Contemporary Scottish Poetry

By Matt McGuire; Colin Nicholson | Go to book overview

CHAPTER TEN
Kathleen Jamie

Matt McGuire

Kathleen Jamie published her first poem ‘View from the Cliffs’ in 1979 at the age of just seventeen. It depicts a scene from Orkney where fishermen load lobsters to be sent south to restaurants in London. In contrast to the conspicuous consumption of the metropolis the poem foregrounds the fishermen's contentment, their sense of balance and commitment to ‘a walkingpace world’.1 The poem's oscillation, from Orkney to London and back again, reveals its own preference for peripheral and more rooted forms of existence. Throughout her career this walking-pace world has offered an antidote to the increasing uncertainties of modernity and become fundamental to Jamie's poetic DNA. Equally constitutive is the notion of the chance encounter and, moreover, a willingness to submit these experiences to the rigours of poetic form. While the title alludes to a single view there are, in fact, two views in the poem: the image the poet initially stumbles upon and a second view, the aesthetic perspective offered by the poem itself. The poem becomes a form of second sight, a way of mediating and negotiating our experience of the external world. Such realisation recalls Wordsworth's manifesto in the Preface to the Lyrical Ballads (1798): ‘to choose incidents and situations from common life’ but to treat them so that ‘ordinary things should be presented to the mind in an unusual aspect’.2 The common is in fact uncommon, the prosaic deeply poetic. Jamie's poetry presents alternative ways of travelling. It is a gateway through which to access this walking-pace world. We are reminded of Frederic Jameson's definition of how good poetry functions: ‘by drawing the real into its own texture, in order to submit it to the transformations of form’.3 In the following discussion this notion of a Romantic inheritance will be used as a way of contextualising Jamie's more recent output, particularly her collections Jizzen (1999) and The Tree House (2004). The legacy of Romanticism will be used to bring into focus a number of wider issues, including Jamie's engagement with the natural world, her place in various poetic traditions, and her acute interest in the politics of the environment. This framework is echoed in a review by Andrew Marr who compares Jamie's prose writing to the work of eighteenth-century English naturalist Gilbert White. If

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