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This review is taken from PN Review 201, Volume 38 Number 1, September - October 2011.

THE WIT TO STIMULATE NORMAN MACCAIG, The Many Days: Selected Poems (Polygon) £9.99
ALISDAIR GRAY, Collected Verses (Two Ravens Press) £15.99

Though he wrote about death often, Norman MacCaig's poems are full of vigour and life. The Many Days is testament to his apperception and skill in crafting verse on the impulse of things seen and thought. MacCaig put his life into his work, finding resonance in simple things. He chose simple titles ('Praise of a Collie' describes a once loved dog, 'Toad' is a tribute to a toad) emblematic of the easy shift from the prosaic to poetry. Though generally regarded as an Edinburgh poet, his themes are rural. He drew upon a fecund kinship with the Scottish landscape, its people, places and fauna, but his celebrations were unbaggaged by nationalism. He has been criticised for this; people called him apolitical as if it were a dirty word. The love he chose to share was for the countryside rather than the country. He rarely started a poem with something he had not seen. From this first vision he did not move to wider issues, but to deeper introspection: 'A jewel in your head? Toad, / you've put one in mine, / a tiny radiance in a dark place' ('Toad'). The toad's gilt eyes are both real objects and an imagined trope; the poet's mind is the medium.

Refinement is preferred to rawness. His wordplay is too careful and well achieved to have been impromptu: 'The black cow is two native carriers / Bringing its belly home, slung from a pole' ('Fetching Cows'). The metaphors are impeccable descriptions ...


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