At the age of 86 Josie Neill, described as one of Scotland’s “most neglected” poets, will finally see her first full collection of work published – in a book entitled There’s Ma Mammy Wavin’.
Josie has lived in Dumfries for many years, but lots of the poems in the book recall her childhood in the Ayrshire village of Muirkirk.
Mostly writing in Scots she recalls people and events from the 1940s and 50s, including wartime refugees arriving and local miners, skin deeply ingrained with coal dust, heading home to wash and eat after shifts down the pit.
She said: “It was a wee, isolated village among the hills. And it was a very close knit small community. I loved it. I loved it as a child, as a young person growing up. I loved the language, it was an inspiring kind of language. And I loved the people – there was a true humanity.
“Some of what I’ve written about were the everyday things, like the miners heading home – and the way their handsomeness showed, even through all the coal dust. And then there were the unusual things like the refugees arriving, coming there from Glasgow.”
There’s Ma Mammy Wavin’ is the fourth publication from a new imprint called Drunk Muse Press which has been set up by a group of writers including the well-known Dumfries and Galloway poet Hugh McMillan.
It will be launched on Sunday, 26 September at Wigtown Book Festival and Josie hopes to be present and to read some of her work if her health allows.
Hugh said: “Josie is one of the most neglected poets in Scotland and I’m really pleased that a full collection of her poetry is being published at long last.
“She’s a highly respected figure and writes in a rich, beautiful and vibrant Scots. I think she has been overlooked for several reasons – one is that she was a woman writing in a very male dominated world, writing mostly in Scots at a time when it was very marginalised and also because she was living in Dumfries and Galloway.
“But I see this as one of the most important publications in Scots of the last 20 years.”
According to Hugh, she was held in high esteem by the likes of Willie Neill. Indeed, she is the only woman to be seen in a line-up of poets photographed in c1992 for Willie Neill’s 70th birthday – where she is seen in the company of Tom Pow, Hugh McMillan, Derick Thomson, Norman MacCaig and Iain Crichton Smith.
This year’s festival is a bumper one for poetry and includes the presentation of the awards for the annual Wigtown Poetry Prize.
There will also be an event called Dead Guid Scots on 24 September by Roncadora Press which will see the unveiling of a highly unusual exhibition – a model church and graveyard designed by Hugh Bryden in which every headstone carries a poetic memorial to a deceased Scot. A pamphlet designed by Bryden and edited by Hugh McMillan and featuring 35 of Scotland’s finest poets will also be launched at the event.
Hugh McMillan will be having his own event at the festival on 27 September, which will involve the launch of a new collection of Scots poetry called Whit If?, by Luath Press, which is an often humorous look at a host of historical micht-hae-beens.
For example, what if King Alexander III had access to Twitter on that fateful day when he and his horse plunged over a cliff – and plunged Scotland into the Wars of Independence? Or what if singer songwriter Jacques Brel had joined The Corries?
For more see www.wigtownbookfestival.com.