Tuesday, 9 November 2010

Norman MacCaig Centenary in Assynt

'And so you and me, David, can sit down and eat a bite, and breathe a bit longer, and take a dram from my bottle. Then we’ll strike for Aucharn…'

...Or Assynt, for the Norman MacCaig Centenary celebrations. Aliens landing in the small coastal town of Lochinver could be forgiven for thinking that Norman MacCaig was Scotland's greatest fisherman, for his fishing exploits have received almost as much media coverage as his poetry this week.

There are many poets in town for the celebrations, and poems by schoolchildren are tacked up in every shop window. Last night we celebrated Remembrance Day with 'Poetry, Peace and a Pint' in The Caberfeidh. Such warmth emanated from the twenty poets and artists around the pub table that it seemed we might indeed 'reconstitute the world' as Adrienne Rich writes in 'The Dream of a Common Language'. Rich's poem was read by a local artist who told how she had scratched the verse on the door of a Dumbarton police cell with her zip while locked up overnight following a peaceful protest against Trident. Other readings including a hearty dose of Edward Thomas, a fragment from Kenneth White's long poem 'Labrador', and Mandy Haggith's beautiful rendition of a poem by Iyad Hayatleh, a Palestinian poet born in a Syrian refugee camp who is now living in Glasgow.

The programme of centenary events, organised by Top Left Corner, culminates tonight with a ceilidh at which Liz Lochead and other poets will be reading. (Norman MacCaig was fond of a ceilidh, and best among the MacCaig Trivia I have gleaned this week is the fact that his favourite tune was The Jig of Slurs.) I'll be presenting a new poem about the Arctic, which feels fitting in this landscape which is so redolent of Greenland. I've been told that Assynt and Greenland were both part of the vast land mass 'Laurentia' which was situated over the south pole in the Cambrian Period, before moving north. Thus the Highlands only met the rest of the British Isles during the great plate tectonic collision of the Caledonian Orogeny around 500 million years ago, and have more geological affinities with the Arctic. Perhaps this explains, not only the environmental synchronicities, but also why I have found several people here who have, they say casually, 'just returned from Greenland', including remarkable photographer Iain Roy.

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