James Hogg in the 21st century
Scots poet Rab Wilson became the first James Hogg writer-in-residence in the Scottish Borders in June 2013. His remit was to follow in the footsteps of the Ettrick Shepherd by living and writing in the Ettrick Valley for six weeks. Mr Wilson, a former Robert Burns Writing Fellow for Dumfries and Galloway, spent August to mid-September in an isolated cottage close to Hogg's birthplace, 20 miles beyond Selkirk, declaring that: “The hills o the Ettrick valley wid be inspirational fir ony poet!” The residency gave birth to “Hairst”, a slim but powerful volume of evocative, characterful words and poetry created by Rab and enhanced by strong, textured, black and white images conceived by Yarrow artist Helen Douglas. The launch of Hairst was held at Melrose Book Festival in June 2015.
In 1805 when Walter Scott published his Lay of the Last Minstrel, the notion of a wandering bard turning up on the doorstep would have been far from surprising for the people of the Yarrow and Ettrick valleys for whom the oral traditions of verse and storytelling were still very much alive. In 2015 the publication of Hairst, reflecting the work of the poet Rab Wilson during his residency between 4th August and 16th September 2013, celebrates something rarer and hugely worthy of note.
The James Hogg Residency was the vision of Vicky Davidson, Daphne Jackson and Judy Steel, made possible by the generosity of James Oliver, who lent a cottage at Over Kirkhope. It brought the eyes and ears of a living poet back to all our doorsteps. Captured in this slim volume and coupled with moving images created by Helen Douglas, Rab uses the power of words and of poetry to reconnect us to the power of places we love, to see the familiar with fresh eyes, to meet our forebears and to shine a light on the way we live now. He was inspired. We all could be, for in Hogg’s words, the bard taught even the wandering winds to sing.
How wonderful it would be for these time honoured ways and lays to be rediscovered, for there to be a renaissance of such creativity in this special part of the Borders. I commend Hairst for the pleasure it will bring to anyone who opens it and for the inspiration it may provide.