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Mixter-maxter of scattered memories

David Bleiman is an acrobat of storytelling and folklore: Yiddish, Scots, and Spanish splash vibrancy through this exploration of family influences. Poignant and deftly crafted, it’s a riot of interwoven cultures, a loving celebration of diaspora experiences.

The first poem ‘Duende’ (in the section ‘Traces’) pulls us into the Spanish: the word duende itself suggests a magnetic force, the poet as enigmatic. (Wikipedia defines it as ‘a Spanish term for a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity, often connected with flamenco’.) The poem is full of movement and mishaps. It tells the narrator to face the audience and ‘throw your head back and dream / of that river which gives to the sea’, for ‘it’s all in the clearing of the throat.’

Meanwhile, in the ‘Mixter-maxter’ section, ‘Auf Wiedersehen’ explores the poet’s German / Lithuanian / Jewish family influence. Through cinematic imagery, we are taken on a journey from shoebox letters through homesickness and grief to the Weimar Republic and Marlene Dietrich’s sultry voice. The narrator longs ‘to be German again’, seeks connection:

not from the ashes in the birch wood
not from the acrid smoke
but from the shifting shadows of the smoke
and the moving pools of sunlight,
wet on the clearing grass.

A mixture of Scots and Yiddish can be found at play in some poems. For example ‘The Trebbler’s Tale’ where ‘scots-Yiddisher mish-mosh is whit ye hae got’. Meanwhile, ‘Dream mash lullaby’ is a delightful, loving homage to an imagined ‘dream grandchild’. It’s infused with rich language: ‘rozhinkes mit mandeln’, ’Dreams to sell, fine dreams to sell’. And there’s

A squeeze of honey in cinnamon milk,
a washboard singing the consonants

The collection’s eponymous poem, ‘This kilt of many colours’, manages to pull everything together. Via reflections on migration during a gathering at the festival of Pesach, or Passover, it questions what is long forgotten, and what remains. Memories rest on lost customs, on Hebrew words ‘none of us can understand, / remembering one / who led us through the text’:

our warp is weft
from southern spools
through bolts of northern light

Maggie Mackay