Letter: Scottish habits with vituperative verse

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The Independent Online
Sir: Various punch-ups and 'poetry slams' have been cited as precedents for a proposed Mitchell v Fenton bout ('The glove poets, 22 August; Letters, 23, 24 August). The linguistic concept is itself very much part of the Scottish tradition. The supreme instance of a flyting was that which tickled the young and erudite James VI's fancy, in the late 16th century. Vigorously pursued by the poets Polwort and Montgomerie, this was an alliterative and vituperative verse phantasmagoria; the latter's Second Invective opening:

Vyld venymous viper, wanthreivinest of thingis,

Half ane elf, half ane aip, of nature denyit,

Thow flyttis and thow freittis, thou fartis and thow flingis;

Bot this bargane, unbeist, deir sall thow buy it . . .

I can schaw how, whair and what begate thee;

Whilk wes nather man nor wyf,

Nor humane creature on lyf;

Fals stinkand steirer up of stryf ,

Hurkland howlat, have at thee]

Might not an ideal venue for metric cudgelling be the courtyard of Edinburgh's Assembly Hall, under the eagle eye and raised forearm of John Knox, himself a dab hand at invective.

Yours faithfully,

STEWART CONN

Edinburgh

25 August

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