January 2011: As part of Feis Rois (www.feisrois.org/) celebrating a quarter century of successful activity, at Celtic Connections, I was asked to perform the Feis song (I'd written, with music by Anna-Wendy Stevenson) with a dozen of our best traditional musicians accompanying. Words are my business: I can sing with my ears, but my vocal chords are anarchists: so performing in variable time with the music was terrifying but, somehow, fun.
There were also, between January and February, a series of workshopping visits to Gaelic-medium schools and GM units in schools, across the Highland Council area. As a strong believer in giving young people (as well as the not-so-young) opportunities to explore their own creativity, I would advocate such exchanges (including with visual artists and musicians as well as writers) being made a general, and permanent, part of every pupil's education.
In April, I attended the Strokestown International Poetry Festival, as, for the second year in succession, Scottish Gaelic judge in the Gaidhlig/Gaeilge competition, where Scotland's places on the short-list were taken by seasoned writer Martin MacIntyre, with, bringing his literary torch from under the bushel ,Donald (Ryno) Morrison and, also most welcome, newcomer Heather Clyne.
June: (in the space of two weeks) included;
The Sorley MacLean Centenary Conference at Sabhal Mor Ostaig provided an embarrassment of riches - lectures, discussions, readings, concerts - an essential affirmation, not only of the man and work, but of the culture he did so much to revive:
two readings, in Kirkwall and Stromness, at the St Magnus Festival - usually (and deservedly) seen as a prime musical event:
and a mysterious car journey over Bealach na Bà, to attend Sgoil Bhàrdachd na Comraich / The Applecross Bardic School - a small-scale but dynamic new event in a dramatically remote location (not actually so hard to get to: it just feels like it)
August: Feile na Laoch in Cúil Aodha (Coolea) was a special event by any measure. Timetabled to last from sundown to sunrise, featuring a succession of leading Scottish and Irish musicians, singers, poets, actors and storytellers, each committed to perform for around seven minutes. Master of Ceremonies was Peadar O'Riada, who had also organised the event in commemoration of his father, the composer Sean O' Riada's birth 80 years ago (and death 40 years later).
August 18th: At the Edinburgh Book Festival, I had the pleasure of chairing the Donald Meek Literary Award ceremony which recognised the style and scholarship in Margaret Callan's study of the North Uist oral tradition, "Air Bilean an t-Sluaigh"
August 29th: The World Premiere of Alasdair Gray's Fleck provided a fitting climax for Edinburgh Book Festival. Having known its author for many good years, I was honoured to be asked to play the minor, but not insignificant, role of God, in opposition to Alasdair's own portrayal of Old Nick, sharing the stage with Will Self and the cream of contemporary Scottish literature as well as a handful of distinguished actors.
On the last day of August, a return to old haunts, to read at the most enjoyable Nairn Book and Arts Festival. I wasn't able to stay too long, but long enough to experience, and enjoy hugely, the inimitable James Ross, local poet, actor, musician and stand-up comedian, in performance.
In September: As part of the Penicuik Arts Festival: two fascinatingly different venues - a sitting-room in Kittleyknowe and a Yurt in Penicuik - each offered its own positive resonances.
It was a pleasure to attend two premieres of Balach na Bonaid, the Gaelic version of James Robertson's Scots leid musical monologue, The Boy and the Bunnet, with music by James Ross. It was performed first at Sgoil Ghàidhlig Inbhirnis (The Inverness Gaelic School) and in the evening at Eden Court Theatre. My pleasant task had been to provide the Gaelic translation, then, in due course, sit and listen while narrator Wilma Kennedy, backed by a seven-piece ensemble, brought the whole enterprise to dramatic life.
The Blas Festival Final Concert offered a spot at Eden Court - five minutes of poetry, between Mànran, Dàimh, & Cherish the Ladies. Reading to a large audience is always a challenge, and a delight. Hearing a ripple of recognition, laughter or applause, spread across the auditorium makes the build-up of nervous tension worth living through.
Aonghas MacNeacail - Author
Rugadh Aonghas MacNeacail an Ùige an Eilein Sgitheanaich ann an 1942. Tha e ri bàrdachd is òrain, obair-naidheachdais, craoladh, sgrioptadh is filmichean. Chaidh cruinneachaidhean bàrdachd leis fhoillseachadh sa Ghàidhlig is sa Bheurla, agus tha a sgrìobhadh air nochdadh an irisean litreachais an Alba is gu h eadar nàiseanta. Chaidh a bhàrdachd a chraoladh air rèidio is telebhisean is tha e air a leughadh air feadh Alba, agus leugh e i agus dh'fhoillsicheadh i an iomadach ceàrn thall thairis. Ann an 1997 fhuair e Duais Stakis mar Sgrìobhadair Albannach na Bliadhna leis a' chruinneachadh Oideachadh Ceart agus dàin eile / A Proper Schooling and other poems(Polygon, 1996). Bhuannaich e Duais Ghàidhlig 2006 ann am Farpais Bàrdachd Wigtown leis an dàn ???An fhìor bheinn', agus ann an 2007 bha e am measg na fhuair duais ann am Farpais mhòr Bàrdachd Eadar nàiseanta Bhéal Átha na mBuillí.
Aonghas MacNeacail was born in Uig on Skye in 1942. He is a poet and songwriter, journalist, researcher, broadcaster, scriptwriter and filmmaker. He has published collections of poems in both Gaelic and English and his writing has appeared in literary journals in Scotland and internationally. He has had poetry broadcast on radio and television, has given readings throughout Scotland and has toured and published extensively abroad. In 1997, he won the Stakis Prize for Scottish Writer of the Year for his collection Oideachadh Ceart agus dain eile / A Proper Schooling and other poems(Polygon 1996). He was winner of the 2006 Wigtown Poetry Competition Gaelic Prize for his poem 'An fhìor bheinn', and in 2007 was among the prize-winners of the major Ireland-based Strokestown International Poetry Competition.
'Cho lèirsinneach, ceòlmhor is cudromach ri Neruda. Gun teagamh, 's e seo an leabhar Gàidhlig as fheàrr dhen 21mh linn gu ruige seo. / As visionary, melodious and important as Neruda. Without doubt, the finest Gaelic book of the 21st century so far.' – Kevin MacNeil
''S e ceum cudthromach eile do bhàrdachd Ghàidhlig a tha san leabhar seo. Tha guth abaich a' bruidhinn rinn air mar a dh'fhiosraich e dòchas is aoibhneas sa bheatha seo. Tha glaodh fàidheil na thùs ga dhoimhneachadh 's ga lasachadh tro inneasan maotha gaoil, is le pìosan dìomhair san cluinnear mac-talla Litreachas a' Ghliocais. / This book is an important addition to Gaelic poetry. A mature voice tells of finding life full of hope and joy. Its initial prophetic tirade is deepened and softened by tender expressions of love, and some mysterious pieces that contain echoes of Wisdom Literature.' – Máire Ní Annracháin
'Bàrdachd a tha a' siubhal rathaidean ùra ar saoghail agus seann slighean a' chridhe 's na h-inntinn. Guth sònraichte bha ro fhada air a mhùchadh – nach math 's nach glòrmhor an tilleadh! / Poetry that takes us on the new roads of our continent and on old byways of the heart and the mind. The marvellous return of a unique voice too long unheard from.' – Michel Byrne
'Here is a poetry collection with the richness and subtlety of a good malt. It can deliver a kick, but what remains is a runic, timeless savouring of finely distilled flavour.' – The Herald
'MacNeacail has his own voice and his own view of the world, something every poet hopes to acquire and every reviewer hopes to identify…every one of his lines is sensuous, poetic and emotive.' – Scottish Review of Books
Hymn to a Young Demon is a heady burst of fresh air, with poems in both Gaelic and the poet's own English versions.
It is a book which falls eloquently in two parts – 'the gift of anger' and 'the other turning' – articulated by the furious energy and irrepressible zest for life that readers of Aonghas MacNeacail's work will instantly recognise.
The collection's scope ranges from the western isles of Scotland to the battlefields of Europe and the collapse of the Iron Curtain, from explosive battles with church and state to the intimate, mature poems of love and friendship, and the powerful resolution of the final poem, 'the stone'. With an uncanny sense of prophecy, these poems show how time and again human struggles and achievements are repeated across time and place. An assured and vigorous voice at the height of his power, Aonghas MacNeacail's style sweeps to new heights.
Aonghas Macneacail was born in Uig on Skye in 1942. He is a poet, journalist, researcher, broadcaster, scriptwriter and filmmaker. He has published collections of poems in both Gaelic and English and his writing has appeared in literary journals in Scotland and internationally. He has had poetry broadcast on radio, television, has given readings throughout Scotland and has toured extensively abroad.
Creative Scotland bursary
Aonghas is very happy to have been awarded a Creative Scotland bursary which will enable him to prepare (at least) three collections of poetry for publication, with an eye on June 2012 being a date of some significance in his life (born 1942: do the maths).
He envisages a New and Selected edition of Gaelic poems, bringing the best of his first three collections together with a sheaf of new material, which will itself have to be selected from the substantial body of work completed since Hymn to a Young Demon.
There is an intriguing set of short reflective daily poems, also in Gaelic, prompted by the gift of a pocket diary: a poem every day for a full year. As the diary concerned was illustrated by Mairi Hedderwick, whose art he greatly admires, he dares to hope there might be a collaborative conclusion to the story.
His poems in English in recent years have frequently been prompted by the need to bring new work, including the drafting process, to workshopping sessions, particularly in schools. Making yourself vulnerable, he says, is a very useful levelling technique, when persuading less experienced writers that getting it right first time is extremely unlikely, even after a lifetime of tussling with "the muse".
World Poetry Almanac
A selection of his poems appeared in the most recent World Poetry Almanac, established and edited by Dr Hadaa Sendoo, a distinguished poet and professor of literature at the National University of Mongolia. 100 countries are represented ninth anthology, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, and includes poets of the international stature of Australia's Les Murray, Robin Blaser from Canada, Yves Bonnefoy, now one of the senior poets in France, the great Nigerian Wole Soyinka, Wislawa Szymborska from Poland and Romanian Nina Cassian, several Americans including John Ashbery, Gary Snyder and Anne Waldman, and others closer to home including Jackie Kay, and American-born Anne Stevenson, who is remembered by Aonghas as a a crucially supportive mentor in his early days as a poet. Ireland is represented by Gabriel Rosenstock, well own to Gaels, Eavan Boland, fine editor as well as poet, and a certain Seamus Heaney, who may be said to require no introduction.
Comórtas Uí Néill 2010
Earlier in the year, he was pleased to be shortlisted for the Comórtas Uí Néill 2010 Gaeilge/Gaidhlig poetry competition. This is run in conjunction with the annual exchange of poets and musicians between the two Gaelic communities, and named in honour of the remarkable Colonel Eoghan O' Neill, who, as Director of the host organisation, Comhdhail Naisiunta na Gaeilge, pioneered those invaluable opportunities for the two Gaelic peoples to meet through a shared culture.
MacCash Poetry Competition
A couple of months ago, an alter ego, Innes Dow (from Aonghas Dubh - "Black Angus") entered a poem for the 2010 MacCash Poetry Competition in the Scots language sponsored by Glasgow University and the Glasgow Herald. To his astonishment, after an interval which allowed entries to be judged, the newspaper's Poetry Editor, Lesley Duncan phoned, asking to speak to Innes Dow, advising that he was joint winner of the competition! As it carries a tidy prize which economic necessity demands should come in a cashable form, it was necessary to reveal the prizewinner's true identity, as "Innes Dow" doesn't have a bank account.
Though not a speaker of Scots, he has been aware of it as a written language for many years, and first heard it spoken by East Coast fishermen who were family friends while he was still a child, so entering the "MacCash" was an interesting challenge. Finding the intended poem was too long, and not trimmable, on the eve of competition deadline, provided a further challenge - write a fresh poem. Don't panic; just write: taking part is what matters. So he did, and it won.
Summer Solstice - Waterville
Aonghas was delighted to return to the Summer Solstice festival, Feile na Greine, in Waterville, Co Kerry, for the second time in two years. He opened the festival's poetry strand along with the distinguished Irish poet Kerry Hardie. In the evening, Gerda joined in Celebrating the Sun along with internationally renowned actor Stephen Rea and the wonderful singer and fiddler Máire Breatnach, an old friend of the festival, for what the programme described as "our now traditional evening of readings, songs and music to celebrate Midsummer Night". The festival, centred on arts centre Tech Amergin, which had recently won a battle for its survival, was spread across three days, incorporating workshops, exhibitions and performances across all the art-forms, and attracting leading actors and artists as well as poets and musicians
Strokestown - update
Aonghas was, along with Paddy Bushe, one of the judges in the Duais Cholmcille / Colmcille Prize for Poetry in Irish or Scots Gaelic at the Strokestown International Poetry Competition, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, between 30th April and 2nd May, 2010. The prizes were awarded as follows:
The other shortlisted poets were, in alphabetical order :
Lewis MacKinnon Par Pare Refero;
Dáithi O hÓgain: Ráite Ós Íseal;
Micheál O hUanacháin: Díth Cuimhne.
Commended poems in Scottish Gaelic were: A Cluich Bach Uair Eile, Miann a Chlàrsair, Tìde, Làmhan Rùisgte, Fuasgladh.
Scots Gaeldom, of course, knows Rody Gorman well, as a fine poet and editor of the bilingual Gaidhlig/Gaeilge magazine Guth. We were particularly delighted to see Canadian Gaelic represented in the short-list. Let's hope Nova Scotian Lewis MacDonald's success encourages more of his fellow-Canadians (and their neighbours South of the Border) to have a go next year.
Strokestown International Poetry Festival lives up to its title, with poets from various corners of the globe, Gavin Bantock from Japan being the furthest travelled. Strokestown could reasonably be described as the most wonderful cultural fortnight packed into two days
Ladies who launch!
Aonghas was pleased to have participated in a special evening in Glasgow's Mitchell Library, as part of the Aye Write festival, on Wednesday 10th March, when he chaired the launch party for two new collections of Gaelic short stories, by new writers, appearing under the Ur-Sgeul imprint. Both "Cainnt an Caileige Caillte", by Alison Lang and Mairi E Macleod's "A Ghlainne agus Sgeulachdan Eile" are first collections. He congratulates Alison for her Saltire Society shortlisting for its First Book of the Year award, and is particularly pleased to have welcomed Mairi, as a fellow child of Skye, into the company of published Gaelic writers.
Next day, he workshopped creative writing with a group of pupils from Gaelic medium schools in the Glasgow area. In encouraging young people to explore their own creative potential, he hopes that some, at least, will be prompted to continue that exploration, in the expectation that they will become stars in the next generation of Gaelic writers
For further information on Mairi E Macleod, Alison Lang and other fine Gaelic writers published by Ur-Sgeul, check website www.ur-sgeul.com/
Aonghas will be one of the judges at the Strokestown International Poetry Competition, Co. Roscommon, Ireland, 30th April - 2nd May, 2010
Poets for Haiti
Aonghas was among '20 of the foremost poets in the land' performing to raise funds for Haiti, along with Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, and three other laureates, Gillian Clarke (Wales), Liz Lochhead (Glasgow) and Ron Butlin (Edinburgh), as well as Don Paterson (shortly to receive the Queen's Medal for Poetry), Sean O'Brien (winner of both Forward and TS Eliot Prizes), and such distinguished Scots as Alasdair Gray, Douglas Dunn, Jackie Kay and Kathleen Jamie, among others. The venue was Edinburgh's Queen's Hall, on the 28th February at 6.00 pm, and it was quite a session!
Poets are usually grateful to have an audience at all. The Queen's Hall hold 900. Every seat was taken, and some were happy to stand for the entire evening. Chaired with customary grace by Catherine Lockerbie, former director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, the evening's contributions offered a wonderful variety of moods from anarchically hilarious through powerful incanation to deeply moving, drawing a standing ovation from the audience at the evening's end.
Included below are two of Aonghas's own contributions. The subject of the Gaelic poem (for the uninitiated, a cartoon-strip character much loved by generations of British children) seemed to strike a chord with the audience, a number of whom asked for copies. So here it is, along with the poet's more sombre reaction to Haiti's plight, which is much older and deeper and man-made) than the dreadful tragedy of this latest upheaval. Let us hope for an enlightened response from those who have the power to make reparations for the damage their power brought about in the first place.
eil cuimhn’ agad air rupert
na dheis’ aodaich nach
cleachdadh tusa gu sìorraidh
briogais bhuidhe breacain,
scarfa bhreac is
peitean dearg do chuimhne
cha robh e ao-coltach riut fhéin
na bheatha, na bhi
fo chùram phàrant
’s na bhi cluich còmhla
mur a b’ è na
nithean iongantach a thachair dhaibh
’s gu’m bu mhathan e
do you remember rupert
in his clothes that
you could never wear
yellow tartan trousers
a tartan scarf and
red jersey you remember
he was not unlike yourself
in life, in being
cared for by parents
and playing with
were it not for
the incredible things that happened to them
and that he was a bear
haiti, 2010: a cry for remedy
give me the voice to say
that i can feed myself
unchain the lips you sealed,
release the rake and hoe
with which i tilled my land
i am not poor
but robbed of wealth
my houses fell
because you stole their skeletons
you let me lose your metal chains
then bound me tight in promissory cords
right now i’ll take your crust
because i must
but let me stand unshackled on
the only patch of land
i need or know, i’ll till it, tend it
make it grow
released from those inequitable bonds
the friendly earth and i
can turn dry seed to living gold
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