Andrew Sclaterâ€™s first collection of poetry, Dinner at the Blaws-Baxtersâ€™ is both a celebration and lamentation of his ‘noble and ignoble ancestry’ with all the comedic and tragedic moments that suggests.
The title poem confronts one of those cringe-making moments when a private (and sledgehammer indiscreet) comment rings out during a sudden silence at a formal dinner party. Amusing for the reader, embarrasing for victim, entertaining for the guests (maybe) and fairly terminal for the culpritÂ himself… The undercurrent will make you wince even as you smile at the story – and there is a whole lifetime’s story come to a head in that Dinner at the Blaws-Baxters’.
The majorityÂ of the poems feature different aspects of family relationships – mothers and fathers particularly – and I’m guessing there’s something most readersÂ will relate to in all of them, irrespective of our own family backgrounds.
The poems feel intensely personal, that this is Sclater describing if not a world heâ€™s been part of, one that he has certainly seen. Itâ€™s a specifically British world, where social class was paramount â€“ and the upper classes were defined by and stifled by that old stiff upper lip. Itâ€™s a world, he implies, that isnâ€™t entirely gone. Yes, there is comedy and tragedy and the two arenâ€™t necessarily separate.
For me, it’s all summed up in one of my favourites, Way In Way Out, which tells us (and I hope it’s forgivable to paraphase hugely here): ‘Here’s an opening into the way back when… from atticsful of family shocks… we are hardly coping in the here and now’.
Iâ€™m not a poet, and I really donâ€™t know how to â€˜critiqueâ€™ poetry other than comment on what engages me. Sclaterâ€™s work does that. His language is rich, and his poems areÂ cleverly crafted â€“ they strike a chord but they take some thinking about, which to my (unschooled) mind, is exactly what poetry should do.
Sclater has been an actor, teacher, scientist, gardener, and historian.Â He builds drystane dykes, rides a motorbike, and he co-founded the National Botanic Garden of Wales. In the midst of it all, he has always written poetry.
Dinner at the Blaws-Baxters’Â (Â£5.00) is available to order from Happenstance. Â www.happenstancepress.org
The collection will be launched atÂ Happenstance Winter FestivalÂ Â on Wednesday 14th December from 6-7.30pm at the Scottish Poetry Library, Canongate, Edinburgh.
Andrew is alsoÂ taking part in Vespers at the Serenity Cafe, Jacksonâ€™s Entry, Edinburgh on Tuesday 13th December from 7.30-8.30pm