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    Birthday Centenary of George Mackay Brown…

    Born on 17 October 1921, in Stromness, Orkney, George Mackay Brown,  “The Bard of Orkney” would be a hundred years old today. We would like to join his many fans all over the world to celebrate this anniversary and pay homage to the great Scottish poet.

    As one of the leading Scottish poets and authors of the 20th century GMB was not only a poet but also a novelist, playwright, short-story writer, essayist, librettist, writer of stories for children and journalist.

    In this post I’ve tried to share with you my love for GMB and to focus on what makes him so special.

    George Mackay Brown © Jessie Ann Matthew – National Galleries Scotland

    I discovered George Mackay Brown, years ago, through his beautiful story ‘The Last Island Boy’ which  appeared in The Best of Best Short Stories 1986-1995, an anthology edited  by Giles Gordon & David Hughes and published by Minerva in 1995.  I’ve read and re-read this story which has been included in GMB’s Christmas Stories published in 2020 by Galileo. The story takes place on a small and solitary island of Orkney where the boy’s father has settled with his wife and son, hoping to find a better way of life. It was a dream. The father used to be a clerk in town and became a fisherman on a wild island. A radical change of life! No more regular wages. The family survival now depends on fishing and thus on the harsh and changing weather conditions. The man quickly discovers how life can be hard on the island and he wonders if he has made the right choice for him and his family.”Christmas!’ said the man. ‘What do we want with Christmas? What’s Christmas to us? All I know is, it’s winter. The worst storms are still to come. Will we last through the winter? That’s what I’d like to know.’  But the main character of the story is not the father nor the mother but the little boy who spends the day before Christmas walking up and down the island, visiting the ruins of the deserted houses scattered around the isle, trying to imagine what kind of life people might have led there…

    As soon as I discovered George Mackay Brown, he became my favourite author. I’ve been collecting his books since, old and new, including the children’s books : Six Lives of Fankle the Cat, Pictures in the Cave, Keepers of the House. Two shelves of my library are devoted to GMB’s books and you can always find one or two of them lying on my desk or waiting on my bedside table to be read at night or early in the morning.

    Orkney: the beloved islands…

    Orkney Pictures & Poems George Mackay Brown Gunnie Moberg Colin Baxter 1996

    Orkney Pictures & Poems George Mackay Brown Gunnie Moberg Colin Baxter 1996

    Poems by GMB illustrating photographs by Gunnie Moberg, published two months after GMB’s death. The original plan was that he would merely write poetic captions for the pictures, but as Moberg later recalled, “I live just outside Stromness, the town where George lived, and I brought him two or three slides a week. I didn’t see what he was writing and then one day his typist said to me: ‘Gosh, George is producing such lovely poems.’ I was quite taken aback”

    (Orkney Library & Archive D135-47-5).

    Orkney Hoy from Warbeth beach © 2012 Scotiana

    We went twice in Orkney and our two journeys left us unforgettable memories. There is a special atmosphere there, a Scandinavian touch that gives the place an undeniable charm. The landscape of Orkney is wonderful with its impressive cliffs, its sandy and pebble beaches, its hills and colourful patchwork of fields separated by dry-stone walls. Sheep and cows grazing in the fields complete this lovely pastoral picture. Its rich wildlife makes the place a paradise for the ornithologists and the omnipresence of very ancient vestiges fascinates archeologists and historians. No wonder that Orkney has always been a source of inspiration for artists and poets and GMB is one of the greatest ones, nicknamed ‘the Bard of Orkney’.

    I remember how happy we were to walk up and down the very picturesque streets, of Kirkwall, stopping in front of many a shop to admire its treasures: colourful locally knitted hats, mittens, pull-overs, glittering jewels and all sorts of refined artefacts. We also visited the very interesting Orkney Museum, the  Kirkwall cathedral where, among many other  interesting memorabilia,  you can see a plaque in memory of GMB and another one for Edwin Muir. Of course, before leaving Kirkwall we didn’t fail to go and have a wee dram of whisky at  the Highland Park Distillery

    GMB’s house in Mayburn Court Stromness © 2012 Scotiana

    In Stromness after lingering for hours in the harbour, looking at the coming and going of the boats, we went to see  GMB’s house in Mayburn Court, and then visited the Museum which is located right next GMB’s place, 52 Alfred Street.


    Stromness Harbour Orkney © 2012 Scotiana

    GMB loved Orkney and the islands people. His writing is deeply rooted there. He draws his inspiration from the people of Stromness, mainly fishermen and farmers though GMB’s books are crowded with a great variety of lively characters, young and old, each more interesting than the last: ministers, school teachers, merchants, blacksmiths, tinkers… GMB did compose a wonderful “Orkney tapestry” which reflects not only daily life but also the rich historical and mythical past of Orkney. Ancient vestiges are omnipresent everywhere in the islands and new ones are discovered every day. The archaeological sites, many of them dating back to the Neolithic, are fascinating: Skara Brae, Maes Howe, the Ring of Brodgar, the Tomb of the Eagles…

    An Orkney Tapestry/For the Islands I sing

    In An Orkney Tapestry and For the Islands I Sing we learn many interesting things about GMB’s life but we also find precious keys to his writing. We are introduced to the themes developed by GMB book after book, from his poems and short stories to his novels and children’s stories and even in his weekly chronicles in the newspapers. We discover the main lines of the poet’s philosophy, infused of ancestral wisdom and Christian values. Far from being a regionalist writer as some critics may have suggested, GMB’s writings embody universal values and the kind of ideas which perfectly reflect the interrogations of our declining society. We must remember however, that while GMB distrusted progress he did not reject it all together…

    An Orkney Tapestry by George Mackay Brown illustrated edition Quartet Books 1973

    “An Orkney Tapestry is the poet George Mackay Brown’s imaginative celebration of the roots of a community, a rich mixture of history, dram, legend and folklore. He explores the dark mysterious corners, as well as the quiet beautiful fertile places, in his search for the still point of Orkney history, the true face of the Orkney Fable.”

    This fascinating book is much more than a travel book. The poetical image of a tapestry, a recurrent one in GMB’s writings, is quite appropriate to describe Orkney and under the pen of GMB it takes a magical dimension.

    I’ve enjoyed very much reading about the meeting of GMB and Sir Peter Maxwell Davies the great British composer and conductor who set GMB’s works to music.They met on the beautiful island of Hoy via GMB’s friends. It was the beginning of a lifelong friendship.  On his first visit to Orkney, young “Max” fell in love with the place and decided to settle there, first on the island of Hoy in 1971, and later on Sanday. In 1977 they founded the St Magnus International Festival.

    Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, or Max as he was known, found his home in Orkney in the early 1970’s. He remained in Rackwick, living in a hill croft above the valley, for four decades before moving in his later years to the flatter landscape of Sanday. Hoy, its landscape and people, are embedded in his compositions.

    ‘It was a strange coincidence. I was fed up living in the South, because of the noise – distant traffic, military aircraft – even in the country. I had a vague idea of living somewhere else and had gone to Orkney with my then manager, James Murdoch. I wanted to see the Viking cathedral and the stone circles. Quite by chance I saw a book in a Stromness bookshop, An Orkney Tapestry by George Mackay Brown. I sat up all night reading it and thought it was the most wonderfully poetic evocation of a place I’d ever come across.

    As luck would have it, the next morning we set off for Hoy. On the ferry I got talking to a man called Kulgin Duval. He’d noticed that I was carrying George’s book, said he was on his way to visit him and his friends Archie and Elizabeth Bevan, and invited us to join them when we’d been round the island. That’s how I came to meet George. We stayed inside most of the time because of the weather, and I remember we drank an awful lot and must have been quite tiddly by the end of the day.

    In the Foreword of An Orkney Tapestry, which “Max” took with him when he visited Orkney, the aim of the book is clearly defined.

    To write a new book on Orkney is no easy matter. Nearl every facet of life in the islands has been described and discussed and catalogued over and over again: the towns and villages, the churches, the fields and waters and skies, the animals, the birds, the shells, the rocks, the weather, the old stones, the language and the place-names, big islands and small holms–above all the people, ‘their gear and tackle and trim’.

    Most writers on Orkney have been practical in their approach. Excellent studies have been published

    This book takes its stand with the poets (..) I have tried to make a kind of profile of Orkney, which is not a likeness of today only; it has been worked on for many centuries. ‘I lean my cheek from eternity . . .’

    but it is not only the aim of An Orkney Tapestry which is defined here but that of the whole works of GMB.

    The facts of our history–what Edwin Muir called The Story–are there to read and study: the neolithic folk, Picts, Norsemen, Scots, the slow struggle of the people towards independence and prosperity.

    But it often seems that history is only the forging, out of terrible and kindly fires, of a mask. The mask is undeniably there; it is impressive and reassuring, it flatters us to wear it. Underneath, the true face dreams on, and The Fable is repeated over and over again.

    The book tries to recount some of the events and imaginings that have made the Orkney people what they are, in a sequence of vivid patterns: as women with looms and coloured wools sat in the earl’s hall and wove the events surrounding Hastings, perhaps, or The Stations of the Cross.



    George Mackay Brown For the Islands I Sing An Autobiography John Murray 1997

    George Mackay Brown For the Islands I Sing An Autobiography John Murray 1997

    Iain and Margaret will certainly remember how, years ago, GMB’s autobiography For the Islands I Sing was at the origin of our friendship. Some time ago our friends told us about a cheap first edition of GMB’s autobiography, a hardback copy. I bought it immediately but I will never part with my old paperback edition 😉

    GMB’s autobiography is very interesting and quite moving too for its author never wears ‘a mask’.  ‘We are all one, saint and sinner”.  In this book we learn much about himself from childhood to old age (a few pages at the end of the book), about  his family and friends, about the people who had the most influence on him like Edwin Muir who became his mentor. We also learn many interesting things about his literary ‘career’ (not a word he would have liked), about his failures and successes, about his alcoholism. The book is full of humour. It reads very well even for me, and I am French..”

    George Mackay Brown  was the youngest of six children. His parents were John Brown, a tailor and postman, and Mhairi Mackay. GMB had much affection and gratitude for his parents. They were not rich but he had a happy childhood.

    An affectionate portrait: GMB describes his mother as ‘a beautiful girl, with blue eyes and her head a cluster of dark curls’. She had ‘an expression of great sweetness and gentleness. Everyone who knew her liked her, till the time of her death in 1967′. Mhairi, a native Gaelic speaker, had been brought up  in Braal, a hamlet situated near Strathy in Sutherland, on the north coast of Scotland. Her  ancestors had probably been victims of the ‘clearances’ in the early 19th century when so many communities of Highlanders were driven out of their villages.

    Memories of his father are quite moving too.

    “Early years are remembered in gleams only, and the gleams illumine what seem to be quite unimportant incidents. I remember sitting up in my pram, aged maybe two or three, and watching the silhouette of my father, in his postman’s hat, against the window; he seemed to be reading a sheet of paper.”…

    “He would say to us children, again and again, ‘Whatever happens, keep humble’… ‘Never get above yourselves’.”

    Rose Street, Edinburgh

    GMB’s poem Beachcomber in Edinburgh Rose Street by Astrid Jaekel

    GMB was born in Orkney and, during his life, he travelled very little outside his native island, except for the few years he spent as a student in or in the area of Edinburgh (Newbattle Abbey). Two places in Edinburgh have left him with unforgettable memories and he often mentions them in his autobiography: Milne’s Bar on the corner of Hanover Street and Rose Street and The Abbotsford. In the 1960, Milne’s Pub had become a meeting place for the best Scottish writers of the time: Norman MacCaig, Hugh McDiarmid, Sorley McLean, Iain Crichton Smith … in one of its rooms which became known as the ‘Little Kremlin’ Hugh MacDiarmid used to debate with Norman MacCaig, Sorley MacLean and Sydney Goodsir Smith about Scotland’s literary renaissance.’…  les poètes refont le monde 😉

    I’ve just made a wonderful discovery which makes me still more eager to go back to Scotland. I think the first thing we’ll do on arriving at Edinburgh is to go for a walk down Rose Street.  We already know the street and we had even dined at the Abbotsford. I was truly delighted to learn about the artistic initiative launched to celebrate and pay homage to one of the most famous poets who used to meet in the pubs situated in this historical and literary landmark: Rose street. I let Astrid Jaekel, a very talented artist, tell the wonderful story of “Beachcomber on Rose Street”.

    Rose Street is a charming and narrow old street in the heart of Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital. Once a place with a seedy reputation, Rose Street had since developed into a pedestrian walkway with many small cafés, pubs, and unique shops that stands in strong contrast to its neighboring Princes Street, which is Edinburgh’s busy, main commercial stretch.

    In 2012, I was asked to design something to regenerate parts of Rose Street and to celebrate its rich cultural history. My artwork was to be installed in the windows of the BT Telephone exchange, a dormant building occupied by automated machinery. Its facade looked a little shabby and was in desperate need of a revamp. My brief was very open, with the one condition that I was to create something that featured work of the so-called Rose Street poets—a new wave of Scottish poets who used to gather in Rose Street pubs in the 1950s and 60s for lively debates.

    So I began my research into pieces by the various poets and when I came across the poem “Beachcomber” by George Mackay Brown, I knew I had to look no further. This piece stood out immediately for a number of reasons. The poem had the right tone. Like the poem, Rose Street is full of life, with music, yells, and laughs pouring out of pub doors. Plus, the location—not far from a view of the Firth of Forth (Edinburgh’s stretch of sea)—was perfect for a poem about beachcombing. Lastly, the building had seven big, arched windows and the poem had seven verses. It made perfect sense. I liked the idea of how people walking to work on a daily basis might just read a verse a day. The poem wouldn’t need to be read in one continuous stream but could literally be dived in and out of. (…)

    (From Beachcombing a lovely magazine “dedicated to beachcombing, beach travel, coastal arts, and coastal living. Each issue is full of stories about sea glass and beach glass, shells, fossils, beach rocks, driftwood, and more from shorelines around the world.”)

    In the Scottish Poetry Library you can read the poem Beachcombing and other poems by GMB (‘The Year of the Whale’ – ‘Hamnavoe Market’ – ‘Taxman’ – ‘The Finished House’)


    George Mackay Brown

    Monday I found a boot –
    Rust and salt leather.
    I gave it back to the sea, to dance in.

    Tuesday a spar of timber worth thirty bob.
    Next winter
    It will be a chair, a coffin, a bed.

    Wednesday a half can of Swedish spirits.
    I tilted my head.
    The shore was cold with mermaids and angels.

    Thursday I got nothing, seaweed,
    A whale bone,
    Wet feet and a loud cough.

    Friday I held a seaman’s skull,
    Sand spilling from it
    The way time is told on kirkyard stones.

    Saturday a barrel of sodden oranges.
    A Spanish ship
    Was wrecked last month at The Kame.

    Sunday, for fear of the elders,
    I sit on my bum.
    What’s heaven? A sea chest with a thousand gold coins.

    George Mackay Brown

    from Fishermen with Ploughs (Hogarth Press, 1971), and included in The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown (John Murray, 2005)

    Reproduced by permission of the Estate of George Mackay Brown


    Stone mosaic in Rose Street Edinburgh © 2012 Scotiana

    Last time we went to Edinburgh we took this picture of the beautiful stone mosaic  in front of the Abbotsford… I’ve just learned this mosaic and other ones along the street had been removed… Quel dommage ! They dated back to the 1980s…

    The Abbotsford Restaurant in Rose Street Edinburgh © 2012 Scotiana

    Milne’s Pub 35 Hanover Street Edinburgh © 2012 Scotiana

    “At the age of 35 George began at Edinburgh University, at a time when mature students were very rare indeed. Although he came to benefit from his studies, the place where he really came to feel at home was in Milne’s pub in Rose Street, the seediest bar in the seediest street in the city. For here well known Scottish poets used to assemble to talk and drink, often presided over by the great Scottish literary figure of the time Hugh MacDiarmid.” (Life from the Orkneys: Edwin Muir and George Mackay Brown by the RT Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth)

    Milne’s Pub 35 Hanover Street Edinburgh Milne’s Pub 35 Hanover Street Edinburgh © 2012 Scotiana


    A very  gifted story teller

    GMB is a great story-teller and he has written a great number of short-stories. Many of them first appeared in newspapers and magazines.

    A few years ago I was very happy to fall on a bundle of old newspaper cuttings about GMB for sale at Kenny’s, an Irish online bookshop.  It contained short stories and a few articles about him. I immediately bought the precious lot of fragile and yellowing pages which had probably been cut and collected by a fan of GMB.

    On opening my ‘treasure box’ I discovered:

    • ‘Herman”: a Christmas story’ published in Glasgow Herald Saturday December 23 (Weekender) 1989. 3rd story in  Christmas Stories (Galileo 2020). One large”’ newspaper page with a big illustration.
    • The Laird’s Son’ published in The Scotsman on Tuesday 26 December 1989
    • ‘The Woodcarver’ published in The Scotsman on Monday 23 and Tuesday 24 December 1991 in two parts with  illustrations by Brigid Collins
    • ‘Key – A Calendar Story published in The Scotsman Weekend on 26 December 1992 (three pages illustrated by David Sim)
    • several articles about GMB and… sadly… obituaries.

    I love short stories, and especially GMB’s short stories.  I’m so happy to know that I have still many stories to read 😉 As the French writer Jules Renard said: Quand je pense à tous les livres qu’il me reste à lire, j’ai la certitude d’être encore heureux.’

    George Mackay Brown smoking his pipe

    « I was fortunate to be born in a community where the art of story-telling had been practised for many generations.

    All islands from the beginning of time are natural breeding-grounds for story and legend

    (Witch and Other Stories – Longman 1977)


    The last books of short stories to have landed in my library have been published recently for GMB’s centenary: Christmas Stories and Simple Fire.

    Christmas Stories George Mackay Brown Galileo Publishers 2020

    George Mackay Brown is a writer whose style is entirely unique. His voice is rooted in the ancient myths of Orkney and his stories echo very powerfully the legends that have become so woven into Orkney’s fabric.

    This volume is a new collection of his short, many of which he wrote as seasonal pieces that were commissioned by the Glasgow Herald and the Tablet. They appear here in book form for the first time. (…)

    It is the 100th anniversary of George Mackay Brown’s birth in 2021. This book is a potent reminder of why he is one of Scotland’s most loved writers.


    Simple Fire GMB edited by Malachy Tallack 2021

    I’ve just received Simple Fire. I like its cover. I’m looking forward to read the introduction of this new anthology. All the stories included in this book have been taken in the following books of short stories which contain no less than 110 stories, if I’m not mistaken 😉


    George Mackay Brown's short stories Scotiana's montage 1

    George Mackay Brown’s short stories Scotiana’s montage 1

    George Mackay Brown's books of short stories montage Scotiana 2

    George Mackay Brown’s books of short stories montage Scotiana 2

    Short Stories by George Mackay Brown 1991-1998

    Ghost Stories

    GMB wrote a number of “ghost stories” and very good ones indeed!

    • Beliah’ (Scottish Ghost Stories – Giles Gordon – Senate edition 1976)
    • ‘Sara’ (The Seventh Ghost Book edited and introduced by Rosemary Timperley)
    • ‘Mister Scarecrow’ (The Fifth Ghost Book) edited and introduced by Rosemary Timperley Pan Books 1971)
    • ‘The Drowned Rose’ (Hawkfall)
    • ‘Andrina’ (Andrina)
    • ‘Brig-O-Dread’ (The Sun’s Net)
    • ‘The Pirate’s Ghost’ (The Sun’s Net)
    • ‘Soldier from the Wars Returning’ (The Sun’s Net)
    • ‘The Tree and the Harp’ (The Masked Fisherman)

    For the amateurs of the genre of which I’m one 😉 Giles Gordon, a Scottish author, edited Scottish Ghost Stories,  an anthology which had been first published under the title of Prevailing Spirits.

    Scottish Ghost Stories edited by Giles Gordon Senate 1996

    Scottish Ghost Stories edited by Giles Gordon Senate 1996

    In a next post I will focus on GMB’s ghost stories. I’ve taken notes already;-). Some of these stories sound like parables.

    Giles Gordon was the son of the architect Esmé Gordon. He was brought up in Edinburgh but moved to London where he worked as a literary agent. He edited Drama quarterly and was The Spectator’s theatre critic. He published six novels and three collections of short stories. He also edited many collections of short stories and the Saltire Society’s magazine, New Saltire. Scottish Ghost Stories contains, among many other stories two of my favourites ones: ‘Beliah’ by GMB and ‘The Brothers’ by Iain Crichton Smith)
    Haunting images of the strange, the sinister, and the supernatural have scarred the bleak beauty of the Scottish landscape for centuries. In Scottish Ghost Stories, macabre mysteries of the unknown, both past and present, are unravelled in tales of soul-freezing suspense.

    Compiled by Giles Gordon, this anthology contains a selection of superlative chillers by twelve of Scotland’s most popular writers. Each tale is a well-crafted and entertaining yarn fit to satisfy the most discriminating of readers.

    Giles Gordon was the son of the architect Esmé Gordon. He was brought up in Edinburgh but moved to London where he worked as a literary agent. He edited Drama quarterly and was The Spectator’s theatre critic. He published six novels and three collections of short stories. He also edited many collections of short stories and the Saltire Society’s magazine, New Saltire. (goodreads)


    A hat for Georges!

    A Hat for George Orkney Library & Archive and the GMB Fellowship

    Some time ago, Iain & Margaret sent me a link to A Hat for George. To celebrate the author’s centenary the library of Stromness has taken a very creative and touching initiative.

    A knitting project is quite appropriate for GMB qui porte si bien le chapeau ;-). The Scottish art of knitting is famous all over the world, particularly developed  in Orkney, Shetland, Fair Isles. Being myself a knitter, I do appreciate the wonderful pieces of  knitting you can find there. Just have a look on Stromness Library website at the many lovely hats which have been knitted by fans of GMB. That’s great! Quite worthy of the Poet… he would have liked it and tried on all the hats ;-). But he would not have recognized Stromness Library which is a new one. Much larger, more comfortable with a view to the harbour!


    A Hat for George – The First Wash of Spring


    In 2021 we are marking the centenary year of the birth of Orkney poet and writer George Mackay Brown. Orkney Library & Archive and the George Mackay Brown Fellowship would like everyone to help us to knit A Hat for George. The idea is to encourage creativity through knitting, using George’s writing as the inspiration to create a collection of unique knitted hats that will be displayed and then auctioned off to raise money for local charities.

    Stromness Library is situated within the Warehouse Buildings which is next to the pierhead in Stromness, just opposite the ferry terminal. Though smaller than Kirkwall Library you can access all the same services. There is a wide range of fiction and non-fiction titles available for loan as well as audiobooks, music CDs, DVDs and a bright, well stocked junior and teenage library.

    Upstairs in the George Mackay Brown Room you will find a collection of old local newspapers and magazines as well as a collection of local books for reference.

    In the foyer there is comfortable seating, a hot drinks machine and a selection of local and national newspapers and magazines covering a wide range of subjects.

    We have FREE Wi-Fi within the building and a number of public access computers with internet access which are FREE for Library members but are also available to visitors for a small charge. Printing and scanning facilities are available for a small charge. View our Acceptable Use Policy.

    The Old Library Hellihole Road Stromness Orkney © 2012 Scotiana

    The old Library much frequented by GMB and situated at the foot of Hellihole Road not far from his house, has been vacant since the library service moved to its new home in the Warehouse Buildings.  It has been transformed into a creative workspace which is now called “Stromness Studios”: Workshop & Artists Studio Provision Scotland (Wasps)

    Carve the Runes and then…

    The Storm by George Mackay Brown 1954

    For the islands I sing
    and for a few friends;
    not to foster means
    or be midwife to ends. (…)

    For Scotland I sing,
    the Knox-ruined nation,
    that poet and saint
    must rebuild with their passion.

    (The Storm – two stanzas from ‘Prologue’)

    The Storm And Other Poems   was the first book of poetry published by GMB. This little book of only 34 pages which contains twenty poems was printed in 1954 (only 300 copies)  by a local newspaper, the Orkney Herald, for which GMB had worked as Stromness correspondent and also as a weekly columnist. Its cover was designed by Ian MacInnes.

    In his introduction of the book, Edwin Muir wrote “I am glad to be allowed to write this foreword, for I am a great admirer of George Brown’s poetry. This is his first published collection, and I hope it will be followed by many more. . . . I read them [the poems] first, along with others, when Mr Brown was at Newbattle Abbey, and what struck me then was their fresh and spontaneous beauty.”

    The Storm and Other Poems George Mackay Brown Galileo 2017

    I certainly can’t afford to buy a first edition of The Storm but I’ve just bought the 2017 re-edition .The lovely cover represents The Old Man of Hoy, a place much loved by GMB.  There must be something interesting to read in the introduction for it was written by Kathleen Jamie,  a Scottish poet and essayist. Born on 13 May 1962 she grew up in the village of Currie which is situated on the outskirts of Edinburgh. She studied philosophy at the University of Edinburgh.  In 2021 she became Scotland’s fourth Makar. Her writing is rooted in Scottish landscape and culture, and ranges through travel, women’s issues, archaeology and visual art.

    Some time ago, Iain and Margaret sent us an interesting article about the 1st edition of The Storm

    BBC Orkney has tracked down the owner of one of the original copies of The Storm

    Here’s a list of GMB’s books of poetry :

    • The Storm (1954)
    • Loaves and Fishes (1959)
    • The Year of the Whale (1965)
    • Fishermen with Ploughs (1971)
    • Poems New and Selected (1971)
    • Winterfold (1976)
    • Voyages (1983)
    • The Wreck of the Archangel (1989)
    • Tryst on Egilsay  (1989)

    The great drama at the heart of the Orkney story is the meeting on Easter Monday 1117 of the two earls of Orkney – cousins – Magnus Erlendson and Hakon Paulson. What had been planned as a peace-meeting ended in the execution of Earl Magnus.

    • Brodgar Poems (1992)
    •  Foresterhill (1992)

    “In the Spring and early summer of 1990 I was a patient in Foresterhill, the Aberdeen Royal Infirmary. To pass the time, I worked on a sequence of poems, imagining a medieval monastic beginning for Foresterhill”

    • Following a Lark (1996)
    • Water (1996)
    • Travellers: poems (2001)
    • Collected Poems (2005)

    A new anthology of GMB’s poems has just been published for his centenary.

    Carve the Runes George Mackay Brown Polygon 2021

    Here’s another beautiful cover which reminds me of the runes we saw at Maeshowe. The title is taken from GMB’s famous poem : ‘A Work for Poets”.

    Be Content with Silence…

    GMB’s grave in Warbeth cemetery near Stromness Orkney © 2003 Scotiana

    The last two lines of the poems are engraved on GMB’s gravestone in Warebeth Cemetery as well as the four symbols mentioned in the poem: a sun, a ship, a star and a cornstalk…

    We went twice to Warebeth Cemetery and I’m looking forward to going back there, in spite of the travelling restricting and frustrating conditions 🙁 … to go there, just to stay a moment in front of GMB’s stone… silent… listening to the waves…

    Now, just open a book by GMB, read and enjoy!

    Bonne lecture ! Á bientôt.



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