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This article is taken from PN Review 142, Volume 28 Number 2, November - December 2001.

A Cosmopolitan Scot: Burns Singer James Keery

The new edition of Burns Singer's Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2001) brings a neglected Scottish poet again into view at an auspicious time. Singer was no Nationalist, but never the 'rootless cosmopolitan' described by MacDiarmid, either. His friend from Glasgow University, the poet James Russell Grant, suggests a succinct improvement on MacDiarmid's phrase: 'a cosmopolitan Scot'. Singer will find a particularly sympathetic audience in a newly autonomous, confident and open-minded Scottish culture.

Born in New York in 1928, Singer was brought up in Glasgow, where he began degrees in both English and Zoology, finally abandoning his studies after the suicide of his mother in 1951. He had Polish, Jewish and Irish blood - to go back only two generations - but in one of his many articles on Scotland he describes his relationship with the city of Glasgow:

There is for every man a place somewhere in the world where his consciousness was constructed, to which he belongs and from which, no matter how far he may be separated from it in space or time, he gains whatever living impetus he carries with him through the world, through his intimate affective life as well as through the geographical settings among which it is lived: and that place, for me, is Glasgow.

In the mid-1940s, Singer attended J.D. Fergusson's New Arts Club, where, on one occasion, he gave a poetry reading to the accompaniment of jazz 78s of his own choice - anticipating ...


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