John Purser – visiting Meikle Mochrum

As the latest in our growing collection of tributes to the writer Joan Ure, and reflections on her work, we’re delighted to present a remembrance generously contributed by the composer, playwright and author John Purser. Born in Glasgow in 1942 and now living in Skye, Purser is one of Scotland’s most important cultural ambassadors. His award-winning radio series and book, Scotland’s Music, is widely regarded as the essential authority on the subject. A champion of Scottish Gaelic, he continues to bring new passion to the Scottish cultural landscape. Further information on his work can be found at http://www.johnpurser.net/.

(It may be of interest that, as indicated here, Meikle Mochrum is the location for the well-known photograph of Joan Ure, motorcyclist.)

JOAN URE – BETTY CLARK

I used to give evening classes on classical music on consecutive nights in Kirkcudbright and Dumfries. Sometimes I would stay the night with Betty who was living in a remote farmhouse a good half-hour’s drive from Kirkcudbright. The narrow roads at night in midwinter were full of speculative shadows and the light from distant car headlights was reflected at improbable angles from the underside of the dark, low cloud-cover. It was a spooky drive.

I would bring things, but Betty enjoyed giving me food, though she ate little herself. She was the best of hostesses. She almost mothered me – full of care, affection and encouragement: and herself full of desperation, questioning her right to be living on her own trying to write, and desperately conscious of the weight and significance of everything she wrote.

We would go for walks and then her anxieties would find some release. You could have said she was demanding company. Needy. But she was a giver and always thinking of others, not least the actors in her plays. I have kept a letter from her. It was written at Meikle Mochrum in 1973 and it brings her back into my company.  In it she writes

Oh John I don’t want Helen and Ida to wish they hadn’t bothered! So let’s hope that somebody sees the play and gives them work from it. Forgive my spilling out to you how desperate I get. Things have to be said ‘on stage’ so that if there’s anything inside anybody in the audience which felt bitter or something, it can be cauterised maybe.

She wrote, too, to my then wife, Wilma Paterson, who composed music for Joan’s play Rehearsal. Christopher Small was not impressed with the production, and felt the company could not ‘be much blamed if they have not found quite the way to make all this asking intelligible.’ But he liked the music, as did Betty:

But Wilma I do appreciate your having made such magic music. Thankyou very much and forgive my not having written sooner – I had to caper around all the week so that Christopher’s bad review would not take the heart out of the cast, and that Putting on of The Act is very exhausting with nothing left over for the real things.

The publication of The Tiny Talent is a wonderful thing to have happened. It is just so sad that, as it re-awakens interest in Joan’s work, she is not alive to know that her voice is still heard.

I think of some of her writing in terms of Beckett. She has a precision that can be almost philosophical, and an existential awareness that is sensitive to the point of neurosis. And there are levels of irony which at times seem almost impenetrable. But she possessed and conveyed great tenderness – and this is in the writing. She may have been frustrated, angry, rebellious, with a hatred for cruelty; but her heart was a heart full of love.

John Purser
4/2/2019

SSP Newsletter – ‘The Vital Witness’

Thanks to our friend the poet and playwright Stewart Conn for drawing our attention to this feature on Joan Ure, the author of the poetry in our latest publication, and the topic of many of the posts below. The feature was published in the February 1979 Newsletter of the Scottish Society of Playwrights, and it includes three of her poems, along with a trailer for The Vital Witness, a BBC radio tribute to be broadcast that month on the first anniversary of her death

Joy Hendry responds to Joan Ure’s ‘Tiny Talent’

In an earlier post, we republished Alasdair Gray’s 1980 article on Joan Ure. As noted, this had featured in the Woven by Women issue of Chapman magazine. The favour was arranged only a week or so before the launches on December 11-12th, but as well as immediately agreeing, the editor Joy Hendry kindly offered to contribute to the launch at Blackwell’s: to read the title poem, which had also appeared in that issue of the magazine, and to speak to its context, culturally and personally.

And so she did, and although unable to participate in the CCA launch in Glasgow the next evening, as she’d have liked, and pressed for time, Joy texted us a version of her spoken comments, which were incorporated into the presentation. What follows, with her permission, is an edited version of those remarks.

 

The publication of The Tiny Talent – Selected Poems by Joan Ure, brings me a gratification and delight deeper than I can describe.

In my work with the Scottish literary magazine, Chapman, starting in 1971, I was essentially given an opportunity to learn about Scotland, and through that magazine, I had the privilege of sharing the fruits of that learning with a wider public. What I learned both thrilled me and filled me with anger – at the tiny talents (or not so tiny) buried everywhere in so many different ways.

I cottoned on pretty quickly that by using this tiny focus of energy – Chapman – in a discerning, targeted way, quite disproportionate changes could be initiated. This discovery led me to engage in compulsive editorial meddling in Scottish cultural affairs, tackling first the state of Scots Language across the board – attempting to reveal its true state and status in the Scotland of that time (No. 23-24, 1979).

Woven by Women (No. 27-8) followed close on its heels, looking at the contribution of Scottish women to our cultural life – again right across the board. Other like ventures came later – one devoted to asking whether ‘Scotland’ was or was not ‘a predicament for the Scottish Writer’ (pace Edwin Muir), and finally one on Scottish Theatre – which created a sea-change in the priorities of the Scottish Arts Council Drama agenda.

All of these left more than a mark on the soft, fat underbelly of the ‘establishment’, but Woven by Women prompted a particularly hot debate in the letter columns of Scottish newspapers – I knew I’d struck something like gold when I found myself being described (ambiguously) in a review by Alan Bold as ‘a formidable woman’.

Hector MacMillan – that pioneer among Scottish playwrights – had introduced me to the work of Joan Ure, and I felt it important to ensure her presence in that issueHer executor Christopher Small provided me with access to some of her pieces, and her friend Alasdair Gray wrote a superb article on her work. The leading light of The Scottish Society of Playwrights, Hector drove forward the publication by SSP of two of her plays – Something in it for Cordelia and Something in it for Ophelia. He was passionate about working for the benefit of all playwrights in Scotland – but most especially for the women, including of course Joan.

That title poem ‘The Tiny Talent’, however, reverberated with me from that point on in ways too numerous to list, but in my darkest of times – and in the last 15 years or so of my relationship with Chapman there were a lot of dark days – it spoke directly into my soul about many key concerns. And it did so in a way which, curiously in light of its exposure of constraint, ended up in being hopeful.

In 2016, when I had bottomed out of my slow-developing crisis, I learned that Sally Evans had started her blog Keep Poems Alive and I immediately sent her the poem to include there. When I was reading it last night, even after all that time (almost forty years since that issue of the magazine), I found fresh significances and resonances.

Maybe I owe my life to that poem.

And now at last, we have this beautiful booklet – a gem of loving design, down to the quality of the paper, the layout and the typography, and even the little ‘leaf’ (blossom) that lurks there, printed in the spine. All congratulations to Richie, Alistair and everyone involved in its publication. I hope it will lead, and soon, to more of her poems, and other work, appearing in print. I’m only sorry that I was never able to meet her in person and publish more of her work in the magazine – but I feel her strongly as part of my birthright as a Scottish woman writer, and this publication emphasises her importance to us all.

Nevertheless, Scotland in relation to the rest of the UK, and to the rest of the world, is still a tiny talent that it has been ‘almost death to hide’, and much remains to do to allow its talents to develop in clear, caller air. As I’ve said previously, for Scottish women there is a ‘double knot in the peeny’, with Scotland being deprived of its rights as a country, and Scottish women therefore doubly disadvantaged.

But those knots are loosening. May this publication thrive – and lead to further recognition of women’s talents everywhere, most particularly those of the author, and her brilliant, unique – and not at all tiny – Talent.

‘Personality and energy’ – Stewart Conn on Joan Ure, and on the launch event at Blackwell’s, Edinburgh

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THE TINY TALENT: Selected Poems by Joan Ure

a postscript to the Edinburgh launch / Blackwell’s Bookshop 11th Dec 2018

Editor’s note: At the conclusion of the Edinburgh launch, which featured readings by Joy Hendry and Alison Peebles, we were surprised and blushingly delighted when Stewart Conn, the poet and playwright, rose from the audience to propose a vote of thanks. Here, Stewart generously shares his recollections of the occasion, with further remarks concerning Joan Ure’s poetry and his work with her as drama producer for BBC Radio.
The picture of Joan Ure (above) was kindly supplied by her daughter, Frances Wren.

Congratulations to Brae Editions, to Alistair Peebles and, in absentia, Richie McCaffery on their commitment to Joan Ure’s work, their assiduous research especially in Glasgow University Library’s Scottish Theatre Archive, and on bringing out this selection of her poems. Dipping into which instantly reminded me of Joan Ure’s physical presence and the clarity of her speaking voice in performing her own material.

Rather than one of an ‘inner circle’ of devotees, my friendship with her was professionally based on her identity as a playwright. As a radio drama producer I directed three of her plays – a commission for another sadly not bearing fruit. My main impression was of an enigmatic personality and febrile energy. Hand in hand with her strength of conviction went a sense of wonder relating, not least, to the magic of the theatrical process. Some writers regard the actors and back-stage staff presenting their work as mere puppets. But she seemed ceaselessly to marvel at what their combined skills and imaginations contributed – never taking it for granted or taking personal credit for it.

This in turn reminded me of the gulf between today and when she was writing. Not just in terms of then and now, but of here and there. The whole cultural milieu of Glasgow in the 60’s and 70’s made it, certainly from an Edinburgh perspective, very much ‘another country’. Given which it is worth considering the external forces she was up against. For a spell the artistic director of each of the Scottish Repertory Companies – the Citizens’, Royal Lyceum, Dundee, Perth and Pitlochry – was English, with all but one (Joan Knight) male. Along with a disregard for women writers went a belief that any play by a Scot – specially in Scots – would invite box-office disaster. Until Hector McMillan, himself a loyal colleague and supporter of Joan Ure, mounted and promoted his own play, The Sash. [Ed. – see note below]

And she faced an added dilemma. Her poems, which she preferred to think of as ‘pieces for acting’, spanned various lengths and genres. Similarly her plays not only didn’t conform with the expected full-length norm but their varied shortness would have made them difficult to programme in, for instance, the token Spring slot customarily on offer to local writers. Nor was there anything like today’s Fringe… no Òran Mór with a Play, a Pie and a Pint, or the all-the-year-round outlets and opportunities we now take for granted.

This put radio, as I saw it, under an obligation to bring on new writers – and poets in particular. It also explains the role of the Glasgow University Arts Theatre Group with whom Joan Ure was deeply involved, and which staged her work along with that of C.P. Taylor, Hector MacMillan, Eric MacDonald, Ian Hamilton Finlay and others… lending the Group a cachet and enabling it to exert an impact far beyond what any equivalent semi-amateur company would enjoy nowadays.

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The further pressures in her private life are hinted at in her switch from Betty Clark (or Carswell) to Joan Ure; and by her sadly deteriorating health. Her poetry didn’t bemoan this, but sounded a clarion call against the macho society that had so malign an impact. Consider the bitter hurt projected in I hate this city / and I reject it. / Love for it has tired / me out … / There is no gentle / place for a woman here. .. / It is a land of wee / hard men / and all / I am wanted for is to / stand and cheer. (‘GLASGOW, Easter 1968’). Her penchant for unflinching internal dialogue, and extended polemic, infuses the title poem. Other more lyrical pieces adopt an intimate whisper. Elsewhere is the poignant self-knowledge of I croak like a winter raven / but it’s only the flesh … / the words these hoarse sounds disguise / so successfully are the same / the blackbird effortlessly projected / at twenty five minutes to five / like a missile to the sky (‘Telephone Message’); the poem’s prefatory I have a cough; can’t see you again this week a reminder of how often in my office I’d receive that message.

Bravely in advance of fashion was the vehemence with which she expressed her views. In ‘HEADLINE’ the plea ALL I ASK IS FREEDOM / TO BE HEARD is itself in block caps. The extraordinary ‘SEX CHANGE (or the optimist)’ might have been minted in today’s vastly more liberated climate. While another title, ‘Anger flares up like a match’ for me invokes the flame of her personality, fragile but ever fiercer in the face of whatever bombarded it.

A small Edinburgh link. When quotes were sought for an inscription on the wall of Scotland’s new Parliament building, the one finally chosen was by Alasdair Gray. But also submitted, fittingly by Glasgow Women’s Library, were these lines from Joan Ure’s ‘Scarlet Mood’: A country makes the artists it deserves / As it makes its governments / Our artists shriek in paranoiac discords / When they are not just havering./ You hope they do not feel they speak for you.

In 1970 she’d gifted me Two Plays by Joan Ure (Scottish Theatre Editions 1). The inscription, in her distinctive hand, read ‘With love to Stewart xx’. But scored out were the words ‘to Archie and Eleanor’ and added below, ‘I’ll get another one for Archie and Eleanor’ – her close friends, the novelist Archie Hind and his wife. The idiosyncrasy was a typically endearing one. Typical of her, too, she’d put in the space between: ‘P.S. To read the plays isn’t so important, but, if you’d read the Introduction over & over till you nearly believe it that would be great for me.’, The Introduction, highly approving, was by Christopher Small, longtime literary editor and drama critic of The (then GlasgowHerald.

Alistair Peebles and Richie McCaffery are due not just our applause, as are Joy Hendry and Alison Peebles, for this evening, but the thanks of those to whom they hope this pamphlet will introduce Joan Ure’s work, while maybe surprising others who thought they were familiar with it. Plus those who, like Christopher Small, have championed her over the years. And most of all, perhaps, those of the resolute, resilient and restless spirit of Joan Ure herself.

Stewart Conn


Note: Ian Brown, praising this ‘terrific memoir/ tribute’ rightly suggests that Stewart is being
 ‘overmodest. His The Burning (1971) and Bill Bryden’s Willie Rough (1972) preceded Hector’s The Sash (1974) and were certainly at least as instrumental in enlivening Scots on stage…’

Ian Brown – Remembering Joan Ure

joan ure

Previewing the Glasgow launch for The Tiny Talent on 7/12/18, we suggested that what might emerge from all the possibilities available was a ‘Foy’ for Joan Ure. Happily this is pretty much what took place, the programme reforming itself over the final few days in response to general good will and the generosity of a number of individuals in particular. Thus Alison Peebles, having read from the new pamphlet the previous evening at Blackwell’s in Edinburgh, offered to participate once again, and the singer and songwriter Sheila K Cameron provided six songs of Joan’s that she’d previously set to music and recorded. In addition, Joan’s daughter, Frances Wren, provided a further batch of photos that were quickly added to the looped powerpoint that played throughout, and Joy Hendry, who had read and spoken at Blackwell’s, sent us a text in which she briefly developed that response to Joan’s work, in particular to the title poem, for her in many ways a touchstone.

The other speakers taking part included Jan McDonald and Richie McCaffery, as well as the playwright, poet and a theatre historian Ian Brown. Ian gave a touching tribute to Joan, and I’m grateful that he’s allowed us to provide a transcript of his talk here, followed by the poem that, as he goes on to say, he wrote when news of her death reached him in 1978 in in Antalya, Turkey. Ian is a former Drama Director of the Arts Council of Great Britain, and now Professor Emeritus in Drama at Kingston University, London and an Honorary Senior Research Fellow in Scottish Literature at Glasgow University. He was the first Chair of the Scottish Society of Playwrights from 1973 to 1975 and has been elected Chair for three further terms over the years.

I am delighted, and honoured, genuinely, to be here remembering Joan. The first time I met her was in 1973, and the occasion was when Hector MacMillan, who has just been mentioned, and Ena Lamont Stewart, the great Ena Lamont Stewart, and a playwright who’s slightly forgotten now, John Hall, circulated the playwrights in Scotland, and said we needed to get together – we needed to work together for the future of theatre and the future of playwriting – and called a meeting. This happened in the Netherbow Theatre in Edinburgh in the early autumn of 1973. Only one person stormed out, which was pretty good going. And at the end of that meeting, the decision was made to establish the Scottish Society of Playwrights and, for some reason, I found myself Chairman: partly, I think, because I was the most innocent in the room at the time, which is not now often the case.

Joan became a Council member, and that was when I came to know her better. She was an excellent colleague. I remember trailing around North Fife with her – on buses, because Beeching had taken away the railways – to go and see AB Paterson at The Byre Theatre in St Andrews and Joan Knight at Perth. This was in order to negotiate benefits for playwrights who were members of the Society. Because actually up till that point, playwrights had not been given the benefits that, say, actors or stage managers, who were members of Equity, would be given in terms of, for example, access to the theatre, and tickets. And Joan was a superb negotiator. She was such a good negotiator that no one actually knew they were negotiating with her. She simply won people over.

We used to meet as a Council alternately in Edinburgh and Glasgow, in my flat in Edinburgh, and in Ena Lamont Stewart’s flat in Glasgow – we didn’t have much choice in those days. And we had very noisy members of Council, although not Joan. Joan won her case by quiet persuasion. We had people like Hector MacMillan, Donald McKenzie – big men physically, big men with big voices – and part of my job as Chair was to try to mediate. I remember at one point being told by my wife that Joan had come through to the kitchen for a glass of water and said to her as she left, ‘If I were you, my dear, I wouldn’t let them in the house.’

She had that wonderful passion, however, and a talent that had worked on the edge, because – and it’s a shameful fact – so patriarchal was the theatre in Scotland in the 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s (leaving aside wonderful exceptions like Joan Knight), that truthfully, had she been a man, her work would have been more respected and more widely produced. I have to say that: it’s a fact. One of the facts that makes me think that is that I had the honour of working with Alan Riach some years ago on a collection of essays on Scottish literature (The Edinburgh Companion to Twentieth-Century Scottish Literature, EUP, 2009) and, when we came to ‘divvy up’ the chapters, we wanted to do one that looked at poet-playwrights. And who were the three people that we thought had to be in that chapter? Edwin Morgan, Stewart Conn, and Joan Ure. That’s not bad company. And if you think of the history of the productions that Eddie and Stewart have had, as opposed to the productions that Joan has had, we can see the injustice that I frankly believe she suffered.

This is why I believe this collection is so valuable, because it reminds us of her particular and special talent.

Her record as a playwright has been mentioned this evening already, but what I would say absolutely is that she writes powerfully, angrily and yet dramatically, theatrically. She has a play called The Lecturer and the Lady, which I refer to in the poem that I’m going to read to you in a moment – but her plays aren’t didactic. Her plays are often thoughtful – in the way that Brecht’s are, Shaw’s, or sometimes Wilde’s – but they aren’t didactic. And that’s a great strength. The other thing is that they are written very much from – I’m scared to use the term, but I’ll risk it – from a proto-feminist point of view. She was there ahead of them, and she writes very powerfully about the place of women, not just in relation to men but in relation to other women.

I admire her because, among other things that I remember her saying, when she was talking about some of the more programmatic, political playwrights that were around in the 70s, ‘The thing is, Ian, if you want to write about Lenin, you don’t want to write about Marxist-Leninism, you want to start from the fact that he wouldn’t have done what he did if his brother hadn’t been executed by the Tsarists.’ And that, it seems to me, an absolute insight that frankly I hadn’t come across, and truthfully some of our playwrights of the 1970s hadn’t come across, but it contains a truth. And that for me was what Joan was about, truth that others didn’t necessarily come to.

The poem was written because for a time in my life I worked in the British Council and I was lucky enough to be posted to Istanbul and to work there as Assistant Regional Director. It was then, as you will hear, that I learned that she had died. I was scheduled to go down to Antalya, the coastal town on the Mediterranean which, as some of you may know, has now become a bit of a beach resort. When I was there in 1978, it was a beautiful old Roman town, with many, many other later buildings.

At Antalya
Remembering Joan

(Joan Ure, playwright and poet, real name – Betty Clark, died in Scotland in February 1978)

Sitting at my office desk in Istanbul
Sifting mail I read you’re dead

Later in Antalya I walk
Through a worn Roman gate marked by a gable added
See a broken minaret on a temple once church once mosque
And by a Byzantine building on a cliff now Turkish
See a ruined Seljuk seminary and conserved Seljuk tomb

As through my own memory
I walk through a confusion of adapted contradictions

You in your disarming integrity, wicked ingenuousness,
Capacity to suffer pain and give
I see in the white earth-centring sea
Weightily frothing against dull red cliffs
And in the quiet cove
Full of craft

At Istanbul in my mail was your photo
Posing on a moped, wearing a long dress,
And I remembered your pseudonymic confusion and grace
No lecturer, no mere lady
Alive and no real pretence

No simple virtue ever

 

Ian Brown

The Tiny Talent: purchase information

The Tiny Talent: Selected Poems by Joan Ure (ISBN 9781907508073, price £7.99) can be ordered through any bookshop, but it is currently in stock at the following:

Orkney

Stromness Books and Prints (distributor)

phone 01856 850565 / email grahamplace1@hotmail.com

The Orcadian Bookshop

Edinburgh

Blackwell’s, South Bridge

Glasgow

Aye-Aye Books

Good Press

Tell It Slant

London

James Fergusson Books and Manuscripts

‘It must be about time/ for a change’

In our notes to the publication The Tiny Talent: Selected Poems by Joan Ure, Richie McCaffery and I allude to the circumstances that led to our joining forces on the project. That a writer and critic then living in Ghent, and a small publishing house based in Orkney should come together for the purposes of publishing the first selection of poetry by an author so strongly associated with her home city of Glasgow, and so long forgotten, might indeed seem curious. It’s not as though Brae Editions was even, on the face of it, still a going concern, but several years into what might have passed for dormancy.

We both had some previous association with Glasgow, of course, my own being rather more intermittent in recent years, and tending to concentrate on my PhD research (hence the inactivity, publishing-wise) at Northumbria University. This concerned the early career of the poet, artist and gardener, Ian Hamilton Finlay. As noted elsewhere, I am now researching his life and work in order to write his biography. I was initially interested in Ure because she and Finlay had known one another from at least the mid-1950s, and I wanted, partly through her, to find out as much as I could about his rather obscure career over that period, up to the early 1960s, and its context. Among other things, like Ure, he was active then as a playwright. But I had grown to like what I was able to learn about her. I admired her work, when I happened to come across it, and I enjoyed her vigour and spirit personally and from what I knew of her as an artist. There wasn’t much in print, but there was that photograph on the moped. She intrigued me.

Richie’s connections with Glasgow are more substantial, in that although he comes originally from Northumberland, he lived and studied there for a decade. A Carnegie Trust Caledonian scholar at the University of Glasgow, he earned his PhD in 2016, his thesis being concerned with Scottish poets of World War Two. That focus implies only a small part of the very extensive range of interest he takes in the field. As his entry states on the Scottish Poetry Library website, ‘his essays, largely on Scottish poetry of the second half of the twentieth century, have appeared in The Scottish Literary Review, The Dark Horse, Northwords Now, Fras and Etudes ecossaises.’  His own website can be found hereRichie is currently in the final stages of editing a volume of essays on the poet Sydney Goodsir Smith, for publication by Brill, date to be confirmed.

Not surprisingly, we had never previously encountered one another. But at the start of November 2017, we both happened to be working at the National Library of Scotland, and we met under circumstances that, as noted in that editorial, ‘might seem improbable’. It was I who made the connection, but given how the project has unfolded since then, it rather seems as though circumstances themselves were behind the thing.

At the end of October 2017 I’d attended part of a weekend literary event being held in Glasgow (the Peter Manson Symposium, the first such). During a break I asked one of the speakers, who I’d heard being introduced as also recently having completed a PhD in the field, whether he knew anything about one or two now quite obscure Scottish poets of the post-War period. Well yes, he said, though probably not as much as Richie McCaffery, but he lives in Belgium. Ah, I thought. Next time I’m heading over that way… Yet perhaps I’d write, though it would be a rather vague inquiry, and nothing urgent, but anyway I looked him up on the SPL website.

Now, I’ve been describing this curious sequence of events, quite off the cuff, in the course of the two launches that we’ve organised, to date, for The Tiny Talent. Having come to write it down, however, and consult my diary, I find my memory has been at fault. What I could have sworn to, is that the very next morning I went into the NLS, and upstairs to Special Collections and there, diagonally across the large table at which I’d put down my stuff, was this chap who looked very like the photograph I’d seen on the SPL website. At which I was amazed, and (perforce) speechless. Could it be… He looked extremely busy, sifting though a folder of letters, and making notes, rather like, I thought, a man who’s only got a few hours before he must leave again for Ghent…

It is very quiet in Special Collections. You feel you will be remembered if you make an untoward noise. And I am glad of the silence. (Save a floorboard near the issue desk that slightly creaks.)

Yet in fact it wasn’t the very next day (which was a Sunday: Portobello and Duddingston), nor even the day after (General Reading Room), but on the Tuesday that I came, saw and waited my moment. I was hoping this familiar-seeming individual would soon get to the end of the folder and return it to the counter. For this would allow me to squint properly at the library card that was lying on his desk —at its postage-stamp corner, the one nearest me.

At length, he did. I leaned across…

‘Richie McCaffery.’

How to make an approach. Conveniently, Richie left to consult the catalogues. These are located behind a partition, relatively out of the way with respect to the room as a whole (and out of earshot, as I thought). I sped behind him and whispered my questions, he his answers. We talked more, the field of reference expanding in moments. Expression entered our voices, lent the conversation wings—

Swiftly chastised, we returned to our places, having arranged to meet the next morning downstairs.

I was impressed the next day, and the day following, by Richie’s close knowledge of his subject, and by his passionate interest, not least in the writers whose work had been lost, or as good as lost to contemporary awareness. And by his willingness to share what he knew. Perhaps he mentioned that he’d written a lengthy essay on the topic for the next edition of The Dark Horse: ‘Mither Tongue: Scottish Women Poets of the 20th Century’.

And so we got onto the subject of Joan Ure, a ‘Glaswegian poet and playwright … (1918-1978), real name Elizabeth Clark, [who] was the most outstanding voice of her time, still at risk of near-total neglect’ op. cit.

And as we spoke, I began to think about reviving Brae Editions in order to publish some of her poetry, and I voiced the suggestion. No one else seemed to be doing so; it is staggeringly good work, and still very much alive; Richie already knew it thoroughly, and had the title all prepared. It fitted my own research interests well enough to devote the time.

Further, from where we were sitting I could see the exhibition room entranceway all wonderfully well set up for the Muriel Spark Centenary. I’d heard of the WS Graham Centenary too, and lots about Margaret Tait, but where was Joan Ure being celebrated next year?

We agreed we would try and follow it through, if we could. For this rider of mopeds, this complex feminist, this non-poet, this ‘Tiny Talent’, Betty Clark/ Joan Ure.