Contemporary Poetry in Scots
To kill a language is to kill a people. (Pearse Hutchinson, ‘The Frost is
The following survey takes as its starting point the continentally-convulsive year 1989–90, a time of serious moves towards bringing ‘Europe’, culturally speaking, to Scotland. The Scottish Poetry Library invited poets from postCeau§escu Romania to read at the Edinburgh International Festival. Peter France and Duncan Glen had brought out their European Poetry in Scotland (1989), an anthology of translations made by Scottish poets. Many of these versions had appeared over the years in magazines; those in Scots had been scattered throughout issues of outlets sympathetic to the language, such as Akros, Chapman and Lallans. It was a revelation to view this material within one set of covers. A counterpart volume of European poetry translations into Gaelic, edited by Derick Thomson, was refused funding by Glasgow City of Culture 1990 on the grounds of its ‘irrelevance’ to the city; happily the volume came out anyway, under Thomson's Gairm imprint.
Glasgow's confused attitudes to Scottish language and literature were not limited to Gaelic. From its very title, Philip Hobsbaum's essay, ‘Speech Rather Than Lallans’, exemplified an orthodoxy of the 1990s and beyond, pitting spoken Glaswegian against ‘Lallans’, a register which is better designated as Scots language reintegrated from its various dialects.2 The trendified city (‘Glitzgow’) seemed to be looking after its own, at the expense of other parts of Scotland. Curiously, the Scots of Edwin Morgan, the city's national treasure, is not limited to Glaswegian ‘speech’ though it is built – fittingly – on a Glaswegian base; much the same could be said of the Scots of a later Glasgow poet David Kinloch (1959–). But the conventional wisdom was that Hugh MacDiarmid – the doyen of reintegrated Scots – was passé, a frightful male chauvinist to boot, and that the Scots Language Society (perceived as dogmatically pro-‘Lallans’) was comprised mostly of old duffers obsessed with spelling rather than spells. Relatively petty acrimonies were exaggerated to create ersatz controversy. (Duncan Glen's Scots poetry,