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Margaret Tait by Ali Smith
Ali Smith
Margaret Tait
"I dream of poems like the breadknife that cuts three slices at once," MacDiarmid says here.

Here's an extraordinary thing, a portrait that is a meld of voice and image, each illuminating the other in a way that, for all its artifice, is a new kind of nature. Hugh MacDiarmid, the lion of Scottish poetry, the granite seriousness of the stature of the man, is what you'd expect of a portrait. Here MacDiarmid walks like a child along the kerb of an Edinburgh New Town pavement, walks along the ridge of wall outside a dour Edinburgh church.

Tait films him on the very very edge of things, and alively so, mischievous and unexpected, edging his way down steps towards the sea, there at the border between the different elements themselves. Never mind the detail of his house at the beginning, or the detail of MacDiarmid in the pub - unique chances in which to see him, actually witness the usually stony-looking ridges in his hair, the deep-edged lines round his eyes.

Never mind the aliveness of the poems in the voice-over, the caught aliveness of the city and the time. This is a film that so enlivens the notion of portrait that, for anyone who sees it, MacDiarmid, the lion of Scottish poetry, gives his surprising charming little self-shrug of a laugh at the end of this short masterpiece, will never actually die.

Still from Hugh MacDiarmid - A Portrait
by Margaret Tait, 1964
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