Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Iain Crichton Smith

I always thought Martin Amis and I have a lot in common. He thinks poets don't drive, so do I. He had completely crap teeth, so have I. He invented a minor and unsuccessful poet (in 'The Information') called Horridge, one of the publications of this minor poet was called 'Horridge'. See? Uncanny isn't it? I suppose you could say there are some minor places where our lives have diverged- eg he's rich, handsome and successful- but all in all I think there's conclusive evidence to suggest that our destinies are intertwined.

I am shocked therefore to receive a postcard from his secretary this morning saying he can't possibly reply to my many letters because he's in South America and isn't coming back for the forseeable future. This is obviously a lie. It reminds me of a section of Ian Crichton Smith's retiral speech where he told his colleagues that they were all welcome to visit him though he "lives up an inaccesible farm track and is nearly always out."

Anyway this brings me to the point of this post, Iain Crichton Smith, whom I suppose you could say was my only real poetical mentor. He wrote the blurb for Tramontana and we corresponded until his death, mostly on the subject of C John Taylor, founder of the warehouses of the so-called West Highland Arts and Crafts and a man whose painting and poetry was, in both our opinions, truly abominable. Iain wrote once that "Taylor's Pieta looks more like a Pizza."

Iain Crichton Smith was born in Glasgow in 1928, to parents who were both from Lewis. He is one of the most important writers in English and Gaelic in the 20th Century in Scotland. Best known for his 1968 novel Consider the Lilies, he wrote more than fifty books, several hundred poems and short stories, several stage plays, screenplays, and radio dramas. Smith grew up in the small village of Bayble in Lewis, which was also home to the Gaelic poet Derick Thomson. He studied at Aberdeen University, before training as a teacher. Eventually, he got a job at Oban High School, where he taught until retiring in 1977 to become a full-time writer.

He wrote beautifully about the human condition often with the penetrating insights of someone who had himself experienced deep doubt and depression. His poetry is often lyrical and heart stopping.

Owl and Mouse

The owl wafts home with a mouse in its beak.
The moon is stunningly bright in the black sky.

Such a gold stone, such a brilliant hard light.
Such large round eyes of the owl among the trees.

All seems immortal but for the dangling mouse,
an old hurst strung among the harmony

of the masterful and jewelled orchestra
which shows no waste soundlessly playing on.


Rachel Fox said...

(1) You are not a minor poet
(2) Martin Amis is not handsome (in fact he proper turns my stomach).
You may continue.

Stooshie said...

I think he's more of a miner poet, Rachel, chipping fruitfully away at the coal face of perspective.

Yes, Shug, who can forget him watching on in the pub in Taynuilt as his wife was coaxed onto a table for a dance (did that really happen?), or his face as I returned long after leaving to caj a fiver for a last drink?

Iain & Donalda stayed over at my flat in Galston once. We stayed up for a wee dram & next day I showed them round the ruins & grounds of Loudon Castle, with Iain constantly muttering about how 'grand it all is, jeez".

A fine man & a great poet. And creator of Murdo.

shug said...

Rachel, you are too kind.

shug said...

stu- I can't comment on the debauch in Taynuilt because I can't remember it very well, beyond a vague feeling it was great. A mere fiver? How times have changed, my lad.

hope said...

Rachel speaks the truth...as far as I know. Give me a moment to find a photo of this Amis character.

Oh good grief! Yes Rachel, having gone and looked it up, you are dead on about #2 as well.

No Shug, yours is a face to trust and contains a most wonderful voice to listen to as you read your equally wonderful works.

No need to send money. Just go have a drink in my honor. ;)

Sorlil said...

More than fifty books?? Man alive, I had no idea he was that prolific. To be honest I don't know that much about his work, a project for this year perhaps!

Colin Will said...

A great poet and a really nice man. I even forgave him for mistaking me in a review - before he met me - for 'an angry young man'. Two out of three wasn't bad, but 'young'? Jings.

Frances said...

I can but agree with my friend Rachel.

Not minor at all. Not handsome at all (him that is not him). The things Colin finds to complain about. I'm going now.

Rachel Fox said...

People who agree with me...I like it here.