‘outwith’: preposition: outside; beyond. A term unique to Scotland.
Revising my visa essay,
applying for three more years
here, I read my own scribbled words:
Comparable opportunities for critical study
do not exist outwith Scotland.
Outwith: a term unfamiliar, yet
scrawled in my own hand,
doubtlessly mine, and I wonder:
I came here all rude American brass, all
trash can, fanny pack, Where’s the castle?
Then Glasgow rolled itself under my tongue,
a grey marble lolling my mouth open with Os:
Glasgow, Kelvingrove, going to Tesco,
then thistling my speech wi sleekit lisps,
wee packets a crisps,
my lips like the lids
of those glass bottles of sand
I used to collect from every beach:
my mouth a shore holding each grain
that altered the flow of my speech,
my pen flowing ‘s’ into the cursive waves
of ‘socialised,’ ‘civilised,’ ‘acclimatised,’
answering Aye! by accident
I may be from out
but I am now with.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2016. Best Scottish Poems is an online publication, consisting of 20 poems chosen by a different editor each year, with comments by the editor and poets. It provides a personal overview of a year of Scottish poetry. The editor in 2016 was Catherine Lockerbie.
Confession: for most of my life as a Scottish but reasonably cosmopolitan citizen, I had no idea that 'outwith' was a purely Scottish word. (Really? What are you supposed to say? 'Outside'? 'Without'? Both have alternative meanings and neither work properly.) This poem by American Katie Ailes – a spoken word performance poet whose work also reads beautifully on the page – is a captivating, fond, witty piece about the absorption and use of language and accent and becoming part of a culture. And in the new isolationist rhetoric which emerged in 2016, the final two lines serve as a fine, clever, perfectly crafted sense of inclusion, not exclusion.
It’s amazing how unaware we can be of the effects of our migrations on our own tongues; how subtly accents shift and new words find their way into our mouths.
Though I’ve lived in Scotland for several years now, I rarely register how much my language is changing — my vocabulary widening, ‘Os’ lengthening — until I call home and all that evolution sloughs off for a wee while (to return as soon as I hang up). This is one of my favourite poems to perform live due to all the accent shifts I get to make in it (and the rude joy of yelling ‘fanny pack’ in feigned ignorance at the audience). The longer I live here, the more comfortable the Scottish sections feel and the more the American section feels like putting on an accent…