Posted by: scottishwriters | October 5, 2017

History as Poetry: A Burrell Tapestry and A Marion Burrell Sampler by Sally Evans

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‘All poetry is historical as it comes from the world.’
Sally Evans

At the beginning of August, Sally Evans came to the Scottish Writers Centre to discuss her latest poetry collection, which takes a look at the lives of Glasgow’s Burrell family. Her collection of poems is split into two halves, beginning with the Burrell’s migration from Northumbria to the west coast of Scotland. From there, it details the creation of the Burrell shipping industry in Glasgow during the 1800s, and then focuses on the life of William Burrell. Burrell, who became an avid art collector, is now best known for the Burrell art collection that he donated to the city of Glasgow. However, while the first half of the collection explores the life of the famous Burrell, Evans takes a different route in the latter half as she concentrates on the little explored life of William’s estranged daughter, Marion.

At the core of this collection are the father and daughter characters of William and Marion Burrell. Many of the poems concerning these two characters are written from their point of view, as Sally stated, ‘If you write about people it gives you the options to write from view points’. In her talk Sally discussed how William and his daughter represented two very different points of view; William offered an upper class, Victorian male view of the world and Sally described Marion as someone who ‘reflects the twentieth century woman so well’. However, they are, as Sally described, also reflections of each other, an image which is also evident in Sally’s choice of cover art, two images of Kelly Castle, which belonged to the Burrell family architect Robert Lorimer, the physical castle and its reflection in the pond. Sally explores this idea particularly in the poems Silvia: Last Chance, at a Funeral and Thorns, in the former she writes ‘And they were like two green peas/ but they will never know peace’ and in the latter ‘She mirrored his life/ in her travels, her acts/ of wide friendship’, and finally sums up their relationship as ‘Two implacable thorns/ in one another’s flesh’.

The history of the family is fleshed out further by some poems being from the view point of people who could be considered as side characters in the Burrell family history, such as Bill Wells, the man who organised what happened to Burrell’s art collection after his death, Mrs Anne Maxwell McDonald, who offered her family estate as the place to house the collection, Constance Burrell, the wife of William and mother of Marion and even Sally herself becomes a side character, writing a poem from her own point of view, Crossroads, Edinburgh, which details a close encounter with an elderly Marion.

The word choice of ‘tapestry’ is used in the title and throughout the collection of poems, and as you read the collection you begin to understand that that is what it is: a tapestry. Tapestries can tell a story, usually a historical one, be it a single image or a family crest, and this is what Sally has done; she has taken the historical facts, the different view points, the characters, the relationships, the poetry and has interwoven all these elements to create the Burrell family tapestry.

Words by Maeve O’Brien
Images by Clare Patterson

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