Fras Publications, 2007 - £5.00
Readers unfamiliar with the punch and verve of contemporary Scots poetry could not find a better place to start than this charming, challenging and thoroughly accomplished little book. Taking the bite of the seventeenth century French and bending it into a supple, multi-tonal voice—which ranges from scatology to lyricism (as we do so often ourselves) in the space of a few breaths—Walter Perrie has created a hugely enjoyable picture of our unchanging moral condition:
Life? Nane could be arsed wi it,
Nor trauchelt tae keep the thing gaun
[‘The Animals Seik wi the Pest’]
Across the twelve fables this world-weary but engaging tone is achieved, built on (and heightened or lowered as necessary) with little apparent effort—each phrase seeming perfect, and perfectly placed, to knock into the next to sustained effect. In the tale of a crow swindled out of a choice morsel by a flattering fox, for instance, we hear life’s soft appearance and harsh reality contending in lines which first ooze vowels, then bristle like the world’s spiky heart:
Sir Corbie’s in a tree at ease,
Atween his beak’s a sonsie cheese.
Sir Tod, led by its halesome reek,
Addressed him wi this wee bit speak
The poem is both witheringly cynical and sweet—Sir Tod’s manufactured delight over the crow’s physical appearance, “My goad, but ye’re uncommon braw!” strangely reminiscent of Ma Broon doting on her brood—and in its duality of purpose serves, like many of the other tales, to reinforce our love of life while opening our eyes to its seedier dimensions. We come away both richer and wiser from the experience.
If I have any small objections, they are that space did not permit the inclusion of parallel French text for each poem, and that the price feels a little high for a plain (if attractive) volume. But overall, this book is a delight. Its quality and heart argue overwhelmingly for the publication of a wider selection.
James Roderick Burns
Pamphlet available from:
Bridge of Tilt