I do not know many poets and this is not a fact I have ever recognised as a problem. I knew Ian Crichton Smith well enough to dance on his table and his passing is an irredeemable loss, but as for the rest, apart from one or two, I've never have had occasion to spend much time with them. I know the local ones, of course, and occasionally meet them on my weekly journey to the Drumsleet Souk, the Great Makar Tom Pow, the handsome and saturnine Rab Wilson, the ubiquitous and beautiful Liz Niven, the elfin Angus MacMillan...and so on. There are many more new ones, I'm told. Drumsleet has become a kind of breeding ground for poets. It's a terrible thought, and enough to put you off your sleep. Anyway what poets I still do know, mostly through correspondence, tend to be embittered old swine like myself who hardly ever stir from their firesides and whose obscurity and neglect they blame on a series of circumstances distantly removed from themselves.
So it is a great surprise when my early evening's meditation at the back of the George, my new pied a terre, is interrupted by Vinnie, a poet of roughly my own liver size from Ayrshire. Vinnie had been to hear a poetess read in Shetland dialect, an event predestined to offend him on several levels at once.
"Ark Bark Dark Gark" Vinnie mouths, slamming a Bottle of House Red on the table between us. "Fark Gark Parp"
He pours us a half pint of beaujolais each. "Could have been reading the telephone book. And you should have heard the rapturous applause afterwords. I guarantee not a *****r knew what she was on about."
It's only a matter of time till Vinnie reveals that this woman has been shortlisted for a major prize and has a contract with Bloodaxe, the reason, of course, why he is stalking her.
"And she's been shortlisted for a major prize and has a contract with Bloodaxe."
"Which prize?" I enquire innocently.
"What's it matter?" he chokes, "the **** *******Prize for ****ing Gibberish!"
It pleases Vinnie to believe that some poets are getting an unfair advantage over him by having prizes and poetry presses devoted to their minority causes. He also thinks it's unfair for people in wheelchairs to get to run marathons, but that's another story. It's only a matter of time till he turns his attention to Scots. Vinnie does not consider Scots a language.
"Ah miss ma dug, ma dug is deid,
there's something crakkit in my heid"
Vinnie chants, pouring another glass for us both.
"It's not a language, it's bad spelling!"
I go inside to ask one of the barmaids for another bottle. I will need it because there will be no stopping Vinnie until he has run the gamut.
Vinnie is also bitter about never having been awarded any prize or bursary, and does not ascribe this to the fact that he once wrote to the Scottish Arts Council threatening to blow it up and kill all its office bearers. Also, as far as I can see, Vinnie has not written a word of poetry for 25 years. Nevertheless he blames his unfair treatment on a self-serving elite of bald women who are out to stop him.
"I mean face facts. If we started a poetry competition and plastered MEN ONLY all over it we would be carted off by the police. We'd be ******prosecuted. "
Vinnie is fresh, he tells me, from being involved in a fistfight with a leading Scottish woman writer who had just published a book, emphasising, or - he claims-completely fabricating, the role of a female hero in the Scottish Wars of Independence.
"All I said was she should call it Bravetart. I didn't expect a kicking. "
Luckily Vinnie is quiter now. The wine is doing its dark job. Soon I will be able to bundle him onto the 246 bendy-bus to Cumnock and let him fight his way home at last through the night patrols of lesbians and doric speakers. We sit in silence till the low birdsong is joined by the quiet but stubborn snoring of a dying breed.