Kettilonia, 2007 - £3.00 www.kettilonia.co.uk
A Tapselteerie Touer (‘An Upside-down, Revolving Tower’) is a selection of poems and translations by Andrew Tannahill (1900-1986). It begins with a helpful four-page introduction by Alan Riach, which outlines Tannahill’s life and the passions that informed his poetry. The poems, all in Scots, include political satire (Tannahill was a socialist and Scottish nationalist), songs, love lyrics, light verse, translations from the Bible, Shakespeare, Ronsard and Baudelaire, and reflections on old age. Most are metrical and rhymed, their forms ranging from sonnets to rhyming couplets and quatrains.
The political poems don’t pull their punches. I found them refreshing to read in this age when satirical poetry is rarely published. At times, Tannahill slipped from satire into rant, but strong lines made still made these poems pleasurable. From ‘Vive L’Anarchie’:
To export mair than they lat in
The nations sweit till they are blin…
…Whaur fowk are nearest to starvation,
There is the maist successfu’ nation.
Poems like ‘Joan Tamson’s Man’, ‘Witch’ and ‘Gallus Crony’, were insubstantial, lacking the energy, humour and bite that characterised the stronger work. But Tannahill is rarely predictable. After lambasting religion for much of the pamphlet, his translation of Psalm 23 was earthy and powerful:
Tho a the ills o life, A ken,
He’s lookit efter me,
An et its end, fir evermair,
In his braw hoose A’ll stey.
‘Haivers’, a reflection on old age that closes the collection, confronts death, not just as an individual’s absence, but as a complete end:
I’m near the naethingness whaur a’ begins:
The wine cask’s cowpit, wersh the hintmaist lees,
Yet in my daith a hale vast cosmos dees.
This pamphlet is a welcome introduction to a neglected figure in Scottish literature.
Rob A Mackenzie