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Jim Carruth: Killochries

Margaret A Mackay

These days we see a great deal of writing in Scots or including Scots – in poetry, fiction, newspaper columns, letters to the press, and more – all so welcome. One of these publications has moved me particularly forcefully and I would like to share my thoughts about it with those who support our work in SLD. It is the verse novella Killochries by Jim Carruth, which was published by Freight Books in 2015.

Jim Carruth was appointed Glasgow's Poet Laureate in 2014 and as well as being a much-published and prize-winning author himself, is active in encouraging and supporting the writing, reading and performance of poetry by others. Much of this takes place in urban contexts, but rural Scotland provides a potent well-spring for much of his own writing.

Killochries ('God's Acre'), Twelve reflections on a shepherd, follows the round of a year, four seasons beginning in Autumn, on a hill farm where two men who are linked by kinship but far apart in age and background – bringing to mind the 'two solitudes' explored by the poet Rainer Maria Rilke – encounter and gradually reveal themselves to each other, finally reaching a kindly understanding which at the start seems an unlikely outcome.

The sharing of many experiences – work, responsibilities, losses and gains – and the words these call for are the vehicles for this, through the changing months and their demands and delights, in tender treatment of people and animals. The younger man, a poet who has lost his 'voice', is the narrator; the words and thoughts of his elderly host appear in italics (jist open yir lugs/an listen). A fox threads its way through the pages, the natural world, its names, lines from the Bible and the poet's notebook.

Each of twelve sections is headed by an aspect or a role revealed to the younger man by the older, from the first sight, a 'scarecrow' on the skyline, to 'preacher', 'storyteller', 'teacher', 'healer', 'guide' as understanding comes. A spartan Hogmanay brings forth a toast that presages much (This year may yir wurds come/ lik new shoots in the spring) and reticence offers its own understated insights (There wis somebody aince). It's the weygate spaces/ that lat in the life.

I found this a most moving and memorable work, of lasting worth, and recommend it highly.

Killochries by Jim Carruth is published by Freight Books (Glasgow) at £8.99. ISBN 978-1-908754-91-2; also available as an e-book, eISBN-1-908754-92-9.