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Stewart Conn (b.1936)

Poet and Dramatist

Stewart Conn was born in Glasgow but moved to Kilmarnock in 1942 when his father, the Revd Dr John Conn, was called to be minister of St Marnock's Church in the town. The family had Ayrshire roots, having relatives who farmed on Craigie Hill. He entered the Primary Department of Kilmarnock Academy and enrolled in the secondary school in 1948, leaving after S6 in 1954. His school record, still preserved in Kilmarnock Academy, shows that he followed an academic course, taking Highers in English, History, Latin, French and Biology. In his senior years he was involved in producing the school magazine, Goldberry.

After attending the University of Glasgow, he did National Service in the RAF. He then became a producer with BBC Radio and was appointed Senior Drama Producer for BBC Radio Scotland in 1977 where he was able to encourage many younger writers. He left the BBC in 1992.

For many years he has lived in Edinburgh.  And from 2002 to 2005 he was the capital's first official Makar, or poet laureate. Since his first poetry collection,
Thunder in the Air (1967), Conn has published a further ten collections. His early poems drew upon his Ayrshire experience, territory he returned to with In the Blood (1995). His latest collections are Stolen Light (1999), Ghosts at Cockcrow (2005) and The Loving-Cup (2007);  and (as editor) 100 Favourite Scottish Poems and 100 Favourite Scottish Love Poems. He is also a distinguished playwright, his most widely-acclaimed plays being The Burning, first performed in 1971, and Herman, first produced in 1981.

Douglas Dunn has written that Conn has an 'unnerving sense of the fragility of life' (Douglas Dunn, Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry). His early poems set in the countryside near Kilmarnock deal with the harsh realities of farming. In the Blood has several poems such as 'Castles' and 'School Motto', which deal with the period of his life when he was a pupil at Kilmarnock Academy:

Our infants mistress

Annie C. MacLarty FEIS

took us to her ample bosom

before handing us over

to Davy Gordon,

who ruled with a rod of iron.

In senior school

we were further matured

by two breakdowns and a suicide.

Later our French master

went into mourning, when

a colleague's son got only

a third at Aberdeen.

By then, we others had gone

our own way: unshriven,

but trying (some of us)

to do justly, love mercy,

and walk humbly.

From 'School Motto' In the Blood (1995) © Stewart Conn

Kilmarnock Academy, he makes it clear, is 'In the Blood'. Conn's humane vision and understated lyricism has established him as a significant contemporary Scottish voice.

  Stewart Conn                    Stolen Light                 Ghosts at Cockcrow            The Loving-cup 

        In The Blood                   Distances                    Ed. by Stewart Conn        Ed. by Stewart Conn 

Stewart Conn's books are available at Amazon