Born in Glasgow in 1936 he grew up in Kilmarnock and has for many years lived in Edinburgh. From 2002-2005 he was the capital's inaugural Makar. Awards from, among others, the EC Gregory Trust, the Scottish Arts Council, the Poetry Book Society and the Society of Authors. Stolen Light was short-listed for the Saltire Prize (2000), and The Breakfast Room was the 2011 Scottish Mortgage Investment Trust Poetry Book of the Year. In 2006 he received the inaugural Iain Crichton Smith award for services to literature. He is a fellow of the RSAMD and an honorary fellow of the ASLS.
About writer's work
An early strand of his poetry evokes, in an Ayrshire farm setting, familial figures inhabiting a now largely vanished world. Many characters in his subsequent poetry appear against either the changing cityscapes of Glasgow and Edinburgh, where he has spent the bulk of his adult life, or that of rural France. A constant is his fascination with and imaginative response to not just nature and landscape but paintings and music, often by way of exploring the enduring nature and redemptive power of love and art. Noticeable in his later work is an increasing concern with the interplay of the affections, in the face of the fragility and transience of our lives. These themes interweave throughout The Touch of Time: New & Selected Poems (Bloodaxe Books, 2014).
Websites featuring the authorWebsite | Poetry Archive
Besides a memoir entitled Distances: A Personal evocation of People and Places, he has edited two anthologies for Luath Press: 100 Scottish Poems and 100 Scottish Love Poems. He has read at Poetry and Literature Festivals here and abroad, while at the Edinburgh and Border Book Festivals, StAnza and elsewhere he and musician John Sampson have presented the sequence 'Roull of Corstorphin' (from Ghosts at Cockcrow) as The Lost Makar. His version of George Mackay Brown's novel Greenvoe was broadcast from the St Magnus Festival, with music by Alasdair Nicolson, for whom he provided the texts of Four Folk Tales, premiered at LSO St Luke's, in Covent Garden. In the past he served on the SAC's Literature and Drama Committees, chaired the former's book awards panel and was a judge for the McVitie Prize and the Pushkin Prizes; while more recently he was a co-judge, with Jen Hadfield, of the 2014 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award.