Well versed in life

Scotland is preparing to

celebrate Norman MacCaig’s 85th birthday

with or without the great

poet’s approval. He speaks to Neil Cooper.

Getting an audience with Norman MacCaig isn‘t easy these days. At the grand old age of 85. though. you can‘t really blame this most down-to-eartlr of Scotland‘s literary elder statesmen for not wanting to be bothered.

For years. he has put up with an endless round of newspaper profiles and constant questioning about his poetry when he‘d much rather be left alone to write it. Nevertheless. his

output has been vast. Some '23 volumes 5

have been filled with works of deceptive simplicity. through which shine a warmth and depth of feeling that speaks to all. It‘s easy to see why his poetry is so revered by both conformists and literary outlaws.

influencing generations of Scots wn'ters

who discovered his work while probably still at school. A volume of

collected poems was published in 1992. i

but since then. nothing.

‘lt's finished.‘ declares MacCaig. teaching for his umpteenth fag of the afternoon. ‘I sat down to write a poem

1 Birthday, Norman


one day. feeling as l usually feel. and nothing would come. Absolutely nothing happened. and there‘s been nothing since. I‘m finished.‘ Asked if he regrets this state ofaffairs. MacCaig shrugs: ‘l‘ve written enough anyway.‘ He might be getting on a bit. but ‘I know a lot of people like the stutt, which is pleasant. It doesn’t drive me ott my head, though. I’m Scotch.’ there‘s still a mischievous glint in MacCaig's eye that says he‘s not to he messed with. That and the constant chuckles he punctuates his words with

2 give him a boyish air. Make no

mistake. he does not suffer fools or

journalists gladly. yet he looks set to I be receiving a fair bit of press attention

over the next couple of weeks. As part ofthe Assembly Alive! season at Edinburgh's Assembly Rooms. Chapman magazine has organised an 85th birthday celebration. complete ; with entertainment from a who‘s who of Scottish letters. including Hamish Henderson. Sorley Mclean. lain Crichton Smith and Liz Lochhead. MacCaig, though. doesn‘t seem too fussed with the whole thing. ‘lt‘s their pigeon. not mine.‘ he says characteristically. ‘I‘mjust going to sit at a table with my friends. that‘s all.‘ Despite a life of teaching. lecturing. giving readings. a happy. 50-year marriage MacCaig‘s wife is now dead 3 and a long-standing friendship with Hugh McDiarmid. MacCaig dismisses any notion of an autobiography: ‘Certainly not. lt would be boring to do for a start. and I‘ve a tem’ble memory.’ What would he say has been his greatest achievement? ‘Oh. the poems.

I've done nothing. I know a lot of

f people like the stuff. which is pleasant. ; It doesn‘t dn've rne off my head.

: though. I‘m Scotch.‘

MacCaig once said it took him ‘two

; fags‘ to write a poem. ‘They were easy 3 to write. which some people don't

A believe.‘ he says. ‘I just wrote what

' came into my head. That‘s why I wrote : so much. The only thing I regret about S it being finished is that I liked writing

. the wee things. Otherwise I don‘t care ‘tuppencef

? Norman .‘llacCaig: An 85th Birthday Celebration is at The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh on Wed 22 Nov. Tickets ('ost i [8 ([5). See book events.


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