John Howieson

Township poetry: a re-evaluation

Have scholars of Gaelic literature shown sufficient respect to township poets?

In the twentieth century, some Gaelic scholars were of the view that there was not much value in township poetry of the nineteenth century. The received wisdom was that the poetry was laden with cliché, and that the concomitant absence of innovation was a serious defect. However, very little detailed analysis was published which might corroborate such opinions.

My contention is that two factors allow a more balanced evaluation to be undertaken. In the first place, detailed analysis of the sort undertaken by scholars such as Cleanth Brooks shows the range of poetic techniques used in the work; and secondly, an understanding of the imagery used, and of its role in the poetry as art, provides an explanation as to why certain recurrent expressions can be seen.

I further contend that only through such a process can appropriate respect be shown to township poetry – a genre which has been and remains so important to so many in the Gaelic world. From such respect can flow the confidence which is vital to the survival and health of Gaelic.

John Howieson, independent scholar, Scotland