Obituary: Alan Bold

AS a tireless man of letters, Alan Bold's contribution to Scottish literature is as extensive as it was relentlessly pursued. That he should have died at the age of 54 amounts to the tragic curtailment of a career which promised more, much more, for example his apparently unfinished biography of Robert Burns.

Although noted as a prolific poet, the author of at least one novel, and a collection of short stories, Bold was a maverick if also gifted critic, reviewer and anthologist. His literary hero was Christopher Murray Grieve, better known as Hugh MacDiarmid, whose Selected Letters Bold edited (in 1984), as well as writing a critical study, MacDiarmid: the terrible crystal (1983), following this scholarly labour in 1988 with a biography, MacDiarmid, which won him the McVitie Prize as Scottish Writer of the Year.

Having first met MacDiarmid in 1962, he found his hero a willing friend and supporter. Indeed, MacDiarmid provided a foreword to Bold's first collection, Society Inebrious (1965), which appeared while he was still a student at Edinburgh University, where he was associated with a remarkable generation of painters which included his friends John Bellany and Alexander Moffat. It could have been the propulsion of this acknowledgement by the most conspicuous figure in modern Scottish letters that generated the extreme oddness of Bold's reputation in Scotland. In one of his poems he called Scotland "the land of the omnipotent No", and as for many Scottish artists his struggle with "the matter of Scotland" was arduous and uneasy. But it also happened.

To be in Bold's company was to know that you were in the presence of a mind, of someone who was making an effort and with a capacity for infinite toil. Indeed, in keeping with the teachings of his master, he was perhaps closer to being a European intellectual than a purely local product infatuated with native things. There was a robust and enlivening seriousness to him.

It is sad to say, but Bold's reputation was vulnerable in a Scottish literary scene famous, or notorious, for what's been described as "back- scratching with a dirk". Personally, I enjoyed his company, but many others found him intimidating. In conversation he could be tiresome on such subjects as football and Elvis Presley. When he engaged you with Burns's poetry, though, or MacDiarmid's, he was spellbinding. His erudition on these and many other matters of literary interest was passionate, astounding, and truly mesmerising. He wrote well on Thom Gunn and Ted Hughes, Muriel Spark, the Scottish ballads, George Mackay Brown, war poetry, John Le Carre, and a host of other subjects, including the fine arts.

For years he contributed book reviews to the Glasgow Herald, with style, acumen, and insight. As a literary journalist, he was one of Scotland's best, but didn't get the credit for it. I admired him enormously for the diligence with which he got his work done and earned a living by his pen. True, though, he could be a "difficult" man, and he seemed to like it that way. But there was a teddy-bear side to him as well. Generous, whole- hearted, as he undoubtedly was, he seemed to open up but seldom, as if - like many writers - he was too engaged with his own privacy and solitude to allow you to get to know him better. He was out of step with literary and other values of younger writers tackling MacDiarmid. To put it mildly, he was in two minds (at least) when it came to the work of recent writers associated with Glasgow.

Although I disagreed with him (to an extent) I found his views refreshingly free of cant and humbug. He was his own man, a writer of absolutely independent mind, a quality of being which he may well have learnt from MacDiarmid. For example, although an Edinburgh man, he chose to live at Balbirnie in the Fife countryside. It is tempting to see Bold's Balbirnie as the equivalent of MacDiarmid's Biggar.

From time to time I would see him on that patient, prudential ScotRail "Sprinter" which wends stoppingly from Dundee to Edinburgh. He'd be off for a dutiful stint in the National Library, after, that is, we'd sunk a few in one of the pubs he favoured as being a literati-free zone. No sooner, though, than you get used to the longevity of recent Scottish poets - octogenarians, spry, and they didn't even bother to look after themselves - than something like this happens.

Bold's poetry is inconsistent. It ranges from the dull, through the indifferent, to the very good. There's a lot of it. But as a poet-critic he was productive, reliable, fast, poised, and invaluable. A new selection of his poems is now necessary, and there may be no one better placed to edit it than his daughter, Valentina, one of the brightest of the younger Scottish scholars and critics.

Alan Norman Bold, poet, writer, critic and artist: born Edinburgh 20 April 1943; married 1963 Alice Howell (one daughter); died Kirkcaldy, Fife 19 March 1998.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
people
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Caroline Flack became the tenth winner of Strictly Come Dancing
tvReview: 'Absolutely phenomenal' Xtra Factor presenter wins Strictly Come Dancing final
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Sport
Amir Khan is engaged in a broader battle than attempting to win a fight with Floyd Mayweather
boxing Exclusive: Amir Khan reveals plans to travel to Pakistan
News
Stacey Dooley was the only woman to be nominated in last month’s Grierson awards
mediaClare Balding and Davina McCall among those overlooked for Grierson awards
Voices
Joseph Kynaston Reeves arguing with Russell Brand outside the RBS’s London offices on Friday
voicesDJ Taylor: The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a worker's rant to Russell Brand
News
Twitchers see things differently, depending on their gender
scienceNew study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
News
i100
News
Xander van der Burgt, at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew
scienceA Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Senior Private Client Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY - An outstanding high level opportunity...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Austen Lloyd: Construction Solicitor - London

Very Competitive Salary : Austen Lloyd: NICHE CITY FIRM - We are making a disc...

Recruitment Genius: Finance Director

£65000 - £80000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Finance Director required to jo...

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick