that’s not really true — as long as l was reading the poems, I didn’t give a thought to Burns the man, I was completely engrossed in the poetry. That’s probably the way it should be. Celebrating the man’s dates. however well intentioned, encourages a movement away from his poems and onto the irrelevant details of his life.
Over the New Year, I’ve mentioned to a few folk that l was supposed to be writing a piece on Burns. Nobody laid off falling over long enough to quote me a favourite line or two, or even to name a particularly under-rated poem 1 should be sure to mention here, but several folk
Burns’ poetry is well worth getting intimate with — no matter how many stuffed-shirt-and-sporran, secret- handshaking, hairy-balled and lily- livered, tartan-Tory halt-wits agree with me.
did share their pet piece of Burnsian biography.
One was that Burns‘ immediate ancestors were Orcadian. The name was originally spelled Burness, you see. and there’s a parish in the Orkney island of Sanday called exactly that. The poet's father came from there before ﬂitting down to Ayrshire — Edwin Muir’s father was also brought up there, proving the inspirational nature of the place.
A second was to do with Burns’ notable meeting with another famous poet, Lord Byron. The meeting was quite unplanned, and took place as the two approached each other at the middle of a narrow footbridge. The circumstances are. happily, recorded in verse — verse extcmporised by the two protagonists as they tried to get by each other. Tempestuous Byron spoke first:
Put doon yer broom Ye silly loon, And let Lord Byron by!
To which the razor-sharp Burns replied:
Ye silly ass, There ’s room to pass Betwixt the wall and I.’
Dialect scholars will note the use of the North-East word ‘loon’ in Byron’s speech — entirely in keeping, of course, with his upbringing in Aberdeen. (Where my granny, by the by, taught him Latin and fish-gutting at the Grammar.)
What is perhaps most interesting about these biographical snippets is that they are both complete bollocks. Burns did change the spelling of his name from Burness at the age of 27, it‘s true; but his family had no Orkney connection, his father being a native of Kincardineshire. And Byron was only eight when Burns died, so the alleged meeting on the bridge seems unlikely to say the least, no matter how precocious a brat Byron may have been. In fact. if you want to be really pedantic, you might note that George ‘cripple-diek’ Gordon didn’t actually become sixth Baron Byron of Rochdale until the demise of his great-uncle, ‘the wicked lord’, in 1798 — two years after Burns' death and the latest possible date for their meeting.
So where does that leave us? A long way from Burns' poems, that’s where! (Or Byron’s for that matter.) And I do reckon the poetry is
well worth getting intimate with — no matter how many stuffed-shirt-and-sporran. secret- handshaking, hairy—balled and lily—livcred, tartan—Tory half-wits agree with me.
A ﬁg for those by LA W protected, LIBERTY 'S a glorious feast.’,
C 0 UR T5 for C owards were erected, CHURCHES built to please the Priest.
We should celebrate the great writing of the past. not the folk who wrote it. Forget 25 January: 1 suggest hauling out the (vegetarian) haggis on 31 July — the anniversary of the first
publication of Burns’ first and best book of
poems, Poems, Chieﬂy In The Scottish Dialect (the Kilmarnock Edition). [is 200th anniversary was 1986. Shit. we’ve missed it.
Burns anniversary events
A host of events, both large and small, have been organised to mark Burns’s bicentenary year. We have picked out a handful of the highlights, for further information contact The Burns International Festival on 01292 288080. Alternatively check the Days Out section in The List.
I Blcenteoary Bum Conference University of Strathclyde. Glasgow. Info: Dr Ken Simpson, 0141 552 4400. Three-day conference celebrating the poet and his work, including recitals of his songs and musical entertainment. Thurs 11—50: 13.
I Bums Supper Hospitality lnn. Glasgow. Info: 01292 283662. The Great Chieftain o' the pudden race takes another beating accompanied by
BURNS’ 2OOTH FEATURE
k W; I, x
Duncan McLean: alive, klcklng, and well Into Burns
Never mind, there’s no shortage of great books from the more recent past that deserve celebrating. How about raising a glass every 26 September to mark the appearance of James Kelman’s A Chancer — we could have had a tenth birthday party for that last year. Or how about keeping 15 February free as Morvern Callar day? We can get offto a really good start on that one by celebrating its first birthday this year. I’d be more than happy to propose the Mortal Memory.
Duncan McLean is author of Bunker Man, lilac/(den (Minerva £6.99) and the award- n'inning Bucket ()f Tongues (Minerva £5.99). Lone Star Swing, a book about country and western stars Bob Wills And His Texas Playboys, is to be published in spring I 997.
entertainment from the cream of, SCOtlanft‘f's’board-i _
treading talent, ranging from the traditional tog-the. contemporary. Sat 15 Jan. . _ .l " 15,4"; - l Borne Bicentennial! Spectacular GlaSgQWBQYiﬂsl i Concert Hall, Glasgow, 227.5511. Biyueeniig‘agigg-Jg; Paul Young preside over a cast’of ' .» dancers and charaeters in a major, conceit. Sun}! Feb. ‘ ‘ ‘ 'i ~ ‘ l A Tributefl‘o about was Bmsynaiiigﬁ‘giégi W University of Suathclyde,’ (313ng, 552: j" “fest - 3444. The world premiere of 9: ‘ng :' y; . commissioned pieoe ofitiuSibe "'
Johnson. The University Chorus; . Orchestra and Ayr Choral Union 'aS‘well'faisfsolqistf» 3’ ~
0 h ' ' e z'-.,'Kﬁ"}~’§' ‘: 531"“2‘ ‘ Geoffrey Dawdson come-together; i, 3 conducted by Alan Tavener..-Fril 'Mapz-;.*.;‘_;;"e§?,};i i;
The List 12-25 Jan l99615
Prion); GUNNIE MOBERG