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Home > Culture and Society

Things Can Only Get Verse

21 October 2005

Anyone who has ever spent any time in the Highlands of Scotland will know that it can be a very bleak and depressing place. All that stark, desolate landscape and soddening rolling mist. All that harsh, impenetrable heather and those roads of varying height. It should therefore come as no surprise that in recent years the suicide rate in the Highlands has been well above the national average. Thankfully, the arts organisation HI-Arts (the 'HI' stands for Highlands and Islands) has come up with the solution. And the solution is poetry.

At the moment the applicants for Scotland's Suicide Laureate have been whittled down to the last four. Once announced in the first week of November, the winning poet will then be paid 4000 for a maximum of six months' part-time poetry writing. As well as being recited at workshops and in schools, the finished work will also be disseminated amongst Scotland's maudlin masses on postcards in pubs, on posters on street walls and in newspapers and magazines. But mostly on postcards in pubs.

Co-ordinator of HI-Arts, Peter Urpeth, told the BBC, 'The poet who will work with us on this project will be an exceptional writer who can bring insight and, I hope, new understanding to this issue.' It is hoped that the poetry will help penetrate the shield of silence which surrounds the issues of depression and suicide amongst a generation of macho Scottish men who generally find it difficult to talk about their emotions. Certainly it would be something of a coup if poetry, something traditionally viewed as somewhat 'gay', were successful in unblocking these tongue-tied emotional sphincters.

Unsurprisingly, this particular suicide solution has its detractors. The Suicide Awareness Group for one. Although they are cited on HI-Arts' website as one of the scheme's supporters, a spokeswoman told the press that there is no doubt the issue could be tackled more efficiently. 'They'd be better giving the money to a charity,' she said, 'like us.' Also sceptical is Conservative MSP Mary Scanlon, who has been quoted in the press all week saying that the scheme is 'insensitive' and makes her feel 'very uncomfortable'. Unfortunately, when TFT phoned to ask her what her alternatives might be, she was too busy to come up with any. However, a spokesman for her office did tell us that Ms Scanlon 'hopes that [HI-Arts] will be seeking professional advice before they release the poetry'. We hope so too. Frankly speaking, giving depressed people suicide poetry which hasn't been checked out by healthcare professionals could be the equivalent of handing them a loaded gun. Or a copy of Suicide Solution by Ozzy Osbourne.

We'll leave you with the words of the doyen of Scottish poets, Robert Burns, and his pithy quatraine 'On A Suicide'. We imagine HI-Arts are after something perhaps a little more upbeat:

Earth'd up, here lies an imp o' hell,
Planted by Satan's dibble;
Poor silly wretch, he's damned himsel',
To save the Lord the trouble.


More to Aspire to.
More still.

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