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.