Sunday 14 November 2010

Norman MacCaig.

I spent most of my final year at University reading the plays of Dennis Potter in a dark corner of the library. Laudable, perhaps; but I was supposed to be reading Plato. Scottish poetry for me, then, did not exist. I had never been introduced to it. Call me a late starter.

I joined a writing group. Very soon a trip was organised to go and see Norman MacCaig 'doing a reading'. I remember the event, but I don't remember the location. Stirling? Bridge of Allan? Somewhere around there. It was him and Brian McCabe. McCabe I had heard of - I'd read his short stories. But who was this other man, this MacCaig that everyone was raving about?

McCabe was wonderful, reading poems and excerpts from his prose. Then the break. Wine out of cardboard boxes, of course. I could have done with another glass, but people were moving back to their seats. I found an empty chair in the front row. Introduction, and a polite ripple of applause. A tall, skinny man in a Tweed jacket loped into view. He stood directly in front of me, a fly smile on his lips. He opened the book he was holding and began to read.

There are moments in life that we all remember. They're called turning points. As MacCaig continued to recite - about Ancient Greeks, stones, oceans and frogs (frogs?), I knew that I had reached a turning point. The man was a genius. And all the while, that smile on his lips, and dancing round the edges of his eyes, as if he were daring us to laugh.

I saw him one more time. We got off the same train at Queen Street in Glasgow. He was walking along the platform in front of me. I knew it was him - the gait, the jacket. I wanted to speak, but what was there to say? 'Hello, I liked your poems'? Sometimes it is better to say nothing. Perhaps we can then make a poem of it. I'm sure Norman would have understood.

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