Contemporary Gaelic Poetry
Among the poets who have published collections in Scottish Gaelic since the start of the new millennium, Derick Thomson (1921–), or Ruaraidh MacThmòais, is a towering figure. His 1982 collected volume, Creachadh na Clàrsaich/Plundering the Harp, won the Saltire Book of the Year Award – the first Gaelic book to do so – and gathered together poems from Thomson's six previous collections, along with some twenty-three new poems. Thomson is a crucial figure in the development of contemporary Gaelic poetry, as well as the major voice of Gaelic poetry in the second half of the twentieth century. His poetry provides a link between the work of those poets writing in the years since Creachadh na Clàrsaich was published, and an earlier generation of Gaelic writers whose work did so much to establish Gaelic poetry as a modern, outward-looking literature with high intellectual and artistic ambitions, marked out by its engagement with the art and the politics of Europe and the wider world. The anthology Nua-Bhàrdachd Gàidhlig/Modern Scottish Gaelic Poems (1976) brought these writers together, featuring Thomson's work alongside that of Sorley MacLean (1911–96), George Campbell Hay (1915–84), Iain Crichton Smith (1928–98) and the editor Donald MacAulay (1930–), with English translations provided by the poets themselves. This pivotal anthology became the standard text of Scottish Gaelic Modernism and added to the growing interest among non-Gaelic speaking readers that had begun with the translation and partial republication of MacLean's poetry a few years earlier.1 While MacLean's work achieved popularity among English-speaking readers, it was Thomson's poetry that set the tone for Gaelic verse in the years that followed. As a teacher and publisher, Thomson facilitated the emergence of many poets of the younger generation. His poetry also had a more direct influence on their work. Thomson was the first writer to develop free verse as a serious medium for Gaelic poetry, and the prevalence of free verse in the work of the poets that followed him marks a decisive move away from the work of Sorley MacLean and George Campbell Hay, whose preference for rhyme and regular metre connected their work more directly with that of their predecessors.