Book Festival: Alastair Reid

Edinburgh Festival review
Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Alastair Reid, Gavin Wallace (chair)
Running time

For over thirty years, Alastair Reid has deserved five stars.

Born in 1926
in Galloway, to parents who were a Church of Scotland minister and doctor
respectively, Reid graduated from the University of St Andrews after war
service in the navy. Deciding that a life at the beck and call of others was
not for him, he has lived in Spain, France, Switzerland, the United States, and
Central and South America, working as poet, translator and champion of South
American literature, staff writer and South American editor of The New

He has published extensively as a poet, translator and journalist,
and is widely regarded as a stylist of genuine depth and talent. Reid has been
rightly regarded for many years as the premier translator of Pablo Neruda and
Jorge Luis Borges.

His collection of prose and poetry, Oases (Canongate, 1997) includes an extended essay on both Neruda and Borges,
describing his friendship and work with Neruda: "Once, in Paris, while I was
explaining some liberty I had taken, he stopped me and put his hand on my
shoulder. 'Alastair, don't just translate my poems. I want you to improve
them.'" This bespeaks a trust and respect rare between author and translator, a
trust Reid has repaid by bringing these major writers to the attention of a
wider, appreciative public.

His own poetry is included in collections - Whereabouts (1987), Weathering (1978) and To Lighten My House (1953). On
the Blue Shore of Silence
(HarperCollins, 2004) is a selection of his
translations of Neruda's poems of the sea. Outside In and Inside Out, both
published this year, are collections of his prose and poetry respectively and represent
the parts of his own oeuvre he wishes to preserve. That the better part of a
writing life of over thirty years can be contained within two sets of covers is
no reflection on Reid's output or its quality.

Reid is a genuine craftsperson, working
and shaping his material over time, willing to acknowledge what is rejected not
as failure but as part and parcel of honing his craft and developing his own
understanding of it. Alastair Reid is that very rare and special individual,
living not merely by but with and in a sense through the work he produces. Less
celebrated or indeed recognised than he should be, Reid remains as inspiring as
he surely is inspired.

Time: Aug 25 at 20:30

Copyright Bill Dunlop August 2008