I’ve made a start on the list – as if a year could be summarised as a list – I know, I know. Here’s Part 1
Best poetry collections
The choice is between collections I’ve read during the year, not necessarily published in 2008. Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon impressed me with his use of language and his humour, albeit sometimes a very dark humour. John Ash’s The Parthian Stations took me into worlds I didn’t know about. His voice is original and uncompromising. Jane Holland’s Camper Van Blues is one of those rare collections that I read once and then immediately read again, because I enjoyed it so much. The early poems conjured up that bleak world of On the Road, but translated to an English setting. Katy Evans-Bush’s collection, Me and the Dead, is another Salt Publishing title, with the poems set either side of the Atlantic. Mick Imlah’s The Lost Leader was my tip for the Forward, and it won. It’s an anachronistic history of Scotland, if such a thing were possible, and carried off with wit, intelligence and great style. Some good ones there, but my favourite book read in the year, and one I keep coming back to again and again, is David Hinton’s wonderful selection and translation, Mountain Home; the wilderness poetry of ancient China. In all senses of the word, I found it an inspirational collection – so much to enjoy.
Best poem I’ve written in 2008
Since 1996, when I started collecting stats on my work, I’ve written an average of 37 ‘finished’ and, to my mind acceptable, poems per year. (Of these, on average 11 poems per year are published).
In 2008 I’ve written 53 finished poems. I tend to like the last one best, but that’s natural – I miss the errors and style problems at first, but they come back. Some of my favourite poems are either submitted or publication is pending. They include: Flights (one of the Tibetan sequence), Walking in Glencanisp (coming in Bolts of Silk), Preston Mill (another shan-shui style poem), and Librarians do the ton (coming in Information Scotland).
Best non-poetry book
Roger Deakin: Wildwood; a journey through trees. It came out in 2007, but I didn’t read it until this year. Some nature writing is purely descriptive, some human-centred, and some just twee. Roger’s book is none of these. It shows things just the way they are.
Books I didn’t finish
Some books are iconic – they have become classics that some sections of society assume ‘everyone’ in that group has read. Robert Graves’ The White Goddess is one such book for poets. Well, I tried, but I failed, and quite quickly. I’d describe it as utterly unreadable, pseudo-scientific, pseudo-historical twaddle. I also tried again to read a fantasy novel, out of a sense of duty I suppose. I chose Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea Quartet. Again, I thought it was utter twaddle. So that’s a whole literary genre summarily dismissed. (This could get to be fun)
Favourite place visited
In May the Writers’ Retreat at Glencanisp Lodge in the heart of Assynt was an unalloyed pleasure. The weather was warm and sunny, the company in the evenings was great, and I climbed Suilven, fulfilling a life-long ambition. Standing on the top I saw the whole of Scotland’s ‘top left corner’. I’ve travelled widely, but Scotland is still one of the most beautiful places in the world, and up here I saw a lot of it.
Most memorable meals
Best meal of the year was in the Bel Canto restaurant in Paris. Fantastic cuisine, and the waiters were students from the Paris Opera. Between courses four of them entertained us with arias from the operas – Wagner, Verdi, Puccini, Massenet and Mozart. Closer to home, our anniversary dinner was in The Creel, in Dunbar, which I’d recommend to anyone visiting oor wee toon.
Still to come, events, people, music, journeys and more.