You can’t get away from the river, they say of Dundee, and for good reason.
Centuries of commerce, culture and tumultuous change have washed over the city, much of it with the Tay as its source.
Even after an exciting period in which the city vied – in vain – to be UK City of Culture 2017, the river and its people are being seen in a new light from inside and out.
And two of the city’s foremost writers have promised there is much more to its literary traditions than most realise.
When Andy Jackson and Bill Herbert, now the city’s Makar or official poet, met in 2011 they expressed a frustration that history often acknowledges a single, hulking member of Dundee’s literary family.
Andy said: “The name of William McGonagall often seems to appear at the top of the list of Dundee’s cultural contribution, particularly in poetry.
“But it’s been home to a disproportionate number of world-class writers, all of whom have written about the city – and in contemporary terms, we have some of the biggest names in British poetry from here – living here in some cases.
“Some people have been ‘disappeared’ from history and we’re addressing that in a new anthology of Dundee poetry past and present entitled Whaleback City: the poetry of Dundee and its hinterland.”
The last book produced by the long-lived Dundee University Press before it disbanded, Whaleback City was recently launched at the Dundee Literary Festival.
Bill said: “Whaleback City is one of those seemingly inevitable books: if you have a lot of writers associated with a place – and Dundee has a lot – sooner or later someone is going to gather them together.
“Of course, that doesn’t mean it’ll happen sooner rather than later, but the City of Culture bid focused our minds and our calendars wonderfully.”
Two years in the making, Andy said Whaleback City has been caught up in the excitement during the City of Culture bid.
And he added there is no better time to re-evaluate “where the city is now and where it is going.”
“What the whole bid process has done is got people to think about what culture means,” said Andy.
“City of Culture was about the potential as well as the actual, and whatever happens in the next few years as part of the process, poetry will be there as part of that.
“And because of the bid and the publicity it’s generated, perhaps it might get people thinking about culture in their home town.”
Whaleback’s subjects range from the Tay and its bridges, the Jute industry, Liz McColgan, the People’s Friend, Dens Road Market, Bonnie Dundee, NCR and a hundred other things unique to the city and its surroundings.
It is divided into five sections reflecting aspects of the city – the Tay, the times, the town, the types and the temper.
The cultured and the commonplace, and everything in between, make an appearance.
“What a haul,” Bill adds. “Armstrong, Burnside, Crawford, Dunn, Holton, MacDonald, Paterson, Robb, Warner, Young Geddes – you could make an alphabet out of them! Instead, we made an anthology.”
Whaleback City is available now from all good booksellers and via the Dundee University Press website at www.dundee.ac.uk/dup/books/misc/whalebackcity/.