Voiceprints of an astronaut: a poetry collection and Politics and the personal in the sonnet and sonnet sequence: Edwin Morgan's “Glasgow Sonnets”, Tony Harrison's “from The School of Eloquence” and selected sonnets by Paul Muldoon
Ballantyne, Aileen Helen Georgina
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“Voiceprints of an Astronaut” is a multi-faceted collection of poems that explores the fluid borders between memory and the imagined, the personal and the sociohistorical. The “voiceprints” of the title poem are the words, both imagined and real, of the only twelve men who ever walked on the moon. My own device, of an imagined ‘interview’ with figures from history, is deployed in the title poem. It is also used, for example, in the form of voiceprints from R.L. Stevenson, (“Tusitala”), Mary Queen of Scots’ maidservant, (“Beheaded”,“A Prayer fir James VI”), an acrobat-magician from the Qin Dynasty, (Bi xi Terracotta) and a time-travelling 14th century monk transposed to the Scottish Poetry Library (“In the Library”). In poems such as “Earthrise”, “Starlight from Saturn”, “In the Library”, and “Lines for Edwin Morgan” the tone is lyrical, taking the form of the sonnet, or sometimes simply reflecting the ghost of a sonnet framework. Recent events such as the Haiti earthquake are reflected, at times, by a purely personal response, such as in “Beads”, while poems about the Aids epidemic in the 80’s, (“Lunch-times with Rick”, “The Quilts”) spring from a period as Medical Correspondent for the Guardian, covering Aids conferences in London, Stockholm, Montreal and San Francisco. Others, such as “Roosevelt’s Bats”, “Fire-and-Forget” and “At Sea” are responses to modern war and conflict. In all of these, my aim has been to explore the political through the personal. The poems in this collection reflect an adult life split, almost equally, between two cities: Edinburgh and London. Regular visits too, to North America are another influence. An important part of the journey involved in writing these poems was a discovery of a Scots voice I thought I’d misplaced, only to find again, in poems such as “Beheaded” or “Haud tae me”. Some of these poems are autobiographical, dealing with parenthood, childhood, and growing up. Others, such as “Dana Point” or “Boy with Frog” celebrate a moment, a time and a place. In the case of the series of poems beginning with “Jim” and ending with “Black and White” the places and times take the form of memories, both in Scotland and Canada, of a much older sister. The critical essay that forms the second part of this thesis is entitled “Politics and the Personal in the Sonnet and Sonnet Sequence: Edwin Morgan's “Glasgow Sonnets”, Tony Harrison's “from The School of Eloquence” and selected sonnets by Paul Muldoon”. The first chapter examines the use of the sonnet form in Edwin Morgan’s “Glasgow Sonnets”; the second chapter concerns the sonnets written by Tony Harrison in from The School of Eloquence and Other Poems, published in 1978, while the third chapter looks at selected sonnets by Paul Muldoon.