When I was at university I often saw Hamish Henderson in Edinburgh pubs. I knew him by reputation but was shy of approaching him. His brilliant collection Elegies for the Dead In Cyrenaica, published in 1948, had a particular resonance for me because of my own father’s terrible experiences in North Africa during World War Two.

A few years later, having published a poem, both convinced of my literary immortality and full of IPA, I was emboldened to approach him in Sandy Bell's. I think I asked him about the great song he had written in 1960, Freedom Come All Ye. Though he was surrounded by pals and in the midst of what appeared to be a rare old hoolie, he took the time to talk to me and asked me for my address so he could send me a copy of the lyrics.

What I got instead a few days later was a four-page letter full of useful insights and advice and, on top of that, a hand-written copy of Freedom Come All Ye. It was a disproportionate yet enormously kind response to someone he had met by chance, but indicative of Henderson’s immense warmth and generosity.

One of the things he said in his letter was that he hoped for a new Scotland "sure of itself but attuned to the world". Henderson, I later discovered, was born in 1919 into rural poverty in a country disillusioned by war. But his experiences then, and subsequently, had not resulted in him having an insular vision of Scotland. It always seemed to me that though MacDiarmid espoused internationalism, Henderson practised it and embodied in cherubic style a joyous and flamboyant hope for his independent country, one that would be fed by and would feed into the civilising influences of the world. He hoped this would stem from the folk art and poetry of the people rather than from intellectualised "bourgeois poetry".

Like his hero, the Italian Antonio Gramsci, Henderson believed folk culture – music, art, folklore – reflected the true culture of the people and was in Henderson’s words “a challenge to the ruling class, a manifestation of a rebel ‘underground’". This view almost certainly brought him into conflict with the poetry orthodoxy of his time in a way that still feels familiar today.

Certainly, there was a view that Henderson had abandoned his early promise as a poet, but fundamentally Henderson rejected the accepted definition of what being a poet even meant.

Indeed, Jim Mackintosh, whose book The Darg: Poems in tribute to Henderson, will be launched at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, believes Henderson's influence extended far more widely. “If you look beyond the Elegies at Hamish’s other poetry and writings, notwithstanding the 12,000 letters he penned in his lifetime, you will find the whole spectrum of creative powers which one might argue were never fully realised. But in a way his legacy is too great, too widespread, not focused enough for our modern need to stick a single label on him as the 'poetry guy', the 'folk song lad' or 'yon chiel you bumped into in Sandy Bells'.”

To accept the idea that Henderson gave up on poetry after Elegies to concentrate on collecting ballads and traditional songs is to fundamentally misunderstand what Henderson was about. It mirrors, as writer Donald Smith has said, the same criticisms and observations made about Burns. To Henderson, and possibly Burns – the poet to whom Henderson bears closest comparison in terms of temperament and belief in the poetic power of the folk tradition – poetry was the expression of love and joy, and whether it was read from the page, recited by heart or sung made no difference. He saw no distinction.

When the Elegies won the Somerset Maughan Award, socialist historian EP Thompson wrote approvingly: “I greet you with humility, you are that rare man, a poet... I hope you have had bad reviews from the culture boys, because their approval today is cause only for shame. Remember always who you are writing for: the people of Glasgow, Halifax, Dublin. And you must not forget that your songs and ballads are not trivialities, they are quite as important as your elegies.”

Henderson is one of an elite band of writers, including myself, who have used part of their bursary and award money to bet on horses. In his case alone it was with spectacular success: he put £10 of his Somerset Maughan award on the 66-1 winner of the Grand National, thus doubling his award and facilitating a trip to Italy to translate Gramsci’s prison letters. He was subsequently deported but brought with him, as a gift from the Olivetti family, a brand new tape recorder with which he set out to record Scotland’s rich tradition in folk music.

By the time of Henderson’s death in Edinburgh in 2002, aged 82, he was celebrated worldwide as a folklorist, poet, songwriter, socialist activist and human rights campaigner who was ahead of his time. He was one of the pivotal forces of the Scottish folk music revival of the 1950s and 60s and a founding figure of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His ideas, not least on gender equality and LGBT rights, controversial through much of his lifetime, are now the standard progressive fare of contemporary Scotland.

“In the second half of the twentieth century Hamish Henderson demonstrated time and time again that he was one of the finest democratic intellects in Scotland, going beyond its boundaries both academically and creatively," says Mackintosh. "His cornerstone contribution to the Scottish folk tradition should not be the only thing for which he is remembered. All in all he deserves to be thought of as one of Scotland’s most influential cultural figures since Robert Burns.”

This year, 2019, is the centenary year of this extraordinary man’s birth, though you could be forgiven for not noticing. His life and times are not taught in schools, Freedom Come All Ye – often described as Scotland’s alternative national anthem – may be widely known and chorused in folk clubs, but it’s hardly on every child’s tongue.

Fans of Henderson are keen to see his status acknowledged and his influence celebrated, but remarkably no mainstream outlet in Scotland had seized the opportunity to publish an anthology in tribute to Henderson, a remarkable oversight given the scope and influence of his work but perhaps a reminder again of how difficult the establishment has found it to buttonhole and define the man.

That is where small independent publisher The Poets’ Republic Press comes in. The aforementioned volume The Darg features more than 50 new poems by women and men in the rebellious spirit of Henderson, a makeshift, grassroots and DIY enterprise that might raise a smile of approval from the man himself. He’d no doubt appreciate the diversity of poets, from Magi Gibson to Andy Jackson, Ireland’s Anne Casey and Poland's Bogusia Wardein, to Henderson's friend George Gunn, writing in English, Scots and Gaelic.

As for that title, The Darg was the name given to Henderson’s grassroots ceilidhs, or People’s Festivals, he set up in the 1950s as an alternative to the Edinburgh International Festival with the dual purpose of celebrating working class music and simply spreading joy.

In that spirit of inclusivity and solidarity, The Darg draws from poets of different backgrounds, experiences and peripheries, and is an ideal commemoration for an extraordinary man.

The Darg, an anthology of new poems in tribute to Hamish Henderson, is published by The Poets’ Republic and will be launched on August 14th at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. The book is available from www.poetsrepublic.org and Blackwells bookshop, Edinburgh.