Monthly Archives: December 2012

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Event Review: Alastair Cook’s Filmpoems 06/12/12

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Brian Johnstone reads his Filmpoem ‘How Well it Burns’

 

Event Review: 6 December 2012 Filmpoems

When folk read poems, images sparked from the narrative float through their minds. Alastair Cook’s own brand of Filmpoems, whereby the poet reads his work against a running 8mm or 16mm short film, provides the audience with a firm set of visuals. It’s an intriguing art form which both expands and contracts the poem’s possibilities, as the audience tries to thematically integrate the text with the established visuals of the film (and soundtrack). The majority of Cook’s Filmpoems are lush, evocative and dark creations filmed in the derelict sugar shacks on the James Watt Dock in Greenock.

Set in the Scottish Poetry Library’s cosy downstairs area, the setting was that of a makeshift cinema. A white screen hung from the high wall. A golden clarsach, later trilled by Rita Bradd, stood in the corner.  Musician Luca Nasciuti was on hand to provide a haunting soundtrack. Cook began by describing how the batch of film poems came about. Commissioned by the arts collective Absent Voices, Cook asked seven poets to contribute a work: Gerard Rudolf, Jane McKie, Brian Johnstone, John Glenday, JL Williams and Sheree Mack. The poets were each given archived pictures of the sugar industry and watched a short film about the dilapidated buildings.   

Overall, the Filmpoems are exceptional creations which provide a visual and material texture to some rather serious poems. The film’s roving shots of the sugar sheds’ dark halls and bare floors allow the poem to go on a journey it might never have taken. Each of the poets’ (aside from South African-born poet Gerard Rudolph) were on hand to read their poem aloud. Jane McKie’s ‘Revenant’ is a mysterious piece about Halloween guisers and the accompanying film contains brooding and ominous images of the sun setting over the Clyde. Sheree Mack, who visited the Greenock Docks, lushly described in ‘Every Memory’ the strength and thickness of treacle. John Glenday’s poem ‘Yesterday’s Noise’ was a kind of ghost story featuring Walker’s factory girl who continued to haunt the building. Vicki Feaver’s ‘The God of Sugar’ was beautifully recited and described the ruined and empty buildings which no longer held life: ‘no women shovelling molasses’.

The more memorable creations were the ones where the film’s images were colourful, set in the daytime and human. Brian Johnstone’s ‘How Well It Burns’ described, from a German pilot’s perspective, the Luftwaffe bombing on the Clyde in early May 1941. However, the lazy blue sky in the Filmpoem was the background for an English pilot preparing for takeoff and the meeting of the warring sides created an interesting counterpoint. JL Williams’ ‘Trinities’ described generations of family trauma, and each line contained images of threes. The accompanying film was restless and frustrated, showing a woman’s black boots striding on green grass.

Cook showed each Filmpoem once, which may not be enough time for the poet’s live reading, the accompanying soundtrack and the film to totally sink in. Hopefully, Cook will be able to exhibit these layered creations in the future so that one can appreciate their complexities once more.

 

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From Tartan to Tartanry

From Tartan to Tartanry

Ian Brown (ed.)

University of Edinburgh Press

ISBN: 9780748664641

 

In the mid 1990s I was a semi-professional Scotsman attached to a university at what was once the edge of empire (western division). As such, I was on the speed dial of various local and national chat show hosts who were occasionally inclined to talk about Scotland.

These televised chin wags had a predictable format. I would be asked first why I wasn’t wearing a kilt. Practiced responses ranged from the state of my knees to my Irish heritage to the fact that, as a former denizen of Scotland’s only two time winner of the ‘most dismal town’ award, wearing a kilt would have put me in the same relationship to the local neds as an escaped budgie is to a murder of crows. The first two were usually dismissed with a chuckle, the third greeted with blank incomprehension.

The interviews generally clustered around Burns and St Andrews Days and could feature clockwork haggis or a manic party of Scottish country dancers. If I got the call at any other time of year, it was usually to discuss some ‘quaint’ Scottish story that had fluttered by: how the now largely forgotten push to have people of Scottish descent return to their homeland could be used to ship out some unpopular Canadian politicians for instance, or what I knew of a motion in the Scottish Parliament to get the village where the ‘real’ Macbeth was born exposed to the tourist gaze.

It seemed back then that kilts and tartan furth of Scotland were part of a package designed to ensure that we were not to be taken seriously. The release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi undid some of that; the current debate about independence should finish it off for good.

The exceptions to the ‘Scotland as comedy fodder’ rule in the 90s were the universities which took tartan very seriously indeed. The reissue in paperback of From Tartan to Tartanism, first published in 2010, suggests that this is still the case.

The introduction to the book quotes BBC commentator Andrew Marr as saying ‘the deconstruction of the tartan cult is itself in danger of becoming a cult’. Editor Ian Brown takes issue with Marr’s use of the word ‘deconstruction’ though the general point seems about right and Brown’s book may even attest it. From Tartan to Tartanry is as comprehensive an assessment as can be found on the subject with essays examining not just the history of tartan, but any number of cultural perspectives from tartan in film to tartan in comedy, rock music and the national football team’s Tartan Army.

If indeed there is a cult of a cult of tartan, then its origins can be traced directly to the work of Hugh Trevor Roper (Lord Dacre) who suggested in an ‘invention of tradition’ essay that the modern kilt was created in the 18th century by an Englishman.  Dacre died in 2003 his reputation tarnished, ironically enough, by his ‘authentication’ of bogus ‘Hitler Diaries’ which were subsequently published in the Times newspaper. His view on the ‘inauthentic’ Scots is finally laid to rest here first by historian Murray Pittock who questions why Dacre had so much influence ‘despite [his] obvious lack of acquaintance with Scottish history or Gaelic scholarship’ and then by Ian Brown who declares Dacre’s evidence on the origins of the modern kilt ‘notoriously shaky’.

The question of Dacre’s influence is still an interesting one given that much of what has happened since ‘invention’ proceeded from his original mischievous sally. Diasporic Scots who wore their kilts with pride queried his analysis from the start and are now congratulating themselves on their perspicacity. Home based Scots, on the other hand, embraced the ‘inauthentic’ as if it explained any number of things beyond kilts. From Tartan to Tartanry does not pay much attention to Dacre (which is probably as it should be by now) though it is conceivable that it would not exist without him.

Clearly things have moved on. Glasgow University academic Alan Riach begins his contributing essay with an anecdote about his parent’s golden wedding anniversary. His young sons wear kilts patterned on ‘The ancient Rangers tartan’ and ‘The ancient Celtic tartan’ and are congratulated on their contribution to world peace. Another academic is persuaded to wear a kilt to his daughter’s wedding and is glad he did or he ‘would have looked like a penguin in a flower garden’.

The ubiquity of kilts and the obvious willingness of Scots to constantly reinvent them (rather than dismiss them as being invented) has academia peddling furiously to catch up and is already proving fruitful ground for a fresh planting of ‘translations’ and ‘tropes’.  However, those outside university confines finally seem inclined to ditch the hang-ups about kilts in favour of hanging one in the cupboard. 

Come Christmas and New Year they will be taken down and worn all over the place in every sense. Last February The Scottish Register of Tartans registered a ‘Christmas’ tartan in green, red and yellow with the colours representing the gifts of the three Kings in the nativity story.  It is woven in South Africa so if you want to be kilted as Christmas as well as for Christmas, you had better get your order in. On the other hand, if you would rather continue the debate From Tartan to Tartanry should be peeking out the top of your stocking.

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image

From Tartan to Tartanry

From Tartan to Tartanry

Ian Brown (ed.)

Edinburgh University Press 2012

ISBN: 9780748664641

 

In the mid 1990s I was a semi-professional Scotsman attached to a university at what was once the edge of empire (western division). As such, I was on the speed dial of various local and national chat show hosts who were occasionally inclined to talk about Scotland.

These televised chin wags had a predictable format. I would be asked first why I wasn’t wearing a kilt. Practiced responses ranged from the state of my knees to my Irish heritage to the fact that, as a former denizen of Scotland’s only two time winner of the ‘most dismal town’ award, wearing a kilt would once have put me in the same relationship to the local neds as an escaped budgie is to a murder of crows. The first two were usually dismissed with a chuckle, the third greeted with blank incomprehension.

The interviews generally clustered around Burns and St Andrews Day and could feature clockwork haggis or a manic party of Scottish country dancers. If I got the call at any other time of year, it was usually to discuss some ‘quaint’ Scottish story that had fluttered by: how the now largely forgotten push to have people of Scottish descent return to their homeland could be used to ship out some unpopular Canadian politicians for instance, or what I knew of a motion in the Scottish Parliament to get the village where the ‘real’ Macbeth was born exposed to the tourist gaze.

It seemed back then that kilts and tartan furth of Scotland were part of a package designed to ensure that we were not to be taken seriously. The release of Abdelbaset al-Megrahi undid some of that; the current debate about independence might finish it off for good.

The exceptions, even in the 90s, were the universities, both in Scotland and away, that took tartan very seriously indeed. The reissue in paperback of From Tartan to Tartanism, first published in 2010, suggests that this is still the case.

The introduction to the book quotes BBC commentator Andrew Marr as saying ‘the deconstruction of the tartan cult is itself in danger of becoming a cult’. Editor Ian Brown takes issue with Marr’s use of the word ‘deconstruction’ though the general point seems about right and Brown’s book may even attest it. From Tartan to Tartanry is as comprehensive an assessment as they will find on the subject, with essays examining not just the history of tartan, but any number of cultural perspectives from tartan in film to tartan in comedy, rock music and the national football team’s Tartan Army.

If indeed there is a cult of a cult of tartan, then its origins can be traced directly to the work of Hugh Trevor Roper (Lord Dacre) who suggested in an ‘invention of tradition’ essay that the modern kilt was created in the 18th century by an Englishman.  Dacre died in 2003 his reputation tarnished, ironically enough, by his ‘authentication’ of bogus ‘Hitler Diaries’ which were subsequently published in the Times newspaper. His view on the ‘inauthentic’ Scots is finally laid to rest here first by historian Murray Pittock who questions why Dacre had so much influence ‘despite [his] obvious lack of acquaintance with Scottish history or Gaelic scholarship’ and then by Ian Brown who declares Dacre’s evidence on the origins of the modern kilt ‘notoriously shaky’.

The question of Dacre’s influence is still an interesting one given that much of what has happened since in the tartan debate proceeded from his original mischievous sally. Diasporic Scots who wore their kilts with pride queried his analysis from the start and are now congratulating themselves on their perspicacity. Home based Scots, on the other hand, embraced the ‘inauthentic’ as if it explained any number of things beyond kilts. From Tartan to Tartanry does not pay much attention to Dacre (which is probably as it should be by now) though it is conceivable that it would not exist without him.

Clearly things have moved on. Glasgow University academic Alan Riach begins his contributing essay with an anecdote about his parent’s golden wedding anniversary. His young sons wear kilts patterned on ‘The ancient Rangers tartan’ and ‘The ancient Celtic tartan’ and are congratulated on their contribution to world peace. Another academic is persuaded to wear a kilt to his daughter’s wedding and is glad he did or he ‘would have looked like a penguin in a flower garden’.

The ubiquity of kilts and the obvious willingness of Scots to constantly reinvent them (rather than dismiss them as being invented) has academia peddling furiously to catch up and is already proving fruitful ground for a fresh planting of ‘translations’ and ‘tropes’.  However, those outside university confines finally seem inclined to ditch the hang-ups about kilts in favour of hanging one in the cupboard. 

Come Christmas and New Year they will be taken down and worn all over the place in every sense. Last February The Scottish Register of Tartans registered a ‘Christmas’ tartan in green, red and yellow with the colours representing the gifts of the three Kings in the nativity story.  It is woven in South Africa so if you want to be kilted as Christmas as well as for Christmas, you had better get your order in. On the other hand, if you would rather continue the debate then From Tartan and Tartanry should be peeking out the top of your stocking.

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Popular Articles

Other Stories