Scottish Poetry News: September 2017
Our poetry columnist highlights the launch of Stairs and Whispers at the Scottish Poetry Library – an anthology from deaf and disabled poets. We also look at the best published poetry to have reached us this month
After successful launches and events in London, Birmingham and Ledbury, this month will see the much-anticipated publication of the ground-breaking anthology Stairs and Whispers: D/deaf and Disabled Poets Write Back at the Scottish Poetry Library on 27 Sep. The collection is utterly electrifying – the UK’s first of its kind – and is edited by Sandra Alland, Khairani Barokka and Daniel Sluman, with a mixture of more established and emerging poets featuring from all across the nation, over 20% of whom are Scotland based. Many of the artists have included audio files of themselves reading in the e-book version, which can also be accessed on publishers Nine Arches' website.
Born from conversations and an idea in 2013/14, Stairs and Whispers seeks to address the fact that, up to now, there has been a marked lack of attention to deaf and disabled poets, and that there have been very few official invitations for them to share their experiences in this way. In the introduction to the anthology, co-editor and contributor Barokka explains, in words which cannot fail to touch, how her love of the art form has grown through years of labels, assumptions, measurements, diagnoses and ignorance: “It is through stanza that communion happens between the shades of life that we all know can’t be enumerated, can’t be delineated, can’t be kept hidden from ourselves…”
As well as Barokka, readers and performers at the SPL launch will include Alland, Bea Webster, Claire Cunningham, Sarah Golightley, Alison Smith, Gary Austin Quinn, Emily Ingram, Nuala Watt and Mark Mace Smith. One of the major features of the evening will be a series of poetry films, the majority of which have involved Scottish film teams. The first four – The Stars are the Map by Kyra Pollitt, Kettle's Boiling by Sandra Alland/Alison Smith, Long Lost Lover by Sandra Alland/Ania Urbanowska and Bilingual Poet's Dilemma by Sandra Alland/Ania Urbanowska – are all in British Sign Language. Also on the programme are Goat Poem (for the kids) by Mark Mace Smith/Anigman and The Sword Swallower by Markie Burnhope by Sandra Alland/Ania Urbanowska. Get yourselves down there – it’s going to be an eye-opener.
It’s been a pleasingly folkloric month of reading. Miriam Nash's debut collection from BloodAxe, All the Prayers In The House (runner up for the Edwin Morgan Prize 2016) is truly a voice of the sea – at once young and ancient with a singing quality, currents of gentleness and passion fluctuating by turns. She tells her stories, full of salt-tinged visions of fish, selkies, lighthouses and folklore, which in their essence are of real-life hardship, growth and fears: “All those harbour years I lay in wait/ for you to bring a seal home from work/(I’d serve her mackerel on a poisoned plate)…”
As well as channelling, at times, the imagined voice of Robert Louis Stevenson, who lived on her home island of Erraid, the collection details the shattering and resettling of a family unit from the changing eyes of a child, and how that later affected her own womanhood. Nash’s heartbreakingly precise descriptions of the everyday details which creep into life’s deeper troubles, such as neighbours, buying custard you hate as a gesture for a new stepmother, or saying prayers to a mixed gender God when afraid, add a unique clarity and poignancy to territory many of us would recognise.
No less haunting is Kenneth Stevens’ Deirdre of the Sorrows, one of the best-known Celtic love stories retold in several narrative pieces. Stevens’ poetry introduces us to a couple not much older than children, both starved of love in their own fashion, and both in need of someone to listen to, save and complete them.
As they make their home in the wilds of Scotland, the plethora of rich nature imagery reflects their innocent, yet maturing love: “A hundred tributaries shone from melting snow;/ and there, the first bowed heads of snowdrops./ And suddenly she realised that she missed him - /she picked one for Naoise then ran and ran to find him.” The later love scenes and subsequent tragedy of being captured are no less finely drawn, and will leave an echo in readers’ minds for days afterwards.
Stairs and Whispers is out now, published by Nine Arches, RRP £14.99; The Scottish Poetry Library launch event is on 27 Sep, 6.30-8.30pm, £4 (£3)
All the Prayers in the House is out now, published by Bloodaxe, RRP £9.95
Deirdre of the Sorrows is out now, published by Birlinn, RRP £8.99