Buirds, William Hershaw

Roncadora Press, 2017   £15.00

Celebrating the diversity of Scottish birdlife

Hershaw’s poems are witty pieces in praise of the keynote birds in the Scottish landscape. The chapbook is a thing of beauty, a handmade work of art, packed with bold and captivating language and accompanying impactful linocuts by Fiona Morton.

I enjoyed the use of the muscle and musicality of lowland Scots, a thing of beauty itself.

In ‘Grouse’ the poet engages us in a topical conversation between a conceited grouse and ‘thon hauflin, uneducatit’ crow. The lines ring with the birds’ rhythmic and entertaining voices. Each offers the other a world view about man’s purpose centred on the grouse shoot.

A magical run of quirky shorter pieces celebrates the behaviours of a range of bird species through individual birds' voices.  Each poem reflects the colours and movement of the bird and adds a political edge to the lines.

‘Wren’ is ‘Jock Artisan o the hedgeraw’ who can fly higher than the exhausted eagle, having hidden in its plumage: ‘taen the rise oot o lord Aigle Snirty Beak’. ‘Rook’ ‘flings itsel aff a fence, gey frisky / juist for the joy o it / faas / fast and tummels its whulkies’.

The lively and adept ‘Sparrae’ bursts from the still of the page ‘atween quick sun shafts and shadows’. In ‘Doos’ the pigeon (‘wee paicels o shite’) steals pieces of bread ‘tae affirm / Their commitment tae programmes / O communal austerity.’

The section ‘Falconry’ imaginatively explores ten of these birds’ characteristics in terms of aristocratic rankings, placing several in named Scottish settings and adding to the richness of their beauty and grandeur. So, for instance, ‘Peregrine Falcon’ reads:

The King’s first born:
Rose efter Sauchieburn
Fell laichlie at Flodden.

And there is a beautiful surprise at the centre of the pamphlet. I’ll leave you to seek it out.

Maggie Mackay