Mick Imlah’s first gathering of poems for some years, DIEHARD derives from a larger, major work in hand called ‘The Lost Leader’. These are extraordinary poems of wit and high intelligence, executed with formidable technical skill and honest feeling. They are like a lost poetic history of Scotland brought to light, a modern ironic history, from AD 500, by way of a guided tour of Iona, to yesterday at a Dumfries bus depot, from Fergus Mor to John Smith, from Michael Scot to Walter Scott. Imlah’s dramatising power, his eloquence, and gift for narration never fail him. Nor do his ear for the demotic and his delight in the comic.
There are excursions here, military and other, to Italy, Spain and England, tracing with sardonic humour the fortunes of Scotland’s sons and daughters, at home and abroad, through the centuries. Together the ten poems in this selection: ‘I (AD 500)’, ‘Michael Scot’, ‘Braveheart’, ‘Selkirk’, ‘The Queen’s Maries’, ‘The Honours’, ‘Diehard’, ‘London Scottish’, ‘The Four Marys of Melrose’: probe into Edwin Muir’s assertion (Imlah’s epigraph) that ‘… no poet in Scotland now can take as his inspiration the folk impulse that created the ballads, the people’s songs, and the legends of Mary Stuart and Prince Charlie. He has no choice but to be at once more individual and more local.’
The individuality of Imlah’s voice is not in question. But ‘individual’ and ‘local’ are hardly the measure of DIEHARD. These poems belong in the great tradition of Scottish poetry and of poetry the world over.
Limited edition of 200 copies.
(Clutag Press, 2006)