Excerpted fromShould Auld Acquaintance: Discovering the Woman Behind Robert Burns by Melanie Murray, available now.
It’s Race Week when men flock to Mauchline to race their horses from the Cross, up the steep road to Mossgiel and back. That night at Ronald’s ballroom next to the Black Horse Inn, it may have been Ian MacLauchlan—the best fiddler in the west of Scotland—playing for a penny a reel. He has the place hopping. In red tartan trews, fiddle tucked under his whiskered chin, he glides his bow over the strings as feet stomp and hands clap.
My father was a fiddler fine
My minnie she made manki-o,
An I’m myself, a thumpin quean
Wha danc’d the Reel o’ Stumpie-o.
On their toes, arms at their hips, across their chests, they skip and whirl. Even the stoutest matrons hop and spin around the room. Jean links arms with her partner, Robert Wilson. They’ve been walking out together for many months; though no promises have been made, she knows they’re forthcoming. Robin—as they call him—is leaving the next day for his apprenticeship as a weaver in the town of Paisley, thirty miles north. Once he’s shown that his prospects are sound, Jean is sure he’ll win her father’s approval.
A man, with a dog, prances into the middle of their set. A russet plaid draped over his white linen shirt in an unusual way; dark, wavy hair tied back at the nape of his neck with a black band of ribbon, two locks curling around his sideburns. He’s the only man in the parish to wear his hair like that. And the way he dances is different too. He leaps to the measure of the reel, looping and flinging with high-stepping abandon, his face glowing, brown eyes snapping. All the while, the black-and-white collie follows close at his heels.
Jean knows he’s the new tenant at Gavin Hamilton’s farm. She’s watched him swaggering down the village roads, a widebrimmed hat edging his thick black eyebrows, always a book tucked under his arm. Poet Burns has already given the gossips plenty to wag their tongues about. They say he writes scandalous verses; that he fathered a bastard wean with Lizzie Paton, his family’s servant girl, and was rebuked in the Tarbolton kirk as a fornicator. And, they say, he has no intentions of marrying Lizzie. His family thinks her too coarse, though they themselves are barely scratching out a living on their farm at Mossgiel.
A wide grin on his face, he twirls in front of Jean, arms waving above his head. But the collie trips up his fancy footwork. “Swith awa’, Luath,” he says, lightly booting the dog’s curling tail. “Wish I could find a lass who’d love me as well as my dog,” he chuckles.
“If you do,” Jean says, “then I hope you’ll be treating her better than your dog.”
He laughs and grabs the next lass opening her arms to him.
The Latner Writers’ Trust has awarded Gregory Scofield with the 2016 Poetry Prize. The $25,000 prize is awarded annually to a poet in mid-career, in recognition of an outstanding body of work, and is sponsored by the Latner Family Foundation. The award was presented to Scofield at the Writers’ Trust Awards on November 2 at the Glenn Gould Studio in Toronto.
Scofield describes receiving the Latner Writers’ Trust Poetry Prize as a “humbling honour,” and states his hope that this award “will serve as inspiration to young Indigenous poets whose stories and words are needed now more than ever.”
Gregory Scofield is Red River Metis of Cree, Scottish and European descent whose ancestry can be traced to the fur trade and to the Metis community of Kinesota, Manitoba. He has taught First Nations and Metis Literature and Creative Writing at Brandon University, Emily Carr University of Art + Design, and the Alberta College of Art + Design. He currently holds the position of Assistant Professor in English at Laurentian University where he teaches Creative Writing. Scofield won the Dorothy Livesay Poetry Prize in 1994 for his debut collection, The Gathering: Stones for the Medicine Wheel, and has since published seven further volumes of poetry as well as a memoir, Thunder Through My Veins (1999). Scofield has served as writer-in-residence at the University of Manitoba, University of Winnipeg and Memorial University. His most recent poetry collection, Witness, I Am was published by Nightwood Editions in 2016.
Nightwood Editions is excited to celebrate the release of its Fall 2016 titles with events and readings across the country.
In Vancouver, Adèle Barclay launches her debut poetry collection If I Were in a Cage I’d Reach Out for You on October 18 at the Emerald in Vancouver. Barclay will be joined by fellow Nightwood poets Elizabeth Bachinsky, Raoul Fernandes, and Sheryda Warrener, for an evening of music, tarot, cake and prizes. Barclay will also be in Montreal in November, reading at Drawn & Quarterly on the 17th, and participating in the Pivot Reading Series in Toronto and the Tree Reading Series in Ottawa.
Also on October 18, on the other side of the country, The Woods: A Year on Protection Island author Amber McMillan and Digsite poet Owain Nicholson team up, alongside authors Nathaniel G. Moore and Spencer Gordon, for a book launch and reading at Type Books at 883 Queen Street West in Toronto. The event features readings, refreshments and giveaways, including the chance to win a 1-year subscription to Taddle Creek, Toronto’s literary magazine.
Tim Bowling launched The Duende of Tetherball in Edmonton on October 7. The event was covered by the Edmonton Journal, calling Bowling’s collection an exploration of “the heart-pounding giddiness of survival” and Bowling a poet who “walks the wobbly line between joy and sorrow, always with fingers crossed that the balance tilts positive.”
In November, Gregory Scofield launches his latest collection of poems Witness, I Am, a gripping collection that delves into issues of identity, belonging, and the desperate state of missing and murdered Indigenous women in Canada. Scofield reads alongside Nightwood poets Tim Bowling and Elizabeth Bachinsky at The Paper Hound in Vancouver on November 26.
Information on these and all upcoming Nightwood Editions events can be found on our events calendar.
Joe Denham, winner of the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry earlier this year, is a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Award in the poetry category for his third collection, Regeneration Machine (Nightwood Editions, 2015). Founded in 1936, the Governor General’s Literary Award honours the best in Canadian literature, with seven different categories for both English- and French-language authors. All finalists receive $1,000,and the winners, who will be revealed on October 25, will each receive $25,000.
Regeneration Machine is a 100-stanza, 9,000-word letter-in-verse written to the ghost of Nevin Sample, Denham’s close friend who tragically ended his life over 20 years ago. The book is a moving requiem, elegy, lament; a sort of flailing attempt to make sense of the nonsensically violent way that a non-violent,caring, intelligent young man chose to end his life.
Joe Denham is the author of two other poetry collections, Flux (2003) and Windstorm (2009), and the novel The Year of Broken Glass (2011). Regeneration Machine also won the Canadian Authors Association Award for Poetry in 2016. Denham’s work has appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies including Breathing Fire 2: Canada’s New Poets (2004). He is currently at work on a sequel to Windstorm, and is preparing to release his first album of songs, Lost at Sea, in the spring of 2017. He lives with his wife and two children in Halfmoon Bay, BC.
“Regeneration Machine is a wave-like poem of impressive integrity, at times muscular and searing, at times delicate and tender. It possesses that rare quality of reading as if its poet either had to write it or else sink into utter despair at the loss of his faith in the human spirit’s capacity to withstand the ravages our exploited planet continues to endure.”
—Canadian Authors Association
Other English-language finalists for the Governor General’s Award in Poetry include The Waking Comes Late by Steven Heighton (House of Anansi Press), Throaty Wipes by Susan Holbrook (Coach House Books), Prairie Harbour by Garry Thomas Morse (Talon Books), and Marry & Burn by Rachel Rose (Harbour Publishing).