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Norman MacCaig

Norman MacCaig

The following Norman MacCaig poems are in Booknotes:

  • Visiting hour
  • Brooklyn cop
  • Assisi
  • Hotel room, 12th floor
Example annotations of the poem "Visiting Hour" by Norman MacCaig

Booknotes allows you to read our notes about the poems, but you can also create your own and share them with other users if you wish.

There's also a lot of archive video and audio, including MacCaig reading his work in this article the enduring appeal of Norman MacCaig.

Norman MacCaig biography

Headshot photo of Norman MacCaig

Norman MacCaig was born in Edinburgh in 1910. Although he spent all his childhood and his later life in Scotland's capital, his mother's Highland past was a great influence on the young poet. MacCaig's mother was from Scalpay, Harris and the Gaelic heritage inherited on visits to his mother's family on the islands was to have an enduring effect on MacCaig.

MacCaig's formal education was firmly rooted in the Edinburgh soil: he attended the Royal High School and then Edinburgh University where he studied Classics. He then trained to be a teacher at Moray House in Edinburgh and spent a large part of his life as a primary school teacher. During the war MacCaig refused to fight because he did not want to kill people who he felt were just the same as him. He therefore spent time in various prisons and doing landwork because of his pacifist views. Having spent years educating young children, MacCaig then went on to teach university students when in 1967 he became the first Fellow in Creative Writing at Edinburgh University, and he later held a similar post while teaching at the University of Stirling.

MacCaig's life and poetry was principally divided into two parts, represented by two locales. Although he takes his reader with him on visits to New York and Italy, the locality of the bulk of his poetry is divided between two Scottish locations. His home city of Edinburgh provided contrast with his holiday home of Assynt, a remote area in the North-West of Scotland where MacCaig spent much time, especially in the summer months. The landscape and people of Assynt provided inspiration for his poetry as well as bringing MacCaig close friendships and a love for the land.

Norman MacCaig's poetry began as part of the New Apocalypse Movement, a surrealist mode of writing which he later disowned turning instead to more precise, often witty observations. He was great friends with Hugh MacDiarmid and other Scottish poets he met with in the bars of Edinburgh to debate, laugh and drink. Although he was never persuaded by his literary friends to write in Scots, he was respected by friends such as MacDiarmid as having made an important contribution to literature.

As he became older, MacCaig's fame spread and he received such honours as the O.B.E. and the Queen's Medal for Poetry, yet it was at home in Edinburgh and Assynt where he was probably most appreciated. This was evident at his 75th, 80th, and 85th birthday parties when the cream of the Scottish literati and musicians came together for readings and musical performances.

By the time of his death in January 1996, Norman MacCaig was known widely as the grand old man of Scottish poetry.

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