By Greg Thomas and Alex Thomson
In the wake of last year’s independence referendum, questions about the relationship between poetry, culture and politics seem as relevant as ever; but what are the precedents for all the energy and debate that’s currently being stirred up within Scotland’s poetic communities? How has poetry helped energise national debate, around questions of class, identity, language and ecology?
It was partly with these questions in mind that some of us who teach and research in Scottish literature at the University of Edinburgh decided to collaborate on a public seminar series with the Scottish Poetry Library. The aims for this series were various: to place current concerns about the relationship between poetic and political expression in a historical context; to explore some of the cultural and political issues that have most preoccupied Scottish poets over the last century or so; to bring poets and critics into conversation with each other on these themes; and to have that conversation in an inclusive, public setting, with free wine.
The result is From Renaissance to Referendum, a series of six free, evening seminars taking place in the Scottish Poetry Library’s new performance and discussion space throughout 2015-16. Our seminars trace the history of Scottish poetry, and its relationship to aspects of Scotland’s cultural and political history, from the early twentieth century up to the present. Our events bring together poets and critics in discussion of issues ranging from nationalism to nature writing.
Our next seminar is on the 22nd of November, when we’ll be exploring “The Languages of Scottish Poetry”. Emma Dymock will talk about Sorley Maclean’s reclamation of the idea of the “Poet of Conscience” in his mid-century Gaelic verse, while Greg Thomas will explore the relationship between purity of expression and extremist politics in Ian Hamilton Finlay’s poetry and art of the 1970s-80s. We’ll be starting at 6.30 pm, and we’d love to see you there, so please visit our website here and book a seat here.
From Renaissance to Referendum is supported by the British Academy and the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Edinburgh.