This collection is steeped in knowledge about the dual history of slave traders and radical abolitionists in Scotland, the biography of Burns and his life and work and, finally, the history of Jamaica, the country McCallum herself is from, and its manifold links to Scotland, connected by the bloody traces, maps and routes of the slave trade. McCallum skilfully incorporates this freight of knowledge. The collection is rigorous and curious about the poet’s ‘obsessions and vexations, including with Romantic poetry and the Enlightenment’s ideals and occlusions; with absent fathers, mothers, and countries; with migration, exile, and memory.’ The collection, in part, derives its richness from the complex relationship the poet has with Burns. She cannot simply condemn his prevarication and lack of solidarity with enslaved people. Neither can she protect him from judgement and blame.
This remarkable imagined history sustains its fragmentary elements, pieces of the same whole in an artful and suspenseful equilibrium.