Glen Rosa, Arran: watercolour by my father.

About me

Lesley duncanHello. My name's Lesley Duncan. I’m a journalist and poetry editor who also writes poetry; and a Scot who relishes “that privileged dichotomy” of being also a North Briton.

The daughter of artists, I was brought up in Ayrshire's Burns country, and schooled at Marr College, Glasgow University, and the State University of Pennsylvania in the USA. I live in Stirling, focal point of Scotland’s wars of independence 700 years ago, and a present-day city rich in historic associations and handsome vistas.

My working career has been with The Herald, the Glasgow newspaper founded in 1783 (its first issue carried news of the ending of the American War of Independence). The paper has always had a strong tradition of publishing poetry. Indeed there are supposed to be anonymous contributions by Robert Burns in its early editions and no fewer than five of its editors also turned their hands to verse. All the major twentieth-century Scottish poets are represented in its archives.

I'm poetry editor of The Herald and for more than 15 years have had the pleasure of choosing the paper’s Poem of the Day. I see it as a small oasis for reflection, insight, and sometimes sheer entertainment, amid the often sombre contents of the surrounding news pages. It offers a mix of English and Scots classics, translations, and contemporary work. From time to time I contribute poems myself, often on contemporary themes.

Apart from some typical teenage effusions (one, I recall, was titled Decadence!) I really started writing poetry some 20 years ago, as a way of exploring my attitudes both to public events and personal concerns. The resulting poems, many of which first appeared in The Herald (some indeed commissioned by it), have now been collected in book form.

Images Not Icons, published by Kennedy and Boyd in association with The Herald, is available through book shops at £9.99. Click here to find out how to purchase.

A few sample poems from it can be read here.

Other publications include The Edinburgh Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry, a wide-ranging anthology, co-edited with Maurice Lindsay (Edinburgh University Press, 2005); The Wallace Muse, co-edited with Elspeth King (Luath Press, 2005), marking the 700th anniversary of the death of the Scottish patriot William Wallace; and a study of the watercolour artist James Miller, commissioned and published by the Royal Scottish Academy in 1990. Two Stirling-themed poetry pamphlets - A Towering Presence and A Subversive Verse History of the Later Stuarts - were published for charity in 2010.

PortraitsPictures of me

Coming from an artistic environment, I’ve had the privilege of being asked to sit for various artists. Three of these portraits are illustrated here.

When my mother painted this early portrait of me, I was stuck in a draughty oriel window facing north into the Firth of Clyde, shivering with cold and impatient. Hence the rather mutinous expression!




The Kilbarchan artist Robert Mulhern asked me in 2004 to sit for the middle portrait, which he called “Summer’s Lease.” He is fascinated by opera and ballet and sought in his large theatrical canvas to reflect my interests and preoccupations. Thus he included allusions to Arran, that compelling island of childhood memory, flowers and blackbirds, and images of my son, from toddler to teenager. (Detail)




The third, most recent, portrait is by Lys Hansen, the Blairlogie-based artist, whose powerful, challenging canvases treat such dark subjects as the Holocaust. She was one of the artists asked to create modern versions of the sixteenth-century Stirling Heads in the Renaissance palace within Stirling Castle. This is a watercolour version of the portrait in Stirling’s Smith Art Gallery and Museum.



To see ourselves as others see us remains a disconcerting experience! One would have to be very blasé indeed not to be self-conscious about viewing images of oneself. But perhaps the main moral is a cheering one – the infinitely varied view of the individual artist, a truth as true in paint as it is in poetry.

Images Not Icons

Images Not Icons coverImages Not Icons, published by Kennedy and Boyd in association with The Herald, is available through book shops at £9.99; through Amazon, Kennedy and Boyd or from Word Power Books, 43-45 West Nicolson Street, Edinburgh EH8 9DB – telephone 0131 662 9112 or e-mail

Latest poems

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