Hansel Cooperative Press, 2008   -  www.hanselcooperativepress.co.uk
[Handsel Cooperative Press, Bringagarth, Innertown , Stromness, Orkney KW16]

Stella Sutherland has been one of Shetland’s leading writers over the last half century and this beautiful small chapbook, edited by Christine De Luca and featuring twenty new and selected poems, is an excellent introduction to a poet I hadn’t come across before. She writes in English and in Shetlandic and there’s a nice mix of both here, plus a five page glossary to help with the vocabulary.

In the opening poem, ‘Any Poe’t, she declares that:

all delight is in the finding,
setting, sending words to chime

which is exactly what her poems do. The glossary explains that an “allover” is a kind of Fair Isle jumper and it’s hardly surprising that a poet from Shetland should write about knitting. In ‘Da Allover’, Sutherland likens the process of producing Fair Isle patterns to that of writing poetry:

Your mind haes a joy o creation
laek writin a rhyme—hit’s nae lee—
whin your fingers an wires in relation
maks da colours an patterns agree.

Though a couple of the poems in English are more loosely structured, mainly Sutherland opts for traditional rhyming patterns. However, no two successive poems follow the same stanza structure so there’s plenty of variety to keep them fresh. And the subject matter also varies: nature, some nice seasonal poems, others reflections on people and life, wry comment as from someone with one eye still on their knitting needles. ‘The Question Is’ concludes:

But the hardest thought, the one you dread,
that throws black gloom on the day –
how to say what has to be said
that no-one else will say.

Eleanor Livingstone

What the Common Reader says about Stella Sutherland’s joy o creation:

This little pamphlet rested easily in my hand, and the paper of the cover and the paper within were textured and yet smooth. And yes—here was more string as centre binding (a thin red twine) but it was tied off neatly. I’m not sure it enhanced the look of the cover but it didn’t get in the way.

As I expected from the title, I enjoyed most the poems in English. Poems in the Shetland dialect were lost on me. There was a glossary but I wasn’t patient enough to flick back and forward to understand the poems. My favourite was ‘A Celebration’, a poem about the poet’s father which made me cry:

          And now, too late, I celebrate
          him and his cripple day:
          he never had a gift so glad
          as that he gave away.

As for the unsual format of pages opening out into double size in the middle of the book, I’ll leave it for someone cleverer than me to decide whether it does, or doesn’t work. It is definitely different!