I first came across William Letford at a literary event in Glasgow called “Discombobulate”. He was mesmerising. The soft cadences of his voice matched perfectly with his poetry. Then he published his first poetry collection “Bevel” which I took with me on a trip to South Africa, where I was cataloguing a library. Now his second collection, Dirt, has been published and I have it with me in Bangladesh where I am cataloguing a library. I seem fated to take Billy Letford’s poetry with me on long journeys to places where I am cataloguing a library, as something to do during my retirement.
This book is enchanting, but not in the insipid sense of the word. Letford makes you listen to what he is saying in his verse, and requires you to think deeply. He makes no compromises with his language, requiring you to make the effort when it comes to understanding Scots. He also writes in a Standard English that is truly breath-taking, capturing the moment with a word or a phrase. In one poem he describes a couple not wanting to get out of bed, and fantasising about the reasons for not doing it until reality kicks in, and the woman recognises that she has to get ready for work. In another, he describes a confrontation with some wild dogs in Pushkar and how it is a local who knows what to do who drives the dogs away. [I suppose this resonates with me because I am in Bangladesh, and there are plenty of dogs on the streets.]
Letford always chooses the right word, captures the moment, and brings you as the reader to an understanding of what is happening, of his thoughts about the things that he is describing. In this he is truly remarkable. He is particularly brilliant in describing people coping with uncomfortable situations, such as an interview being conducted by a “middle management centaur, half man, half desk” or a visit to his granny who he finds smoking a joint, not really to his surprise.
He also writes about the sublime, the inevitable, how two people come together, not necessarily for ever, but for long enough for them to influence each other. His poem, “Young Rambo” is a glorious example of how a few words can change someone. In “Marriage” someone, presumably the best man, is wishing that the couple experience “the incidental, the ordinary”, knowing someone by the way they move their fork. In “The North” he describes the birth of two people who are to become a couple, and how they will eventually meet.
This is a remarkable collection of poems. You will give yourself a huge treat if you decide to read it.