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The Nine of Diamonds by MacGillivray

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The Nine of Diamonds: Surroial Mordantless is a book in nine parts constructed to play the Butcher – the Duke of Cumberland – in a Gaelic interpretation of the ghost gamble. Given the command on the back of a nine of diamonds – the Curse of Scotland – that the Highlanders should all be slaughtered, the persecution of Jacobite sympathisers after the Battle of Culloden under the Butcher was one of the worst atrocities carried out on British soil.

Using a kaleidoscope, a deck of tarot cards and an 1895 Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, The Nine of Diamonds is influenced by French surrealism and opens with the Gaelic visionary practice of inducing visions behind a waterfall. Treating the Highlands as a Gaelic garden, the rebels on the run as herds of deer, and the preservation of Gaelic culture as a type of sugar-cured mummification, The Nine of Diamonds is set in a phantasmagoric landscape described in the Scots of Henryson and Dunbar but evoking Scots Gaelic concepts and motifs to mix Highland and Lowland experience with magical and occult terminology.

With the deer as a central image, MacGillivray’s poems draw from Nijinsky as gravity-defying faun, from Mallarmé, Duchamp and Breton. Written in the run up to the 2014 Scottish referendum, The Nine of Diamonds operates as a powerful wish-text. In this strange vision populated by badly-wired and furious neon unicorns, escorticati preparing their own bodies, Second World War MacLeod fighter pilots with talismanic photographs of the clan’s Fairy Flag in their uniform pockets, pole-dancing fauns, stained glass knights and rusty kaleidoscopes, the underlying message is clear: in playing the Butcher back, MacGillivray is still here.

'Occulted, fire-warped, close-stitched in freshly butchered skin, MacGillivray's keening rant is prophecy, hot and plain. A sequence of cards dealt in the wake of shamanic seizures that happen, and happen again, only because the poet insists on their ghostly witness. Here are songs of fierce tenderness and subtle cruelty. They sting in salt like a Highland curse. I relish every breath of the fall and crush.' – Iain Sinclair

'Luscious, generous and always terrifyingly wise, MacGillivray's unique poetic intelligence has crafted a work we have all been secretly waiting for. Its voice and the crystal breath between the words awakens histories and futures that are vividly permeable to our memory and longing. A twilight cartomancy born between open heath and midnight cave; sublime in rage, quick in beauty and hopelessly decade to love.' – B. Catling

The Nine of Diamonds is MacGillivray’s second book of poetry. Her first, The Last Wolf of Scotland, was published by Pighog in 2013.

‘MacGillivray is the adopted “Highland” name of Edinburgh-based poet and performance artist Kirsten Norrie. With the embalming skill of an agitated undertaker she reconnects a variety of associated visions and versions of same… there is a long postscript and copious notation yet I remain blissfully bewildered. “Blissful” because, “Vulturally speaking” like the author, I thoroughly enjoyed the excavation…’ – Hayden Murphy, Sunday Herald

Published by Bloodaxe Books on 20.10.2016

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