As acknowledgement of The Bard’s birthday and in anticipation of the McSween’s haggis unearthed from the depths of the freezer, what better topic could there be for this first blog post of the year?
Where previously we might be up to the elbows in buckets full of neeps and tatties to feed a crowd, more modest quantities will be prepared for the many virtual Burns Suppers taking place tonight. There will be speeches tho’, honouring his immortal memory, and banter between the sexes as toasts are made to the lassies and replied to in a well rehearsed witty retort. Someone will recite Tam o’ Shanter and songs will be sung with the tunefulness of a cats’ chorus, unless participants are on mute or the technology allows synchrony. Great fun nonetheless, with a dram or two to wash it a’ doon. Inevitably minds will wander to former more lively evenings when a bit of hoochin’ and birlin’ were thrown in.
Recently, I found an old file with copies of offerings I had written and delivered over several years, many years ago. I’m tempted to boast that I thought they are quite good, but my Granny always said “Self praise is nae honour”. They were all very well received at the time.
Previous Hunkerin’ Doon posts provide insight to my feelings on the influence grandmothers can have, but I hadn’t realised until I found one piece, written c.2003, that, even then, grannies, and one in particular, provided a source of inspiration. It was my interpretation of what Rabbie’s Granny, who lived in The Mearns, might have written in a letter to impart her wisdom, in her native Doric language, of course. It’s attached below if you want to judge for yourself.
I don’t read Burns very often because I think his work can be better appreciated when sung beautifully or skillfully recited with all the nuances his words convey. On my top shelf there is such an eclectic mix from Dante to “I Widnae Cry the Queen my Aunty” which is a collection of work by a women’s group in Pilton. There is something in each book crammed in along its length, to provide solace, inspiration, joy or a proverbial kick up the bum if required. Roger McGough’s Poetry Please is a Sunday afternoon must listen, and the availability of online performance poetry by very talented young people makes a worthwhile divergence. I am no learned examiner of the essence of what constitutes good poetry, but in the time honoured way of expressing an opinion – I know what I like.
Whatever poetry means to you, no matter how close to or distanced you feel from that art form, I doubt if you failed to be moved by Amanda Gorman at last week’s inauguration ceremony. After listening a couple of times, it wasn’t until I read the transcript that the full measure of what she said hit home. That young woman managed to tell Americans and the world that, no matter what has gone before, with collective will and determination, there can and must be a better way forward. I think the cleverest thing about her poem was that, not only did it address the nation and its troubled politics, there was also much we can take as individuals dealing with personal tribulation. If I may quote her;
For there is always light, If only we are brave enough to see it, If only we are brave enough to be it
That could seem like a tall order, but she goes on to say. Even as we tired, we tried.
We might agree that since last Wednesday the world seems a bit more settled. Maybe that’s because many have laid down their banners and picked up their knitting pins. Suddenly Bernie Sanders’ mittens are the latest must haves.
We had mitts as children, hame knitted, with insurance against loss by way of attachment of one to elastic threaded up inside the left coat sleeve, across the shoulders and down the right to be attached to the other. If one mitt was removed from a toasty warm hand, it was not dropped and lost, it more than likely pinged up your arm and ended up at the back of your neck.
Three little kittens, they lost their mittens and they began to cry.
Nursery rhymes provide children with an introduction to the rhythm we associate with some poetry, and to the joys of playing with language. We “got poetry” at primary school. Mine was learned and recited in Scottish Poetry Speaking competitions so The Sair Finger still comes easily to mind, as do a few parroted words about clouds and daffodils and no time to stand and stare because the world is full of care. Take a moment to recall the poetry ingrained in your mind – a fond memory or a question as to why those, from an abundance of something more relevant, were chosen to be taught? I hope that the curriculum in primary school now offers children the opportunity to enjoy learning lines because they are meaningful to those little ones who should be shown how to find pleasure in reciting them.
What feature does a collection of words require in order for it to be designated a poem? Nursery rhyme, doggerel, limerick, haiku, free verse, stanza or words written especially for only you, chosen and ordered in such a way that nothing can be held more precious – you decide what does it for you.
Ending this latest Hunkerin’ Doon. ‘Cos I have to get it posted. Playing virtual Bridge this afternoon. Before haggis and Bard can be toasted with a wee dram.
Addendum– I can’t work out how to attach the .docx. Don’t feel obliged to read it or comment! For better balance, here’s the link to Amanda Gorman’s transcript https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/jan/20/amanda-gorman-poem-biden-inauguration-transcript
Let me set the scene. Non Burns aficionados may be unaware that Granny Burns came from The Mearns and if Rabbie’s daddy had not moved the family to the cultural wasteland of the south west, Rabbie would have remained a lad o’ those airts.
It is unlikely that they would have met often but it must be imagined that they wrote to one another. In a further stretch of my imagination, what follows is a letter such as she might have penned to her grandson at the time his work was gaining recognition.
It is written in Doric, and for those not lucky enough to have been born in the north east, there is no apology for lack of translation. For ease of understanding it is pointed out that a loonie or loon is a boy and not someone who is mentally challenged, a feel is someone who is mentally challenged and a quine is a young lass.
My Dear Grandson Robert,
I’m writin this wi’ a’ the news, and tae ask yersel loon, foos yer doos?
A whilie back I wis worried sik. Yer granda took tae ‘is bed for a wik.
I made him a toddy, nae a drap did he coup. Half an oor later he wis up wi’ a loup.
Auld Willie, yer uncle, is fair gaun his dinger, since his ferret, the broon een, near chad aff his finger.
But I’d like ye tae ken that I’ve been fine, since last time I wrote ye, some time syne.
Rabbie, I mind ye as a laddie, fan ye came tae see us wi’ yer daddy,
Ye were sic a bonny loon, wi’couthie grin and curlie croon.
Nae fleas on ye lad, nae screw missin’. I telt yer granda, bit he widna listen.
“Granda” I said, “Rab’s talent is real”. He said “awa wifie, dinna be feel”
Aye ye were clivver for a’ ye were poor, tho’ some maybe thocht ye a wee bittie dour.
Wi yer books and yer readin’ and ay wi a pen, a dab haun at writin – even then.
Noo y’er up and I hear tell that yer work’s progressin’ awfa well.
Bit in atween yer writin lines, ye’r a helluva loon for chasin the quines.
And yer brither says y’er gettin thinner, nae eatin, ay drinkin, so it’s nae winder.
Noo Rab ma loon, this might gaur ye think. Yer aul Uncle Sandy, he died o’ the drink.
Rabbie loon, folk’ll think yer feel, writin’ tae a moose and louse as weel.
Wad ye nae dae better tae write in prose tae something bonny – maybe a rose?
Oh yer poetry’s good say a the gentry, bit their praises winna stock yer pantry.
So dinna forget tae look after yer sheep. Hiv ye thocht aboot plantin a field o neep?
An fits this I’m hearin aboot your Jean? I bumped into her cousin in Aiberdeen.
I doot her new twinnies I’ll nivver see. This month comin’ I’ll be eighty three.
Bit Rabbie loon, while I’ve still time. I’ll say a word aboot yer rhyme.
There’ll be a day it could be famous – Historic.
If only ye’d write it in the Doric.
Tak care o’yersel ma loon.