In Breton

In Breton
In Breton, they say
there’s a word that weaves between 
green and blue, allowing for 
haze, precipitation,
the burr of distance,
the welcome shock 
of escaping light 
warming your shoulders.
Ian Stephen

from Oxford Poets 2013, edited by Iain Galbraith and Robyn Marsack (Manchester: Oxford Poets/Carcanet 2013)

Reproduced by permission of the author.
Ian Stephen

Ian Stephen is a writer, artist, storyteller and sailor. 

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About In Breton

This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2013. 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 2013 was David Robinson.

Editor’s comment:

A summation of what poetry is and does in eight short lines? In Breton, Stephen assures us, there is one word whose meaning encompasses …  and he then provides a series of adjectives that normally sit next to each other with varying degrees of uneasiness. Robert Frost famously said that poetry is what gets lost in translation: what Stephen is doing here is to comically attempt to show that he was wrong. He succeeds succinctly and in a way that left me smiling at his cheek – for, remember, his whole poem was just about one Breton word …

Author's note:

In 1997, I travelled from Inverness to Brest by train and then joined a group of writers from Scottish islands. We were shuttled across to Ouessant, to attend a literature Festival which had a Scottish theme that year. I often keep a log of a journey whether by land or sea. This poem was one of a series, jotted like drawings from impressions along the way. The following year I navigated a small yacht past the Atlantic side of Ouessant. So the same terrain was considered from two different perspectives although visibility was poor as we sailed by, about ten miles out. My poems often seem to consider what you cannot see or only partly see. Often they place something imagined close to something specific and tangible. I don’t think this one has changed much from when I jotted down the essence of a conversation on Isle d’Ouessant.