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:
- South of France
- the Outer Isles
- Western USA, especially the national parks
- 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?