Influence lives on after poet's death

17th October 1997 at 01:00
Sorley MacLean's death almost a year ago still shadows all comment on contemporary Scottish poetry. Gaelic added a layer of linguistic mystery to an international poetic reputation. His inspiration has become an influence.

Polygon mirrors this with three GaelicEnglish titles (all Pounds 6.95) - A Proper Schooling by Aonghas Macneacail, Lightness and Other Poems by Meg Bateman and a first collection, Fax and Other Poems by Roddy Gorman. Macneacail's themes are Scottish politics and pastoral cultures. His technique is drawn from American Black Mountain writers in the Sixties. The evocations are of intellectual highlands. The English translations are echoes. Bateman's Gaelic sensuousness too often fails to survive anglicised thinness, but Dubliner Roddy Gorman's eclectic Gaelic snapshots are often realised as composed photographs in a curious brittle English.

The sonorous cadences of MacLean reverberated in the early work of Walter Perrie. He breaks cover after 12 years' silence with From Milady's Wood. The reference is to his adopted home in Dunning, Perthshire. There are two sequences exploring perceptions on learning and vulnerability in love. The language is taut. The metrical lines carry a stream of complexities. Perrie, absent from anthologies, ignored by commentators, offers an important and welcome incantation for our times.

His is the central title of four new volumes from the admirable Scottish Cultural Press's Scottish Contemporary Poets' series. They include Maureen Sangster: Out of the Urns, William Hershaw: The Cowdenbeath Man and a much recommended Ann MacLeod: Standing by Thistles (all Pounds 4.95). John Burnside's sixth collection A Normal Skin (Cape Pounds 7) confirms the ever growing reptuation of a man "fixing his practised gaze on the darkest wall". These are poems of returning and retrieval: "Lately, I feel an echo in my hands". Not only of childhood memories but also of an adult perspective.

Awards and competitions are viewed sceptically. Judgments can often be mere reflections of mode. Kate Clanchy's Slattern (Chatto Windus Pounds 6. 99) contradicts the cynic: it is worthy of all the praise and prizes she has received.

Bloodaxe, courageous as ever in promoting the new, introduce Tracy Herd's No Hiding Place (Pounds 6.95) and Roddy Lumsden's Yeah Yeah Yeah (Pounds 7. 95). Herd contains certainties within anecdotal questioning. Racing and gambling become significant shades of loving and leaving for the Dundee writer. Lumsden, from St Andrews, launches into urban odyssey as narrated by a landlocked sailor. Sure in harmony it has also a beguiling melody of loneliness.

Another recommended debut is Janet Paisley: Alien Crop (Chapman Pounds 5.95). Pleasure lies within the phrasing. The influences of Patrick Kavanagh and Liz Lochhead are well assimilated.

Hugh McMillan's Aphrodite's Anorak (Peterloo Pounds 6.95) is a fourth volume from this Dumfries-based history teacher. Anecdote is at the centre of observation, even in his tender familial poems. He writes not with humour but with a revealing form of wit, that demanded by a morning-after shaving mirror.

Robert R Calder's Serapion (Chapman Pounds 6.95) is overloaded, ugly, consequently, in presentation. However the contents of individual poems are evidence of an erudite writer chiselling prose into compelling verse.

Robin Robertson in A Painted Field (Picador Pounds 6.99) announces the arrival of commercial publisher as convincing poet. He has published such diverse talents as James Kelman and Tom Leonard and proves himself in this first collection a perceptive, formal and introspective writer, "one quarter nounthree quarters verb". On National Poetry Day last week he won the Pounds 5,000 Forward prize for a first collection.

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