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Getting to know Hugh MacDiarmid

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To each and every hipster-scum on the search for the next underground bastard to boast about on your blog:

If you’re searching for a man who murders the English language and eats her heart in the name of Scots, a molester of vernacular who cries out into the night, “Tae Hell Wi’ Ye Revolution”, I would definitely point you in the direction of C.M. Grieve, better known under the persona, Hugh MacDiarmid (oh you don’t know him?). I use the word persona rather than pen name or pseudonym because C.M. Grieve and Hugh MacDiarmid are two very separate people. Grieve is a contradiction and a half, he switched from loving English to loathing English, to writing English to producing the anti-English. He leaves his connections with the pastoral and dives face first into a Marxist school of thought— he is a man of no gumption. But his persona, MacDiarmid, is a different beast completely. This poet is seen as the Che of Scots, the great bambino of political satire; some say he is cocky, others say he’s a rebel with a cause, and his real fans think he’s a real asshole.

C.M. Grieve worked as a writer for a few different presses during the 1920’s, and that was when MacDiarmid was created. Originally birthed as a pseudonym so Grieve could publish an article on the multifaceted personality of Scots, earlier in his career he had been attacking the revivalists that were so set on bringing Scots back from the dead. Hugh MacDiarmid was the anonymous ‘friend’ that Grieve introduced to the world.  And so begins his underground career as a political theorist, revolutionary (but you’ll never hear him say it), philosopher, opinion flip-flopper, and most importantly a poet.

MacDiarmid (I now switch to the persona MacDiarmid, the scapegoat for Grieves) was a man to be reckoned with, he’s like Charles Bukowski but with a Scots dialect and no affinity with hookers, well, none that I’ve read about. He writes saucy three-dimensional poems that expand the horizons of time and space and the occasional (not so occasional, he might have a problem) dragged on drunken ramblings that end with a Tarantino twist. The first read of MacDiarmid’s Scots poetry might catch you off-guard. The sure power of sound is startling; unlike any English poet MacDiarmid morphs the written word into a musical range that can simultaneously reach beyond the clouds to the pearly gates and down to the fiery depths of Hell.

MacDiarmond’s “The Eemis Stane” claims reign to the darker side of existence. “The Eemis Stane” translates to ‘the unbalanced rock’. It’s a poem written about the vulnerability of life in the eyes of the narrator.

I’ the how-dumb-deid o’ the cauld hairst nicht   (Hollow dead silent depth, cold harvest night)

The warl’ like an eemis stane                                          (World, an unbalanced stone)

Wags i’ the lift;                                                                    (sky)

An’ my eerie memories fa’                                                (fall)

Like a yowdendrift.                                                            (blizzard)

Like a yowdendrift so’s I couldna read                         (blizzard)

The words cut oot i’ the stane                                          (rock)

Had the fug o’ fame                                                            (moss)

An’ history’s hazelraw                                                      (lichen)

No’ yirdit thaim.                                                                 (buried, them)


MacDiarmid blows the average English speaker away with the eerie rhythms and hollowing sounds.  The movement of the poem visually as well as rhythmically centers on the line “Wags I’ the lift”. Such a strange line, but yet it cries out to the reader as if it’s familiar. It reminds you of that strange moment when you look to the sky and the Earth is transformed into the eemis stane, precariously teetering in the “dead silent depth” of oblivion. And just when MacDiarmid (and you) reach a life changing transcendental thought, an haunting recollection rips him into a blizzard of memories. The Earth changes, transforms, mutates (if you will) into a tombstone, “The words cut oot I’ the stane”, with a blanket of moss and “history’s hazelraw (lichen)” covering it, making it hard to decipher. The poem is dark and brooding, everything your blog is looking for—a speaker searching for some transcendent meaning, the clue that will solve the mystery of life and send him into the 9 wormy holes of self actualization.

MacDiarmid’s use of Scots gives his poems the bitter taste of the inside of a speakeasy; lots of booze, lots of raging redheads, and the sad drunk man singing in the corner. He puts English down into submission with his use of a conscious overpowering Scot dialect. While C.M. Grieves may be a human of no true conviction, constantly changing his mind and contradicting himself, MacDiarmid is the man Grieves couldn’t contain. MacDiarmid can be more depressive than Morrissey, dirtier than the Deep Underground, and just as profound as Nietzsche (who just happens to be one of the biggest influences of MacDiarmid). He’s worth wading through a Scot’s dictionary, or if you’re too lazy for that—just experience the power of his sound.

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Getting to know Hugh MacDiarmid