Micro-reviews (2): Desperate Fishwives

Here’s another enthusiastic response to being asked to read a book, this time one by the very fine Lindsay MacGregor, who first studied then taught at Dundee Uni, who hosts the Ladybank Platform readings, is part of StAnza’s constellation of enabling and participating poets, and whose pamphlet, The Weepers, came out in 2015 from Calder Wood Press.

I should’ve posted this when Lindsay’s book was launched a few days ago, but on that occasion was perfecting my slack-jawed yokel impersonation. (Or was it Fish Mime Night? – if only I would write things down in my diary as opposed to brandishing it at the Moon and yelling ‘See? See?!’) In other words, whenever I start thinking about my own writing, Time starts whipping past while cackling.

(The following is also available on Peter McCarey’s Molecular Press website, which is well worth the rummage through, so this is in the spirit of belting and bracery. Though I can’t at present work out how you buy something on that site, so perhaps this would be of use?)

Desperate Fishwives (Molecular Press 2022)

Lindsay MacGregor’s landscapes both precede and extend the notion of Scottishness: on the one hand into the archaeo- and geological, and on the other into the post-human. These are poems which not only conjecture that ‘The dead carry the day between two still lochs’, but investigate how. They are layered, subtle, and subversive, full of inquiring birdlife (whaups, cormorants, wrens, craws, dippers, snipe, and – why not? – penguins), herbs with an agenda (often types of bane), enigmatic moths, and melodic but unsettled outsiders, who might just be the place’s most honest inhabitants.

Figures like MacDiarmid and Joan Eardley are seen altogether slant, parenthood and childhood carefully consider and sometimes swop roles, the overlooked and under-considered are given voices that they may be heard – although with only the justice of her very fine ear by way of recompense. Phrases, rhymes, place names, are turned and tumbled till shiny and shaken loose from our over-familiarity. The lullaby leaves us wide awake, as does the warning: ‘Don’t tamper with the harebells’ – or the hare. The numinous, too often reached for as a signal of authenticity, Celtic or otherwise, must wait its turn amid the ruins and the VR; grief will be heard before grievance in marvellously constructed and (where MacGregor plays with variation) reconstructed verse, by turns playful, melancholy, and furious.

Yes, the fishwives are desperate, but, unlike those who hold them in such disregard, and very like this remarkable and engrossing collection, they have an exact knowledge of their own worth. You might find this book handy yourself when weighing things up, should you need to do so not in general, but in precise, startling detail.

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
This entry was posted in current emanations, reviews (some antique), xenochronicity and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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