Alexander McCall Smith’s works deal with the unique quirks of Scottish people and their lives, and so A Gathering is a collection of poems that has particular significance to its editor. To create this anthology, he has narrowed down, as other collectors tend to do, to a particular time period. All poets whose works are featured were born before the second world war and most of the poems are from the twentieth century. The anthology does however maintain breadth by touching upon various themes including “Love”, “Poems of Place”, “Childhood”, and “War”.
McCall Smith’s range of reading is vast. And a lot of readers will echo his childhood sentiments – of having to read poems for school and memorising them – so that, years later, the lines come back in an unlikely moment or sometimes in a familiar situation.There are a few enduring classics, Rabbie Burns’ My Luv is like a Red Red Rose, Mackay Brown’s Hamnavoe, and Stevenson’s The Lamplighter, for example. Most of the poems are prefaced with thoughts on why they are significant, and this adds to the reading of them.
But the true excitement of discovery lies in the perhaps lesser known gems. Edwin Morgan’s The Starlings in George Square presents a timeless and evocative picture of the Glasgow landmark and island life is brought to life in Tessa Ransford’s Nocturne Lewis. No anthology is complete without poems in Gaelic and Scots, and works by Sorley MacLean and Hamish Henderson add their own flavour to it.
There are many such poems that seep Scotland through their very pores, and through the quiet mulling of them one can gain insight into Scottish life and culture. Of course, as with any collection, one is limited to the particular era and poets that wrote then. Even so, this is a wonderful anthology that presents the entire gamut of Scotland.