Angus Martin is a poet truly grounded in the place he writes about: Kintyre. Four generations on his father’s side of the family were fishermen going out from Dalintober, and on his mother’s side they farmed around the Southend district at the end of the Kintyre peninsula. He himself has made his life and living in Campbeltown, where he was born, remaining in the community and landscape of his heritage. In an early review of Martin’s poetry Iain Crichton Smith noted that it was ‘haunted by ancestry’, and indeed the poet weaves both the living and the dead into his work. The forefathers who mastered the sea and the families who left the bones of their farms behind them all inhabit his poems and enrich the deep connection between Martin and his home territory.
Preoccupied with the sea, Martin left school at fifteen and went with the local fleet to be a herring fisherman for about five years, until 1978. The next year he started work as a postman in and around Campbeltown, continuing in that service for 33 years until he retired in 2012. Martin has a considerable reputation as a local historian, and has published widely on many aspects of Kintyre lore and culture, including traditional industries. During the 1970s, while in his twenties, he interviewed and recorded the old men who had known the ways of fishing before mechanisation. His years of careful research bore fruit in The Ring-Net Fishermen, a collaboration with the artist Will Maclean, published in 1981. For his next two books on Kintyre he listened to the old farmers and shepherds, whose way of life was also disappearing. In a 1991 interview in the Scottish Book Collector Martin says that he learned much from these men who worked the land and sea, and from the local tradition-bearer, and it is obvious that this local knowledge and his passion for family history inform his poetry as much as his prose writings.
In his mid-teens Martin had joined high company when poems of his were included in Scottish Poetry 4, 5 and 6, spanning 1969 to 1972, edited in those years by George Bruce, Maurice Lindsay and Edwin Morgan. It wasn’t until the mid 1980s that he started writing poetry again, contributing frequently to newspapers and Lines Review and Chapman, and in 1990 Macdonald Publishers brought out his first collection, The Larch Plantation, which received a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. From then until the present Martin has published a further nine collections, either full-length or pamphlet, and in 2016 John Killick edited a selected poems, A Night of Islands, published by Shoestring Press. Laggan Days is a series of poems in memory of his friend the poet George Campbell Hay. The book Always Boats and Men combines Martin’s poems, the artwork of Mark I’Anson and old photographs of the area.
Martin has edited the journal of the Kintyre Antiquarian and Natural History Society since 1998, and is chairman of the Friends of Campbelltown Museum. As an amateur genealogist, he has an extensive knowledge of Kintyre families, which he is ready to share with all. He has collected local Scots words for the Scottish National Dictionary, and contributed to Scottish toponymy with his Kintyre Places & Place Names. (Contributed to the local gin distillery too, as they use his work to name their batches.)
In all his works, Angus Martin gives much back to the place of his birth.