I do not say this proudly, but I am completely naive about Scottish literature, exempting my reference to Aud Lang Syne in one of my poems. That reference is as curious as saying you have read J.P Clark’s Ibadan and as such you have a vague idea of Nigerian Literature.
But literatures intersect in the ferment of essence—the human experience. Literature is made for us by some of us who use language in inventive ways. Tom Pow is in the “some of us” group. He is a poet with several collections of poems to his name. He has written a travel book about Peru and even novels for teenagers but poetry is his primary calling.
What I find most alluring about his poetry is his sparse poetics. He writes in a self assured way in simple diction and prim verses with wry humour that do not span across the page but gives one’s imagination a shove.
See the opening verse of Galloway Tale,
“He told the map men anything.
But in Gaelic. That stretch
of bog? Old woman’s fanny.
The small rise? Mharie’s tit.”
Tom Pow’s poetry reminds me a lot of Seamus Heaney. But his concerns differ. He concerns himself with memory and imagination; he uses his poetry to interrogate socio-cultural phenomena like rural-urban drift, mental institutions, maps, dying villages.
Easily, his poetry is like a temporal journey, an odyssey, a leisurely stroll of observation.
From The Village and The Road,
“I live in one village
but I dream of another
I walk down the road
the sun hot on my back
the books, an unmapped
road in my satchel”
In NightWatch: 1842, He turns archival material on nightly statistics of noisy patients for the month of October 1842 in an asylum to a moving piece on mental illness.
“What spikes your night are pictures,”
I tell them. One’s convinced
that shadows cut her like knives,
another dreams she’s beset
by gangs of wizards and thieves.
To those who sing or whistle
or laugh; or to one who struts
the long gallery and chants,
“Dirty slut, dirty slut, slut…”
I’ll bring the required balm.
On dying villages, he writes,
“when there’s a bird
in the baptismal font,
bird-shit on the altar”
And on love, he writes
“It’s possible to love
is a fixed point,
I look forward to engaging this poet in a conversation tomorrow.