It was particularly significant that the people of
Scotland had voted a poet, Robert Burns, as the greatest
Scotsman who ever lived, Dunedin poet David Howard says.
Mr Howard, who is the Robert Burns Fellow at the University
of Otago this year, said that in many other countries other
kinds of people, such as members of a royal family, could
usually be expected to win such a poll.
Strongly backing a poet, as in the Scottish newspaper poll,
could have happened in almost no other country, except,
perhaps, in Russia.
He gave a public talk at the Dunedin Public Library on Friday
at an event billed as a celebration of the Burns Fellowship,
and of Burns' 254th birthday. Mr Howard outlined to more than
50 people his ''hopes'' and literary plans for the year
ahead, and helped award prizes to poets who had participated
in the latest annual Robert Burns Poetry Competition.
He was born in 1959, the year novelist Ian Cross had become
Otago's first Burns Fellow. That year also marked the 200th
anniversary of the birth of Burns, on January 25, 1759.
He was well aware he was following some ''terrifyingly
impressive'' previous fellows, including Janet Frame, James
K. Baxter and Maurice Gee.
He planned to work on a long poem involving a plot drawn from
an opera, and involving a woman and a Chinese man. Another
project was inspired by the time which 19th century Scottish
novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson had spent in Samoa.
Mr Howard enjoyed working on long poems, which required
skills different from those needed to write a lyric poem.
''You can't sing for 30 pages.''
In longer works, more focus on structure and character was