This morning, as the 372 shoogled
through Carsethorn, hirpled
wabbit past the kirk and through
dreich smirr hoyed down from
droukit braes above, I saw
a coupit yowe in a kelpit lea,
beelin-eened cuddies lean over a hazelrawed
dyke to lour at me, a fug of speugs
loup out of nowhere on
a whigmaleerie of peerie wings,
imagined I heard a lintie sing beyond
the engine’s pechin skreigh,
thought waukrife of a wattergaw,
time prismed to language’s muckle flaws
& need for a never-ending breenge,
thirlt to the whyles forfochen
adventure of it all.
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.
A fantastic collection of energetic, feisty poems in Scots, Aye brims with the raw, rich force of a language. There are anthems and glass-raising salutes and many a nod to Hugh MacDiarmid. This one, ‘Breenge’, takes us on a bus journey through a landscape rendered anew by the words used to describe it, a brave rallying call to linguistic action. It shows the full potential of that evocative, colourful vocabulary – it would be a comparatively pallid thing in English.
Although the poem’s in a Scots collection, it’s not a poem in Scots but a poem about it. Almost all nouns, verbs & adjectives are in Scots, the grammar, prepositions & other gubbins in English. I wrote it on my phone while taking my regular journey to Dumfries, along the Solway coast on the 372A Houston’s bus, driven that morning by Robert Louis Stevenson, or Rab. It’s a beautiful journey & I started thinking about how much of what I see, hear & feel I express internally in Scots. Setting it in an English frame lent, I felt, an added power & importance to both the difference & beauty of the language. Even the title’s ambiguous. A breenge can be both a forceful & intrusive thing (a shove) or a thing of enjoyment (a trip away, a gallivant). I hope that both meanings, verb & noun, apply to the way Scots meanders on its native way through this poem. You don’t have to know Scots to read it, preferably aloud, which makes it in itself a wee adventure. A breenge.