University to honour Robert Burns’ favourite poet
The University of St Andrews is to honour Robert Burns’ favourite Scottish poet by holding a year- long celebration of his life.
The St Andrews Scottish Studies Institute (SASSI) has commissioned ten poems from ten contemporary poets to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Robert Fergusson’s birth, seen by many as the man who inspired Burns to write poetry.
Thought to be the most ambitious act of poetic commissioning ever carried out by a Scottish University, the poems will cover the Scottish, English and Gaelic tongue with contributions from Meg Bateman, John Burnside, Robert Crawford, Douglas Dunn, W N Herbert, Tracey Herd, Kathleen Jamie, Edwin Morgan, Les Murray and Don Paterson.
As part of the Scottish Arts Council funded project, the poets will also take part in a series of events throughout Scotland, the UK and further afield, including a once-in-a-lifetime reading by the poets in St Andrews itself.
Robert Fergusson was born in Edinburgh in 1750 and began writing poetry while studying at the University of St Andrews. It soon became clear that he had a gift for satire and went onto write both fondly and scathingly of St Andrews and Scotland as a whole, most memorably in Auld Reekie when he described the smokey plume which used to hang over his Edinburgh birthplace.
While writing in St Andrews, he championed the University janitor while condemning the Principal and Professors for downgrading native culture. Described by Burns as “Heaven-taught” and “By far my elder Brother in the muse”, Fergusson died insane in an Edinburgh asylum at the age of 24, when Burns was just 15. Burns died 11 years later at the age of 36.
Today, the University of St Andrews employs several leading Scottish writers including John Burnside, Robert Crawford, Douglas Dunn and Kathleen Jamie and is a centre of excellence for creative writing and Scottish studies.
Based in the School of English, the St Andrews Scottish Studies Institute brings together some of Scotland’s foremost poets and specialists in Scottish cultural history to offer interdisciplinary research, taught postgraduate and undergraduate degrees. SASSI’s staff are editing the largest ever history of Scotland and, later this year, will publish major works on Scottish literature, history and art history, in addition to new creative work.
For more details, visit the SASSI website or contact Robert Crawford at the University of St Andrews.
Meg Bateman was born in Edinburgh in 1959. Her collection Aotromachd agus dain eile/Lightness and other poems was published by Polygon in 1997 and shortlisted for the Scottish Writer of the Year award. She lives on Skye where she teaches at Sabhal mor Ostaig.
John Burnside was born in Dunfermline in 1955. He has won several major awards including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize. His sixth collection of poems, A Normal Skin, appeared in 1997 from Cape, who also published his recent novel The Mercy Boys, set in Dundee. He lectures in English at the University of St Andrews.
Robert Crawford's fourth collection of poems, Spirit Machines (Cape 1999), won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Born in 1959, he was selected as one of the 20 Best Young British Poets in 1994. He is Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St Andrews.
Douglas Dunn was born in Renfrewshire in 1942. He won the Whitbread Book of the Year award in 1985 for his collection Elegies (Faber). He is Editor of The Faber Book of Twentieth Century Scottish Poetry and a Professor of English at the University of St Andrews.
W N Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961 and lives in North Shields, Tyne and Wear. His most recent collection of poems is The Laurelude (Bloodaxe, 1998), which won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. He is widely regarded as the leading younger Scots-language poet.
Tracey Herd was born in 1968 in East Kilbride and lives in Dundee. She won a Society of Authors Eric Gregory Award in 1993 and published her first collection of poems, No Hiding Place (Bloodaxe) in 1996. She is Writer in Residence at the University of Dundee.
Kathleen Jamie was born in Renfrewshire in 1962. Her collections include The Queen of Sheba (Bloodaxe, 1994) and Jizzen (Picador, 1999). She has won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize and a Paul Hamlyn Prize. She lectures in English at the University of St Andrews.
Edwin Morgan was born in Glasgow in 1920 and is widely regarded as Scotland's most eminent living poet. His Collected Poems were published by Cacarnet in 1990 and his Collected Translations in 1996. He taught for many years at Glasgow University and is Glasgow's Poet Laureate.
Les Murray was born in Bunyah, New South Wales, in 1938. He won the T S Eliot Prize in 1997 and was awarded the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry in 1998. His Collected Poems were published by Cacarnet in 1991 and his most recent collection is Conscious and Verbal (1999).
Don Paterson was born in Dundee in 1963. His most recent collection is The Eyes (Faber, 1999). His first book won the Forward Prize in 1994 and he was selected as one of the 20 Best Young British Poets. He works as a musician and lives in Edinburgh.
Issued by Beattie Media on behalf of the University of St Andrews.