Anne Dunford reviews – Other Worlds – An Anthology of Scottish Island Poems Edited by Stewart Conn

I was fairly certain I’d enjoy this book as soon as I saw it. As I love Scottish islands and poetry, I was almost sure it would be good – and it was. However, this is a book that will, I’m sure, also be enjoyed by many who don’t share my enthusiasms!

An excellent introduction by Stewart Conn refers to Lawrence Durrell’s comments on Islomania and Hugh MacDiarmid’s imagined repost! In four and a half pages, the reader soon discovers how many Scottish islands there are and how important they are, not just to the tourist trade but also because of the impact they’ve had on culture, history, economy and national identity.

Initially Stewart chose poems written by poets who were themselves born and bred on the islands and he then moved on to include poems by those who had been inspired by the islands’ flora and fauna, rich history, and characters past and present. There are reminders about how islands can be a source of solace, places for retreat and of course the beauty to be found in them – not just in the landscape but in the music, songs and language.

The book is divided into six sections: Crossings, Loch and Moor, Island Life, Love and Loss, Creatures and From Afar – a helpful guide when searching for a particular theme. There were poets included in this anthology that I have met and/or read over the years and some that were new to me. 

The first poem in the book is by Kenneth Steven. I first met him when I was asked to introduce his event at the Wigtown Book Festival nearly twenty years ago and have enjoyed his company and his poetry on many occasions since. A number of his poems are inspired by his childhood memories – and what is more magical than a ferry trip to Iona? 

It’s the smell I remember –
The dizziness of diesel, tarry rope, wood sheened
like toffee.

Sadly, I never met Norman MacCaig, but became a fan of his poetry not long after moving to Scotland in 2002. His poem ‘Wreck’ is included in the section on Island Life. He writes of how:

It lay foundered on its own bad luck.

Twice a day it took aboard
A cargo of the tide; its crew
Flitted with fins...

I’m not familiar with the poetry of Samuel Tongue, but his poem ‘Hauling Out’, in the Creatures section, has made me look for more of his work. Here he writes of:

Cormorants drying their wings 
Like dark angels resting from the hunt

and he watches as:

seals blubber onto boulders

Another poet new to me is James Aitchison whose poem ‘Islay Loch’ is included in the section Loch and Moor. He shares his discovery of an improbable loch with an opaquely amber glint. I particularly like his ending:

when smooth turns rough and the opaque grows clear.
Across an actual moor where far is near
an amber and unlikely loch still gleams.

I could have selected many others to show you here – this book is a delight and one to read and re-read. There are few poetry books that I have sat down and read from cover to cover in one sitting, but I just didn’t want to put Other Worlds down. 

As someone who has spent many holidays exploring a number of the Scottish islands (although there are more to be ticked of the ‘must visit’ list) some of the poems brought back many happy memories and left me even more determined to go back. These places have a magic of their own. But this is also a book that will, I think, enchant those yet to fall under the spell of islands where even the names alone can capture the imagination.

It’s a poetry book that I will be confident giving to someone who is known not to read poetry – it could open their eyes and minds and send them on a journey of discovery. 

by Anne Dunford

Anne Dunford

Anne Dunford is a writer in her seventies who lives in Wigtown. She has enjoyed a checkered career mostly involving teaching reading (from infants to adults) and later training teachers and volunteers in effective methods for reluctant readers. Her move to Galloway in 2002 meant more time for writing (although writing up five years’ work on a PhD was abandoned in favour of plays and poetry).

Anne’s short plays and monologues have been performed at The Swallow Theatre, but more recently her focus has been on writing poetry. Her poems have been published in a number of anthologies, poetry magazines and online – most recently, Wigtown Book Festival commissioned Anne to write a poem on the theme of ‘Hello Stranger’ for their 2021 programme, and a recording of it is available online.

Her latest collection of poetry, From The Mountains to the Sea, inspired by the landscape and illustrated by her husband Les Dunford’s photographs, has been published to raise money for research into Fibromyalgia. It’s available in Clatteringshaw’s Visitor Centre, Wigtown and surrounding area local bookshops or by contacting Anne by email: anne.dunford@holmespun.co.uk

Her blog, Life’s a Beach, contains random thoughts and poems.

Stewart Conn was kind enough to answer our quick and quirky questions – read his responses and find out what he would save from his burning house!

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