Below is a note from Marc Lambert of Scottish Book Trust about the unexpected passing of Alex Cluness.
Alex was from a notable Shetland family and one of the instigators of Word Play, Shetland’s literary festival. He was a good poet himself, and did a lot of work – first in Shetland, then elsewhere – in supporting and developing new writers.
He was an excellent person – funny, modest, and kind. His company was always a life-affirming pleasure. He was very kind and supportive to me as a newbie at SBT. Later I returned the favour in helping (in a very minor way) him and his colleague Tracy set up Literature Works, which enables and nurtures literature development activity in South West England.
Alex’s family wanted as many of his former colleagues and friends to know as possible. They will keep in touch with me regarding funeral arrangements etc, which I will pass on.
This is very, very sad. We have lost a talented poet and a great friend.
Below is an appreciation by poet Kevin MacNeil, “Writers Who Deserve to be Better Known”, from Scottish Review of Books, 2011.
Neglected writers are like Shetland on a wider map – marginalised and boxed away like an afterthought when recognised at all. It is to Shetland I turn your attention, and a contemporary writer who is a one of the UK’s best and most original poets. In Shetland literary circles Alex Cluness is quietly revered; elsewhere he is quietly ignored. He is a typical islander in that he devotes his energies to promoting the work of others – as Shetland’s literary development officer, then while working in literary promotion in South West England, now as a visionary leader at Uist’s Taigh Chearsabhaigh. Cluness’s poetic output is eclectic, impassioned and wide-ranging, encompassing Shetland and Other Poems, Disguise, 2005, and Mend. 2005 is an intense, cinematic, rain-soaked collection, a paean to Wong Kar-wai. The astonishing lines in the poems of Mend are so long the book had to be published in letterbox format. Disclaimer: Alex’s work is also included in a recent anthology I edited, These Islands, We Sing. My primary intentions in editing this book were to emphasise how disproportionately high is the quality of poetry from the Scottish isles and also to give greater prominence to writers such as Cluness. I have read his work at quite a few events promoting the anthology and it always elicits a physical response, a gasp. Cluness’s poetry is epic, intimate, elemental, complex and beautiful.
James Robertson published Alex under the Kettillonia imprint and below is what he had to say about Alex’s collection, followed by one of the poems from that pamphlet, Disguise:
“This collection by Shetland-based poet Alex Cluness is deceptive in more ways than one. Apparently simple, the poems lure you into the minds of eighteen different men filled with the hopes and despairs of being in love. Funny and poignant, they suggest that the porn star and the minister, the zen master and the boxer, the astronaut and the alcoholic have at least this much in common: that love can be the loneliest emotion in the universe.”
Given over to love
Began a carving
When the days rolled less:
To bless this Madonna
And baby saviour
He kissed the finished piece
As the North Sea
Squeezed the concertina
Of their fragile red boat
He said to himself
Is more important to me
Than I can ever know
I must just trust to God
That she is safe
The ocean formed a landslide
And at a wild angle
The call came to haul the nets