Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Easily the most entertaining poet's letters I've read so far. I thoroughly recommend the selected letters of W.S. Graham.

Probably shouldn't be a surprise that the letters are so good since Graham wrote excellent letter poems! The letters are in a sense poem drafts - he says in one that he writes the letters as much for himself as for the recipients. Wonderful early and a few late letters to Edwin Morgan discussing his writing, wonderful exuberant letters to Elizabeth Smart, Michael Schmidt gets a telling-off letter for a review he wrote about him, letters about writing, begging for money, his poverty-struggles, all packed with personality and most of all humour. Letters I'll go back to.

I'm excited to have just finished a seven-poem sequence on Mary Queen of Scots! I was keen to write about her after I came across and read some of her letters on-line. What surprised me was how human she seemed as opposed to the distant stock character queen from history. I read the well-written and in-depth biography of her by Antonia Fraser. There are many surviving letters written by Mary and many recorded first-hand accounts that it is possible to build up a reasonably accurate picture of her as a person. Plus there are so many mythological aspects to her story which is a gift to write about.

Glasgow's Aye Write Book Festival programme in now available on-line here. I'll be reading on Saturday 18th April 6-7pm with J.L. Williams and Harry Giles.


Clarissa Aykroyd said...

I like WS Graham very much and the letters sound interesting.

When you mentioned they were the most entertaining poet letters you'd read, I wondered if you'd read the letters of Keith Douglas (published by Carcanet). They are often quite hysterical. He was quite sarcastic and he was always having girl problems - ALWAYS. The fact is, the letters don't contain a lot of information about his writing technique/approach. He's mostly writing about other stuff going on in his life, but it does give an amazing view into how active, extroverted, fun-loving and curious he was. As well as rather scattered and silly but he was young. And they are a fascinating contrast to the very cool, incisive, more withdrawn poems.

Marion McCready said...

hi Clarissa, I've not read the Keith Douglas letters - they sound fun, I'll add them to my list.

the Graham letters are great for insights into his writing too - a particularly good letter on The Nightfishing. But yes they are very funny, you feel like you are sitting in front of him and he's talking to you!