Exciting news! Next Friday, on Burns Night, we will launch a new online anthology, available to read on our website for free: The Best of the Best Scottish Poems. What’s more, it has been edited by journalist and broadcaster James Naughtie – and he’ll appear at an event at Aye Write! on 30 March alongside some of the poets whose work has made his final cut.
In 2004, the Scottish Poetry Library did something that people visit it to do: it borrowed. Not a book, however – an idea. Former SPL Director Robyn Marsack was inspired by the examples of The Best American Poetry and Best New Zealand Poems, annual celebrations of the finest poetry published in each country chosen by a guest editor.
The first Best Scottish Poems editor, publisher and poet Hamish Whyte, had an awesome task, one tackled by each of his successors. He read every Scottish poem published in books, pamphlets and literary magazines in one calendar year, from which he was tasked with choosing 20. Over the next decade and a half, the Library has been blessed to bring on board a fine selection of editors. Since Whyte, Best Scottish Poems has been overseen by – to choose just a few names – Janice Galloway, Alan Spence, Ken MacLeod, Roddy Woomble and Jen Hadfield.
For 2019, we’re trying something a little different – and we’re delighted that James Naughtie is our Best of the Best Scottish Poems editor. He has read each of the BSP collections published on the SPL website since 2004 in order to make his choice. Next Friday we shall reveal which 20 poems of the 280 to choose from feature in The Best of the Best. In the meantime, you can read each of the annual BSPs here. Which poems would you choose?
‘It was exhilarating to revisit the selections of our best poems going back fifteen years,’ says Naughtie. ‘They’re a rich harvest, bursting with life. Picking the best of them was difficult, naturally, and involved hairsbreadth decisions, but I’m happy that this crop represents the range and depth of our poetry. Anyone wondering about the state of it will just have to read these poems, rest easy – and then read them again. They all deserve a long life.’
James Naughtie is best known as a former presenter of BBC Radio 4’s Today, which he co-presented between 1994 and 2015. After 21 years of co-hosting Today, Naughtie announced he would retire from regular presenting duties and would, instead, becomes a ‘Special Correspondent’ with ‘responsibility for charting the course of the constitutional changes at the heart of the UK political debate’, as well as BBC News’s Books Editor, contributing a book segment to the Saturday morning editions of Today and hosting Radio 4’s Bookclub.
On 30 March, Naughtie will appear at a special event at Glasgow’s literary festival Aye Write!, where he’ll talk about how he approached the task of editing the Best of the Best Scottish Poems; several of the poets whose work has made the final 20 will take part too. Check Aye Write! and the SPL’s social media over the next month for confirmation of the poets appearing.
Let us know which poems you’d choose as one of ‘the best’ Scottish poems this century by tweeting us at @byleaveswelive.