Contemporary Scottish Poetry

By Matt McGuire; Colin Nicholson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TWO
Scottish Women's Poetry since the 1970s

Fiona Wilson

We have been categorised. The gemme's a bogey. (Janet Paisley, ‘Poets
or What?’)1

When I was approached to write this chapter, my first impulse was to ask if it would appear with a companion piece on, say, ‘Scottish Men's Poetry since the 1970s’. For if ‘women poets’ may be considered to embody a special category among writers, surely the same may be said of ‘men poets’ too. After all, male writers – like female writers – live in sexed bodies; their dayto-day experience is shaped by the subtle (and not so subtle) promptings of gender. To ignore this reality is to treat masculinity as transparent and normative, a condition from which the Scottish woman who puts pen to paper can only be seen as somehow perversely deviating, marked as different whether she wishes to be so defined, or not. To accept the term ‘woman poet’, Tessa Ransford has argued, ‘is to accept a limitation, however well meant’; elsewhere, Christopher Whyte has stated that the use of the phrase in the Scottish context represents an ‘ungrateful label’, meaning not only that it ignores the long history of writing by Scottish women, but also that it lends itself all too easily to institutions looking to cordon off and contain writing by women poets.2 In this light, as we shall see, most of the poets discussed in this essay have, at some point, expressed discomfort with the idea of being classified as ‘woman poets’ – a discomfort further exacerbated by their widely divergent opinions as to the meaning of Scottishness.

I began with a problem then, a problem of terms, which was also, of course, a problem of language. How helpful was it really to group together the likes of Liz Lochhead (1947–), Carol Ann Duffy (1955–), Jackie Kay (1961–), Janet Paisley (1948–), Angela McSeveney (1964–), Dilys Rose (1954–), and Kate Clanchy (1965–) under the unified banner ‘Scottish Women Poets’? Might an essay like this reproduce the very problems identified by Ransford and Whyte? Might it shunt the writers named here off to a kind of literary annexe, where they would be condemned to talk exhaustively of ‘female’ topics, while the rest of the volume set off to that popular howff ‘The Poets’

-21-

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