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The Snar by Andrew McCallum

12th September 2013

The Snar

        for dee yates

Nane but the road can tak us there,

 tho daybreak turns til nicht;

nane but the wuids can beild us sauf

 an the hunter gie us sicht;

nane but the hawk can chairt the win

 and shaddaes licht the way;

nane but the beasts can hear oor wuirds

 an watters mind ti reply.

Whauriver the muirland gies us heicht

 an the lowrie lies in its lair,

whauriver the pentit lift gies licht

 we sall follae ye there.

            Andrew McCallum

The Snar is a burn near Crawfordjohn, South Lanarkshire.

This great wee poem has an unusual context. It is one of several Scots dialect poems in a new booklet produced, edited and compiled by Les Merton, the Cornish poet.

Titled Dialect Poetry, it contains a selection of contemporary poems in various dialects from England and Scotland. Though it is short (24 pages) and does not include every dialect you could think of in England or Scotland, it is the first book in recent times, if at all, to deal with this kind of verse and a first look at the various dialects by an English publisher.

Although it does not separate Scots dialects from English dialects, and most noticeably it does not include Geordie or any Welsh English (such as that sometimes described rather inadequately as Tidy Talk), and while Geraldine Green is inexplicably absent (she has a book of Cumbrian dialect poems out with Les Merton's Palores Press), and among the Scots dialects Shetland is also missing, it is a huge step in the right direction for English poets in general to recognise that dialect poetry is worth preserving.

A few English dialects have had literary attention, most notably Lancashire, where there are a number of poets, a society, and an ongoing dispute about orthography. It is viewing the dialects together that is new

Meanwhile, Merton's selections from Scots dialects do show a basic understanding of the language. He includes mostly well kent and always able poets: Mary Johnstone, Sheena Blackhall, Sheila Templeton, Chris Cameron, James Bell, Shane Strachan, Norman Bissell, Ian Russell and Andrew McCallum, and identifies their dialects. McCallum's Scots is described as South Lanarkshire.

The reason the Scots dialects are mixed with the English ones is that the dialects have been listed by name in alphabetical order. So we get Cockney, Cork, Cornish, Derbyshire, Doric, Glasgow, Lancashire etc. Any future and more complete edition, and I hope there will be one, really needs the Scots dialects listed separately.

How Les Merton has managed to compile this booklet is anybody's guess. As Les says, it is a start. It is a good departure and will help poets to understand and respect dialect poetry throughout both England and Scotland . Also, some English readers of the booklet will not even have realised there are separate Scots dialects.

It is partly a result of democratisation and spoken poetry that this important perspective is now possible.

Andew McCallum lives in Edinburgh and is indeed from South Lanarkshire.