Contemporary Scottish Poetry

By Matt McGuire; Colin Nicholson | Go to book overview
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Introduction Feeling Independent

Matt McGuire and Colin Nicholson

It is widely acknowledged that the late twentieth century was a dynamic, productive and innovative period in Scottish literary history. A flourishing of creative and scholarly endeavour, along with a rejuvenated Scottish publishing industry, radically transformed the cultural landscape north of the border. In The Scottish Novel since the Seventies (1993) and Scottish Theatre since the Seventies (1996), both edited by Randall Stevenson and Gavin Wallace, critics began to chart these energies and undercurrents, while simultaneously legitimising these decades as a distinct moment in the evolution of Scotland's literary output. On the stage the 1970s had witnessed the emergence of a deliberately self-conscious drama, where playwrights like Stewart Conn, Hector MacMillan, John McGrath, Ian Brown and Donald Campbell sought to interrogate the Scottish past and in doing so shed new light on the country's present predicament. If the 1980s saw the resuscitation of certain perennial themes questions of language, nation, community there is also a sense in which such preoccupations were subject to rigorous transgression and transcendence. Similarly, if the 1920s invoked a mythical Scotland, contemporary writing would debunk such notions by re-orientating itself within global fields of reference. In Kathleen Jamie's landmark poem ‘The Queen of Sheba’ it is an outsider, the eroticised female Other, who rides in from the East to pour scorn on small-town Scotland and its couthy prejudices. While Alasdair Gray's Lanark (1981) set a time bomb inside Scottish culture, it also belonged to wider developments within the novel, influenced by postmodernism and the French nouveau roman of the 1950s, whose practitioners include writers like Salman Rushdie (1947–), Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927–) and, earlier, Jorge Luis Borges (1899–1986). In a local context Gray's novel was symptomatic of broader movement within Scottish fiction, characterised by self-confidence and textual innovation in novelists as diverse as James Kelman (1946–), Iain Banks (1954–), Janice Galloway (1955–) and A. L. Kennedy (1965–). The 1990s would see commercial success build on this critical acclaim with best-selling writers like Irvine Welsh (1958–), Ian Rankin (1960–), Val McDermid (1964–), Louise Welsh (1965–), and


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Contemporary Scottish Poetry


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