Poets’ places

Most writers have favourite places, in that a novel, for example, is usually firmly set in a particular location, one which the author knows thoroughly. With some Scottish poets it’s the same, so that George Mackay Brown’s work is rooted in Orkney, Norman MacCaig divided his time between Edinburgh and Assynt. Hugh MacDiarmid doesn’t seem to me to be circumscribed by place, however, although he did have favourites. These days opportunities for travel are better, and less expensive, and we have the whole world, more or less, to write about. And yet a sense of place seems to be more significant somehow. Just look at the philosophy and work of Kenneth White, to see how the centrality of place affects him and his poetry.

What about the rest of us? Are there some aspects of places that influence the way we write? I’d isolate some specific themes – mountains, waters, islands, remoteness, scale, history – that I know come into the poetry I write. Does this affect the places I like to visit? Of course it does.

My favourite places would be:

  • Assynt
  • Shetland
  • Perthshire
  • South of France
  • the Outer Isles
  • Japan
  • Western USA, especially the national parks
  • China
  • Iceland
  • Tibet
  • and of course Dunbar and the coast of south-east Scotland

You’ll notice I haven’t included any cities in my list. I’m quite fond of some, for short visits, but I wouldn’t want to live in one.

What about you?

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About sunnydunny

Poet, publisher, gardener
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3 Responses to Poets’ places

  1. chris says:

    Arran – the mountains and glens of the northern part of the island, especially Glen Sannox.

    Iona

    Crete, especially Western Crete

    Tuscany

    – though I realise I’ve only written about Arran and Crete!

  2. Jim Murdoch says:

    I can’t say place has ever been that important to me. I’m not widely travelled, even within the UK, and most of my writing when it takes place in a location, it’s an abstraction rather than a real place. My first two novels were set in a fictional seaside town in the north of England, Rigby (where ‘all the lonely people’ go), which was based loosely on Ardrossan; the third one was set in Glasgow although I never mention the city by name; the fourth one was in an imaginary Ireland, again though I never say that it is Ireland and my current book is Glasgow again – this time I do mention a few specific locations but really the bulk of the action takes place in a flat that could be anywhere. I think as soon as you impose a location on a text you restrict its appeal. That’s why the stage instructions for Waiting for Godot are so perfect: A country road. A tree. Evening.

    There are places I’ve been to that have uplifted me – I remember enjoying driving along the coast by Berwick – but they rarely inspire me. People interest me far more than places. The locations in my books and stories are just places for the people to be and more often than not just ‘a shop’ or ‘a bus’ or ‘a street’ suffices. A rare exception would be the poem ‘The Bookshop on Otago Street’ (actually it’s Otago Lane) off Great Western Road in Glasgow. I like Glasgow. I like cities in general and Glasgow is a good one. I’m comfortable here.

  3. marion says:

    The Clyde, the Clyde! I thought I’d get more out of my Storoway visit but my soul must be in the Clyde!

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