2007 - 2020

Tessa Ransford (1938-2015)

ransford, tessawe leave / and live / as leaves : for Tessa, our bonnie fechter, who left poetry with a greater home, a shared home. Liz, Angus, Tessa, the leaves are falling too early this year. – Alec Finlay

Another strong, clear-minded Scotswoman has left us. The Scottish Poetry Library Board and staff announced the sad news yesterday that Library founder, the Scottish poet Tessa Ransford, has died. Aged 77, Tessa was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, and died in a hospice, with members of her family at her side. Colin Waters from the Poetry Library has written the following;

“Tessa will be remembered for her absolute commitment to the art of poetry, shown not only in her own work but also as editor, translator and activist. She was the founding Director of the Scottish Poetry Library in 1984, which would not have been created without her vision and determination. She gathered a group of strong supporters, among them some of the most distinguished poets of the time, and devoted herself to the work of the Library, including the creation of a new building, designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects and opened in 1999. At the root of her thought was Patrick Geddes, whose words ‘pensando creamus’ (‘by thinking we create’) are featured in the Library, and whose motto ‘place, work, folk’ she often quoted. Robyn Marsack, current Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, said: ‘Tessa’s influence on Scottish poetry was not confined to the huge achievement of the establishment of the Library – she also created the climate in which poetry pamphlet publishing flourishes today, and through her international outlook and connections stimulated the exchange of poetry and poets between Scotland and several continents. Her energies never flagged, nor her love of poetry.’ She was an Honorary President of the Scottish Poetry Library, and fellow Honorary President Liz Lochhead, the Scots Makar, said: ‘Poets and lovers of poetry in Scotland will be very saddened to hear of the death of Tessa Ransford. A fine poet of great sensitivity herself, she was the prime mover behind the establishing of the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh – which dedicated library supports all kinds of poetry, serving poets, spoken-word artists, scholars of poetry, students, readers, and enthusiasts all over the world. Tessa was right. We need this and it will remain her lasting legacy, for which we are very grateful.’

Aonghas MacNeacail, also an SPL Honorary President, said:

‘That Scotland has a magnificent Poetry Library is entirely due to Tessa Ransford, herself a very fine poet. I was among a small group of poets and supporters approached by Tessa with her vision of such an institution: would we join her in planning for its realisation? From those very early days, I was aware that this was an unusual woman. She demonstrated a quiet, rigorous confidence and determination that what she desired could be achieved. She also had a knack for attracting people who combined interest in poetry with technical and administrative skills, so that the progress from idea through, initially, rented rooms (holding 300 books), to the custom-built building that now stocks over 40,000 items, remains her precious and enduring legacy.’

Donald Smith, Director of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland, writes:

‘Tessa Ransford was a visionary poet determined to turn creative vision into practical reality. She realised this not only in her founding leadership of the Scottish Poetry Library but in her impact on the role of women in the Scottish arts, and in her championing of a revived, outward looking Scottish identity. For Tessa principle was a passionate personal reality, so she ruffled many feathers, and sometimes gave no quarter in artistic dispute. Tessa was a dear friend, fellow worker and provocateur of mine for forty years, and I know that her spirit and influence will continue in many lives, including my own.’

For tributes by the poet and former colleague Ken Cockburn, Edinburgh Makar Christine De Luca and Director of Traditional Arts and Culture Scotland Donald Smith, see http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/connect/blog/tessa-ransford-1938-2015

For an account of her life and work, see http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/tessa-ransford

Comments (7)

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  1. Ray Burnett says:

    Sad news. As her close friends, associates and fellow poets have said, her contribution and role in the practice and promotion of Scottish poetry and literature was immense. But its significance and importance went well beyond that in so many ways, as time and history will surely tell.

    1. George Gunn says:

      There was simply nobody like Tessa. I knew her for over 30 years. She leaves a huge space in Scottish poetry and in civic Scotland. It seems impossible for someone like Tessa Ransford to be dead. But she is not dead. We have her poems. We have the Scottish Poetry Library.

  2. Paul Martin says:

    A sad day but what a legacy. Tessa was also an activist for Yes Edinburgh North and Leith, helping out at many of our street stalls. Will raise a glass to you tonight.

  3. Barry Graham says:

    When asked what she thought of the writers published in Rebel Inc., Tessa said our motives were “probably Oedipal!” Rest in Peace and Poetry.

  4. Anon says:

    Bad time to bring this up but I think she should have turned down the OBE not very radical. Benjamin Zephaniah did.

    Still RIP…

  5. Morag says:

    I only knew Tessa very slightly, through Justice for Megrahi of which she was a signatory. I found her a charming, intelligent and cultured lady. Sadly missed.

  6. Chris Harvie says:

    The campaign for the Poetry Library, which Tessa started with Billy Wolfe when the cause of autonomy was flat on the floor after 1 March 1979, took some of its inspiration from the Welsh recovery from an even worse defeat. When Gwynfor Evans talked of a Gandhi-style fast unto death to gain the promised and then withheld S4C Welsh TV channel someone mocked up the myth of two activists threatening to drink themselves to death in the Gaelic cause. Then with brilliant tact and diplomacy – never underestimate a chartered accountant-poet, allied to a nurse with a mission – we had within months this mind-expanding campaign running its own velvet revolution. ‘By leaves (broadly defined) we live’: Tessa picked up Patrick Geddes’ slogan (the right Gaelic word) and added to it her notion of a ‘force-field’. This sounded on the mystical side but in fact corresponded to a culture borne by a variety of media and embodied in artefacts from Ordnance Survey maps to bus timetables, which poetry could spring together in its imagination: like Raymond Williams’s ‘by measuring the distance, we come home.’ It travelled, amused and enthralled, as far off as Mitteleuropa. And now Tessa’s marvellous cadences, sense and worth – like those of Margo MacDonald, Eddie Morgan’s ‘Open the Doors’, or the speak of the Canongate Wa’ – are our Second Chamber.

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