From old to new

16th February 2001 at 00:00
Twenty years after the final edition of Tom Scott's The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse, The New Penguin Book of Scottish Verse (Penguin pound;20) announces a changing of the guardians, an altered perspective and a tolerably welcome shift in emphasis. Editors Robert Crawford and Mike Imlah provide new and welcome translations from Gaelic, Old French and Old English. The innovative challenge to an academic canon by Tom Leonard in Radical Renfrew (1989) stimulates an exploratory rather than a repetitive selection of poems even from among the familiars.

There are some glaring exclusions - most bewildering Scott himself - but all in all the 554 pages range well and wisely from St Columba to Don Paterson.

Among those represented by "anthology pieces" is William Soutar. All the more reason to welcome Into a Room: Selected Poems of William Soutar (Argyll pound;7.99) edited and introduced by Carl MacDougall and Douglas Gifford. But among those shamefully under-represented (one poem) is George Campbell Hay. Although rectified in the cased, two-volume Collected Poems and Songs of George Campbell Hay (Edinburgh University Press pound;95) edited by Michel Byrne and published for the Lorimer Trust, it is overpriced and overwrought, butdoes establish him as a major figure in Scottish Gaelic literature.

A ajor omission is Hamish Henderson who has loomed large in Scottish affairs for over six decades. His Collected Poems and Songs (Curly Snake pound;9.99),edited by Raymond Ross, are hymns for the vulnerable and dispossessed. His life's work is a celebration of lives shared. He epitomises an independent-minded Scotland.

Among the new names, the most assured is John Burnside whose seventh collection The Asylum Dance (Cape pound;8) has just received the Whitbread Poetry Award. In an earlier poem he writes of "a dwelling placefor something in ourselves that understandsthe beauty of wreckagethe beauty of things submerged". He could have been writing of George Mackay Brown, his Orkney and his themes. This is harvested in the mostly uncollected poems in Travellers (John Murray pound;10.99).

Penguin editor Crawford is among many who contribute to Unknown is Best: A Celebration of Edwin Morgan at Eighty (pound;3.00). This is a beautiful publication jointly produced by the Scottish Poetry Library and Mariscat Press, edited by Robyn Marsack and Hamish Whyte.

Morgan's own New Selected Poems (Carcanet pound;7.99) adds to the 1985 Selected the complete Sonnets from Scotland and the musical sequence Planet Wave (1997). A treat for admirers and an ideal introduction to Scotland's grandest word-magician.


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