THE TWA POETS IN BROOKLYN HEIGHTS
A lufly May afternoon in the year nineteen hundred and sixty-eight,
a lufly with nary a cloud above, with a sweet breeze upon the street,
our small escort brought the two preeminent poets from Scotland,
Hugh MacDiarmid, whose equally held fierce commitments
to Karl Marx and Scottish nationalism often brewed him a cup o' trouble,
and Norman MacCaig, inseparable from MacDiarmid in friendship,
yet separate in so many ways and degrees as to ignite vivid arguing,
the recently retired headmaster in a woolen suit of heaviest weave,
the diminutive communist in tartan kilt, tweed jacket cut at the waist,
plaid hose below his pipe-stem white leggys, a Balmoral bonnet on his top,
the twa poets we brought, after their splendid readings at LIU
in their glittering English and synthetic Scots, we brought them
to a colleague's apartment in Brooklyn Heights well-stocked with Scotch.
The twa poets were no strangers to us and Brooklyn, nor we to them,
their having been invited two years afore to the university's historic
International Writers Conference, at which they deplaned in a state
of ebulliently moderate drunkeness, which they made good effort
to maintain for the duration of the event and occasionally rose above
in moments of grandly uninhibited self-expression, MacDiarmid
with his poetry like the barrel of a gun, MacCaig's subtly aimed for the long haul
towards lucidity, winning every heart within earshot,
while I won theirs talking and toasting the singular achievements
of Gavin Douglas, William Dunbar, and Robert Henryson in detail.
So we brought them that day to Brooklyn Heights,
unaware of their invitation to dine in Suffern, NY,
at the home of NYU Professor M. L. Rosenthal,
commonly known—with his permission— as "Mack" to his friends,
who would have to miss their reading at LIU
but they would be able to arrive for dinner
with him and his wife at their Rockland County home
if they would leave immediately after the reading
following his instructions to get there by seven.
We brought them, unaware of this invitation,
and they came, unaware of the distance to Suffern,
to Brooklyn Heights for their post-reading party,
into which we all plunged with great pleasure.
Well into it, a free-form flyting broke out 'tween the twa poets
over some politico-poetical question or other,
the self-defined born atheist and pacifist MacCaig
defending himself against MacDiarmid's charge
that he was an utterly apolitical creature
with a counter-charge of utter confusion
of native traditions and Marxist doctrines,
to which MacDiarmid archly replied,
"Do you really think so, Mr. MacCaig?"
And MacCaig, for all in the room to hear,
"I do indeed, Mr. Grieve!
Do you all know Hugh MacDiarmid
is not his true name?
Tis' Christopher Murray Grieve,
and it's the Grieve part suits him well,
for that is what he especially does to us."
Suddenly, MacDiarmid stepped out of his flyting character,
"Norman, when were we supposed to be at MacRosenthal's?
You had best give him a ring." And as MacCaig left the room,
MacDiarmid continued unopposed, "Mr. MacCaig is daft,
don't you know, fine political quarrels beyond his ken,
though he writes like an angel about his quarrel with himself."
By now MacCaig, his eyes glaring out of his purple face,
burst into the room, "MacRosenthal is furious!" he announced,
"We were to have been in Soofurn by seven and now it's too late.
He gave you directions he said, something about
taking a soobway train to some other place where
we were to take another train that would bring us to Soofurn.
And now it's too late, and we will miss Mrs. MacRosenthal's wonderful dinner. Ah, MacRosenthal is furious!"
Hugh MacDiarmid took this in without a word
and stepped to the corner where his briefcase lay,
carefully removing a bottle of Macallans Single Malt Whiskey,
which had been intended, perhaps, as a dinner party gift
but was now destined for the poet to pour into everyone's glass
with precisely measured liberality, then proposed a solemn toast:
To which the company raised glasses and voices in unison,