Hansel Co-Operative Press, 2007 - £5.00
All 19 poems in this pamphlet are written in Shetland dialect and I thought I would have serious difficulties even at the level of basic understanding. However, the glossary covered most unfamiliar words and I quickly became used to common phrases. I mention this because if poetry in dialect is to expand its audience, it clearly has to reach out beyond its local constituency. I certainly managed to enjoy many of these poems.
The best of Laureen Johnson’s lyrics work with warmth, intelligence, and humour. A portrayal of Hawkeye (the Daniel Day-Lewis version), a granddaughter’s announcement of vegetarianism, and a description of a poets’ gathering succeed in being both funny and poignant.
Now and again, the metaphors became somewhat laboured, as in ‘Treeds—Warp an Weed’, which took a long time to say very little. I also found poems like ‘Total Control’ and ‘Unsaesonal’ too slight to be convincing. ‘Waves’, about watching the Asian tsunami on TV, would have been far more powerful if it had stopped six lines before it did, with the excellent:
Atween wis an dem
anidder tsunami, o wirds an picters
froadin, shokkin, brakkin ore wir heads
One thing Laureen Johnson does well is her use of landscape to evoke mystery, as in ‘Kirsty’, where rumours suggest a missing woman has hidden among the hills:
an never a soond but da laverock,
careless an carin naethin,
an da burn, mindless,
gyaain by you, blinnd.
The familiarity and terror of the sea feature in many of the poems. From ‘Deep’, I got a real sense of the sea’s danger and its increasingly unimaginable depths, “whaar farder faddoms faa awa ta miles/ an dey caa it/ Deep Watter.”
There’s much to like here for anyone willing to tackle the dialect and enjoy its particular and unusual music.
Rob A Mackenzie
Can be ordered on line from www.hanselcooperativepress.co.uk which provides a link to the Shetland Times Bookshop.
Hansel Cooperative Press
Hansel Cooperative Press was formed by a small group of artists and writers in Orkney and Shetland: John Cumming, Frances Pelly and Christine De Luca. Fiona Cumming acts as Treasurer to the group. It is a not-for-profit organisation which promotes literary and artistic works relating to Shetland and Orkney. Productions to date are a folio of woodcuts inspired by poems in Shetland dialect, three poetry pamphlets (Treeds by Laureen Johnson being the most recent) and children’s storybooks and CDs in dialect. The latter were backed up by a tour of nursery and primary schools and by web-based resources.
For more information, visit www.hanselcooperativepress.co.uk