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Riach, Alan (Scott)

RIACH, Alan (Scott)

Nationality: Scottish. Born: Airdrie, Lanarkshire, Scotland, 1 August 1957. Education: University of Caen, International Language Certificate, 1977; Churchill College, Cambridge, B.A. in English 1979, M.A. in English 1985; University of Glasgow, Ph.D. in Scottish Literature 1985. Family: Married Raewyn Maree Garton in 1992; one son. Career: Course director and creative writing teacher, Workers Education Association, Glasgow, 1979–80; course director and English teacher, Foreign Language Study Program, Kent, England, 1981–83; creative writing teacher, Community Education, Lanarkshire, 1982; private tutor in English literature, Lanarkshire, 1982–83. Tutor, 1986–89, senior tutor, 1990, and since 1990 lecturer, advanced lecturer, then senior lecturer in English, University of Waikato, School of Humanities, Hamilton, New Zealand. Since 1987 scriptwriter for Radio New Zealand. Awards: Research grant, Department of Education and Sciences, U.K. State Studentship, 1979–82; University Grants Committee fellowship New Zealand, 1986–87, 1988–90; visitor to the United States as guest of American Embassy International Visitor Programme of USIA, 1993; International Visiting fellow, Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities, University of Edinburgh, 1995. Address: c/o English Department, University of Waikato, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton, New Zealand.



For What It Is, with Peter McCarey. Wellington, Untold Books, 1988.

This Folding Map. Auckland, Auckland University Press, 1990.

An Open Return. Wellington, Untold Books, 1991.

First and Last Songs. Auckland, Auckland University Press, and Edinburgh, Chapman, 1995.

Recordings: Fixing the Focus: The Poetry of Alan Riach, New Zealand Radio, 1992; In Verse: Alan Riach—Poems, Scottish Television, 1988.


Hugh MacDiarmid's Epic Poetry. Edinburgh, Edinburgh University Press, 1991.

Editor, with Mark Williams, The Radical Imagination: Lectures and Talks by Wilson Harris. Liege, Belgium, University of Liege, 1992.

Editor, with Michael Grieve, Selected Poetry of Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcanet, 1992; New York, New Directions, 1993.

Editor, Selected Prose of Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcanet, 1992.

Editor, Scottish Eccentrics. Manchester, Carcanet, 1993.

Editor, with Michael Grieve and W. R. Aitken, Hugh MacDiarmid: Complete Poems Volume I. Manchester, Carcanet, 1993.

Editor, with Michael Grieve and W. R. Aitken, Hugh MacDiarmid: Complete Poems Volume II. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994.

Editor, Lucky Poet: The Autobiography of Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994.

Editor, Contemporary Scottish Studies, by Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcanet, 1995.

Editor, Albyn: Shorter Books and Monographs, by Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcanet, 1996.

Editor, with Angus Calder and Glen Murray, The Raucle Tongue: Hitherto Uncollected Prose. I, 1911–1926, by Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcnaet, 1996.

Editor, with Angus Calder and Glen Murray, The Raucle Tongue: Hitherto Uncollected Prose. II, 1927–1936, by Hugh MacDiarmid . Manchester, Carcanet, 1997.

Editor, with Angus Calder and Glen Murray, The Raucle Tongue: Hitherto Uncollected Prose. III, 1937–1978, by Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcanet, 1998.

Editor, with Roderick Watson, Annals of the Five Senses and Other Stories, Sketches and Plays, by Hugh MacDiarmid. Manchester, Carcanet, 1999.


Theatrical Activities: Actor: Plays— Douglas in Henry IV Part 1 by Shakespeare, Cambridge, England, 1977; Malvolio in Twelfth Night by Shakespeare, Hamilton, New Zealand, 1991; King's Officer in Tartuffe by Molière, Hamilton, New Zealand, 1992.

Critical Studies: "'This Folding Map,' Alan Riach" by Edwin Morgan, in Landfall, 45(3), September 1991; "Alan Riach, Hugh MacDiarmid's Epic Poetry" by Roderick Watson, in Modern Language Review, 88, October 1993.

*  *  *

The poetry of the Scottish-born, New Zealand-based writer Alan Riach represents another variation on the theme of expatriate writing. The title of his collection This Folding Map (1990) collapses its words one under another to remind us how a folding map collapses parts of the world it represents on top of other parts. This strategy for connecting the author's "here" and "there" seems reinforced by epigraphs quoting Wilson Harris and M.P. MacDiarmid that promise exploration of displacement and translation and by the opening of "They dream only of Scotland":

The dreams they dream are only of
Scotland to be looking for it through
hundreds of islands and millions
of acres of gorse...

But when Riach opens his map further, it becomes increasingly obvious that Scotland's and New Zealand's gorse problems provide one of only a few points of connection between the two countries. Beyond the connection made between the two countries' cities of Hamilton in "The Miners" and "The Blues," there is little else to define him as other than a writer concerned primarily with his native country.

The titles of the four sections of This Folding Map promise a concern with the locations of sites, but the poems tend to suffer from a lack of specificity. The majority refer to the Northern Hemisphere and Scotland, or they are in a curious and ironical way mapless in that they have no clear, informing locale. "North" is representative of the former:

—Scotland if surrounded on all sides with sea,
Except one, to which it bears
A proximity much like a candle
Burning brightly in the black eye-socket
Of a tremendous skull.

The intensity of this focus on Riach's birthplace is nearer the colonial sensibility than the postcolonial, and it is countered by a number of poems in which there is no clear sense of place at all. "Landscape I," for example, gives sharp images of frozen water and "wizened tree" without evoking particularity, and the poem dissipates its forms before wrenching back to the image of a rabbit in a manner that seems to reflect a fear of unknown spaces. The need to focus on known detail rather than the unknown generality of landscape is a mark of colonial poetry (for example, in the early Australian poets Charles Harpur and Henry Kendall). The poem "I don't know what you're saying, she said" conveys this sense of deracination, as its title suggests, in the querulous voice of a woman: many things you hear you don't begin
to understand what they mean why they're said
where they come from what they do...

Many of the poems in The Folding Map address problems of attachment and authenticity by forms of translation and intertextuality. The volume evokes a variety of other writers: the Gawain poet, Trelawny, Cervantes, Charles Olson, John Ashbery, and Paul Blackburn. In the case of the latter two poets evocation becomes almost an acknowledgment of plagiarism. For example, Ashbery's poem "They dream only of America" becomes in Riach's hands "They dream only of Scotland," the poem urbanized sufficiently to point up both similarity and difference in a way that reminds us that Riach's map folds east to west as well as north to south.

—Anna Smith

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