Gems from a free-thinking press;Poetry round-up;Books

17th September 1999 at 01:00
Edinburgh's Scottish Cultural Press continues its admirable policy of publishing the old and the new. George Bruce's Pursuit: Poems 1986-98 marks his 90th birthday. The strongest poems in this collection are responses - to the painter Cezanne, lexicographer David Murison, the photographs of Orlando Gualtieri and most tenderly his granddaughter Jenni.

New to me from the same press is John Rice's The Dream of the Night Fishers (pound;7.99). Verse complements photographs. But too often words become mere cyphers alongside landscape visions.

Tessa Ransford's 10th collection When it Works it Feels Like Play (Ramsay Head, pound;7.95) is full of verbal snapshots, caught moments, trapped emotions, fluid prayers and transfixed images. All lovers of poetry will sympathise with her at the death of that great publisher, her husband Calum Macdonald, earlier this year.

It is a welcome sight to see Canongate renew its contemporary poetry list. Brian McCabe's Body Parts and Janet Paisley's Reading the Bones (both pound;7.99) are worth comparing. The short story writer McCabe is anecdotal in verse, wry and revealing. Playwright Paisley is more complex, more challenging: relationships are fervent moments, escape routes become minefields. There is a remarkable gift of understating pain. Recommended.

Bloodaxe continues to champion Scottish writers. Stolen Light (pound;9.95) is Stewart Conn's first collection since 1987. He touches every theme with illuminating craft. He has the gift of communicating empathy and so rewarding his readers in a very rare way.

Jackie Kay's Off Colour (Bloodaxe, pound;6.95) is her third collection. A generation of AIDS victims become the backdrop to sharply defined social disasters. Gender discrimination and racism make this an articulate attack on sham compassion and false pity. WN Herbert's The Laurelude (Bloodaxe,pound;6.95) allows the relationship of Laurel and Hardy to mirror conflict between Scotland and England with Wordsworth's Prelude as the backdrop. This is a superb commentary on the transience of political correctness and fixed attitudes.

Robert Crawford's Spirit Machines (Cape, pound;8) leads with bereavement for his father and concludes with a series of mock grieving for contemporary Scotland. Like every good lover, he knows the weakness and pleasure of his obsessions.

There are two beautifully produced, modestly priced volumes from Glasgow imprint Mariscat Press. Gerry Loose's Tongues of Stone (pound;2) takes inspiration from fifth-century Irish ogham scripts. This sustained piece becomes a hymn for tenderness James McGonigal in Driven Home (pound;4.50) is led into recollections of themes past by a "ghost brother", a "sullen Siamese twin" who merges with the writer's Irish ancestors. Silly associations with familiar surnames may distract readers from this Dumfries-based writer. This McGonigal is a poet.

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