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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

Festival Poetry: Poetry in the Persian Tent

Image: Aonhgas MacNeacail, Jim Carruth, Niall Campbell, Patsy Seddon

Held to raise funds for Oxfam’s Young MacDonald campaign (which the SPL is involved with), the Poetry in the Persian Tent series of events held all this week has boasted a bevy of great names – Liz Lochhead, Jackie Kay and Stewart Conn to name but a few – with Saturday’s star turn provided by the indomitable Aongas MacNeacail.

It started, however, with a musical turn by Gaelic vocalist and harpist Patsy Seddon. The beautiful musicality of her instrument was echoed by the poetry we then heard.

First up was Jim Carruth, who drew the subject matter of many of his poems from his work as a farmer. He had a poem about trying to bring a harvest in after a few days of rain: ‘That poem could have been about the weather for the whole of this year so far’, he said as the rain tapped upon the windows (we weren’t really in a tent, by the way, but a church, in case you were wondering). He reminisced about being forced, as a boy, to make bales even though he had an allergy to hay. There was a calm quality to his verse that rested the listener, the equivalent perhaps to his stated wish in another poem to ‘show impatient rush hour shoppers a blade of grass’.

Niall Campbell is a highly promising young poet who already has an accomplished Happenstance pamphlet under his belt. Whether writing about the Golden Fleece, made-up species of plants, or the difficulty of getting a cool glass of water in France, Campbell served notice that he is certainly one to watch in the future.

Aonghas MacNeacail had already impressed this week with a good turn at the EIBF. He read a tribute to his son, ‘Little Mouth’, treated us to a sample of his poetry in Scots, and confessed that while the brothers in early poem ‘The Divide’ are based on true characters, he had embroidered the tale somewhat; a dancing girl in Cairo that one of the characters had a jolly night with was, in face, a Jewish milliner in Hull!