OBITUARY: Alastair Mackie

Alastair Mackie was a Scots makar; a skilled wordsmith and an incorrigibly restless and cross-grained literary archaeologist. Add to this an imagination that often saw the world as dark and foreboding, and we can glimpse something of what made Mackie an important Scots poet.

Mackie's early "fieldwork" took him into the Scots dictionary, but soon he quarried in French, Italian, German and Russian poetry as a translator, extending the range of his own Scots poetry. His pessimism and his "poignant melancholy", as one critic called it, make his versions of Leopardi outstanding. That said, the pessimistic, introverted, and essentially private man could also be a lively performer who could make language dance to the tune of a joyfully dry sense of humour.

Mackie's research was not that of the intellectual, but during his later years of stress- related illnesses and an ischaemic heart condition a mystified GP asked him if he could not accept that he knew more than enough for any one lifetime. But Mackie remained a poet because he could not ever be content with such an attitude; could not be "at his ease", intellectually or as a maker of poems. This could make life difficult for him, and his wife and daughters - and for his friends.

In a moving funeral tribute, Alastair Leslie spoke of his pleasure in Mackie's stimulating company and his admiration for the humanity of his poems. Leslie also reminded us that Mackie could be a "difficult man" but, with a smile, related how a "banishment" from his home was brief - thanks to the oil poured on the waters by Bet Mackie. I published Mackie's first three books and was a weekly correspondent of some 10 years. He often regarded me as wrang-heidit, as I did him, but I cannot recall our exchanging one word of personal rancour. Our comments on other writers could be less polite.

Born in Aberdeen in 1925, Alastair Mackie went to school there at Skene Square Primary and Robert Gordon's College. After war service in the Navy, he graduated in English honours at Aberdeen University. In 1951 he went as English teacher to Stromness Academy, Orkney, and married Bet Law. Already Mackie was suffering the pains and illnesses related to depression and anxiety which, supported by his wife, he bravely and privately fought through their 43 years of married life. In 1959 he was appointed to teach in the fishing town of Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife and there he lived till his death.

If the poet often revealed a melancholy and tragic world, the English teacher in Waid Academy was no pessimist. Alastair Mackie was an inspiration to not only academic high-flyers with literary ambitions, but also those with other talents. His less academic pupils wrote short plays in Scots and achieved local fame as actors in their own works, or those written for them by Mr Mackie. The wider world knows of John Lloyd, one-time editor of the New Statesman, Christopher Rush, storyteller of the film Venus Peter, and Andrew Grieg, poet and novelist; all taught by Mackie at Waid Academy.

Alastair Mackie has acknowledged that when, in 1954, he first read the cluster of Scots lyrics in Hugh MacDiarmid's Sangschaw (1925) it was "like absorbing a mind-bending chemical". MacDiarmid's example enabled Mackie to tap into a rich seam of language that was rooted in the everyday spoken Scots of his parents' home and the streets of Aberdeen where he played as a boy in the 1930s.

Mackie's first collection of poems is Soundings, which I published in 1966. Disappointed by so few of his poems in Scots being accepted by editors, Mackie was writing in English, but before Soundings appeared he had returned to Scots and had entered his most creative years. Clytach (1972), short poems in Scots, is a major collection of poetry. Here is the tragic despair of "Mongol Quine" and the magnificent "Pieta", in which a woman is traumatised with sorrow as she holds her child killed by bombers. In contrast there is the witty and satirical "Scots Pegasus" in which Mackie uses a richly descriptive Scots to describe this "timmer naig / wi a humphy back and cockle een".

There followed At the Heich Kirk-Yaird: a hielant sequence (1974), and Back-Green Odyssey, collected in Back-Green Odyssey and other poems (1980). Mackie's Ingaitherins: selected poems was published in 1987, with drawings by his daughter Frances, but we await a fuller collection to see adequately his richly varied achievement.

Duncan Glen

Alastair Webster Mackie, poet and teacher: born Aberdeen 10 August 1925; married 1951 Elizabeth Law (two daughters); died Kirkcaldy, Fife 3 June 1995.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones