“To be a poet, you need to be able to talk whilst holding a cigarette in one hand…”
Norman MacCaig (1910-1996) was a tall, thin, wiry character, hard to miss by all accounts. And even today, he has better name recognition than many of his poetic contemporaries, with his work being a staple of the Scottish school syllabus…
In Edinburgh, we tend to associate MacCaig most with Milne’s, on the corner of Hanover and Rose Street, where he would meet with the likes of Robert Garioch, George Campbell Hay and Hugh MacDiarmid etc. There’s even a well known painting of them all being kicked out of there. But these days Milne’s seems more than a little shy of promoting its literary heritage.
One might further associate MacCaig with his tenement at Leamington Terrace in Bruntsfield, where he would be photographed usually with his tab in hand.
MacCaig as Teacher
“When I was a teacher, teachers would come into my classroom and admire my desk in which lay nothing whatever whereas theirs were heaped with papers and books.”
MacCaig was also a teacher… But not of poetry, because he believed that could never be taught. He compared its teaching to giving a propellor to a bird. Nor was he one for long poems, by his own admission, for he suspected many people no longer had the stomach for them.
What kind of teacher was MacCaig though? An old version of his Wikipedia article from around a decade ago suggests he taught locally and had a fearsome reputation. (See image)
Is this true? Some Wikipedia editors thought not, and had it removed. Or at least they thought this claim wasn’t well enough supported. So was MacCaig a bit too keen on the tawse? Was he even a teacher at Carrick Knowe Primary? The media loves to dig the dirt on the dead. And Norman MacCaig isn’t around to defend himself – he’s been gone over twenty years. I caught the tail end of corporal punishment myself and I can’t say my memories of it are fond ones; it was something which was clearly part of the system and had been for generations.
If you have any information on this particular subject I will be glad to hear from you as always.
- Public domain image from Wikipedia. Taken by “MacRusgail”.