Finding Sea Glass: poems from The Drift, Hannah Lavery
Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2019 £5.99
Knowing how to belong
The emphasis on Scots words in this pamphlet is essential in communicating Hannah Lavery’s message, with phonetic spelling and colloquialisms used to create a voice. So in ‘St Andrew’s Day, 2014’, she writes: ‘He hadne made it. I was what? No bothered? Aye.’
The tone is conversational throughout. This informality bonds the reader with the poet, helps us assume the perceived role of confidant. As a result, her outpouring of pain, grief and loss becomes more personal, more deeply understood.
Word choice is key to the exploration of the poet’s Scottish identity. References to her father’s misplaced national pride and his love of the song ‘Sunshine on Leith’ build on the sense of not-quite belonging. This feeling culminates in ‘Scotland, You’re No Mine’, when Lavery’s anger at the racial discrimination she has encountered comes to the forefront.
The foundation of the hurt is laid in ‘1956’ and her father’s classroom, with the repetition of ‘Where you from?’ culminating in a powerful final couplet:
and your wee hand is dragged
away across that bloody map.
In ‘You Were Mine to Carry’, Lavery enlarges on her father’s coping mechanisms:
Really you’re kidding yourself
in your Scotland top, clinging
to the roots of your Scottish family tree.
The poet speaks of ‘The burden you handed to me / with my rattle. The burden of that / fucking rage at all that no-belonging’.
Although the poet insists in ‘Scotland, You’re No Mine’, ‘(you were no his) / and I don’t want you’, she ends the poem:
So fuck you, my sweet forgetful Caledonia.
With love, fuck you.
Despite the rejection felt in her motherland and the pain caused by the no-belonging, Lavery has chosen to write in an unmistakably Scottish voice.
The final poem (“It’s Not Possible for Anyone to Become Rich Without Cheating Other People”) is bittersweet:
he was so proud. [ …] I kissed
your cold face. Before I sang to you,
Sunshine on Leith
The reader knows that despite the hurt, she loves her father and — we suspect — her country, too.