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Abuin Them Aa by Colin Donati

27th August 2015

Gin ae rock conjurs Scotland up for me
It isna Cairngorm quartz, sclenters, scree,
Sanct Giles croon or brig-uphaudin key,
Croon’s jasp, cross or ‘stane o destinie’,
Nor is it dyke or broch, nor stack nor dun,
Nae fug-clad, rune-scart eemis i’ the sun,
Raised beach or sicna prentit fossilry,
Fingal’s basalt, pap o’ Bennachie,
Hud, cairn, whun, shiel, elfcup, putt or skerry 
– The rock that conjurs Scotland up for me
Gies licht in aatum, shines for aa to see,
An is the hairst Mune, heich an faur an wee.

This poem by Colin Donati of Edinburgh was published in 1998 in a booklet Present Poets celebrating the new Museum of Scotland which was being built at the time. It seems a pity to lose track of a good Scots poem in a relatively obscure bookie, so we are reviving it here. Other poems in Scots in the booklet have been seen elsewhere since, such as Kathleen Jamie’s Lucky Bag, the famous list-poem ending ‘Please form an orderly rabble.’

Donati’s list of Scottish stone icons displays his knowledge both of the country and its rich Scots terminology, and ends with the hairst Mune in a clear homage to the makar MacDiarmid’s work.
Colin Donati is a well kent figure in poetry circles (often with guitar in tow) but has never got round to publishing all that much. Our picture of him, in light blue shirt with other writers, is taken at Hawthornden Castle.

Although his Red Squirrel pamphlet Ancient and Now is mostly in English, it does contain a valiant attempt to translate Jabberwocky into Scots – as Jagglewockie. He has also been one of the people who cared about and promoted Sandie Craigie’s poems in Scots, as a result of whose efforts a 104 page book of her poems has at last reached press. I am told it is with a printer now for publication this summer.

Colin Donati’s way of thinking sounds Scottish even in his English poems (this is true of other Scottish poets who write in English, notably Edwin Morgan). This brings to mind Creative Scotland’s recent remarks about ‘re-lexified English,’ complaining that some Scots texts lack ‘the actual grammar, idiom and vocabulary of the Scots language.” 

In reverse, many Scots writers have that idiom while writing in English. It is to be regretted that there is still so little option for them to get work published and read in Scots – and consequently so little sustained literature for people to read in Scots.