Skip to main content

Norman MacCaig’s 85th birthday

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-earth 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 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 writers  who discovered his work while probably still at school. A volume of collected poems was published in 1992, but since then. nothing. 

“lt’s finished,” declares MacCaig, reaching for his umpteenth fag of the afternoon. “I sat down to write a poem one day, feeling as I usually feel, and nothing would come. Absolutely nothing happened, and there‘s been nothing since. I‘m finished.” 

Asked if he regrets this state of affairs. MacCaig shrugs: “l‘ve written enough anyway.” 

He might be getting on a bit, but 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 give him a boyish air. Make no 
mistake, he does not suffer fools  or 
journalists  gladly, yet he looks set to 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‘m just 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  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 terrible memory.” 

What would he say has been his greatest achievement? 

“Oh, the poems. I've done nothing. I know a lot of 
people like the stuff, which is pleasant. It doesn‘t drive me off my head, though. I‘m Scotch.”

MacCaig once said it took him ‘two fags‘ to write a poem. “They were easy to write. which some people don't believe,” he says. “I just wrote what 
came into my head. That’s why I wrote so much. The only thing I regret about it being finished is that I liked writing the wee things. Otherwise I don‘t care ‘tuppence.”

Norman MacCaig: An 85th Birthday Celebration is at The Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh on Wed 22 Nov. 

The List, issue 267, November 1995



Popular posts from this blog

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug