Thursday, September 28, 2006

Letter to Robert Burns from William Creech, Publisher, 23 April 1788


In response to your keen and frosty letter, I feel the need to reiterate the terms of the Memorandum of Agreement, signed at Mackenzie’s: you were to receive 100 guineas in addition to the subscription money for the property of the poems. I have the poems you sent. I now await the poems I might actually be able to publish.

As you know, I am an admirer of much of your work: To a Mouse (On Turning Her up in her Nest with the Plough) is a fine poem, as, of course, is To a Louse (On Seeing One on a Lady’s Bonnet at Church), but these new ones... You may be in a bit of a rut, is all I’m saying.

Take To a Blouse (On Finding Said Claithing on the Half-Off Rack at Haggis Republic). The half-off rack is indeed a good place to save the odd bawbee, but “Sin’ your sporran’s but a purse / For ta’en orr’ duddies aught o’ house / An’ sin’ your kilt be but a skirt / Transvetie, why not buy a blouse?” is just silly, and insensitive to the culture of the highlander. You have your opinion on this and I have mine, and yes, I’ve read Deuteronomy 22:5, so don’t bring that up again. Also, in stanza four, your rhyme for “tartan” is inappropriate, as I’m sure you know.

Furthermore, look at To a Spouse (On Finding Oneself Married to Jean Armour for the First or Possibly the Second Time; Historians Disagree). Why you would want to bring this mess up again, especially after the Holy Willie Debacle, is beyond me; regardless, this is territory already well-trod with Of A’ The Airts The Wind Can Blaw not to mention Henpecked Husband -- I’m sure we can all agree that the drollery of the last line there: “I’d kiss her maids, and kick the perverse bitch” exceeds the new “’S a sma’ brattle; gie’ tho’ willie to’cher nae’ was s’ae grozit wi’fie.” In fact, I’ll be honest. I’m not even sure what that means.

Still, it scans well, unlike another submission, To a Gauss (On the Invention of the Theory of Congruences). While Carl Friedrich Gauss is no doubt a giant among mathematicians, and the value of his work in electromagnetism is not to be denied, he will not be born for another 150 years, I’m personally weirded out by the plan to deforest a giant triangle in the Siberian pine forest for the aliens to see, and if there is any poetry to be wrung from his life, “It wad frae monie daimen whid spean / Calculait mauth non-Euclidean” is probably not it.

Lastly, To a Kraus (On Viewing an Episode of “Benson” in which Some Humanity in the Acerbic German Housekeeper is Glimpsed) is simply dumbfounding. Although the early stanzas of the narrator being chased by Dobermans have promise, the following lines are forced and contrived, and the conclusion is mawkish. Your contention that she deserved her own spin-off, √† la the Polly Holliday vehicle Flo is frankly short-sighted and betrays a complete lack of understanding about the role of a supporting character. Also you reference Tracey Gold. It was Missy Gold, who played the Governor’s daughter (Tracey’s sister).

I feel confident if you put a little more thought into your work, we could have another winner on our hands. As it stands,

All best to Jean,

William Creech,

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