Fragments of light on water;Books

19th June 1998 at 01:00
The archipelago of Scotland, shaped by erosion and sieved by waves, is waterlocked in a unique way.

After the Watergaw (Scottish Cultural Press, pound;5.95) is an anthology of "new poetry from Scotland inspired by water", and its authors' royalties go the charity WaterAid which researches and funds areas impacted by drought and flood around the world. So verse becomes liquid currency. Robert Davidson, the editor, who works with North of Scotland Water, has chosen nearly 90 poems from as many writers. Making streamed generations of writers, George Bruce and Edwin Morgan join Tessa Ransford and Stewart Conn, who align with such as Tom Pow and Kathleen Jamie. MacDiarmid's "Watergaw" means, according to the Scots dictionary, "a fragmentary rainbow". Lights reflecting, glittering, illuminating on water are a more precise precis of this much recommended publication.

Davidson also appears with a well crafted and atmospheric first collection, Total Immersion, in the latest batch of the Scottish Cultural Press's contemporary poets series (each pound;4.95). Of the other titles Ken Cockburn's Souvenirs and Homelands shows a welcome eclecticism by this Kirkcaldy-born writer. He absorbs and then lucidly assimilates a European perspective.

The critic James Aitchison in his fourth collection, Brain Scans, answers his own question "Why poetry?" with a dedication to precise diction. Stanley Roger Green, an uneasily prolific writer, in "Waiting for the Mechanic", articulates the warp and weave of the commonplace.

The most distinctive voice, however, belongs to Angus Martin's The Song of the Quern. His award-winning 1990 first collection The Larch Plantation, became my poetry choice for that year. The new book, in Scots and English, sings of this "grave of a century". He is "speaking without fear" of sadness. The collection is an elegiac "homecoming", a folding of nest in a furnished cave.

The journalist as poet was once a common contradiction of tastes and intentions. Donny O'Rourke of The Waistband and Other Poems (Polygon pound;6.95) and Gillian Ferguson, whose Air for Sleeping Fish comes from Bloodaxe (pound;6.95), both write for newspapers and their observations become abbreviated visions. O'Rourke's elegy for his mother "Marche Fun bre" is most movingly "the common touch attained". Ferguson streaks anecdotes with verbal glitter, and then, lowering the decibels, speaks of vulnerability and becomes evocatively tender.

The Borders-based Morelle Smith in Deepwater Terminal (Diehard pound;4.90) excavates fissures, geographical and emotional. She is rewarding to read and one wishes her publisher had provided more information about this new writer. Diehard also publishes the admirable four-side chapbook Poetry Scotland (pound;1).

There are two handsomely bound and priced publications, classroom friendly, from Etruscan Press (pound;7.50 each). In Three Poets a new "dialect sequence", "Hesitations", marks the popular Tom Leonard's input to the book, which also includes Bill Griffiths and Tom Rawworth.

But emphatic recommendation is reserved for Pervigilium Scotiae (Scotland's Virgil) which demands to be a bestseller in post-referendum Scotland. It incorporates a splendid selection of work by Tom Scott, Sorley Maclean and Hamish Henderson. Lyric, hymn, epic and song in the three languages of the country are placed in refreshing juxtaposition. The great contribution to cultural autonomy by Maclean and Henderson is given sharp focus. Their gift to a literate nation will inspire future generations. Order now from 24a Fore Street, Buckfastleigh, Devon TQ11 0AA.

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