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Old Negatives (1989)
IN A COLD ROOM: 1952-57
time and place
split unit experiment
cries of unceilinged blood
BETWEEN WHILES: 1957-61
inside the box
under the water
lamenting Alan Fletcher
INGE SÆRENSEN: 1961-71
to Andrew, before one
to Alasdair Gray read the poem 'Wanting'. (Real Player file: 25 secs)
Listen to Alasdair Gray read the poems 'Lyrical' and 'End'. (Real Player file: 49 secs)
Old Negatives collects Gray's poetry written from his late teens to the publication of Unlikely Stories, Mostly. Despite this, they still manage to create a narrative of a kind: the development of a consistent character from hardened, brusque and bitter youth, to the blissful acceptance gained by experience and age. The main themes are love (usually the lack of it) and parenthood. Like his fiction, the poems combine experimentation with form alongside an acceptance of what a poem should be. The final poem, 'End', is written in colour, fading the book out to a peaceful fate.
500 hardback copies were issued, numbered, dated and signed by the author. The boards are embossed front and back in silver with an image that proclaims 'Amy Fleming 1902-1952' (a tribute to Gray's mother).
The front flap says that: 'Alasdair Gray's fiction is about modern states of love, faith, language and politics. The verses in Old Negatives deal with the same things, omitting politics. They have been written at different times since 1952 and are arranged chronologically to suggest growth. They are negative because they describe love mainly by its absences and reverses.' Within the book, the title page to each sequence of verses is illustrated, as are the main title and contents pages. An erratum sheet was issued with most copies, dated 13 February 1989, reproducing the author's handwriting and listing a series of errors which he asks "the reader to correct for him", including asking the reader to ignore the poem 'awaiting'.
Published simultaneously with the hardback edition, 1,000 paperback copies were printed. The text inside matches that of the hardback, but a different cover is used. Instead of the majestic winged nudes, Gray makes use of the cherubs-in-skulls motif that has become his mark. The motif is repeated around the edge of the cover, alternating between black-on-white and white-on-black.
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Hardback also available.