The Crackit Cup, Irene Howat

Handsel Press, 2018     £5.00

Healing war wounds

In her debut pamphlet, Irene Howat writes a heart-warming poetry-narrative in lowland Scots with an accompanying English translation.

The story centres on a village character, Tuim-heidit Tam. He’s been found unfit to serve in the Great War and, instead, finds his strength in providing succour for the community of women and children left at home.

Each poem records how he offers practical help. In ‘Tuim-heidit Tam’ we see him:

tuishin watter, uphaundin dykes, thinning neeps,
cairryin wechts an weans an warries.

The Scots creates an authenticity and immediacy to the experience. When the worst news comes through, he can tell the children of their fallen fathers: ‘e telt a the richt wey o’t / o faithers guddlin fur trooties’. Poignantly, he also remembers where hearts were carved — twining names together — and shows them where they are. In such ways, he helps love to flourish in the next generation.

The lines are touching in their simplicity. Gentle memories salve the pain of loss. The title poem ‘The Crackit Cup’ refers both to Tam as a damaged and useful person and to the receptacle with which he consoles a bereaved neighbour:

Kate haudit the cup in tremmly hauns
takin tent o the waater
jopping ower the tap o’t
an teuk a sip.

One sequence of three poems relate a soldier’s journey from Passchendaele back to village life and his waiting wife and child Morag. In ‘Robbie 2’, the daughter ‘hidit roon the settle an grat / whan A gaed nearabout er.’ Morag prefers Tam’s shelter: ‘cooried in ahin im.’ She then, in ‘Robbie 3’, goes on to tell her dad how Tam taught her to plant leeks. The lesson learned is that

whill A focht the warld’s waur
Tam focht mine.

The message is clear. A community is interdependent, each member fighting to make the world a better place. I find the vernacular language enhances the sense of a folklore. It’s so close to the earth and the feelings of Everyman  who may be caught up in trouble and called upon to rise to a challenge.

Maggie Mackay