For the Joy of Reading: Washing Hugh MacDiarmid’s Socks

When Magi Gibson brings out a new poetry collection, there is only one sensible thing to do.: read it.   She chooses her words with a precision that skewers her meaning to the page.   How can you not love a poet who describes the effect of university on a Scottish working class girl by starting in broads Scots and then, through a seamless acquisition of words, transferring to Oxford English?   How can you not love a poet who uses words like hirplin, glaikit and thrapple in the same poem as words like caraway, porcelain and Earl Grey?   How can you not love a poet who describes the transition of using words from chippie to chip shop?   And yes, you may need a good dictionary to understand some of the Scots, but what does that matter?   Just listen to the beauty of the words themselves, and enjoy the flow of the language as if it is a stream bubbling down the mountainside.   Because that is what it is like.

There are words in this collection which may cause offence.   Certainly, if I quoted them, Internet “acceptable” words policies would go into meltdown and I would not be able to post this review on certain sites.   They may well cause offence to some women because the only acceptable word to be used for female genitalia is “v****a” which is how it is spelt in the opening poem before the use of something much more basic.   The poem however is trying to make a very serious point about the use of language and why poetry audiences in particular should not be in the least bit squeamish.

What truly delights about these poems is their humanity.   Magi Gibson confronts relationships and goes straight to the heart of the matter.    Anyone who has been bereaved will recognise the feelings expressed in Golden Daffodils.   Anyone who watched will recognise the beauty in Mother and Child.   Anyone who has thought about the lives of their parents will Miners’ Daughters or Visiting Arran with My Mother.   Anyone who has lived next door to someone will empathise with My Neighbour.   Anyone who has been in a relationship will understand Song of the Anglerfish.   And so it goes on.   Magi Gibson is someone who understands people, who knows how to describe their feelings and who does not flinch from doing so.

This is truly a remarkable set of poems, and none is more remarkable than Washing Hugh MacDiarmid’s Socks.   Why did Velda Grieve, a forceful woman if ever there was one, agree to wash her husband’s socks when she was in Cornwall and he was in Scotland?   Because she knew that he would forget, because she knew he would not do it, because she loved him.   Magi Gibson makes this plausible, believable, understandable.   She sees a truth in this simple seemingly inexplicable act.

Magi Gibson is a remarkable poet.   These are remarkable poems.   You should read them.


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