The Scotsman Sessions #113: Robert Crawford

Welcome to The Scotsman Sessions. With performing arts activity curtailed for the foreseeable future, we are commissioning a series of short video performances from artists all around the country and releasing them on scotsman.com, with introductions from our critics. Here, from Bruntsfield Links in Edinburgh, the poet Robert Crawford reads from a selection of his work including his mighty celebration of the capital, “Camera Obscura.”

For his contribution to the Scotsman Sessions, the poet Robert Crawford has chosen to read “Camera Obscura” – his vibrant, playful celebration of the city of Edinburgh as it was before March: “Tweed-lapelled, elbow-patched, tartan-skirted,/ kilted, Higgs-bosoned, tramless, trammelled and trammed”.

After recording it on a sunny afternoon on Bruntsfield Links, as the city waited for news on a second lockdown, he added quietly: “I hope it all comes back.”

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Crawford, who is highly acclaimed as both poet and critic, has recently made the city his home after retiring from the University of St Andrews where he is now an Emeritus Professor in the School of English. The poem is one of a series celebrating Scottish cities, published in his 2018 collection The Scottish Ambassador.

Robert Crawford

He is an accomplished and versatile writer, learned, playful, often occupied with Scottish themes but never parochial. His 2014 collection, Testament, was published on the eve of the 2014 Independence Referendum and addressed some overtly political concerns. He has said one of his aims with The Scottish Ambassador was to “sing Scotland… as part of a much wider realm.”

The international reach of his work is clear in his final poem in his session, a version of a lyric by Chinese Song Dynasty poet Lu You, atmospherically realised in Scots. This poem is from Strath, published last year, a collaboration with the photographer Norman McBeath. Having enjoyed Chinese lyrics in translation since childhood, he described this as “a exercise to get closer to them.”

The author of some 40 books, including nine collections of poetry, Crawford is currently working on the second part of his two-volume biography of TS Eliot, Eliot After The Waste Land, to be published in 2022 and, for almost the first time in his life, writing poems about animals. He begins his session with a series of new and unpublished animal haiku from a series with the working title Bestiary.

“I love Old English riddles,” he says. “I started making some versions a while back and realised some of them could be turned into haiku. I liked the idea of fusing Old English and Japanese forms. I guess each one is a puzzle, inviting you to guess the animal.”

To read more poems by Robert Crawford, visit https://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poet/robert-crawford/

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