Pieces of the eternal now

18th February 2000 at 00:00
AN TUIL: An anthology of 20th Century Scottish Gaelic Poetry. Edited by Ronald Black. Polygon pound;19.99.

DEMON. by Edwin Morgan. Mariscat. pound;6.

LANDSCAPES. By Tom Pow and Hugh Bryden. Cacafuego. Press pound;15.

THE WORLD'S WIFE. By Carol Ann Duffy. Picador pound;10.

JIZZEN. By Kathleen Jamie. Picador pound;6.99.

SAMARKAND. By Kate Clanchy. Picador pound;6.99.

PARABLE ISLAND. By Pauline Stainer. Bloodaxe pound;7.95.

Ronald Black's huge anthology, 825 pages, is a work of dedication rather than discretion. The title translates as "The Flood" and unfortunately epitomises the quantity rather than the quality of the out-pourings.

However, it does accurately reflect the greatness of Sorley MacLean, George Campbell Hay and Iain Crichton Smith and their mostly beneficial influence on a new generation of Gaelic writers.

Polygon is to be praised for this and its more compressed earlier anthology In the Face of Eternity, edited by Christopher Whyte in 1991.

Such publishers are essential. Another is Hamish Whyte and his Glasgow-based Mariscat Press, from which comes Demon, a sequence of 20 dialogues between Edwin Morgan and the Underworld. It is diabolically elegant. The new Dumfries imprint, organised by poet Tom Pow and artist Hugh Bryden has brought out 30 poems in Landscapes, dealing with matters of death ad parenthood. They are illustrated by 16 of Bryden's black-and-white linocuts. A handsome debut.

The appointment of Don Paterson as Picador's poetry editor is already proving its worth for Scottish writing. Commercial skills allied to sharp editing make exemplary the three titles here.

Carol Ann Duffy gives new slants to old wives' tales. Famous historical figures are undermined in their domestic setting by wives, sisters and lovers. This is imaginative malice delivered with poetic panache.

A mildly fey note undermines the caring intent of Kathleen Jamie's Jizzen (Scots for "childbed"). Births and rebirths are recorded but there is a self-consciousness in the writing that unbalances the effect for this reader.

No such doubts about Kate Clanchy's Samarkand. She veritably impales themes, times and stereotypes and then releases them into her poems and onto the reader, where they blossom to become fully developed characters. This is a worthy companion to her award-winning Slattern three years ago.

The fact that the wonderful Pauline Stainer is now living on Rousay in Orkney allows me to recommend her new collection Parable Island. Though she has been publishing for only the last decade, she is definitely one writer I unreservedly view as important in the 20th century.

Hayden Murphy

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