Sep 16 2020



Allan Armstrong writes about John Manson, socialist, literary critic, translator and poet who died on August 3rd.  



It was with considerable sadness that I learned of John Manson’s death a month after it occurred on August 3rd. John had been a “a non-party Socialist since the dissolution of the CPGB”[1] and a significant literary critic, translator and poet. I first met John in 2006 and last met him 2012. Those who want to know more about John’s life and legacy should read the fine obituary written by Alan Riach in The Herald on 28.8.20[2]

John and his friend David Craig, then both members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, had edited Selected Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid for Penguin Books in 1970. In 2002, John co-edited Revolutionary Art of the Future – Rediscovered Poems of Hugh MacDiarmid with Dorian Grieve and Alan Riach. In 2011, he edited Dear Grieve. Letters to Hugh MacDiarmid.  John personally knew MacDiarmid and was responsible for persuading him to publish the full version of Third Hymn to Lenin in 1956 [3]. John also wrote many shorter articles on MacDiarmid.

It was through the MacDiarmid literary connection that John first made himself known to me. He wrote a very helpful response to my Beyond Broadswords and Bayonets, [4](Emancipation & Liberation 5/6), where I had suggested that MacDiarmid’s poem Little White Rose, written in 1931, was using a Jacobite motif to highlight the type of Scotland he supported. John’s letter A few thoughts on literary matters published in Emancipation & Liberation no. 10, [5] showed that the inspiration for Little White Rose came from elsewhere.  The fact that my point had been tucked away in footnote 47 gave me an early indication of John’s thoroughness and grasp of detail, which was a hallmark of his scholarship. John also provided further information in his thoughts about MacDiarmid, including a poem The Covenanters which formed part of his Second Hymn to Lenin and Other Poems (1935). This was somewhat similar in tone to Robert Burns’ comment on The Solemn League and Covenant, [6]  which I had mentioned in my article .

John also drew my attention to David Craig’s King Cameron which fictionalised the later life of Angus Cameron, whom I had also written about in Broadswords and Bayonets [7]. Whilst I was at Aberdeen University in the earlv 1970s, I had read Craig’s Scottish Literature and Scottish People, 1680-1830, at a time when it was very hard to find any works on Scottish culture from a Socialist point of view, although the Communist Party published valuable material in Scottish Marxist.

I contacted John and we began to meet up after his trips from his home in Kirkpatrick Durham near Dumfries to the National Library in Edinburgh to do research on MacDiarmid. We used to go to the Bow Bar after he had finished his work. I learned that he was a friend of David Craig, author of  On the Crofter’s Trail. Ever since my own visits to the Highlands and Islands, beginning in the 1960s, I had been fascinated by the crofting way of life. It came as a real education to me, that many crofters I met were very far from parochial in their outlook, and very well-informed. They had often travelled, not only throughout Scotland and England, but to the USA, Canada, and Australia, in search of work. John, who was himself from a crofting background in Caithness and Sutherland, became a friend of Craig’s when they were at Aberdeen University in the early 1950s.

I learned so much from our conversations that I decided that I must interview John for Emancipation & Liberation. I took the opportunity of a hillwalking trip in Galloway to visit John at his home. This interview The Republic of the Imagination – John Manson talks about his life and works was published in issue no. 14. [8] When asked, “What do you see as the significance of the literary side of politics?” John replied, “Politics is part of the public life of the times and it should be recreated as an important aspect of culture.” These thoughts were to be make a contribution to the magazine’s decision to highlight the political role of culture in Freedom Come All Ye, [9] and the cultural link between alienation and self-determination in its widest sense. [10]


Hugh MacDiarmid memorial sculpture , Langholm

Eventually the fruits of John’s research were published in 2011. I attended the Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun award ceremony for John in Langholm on 17th April 2012. Langholm was MacDiarmid’s birthplace. After his talk, I bought a couple of issues of the Dumfriesshire and Galloway literary magazine, Markings, which included some of John’s articles and a copy of John’s  new book of poetry, Stabs and Fences . He signed it ,”Until we meet again”. John was averse to using e-mails and I had fallen out of the use of written letters.  I was hoping to hear of another  event where  John was speaking. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

But John has left a wealth of literary work, I can only agree with Alan Riach that John Manson’s “was a life out of the limelight, away from celebrity and devoted to scholarship and provision for others through his attention to literature and political ideals. It is an extraordinary story of selflessness and commitment.” I feel enriched for having known ~John, even if only for relatively brief period of his life,



[1]  – answer to the question “How would you describe yourself in political terms?”

[2]           ( 18681358.obituary-john-manson-lterary-researcher-unparalleled-understanding-hugh-macdiarmid/)











A stab may be four inches square

And up to six feet or over

It is dead now and sawed to size

It is driven into earth and stones

Wire is strained to the stab

It stands for forty years

Then the yellow wood is grey

The wire hangs red and broken

A man is not a stab

He is made into one


From Stabs and Fences and Later Poems, John Manson, Kennedy & Boyd, 2012


also see:

Paddy Bort, 1954-2017

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Mar 31 2020

Review of ‘Quines’ by Jim Aitken

We are posting this review by one of our contributors, Jim Aitken, of Quines, Poems in tribute to the women of Scotland, written by Gerda Stevenson ( This review was first posted by Culture Matters. Accompanying illustrations of textiles are by artists from EDGE: Textile Artists Scotland.





The second edition of Gerda Stevenson’s Quines came out with some fanfare as it was launched to coincide with International Women’s Day. The launch at the Central Library in Edinburgh was also accompanied by a unique exhibition in honour of some of the poems in the book by EDGE: Textile Artists Scotland. Continue reading “Review of ‘Quines’ by Jim Aitken”

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Nov 14 2009

Book Review: A Celebration of the Life and Work of Robert Burns 1759-1786

Category: Emancipation & Liberation,Issue 18RCN @ 8:47 pm

A Celebration of the Life and Work of Robert Burns 1759-1786 An Independent Revolutionary Radical By James D. Young; Printed and published by Clydeside Press; £3.95

What does Robert Burns mean to me? Edinburgh People’s Festival Published by WP Books; £3.00

It is the 250th anniversary of the birth of Robert Burns and we have seen a plethora of publications and television programmes “celebrating” the life of the Bard. Every Scottish celeb and every Scottish public figure have been vying to claim Burns as their own or rather to claim themselves as inheritors of the Burns tradition. It is apposite therefore that J.D. Young’s pamphlet A Celebration of the Life and Work of Robert Burns 1759-1786 An Independent Revolutionary Radical, seeks to criticise the cult of Burns and to claim that the only true inheritors of the Burns legacy are independent revolutionaries and radicals like Burns himself.

Young’s pamphlet, as welcome as its message might be as an antidote to celebrity culture, makes far from easy reading. Young’s style is academic and feels disjointed. The mix of history and poetical analysis does not gel and the reader is left bemused by the seemingly endless tangents and confusing sub headings (I expected the section headed Burns Scottish Nationality and Women to give me a bit more insight than the fact that “there has not been a great deal written about these women.” However, Young does set Burns on the Scottish political stage of his time as an independent thinker and a revolutionary. The efforts of generations of establishment and often misogynistic Burns Suppers have failed in their attempts to neuter Burns. We are familiar with the tactic of the modern media of “taming” revolutionary figures. Those they cannot tame, they demonise. It is sickening to listen as some bourgeois establishment figure delivers the Immortal Memory with no understanding of Burns republicanism, his revolutionary fervour or his ability to love. Despite my personal difficulty with the writing, Young’s pamphlet is an important and timely reminder of the fact that Burns is ours. He was one of us and they have no right to claim him.

For a celebration of Burns though another publication is worth a mention. What Does Robert Burns Mean to Me published by Edinburgh People’s Festival. These personal responses to Burns’ poetry manage to covey the scope, the scale and the joy of Burns work. Wee contributions from a selection of people including Timothy Neat, (Hamish Henderson’s biographer), the late Bill Speirs (former general secretary of the STUC), Annie McRae (teacher and poet), Tony Benn, Denise Mina (author), reveal the very essence of the multi faceted Burns. This Burns IS the revolutionary, the visionary and the lover. It is the Burns we grew up with before we knew who he was. It is the Burns who is about feeling and passion and most of all about the essential quality for any would be revolutionary – Love.

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