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dove tales freedom of expression

tom hubbard on tessa ransford


Tessa's 70th and the Scottish Poetry Library's 25th, only six months or so separate them. Tessa's own poetry, and the Library, were even closer to one another. She used to say that the Library was itself a poem. Each of her own best poems reads like it is part of a larger, unwritten one.
Tessa's collection, Fools and Angels, and the Library's foundation, happened at about the same time. Just before I joined the Library as its first librarian at the beginning of 1984, I'd been reading a chapter on Robert Louis Stevenson in the book Striving Towards Wholeness by the Jungian analyst Barbara Hannah. At the SPL I found Tessa - and also the Library's secretary Billy Wolfe - invoking Jung, MacDiarmid and many others whose utterances served to galvanise the intellectual passion of the Library's growth.
    As that continuum of poet and cultural activist, Tessa strives to fuse opposites into new wholes: not either/or but both/and: 
    I give your thoughts my bodily conception
    Desire you with consummate intellection.

To nurture that Library 'in parsimonious times' we had to be not angels exactly (except, aspiringly, in the non-Christian, Rilkean sense of angels) but we had to be fools, operating with a wise naivete. Tessa cites Harlequin but should we not be thinking of his older, rougher cousin, Arlecchino, that commedia dell'arte archetype so well analysed by a good friend of ours and the Library's, the composer and pianist, Ronald Stevenson? I recall that battered sofa, in Tweeddale Court, on which the late Robert Greacen sat and chatted. Out of lozenge-shaped patches you embroider the seamless garment, you bind the braids.
    In Tübingen, where her beloved Hölderlin passed thirty-six years alone in a turret, Tessa spoke of the mathematical concept of latticing, 'which gives a layered, multidimensional ordering of events or elements. Lattices are a graphic description of the quantum postulate that there is always at least one alternative between every this and every that.' There you have Arlecchino: the dancing intellect, multi-faceted, 'multeity in unity,' to quote MacDiarmid.
    By the early 1990s, after many stresses, our work gained fresh momentum from our reading of Patrick Geddes, who had revived Edinburgh's Old Town and for whom 'Watertight compartments are of use only to a sinking ship.' Around the corner from Tweeddale Court, at his gallery/theatre in Blackfriars Street, Ricky Demarco introduced me to the work of Joseph Beuys, founder of the Free International University concept. Beuys had written: 'Whereas the specialist's point of view places the arts and other kinds of work in sharp opposition, it is in fact crucial that the structural, formal and thematic problems of the various work processes should be constantly compared with one another.' In all her undertakings Tessa seems to me to almost-echo a fellow native of India: what do they know of poetry, who only poetry know? 


                                                      Tom Hubbard

To read Tom Hubbard's obituary of Tessa Ransford in The Herald, please click here: Tomparagraph. Click here to add your own text and edit me. It's easy.

Image by Andrea Cringean

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