Speaking in Tongues
- The Poetry of Scotland: Gaelic, Scots and English 1380-1980 edited and introduced by Roderick Watson
Edinburgh, 752 pp, £19.95, May 1995, ISBN 0 7486 0607 6
No anthology offers us the full spectrum of Scottish poetry, but Roderick Watson’s comes closer than any other. This is the first big, general anthology to offer us work in Gaelic, Scots and English (note the word order) from the medieval period to the present. Catherine Kerrigan’s Anthology of Scottish Women Poets (1991), Douglas Dunn’s Faber Book of 20th-century Scottish Poetry (1992), and Daniel O’Rourke’s Dream State; The New Scottish Poets (1994) all offer work in the three languages, but, as their titles indicate, select from specific sectors of Scottish poetry. When we compare Watson’s volume with its main competitors, the Penguin and Oxford anthologies, it is clear not only that these are out of date, but that they are products of an age when cultural imperialism among publishers seems to have demanded the exclusion of Gaelic verse.
Vol. 18 No. 5 · 7 March 1996
Question: When is a book review like a Jobs Wanted column? Answer: When it is Robert Crawford writing on The Poetry of Scotland by Roderick Watson (LRB, 8 February). There is a difference, however, from the normal procedure in that he sets out his own job description – ‘To the best of my knowledge, nobody has been asked to do a new Oxford anthology’– and then applies for the post himself: Watson’s anthology of Scottish poetry ‘merits an excited welcome; it sets a new agenda that future anthologists cannot ignore; I would like to be one of those anthologists who try to surpass it.’ Well, so would I, as indeed would many others, including, I am sure, Tom Hubbard, whose excellent anthology of contemporary poetry in Scots (that ‘local dialect, once but no longer an accepted literary language’, Marilyn Butler writes so wrongly of in the same issue), The New Makars, Professor Crawford chooses to ignore. If the job ever appears perhaps it can be advertised in the LRB?
Vol. 18 No. 8 · 18 April 1996
If W.S. Milne (Letters, 7 March) thinks that in reviewing Roderick Watson’s fine anthology The Poetry of Scotland I was writing an open letter to Oxford University Press setting out the case for a new Oxford Book of Scottish Verse which I would like to edit, he is absolutely correct. Sadly, Oxford feel that a new Scottish Oxford anthology would be uneconomic. It’s lucky that Edinburgh University Press and Penguin are more optimistic about publishing Scottish anthologies. I was surprised to see W.S. Milne praising an anthology of modern Scots poetry which does not include work by Edwin Morgan, Tom Leonard or Kathleen Jamie.
University of St Andrews, Fife