EM­PIRE ANTARC­TICA

Gavin Fran­cis Vin­tage, £8.99

The Herald - Arts - - FRONT PAGE - AlAs­tAir MAbbott

Al­ready named Scot­tish Mort­gage In­vest­ment Trust Book Of The Year, this is an Ed­in­burgh doc­tor’s ac­count of the 14 months he spent as medic for the Hal­ley re­search sta­tion in Antarc­tica. Only ac­ces­si­ble for four months in the year, it seemed like the ideal place for Fran­cis to have a good long think about what to do with the rest of his life. When he got there, he found be­ing cooped up with 14 col­leagues less con­ducive to con­tem­pla­tion than he had hoped, so he went out into the harsh open air ev­ery day, al­low­ing him to ob­serve the Em­peror pen­guins who live there. But, de­spite the sub­ti­tle and cover photo, this is less about pen­guins than about a man find­ing him­self in soli­tude. The fact that, af­ter this long pe­riod of soul-search­ing, he more or less re­turned to his old life is a tad an­ti­cli­mac­tic, but Em­pire Antarc­tica is an ab­sorb­ing ac­count of life at the end of the world. Who would have thought that Dundee had in­spired so much poetry? In­evitably, the first poet that springs to mind is McGon­a­gall, and if the pur­pose of this col­lec­tion is to wipe away the city’s as­so­ci­a­tion with ris­i­ble dog­gerel and re­ha­bil­i­tate its cul­tural rep­u­ta­tion then the ed­i­tors have suc­ceeded ad­mirably. It is an am­bi­tious project that mainly ranges from the late 19th cen­tury (though it dips back as far as the 15th cen­tury Blind Harry) on­wards to the present gen­er­a­tion of po­ets ei­ther from or as­so­ci­ated with Dundee – such as John Burn­side, Kath­leen Jamie, Dou­glas Dunn and Don Pater­son – to cel­e­brate “the Tay, the town, the times, the types and the tem­per”. One gets the sense that no stone has been left un­turned to find the best work to fill th­ese 240 pages, and ed­i­tor WN Herbert has even slipped in his own po­etic re­sponse to McGon­a­gall’s mill­stone. Des­tined to be a gift for many East Coast folk on Christ­mas morn.

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