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View from the Bench: My Life in Poetry By Lillias Scott Forbes


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View from the Bench celebrates the Life in Poetry of Lillias Scott Forbes, a nonagenarian poet, daughter of the composer Francis George Scott. Her poems in Scots and English goes back to 1936 and her last poem date August 2011, representing a cross-section of her 75 years of poetry writing. 'As a result of her father's friendships, she mixed with acclaimed poets from an early age and was encouraged by them in her own writing - W.S. Graham, Hugh MacDiarmid, Dylan Thomas and, Willa and Edwin Muirs, to mention only a few. Her poetry described her life in Britain, France, South Africa and specially her feelings for Scotland. It is clearly an autobiographic poetry book. And as fellow poet Eleanor Livingstone, said " - the passing of years and of those earlier generations obviously hasn't dimmed Lillias Scott Forbes' passion for poetry and she expresses herself delighted that her muse hasn't fled entirely 'at her advanced age'."


  •  Clichés

View from the Bench

  1. View From the Bench
  2. Sounds Missing
  3. Cambridge
  4. Near Basingstoke, Remembering Oxford
  5. Brown’s Piece Barn
  6. Coming Home
  7. In the Gallery
  8. Passing  by
  9. The Gate
  10. Snow Song
  11. Piddington
  12. Gardens at the Rhinns
  13. At Moniack Mhor
  14. By Achray Side
  15. Sailing Up the Loch
  16. The Path 

One Foot in France

  1. Scotland
  2. Before the Tunnel
  3. Camargue
  4. Place de la Sorbonne
  5. Mûrevigne
  6. Street Cries
  7. Under the Parasols
  8. Quai des Grands Augustins
  9. Blinds
  10. Café Mirage
  11. South Street Café
  12. Runaways
  13. La Grande Jatte
  14. Curtain–rise
  15. Uncle Vanya
  16. Simply Mozart
  17. My Father’s Way

Ingaithering frae the Bench 

  1. The Sea
  2. Risin Frae the Waters
  3. The Giftie
  4. The Bodach
  5. To a Gaelic Broadcast
  6. Old Border Shepherd at Poetry Reading
  7. The Giving of the Garment
  8. Doors Open Day
  9. The Half-Inch Tweeddale
  10. The Tryst
  11. Roup
  12. The Turn in the Road
  13. Nae Bield in Falkland
  14. To Duncan, on His Birthday
  15. Stags Passing
  16. Birds Talking

Backward Glances from the Bench

  1. In the Conservatory
  2. Anonymous 
  3. The Mother
  4. A Buchan Man
  5. The Stane-Chapper
  6. Fractured
  7. Turning a Fresh Eye
  8. Hindmaist
  9. At Cruden
  10. Watching the War Report
  11. Shades
  12. Charity Shop
  13. Exile
  14. Antique Dealer
  15. In the Reading Room
  16. Virgin Wool
  17. By the Langfall, Langholm

Memories from Far Away 

  1. Going Native 
  2. I Know my Place
  3. Duties Include ....
  4. Let Me Too, Go Down

Stepping Stones

  1. Stepping Stones
  2. Swan Song
  3. Coterie of the Literati, St. Andrews
  4. Artist in Academe
  5. Villanelle
  6. Aids to Authorship
  7. La Terrasse à Sainte Adresse



Lillias Scott Forbes (December 1, 1918 – October 2, 1913) 

 Lillias wis the lest o a generation o Scots makars. Her gift wis a reenge o poetic moods and – aptly fir a dochter o the composer Francis George Scott – tones. Fir her, the soun o her Scots (forby her Suddron) wis uppermaist; ti quote frae thon third leid that wis a life-lang luve, it wis a case o ‘la musique avant toute chose’ (Verlaine).

Thir braw sang-settins o her poetry bi her faither and bi her first husband Erik Chisholm saired ti draw oot the mair her ain verbal music. In her presence ye were aye aware o hou Scottish tradition wis interwoven intil the haill European fabric. The ballads o her ancestral Borders, per exemple, share their characteristics wi the ballads o, say, Hungary and the Czech lands. She wad speak o her faither’s French connections – his wark wis admired bi Fauré’s pupil, Roger-Ducasse; and it wis Erik wha brocht Bartók and Szymanowski in person ti Glescae. Her unselfconscious internationalism pervadit her poetry, maist evident in her lest collection, View from the Bench (Grace Note Publications, 2011), whaur she invokes the Place de la Sorbonne and the Boul’ Mich’, as weill as Falkland in her adoptit Fife. In 1971 she creatit an art gallery and café in the toun; it wis apened by Ricky Demarco and its first exhibition wis o the graphic wark o Sydney Goodsir Smith.

   Aiblins ye’ll try a canny keek oot the pane 
   Dichtin the gless wi yer thoom
   A’thing unco quait – deil’s wark doon the wynd
   Syne ower the causey, tae yer frichtit een 
   The gantin palace wa, rowed in deid-licht,
   The peelie mune blintin ower cauld stane
   Ower wally een o beast or hoodie craw
   Or halie kists o kings –
   Tak tent – ye’ll catch them keekin at ye, back!

                                (‘Nae Bield in Falkland’)

As naitral-like as she’ll juxtapose Scotland and France she’ll turn frae lyricism ti a sherp wit and back again. Thon merked her conversation as weill as her poetry.

 She kent mair nor maist whit’s meant bi hamecomin, fir in baith the stimulation o bydin in ither kintras, and in hameseeckness fir Scotland, we find a double leitmotif in her art. Gin we can say that Montrose wis aince an important centre o Scottish culture, we can mak a like claim that, at the beginning o the 1960s, sae wis Cape Toun. Erik wis Professor o Music there, and on his team wis fellae Scottish composer Ronald Stevenson. Durin thon tense post-Sharpeville period o the apartheid régime, Lillias fund close friendship wi Ronald and his wife Marjorie, and that continued ti flourish and stimulate back in Scotland.

 It wis in Falkland that she met her second husband, John Forbes, a teacher at Madras College in St Andrews. It wis in St Andrews – her faither had kent it weill in airlier times – that she spent her lest years, and whaur she wis a kenspeckle and popular figure in the toun’s cafés: she wisnae goin ti gie up guid French weys. I first met Lillias in 1998 at the launch pairty fir Ian Nimmo White’s magazine Fife Lines – indeed we maun add Ian ti that line o poetry editors and publishers wha made siccar that her wark wis oot there. In Fife they includit alsweill Duncan Glen, wha received an eloquent poetic tribute frae Lillias on his 75th (and, as it turned oot, his lest) birthday. Bydin in Kirkcaldy, my wife Eleanor and I saw a lot o Lillias ower thae latter years, savourin poetry and whisky thegither variously in the Lang Toun and in the auld college toun upby i the same coonty. Eleanor sang F.G. Scott sangs at some o the mony recitals that Lillian wad organise fir the Scots Leid Associe and the Saltire Society.

 View from the Bench intersperses her poetry wi prose memoir. I hae read chapters o Lillias’s autobiography  and I wis prood ti publish her evocation o St Andrews literary and cultural life durin the 1930s, accompanied bi photographs and ither visual material, in the online journal The Pathhead Review. We  can ainly hope the day will no be faur aff whan the haill typescript can mak it inti a buik. Her autobiography is a valuable accoont o twentieth-century Scottish cultural life, screivit bi the leddy wha wis the lest witness to an era that includit her faither and his umwhile pupil and collaborator Hugh MacDiarmid, forby Edwin and Willa Muir.

 Eleanor and I visitit Lillias in the Balnacarron hame juist lest Sunday (September 29, 2013), twa days afore her passin. She wis thin and frail but there were flashes o thon unique birkiness o hers. At yin point I mentioned the Muirs and she exclaimed: ‘I hinna heard Edwin and Willa’s names fir a lang time!’ Ayont this week whan she’ll be laid ti rest in the rural kirkyaird o Cameron near Lathones, let their names and wark, and hers, continue – like Baudelaire’s ‘phares’ – ti licht us throu oor labyrinthine weys.

TOM HUBBARD, Lallans 2013         


Other Details

Poetry book - poems in Scots and English
Grace Note Publications

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