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Owersettin, A three-way conversation, A.C. Clarke, Maggie Rabatski, Sheila Templeton

Tapsalteerie, 2016  £5.00

Group work

As a non-Scot, I opened this pamphlet nervously. The work is billed as a ‘three-way conversation’ between poets writing in Gaelic, Scots and English; I feared (as a fourth, and seriously ill-equipped arrival) I would prove inadequate. I needn’t have worried. As soon as I started, I felt I’d entered a weird and wonderful echo chamber: the anxiety evaporated.

There are original poems by all three authors (signalled delicately ‘by a pilcrow’, which is a crescent-moon like mark); each then has a response from both the others. The format feels generous. We spend time with each poem or set of ideas. I also found the chorus of three strangely magical – more so than a pairing of two: poet and translator. It let more air in.

My enjoyment was, if anything, amplified by the fact I understood one language well, another a little, the third not at all. This led to a kind-of rippling-out effect. Also, the alternative versions are not straight translations – or some are, or may be, while others are much looser responses. The formats allowed plenty of room for resonance. And the poems are gentle, contemplating universal themes of family and fleetingness, love and loss.

The last trio in the book starts in Scots with Sheila Templeton’s ‘Sang at hinnerend’. This poem’s set on ‘a coorse day, an orra day’, by the side of a new grave:

Sae monie things unsaid. Sae monie sangs
we hud nae hert tae sing.

But there’s also something faintly comic: ‘your ash in a plastic urn, inside a Tesco bag’. (Funerals are odd things.) ‘A poem seemed a gweed thocht’ is followed a few lines later by: ‘An a meenit’s silence. Onybody got a watch?’.

This poem’s followed by Maggie Rabatski’s Gaelic ‘Fonn a’ cho-dhùnaidh’, where I could only savour shapes and guess at sounds. Finally, I found myself face to face with A.C. Clarke’s English ‘Reading a poem at my brother’s grave’. Strange the jolt: greater, I think, for the build-up and echoes. (Almost as if I had now joined this group at its graveside…)

Charlotte Gann