Friday, 28 April 2017

The Exiles by Iain Crichton Smith

The Exiles by Iain Crichton Smith
First published by Carcanet Press and Raven Arts in England and Ireland respectively in 1984.

I registered my copy of this book at BookCrossing

Where to buy this book:
Buy from independent booksellers via Alibris
Buy the paperback from

How I got this book:
Swapped for at the Visto Lounge book exchange in Torquay

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Twenty years ago, Iain Crichton Smith said of his work on a BBC programme: 'I have always believed in a poetry which contains fighting tensions and not in a poetry of statement.' This remains the case with his most recent work. The tensions are constant: between English and Gaelic, between mind and body, between his native Lewis and the Highlands where he spent many years, between expectation and reality. He is not a 'nature poet', perhaps - as he himself suggests - 'because I was brought up in close hard contact with it.' The focus is on people, his primary subject.
The Exiles is his first Carcanet collection. The title defines his primary theme, one that obsesses him as it does many others; and though the occasion for many of these poems is exile from a particular place and a particular community, the theme is universal in application and resonance. Here there is imposed and elected exile, with the losses entailed both to the land and to the individual. Another aspect of the theme is 'inner exile', the man who through his vocation or expectations is exiled from his community even as he lives in it.

In a time of great uncertainty and debate about immigration to the UK I am pleased to have found this slim poetry volume examining the emotional issue from the points of view of Scots exiled overseas. Crichton Smith's poems recount and imagine the experiences of elderly men who will never return home, women whose children are far away, and people meeting again after decades apart. The collection depicts sorrow and longing, sometimes almost overwhelmingly so, and I found the tiniest details to be the most poignant. One poem describes a return to a village that has changed almost beyond recognition; in another a man talks of the loneliness of always being the foreigner no matter how long one might have lived in one's adopted home. The forty poems in The Exiles are beautiful and powerful while also being, mostly, easily accessible. Written over thirty years ago, they are a reminder of the timelessness of memories and the universal human experience of longing for home.

Search Lit Flits for more:
Books by Iain Crichton Smith / Poetry / Books from Scotland


  1. Now this sounds like something I would want to read! Immigration is such a pressing issue and I feel like there can be a lot more discussed about it and the emotions to get people onto the same level. Seeing that done in this novel gives me hope.

    1. It's powerful writing and worthy of a reprint I think