1. Cleaning the Apostle Spoons, Poems in Scots & English
2. Matzevot, A Walk on the Face of Gravestones, Poems & Tales in Scots and English
3. A Nest of Tongues, Poems & Story in Scots & English
4. Peach Blossom Petals, Folk Tales & Poems from Vietnam, Owersetts in Scots
5. Steens, Poems & Tales in Scots and English
Sheena Blackhall [Malfranteaux Concepts, Aberdeen, 2012] 23pp., 42pp. 30pp. 18pp., 30pp., all titles £4.00.
6. The Merry Dancers, Poems, ballads and tales from the North Sea and the Baltic, in Scots and English
Sheena Blackhall, Tom Hubbard [Malfranteaux Concepts, Aberdeen, 2012] 40pp., £3.50.
7. Impossible Gifties, Poems in Scots & English
Sheena Blackhall [Severin Books, Kintore, 2012] 26pp.; unpriced.
8. Fras 17, eds. William Hershaw & Walter Perrie [Dunning, 2012] 40pp., £4.00.
Sheena Blackhall is aye til the fore as a maist skeelie skriever wi a maist byordnar scowth, as a glisk o the titles abuin will shairly pruive. She can mak braw poems frae onie subjeck, or sae it seems. For ensample, she can ging frae the delicate ‘Memorial for Stillborn Babies’:
Blessed be the lungs that never grew
Blessed be the thoughts that never flew
Blessed be the hearts that never sighed
Blessed be the tongues that never lied
til the ram-stam o ‘Brian Blessed, inspired by Fry on QI’ that begins: ‘Brian Blessed’s built like a barn door / A miner’s son wi a lion’s roar’. Baith cam oot o the first-mentioned title.
In Matzevot she taks on a michty theme, that Jewish tombstanes in Poland were yaised, aifter, the Saicont Warld War, for a wheen o biggins …: ‘Where are they now, the families who cherished the stones / Brother, sister, parents, grandparents old in wisdom?’ Twa lines frae deep verses.
On a mair lightsome note, some ‘ill nae doot mind her ‘In Praise o Lallans’ kythin in the Simmer issue laist year. It’s gien a daunder here again, an wha can doot the conclusion?
Sae here is tae the forrit breenge
O Lallans, lion’s claw
That raxes oot tae flee the flag
The auld Scots leid is braa!
And frae yon tae a Brecht poem set intil the Scots leid, ‘Coo at Cwid’:
Agin the byre boord wi raxed dyewlap
She chaws on bales o hey, bit gey polite
Chaws thirty times or mair on ilkie bite
Sooks ilkie dreep frae strae that seeps its sap
Warks gey weel, wi that piker o an auld coo fairly pickit oot, an the sense o humour comin throu. As for the lowsin: ‘Fit’s on the go? The auld coo disna care / As drappin sharn she meets the gloamin air’. Fowk whiles say ‘ye never hear thae words noo’ but I heard the word ‘sharn’ juist yesterday, on the tongue o a teenager, sae mebbe fowk juist arena listenin, or arena hearin …
And now for something completely different, or at least, a different airt. In Peach Blossom Petals, Blackhall yaises English translations by Linh Dinh, a Vietnamese-American poet wha wis born in Saigon in 1963 an gaed til the U.S.A. in 1975. He has a rowth o wark til his name. Sheena’s owersets are frae Ca dao, or ‘unaccompanied songs’ an it’s brawly illustrated wi photies by her dochter-in-law, Nga Le Blackhall. The prose is straicht til it, an nane the waur o that:
Aince there wis a fisherman fa tuik tent o his auld mither. Ilkie gloamin he wad haive his nets ower the
river, an ilkie morning he wad gaither up the fish that had bin catched in them, an this is foo they lived.
This is frae ‘The Tiger’ an I canna gie awa the end o the story, but it gies a guid idea o hoo weel Scots can be yaised in the hauns o ane wha is hersel a very fine storyteller.
In Steens there are monie fine things, includin versions in Scots o Japanes Tankas, based on the English translations o Hannes Keller:
In the simmer nicht,
While the gloamin still seems here,
Luik! The dawn’s arrived.
In fir neuk o the clouds
Has the travelling meen settled?
The poems in Impossible Gifties were spairkit aff bi the Book Sculptures, thae brilliant and mysterious creations made frae book pages. The anonymous artist first left a ‘Poetree’ in the Scottish Poetry Library and nine mair kythit in places in Edinburgh sic as the National Library and the Storytelling Centre. Thanks til the SPL, in pairtnership wi Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature and supported by Creative Scotland, the sculptures went on tour. Whan they cam til Aiberdeen Central Library, Sheena and Catriona M. Low of Severin Books peyed a visit. Catriona (wha also supplied the bonnie pikters in the pamphlet) writes in her introduction: ‘As we hirpled roun the exhibition … I could tell that poems were already brewing …’, an it’s a brew weel warth the sup, sic a bricht production! And in The Merry Dancers wi Tom Hubbard, there’s guid graith, the response o twa fine makars til cultures as various as Denmark, Poland, Estonia, Russia, an monie ithers. The first stanza o ‘Lat Me No Dee’ from the Danish o Jens Peter Jacobsen (1847-1885) gings:
Lat me no dee upon a day that Nai
Delichts in the caresses o the sun,
Whan there’s a thoosan birds i the fore
And the sea dances wi renewed elan,
Whan the saft win bears ilka blossom’s scent,
And there’s nae clood mirkens the merriment.
Finely duin by Tom an a fine ensample o the quality o the haill.
Tom Hubbard is also in Fras 17, a publication that I aye look forrit til, an this ane’s nae disappointment. It’s noo edited bi William Hershaw an Walter Perrie, wi John Herdman as Consulting Editor. There’s ‘Maxims of La Rochefoucauld’ gien by James Underhill. Sae, ‘Tous ceux qui connaissent leur esprit ne connaissent pas leur coeur’; nummer 103, becomes:
Many a man may know his mind
Though his heart is something he’s yet to find.
Or: ‘Les vieux fous sont plus fous que les jeunes’ (444)
Excess in youth is foolish, sure.
But the foolishness of the old is pure.
Tom Hubbard’s ‘Edgar Poe’ frae Maurice Rollinat (1846-1903) is also very fine. The penultimate stanza sums up that strange maister whase tales an poems can yet tak a grupp o us:
Chaste, mysterious, sardonic, and ferocious,
He refines the intense, he sharpens the atrocious;
His tree’s a cypress; his wife, a ghost.
James Robertson provides fower poems an translations, ane frae the Gaelic o George Campbell Hay, which becomes in Scots ‘Awa, and Steek the Yett Ahint Ye’:
Awa, and steek the yett ahint ye.
Get yirsel hame, find yer feet, dinna faw.
Gie me a wee back keek as ye’re gaun,
and a wee thocht tae in the morning.
And the morra, when ye come by here again,
let on that ye, och, jist happened tae be passin.
Sae gangs the laist perfectly-judged vers, wi sic a mix o blaetness, teuchness, need, hope.
James Scully’s ‘History’ is vieve wi mindins o faimly tales, o fowk wha vainish nanetheless:
there is no museum for this
colourful though it is
The three poems bi A.C. Clarke are strang wi place, wi time, wi past:
He faced the loch, the people raised their eyes
to the hills behind him. The road we’re driving on
didn’t exist, just fields and woods, the church
miles off in rival territory. To pray in open air
makes one feel closer to God they say.
And the three poems frae Donald Mackay include ‘Herod an Salome’ wi its patter:
‘Ma heid es that nippy
bit never mind,
jist never you mind
Better shut it, ye aul git,
yir ain heid tae play wi’.
Helen Lawrenson’s fower poems are beautiful. ‘Goldfinch’ begins:
Bright among the lightless trees
you flare into the year:
snow on the ground, sky
blue at last, and clear.
Or the words she finds in ‘Hare’:
Still you are now, fast runner, still
and lovely in the strange
languor of your brown
Mario Relich minds, in ‘A Good Man’ Dr. John Brown o the University o Edinburgh, wha:
the utmost from
If not a nationalist,
you were most sceptical
about UK plc thriving
on free market nihilsm
and rigged bonuses.
The walin feenishes wi three prose pieces by Robin Magowan; an intricate observer.
In a park once I remember coming upon a Tai-Chi group exercising at the bottom of a small clearing. As I watched, the fingers of raw air extending from their movements stippled the intervening distance in a pinpoint mist, identity’s disappearing shreds. (frae ‘An Inch of Sky’)
Fras … a publication that shaws whit a fowth o talent there is aboot. Lang may it publish.