Total number of books owned
Must be around three thousand, but I’ve never counted them The only ones catalogued are the poetry ones – about 1,000. I’ve not got all that much room in my ‘study’, so the overflow goes into the loft. When that gets overfull I take a couple of boxes up to my friends Sally Evans and Ian King in Callander. As well as being publishers of Poetry Scotland and diehard books, they have a bookshop. I like to think that some of the books I owned will be appreciated by others. The rest of the collection is very miscellaneous, from science textbooks and reference books (indispensible) to natural history, art, photography, computing, gardening usw. I plan on donating much of my poetry collection to the Scottish Poetry Library at some point. One shelf (also now overflowing) contains copies of all my work that’s been published. Some wet winter weekend I’ll compile a bibliography for the record.
Last book bought
Just arrived in the post today, American Poets in the 21st century; the new poetics, edited by Claudia Rankine & Lisa Sewell (Wesleyan UP). American poetry was my earliest influence in the early 1960s, and I’m still keenly interested in what’s being written and published there. There was a discussion a while back between myself and the then Librarian of the SPL about the poetry which has had the strongest influence on Scottish poets. I said then, and I maintain it’s still true, that Scottish poets are more influenced by America than by any other single nation.
Oh, by the way, the term ‘poetics’ has been rattling about in my head for some time now. I’ll write something about the subject some other time.
Last book read
Elaine Feinstein: Talking to the Dead (Carcanet). I first met Elaine at StAnza in 2003, when Matthew Sweeney and I were doing the schools workshops. The invasion of Iraq was then imminent, and I had my letter of resignation from the Labour Party in my pocket, ready to post off. She tried to dissuade me, but my mind was made up. After 37 years as a member, it was a big decision for me, but I couldn’t have lived with myself if I’d stayed a member. Anyway, I caught up with Elaine again at this year’s Edinburgh Book Festival, where she read from the book. It’s moving, funny, sad, moving, clever and moving. She’s a terrific poet.
Five books which mean a lot to me
Günter Grass: The Tin Drum. One of the most original works of fiction I’ve ever come across. I still re-read it every couple of years.
Philip Pullman: His Dark Materials (trilogy). Quite stunningly imaginative, and far better written than some other fantasy trilogies I could name.
Norman MacCaig: Collected Poems. For his humanity, his skills as a poet, my memories of him as a teacher at my primary school in Edinburgh, his loves of nature, landscapes, and his fellow human beings.
The New American Poetry, 1945-1960, edited by Donald M Allen. I bought this when it was first published back in 1960, and its impact was immediate and profound. I still read poets from it.
The Rattle Bag, edited by Seamus Heaney and Ted Hughes. The best and most varied poetry anthology I know. It’s the one I always take to workshops, and I know I can find within its covers a poem to illustrate any point I want to make in teaching. The poems are so well chosen and clearly meant to be read aloud – the best way to take poetry in.