selected letters 1997
Tuesday March 4th ‘97
Afraid I’ve been in hedgehog mode through most of January and February, curled up in the corner of my cupboard. Thank goodness it’s sunny today, the wind’s dropped, and the blue tits and what I think is a greenfinch have been vying for places on the feeder I have attached with suckers to the living room window.
To G...: yes of course whomever you invited will be fine by me and I’m not looking to have someone sympathetic particularly to any of my own hobbyhorses at all. My being somewhat taken aback was because I have only read with him once, at a Burns bicentenary festival at Strathclyde University last year. There were about ten readers, this after a dinner that concluded a three-day event.
I was looking forward to hearing G and one or two others I hadn’t heard. But he stood up and read this lengthy (it seemed very long indeed) rhyming couplets verse monologue about his living as a poet in ---, largely ignored since he did not come from Glasgow—which was given too much attention in Scotland— and because he was interested in writing sonnets and in engaging in genuine craftsmanship, rather than trendy formless free verse stuff.
All this without irony or wit. One sat with that smile on one’s face as one does at such occasions, thinking as one does, Fuck you too Jimmy…. The thought of that type of young-old-fogey bullshit being lain down so arrogantly to people I’m trying to help in their writing, does not appeal. But I get from your letter there are much healthier aspects elsewhere in his work: I’ll look them out, I meant to before this. ‘Twill be all right on the night nay doot. Am looking forward to the rest of the week.
Tuesday March 24th ‘97
Thanks for the MacKay review. I’d missed it, though I have Paddy Hogg’s book and I know MacKay’s views on it: there was a debate hosted by the John McLean society in a pub in London Road between the two about a month ago. I had to miss that too, though I had reports.
MacKay I have time for, in fact I was very pleased to hear he got the Saltire Award for his Burns biography. His editions of the poems and the letters are I think excellent, discreetly scholarly but very “user friendly” to use the contemporary cliche, and recognising frankly his debts. His recent Alan Pinkerton biography has certain defects and has perhaps come out too quickly on the heels of his previous work. But he is a man certainly to be respected.
Hogg, whom I have met twice, is very deep indeed into what he is researching. Very valuable research it is, though I look forward very much more eagerly to an anthology of the best of the newspaper material as a whole rather than the continuance of claims to new addition to the Burns oeuvre. I can’t at the moment get involved in what has become there for me something that is too personal, and political not in the radical sense. It’s a pity about the book itself, which is a rushed job, and patchwork quilts of phrase and word congruences do not and never will establish authorship. But I wish Paddy well, I like him, and just hope that he calms down a bit getting on with the work.
It reminds me of when I was researching Thomson, and first discovered John Cumming and his apocalyptic sermons. How I thirsted to find out if Thomson had been in Exeter Hall between 1848 and 1849. How I knew that it would have been surely out of the question for the boys of the Asylum not to have been sent there! And how one gets sucked too easily—if one doesn’t watch—into a search to establish that which one already “knows in one’s heart” is true, and how angry one gets if some poor bastard doesn’t quite see it that way.
What does really interest me about this debate is that at its heart is the legacy of still unresolved dilemmas of the 1790’s. Burns of course died at a very crucial phase of Scottish and Irish history, that testing time when the lessons of the American and French revolutions might point towards democracy, but republicanism pointed to the destruction of the basis of the Protestant Constitution— “the keystone of our Royal arch”—as Burns protested when accused of subversion. It is not trivial to note that Burns died the same month as the first Twelfth of July parade in Ulster. The gang culture of Orangeism imported to Scotland was part of that which redefined the nature of freemasonry, in my opinion. Burns became a calendar icon of Orange and freemason culture, of one-man-to-another, of What We’re Not and This Patch is Ours.
It runs deep, however discreet on the surface. And it’s still trying to ward off thecommunists etc who wanted Burns the child of the enlightenment socialist-in-anticipation. That’s the real battle behind the MacKay-Hogg debate—whether or not in the protagonists themselves.
I hope things are well with you: no doubt you’ll be kept busy as can be up to the last moment in your job. ...
As envoi a poem written after reading with an American poet a couple of years back.
But it’s not finally about him, or me I hope, or anyone specifically.
Wednesday April 16th ‘97
Dear Matt (Ewart)
Thanks for the essay on Burns Singer. His earnest engagement with language and its relationship with being is what interests me in him, though it’s his images created of the sense of the dissociation such an awareness can bring that can be for me the most telling: I mean that great image of the sparks and the tramcar, and the very fine passage you quote from Marcus Antoninus Aurelius. It’s refreshing to read somebody nailing their critical colours to the mast as you do: you obviously feel as passionately about Singer as I do about the other language man of these parts, W.S. Graham.
Perhaps a sure indication of Singer’s greatness is Bold’s belittling of his achievement. Before I stopped reading ¸the Herald I had noted his dismissal of Morgan, Graham (“an egocentric solipsist’) and MacCaig “squandered a great talent”. I always regret not writing that letter to the Herald that occurred to me beginning, “Whether Alan Bold would have squandered a great talent is something we can never know.”
Friday night I enjoyed very much. The young fiddler was terrific, and Meg Bateman reading was a revelation to me, I hadn’t heard her before. I love Monty Montgomery’s readings and translations: there’s seems to be some very fine and sensitive things happening in female Gaelic poetry just now.
Thursday May 1st ‘97
I hate the phone. You get asked things and you’re suddenly having to make a snap decision, and it can sound abrupt and not thought out. Anyway I still think the six o clock news isn’t the poem for the kind of book you’re describing, though I have nothing at all against contributing to a book of funny stuff, and yes people do talk about a hoot meaning a right good laugh, for which I am all in favour.
But I still think that for instance although Edwin Morgan’s Ozymandias would be right for a book like you describe with Ivor Cutler and others, something like the First Men on Mercury, a kind of cousin to it, or the Loch Ness Monster, would not be. These other two poems are also funny poems, buﬁt they’re poems in a way doing something with language that to put them under the title “ a hoot” would somehow be leading the reader away from something else in the poems, and something that’s important. It’s not that humour aint a serious business as they say, but of course all that’s funny isn’t accurately described as comic. Comedy’s an essential, but to me it’s essential that it’s differentiated from things that happen to be funny: the point of comedy it seems to me is in its being funny—not anything else.
Anyway I enclose something I am quite happy to have called a hoot if you want to use it at all: I had a great time with Alasdair Gray and Liz Lochhead writing Tickly Mince, and watching the actor Kevin McMonagle nightly doing his Frank Sinatra with this. It would be good to see it in print actually: Liz did quote a bit from it in her True Confessions years back, but full printing of Tickly Mince and its sequel fell through at the last minute.
from the revue Tickly Mince
Though some maintain
the Real Presence
I decided at
an early age
wuz oot the windy
though it might seem
a pastor’s dream
and bishops thought
my logic shoddy
I burned my boat
I turned my coat
became a Proddy
though some may mock
the macho talk
upon the Walk
of No Surrender
I’ve drunk the rent
I’ve clocked the wife
I’ve spewed my ring
upon the fender
I’ve had the shakes
I’ve had D.T’s
I’ve fell asleep
upon the chanty
I’ve woke to see
upon my knee
the Works of Dante
I’ve seized that cup
called Life’s Spatoon
I’ve spooned it up
yes, gulped it doon
I am a man
not one of them
who flee in fear
Life’s Bowls of Phlegm
though in the dumps
I’ve chewed the lumps
I’ve chewed them my way
I’ve turned again
back to my faith
my banner Truth
at last unfurled
my mission plain
before I die
to spread these words
throughout the world
that rare frissoang
the pluperfect case
a sweaty groin
a pound of links
the russian ballet
east stirling one
a close so wally
god bless our pope
I’d like a grope
Monday May 5th ‘97
Thanks again for the script of your talk, which I’ve just read. It was good to have the name of the slave-owner put to the inventory in the Judicial Records of Renfrewshire, which I happened to buy secondhand a couple of months ago, though I’d had a look at it years back. Also interesting that Glasgow Courier aspect, which paper William Motherwell—about whom I mentioned I am writing for the DNB—took over as editor in 1830 until his death in 1835. Besides keeping the anti-abolitionist flames going it was of course hell for leather against the “arch-agitator” O’Connell and his followers. A fine man Motherwell, Grand Master for Paisley and Glasgow, and of whom the Liverpool Standard said on his passing, “he did much to counter the sweeping ravages of democracy in Glasgow.”
When your book appears I’ll want to buy one and would appreciate forewarning in case I miss it. You should let know David Dabydeen in the English Literature Dept at Warwick UniveÛrsity. Perhaps you know his work anyway he’s a poet from Guyana whose books of poetry have slavery business, his first one Slave Song and his third and most recent from Cape called Turner which is derived from Turner’s 1840 painting “Slavers throwing overboard the dead and dying” which as Dabydeen points out in his preface, Ruskin described as showing “the noblest sea...ever painted by man.” He’s also done some work I caught on tv about images of Black people in British Culture (obviously along the lines of the family portrait you mention) and has a book on that which I haven’t seen. When I had David up at Paisley doing a reading when I was writer in residence there he made a few heavily ironic remarks during his performance about being invited to Scotland—and the influence in Guyana of Scottish culture as a result of the slave trade.
Another outlet your publisher should know of it it doesn’t is the New Beacon Bookshop at 176 Stroud Green Road in London. Forgive me if this is all already known, but that’s the shop run by John La Rose who this past few years was the founder and organiser of the Radical Black and Third World Bookfairs, which spread from London to other cities in England, and to Glasgow a couple of times. It’s a great shop which would certainly be interested in your book.
I enclose a review of Roxy Harris’s book written during a brief period when my face fitted at the Herald enough to be given reviews. Don’t have any such place at the moment. Anyway it was good at this time, 1990, in passing to remind the douce readers of the origins of their City of Culture. All the best.
Tuesday May 13th ‘97
Thanks for your letter. I haven’t heard anything from anyone about a cheque. That telephone number you mention: could you phone it? I don’t know who is at that number and would rather not begin by having to ask there.
I also enclose the form you ask about. Since it’s April 11th, the new tax year, I’m not sure if it will still be the Arts Council, because the Writers in the Community scheme was taken over by Book Trust Scotland from the April 1st. It will depend on whom it was arranged with—it would have had to be previously arranged in advance otherwise they wouldn’t wear it.
Enough of all that. On poetry matters a writer whom I am to my surprise finding a lot to enjoy in now that I’m exploring the full range of his work, is Roy Campbell, the notorious Francoite who had his very public rows with MacDiarmid amongst many others, especially on the (especially English middle class) Left. There’s a lot of work on Campbell has been done by Peter Alexander, not the Glasgow academic but an Australian one. Some of Campbell’s stuff is crap but he’s always totally engaged in his work, absolutely hated the whole English middle class literary scene, and some of his writing is really fine. He’s as good a flyter—and always one sentence away from another outburst in his prose—as MacDiarmid himself. His grandparents were Scottish settlers in Natal. Alexander has written a good biography that sets the work in perspective. Do you know his work at all? I’m reading his collected in four volumes, a South African publication that’s in the university library.
Hope you’re enjoying Mauchline. I see from my Chambers Gazetteer that beside its Burns and Covenanting connections it “has long been noted for its wooden snuffboxes and similar knicknacks.” But that was 1895.
Tuesday June 11th ‘97
Dear Jeremy ( Corbyn)
Here’s the books promised. As I said, I’ve spares, so you’re welcome to them. In Radical Renfrew I think you might find the Chartist Edward Polin and the feminist Marion Bernstein interesting among others. With the railways now privatised it can seem quite relevant also something like “After the Accident” by the poet William (Inspector) Aitken. When I did a radio series on the books I remember having a lot of feeling over Aitken’s line “Did you ever hear of railways paying pensions to their men?” My own father worked 48 years in the railway, and retired on a pension (from the union) of ten bob—which the National Assistance docked off his rent allowance.
Anyway I know you’ll be extremely busy, but nobody reads anthologies from end to end in any case. Quick dips in the book are intended to be made easier with the theme guide at the end of the introduction, xxxvii.
The second half of Reports from the Present has a deal of the stuff that was printed as a pro-strike booklet Satires and Profanities by the STUC during the miners’ strike. It’s a pity that I didn’t reprint the cover from that, three stick cartoons with the captions “Did you hear about the Ulster D’Oyley Carte Company?”/ “They wanted to put on Trial by Jury .”/ “They were arrested for conspiring to subvert the state.”
I hope you find some of the stuff enjoyable. It was good meeting you. All the best.
Thursday June 26th ‘97
Thanks for the new Bloomsday, which crossed in the post with my own missive. Colour dawns in the sequence: would be good to see them lined up on a gallery wall.
Blair the bland. Frankly I wish he was: I have already got to the point I had with Thatcher, of being unable to look, and lunging for the TV mute button. Soon it will be impossible to buy a newspaper, the way the Downing Street press office so appallingly efficiently manages daily, and weekly menu-planning. I suppose the rocket fired at the Cabinet office inevitably had to be outgunned one day with a “twelve year old who wants peace” at 10 Downing Street. Photographed with the bastard who again sided alone with America for full reintroduction of child-killing sanctions on Iraq.
By the way, do you listen, or can you get in Edinburgh, Radio Ulster’s daily noontime Talkback phone in, for an hour? Absolutely essential listening: the full range from collective religious psychosis, Book of Revelations and all, to sane decent people not being used as Sane Decent People for timely propaganda purposes. Real points of view in the full range being put: it’s very moving sometimes, and really taking the lid off across the social divide in a way that I think is extremely important.
Glad, mightily at last, to see the back of Bruton, albeit he got his unionist parthian shot in with the decommissioning he agreed to, written in. That’s the Blair government I understand, moving like lightning after Lurgan to Albright’s America then on to Bruton. What other country would you hear striking a "sudden deal with another in the last hours of its government", without this being considered somewhat odd? Actually the whole Lurgan killings episode reminds me creepily of the “Serbian” massacre of the shoppers that was to the minute on cue to “provoke” the onslaught on the Serbs in Bosnia—despite subsequent reports in The Times that French and British observers denied the shell could have come from where the Nato-Americans said it had. Ahern has had his Reynolds hands tied, or that’s the calculation it seems to me. He could hardly dissent, depending on the likes of Harney for his election in the Dail.
Anyway. There is always some cause for optimism, and oddly the airing of the ravings on that Ulster programme is part of it.
Hope to see you ere too long, and that your health improves.
Friday June 27th ‘97
Thanks for the cheque. Regarding the new Writers in Schools/Public situation, so much of the running of the scheme depends simply on the savvy of who’s running it: Trevor Royle then Walter, and Shonagh of course throughout, put their commitment to the art and the artists before any commitment to the teachers and the schools-visit system. I don’t sense that now in the publicity literature; nor in the circular to all writers sent in response to such as my own complaint about not being paid for readings, stating that “ a small problem” (i.e. the nonpayment of writers) had arisen, but this was the fault of organisers, and would writers stop sending forms to Booktrust for readings they could not be paid for. In other words, the problem was that writers had begun to block the System with paper. Writers, please stop doing it.
I think as soon as the System is put under someone with the new title of Education Officer, then obviously it will super-efficiently fill up with writers of children’s stories, those writers thought best suited for classroom teaching and the curriculum, the university lecturers, authors of a few books of course, who can give insight into how best to understand the canon on the way to the exam. Within the educational system there’s an argument on behalf of that obviously, teachers need all the help they can get. But the person who decides to hold a small festival or lets-have-a-reading this summer, who thinking of a few months away, wants to get one or more writers—where is the scope for them? Put your tendering bid in next January to be told in March if you can have it the following year? Where the hell is the room for the sudden and necessary and living enthusiasms in that? The scheme now puts first and foremost and centrally, the system as it now runs, the educational system, with its year-on forward scheduling in the hands of certain teachers and schools. There will be some writers & some almost-writers doing very well indeed by that, while others will be paying the price of a new exclusion. But the statistics will be better: and in a culture of underfunding, of systems run by “officers” — statistics come first.
Having said all that, I remain cheery, in fact having just had another go at another system, I feel much the better for it, and very cheery indeed. All the best.
Saturday September 6th ‘97
The funeral of The Queen of Hearts has driven me to the screen, Mozart on the headphones to drown out any tolling bells locally.
The country has gone completely psychotic this past week. It’s interesting, although depressing as always, to see it from the language position, which is always the angle I can’t help entering it. It’s a nightmare linguistically to see the subeditors of the British press and their editors unanimously agree that the only possible language to write in is what they think of as “poetic prose”—which is to say the language of nineteenth century tombstones. The death of Mother Teresa last night has meant they’ve had to squeeze more hyperbole from what they’ve already wrung dry, every day for the past seven days.
The Scotsman is now edited by a young rightwing shite from Sussex or somewhere, Martin Clarke. Their front page for Monday was “Free and in peace at last, she returns home to a nation that must now search its soul.” All that in block capitals. This morning they decided not to bother trying to get Mother Teresa on board, instead having an even longer headline, about fifty words, some homily from the Queen’s special broadcast last night. Liz had been frogmarched to the BBC studios by the tabloids who had begun complaining that the Royals weren’t joining in enough in the Nation’s Grief. It’s very much the Gulf War again as far as the Press are concerned, this time with a Saint instead of a Devil as focus. Again it’s a reminder of basics to see the Guardian and the Independent down there on their knees pouring out the patriotic hellish language garbage with the rest of them. On Sunday Radio Four, Three and Five joined up for daylong raking over the ashes (sorry, wrong metaphor) and there’s been no escape since. The papers have been a sea of vomit. The agony aunt of the Independent —there’s a concept— “It was like seeing a bird in a cage which finds the door open and escapes, only to be shot down in flight”. And so on—everywhere. You are well out of it over there, though no doubt soap opera coverage reaches you too.
Bill Maclean of course has come up in his pompous tones with “You know it wasn’t just Rangers who crashed in Europe”; and your hardhearted father did come up with a newspaper hoarding headline “Our Lady of the Workout—Driver Pished”. By such devices we try to stay sane, enough to get lynched if it got into the real tabloids. Anyway, to healthier things, such as good old Mozart, who has just launched into the Linz Symphony full blast on my headphones. Have you access to a CD? Are you getting the chance to hear any music? It sounds really good your context over there.
The wintry signs are beginning to appear over here, it’s down to about 17 or 18 today, which isn’t bad still, but dull in that battleship-grey that Glasgow skies tend to adopt so often. Not much evidence of surfing. I thought I’d better get this done both because it was time anyway, but also I’m off to Inverness for the week next week to take another of those Arvon Literature courses, same as the one I was doing in Devon when you phoned my on my birthday last year....
We had a few days in Arran the week before last, we had been meaning for a while to take a break somewhere for a few days. We stayed in a guest house, or two actually, one for one night and the other for two, on the Brodick front. It was quite quiet, it being the first day that the Scottish schoolchildren would be back at school, which was an added dimension I think for Sonya, making the most of the first real day of being out of the schools. It was good, we went walks visiting among other places Glen Sannox and round about where I did some camping on my own about thirty years ago. Since my birthday fell while we were there, among my prezzies was a smashing compact birdwatcher’s guide, much more practical than the two we have in the house. So there was a lot of birdwatching went on, the Scottish islands are great places to see a whole range of species you don’t see on the mainland.
About music ( the great slow movement of the 35th is on just now, the Barry Wordsworth performances same as you got on CD at Christmas) maybe when you’re in Australia you could sometime find out for me what the discography is just now regarding Percy Grainger, whose stuff I really like. I have quite a lot of his work, but there might be things in the catalogue there not available over here.
I’ll just finish here, and sorry for not writing out longhand which is best but I just can’t do that anymore without making a mess. The keyboard has been too much my place for a long while when it comes to writing.
Monday September 8th ‘97
Dear Ronald MacAulay
Thanks for the book and the dedication, a very pleasant surprise indeed. I’m doing this note in the middle of the night prior to going off for a week to tutor an Arvon Creative Writing course beyond Inverness: I had wanted to finish your book and write a decent letter to you, but that will have to wait either to other correspondence or until we meet in a few weeks or whatever, which I hope will occur.
Your chapter about my own work is very cheering for me, but I’d really like to be able to talk to you about your language discussion beyond that, which I think is really very interesting, and connects with something I have been trying to inch towards, as usual, about language as enclosure or not enclosure. So much of that is to do obviously with the position of the narrator, whether even word is supposed to stand in lieue of the world and all that sort of thing, colonialist so often in presumption. Your linear arrangement of voice makes the voices apparent, the rhythm: reminds me of Reznikoff oddly enough in his objectification of court transcripts, the voice as aesthetic evidence. Of course I’m really interested in that, being one who has felt that the shape of authenticity is almost a kind of Platonic form thing— these people who think the world is enclosed in their word don’t realise the structure of spacing and the rhythm, what is revealed by that, in people just trying in language to be honest with themselves, the presence of the person to the other person.
Which can sound a bit highflown and middle-of-the-nightish. Anyway I enclose a CD that came out (and fell down a bottomless unnoticed pit) about two months ago. The single surname title is a bit much, but what the bloke who runs AK wanted, to link it with other cover designs, and because he’s very keen on my work. If huge numbers of Elmer Leonard or Leonard Cohen fans buy it by mistake, I will be delighted.
Thursday 18th September ‘97
A pity we missed each other when you were up. I think it may have been the time when Sonya and I took a few days break in Arran. Which was very relaxing, albeit inevitably coming back with our legs and various other bits bitten to currant buns.
Am just back from a week in Moniack Mhor, which went ok, though these things are very draining. But they pay well, and it was good working with Anne Stevenson, who is an old friend and fun to work with. We come from different angles into poetry, which is fine, but what helps in these matters is that I think we share tendencies to be serious about language, whilst liking a drop of the cratur and a bit of a laugh. So it went well.
The new version of the Etruscan Raworth/Griffith/Leonard trilogy will be out in a couple of months, I’ve completely changed my contents to put in Foodies and Hesitations. I’ll send one on when they come through. Also on the poetry front, Ed Dorn phoned a couple of days ago to say he would still like me to come out to Boulder University. So that is going ahead for sometime in November, it looks like. Not much dough in it but it will be good to get out to Colorado from Glasgow at that time of year for a few days. The only reading I have lined up south of the border is beyond the other border into Aberystwyth, also in November.
..... Since coming back from Moniack I have been continuing to avoid news and talk media, and papers. The Great Marian Week of Language Vomit which immediately preceded the trip to Inverness-shire, was too much like the Third Reich meets the Gulf War, again. Enclosed a news hoarding from the middle of it trying to stay sane; plus another tilt at the folk on the hill.
Wednesday October 12th ‘97
Here’s my invoice. I’m glad I was asked to do the workshop, as it went well, and I enjoyed meeting the people who attended. I almost pulled out before it to ask someone else to take my place, as I discussed with Julie, who gave me a lift. The truth is, I have realised, that I actually hate the term “survivor”, which I think is a bit of a blasphemy in the century of the holocaust, and that it is anyway the National Health Service that is in difficulty of surviving, if the term has to be used. Again, I had not realised, in giving poetry to “Nomad”, that the term could mean other than “wanderer”: I just hadn’t conceived of such crassness and banality as could put forward a word capable of being translated as, “Look, we are not mad.” Jesus: no wonder I feel as if I’ve been bounced into supposedly being somebody who’s “come out” as having been “in”. What is really angering about that, is the thought of the kind of patronising well paid idiot who can now evidently presume to look at my work in this wholly misconstrued light. Hell, I want nothing to do with this kind of nonsense. As regards anyone having had psychiatry, if they ever had, so what: if they were a rich bastard in New York they could jog down for their weekly mental workout with their analyst, without making themselves supposedly the public prey of benignity-in-anticipation, from “careworkers”. I’m not referring to your own part in this, but the position to be patronised that people are being put in, such as at the Tryst reading, is I think genuinely awful.
I’m just a writer, Larry, fuck all else. And my work is the product of writing, fuck all else. What was good, anyway, about last night’s workshop, was that all the “survivor” stuff had to go and take a running fuck to itself. It was made clear we were there about writing, nothing to do with anything else. So it was a good night.
Monday October 27th ‘97
Dear Charles (King)
Will just dash this off to you before Sonya and I head off for a swim. Have been trying to keep the swimming going recently—there’s the local pool down at George’s Cross, an excellent smallish pool that is really much used by the community, it’s great to see all the different types and ages and disabled people at different times; and a new large pool as part of a sports complex opened at Scotstounhill. It’s a great place, you feel like your going into an Olympic village visiting it (though that makes me feel a right fraud); but we have only recently discovered that it is on the 44 bus route that goes past our door, so we hope to start using that pool for a while. For myself it’s not that I’m trying to recover my youth or some nonsense, just that particularly as winter comes in, it’s sensible to try to make the most of facilities like these pools—they’re really a great public asset, indispensable in so many ways. It’s really depressing when you hear of facilities like this getting closed because of cuts, such as at Govan. On the other hand it’s great that the ones that are there do exist, and are for general public use.
Am glad to hear your striding over the golf links so much. Some day we must have a game in Glasgow or Aberdeen. I must warn you that the last time I played many years ago, my handicap was not a great deal smaller than the course par. But we could enjoy the walk. When I grew up in Pollok our local golf course was the council one at Deaconsbank near Rouken Glen.
I am really looking forward to Colorado in a few weeks. Not the journey—Glasgow-Amsterdam-Detroit-Denver— but certainly seeing all the places mentioned in Chapter Thirteen of my Thomson book. Apparently Central City, where Thomson was based for six months in 1873, was preserved by and large as the old mining town that it was, until recently. However about ten years ago the gambling laws were changed to allow gaming parlours, machines etc. So it now looks just like any other gambling hell on earth. I can’t think of anything more soul-destroying than a gambling town. I cannot understand another person’s interest in gambling: admission to hell I’m sure will be by lottery ticket.
Anyway Charles I’ll just finish this as we’re going for a bus. I have recently set up a small cassette in the kitchen where some of your tapes have been giving much pleasure during meals and washings up recenlty. That wonderful tape of the John Field nocturnes. And Sonya loves the Bjorling cassette. I have not read a newspaper or listened to a news bulletin since the Princess of Wales funeral. The last straw I’m afraid—I have been engaged in a rather rigorous language detoxification programme. More on that another time. Keep in touch.
Friday November 21st ‘97
Dear M B
You can have permission to use what you want, though I have to say that I don’t actually agree with the way you are using it. "Honest" is not a short story, and this satire on the earnestness of the attitudes it contains (and part mock tribute to Beckett’s great prose) was written in 1970, which is to say three years after Six Glasgow Poems, which is to say long before I ever read Archie Hind’s book, and nothing whatever to do with “the Seventies” and its alleged new Glasgow dialect fightback. There are things in Archie’s book—an important one— I really admire, but the passage you make much of I found deplorable when I got round to reading the novel, a cul de sac of the narrator’s own making, from a wrongly digested notion of culture. The trouble with the way you are using my work—though it is not uncommon academically—is that you are making logic out of what is being ironically satirised, to develop a straight line of development that not only isn’t actually there, but is being sent up in its absence.
Sandy Hamilton wrote “Gallus did you say” etc specifically to use in schools, I seem to remember him saying, which is nothing to do with the way my own work operates. He is not “following any line” of mine, to put it mildly, and the line you have construed, in my opinion, not only doesn’t actually exist in my own work, but is satirised therein.
Tuesday November 25th ‘97
Thanks for the proofs. You do retain “Vergil” in the proof though your letter says I had you with the spelling and you only found out “it was really Virgil” a couple of weeks ago. Well, so long as you don’t change my copy... Vergil is in fact given as a spelling variant in for example Collins Twentieth Century Dictionary, and comes up in, looking at a biblio, eg Nettleship’s Ancient Lives of Vergil (1880), Conway’s Harvard Lectures on the Vergilian Age (1931), De Witt’s “Vergil and Epicureanism” in the Classical Weekly (Vol XXV, 1932), Wili’s Vergil ( Munich 1930); not forgetting Rehm’s Das geographische Bild des alten Italien in Vergils Aeneis (Leipzig 1932) and from the Holy Pontiff’s big cupboard under the stairs, Fragmenta et picturae Vergiliani codicis Vaticani 3225 (=F) Rome, 1899.
Et cetera. The point in using this spelling is to give it a slightly pompous deliberately misplaced pedantry, as in those who know fuck all about music but will insist on talking about Ludwig van Beethoven, rather than just Beethoven. The voice in the line in my poem has a slightly ironic pomposity, for specific contextual reason, as one who knows about P. Vergilius Maximus, as encountered on certain pages by cognescenti. All meant to be subliminal of course, just raised to the light in clearings-up like this.
Thanks for your font work with 100 differences, teacup, dictionary, access, old story: they look just fine.
Monday December 15th ‘97
My attempts to write a poem about my trip to Colorado like you asked, had me thinking along my book’s lines of the New Jerusalem as antidote to the basis of the industrial city, Thomson’s Irvingite mother’s hopes and her son’s reply in the poem, reply and exposition and analysis, as it is. Revelations, and the city on the hill. Central City is such an exposition in its own way, in the lap of the mountains, and the basicness of the tearing at the mountain to set up the place, or rather to set up and bolster the institutions of the big places elsewhere. Capitalism founded on the mining of raw materials, with singleminded men competing for it.
It is so apposite that it is now a gambling town. I’ve written elsewhere that among the numerous ways of looking at the poem some people might see “ the world of the Redundant Male abandoned to urban industrial darkness, having in the name of "progress" banished the Female, and the Organic. Others will picture a lonely universe of male repetitive-compulsive behaviour; of men who have rejected a God obsessed with sex and physical retribution - but who have found that self-diagnosis is not the same as cure and release; and whose lapses into compulsion can be seen as the private rituals of a futile quest.”
It’s certainly a place of private ritual now, still searching for that lost thread. It was apposite that Jane [Wodening] and I left just as darkness was coming down, and that as we came speeding down the hill both Jupiter and Venus were visible—in fact the two planets were for a while the only two night objects visible—in a gap between mountains. It was exhilarating, given the Promethean male/female address at the opening to Places of the Mind.
The work for a poem with aforesaid ingredients was too ideas-led. The attached poster-poem came through separately, then I saw the Colorado connections, and hope you think it’s ok to send you it. I don’t know if you’ll want it for the cotton print you mentioned: if you do, the typefaces I have used are: “a”—Times Italic Outline Shadow 54 pt; next 6 lines Times Italic Outline Shadow 48 pt; the institution of the state—Times Outline 48 pt.
Monday December 29th ‘97
Thanks a lot for your book, which I took a genuine pleasure in reading, and will read again. It prompted me to type out the following Henley poem for you—“Attadale West Highlands”—a sonnet about Loch Carron, which is a Henley poem that I like.
Another poem that came to mind reading the poems was Williams’s poem to his grand-daughter, “Suzy”, part three:
Anyway that’s just by way of response, with thanks again. I’ve still not done the Graham stuff for you, but I promise I will. Here meantime is the Collected Recordings of Thomas Anthony Leonard. Hope you enjoy them—and that we meet up soon.
Monday December 29th ‘97
Thanks for the book you sent a few weeks ago. I had hoped that Nicholas would have had the new Raworth/Griffiths/Leonard volume out by Christmas, but the publisher messed up the line alignment of some of the pages, so it will have to be rebound in January, which is a nuisance. I like the clean look of the new bigger sized trios.
Reading your own there, “Erskine of Linlathen” brings me back to our conversation at Eldon Street ages ago, though the poem itself for me has also some connection with the movements of the poems in the new collection that you’ve sent. The line “the heart longing to hear in answer” also reminds me of the opening pages of Buber’s Between Man and Man, which opening I have always thought an arresting beginning.
Yes it would be good if we could meet when you’re in Glasgow, it’s a pity we have not met for such a while. We could have a coffee, maybe a walk up by the river nearby if the weather permits. I would welÎcome that very much.
In November I was over in Colorado, my first time in America. The invitation was to Boulder, where I gave a reading and talked about Radical Renfrew and Thomson, and stayed a few days with Ed and Jenny Dorn. The highlight for me was getting to see Central City, where Thomson was in 1872 whilst halfway through writing “The City of Dreadful Night”. The place hasn’t changed all that much architecturally, and the visit was really amazing for me. Ed was pretty heroic in being as hospitable as he was, he’s very ill with cancer and it’s a difficult time for Jenny and himself.
He asked me to write a poem about my visit: what I have come up with, enclosed, is a not in the form I expected to produce, but you take what you get. Also a triptych done about a week ago: I see it to be viewed as a vertical column, with a space between the individual bits equal to about a page. Top one text, middle the slashed-across, bottom one the rectangle. Keep in touch.