Contemporary Scottish Poetry

By Matt McGuire; Colin Nicholson | Go to book overview
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A Democracy of Voices

Kirsten Matthews

This chapter offers a thematic survey of a number of poets whose work sits awkwardly alongside narrow or prescriptive expectations about what Scottish poets are and what they choose to write about. We begin with the work of Ron Butlin (1949–), Roddy Lumsden (1966–), Maud Sulter (1960–2008) and Elizabeth Burns (1957–), focusing on their interest in personal identity over more familiar designations of class, gender and ethnicity. Through the work of Tom Pow (1950–), Valerie Gillies (1948–) and Brian McCabe (1951–) we examine the way in which the local and familiar is rendered exotic by poetic imagination. The final section of this essay will introduce another much understudied area of Scottish writing and translation, and in doing so will consider the work of Donny O'Rourke (1959–), David Kinloch (1959–) and Alan Riach (1957–).

Over half of these writers have been affiliated, as academics, creative writing tutors or writers in residence, either to universities or to Scottish regional or city councils: Ron Butlin was Writer in Residence at both the Universities of Edinburgh and St Andrews; Tom Pow is a senior lecturer in Creative Writing at Glasgow University's Crichton Campus; David Kinloch teaches Creative Writing at the University of Strathclyde; Alan Riach is Professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University; and Brian McCabe is Writer in Residence at Edinburgh University. In many cases institutional support remains vital to the sustainability of contemporary Scottish poetry. Despite their affiliation within educational institutions of Scotland, this study concentrates on the way in which these writers deliberately eschew preoccupation with the national question in their poetry. The fact that they look to transcend national boundaries, to speak to a global audience, could be read as a crucial component of any successful work of art. This chapter examines their conscious efforts to expand the existing debate and to reset the parameters for the analysis and interpretation of contemporary Scottish poetry.

In Modern Scottish Poetry (2004), Christopher Whyte comments: ‘[T]he national is not the only, or necessarily the primary totality, within which the lives of individuals, real or fictive, can be placed, in order to be endowed


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