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White cover with band of green elephants walking up the left marginThe Highland Citizenship Test, Colin Bramwell

Stewed Rhubarb Press, 2021      £5.99

Anything could happen

Colin Bramwell, shortlisted for the 2020 Edwin Morgan Award, offers us a pick and mix pamphlet in The Highland Citizenship Test. Its title raised narrower expectations in my mind of a Highland theme; in fact, there’s a wide-ranging focus on Scotland, and on the nature of ‘home’. It’s an adventurous work, best suited to performance, one of Bramwell’s strengths.

While the poem ‘Jigsaw’ seems to be about an object, through it, we learn about a relationship. As the cinematic tercets unfold, the narrator takes us to Prestwick Beach, prompting his memories of childhood places as if, by the last stanza, the jigsaw was:

an adult speaking only
by spelling out forbidden words
her child has not yet learned.

This, while the mum in the poem ‘gives you an earful’ and we hear ‘heavy footsteps on the upper floor’.

The eponymous poem isn’t actually written in Gaelic, rather a form of Lowland Scots. It consists of a series of questions which parody the UK test with outrageously absurd references which no Scottish citizen could answer because they are nonsense — a clever swipe at immigration policies.

‘Hellespont’ offers another way into human connections. It alludes to the mythical tale of Hero and Leander and their yearning to be together. It could be construed as a love story or a commentary on nationalism. Poignant and evocative, it’s one of my favourite poems in which ‘it still feels like anything could happen’:

I watch you speak, I watch your streets elide
the shadows of your throat when night is moonless

This is an inventive set of poems. Every page is a surprise. I’d like to hear them read aloud by their creator.

Maggie Mackay

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