Scottish poetry has moved on quite considerably since the days of Robert Burns. We now have rebels like Tom Leonard bucking the establishment in all sorts of ways including in terms of prescriptive linguistics.Scottish poetry has really moved away from the rut it was stuck in for many years post-Burns ,an era which produced many an imitator for better or for worse(Mostly the worse). Scottish poetry retains many similar aims and themes as our national Bard did but now explores them in a modern context.
My favourite recent discovery of one such poet is Rab Wilson. Rab Wilson was born in New Cumnock,Ayrshire(Burns country) in 1960 and in a lot of ways embodies a mix of modern Scottish concerns with a spice of the Burns spirit.
His poetry often speaks of the devastation and sense of hopelessness left in Scotland after the shutting down of the pits in the wake of the miners strike of 1984.The Miners fought galliantly against the beast of Thatcherism but a victory over the tories, they didn’t come to see. Instead future Scottish generations live in the shadow of those decisions and many communities still ache with hurt and burn with fury with what happened then. For some there is no future.It was all their life was and to them the fact their community has lost industries like coal mining or in other cases ship building(most famously on the Clyde)
Rab Wilson had seen both aspects to that historical era being from a mining village himself, working in the pits and striking with the rest.His poems convey the sense of hollowness and mourning in these preceding years. He takes it as a major theme, even devoting a series of poems to versifying the words of ex miners from around Scotland.
Rab Wilson is first and foremost a poet of the working class. Not content to sit on his arse and pen from his chair ,he’s been known to get himself involved in a range of socialist causes and champion the workers wherever he goes for example speaking in favourite of keeping Johnnie walker in it’s traditional location in Kilmarnock to preserve the working people’s jobs.
His adds his voice to a number of very working class poets who are critical of the safe convenient establishment middle class poetry of your average poet. He aims to speak to your average person and cover topics that would make sense to them(generally).
Rab could be called a modern ‘makar’.He has brought the Scots from Burns and others into the modern day, he shows it isn’t and never was dead. He speaks and writes in scots because it is the person on the streets tongue and one most people in Scotland identify with.More important it’s the working class voice.Rab Wilson’s a great talent for my country and I hope he continues to do what he does best.He’s an innovator and literary dynamite in a flotsam of typically bland safe unpolitical cliché poetry in many sectors in modern poetry.
“A different class o fowk,an ah mean it,
A place ye’d nevvir tae ask fir a haun.
In this world nou they’d stab their ain brither!
Doun there ye looked eftir yin anither.
(From his series Somewhaur in the Daurk,sonnets inspired by the Miners Strike of 1984-1985)