Literary world mourns Poetry Library founder

Tessa Ransford at the Scottish Poetry Library. Picture: Jon Savage
Tessa Ransford at the Scottish Poetry Library. Picture: Jon Savage
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Scots Makar Liz Lochhead has led the tributes to Scottish Poetry Library founder Tessa Ransford, who died yesterday.

Ms Ransford, who was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year, passed away at the age of 77 surrounded by relatives.

She founded the library in 1984, and colleagues insisted it would not have been created without her “vision and determination”.

With a group of supporters, she devoted herself to the work of the library, including the creation of a new building in Holyrood, designed by Malcolm Fraser Architects and opened in 1999.

Ms Lochhead 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.

“Tessa was right – we need this and it will remain her lasting legacy, for which we are very grateful.”

Ms Ransford was born in Mumbai on July 8, 1938, but the family moved back to Britain in 1944, and to Scotland in 1948.

She was sent to board at St Leonard’s School in St Andrews, where she spent unhappy years but found consolation in reading and writing poetry.

She attended Edinburgh University, where the German poetry she studied proved influential.

Ms Ransford was a Fellow of the Royal Literary Fund, working between 2001 and 2008 at the Centre for Human Ecology and at Queen Margaret University. She was president of the Scottish Centre of International PEN from 2003 to the end of 2006.

Robyn Marsack, director of the Scottish Poetry Library, added: “Tessa’s influence on Scottish poetry was not confined to 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.”

Aonghas MacNeacail, also an honorary president, said: “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, described her as a “visionary poet” determined to turn creative vision into practical reality.

He added: “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.”