Thursday, 20 August 2009

Michael Russell's Selected Works and Other Stories

On a night fit for Heathcliff and Cathy, a troupe of us decamped from the Scottish Poetry Library in the Canongate for Minister for Culture Michael Russell's Selected Works in the Studio Theatre. Hardly a hardship, as jobs go! We got there nice and early and pitched a spot outside the LRB signing tent, where we had tea and cake (not like us at all!) and watched the people watch the pigeons watch the crumbs go by. It was nice to see so much jollity despite the weather: the book selling team were having a high old time; Sean, erstwhile of the EIBF security boys, is about to leave these wind swept climes to teach English in Azerbaijan (good luck, Sean!) and Neil Gaiman's signing queue really did go on for ages.

Selected Works is like Desert Island Discs, except the audience hears about poems, not music, and SPL director Robyn Marsack replaces Kirsty Young. Michael Russell admitted that he often uses bits of poems in his speeches, and that it was really important in his life. Music to SPL ears! His selection began with Tennyson, ended with Alastair Reid and took in Neruda, Eliot, Akhmatova and very much alive poet Jim Carruth, who agreed to read his poem aloud after a pre-event glass of wine with the Minister. We also learned the circumstances of Sorley MacLean's Collected Works being published by Carcanet: he told Robyn to come round and pick up the manuscript. She obliged, only to find him collecting the poems, quite literally, from various parts of the room, floor, desk... There are some he never did find.

Afterwards, it was over to the Spiegeltent, jooking fat rain drops (the indefatigable Claudine Quinn of the Children's Activity Corner lent her eye to the above photo), where a busy house were being entertained by Phillip Contini's Neapolitan love songs (here's the
full playlist of the Spiegeltent players, if you'd like to plan ahead), then a little half pint and a little dander home. If only Kate Bush had appeared singing about wild and windy moors, a great night would've been a perfect one...