encounters the three ghosts. It derives much of its impact from a pun. The Christmas Truce is a pretty much unadorned celebration of that peaceful interlude in The Great War’s first winter, Wenceslas encourages the charitable impulse, Bethlehem imagines the scene at that first Christmas, Dorothy Wordsworth’s Christmas Birthday does the same for 1799.

Pedant’s corner:- hung (hanged, x3,) Orpheus’ (Orpheus’s,) Goldilocks’ (Goldilocks’s,) span (spun,) “iCallaos! iCallaos! iCallaos! iQuedense!” (those “i”‘s in front of Callaos and Quedense should be upside down exclamation marks,) lay down (laid down,) lay (laid,) homeopathy (homoeopathy,) Señora Devizes’ (Devizes’s,) mistress’ (mistress’s,) leucippotomists (I have no idea what this means,) reindeers, x2 (the plural of reindeer is reindeer.) Colly-Flowre (a deliberate archaism no doubt.)

Standing Female Nude by Carol Ann Duffy

Picador, 2016, 67 p.

Standing Female Nude cover

A reprint of what is stated to be Poet Laureate Duffy’s first collection but both Wiki and Fantastic Fiction have it otherwise. The slim volume contains 49 poems. A few are only 7 or 8 lines long, most are of longer length, some are sonnets and employ that most passé of poetic devices, rhyme. Much of Duffy’s verse here tells stories. Several deal with unsympathetic husbands.

This is a strong assortment of poems with the most memorable including Lizzie, Six which seems to be about child abuse, while Ash Wednesday, 1984 employs rhyme to emphatic effect in imploring parents not to subject their children to religion, Jealous as Hell uses unusual stripped-down syntax and grammar to help make its point, Terza Rima SW19 varies from classic terza rima rhyming but does so to good effect, Where We Came In is a modern take on La Ronde with divorcees meeting up complete with new spouses, Free Will dwells on the lingering effects of an abortion, A Clear Note’s three sections tell a story of three generations of women. The title poem examines the distance between an artist and his sitter, What Price? is about The Hitler Diaries and those who thought to make money from them, Borrowed Memory the reality of incidents in novels to some people’s sense of themselves, while Shooting Stars is a plea not to forget atrocities.

The Overhaul by Kathleen Jamie

Picador, 2012, 59 p

 The Overhaul cover

Winner of the 2012 Costa Poetry Award, shortlisted for the 2012 T S Eliot Prize.

35 poems, most one pagers, one six pages, the rest two. 2 are eftir Hölderlin (as is one in Jamie’s later collection The Bonniest Companie). Hölderlin seems to be one of her favourite models. Most poems here are in English with the odd Scots word but some are entirely Scots. Nature, or those working in the outdoors, is an inspiration for many and there is an abiding seriousness to her poems, though she is not beyond essaying a pun for a last line. An odd quirk was that some poems had missing full stops at their conclusion, as if they’re unfinished. Understandable enough for those two entitled Fragment 1 and Fragment 2.

I most enjoyed Excavation and Recovery with its evocation of deep time partly because I have seen (in Perth and Abernethy Museums respectively) the log boat whose archaeological recovery it partly describes and a depiction of the dig process.

The Bonniest Companie by Kathleen Jamie

Picador, 2015, 70 p including 1p Notes and Acknowledgements.

The Bonniest Companie cover

This, Jamie’s latest book of poetry, won the Saltire Society Book of the Year Award for 2016.

There are 47 poems here of which only two stretch over 1 page in length. Most take the form, if not the formal structure, of a sonnet, though Soledades has eight lines of what look like prose before opening out in its last three lines. Some are very short indeed. The last, Gale, has only 16 syllables, shorter than a haiku. The longest, Another You, bears out the potency of cheap music, the titular deer in The Hinds are “the bonniest companie”. Ben Lomond refers to the bonny banks in a poem which, like the song containing those lines, is about death and remembrance. 23/9/14 is an injunction to gird up again after the Scottish Independence Referendum. High Water compares ocean tides to an adulterous affair, Scotland’s Splendour scopes out the delights of memories from a book stumbled on in a charity shop, Wings Over Scotland is a litany of the recorded deaths of birds of prey on various landed estates, taken – verbatim it would seem – from the original reports.

The language Jamie uses goes from standard English to various degrees of Scots depending on the poem. Migratory II, (eftir Hölderlin) is the most uncompromisingly Scottish. The prevalence of poems about animals or landscape places Jamie’s poetry firmly within the tradition of Scottish literature.

Pedant’s corner:- midgies (I know Scottish spelling is a moveable feast but midges, please,) “one less left” (“one fewer” sounds more natural to me.)

Hal Duncan Takes Flyte

You may remember me mentioning in my review of Kurt Wittig’s The Scottish Tradition in Literature the practice in mediæval Scots poetry of flyting, defined in the Dictionary of the Scots Language as “the action of quarrelling, scolding, or employing abusive language.”

I have come across a magnificent modern example of the form written in up to date Scots by Hal Duncan in response to a poem inspired by the US Presidential inauguration last month by one Joseph Charles MacKenzie (of The Society of Classical Poets, no less) and subsequently published in the Scotsman.

That poem itself requires some comment.

Line 4: “To snatch from a tyrant his ill-gotten power.”
Snatch? It was an election conducted under rules.
A tyrant? The man who was elected under those self-same rules and who conformed to the requirement to relinquish his post after his allotted time? And who walked away with grace? Hardly the actions of a tyrant.

Line 7: “When freedom is threatened by slavery’s chains”
Slavery? As far as I’m aware only black people in the US have ever been subjected to slavery. But of course, the “tyrant” is a black man so he “must” have introduced slavery in reverse. Is that the logic?

Line 8: “And voices are silenced as misery reigns”
Silenced? I don’t recall the Tea Party being less than vocal in their opposition, nor lacking in publicity for it.

Line 9: “We’ll come out for a leader whose courage is true”
Courage? The courage to insult and degrade? I note here his several bankruptcies leaving others to suffer the financial loss he thereby avoided.

Line 10: “Whose virtues are solid and long overdue”
Virtues? Virtues? Blustering, bullying, braggartry? (And that’s only words beginning with b.)

Line 15: “As self-righteous rogues took the opulent office”
This would be that “tyrant” again I suppose.

Line 20: “Ne’er gaining from that which his hands did not make”
His hands never made a single thing in his life.

Line 22: “He’s enriched many cities by factors of ten”
Tell that to Atlantic City.

Lines 25, 26, 27, 28 “True friend of the migrant from both far and near/He welcomes the worthy, but guards our frontier/Lest a murderous horde, for whom hell is the norm/Should threaten our lives and our nation deform”
His actions have done the exact opposite of what these lines claim. He has only reinforced the notion that the US (and hence its allies) are against Islam, thereby only fanning the flames he claims he is trying to douse. Horde is a wildly hyperbolic exaggeration and the lives of US citizens are many times more threatened from those disturbed people who walk into schools armed with automatic weapons than by terrorists from abroad.

I could go on but I’m getting fed up with the quantity of sheer guff in this so-called poem from a so-called poet. Lickspittle is far too mild a term for the sycophancy on display here.

So take a look at Hal Duncan’s flyting riposte; far more eloquent than mine.

The Scotsman’s 20 Scottish Books Everyone Should Read

This is a list which was published in 2005.

Again those in bold I have read. 11 out of the 20. Most of the rest are on my “to be read” list for this year.

Driftnet by Lin Anderson
Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon
The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark*
Knots and Crosses by Ian Rankin*
Buddha Da by Anne Donovan*
Whisky Galore by Compton Mackenzie*

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith
Boswell’s Edinburgh Journals
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Selected Poems of Carol Ann Duffy
Greenvoe by George Mackay Brown*
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
Lanark by Alasdair Gray*

The Missing by Andrew O’Hagan
New Selected Poems by Edwin Morgan
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks*
Young Adam by Alexander Trocchi*

Waverley by Sir Walter Scott
The Cone-Gatherers by Robin Jenkins*
Divided City by Theresa Breslin

Again we find Sunset Song and Trainspotting; the two constants in such lists.

Saltire Society Book of the Year 2016

This year’s award winner is for poetry. Kathleen Jamie’s The Bonniest Companie.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis by Wendy Cope

faber and faber, 1997, 59 p.

Making Cocoa for Kingsley Amis cover

This exceedingly slim volume – 59 pages, some of which are blank – exhibits the problem with poetry as a profession in the modern age. How can anyone possibly make a living at it?

Cope’s forte seems to be satire. Many of the poems here have that intent. In the opener, Engineers’ Corner, she laments the poet’s lot of worldly success in contrast to that of the downtrodden engineer, even if the latter doesn’t get memorials in Westminster Abbey. She also rewrites nursery rhymes in the styles of poets such as Wordsworth or Eliot and frequently inhabits the persona of one Jason Strugnell, a slightly unreconstructed figure from whose viewpoint many of the poems herein are written.

A flavour of her style is given by the first verse of Rondeau Redoublé
“There are so many kinds of awful men-/One can’t avoid them all. She often said/She’d never make the same mistake again:/She always made a new mistake instead.”

On the evidence of this collection Cope presents a fondness for iambic pentameter, and rhyme. The book’s overall title is also that of the final poem and sounds like a euphemism but the poem itself is a throwaway, apparently arising from a dream, and shows the danger of rhyme, as without care its results can tend to the McGonagallesque.

Pedant’s corner:- whiskey (whisky, unless you’re Irish,) primeval (I prefer primaeval.)

The Birks of Aberfeldy

The Birks (birches) of Aberfeldy is a local beauty spot lying just outside that Perthsire town encompassing the Falls of Moness.

They inspired Scotland’s national bard, Robert Burns, to write a poem/song called The Birks of Aberfeldy.

We dondered up there in February. The path is steep in places and there was snow and ice lying at the time.

The Falls of Moness:-

The Falls of Moness, Birks of Aberfeldy

The Falls of Moness, Birks of Aberfeldy 2

A statue of a seated Burns has been situated at the spot where he is supposed to have derived inspiration. I doubt it’s much of a likeness:-

The Birks of Aberfeldy, Robert Burns Statue

And this is said view:-

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

More falls:-

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

The Birks  of Aberfeldy

Fiere by Jackie Kay

Picador, 2011, 76 p.

 Fiere cover

I borrowed this from a doomed library the day before Kay was announced as Scotland’s latest Makar.

Once again it shows that poetry – or modern poetry – is not my thing. The poems herein are interesting enough but none of them really grabbed me. Some of them deal with Kay’s visit to Nigeria (from where her birth father originated; her mother was Scottish and she was adopted by a Scottish couple.) In Nigeria she discovers she is regarded as a white woman. The reference to, and quotes from, MacDiarmid in “from A Drunk Woman Looks at her Nipple” (that titling suggests an extract but it doesn’t seem to be) were diverting though.

Pedant’s corner:- In Road to Amaudo (the village of peace in Igbo) the word is spelled like that twice before Amadou is used, again twice, later on. It is possible that Amadou is a different place, as on its second appearance it is followed by “the road to my heart”.

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