Scotland is, you may have noticed, Makar-less. Since the estimable Jackie Kay stepped down as our national poet, the role has been vacant. Yet you’ve only got to read Tom Pow’s latest collection, Naranjas – his first non-thematic one for 11 years – to realise how ideally he would suit the job.
A five-time winner of Scotland’s main book prizes (including one for his children’s writing), the Dumfries-based poet has also been shortlisted three times in the Scottish book of the year awards. And his work – which also includes essays, short stories, a verse biography, travel books and radio plays – isn’t just popular with the critics, but with the wider literature sector too. When the Edinburgh book festivals wanted to appoint their first writer in residence, he was the first person they turned to, just as Creative Scotland did when they needed someone to give the introductory address for its last major literature sector review.
The four sections of Naranjas, while all written with the immediacy and clarity one would hope for from a Makar (incidentally, two qualities Edwin Morgan prized in Pow’s work) highlight its range – from a Scottish childhood echoed in dream, story and memory to lessons learnt and thanks given now that he has (just) passed his three score years and ten.
Both Brexit and the pandemic, he says, made his poetry even more outward-looking, and not just in the book’s Spanish-set title poem.
“North Land was a case in point,” he says. “I was invited to Finland but wrote this before I went, a journey in my imagination. And Scottish Blues is about finding the Spanish of Rafael Alberti and translating it into Scottish culture, showing how other cultures can enrich our own. That kind of imaginative leaning into the world just seems a lot more important now.”
Naranjas, by Tom Pow, is published by Galileo, price £9.99, https://galileopublishing.co.uk/naranjas/
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