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This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

the poetry of tartan noir

I keep wanting to like poetry – but generally failing. Bert Brecht, Norman MacCaig and Marin Sorescu are the main poets who have ever really got through to me - the first for his political anger; the other two for their wry humour. TS Eliot and Adrian Mitchell also appeal. But I do enjoy and appreciate the poetic style which you can find in good novels and essays.
William McIlvanney has always been an admired writer in Scotland though his renown hasn't spread beyond the borders in quite the way some of us think it should have. 
McIlvanney isn't a crime writer per se; he's also written literary novels, short stories, essays and poetry since the 60s. But he did happen to write three crime novels, starting with Laidlaw  in 1977, that acted as a hard-bitten blueprint for all Scottish crime fiction to come, inspiring a generation of writers to take on the genre in his wake.
Laidlaw's eponymous detective is an existentially troubled individual with a strong moral compass and a stronger sense of socialist justice.
The Glasgow he stalks is a brutal place, rife with deprivation and poverty, yet depicted with dark humour and perceptive, poetic prose. The plot reads like a cliche today, but that's because McIlvanney was first to do it. The murderer of a teenager has to be found and, well, that's it. But McIlvanney subverts expectations, and gives away whodunit early on, focusing instead on the psyches of characters that represent different facets of Glasgow, and by extension Scotland. In a time when English crime writers were still copying Agatha Christie, McIlvanney took the hardboiled ethos of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and applied it to the working classes of the city around him. It was a revelation.
I was spellbound by which I've just read after its recent republication – the toughness of its taut text. Detective Inspector Jack Laidlaw left university after one year. He had not failed -"University failed me ... I took acres of fertile ignorance up to that place. And they started to pour preconceptions all over it. Like forty tons of cement. No thanks. I got out before it hardened".
"Panda (one of the characters) was like a banana republic threatened by two contending major powers who don’t want direct conflict". (ch.11 p.75)
Laidlaw takes as much pleasure in the ordinary street life of Glasgow and of the dignity of its people. This indomitable spirit is captured in the last action of the book where Laidlaw after an evening’s drinking, dances outside Central Station with an old woman who had been standing in a queue. ‘Son,’ she said, ‘This is the best queue I’ve ever been in in my life.’ (p.298)
McIlvanney’s shorter pieces are marvellous examples of expressive writing and can be accessed on his website. 
Reviews of his work are available on a Glasgow University site about Scottish literature here and here

In researching for this post, I came across a very interesting website about lifesaving poems  one of whose posts was about Marin Sorescu  Perhaps the site can help me with my blind spot for most poetry. I know I need to focus more!

To end - not with a poem but with a symphony of wood! The spoons which head this post are the creation of this artist MANU whose studio in Tirgovishte we visited recently and two of whose beautifully-crafted dressers now have pride of place in our mountain kitchen.  

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