Video: Scotsman poem released to mark paper’s 200th anniversary

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It is a call to the nation to be proud, courageous and forward-thinking, embodying the values which have defined Scotland’s national newspaper for the past two centuries

One of the country’s most acclaimed young poets has produced a special work to mark the 200th anniversary of The Scotsman.

Poet Billy Letford. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Poet Billy Letford. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The Scotsman 200 Years, by William Letford, is a call for optimism yet also responsibility at a crucial juncture in the country’s history.

The specially commissioned piece strikes an upbeat mood which, Mr Letford said, reflects the “restlessness” as well as the “unity” present in modern-day Scotland.

The poem is part of an ongoing series of celebrations to mark the bicentenary of the newspaper, which was founded in 1817 by lawyer William Ritchie and customs official Charles MacLaren as a “political and literary journal”.

Mr Letford said: “I imagined the paper as an object, a thing that’s been read in living rooms, offices and taverns by everyone from Alexander Graham Bell to Billy Connolly.

“The anniversary is also a celebration of the present and the fact the paper is still here, moving into the future. I wanted to focus on the idea of the paper as a representation of Scottishness, something that people carry with them in their hands.”

It is the second time in many years that Mr Letford, from Stirling, has collaborated with The Scotsman. In 2015, he wrote and performed the poem Louder to mark the relaunch of the new-look print edition of the title as well as its new digital channels. The work was also recited by actor David Tennant in a widely viewed video.

The experience of writing both poems, Mr Letford said, allowed him to document the changing mood in the country.

The recipient of a prestigious New Writer’s Award from the Scottish Book Trust, Mr Letford’s literary career had unconventional beginnings, but he is now regarded as one of the country’s most promising young poets.

Having left school with no higher qualifications, he worked as a roofer for his family’s firm until two years ago, before taking the leap and embracing writing full-time.

The 39-year-old started out by performing his poetry in unlikely locations such as mobile burger vans and train carriages. His debut collection of poems Bevel was published by Carcanet Press in 2012 to rave reviews. His latest book Dirt was published to critical acclaim in August 2015.

Roger Cox, The Scotsman’s arts editor, wrote that “Letford’s great gift is his ability to tap into his reader’s emotions,” while the Observer stated that Mr Letford “belongs in the grand and humble tradition of Robert Burns,” adding: “He has heart, a feeling for ordinary working people, and enough Scottish spark to start a fire.”

Ian Stewart, editorial director of The Scotsman, said: “William wrote Louder to promote the changes at the relaunch of The Scotsman. It went down a storm with the accompanying video, and also when he performed it.

“So when it came to discussing ideas about how we mark the paper’s 200th birthday, it was thought that we might be able to replicate some of that success and commission another poem from William. Luckily, he was able to do it, and produced another lovely, evocative poem.”

On Wednesday, the day of the anniversary, copies of The Scotsman will feature a 24-page souvenir supplement charting the history of the newspaper.

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