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Margaret Tait

(11 November 1918 -16 April 1999)

Margaret Tait is perhaps better known as a filmmaker than as a poet.  Tait was born in Kirkwall, Orkney in 1918. At the age of 8-years-old, she was sent to Edinburgh to be educated. She studied medicine at Edinburgh University, graduating in 1941. Her scientific background would later work its way into her poetry (‘The Unbreakable-Up’, ‘Carbon’). In 1943, Tait joined the Royal Army Medical Corps and served in India, Sri Lanka and Malaya.  On coming back to Britain in 1946, she returned to her civilian life as a physician. She came to view her work as a doctor not as an end in itself but as a way of financing her art. In 1950, she enrolled at the University for Foreigners at Perugia in order to learn Italian. She remained in Italy for the next two years, now studying filmmaking at the Centro Sperimentale di Photographia in Rome.  Returning to Britain in 1952, Tait began a peripatetic lifestyle, shuttling between locum positions around the UK as she accumulated funds to produce short films. Frequently, she slept in her car.  By 1954, Tait was living once more in Edinburgh, where she rented a studio on Rose Street. She grew friendly with the ‘Rose Street poets’ (particularly MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Sydney Goodsir Smith, and Tom Scott), although she largely absented herself from the pub-orientated and largely masculine scene these poets thrived within.


Tait, instead, organised her ‘Rose Street Film Festival’, which was held in her studio, where she showed her own work. Despite two retrospectives at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, in 1970 and 2004, Tait’s films have always been more appreciated abroad, where critics place her in the same tradition as experimentalists like Stan Brakhage and Maya Deren.  Tait died in 1999, in Kirkwall. She had returned to Orkney in the late 1960s and stayed there. In her lifetime she published only three collections, the second and third, Subjects and Sequences and The Hen and the Bees, both following in 1960, the year after origins and elements. Margaret Tait's work was shown by Richard Demarco in 1971, 1977 and 1988.  She was also part of Edinburgh Arts 73.  An exhibition of Margaret Tait's poems and films was shown at the Demarco Archive in 2018.

[Text taken from Scottish Poetry Library website]

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