The Free Church in Bank Street, Alexandria, an impressive building that is hard to photograph. Local people enjoyed weddings there and the subsequent scramble for pennies and ha’pennies. And, of course, The Fountain.

Song of the River by Billy Scobie

Review by Harry Summers

A review of Billy Scobie’s Vale of Leven poetry collection.

Scobie Billy historianFor many years Billy Scobie, pictured right,  has been the Vale’s resident polymath with his articles on Vale history, many of which can be found elsewhere on the Vale website, his four novels written under the pen-name Alexander Tait, his paintings, a collection of which also appear on the website, his design of and expertise in tartans. To add to these Billy has now gone public with another talent which he has nurtured over many years – that of an accomplished poet.

He has published a collection of his poems, titled “Song of the River” – the subject matter of the poems is wide-ranging but inevitably at their heart are the people of the Vale and the Valley itself. The 27 poems date from the 1970’s onwards and some people will be familiar with some of them, but it is a boon to have them collected in one book and have the pleasure of reading and re-reading at your own convenience.

And you will read and re-read them and no doubt choose your own favourites, because there is something for everyone in this book.

From the spiritual evocation of the poem from which the title is taken, Song of the River

“…the wordless language

Of its crystal, rippling song,

It is easy to see in a river

Swirling, dancing in the steady flow,

Some soft reflection,

Of the very source of Life.

And Heaven and Earth

I am born

With the memory of heaven,

In the deep night sky

To his family in poems such as Lizzie and Jimmy

In memories of them

There is the warmth

Of smiles on the face of age

And his wife, Mary, in My Star My Rose My Life which has echoes of Robert Burns

A crimson rose

is beauty,

its petals which enfold

The echoes of life

There’s also the ordinary Vale which we remember or still see around us, made less ordinary in Billy’s hands. Shops, places such as Carrochan and Jamestown Church, pubs, particularly pub life in the 1980’s, which is but a fond memory these days, in poems such as The Gantry, The Painter, and Salute. As was the case in some of his novels, you sometimes wonder who the characters are that Billy is writing about, although in the Old Vale Bar, something of a masterpiece of time and place, Billy saves you that bother by naming most of the regulars, every one of them a true Vale character.

Billy would probably regard his poem, Levenach, as being the masterpiece of the collection, and he would be right. It was written in 1985 and is the history of the Valley from the Dark Ages till the 1980’s expressed in a poem. No wonder the National Library of Scotland asked for a copy of it. It captures the essence of the Vale and its people and its closing lines are a fitting summation of where we have come from and indeed of this collection:

And the Levenach

With all humanity

Remain as joyous victims

Of the miracle of Life.

This is a very enjoyable book which will appeal to all. It would make an excellent Christmas present for Vale folk near and far and can be purchased for £9.99 from the Loch Lomond Craft Centre, Mitchell Way, Alexandria or from the links below.

Vale of Leven History. Buy a copy from Neetah Books at…

Song of the River: A Collection of Poems by Billy Scobie

Comment by Valeman Stuart McKinlay

An enviable recommendation. It is gratifying to read a collection of local poetry which goes beyond the celebratory tradition of lachrymose nostalgia, of hills and heather and of ye’ll-hae-a-wee-dram camaraderie. This is far from the trite and twee and the comfortable, worthy though such might be in the arsenal for a homesick, expatriate identity crisis. None of that. Reality gets a look-in here. From Carrochan to Coulport, from the emergence of a blade of grass to the suspended destruction of mankind, there is a taut strain of history on the march and sometimes with casualties: He spoke of the wreckage of his life/ With the repetition of the drunk/ Yet in him/ There was none of the offensiveness/ Or the vacuous self-satisfaction/ Of the sober, successful bore. You can’t say fairer than that.

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