RISKING the charge of condescension towards readers of The National may this reviewer, an Irishman, first give his understanding of the title. A “kist” according to MacDiarmid’s 1940 Golden Treasury of Scottish Poetry and Tom Hubbard’s The New Makers (1991) can become the soft English word “chest”. Though Alexander Scott in Modern Scots Verse 1922-1977, and J Derrick McClure in this book, offers an alarming alternative, “coffin”. “Skinklan” is more universally and cheerfully accepted as an evocative term for “sparkling”. I’m going to settle for Treasure Chest. The Book is subtitled “An Anthology of Scots poetry from the first and second waves of the Scottish Renaissance”.

McLure, recently retired after forty years teaching in the English Department of Aberdeen University, has packed his chest for preservation and storage rather than travel. It has many splendid compartments, some sub-divided, some partly concealed. In his succinct introduction he declares: “The present anthology illustrates the achievement of what is referred to as the first and second waves of the Scots Renaissance: that is, the work of MacDiarmid’s immediate predecessors and the man himself, and subsequently that of the extraordinary company of poets who wrote under his direct inspiration.” And I would add influence; both good and bad. Translations are not included. Finally “It is a historical anthology with a definite chronological limitation....I have chosen to include no poets born after 1950”.

He goes on to cite and explain his exclusion of Tom Leonard (b 1944) as being specifically allied to the “rise of urban verismo poetry in phonetically spelt Glasgow basilect” which he sees as “a counter to the literary Scots of MacDiarmid and his immediate successors”. So, he argues, “I have chosen a cut off point before it became operational.” Well, so be it. It is his anthology. But it does not explain to me the omission of Walter Perrie (born in 1949) even if only for his works written under the name of Patrick MacCrimmon.

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That is mere disagreement about choice and inclusion. What cannot be denied is the treasure trove that makes the bulk of the book. The poetry — 140 poems/excerpts from poems by 40 poets.

It opens with a spirited narrative, Mercy o’Gode, from the Aberdeen-born sculptor and writer Pittendrigh (James) Macillivery (1856-1938) with two pre Godot characters “yammerin’ owr things that nane can tell,/The yin for a Heaven, the ither for Hell”. Several pages later Helen Cruickshank addresses the Man himself: “Dear Chris, dear Hugh, an dear-hoo-mony a name/ Ye’ve used tae mate yer reengin thocht an word”. And the range of Chris Grieve/Hugh MacDiarmid is splendidly represented by six poems. Not the usual ones chosen in anthologies with an eye to the reader abroad, or beyond a border. It includes the muscular “vernacular” of To Alasdair MacMhaighstir Alasdair with the great lines “Jaupin’ the stars, or thrawin’ lang strings/O’duileasg owre the sun/Till like a jeely fish it swings/In depths rewon,/And in your brain as in God’s ain/A’thing’s ane again!” The Universal is in the personal. So I remember sharing a drink with the poet in June 1976 and he telling me the collective word for jellyfish was a “Bloom”.

And after that come the “followers”. Some more influenced than inspired but almost all caught in the opening lines of Robert Garioch’ Scottish Scene; “They’re a gey antithetical folk are the Scots,/jurmummelt thegither like unctioneers lots/or a slap-happy faimly of bickeran brats;/the scrauch of their squabbles wad gie ye the bats.”

“Folk” are not the only contrary baggage. The editor’s “Notes on the poets and the poems” at the back of the book have a nuanced, mildly toxic mothballs quality, tucked between the lines. They make one pause. Slight praise becomes an art form. Lewis Spence “was a poet only secondarily in the context of his life’s achievement: as an anthropologist”. Albert Mackie’s “confident and workmanlike use of Scots is not that of a great poet, but certainly that of a writer fully at ease with the language and capable of exploiting the expressive power of its sounds and words”.

Is that impression exceeding expression? Or is it the other way round? One is never sure if the editor approves of Tom Scott’s “long and erudite poems, charged with ethical fervour” as among the chosen ones is La Condition Humaine, which concludes “Sae we guests here on Nature’s sufferance/Maun treat oor Hostess wi due deference,/Aye mindfu o the unpeyable debt we owe her./A candle in the mirk is aa man’s lore.” McClure initially sounds enchanted by Alexander Scott’s exploitation of the “phonaesthetic potential of Scots”. Comparing him to Dunbar in his choice of “individual words for their sound as well as their sense (he) arranges them into patterns of alliteration, assonance and internal rhyme of truly remarkable elaboration”. The example given is Heart of Stone (Cantrips:1968). It does not appear among the texts.

There is a fascinating insight, intentional or otherwise, to the editorial attitude in the gloss on certain words in Scots in the final pages of this substantial and handsome publication. “Ambiguities, idiosyncrasies, inventions and errors are not noted as such in the glossary, but attentive readers will no doubt observe some for themselves”.

Believe me I have. Among the neatly folded items are some beguiling crunched addenda in this chest of sparkling things. I have enjoyed every moment of rummaging among the treasures.

A Kist O Skinklan Things, edited by J Derrick McClure is published by ASLA, priced £14.95