Valleyfield Road, by Colin Will
12th April 2013
Colin Will is very well known in Scottish poetry. He has had quite a number of books published, most of which have a poem or two in them in Scots. It is important that poets who live here and write in English should feel able to write in Scots as well. Here's a short poem by Colin Will entirely in Scots, from his book Sushi & Chips, diehard, published in 2006.
I' th herbour a selkie
speirs air, dooks,
nebs the scag
strawn aboot the glaury grund.
Neist the ness, skellie-guttit,
the 'Blithesome Weedae' dings a mirky mark;
the sea's swoof sooks in an oot
the toom winnocks o the wheelhoose,
howders the tang-quaintened bell
'at cries the maws
till their roupit saums.
In the more recent poem below, written this year, Colin Will uses Scots to bring out the flavour of the streets and scenes from his wartime childhood memories. He writes, “I've been experimenting, going between the tongues.”
I think this is a useful and good experiment and in this poem it works. It's an approach which could persuade more writers to use some Scots if they have not been so familiar with using it, or if they do not feel that their publishers are willing to risk printing work in Scots. This is another question we need to address. The English (international) publishers may not wish to include poems in Scots, but are all Scottish publishers on our side?
The use of the two languages together extends the scope of both Scots and English in the poem, because each language contributes to the whole.
You'll also notice that the English is Scottish English: simple and direct without embellishment. It comes from a Scottish way of thinking that melds well with the Scots in the middle section of the poem.
Who knew it when a field?
Nane that’s here, nane lang syne.
The valley’s clear enough,
down the Meadows to the trough
of Tollcross. But fields?
Sheep pastures likely, mutton and wool.
Not the gallus fur coats,
pelts from skinned rodents
and the weasel tribe, draped on mutton
entering the King’s for the first Festival.
Whit king wid that be? No Billy,
no in Embra. Wan o they Georges?
An Edward? Mibbes aye, mibbes naw.
And the men? Ye cannae sheer yowes
in tail-coats an bow ties.
They fleece themselves for tickets
to concerts they can’t sit still through,
opera that’s a Meistersinger too far,
plays where a pillar, a bad sight line
would be a blessing.
Two wee boys and a wartime mum,
in the grey street, the dark close, windows
on a world gone dull until
chocolate came off the ration
and into McColl’s. And fear unknown
until a strange man called ‘father’
Photo by Beth Junor