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TC Smout and Mairi Stewart
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Ian Fraser and Ray Perman
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For a poet who famously dislikes talking about herself, Kathleen Jamie's new book of prose poems and artworks, Frissure, is something of a departure. Written after radical breast cancer surgery, the idea of externalising this most intimate of subjects was triggered by the sight of her healing scar in the bathroom mirror.
"I thought it looked like the low shores of an island, seen from afar. Or a river, seen from above. Or a map. Then I fancied it looked like the stem of a rose, and I thought of Burns: you seize the flo'er, the bloom is shed." She felt that to be healed and to be saved from mortality was to be received back into it. And so it seemed logical to write about her scarred body as living once again in the land. "We are embodied creatures with our place in the landscape, and we can't escape that," she told her capacity audience.
In Tay Sonnets, from her recent collection The Overhaul, that trademark clarity of vision was to the fore as she delivered a quiet raft of apercus so acute, so sparse and so affecting as to silence the room.
An enlightening discussion about the environmental history of the Firth of Forth from TC Smout, above, and Mairi Stewart was a timely reminder about the importance of this vast and ancient body of water. Overfishing, land reclamation, pollution and climate change have altered it beyond recognition. Smout's conclusion: that constant vigilance is vital.
Anyone tempted to bet that a discussion about the collapse of Scotland's once-mighty banks in 2008 would be of zero interest to the hoi polloi clearly doesn't know their onions; for it was one of those events where the sell-out audience actively took the lead.
Ian Fraser's Shredded, about the crisis at RBS, and Ray Perman's Hubris, an analysis of the problems at HBOS, prompted fists to be raised and expletives to be uttered against the unatoned sins of those in charge. Both authors were united in their determination to aid and abet by holding no bars.
There was consensus that with Scotland's psyche irretrievably damaged, and little sign of those responsible ever being punished, our once-proud nation would never again be able to rest in peace.
Then someone stood up to commend the efforts of Fraser and Perman in finally redressing this sorry situation - to unanimous applause from this most informed and indignant of audiences.