'Misogyny' of Robert Burns tackled by female Scottish poets in new work exploring bard's treatment of women

A group of Scotland’s leading female poets have revealed new work tackling the treatment of women by Robert Burns – and spoken out about his “misogyny and abuse”.

Tuesday, 25th January 2022, 8:49 am

Janette Ayachi, Victoria McNulty, Susi Briggs and Morag Anderson, who have called themselves The Trysting Thorns, were commissioned by the Scottish Poetry Library for a special project in the run-up to Burns Night.

Their responses to the annual celebration of the bard and his legacy in modern-day Scotland were filmed at the Edinburgh-based library and posted on YouTube.

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Among the women who inspired Burns’s writing who have now been honoured by The Trysting Thorns were Jean Armour, Agnes Wilson, Agnes MacIlhose, Mary Campbell, Tibbie Dunbar and Muirland Meg.

The library has described the resulting work as "a much needed and timely rebalance to the celebration and mythology surrounding Robert Burns”.

Briggs said: “The more I delved into the works of Robert Burns, the more my life-long perception of him became challenged. There is a deep incongruence between his poem The Rights of Woman and the other poems he wrote that I felt compelled to creatively react to.

“The women are depicted as too promiscuous or too prudish or too proud. Many would argue that these attitudes are of their time, but the reality is, it is not.

"Here we are in the 21st century and women are still experiencing misogynistic responses from some men who feel they are entitled to their affections."

Anderson said: “I struggle to understand the ongoing appetite for Robert Burns – he is more myth than man. I have had many conversations about Burns with friends and strangers since being commissioned to write about him and, almost without fail, he is regarded as a cheeky chappy who liked the ladies.

"These conversations revealed the superficial nature of our relationship with Burns. I would like Scotland to remove the tartan blinkers and take an honest look at Robert Burns, celebrate that which is worthy of celebration, but attend to the misogyny and abuse which is rife throughout his work.”

McNulty said: “There are aspects of Burns's life and his personal behaviours that I'm uncomfortable celebrating and equally uncomfortable brushing under the carpet. We should take lessons from his mistakes.”

Poet Janette Ayachi is one of The Trysting Thorns.

Ayachi said: “I love the fact that Scotland is the only country in the world that annually holds a holiday to pay homage to a poet, a festivity that also carries to other continents. I wish that never, ever ceases to circle.

"But maybe it’s time for another poet to take the throne, someone equally as talented; as genius, as revolutionary, as vocal and as passionate.

“Despite Burns’s themes being universal, and his roots historical, with each generation there are upgrades and change to way we think outside of societal norms.

"The thing about popular culture is that it tends to the majority. The sheer number makes it mainstream, but the minority thinkers that swim the side streams should be allowed to colour in and showcase their ideals too.”

Poet Victoria McNulty is one of The Trysting Thorns.
Poet Morag Anderson is one of The Trysting Thorns.
Susi Briggs is one of The Trysting Thorns.
Victoria McNulty, Susi Briggs, Janette Ayachi and Morag Anderson - aka The Trysting Thorns - were commissioned to write new poems reflecting on the legacy of Robert Burns and why he is celebrated.
Poet Morag Anderson is one of The Trysting Thorns who have created new work responding to the legacy and celebration of Robert Burns.
Poet Susie Briggs is one of The Trysting Thorns.
Janette Ayachi is one of The Trysting Thorns.
Poet Victoria McNulty is one of The Trysting Thorns.