DeathWrites Blog

Andy Manders: What Else You Writing About Now Then?  |  17 May 2024

Andy Manders on the poet Tom Buchan, and writing landscapes of death and life.

Today’s not meant to be about death. If I came here (Findhorn) to write at all, it was about life - Tom Buchan’s, and perhaps my own, in the places that mattered to him. But having covered a fair bit of that ground over the weekend, Lewis thought I might like to see where his father died; and he’s right of course. So this is where we’ve come on the last day of my visit, cannily stepping a path through the plantation edge a mile or two from the Foundation, where the trees end and the dunes fall away to a beach breached by the remnants of war-time defence. It is both beautiful and distressingly bleak. My head is full with fears of invasion and intrusion and I want to be alone.        

Buchan (Tom? Your Dad?) was a fine poet, playwright, radical, academic, teacher, activist and more -  a man, or so it seemed to me the first time I came across one of his poems, ferociously on the side of a life both examined and lived. I wasn’t wrong about that, however much this place serves as a reminder of the limitations upon doing either.   

Having done all the things he did, Tom Buchan went and died, aged 64, in what the papers at the time called “mysterious circumstances” - just to the left, Lewis thinks, of the place we’re standing now. It doesn’t look very mysterious. A heather-clad rise scarfed by a mossy ditch and a scattering of self-seeded spruce. It makes you wonder all the more what there was when there’s no sign left. I can easily see myself, daundering up from the shattered pill-box below to sit - maybe lie just a while - sheltered by the trees, where it’s calm and no one will bother me (for weeks, as it happens).

When Lewis appeared at the cafe where we’d arranged to meet three nights ago, it could have been his father from the back-cover of his 2nd collection, POEMS 1969-1972, that swept loping around the corner: the same mop-back hair, ”turtle-necked warrior” as Michael Pedersen calls him in his poem Tom Buchan (1931-1995), his height carried by the suggestion of a swagger. So, not daundered: swaggered, to the shelter of the trees - and they might be pines, not spruce (I hope so) - for just a while. 

Tom Buchan. A man you don’t meet every day.

Lewis thought this photo (thanks to The Mitchell Library) may have been taken when his Dad stood in - delight all round apparently - for Sadie, the teacher at the school in Kinlochard, for a day or two. Kinlochard was Tom - and Lewis’ - home for a while, as it was Sadie’s, and as it is mine. 

As we make our way back to the car we talk about our fathers and their deaths and where their passings have left us. I want Lewis to feel something of the good it does me to talk like this, even if it feels like I’m hi-jacking his dad. 

I wanted to write, I tell him, about the ways in which place is imbued with the life that it’s hosted, and that’s true perhaps of the trail up to now, but this place leaves me cold. There is nothing useful for me here. We drive back to where he left his car, quiet for the first time in three days. 

What is there to say that doesn’t sound like it came from a TV detective drama?     

Death’s just the end. It’s the circumstance of life that’s the mystery.

Blairuskinmhor - Tom Buchan’s home in Kinlochard twice over.

50 word biogeography of Andy Manders: Aberfeldy Cottage Hospital  /  The Camserney Burn  /  Breadalbane Academy & the Birnam Oak  /  Edinburgh - Enlightenment  /  & the Eskhill & Bilston Glen Quaich Constituency   /   Scotland the Whit?  /   The Great Northern College of Learning, 163 King St. Aberdeen  /  Udny nil  /   Misty in Roots in Insch (Orkney fudge & Stirling work)   /   Kinlochard days’ nights when we’re a’ hame.

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