The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown

Robert Crawford writes:

Poets need to dig in. This involves psychological concentration, a focus on the act of writing, but also on how to limber up for writing: they must be open to the often accidental stimuli that nourish poems. Travel can encourage this, but too much travel dilutes it. For many poets familiar ground is best. Tennyson had the gateposts of his house distinctively painted so that he didn’t carry on past them when he was out composing. Poets must also entrench themselves in sound and syntax, learn to be at home in rhythms, etymological echoes, idioms and vocabulary. This linguistic digging in can be quickened by listening to other tongues, yet it is almost unknown for a poet to settle in a language – as distinct from an accent – learned after childhood. Only a few remarkable people have written with distinction in a language that was not their first.

(LRB 22 February 2007)