Edited by poets Andy Jackson and Brian Johnstone, Scotia Extremis is a poetry anthology, which seeks to explore the ‘soul of Scotland’ through a selection of poems specially commissioned from poets from all around the country. The anthology’s title is inspired, in part, by the following line from Hugh MacDiarmid’s great early poem, A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle:
“I’ll ha’e nae hauf-way hoose, but aye be whaur extremes meet…”
The commissioned poets were each given a topic selected by the editors and asked to come up with their take on that topic’s place in the national psyche. Each topic was paired with another to highlight both their common identities and the extremes of the nation’s culture, which they embodied. The result is a marvellous collection of over 100 poems reflecting on a wide range of contrasting pairings such as Laphroaig and Buckfast; Jimmy Shand and Jack Bruce; Sawney Bean and Bible John; Hamish Henderson and Frankie Boyle; Cullen Skink and Irn-Bru; and Sauchiehall Street and The Royal Mile. The anthology is rounded off nicely with poems from the editors Jackson and Johnstone.
Hopefully, the following extracts give some indication of the richness and variety of the offerings:
In Prepare to Climb Your Mountain, Beth McDonough reflects on Muriel Gray’s enthusiasm for hill-walking and her very public reaction to the horror of the Glasgow School of Art fire:
“Carved sandstone gives no hold even to prehensile toes. Every crevice cracks open down her fissure face as bastard flames scour out our Toshy’s spooked wood dreams.”
A cook-off competition between rival cannibal families the Denfiends and the (Sawney) Beans is imagined in W N Herbert’s Mastercriminal:
“Chic Murray Kiev inna bunnet because his entrance shidna be cauld; braised Nesbitt brains in Rab C sauce laid oan a heidband’s fauld;”
The history of Edinburgh’s most famous street is traced in Alasdair Paterson’s The Royal Mile:
“Volcanic jizz on a world tour found its sweet spot of latitude and got embedded, crag and tail. In due course history, fortress down to palace – pecking orders and disorders…”
The raw energy of a 1970s gig by The Sensational Alex Harvey Band is evoked by Andrew J Wilson in Vambo Unbound:
“The great performer plays great dictator; A rabble-rousing pantomime villain who wants his audience to boo and hiss as he shouts “Sieg Heil!” again and again.”
The gaudy glamour of the East End of Glasgow’s famous street market is set out by A C Clarke in The Barras:
“This place trades on illusion like Glasgow herself, raddled beauty with Tennents breath, getting her gladrags on for a night on the lash…”
This anthology is a real basket of delights, which should ideally be read from beginning to end, in as few sittings as possible, but can also be enjoyed by dipping in at random. There is rich variety in both the subject matter of the poems and the range of poetic styles. Collectively, the poems offer great insights and pearls of wisdom, social commentary, pathos, sly wit and laugh-out-loud humour. Because of its broad appeal, this book would make an ideal present…and the countdown to Christmas starts around now.
Scotia Extremis is available now and published by Luath Press.