The modest Orkney poet George Mackay Brown was faithful throughout his writing life to the central themes he explored - the land and sea, the cycle of the seasons, the relationship between man and the world around him, the power and meaning of stories, the spiritual dimension which made sense, to him, of all these things. I have read his poems over many years without quite realising what an impressive body of work they came to form. It is wonderful to come across this volume which so amply demonstrates this. This is art concealing art, the power of understatement, less meaning more, and always his love of the Orkneys, land, sea, customs, history and legends. It's a marvellous book and a fine memorial to a lovable writer who fully deserves such a tribute.
George Mackay Brown died at the age of 74 in the 1990s. He lived very nearly all of his life on the Orkney Islands, where he was born, and most of his poetry is a kind of dialogue between poet and place, with the past as real a presence as the present. He wanted no more than to be in the place where he was born and to commune with its physical reality, its light, its sunsets, its storms, its people, their customs, its folk lore and its history. He had a spell down in Edinburgh and one visit, I think, to London, but he was not adventurous in any sense that most people would recognise. His adventures were of the imagination and the spirit and their medium of exression were prose and poetry. His novels and short stories, his column for 'The Orcadian' and above all his poetry stand as his memorial ; and we learn from Maggie Fergusson's recent biography that his poetry was ranked most highly by Seamus Heaney, Ted Hughes and others. It is unique and life-enhancing, this poetry of the Islands, and it is wonderful to have it in one well-presented volume as here. It is very easy to represent his work as insular - by definition, that is indeed what most of it was. But I would suggest that every human feeling and longing is here, and the beauty of the imagery, the old stories, the patterns of verse, the varied repetitions, the warmth and coldness, involvement and detachment of the lines embody human life and relationships between man and man and man and his surroundings as truly as any body of modern poetry can be said to do. This is a wonderful book offering a lifetime's observation and wisdom in memorable forms and language, and it will give pleasure to readers for many lifetimes to come.
on 13 July 2009
George Mackay Brown lived and wrote in the Orkneys, the upper margin of Britain. With the publication of this remarkable volume he should never be marginalized again. These poems have been my constant companion for weeks. What I read in the morning stays with me all day - a phrase will insist itself on me, or a compelling image.To be fair, I have visited the Orkneys many times and perhaps for that reason can see the landscape into which he breathes such life. I know the history of the islands which he wonderfully evokes, especially its Norse heritage. Like Brown, I am a Catholic, thus his inner discourse of mystery and redemption has great resonance for me . I believe, though, that if I brought neither of these elements to the reading of his Collected Poems I would feel that I had stumbled on greatness. This is a major writer and one who has defined the poet's true task as 'the interrogation of silence'.
on 2 July 2009
Many people, like myself, will have been introduced to the poet's work via 'Hamnavoe', his elegaic portrait of his home town Stromness, where we follow his father delivering the mail. This volume of 'collected poems' offers an ideal opportunity to further explore his huge wealth of writing. Most (or all) of his previously published collections are here, along with other material, some rare.
His clear and detailed vision of the Orkney isles; the nature of land, sea and sky; the myths and spirituality; the island folk and their lives are all presented here in a crystal clear, spare yet intense style.
This volume has been compiled by those that knew and loved the man and his work, and the accompanying notes are a good read themselves.
Treat yourself to one of our greatest poets.
on 18 November 2010
There are so many poems in this collection, it probably represents a full year's reading. Those who read poems regularly will know that - unlike novels, plays and short stories - poems are best savoured one at a time with frequent pauses for thought.
There's lots of recurring imagery in George Mackay Brown's work (seapink is one), and the imagery is so dense and rewarding that you really do need to step back to take it all in.
Many of Brown's best-known poems of course feature here, including the peerless 'Hamnavoe', but there are many, many other jewels. It's hard to credit that a single writer could have been master of such a vast catalogue of imagery, characters and incidents. He must have written every day and have honed his poems rigorously.
Another facet of this book that I wasn't expecting is the sheer range of Brown's style; compare, for example, the lyricism of 'Hamnavoe' with the prose poem 'King of Kings', a view of the nativity written from the perspective of the inkeeper in the form of a letter to the "Third Secretary (Security)". Thinking about that Bethlehem inn, its guests and visitors in such detail so vividly brings the scene to life that it reads like a historical document, whether or not you're a Christian.
Apart from 'Hamnavoe' my personal favourites include 'Fisherman and Boy', especially 'THE DRINKERS', 'Shipwreck' and 'Thorfinn', along with many other isolated lines, phrases and images.
There are a few printing anomalies, such as the occasional, apparently indiscriminate choice of quotation marks over italics and vice versa. However, that's more than made up for by typography and page breaks that rarely interrupt the look and flow of individual poems.
In fact, this huge (547pp) book is almost worth owning for editors Archie Bevan and Brian Murray's introduction alone. It includes a short excerpt from Edwin Muir's foreword to Brown's 'The Storm And Other Poems' (published 1952 by the Orkney Herald), which contained these words:
"Grace is what breathes warmth into beauty and tenderness into comedy."
This book breathes grace, warmth, beauty, tenderness and comedy in a secret blend of each. If you don't usually read poetry, buy this book and change that now.
on 5 February 2014
A collection of Poems by George Mackay Brown is one of my favorite books. I dip in and out of it all the time a constant on my bedside locker.
on 21 August 2013
Wonderful poems, drawing clear pictures of the area - really makes you want to go and experience the Orkneys for yourself.
on 3 April 2013
I had not encountered a great deal of Mackay Brown's poetry - only a few - and was familiar with his prose. I had no idea how substantial and how wonderful his poetic work was. I love this collection.
on 11 July 2013
A wonderful collection of GMB's work over the span of his life. Gives a real feel for his work and the quantity and quality of it.
on 10 May 2012
Has many very beutiful poems that gives one a real sense of place and a of the depth of the apparently simple and everyday.