In this diverse and often unexpected and surprising collection one gets a strong image of the writer's personal brief about life - its notices, its ironies, its sadnesses; its celebrations; its untouchable elements.
Jimmy writes about realities, often dominated by memories of the Scottish landscape he grew up in and so loved, and its people. He can write in a simple, down-to-earth, direct way as in 'Saturday heroes' and the lyrical 'Community Singing'; or in a more 'academic' voice, as in 'Athene' or 'Cosmologist's Love Song'; but, either way, the conclusions come with almost devastating understatement - the sharpness and sometime absurdities often heightened by irony or humour. Of the two, I prefer the down-to-earth approach, which brings me closer to the writer and makes it easier for me to appreciate more the liveable and often loveable nature of the poet's world, and the revealing of his warmth and humanity.
Not unsurprisingly, Jimmy also writes in dialect which (unlike most other dialect poems I have tried to read) I can understand. 'Granda' is one of these, where the dialect emotionally advances the subject matter so that you feel you have your hands in the rich loam of a culture rather than simply being an observer. This is a very moving poem, beautifully written, completely unsentimental, yet brought a tear to my eye and is a wonderful example of how, in a good poem, the very personal becomes strongly universal. There must be art in that.
These are poems about history and landscape, people and things, written with the eye of someone who loves and describes with an original voice; sometimes incredibly so, as in the final section of 'Report from a Coastal Station, 1942' where the report finishes
five decades and a half.'
Even when stating the obvious, he makes it resonate with wider meaning so that description leads you out into space, as in his second poem about gulls on Victoria Park
what they are, they seek out
thermals that aren't there,
and call like gulls.'
The last two lines in the book
'Save my poems -
they are all you will have of me'
are the only unacceptable lines he has written, for they are not true! Those who knew Jimmy, if only for a comparatively short time will remember, and miss, him as a multi-talented person who did everything quietly; who was a most reluctant advocate of himself when he had so much to advocate of the truly devotional things in life; who was a true representative of that often mis-used and too-often ambushed word, 'integrity'. But, in trying to explain the imponderables, as Jimmy says in his no-nonsense yet subtle way in a sad poem about the effects of war on a small community, 'Twenty into twelve doesn't go'.
This collection has some fine poems in it. The editors made a very good decision, I think, by starting with 'In the Dark Months', a poem of metaphor which embraces living through his last years, and captures the personal philosophy that invades all Jimmy's poems and his attitude to life.
Huw Watkins in Stanza Feb 2004
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