Ed. Eleanor Livingstone
HappenStance: Stravaigers, 2008 £3.50 - http://www.happenstancepress.com/
The Frisian poets featured are Albertina Soepboer, Tsead Bruinja, Cornelis van der Wal, Abe de Vries, Anne Feddema and Elmar Kuiper. For someone whose knowledge of other tongues is restricted to Romance languages, reading Migraasje presented something of a challenge. Familiar with the Scots of poets like Kathleen Jamie and W N Herbert, I coped fine with Rab Wilson’s versions, but was amazed at how much the Scots differed in versions by Liz Niven, William Hershaw, Alexander Hutchison and Janet Paisley. It was salutary to be reminded how rich a language Scots is, drawing on an historical and socio-political word-hoard from Shetland to the Humber.
In his sparkling article, ‘Taming the Elephant’ (Northwords Now, Issue 9, Summer 2008) Robert Alan Jamieson borrows Maoilios Caimbeul’s image to suggest how English can be put to use: “The Elephant has a back so broad it can be a ‘bridge’ language that carries little us to distant others… And to use the English as a beast of burden is perhaps a kind of revenge for being long-squashed; a tool to increased interaction and propagation of minority languages via translation.” In the case of Migraasje, it was perhaps a Pictish swimming-elephant, since it has brought these Friesian poems across the North Sea, for Scottish poets to sing back each in his/her own way. Christine de Luca’s Shetlandic versions catch the sounds of the Frisian in crisp, painterly language: the opening of Albertina Soepboer’s ‘Sweet Jane’ (“At se har blauwe jurk oanlûkt/ dript út beammen tsjûke hunning”) becomes
As shö slips inta her blue froak
tick honey dreeps affa trees
Translating Anne Feddema’s poem ‘Yn ‘e neisimmer’, Alexander Hutchison carries it off to his native Buckie, where the “Sylskouke oer de Meanewei” (Rab Wilson has “A sailin scow oan Meane Canal”) becomes “a lug-riggit coble/ oot o Finechty herbour”, whose captain serenades his woman with “t’Herrin’s Heid’, before they end up “warpit in/ the shallas at Strathlene”.
Migraasje is a ground-breaking collection whose stylish cover features two skeins of words, Frisian and Scots/Shetlandic converging in the common neist. We are nearer to our friends across the sea than we think.