North Idea, 2007 - £3.60

This is a risky book. Like Richard Elman’s novel Tar Beach, which moves fluidly in and out of English and untranslated Yiddish, it makes no concessions to the reader—we are plunged into the dense knotty patterns of Insular Scots without a guidebook, and must sink or swim. But it is also a book whose punch and verve provide a sure handhold. In ‘Pinnishin’, for instance, Sinclair’s language has all the density the children’s feared water phantoms lack:


Hit’s nights sik as dis

dat a ill wind whistles up da lum

an bairns aw happed up i dir beds canna sleep

fur aw yun skirling nyuggels aboot da shore.


Or the clear, evocative narrative of ‘Vementry’:


          An we wandered doon tae a neuk ida hills

          whaur da trinky o a burn ran trowe a bruckit watermill


Sinclair also risks placing plainer poems in standard English alongside this worked particularity, for the most part to excellent effect. The haunting quality of ‘Sentry’, for instance, gains in lightness of touch opposite the stark outlines of ‘Da Lang Kames’, while “Foula’s cloud-blackened stump” (‘Island’) perfectly complements the brutal natural process of “brakkin crabs” described immediately before in ‘Crappin’.


Gulf Stream Blues has its low points. ‘The Baker’s Delight’, despite a confidently executed finale (“The fire in my head has reached baking point/as I feel the dough rising”) tries much too hard with its extended pudding/sex conceit, and the acrostic ‘Disgusting’ —little more than a peevish rant—should simply have been left out. But overall the pamphlet sings in a textured and engaging voice about unusual things, and leaves intriguing echoes:


          I can see expired beneath my feet

          quadratic segments of time elapsed


          I can see time burrowing into my bones.




James Roderick Burns


q Available either from or Shetland Times Bookshop, 71/79 Commercial Street, Lerwick, Shetland ZE1 ODU