This week I attended the opening of INTERIM EDITION: THE MARGARET TAIT POETRY ARCHIVE, showing at the Demarco Archives exhibition space in Summerhall, Edinburgh.
Curated by Dr Sarah Neely and coordinated by Fernanda Zei (exhibition curator/archivist, Demarco Archive), it’s part of the larger programme celebrating the 100th anniversary of the birth of poet/filmmaker Margaret Tait (info here – https://www.margarettait100.com/ )
Watching her films, I’m most affected by the way she seems almost to focus on the peripheral while capturing the essence of things. It’s visceral in effect but also poetic (she often described her films as ‘film poems’) and evocative. (Links to short films by Tait at the end of this post).
There’s also what I’d describe as faith or belief in the images – her short films aren’t presented or edited in a way that offers explanation, plot or conclusion, which sounds as though it could be either surrealist or documentary-like but is neither, and of course her editing is deliberate. In a poem from ‘Origins and Elements’ she describes the way that filming fed her way of seeing (apologies for blurry image, these are my photos) …
It was a creative approach that excluded her from conventional success in many ways, partly due to her being female in an area led almost exclusively by men in those decades (though she was to some extent part of a circle that included poets such as McDiarmid and Sorley MacLean). Her motivation was purely creative though, and it didn’t matter to her that at times a lack of income meant sleeping in her car (a fact the press focused on at times, to her bemusement).
She resisted labelling of her work, not from any wish to be unique but more from her personal understanding of the nature of her own life and creative reality (text from exhibition) …
The opening of the exhibition this week included beautiful poetry readings by actress, singer/song writer and poet Gerda Stevenson, who’d appeared in Tait’s feature-length film Blue Black Permanent. Also brief presentations by exhibition co-ordinator Fernanda Zei, and curator Dr Sarah Nealy.
Dr Sarah Nealy had explored the Tait archive to collate work for the larger centenary celebration of Margaret Tait, and she spoke about the recurring instances of support by Richard Demarco over the years, evidenced in numerous letters (Richard would have attended and co-presented the opening but is currently abroad).
This letter offers an example of his admiration and support for her work. I’ve no idea if there was follow-up from actor Sean Connery, a supporter of the Demarco Gallery during its early days in the 1960’s. (I include a transcript since my photo is blurry!)…
I am sending you a very important little brown envelope, containing a personal letter from Margaret Tait, my favourite Scottish poet and filmmaker. You will remember that marvellous book of hers that you bought from the gallery ‘Origins and Elements’.
Margaret Tait wants to make a feature film and she has given me some idea of it and I feel that it could be of great importance, as she says, the film is about the sea, about poetry, about Scotland, about communication and about some people. She wants to you to act in it. She sees you in two different parts. She has also written to Liz MacLennan who knows about her films (she saw them at my summer school showing).
You know already how highly I regard Margaret Tait and her work. She is a classic example of a first class Scot living here and being ignored, with something significant to say to the whole world about Scotland.
As always I recommend a visit to the exhibition in person – it’s rich in material about her life and work – ideas, poetry, photos and articles. I felt moved by it, and in some small way emboldened – her creative courage is an inspiration.
INTERIM EDITION: THE MARGARET TAIT POETRY ARCHIVE runs from Thursday 8 November to Sunday 6 January 2019 at the Demarco Archives exhibition space at Summerhall.
A few links to Margaret Tait’s films:
One is One – http://movingimage.nls.uk/film/6229
Tailpiece – http://movingimage.nls.uk/film/6233
Biography – https://vimeo.com/240306939