By Duncan Ferguson

EARLIER this month Yale University Press published a short but impressively comprehensive account of poetry by John Carey, covering the 4,000-year story of this genre from Gilgamesh to our modern poets with respect to not only English language verse but also the cream of the classical languages and poetry in all world languages, well worthy of noting in this week leading up to World Poetry Day, which takes place on Saturday.

In 2016, a celebration was held to mark 20 years of The Herald’s Poem of the Day and to acknowledge its editor, Lesley Duncan; even this newspaper’s most loyal readers may not be aware how remarkable it is that this publication gives a daily column to poetry.

March 21 is designated World Poetry Day by UNESCO so it is surely not inappropriate both to compliment the continuing commitment of this newspaper to giving a regular column to poetry; and to salute this art form – often the literary Cinderella – both nationally and internationally.

Scotland through the universal messages of Rabbie Burns’s poems has an international calling card and, of course, Burns suppers have a unique place in the world calendar of poetic celebrations; and indeed in world literature rivalled only by Shakespeare: how many gatherings celebrate William Wordsworth or his famous Daffodils? Of course, once haggis addresses and drams have been downed in darkest January, there is little evidence in Scotland of great enthusiasm for poetry, for it is fair to say the Burns collection in the Mitchell Library or the Scottish Poetry Library (Edinburgh), with its impressive collection of writing in English, Gaelic and Scots, are not top visitor attractions.

Scotland’s 20th century chief bards are superbly portrayed by Alexander Moffat in his painting Poets’ Pub, which depicts Hugh MacDiarmid surrounded by the motley band who were at the heart of the Scottish literary renaissance, including Edwin Morgan of Glasgow underground poems fame, and Iain Crichton Smith who wrote so creatively at the English/Gaelic interface exemplified in this Europhilic haiku: Piano san fhàsach/Beethoven aig céilidh/Salvador Dali (Piano in the desert/Beethoven at a ceilidh/Salvador Dali).

Lovers of poetry owe a debt to anthologists, translators and teachers: Francis Palgrave of Golden Treasury fame and editors by their selections of poems have influenced the learning of countless students of English literature; Edward Fitzgerald’s Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is the translated poem par excellence – with few aware of the original Persian; and many Scottish pupils will be forever grateful to teachers who introduced them to the works of Norman MacCaig, Philip Larkin, Dylan Thomas or WB Yeats, to mention only one outstanding writer from each part of the British Isles. And in the nation of William Topaz McGonagall there surely is always a place for light-hearted rhyming couplets and humorous verse.

With respect to media exposure, although BBC R4 broadcasts Poetry Please and RTE radio has regular series of The Poetry Programme, Radio Scotland has never had a regular place for poetry or even a ‘poem of the week’ slot – a campaign perhaps for our national makar, Jackie Kay?

Skye accordionist Blair Douglas composed a beautiful tune, Lament for the Poets, in honour of his renowned fellow islander and eminent poet Sorley MacLean and Ireland’s revered Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney – an appropriate soundtrack for a toast to Erato and fellow muses for World Poetry Day in the hope of a new Parnassus for poets throughout our nation and world.

Duncan Ferguson is Rector emeritus, Plockton High School and trustee, Sorley MacLean Trust