Thrawn, Lesley TraynorThe jacket is plain and light brown. All text is black and centred. The title is in large caps about a third from the top. The author's name in much smaller bold lower case is in the centre of jacket. The publisher's name is in small caps near the foot of the spread.

Dreich, 2021     £5.00

The power in other languages

A single word can be a strong title. ‘Thrawn’ in Scots means ‘stubborn’. It sits on the plain cover of Lesley Traynor’s pamphlet undiluted by explanation. It’s tough and fierce and unexplained until we meet it (untranslated) in ‘The Mannequin’, about three-quarters of the way through the pamphlet. Then there it is again, the title of the final poem, its meaning explained in a footnote, although by now I’ve grasped it. ‘Thrawn’ begins —

I am a dangerous woman
with words that are fierce

I like the use of words from another language; they can give an earthy, rooted quality to the poetry and an individuality to the poet’s voice. However, they pose a question to the poet and publisher: how best to convey meaning to the reader without impeding the flow of the poem?

What’s the least intrusive way to indicate the meaning of ‘peedie’ in the first line of ‘The Rain Goose’, the poem which opens the collection?

In the peedie hours,
shutters thrown wide,
a breeze washes in.

No footnote here, so only when I reach the Acknowledgements is my guesswork confirmed: yes, it means ‘small’ and this time it’s Orcadian Scots.

The pages in the centre of the pamphlet offer another approach: ‘Bairn in the wee-house’ on the left and ‘Child in an Outside Toilet’ facing it, on the right. It’s a quick way to confirm my guesses as well as to translate unknown words — for example, ‘grummel’ is ‘rubble’ in English, and ‘yirdie’ is ‘earthy’. This seems less intrusive than the solution favoured by some publishers — the translated words printed in small type close to the margin.

Some publishers choose to use lengthy glossaries if there’s a high number of other-language words but this pamphlet has no more than a light-touch scattering of Scots and Orcadian. There’s no single answer to the question of how we use language, how we make it work best in pursuit of our own ends. In this case, my reading has been enhanced by the mix of guesswork and notes, my mind engaged in the sounds and cultural context.

D. A. Prince