Will I Ever Get to Minsk?

Jim C Wilson’s new collection of poetry, Will I Ever Get to Minsk? (Happenstance, RPP £4.00) tackles issues of art, age and memory.

Edinburgh-born Wilson, now resident in East Lothian, was Stirling Council’s writer in residence between 1989 and 1991.  Appointed as the Royal Literary Fund’s Writing Fellow at Napier University, he has taught Edinburgh University’s highly successful Poetry in Practice workshops and has held various Royal Literary Fund positions Edinburgh University’s Office of Lifelong Learning.

His earlier work, especially Cellos from Hell, marked him as a powerful and insightful writer, although perhaps a unique insight to his skill was offered in The Happy Land, reminiscences of the Jewish community in Edinburgh South-side, co-authored with Howard Denton.

The title, Will I Ever Get to Minsk? refers to radio stations and hits several of the collection’s themes.  The poet recalls his childhood and searching the air-waves for the plethora of radio stations named for cities barely known and all the more exotic for that strangeness: Minsk, Sundsvall, Sottens, Allouis, Limoges.  These sources of music and language allowed the child to roam the globe from an ordinary room in a Scottish home, lit and warmed by the wireless dial’s glow. Even now, at 60+, he keeps his wireless and peers “at its dial wondering if I’ll ever get to Minsk.”

His reminiscing is not entirely warm-hued and lightsome.  In The Time of my Life the recurring themes of frost making “the grass grow brittle” and “places I shouldn’t return to” pinpoint those memories of childhood and family best escaped and left behind.  The past holds darkness as well as light.

East Neuk reminisces, but of a past life-style and bemoans the empty days and empty creels.  In eight technically tight lines, man, nature and social change are observed, caught and portrayed with unsentimental clarity.

Above all however, this collection celebrates art and creativity.  Memories also play their part as he recalls encounters with poets and writers, George Bruce, Norman MacCaig and Nigel Tranter.  He celebrates the little-known American poet, Adelaide Crapsey, inventor of the cinquain.  (As well as for the intrinsic merits of the collection, Will I Ever Get to Minsk?  it is invaluable for those for whom the cinquain is a new poetic form, since Wilson produces two wonderful verses using it.  It knocks the haiku into a cocked hat.)

His poetry also touches on the visual arts. In the Louvre gives the Venus de Milo an opportunity to comment wittily on her life and loves.  One piece will find a special echo with regulars at the Scottish National Gallery.  Thoughts of Diego Velázquez, gives voice to the young Velázquez as he painted An Old Woman Cooking Eggs, his masterpiece which hangs in the SNG.  He captures the essence of the painting but he also captures a personality, young, self-confident and ambitious, but perhaps again it is the retrospective wisdom of age reviewing youth.

The final one verse piece, Year’s End, offers a view to the future and it returns to the radio to broadcast the bleak message of ageing and the fear of the bells.  Jim C Wilson may reach Minsk only in his imagination but that imagination is the power behind this remarkably mature and nuanced view of the world.  This is poetry fulfilling its purpose.

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Alex Wood

Alex Wood has had a varied career in education. He started as an English teacher at Edinburgh’s Craigroyston High School in 1973 and completed his school-based work as Head Teacher at Wester Hailes Education Centre in 2011. In between he worked in community education, was a Learning Support teacher, headed a behaviour support unit, was Head of a special school and worked in Edinburgh’s Education headquarters. He is a member of the Education Committee of St George’s School. Alex is now an Associate at the Scottish Centre for Studies in School Administration (SCSSA) at Moray House and is Secretary of the Scottish Educational Leadership, Management and Administration Society (SELMAS) as well as being a free-lance writer. His experience however ranges well beyond the worlds of schools and education. For seven years in the 1980s he was an elected member of Edinburgh District Council and he retains a keen interest in the political world. He has a long involvement in genealogy and family history, as a researcher, teacher and writer. He is a member of Edinburgh Common Purpose’s Advisory Group and of the committee of Linlithgow Book Festival. Although he has lived in Linlithgow for over 20 years, and in Edinburgh for the previous 18 years, he remains a loyal fan of his home town football club, Brechin City.

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