Poems with a Scots lilt
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Date: 8 September, 2011

 

'Andy has a soft Scottish accent and an enthusiasm for language and poetry that is completely infectious.'

Suzanne Elvidge talks to Andrew Philip, a member of the Subway Writers group

Andrew Philip is a name I have known for a number of years through the group Subway Writers.

However, it was only this year, at Greenbelt 2011, that we finally met.

Andy has a soft Scottish accent and an enthusiasm for language and poetry that is completely infectious.

He writes writes poems that are delicate, sparse and poised – and sometimes a little surreal.

Writing

He has been writing all his life, from a cowboy song at playgroup, through poems, rhymes and stories at primary school, and came to a decision to take it seriously in his late teens.

His writing has a strong narrative vein, with a focus on sound, sense and rhythm, whether in English or Scots, and uses form to give the poetry a structure that works both in performance and on the page.

The Ambulance Box, Andy’s first collection of poetry, is dedicated to his firstborn, Aidan Michael Philip.

Aiden only lived for a day. After his son’s death he felt that the poetry had almost physically gone, but over time it returned, and Aiden’s life is celebrated and mourned in Lullaby, with the exquisite line ‘This is the man you fathered.’

While this poem is deliberately written about Aiden, the baby’s voice appears in many of the poems in the collection, including Down Darkness Wide, the third part of a triptych about the flight out of Egypt.

“For a while I tried to write about other things, but with poems such as The invention of zero, I realised that I had written about Aiden again.”

Vessel

He describes these poems as a vessel to hold grief, adding that its containment can make the emotion more powerful, though he is always aware of the importance of the interaction between form and emotion – “a poem without form is just jottings.”

However, his poetry is not all about mourning. He is passionate about the Scots language, and a number of his poems use its beautiful and evocative words to provide extra colour, taste and texture.

He very kindly supplies a Scots glossary for those of us who are not bilingual.

Scots was suppressed for many years, and he sees it as important for children and adults to hear it and see it valued.

He works in schools, teaching poetry and Scots to a new generation of potential poetry readers and writers.

What’s next? Andy is working on a new collection, which will include some visits from MacAdam, a recurring character, as well as poems about family, politics and life. Watch this space – Andy’s lyric voice is here to stay.

Buy a copy of The Ambulance Box from Amazon and raise money for Christian Aid.