An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets

An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets

An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets

An Anthology of Scottish Women Poets


More than one hundred poets are brought together in this unique anthology, encompassing work from the Middle Ages to the present day in Gaelic, Scots and English. The introduction provides the background and context to the different traditions in Scotland including the oral/ballad, Gaelic bardic and modern tradition and attempts to identify recurrent themes.


That was my mother's tale.
Seventy years had gone
Since she saw the living skein
Of which the world is woven,
And having seen, knew all;
Through long indifferent years
Treasuring the priceless pearl.

Kathleen Raine from 'Heirloom'

After many years of neglect, and sometimes outright derision, writing by women has begun to find its permanent place on the cultural map. There is now available more work by women writers -- past and present-day -- than ever before. Novels, poems, journals and diaries have not only given great reading pleasure, but also have opened to women a new consciousness of their place in the world. the recovery of the past has played a significant part in this process, for these tales of our mothers, these spiritual heirlooms, give us a sense of a positive formative influence. These works contain the trials and triumphs of women's experience and lead us to understand that women's drive to control their lives is not some kind of modern cultural aberration, but a long and continuing desire for self-determination.

In the recovery of women's writing, the novel (for obvious reasons) has played a more important part than poetry. Yet, as I believe this anthology will show, it is in poetry that we find the most sustained tradition of women's writing. the work presented here, while rooted in a distinct geographical location, records an enormous range of poetry by women -- ballads, working songs, political verse, love songs, satire, historical narratives, and much more. Dating back to at least the eighth century, this work crosses the boundaries of class, place and time to form an extraordinary continuum. in fact, this anthology presents the most sustained literary performance by women yet recorded.

The scope and range of this poetry is, by any standards, impressive. But the question of how best to present this work is a vexed one. As most historians of women's literature have recognised, works by women do not fit neatly into traditional perceptions of the growth and development of literature. the real characteristics of women's literature are only now beginning to be discovered and, with so much historical reclamation to be done, it is likely to be some time before any coherent theories emerge.

The problem then is one of arrangement. Presenting the poems in terms of subject matter was not the solution because such an arrangement did not do justice to distinctive groups within the broader national picture. Natural divisions, however, did suggest themselves.

The most obvious division was linguistic. While Scotland has several linguistic traditions, Gaelic presents itself as a distinct entity. Further-

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