Ludovic Press, 2003 - £2.00
This pamphlet is a double act. Anthologies and magazines usually involve attuning to different voices with each turn of the page, but not poetry collections. However in Flickering Images, Betty McKellar and Jack Hastie take turn and turn about which makes for a slightly dizzying read. My preference would have been for a book of two halves: nevertheless, there’s
plenty here to enjoy.
MacKellar writes in Scots. I was sometimes bamboozled by her choice of what to include in the glossary—in ‘Gowd’ she explains “leid” and “muckle”, but not “throstles”. But there are neat phrases and memorable images in abundance. In this same poem, the medal-winning curling stars are
Fower white witches singin like throstles
Waving broom bristles
Abune their heids.
McKellar includes a series of poems which reflect on colour. She defines “dreich”, among other things, as
“Slush ablow yer feet
It’s cauld rain drivin in agin yer face
It’s a rin-doon tenement
In a Glesga slum place,
An deep in a widow-body’s hert
Dreich is the wecht o pain…
I particularly like ‘Semmits’, worn by “men wi hairy chests/ An biceps/ bulging frae their labours”—whereas “Peely-wallie office boys/ wore vests.”
Jack Hastie’s poems share some of the same subject matter— observations on family and self—but he is most sure-footed in his poems about landscape. In ‘Rannoch Moor’, for example:
This land is all old bones
broken ribs and thighs
and ice smooth skulls
bared through hide and heather;
rolled in mist shrouds.
‘Autumn Journey’, the last poem, features a walker, who following an undisclosed piece of information (but presumably a death), comes to understand the meaning of “Fall”. The marriage of natural scenery and human emotion is plangent and haunting, a lovely ending to the chapbook:
He sat down.
The sun was falling like leaves;
slowly the last light
seeped from the sky.
The Common Reader says of Flickering Images:
I liked the cover which seemed to represent the Flickering Images title very well. There is, however, a problem. Betty is MacKellar on the front page and thereafter throughout the whole collection McKellar. One must be wrong. Shouldn’t this be checked before final print? There are other discrepancies. ‘Gowd’ was written by Betty MCKellar and ‘Smirkles’ was written by Betty McKellar. In spite of the lack of attention to detail, I loved both poems.
Although I knew or could guess at the meaning of the Scots words, the writer took the trouble to give translations which were helpful.