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I feel very iffy about reviewing this anthology, because I have some poems in it. But it seems to me to have a far more interesting organising principle than your average anthology of "poets under 30" or "women poets", who don't necessarily have a damn thing in common. This is an anthology of poets who came from, or live on, Scottish islands (not just visitors on holiday) and as the thoughtful intro makes clear, this liminality does give their writing traits in common. "The islander's sense of being removed from the heart of things relates, I think, to the writer's sense of being an observer as much as a participant". This is true, though it should not be taken to mean that island poets are unaware of what is going on at the heart of things, just that they can view it with a certain amount of detachment. Jim Mainland's scorching, careering satire "Prestidigitator", which I've blogged about before here, is as committed a modern political poem as you'll find:

Watch this, watch my hands, look in my eyes:
this is viral, this is fiending, this is Celebrity Smash Your Face In,
I'm spooling tissue from an ear, I'm sawing her in half, no, really,
I'm vanishing your dosh, I'm giving it makeover, giving it bonus,
palming it, see, nothing in the box, check out
your divorce hell text tease sex tape, whoops,

but the same writer, in "The Gunnister Man", is acutely conscious of the massive timeline, reaching back centuries, on which he is a point and which connects him to everyone else who has ever lived there. Those who live in small communities are more apt, I think, to have this sense of connectedness to the past; it appears in the poems by which George Mackay Brown and Sorley MacLean are represented here (MacLean's "Hallaig", in both the Gaelic original and the English translation, being a bright particular star).

It is in fact thought-provoking to consider the roll of famous names who fit this anthology's criteria: MacLean, Brown, Crichton Smith, Edwin Muir, MacDiarmuid, and in more contemporary times the recent T S Eliot winner Jen Hadfield. But there are many others less well known, like Jim Mainland, Laureen Johnson, William J ("Billy") Tait, Laurence Graham, who deserve to be more widely read than they are and who should come as a salty surprise to those who maybe picked up the anthology for other reasons but happen on something like James Andrew Sinclair's "Immigrant":

Fill my pockets with lochs
the wind will fit snug in my wallet.
I will weave a scarf of mackerel, haddock and trout
the good fit of sheep on my feet.
My jacket, knitted peat and heather
with a bottle of good humour for the journey.
Planks of fishing boat bound tight as a belt
the sails making dandy trousers.
My back-pack holds the entire ocean
and last but certainly not least
I will wear the sky beneath my hat.


These Islands, We Sing: An Anthology of Scottish Island Poetry is published by Polygon.
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
- specially for [livejournal.com profile] vjezkova, here's the Statsraad Lehmkuhl, three-master, of Bergen, visiting Lerwick for the first time this year.


sheenaghpugh: (Sydney Smith)
The first thing to say is that when I'd finished this book, I knew for certain I would read it again. This is important, because I've been fearfully disappointed in my novel-reading over the last few years; if I had a quid for every well-reviewed contemporary novel I've read once and know I shall never re-read… Usually it's because they just don't seem to be about anything fundamental enough, and they don't do enough to me; you don't get that wrung-out feeling of having been through something momentous that you get after reading, say, Adam Bede or Kim. There are a few exceptions, and this is one of them; it is definitely a re-reader, partly for all the right reasons and partly because I'm by no means sure I understand it all yet.
more behind cut )

sheenaghpugh: (Anthony Gormley's Another Place)
Here's the world's current smallest cinema, the famous bus shelter on Unst in Shetland, specially adapted for the Shetland film festival,

and Masks, the film which opened the festival, made by a group of young people called Maddrim as a sort of metaphor for drug abuse. It's set in the main street of our metropolis, Lerwick, Commercial Street, though they must have closed it temporarily to get it so empty, and you might need to know there is a theatrical costume shop in said street.
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
June 21st

Walked to Norwick.
This is the second most northerly beach in the British Isles (the most northerly is Skaw, but that isn't as pretty). Norwick is in a very small agricultural settlement in a coastal valley and is absurdly peaceful. I defy anyone not to feel laid-back there. It's also the name of a hymn tune, composed by a minister who was living there at the time. Apparently most of those who sing it think it's a misprint for Norwich. Ah well.

There was a tame lamb there, in a field by the roadside, who baaed loudly to tell us he wanted chatting to and feeding some clover. You meet a lot of these in spring and summer.

As you see, we got around to uploading some photos. They're in the gallery Shetland 2009. The wayside flowers I mentioned in the last instalment are among them.

And it was the longest day. Unst is far north enough that at that time of year, the sun doesn't set; it passes across the north still visible. This feels really weird to me, because of the shorthand they tell you at school; the sun is never in the north, night is dark, etc etc. I was trying to figure out the direction I was headed in and getting it wrong, because I was automatically thinking that's the sun so it must be the west.... not at midnight it wasn't!




Not

This is what doesn't happen:
near midnight, and the Sun
resplendent, having passed
unsetting through the west,
proceeds across the north,
unmaking, in his path,
dark and direction, all
we thought we learned at school.
sheenaghpugh: (Default)
Just got back from holiday in Shetland, most of which was not in fact so much holiday as sorting out new house. But the first week was a genuine holiday, in Shetland's most northerly isle of Unst, which isn't where the house is. I was taking notes, in a disconnected sort of way, and occasionally in verse, so here some of them are:

June 20

It's a long time since I was up here so early in the year, and I'd forgotten what a display the wild flowers make. They can be pretty awesome at any time of year, but this seems to be when yellow predominates - you do get a lot of red campion, but mostly it's shades of yellow and orange, from the pale primrose-like tormentil, which is four petals close to the ground, through the brighter yellow of flag iris and the gold of vetch and silverweed to the orange mimulus. And any field not currently cultivated or sheep-grazed is a mass of buttercups.There is good reason to think that the map outline in RLS's Treasure Island is based on Unst; RLS knew the place because his father and uncle built lighthouses up here.

TREASURE ISLAND

No profit in buttercups, more's the pity,
or many a field on Unst
would yield a fortune.


As for the profusion of gold in the wayside ditches, it makes me think of the mediaeval Irish poem about some hopeful poet's patron: ("If all the leaves of autumn were gold, and the foam of each wave silver, Fionn would still give it all away")

SPENDTHRIFT

Fionn must have passed this way,
that profligate man
with a hole in his pocket,
for all along the ditch
gleams the yellow coin
of trefoil, tormentil, ragwort.


The exception to the yellow is the Keen of Hamar, a hillside where the chemicals in the soil favour purples and mauves. I say soil.... well, there's hardly any; its geological name is serpentine debris and from just a short way off, it resembles a moon landscape, grey-brown and seemingly barren. But just walk it looking down at the ground, and all manner of tiny, exquisite alpine plants become obvious, including one that grows nowhere else in the world, Edmondston's mouse-ear chickweed. Thomas Edmondston, a local lad from a family of scientists and folklorists, was 12 when he discovered and named this plant. He was 19 when he published his first book, on the flora of Shetland, and at the age of 20, in 1846, he was appointed Professor of Botany at Anderson's University in Glasgow (now the University of Strathclyde). By now he was in regular correspondence with Charles Darwin and was offered the position of naturalist on board HMS Herald, on a journey retracing the voyage of HMS Beagle. While disembarking from a boat on the coast of South America, he was killed by an accidentally discharged gun, still aged 20. You couldn't make it up. Here's his chickweed, in situ:



sheenaghpugh: (Default)
A few added at bottom, two of which should appease those wanting ponies. Also a champion sheep, two prizewinning cakes from the same agricultural show as the sheep and ponies, and my all-time favourite poster.
sheenaghpugh: (Posterity)
Here, for anyone who's interested. There are lots more but we haven't quite got around to them yet....

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December 2011

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