Best Scottish Poems 2017

Screapadal (2017) by John Bryden


This is the fourteenth issue of Best Scottish Poems, an online selection of twenty of the best poems by Scottish authors to appear in books, pamphlets and literary magazines during 2017.

We began by publishing this annual selection on St Andrew's Day, to wave a poetry flag for Scotland, but moved publication to spring to allow editors to consider a whole calendar year. Bookshops and libraries – with honourable exceptions – often provide a very narrow range of poetry, and Scottish poetry in particular. Best Scottish Poems offers readers in Scotland and abroad a way of sampling the range and achievement of our poets, their languages, forms and concerns.

It is in no sense a competition but a personal choice. The preceding years’ selections are still available on this site. We’re honoured this year to welcome as editor Roddy Woomble. Both as a solo artist and as a member of his band Idlewild, Woomble has been one of contemporary Scotland's most literate and intriguing lyricists. No surprise to learn then that he is a passionate reader of Scottish and American poetry, and has been so since his late teens. As we see him visit the SPL on a regular basis, we naturally thought of him as a guest editor for Best Scottish Poems.

We hope that you enjoy this varied selection, and that it will encourage you to browse further on the Scottish Poetry Library website, as well as borrow and buy from the Library.

Asif Khan

Editor's Introduction

I was delighted and surprised to be asked to select my Scottish poems of 2017. I have been going to the Scottish Poetry library regularly since it began, to absorb some of the ideas on the shelves, and to chisel away at my own words, which usually end up in my songs. It is a fantastic resource and space.

I never enjoyed poetry in school, I never understood why you had to analyse the meaning. I preferred songs. I liked to live in the mystery! Songs lead you back to poetry eventually, though. At 18 I fell heavily under the spell of all the Beat-era poets – Richard Brautigan especially. Frank O’Hara was another favourite, and Jack Gilbert. They opened up a new way of thinking and describing, which helped me on my journey as a songwriter.

In my early 20s I discovered George Mackay Brown, who remains maybe my favourite poet. I worked my way through all the poets from Sandy Moffat’s ‘Poet Pub’ painting: Norman MacCaig, Sorley Maclean, and Edwin Morgan, who made a lasting impression. I worked a little bit with Edwin Morgan from 2002 until 2007. Edwin used to send me ideas for lyrics and we’d try to turn them into songs. This idea eventually spawned an album, Ballads of the Books, where a selection of Scottish poets wrote the words for a collection of Scottish bands. It was a very interesting record, and we’re talking about doing another possibly. Edwin’s poem ‘Scottish Fiction’ also appears in a song by my band Idlewild. He was an inspirational man who I’m very glad to have met and spent some time with. These Scottish poets cemented my new love of poetry, which I now consider, twenty years of reading down the line, when done truthfully and well, to be one of the purest forms of art.

I’m still discovering, though – Hera Lindsay Bird is a recent favorite. I’m drawn to vagueness I must say. I see poetry, like lyrics, as patterns made with words.

Reading all of the Scottish poems published in one year was a big task. Daunting, even. I came across many styles of poetry that I hadn't read before. I took my time with it, and read everything over a few times. I suppose I’m more interested in the way the poems make me feel rather than technical skill. I’m very impressed by anyone that can set out and write a collection of poetry though; I never could. My words hang around melodies, which is a very effective mask! All the poets I’m reading have my utmost respect. Poetry is a brave and noble creative act.

Roddy Woomble

Roddy Woomble was born in 1976 in the west of Scotland. He had a peripatetic childhood, with spells in France and the United States. After school, Woomble moved to Edinburgh to study photography, and it was here, in 1995, he became one of the founding members of the band Idlewild. In their first incarnation, Idlewild were known for their spiky, guitar-driven music, although over the years their sound has developed, and now takes in country and folk influences. Woomble remains one of the UK’s most thoughtful lyricists, with a track record of collaborating with writers. Idlewild’s 2002 album The Remote Part concludes with ‘In Remote Part / Scottish Fiction’, which featured Edwin Morgan reading a poem he wrote specially for the song. Woomble also performs as a solo artist, with his last album The Deluder released in 2017.