Northwords Now

New writing, fresh from Scotland and the wider North
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What’s New in the North

by Kenny Taylor

Co-là-breith sona dhut, Aonghais Dhuibh

This summer sees the 80th birthday of Gaelic bard, Aonghas Dùbh MacNeacail. Renowned as a poet and songwriter, Aonghas was born in Uig, Isle of Skye, on the 7th of June 1942. He writes in both Gaelic and English and is also a broadcaster, journalist, scriptwriter, librettist and translator.

To celebrate the very day of his birthday this year, an impressive group of his friends, including Karen Matheson, Donald Shaw, Mary Ann Kennedy, some fine poets and more, will perform in his honour at a special event ‘Skerries, Trawlings, Tides’ in The Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh.

By way of also marking the continuation of the 30th Anniversary of the Northwords lineage, here’s one of Aonghas Dùbh’s poems that was included in the very first issue, in the Autumn of 1991.

Clann a Cluich, Sgoil Achadh nan Sian
Aonghas MacNeacail

glac am ball seo
tha saoghal ann

cumaidh mise    
mo shaoghal dluth rium

tha mise cunntas nan saoghal
am barraibh mo mheoir

ni mise sgairt agus
dannsa tromh’n aile
tha do chruinne gun theum dhomh

tha fainne nam dhornsa, ach
co dh’iarraidh fainne

eadar da ghreim tha ropa
nathair nan cleas
nathair nan briathar
nathair nan oran

Children playing, Achnasheen School: catch this ball/there’s a world in it//I’ll keep/my world close to me//I’m counting the words/in the tips of my fingers//I’ll shout, and/dance through the air/I don’t need your globe//I clutch a ring, but/who needs a ring//two hands hold a rope/the snake of games/the snake of words/the snake of songs

We send our good wishes to the bard, including for many more poems and performances to come.

Trees Meet Sea

Inverewe Garden, near Gairloch, is an inspiring place to visit at any time of year. The diversity of plants there is glorious, from trees and shrubs to flowers and vegetables whose vigour can make visiting gardeners more than a little envious.  And all within a coastal setting, where garden and shore and sea interlace. Right now, there’s also an extra reason to visit.

When Mandy Haggith had a residency at the garden in 2019, she wrote poems that led to a dozen artists making work in response to her writing. Those poems and artwork, including paintings, ceramics, sculpture, photographs, carving, textiles and etching, are now displayed as the Trees Meet Sky exhibition. It runs at Inverewe’s Sawyer Gallery until June 18th, following which it will be at   until.

“I have been delighted by the response of these artists to my poems,” says Mandy. “The result is a celebration, through this meeting of poetry and visual art, of our inherent connectedness with nature and with each other and our ability to speak across the margins of our lives, finding and making beauty where we tangle.”

Does your hand shake, Vladimir?

The atrocities now being perpetrated in Ukraine are beyond comprehension, as a brtutal aggressor attacks civilians and defending soldiers alike. Coupled with the invader’s Newspeak, where lying on an industrial scale is the norm and words are distorted to mean the opposite, the war is an assault on both fundamental human rights and the very core of language.

So it’s good, despite this craziness, to welcome a gentle act of resistance that faces the aggression with dignity and poetry. It began late this spring, when Odveig Klyve, a Norwegian writer and film director, wrote a poem called Skjelv du på handa, Vladimir? which she posted on her social media feed. This rapidly was viewed thousands of times, including by Robert Alan Jamieson in Scotland. Supporting Odveig through a Facebook group, RAJ and Taproot have helped to spread the word to encourage people to provide their own translations, including in minority languages and dialects, and to post recorded readings and videos online where possible. It’s hoped that a sound art work will be created from all the recordings.

At the time of going to press, the global ‘choir’ is on the home stretch to 100 translations. These include the one shared here, by Kenneth Steven, with a reading at can watch Odveig Klyve read her poem in Norwegian (with great power in her delivery) at
Does your hand shake, Vladimir?
Odveig Klyve
translated from Norwegian
by Kenneth Steven

Does your hand shake
today, Vladimir,
as you lift the cup
to your mouth,
when they tell you
thousands upon thousands have died
at your command
on the nineteenth day of the war.
Does your hand shake
when they tell you
ninety children have been killed,
and hundreds injured
by bullets and bombs.
Does your hand shake
when they say that thousands
of your own are dead -
these young soldiers,
almost children themselves.
Does your hand shake
when you hear
that hospitals are bombed,
that old men and women
are killed
as they flee,
that some have bled to death
while you drink
your morning coffee.
Does your hand shake
Vladimir Vladimirovich
as you lift your cup;
as you flee
from humanity.

Informal Readers’ Group – some suggestions

In the past year or so, we’ve given a heads-up for some titles likely feature in the forthcoming issue’s reviews, by way of allowing readers to think about certain volumes in advance.

As ever, poetry continues to be published in abundance by presses both small and larger across the land. Pointers to a couple of superb new anthologies are Other Worlds – An anthology of Scottish Island Poems edited by Stewart Conn (Polygon) and Such a Sweet Singing – Poetry to empower every woman edited by Kirsty Gunn (Batsford). Some very recent pamphlets and collections awaiting our review include Svetlana’s Dance – Triptychs by Tom Pow (Mariscat), Haphazardly in the Starless Night by Hugh McMillan (Luath and tapsalteerie Modren Makars:Yin (featuring Irene Howat, Ann MacKinnon and Finola Scott.

In nonfiction, four of the titles likely to feature will be The Lighted Window – Evening Walks remembered by Peter Davidson (Bodleian Library Publishing), The Dunbars of Ackergill and Hempriggs (Whittles Publishing) by James Miller, For the Safety of All by Donald S. Murray (Historic Environment Scotland) and Jennifer Morag Henderson’s Daughters of the North: Jean Gordon and Mary, Queen of Scots (Sandstone Press). There’s a Northwords Now reader discount offer for Jennifer’s book on Page 40.

In fiction, Kirsti Wishart’s second novel The Projectionist (Rymour), set in a coastal town where there’s a perpetual film festival (we feel your envy, Cromarty…) is already tickling our fancy. Sue Lawrence’s The Green Lady (Contraband) gives a fictional take on the times of Mary, Queen of Scots, as a counterpoint to the volume of history already described.

We’ll also be including some imagined pictures, drawn from his life and described by the internationally respected poet and translator, Robin Fulton Macpherson. Have a look at A Northern Habitat – Collected Poems 1960-2010 Marick Press (2013) and Robin’s latest collection Arrivals of Light Shearsman (2021) to get in the mood for the exhibition.


Northwords Now acknowledges the vital support of Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
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