Alan Riach: Poetry books to bring pleasure amid self-serving politics

By Alan Riach Professor of Scottish Literature at Glasgow University

Published by Scotland Street Press is the 2021 volume Patient Dignity, poems by Bashabi Fraser with artwork by Vibha Pankaj. As with Wilson’s Ornithology & Burns, this book combines vivid and lovely images of paintings with poems of immediate and lasting effect.

Bashabi Fraser is one of Scotland’s most multi-faceted contemporary poets and scholars, renowned for her work on Rabindranath Tagore and Patrick Geddes and for poems which bring together her sense of belonging to two multi-dimensional nations, Scotland and India.


The poems in Patient Dignity arise from the last two years of living with the Covid contagion, of her care and love for family, new and older generations, of ideals rising above societies so badly damaged, if not wrecked, by corrupt governments and policies of deadly ineptitude and murderous consequence.

And yet nothing in the poems or paintings is shrill or extreme. Their gentleness of touch is matched by assurance of purpose and confidence of utterance. Here are the opening lines of “Missives of music”: “These rivers with their wilful whim have flowed through the centuries / Their waters replenished by the gifts poured in by tributaries”. And in “Moments of Truth and Hope” we are given

The moment when the pensive sky
Broods over the burning earth
And the shadows roll over plain and hill
Till the monsoons burst with mirth.

Fraser takes risks with the straightforwardness of rhythm and rhyme, the clarity of her aspirations, the old-fashioned virtues of immediacy of address, to her father, her grandson, her husband. And the poems, in balance with the images, work as a testament to sensitivity, without self-indulgence, without sentimentality. Emotional truth must be faced up to squarely, and in this book – as in all these books – the quality of life so affirmed and enhanced is a permanent unstated condemnation of the brutalities of the daily political unmerry-go-round.

Poetry, paintings, the art of publishing books that are pleasing to the hands that will hold them, tenderly, and the eyes that will search them, carefully, are antidotes to the violence that surrounds us.

We might keep that in mind.

Excerpt from an article in The National 7 February 2022.  Read the full article at The National here: