for Gabriel Lalonde, artist, Québec
At da stert, dey wir a makkin o wirds.
Some o da aerliest wis shurley ‘haem’
an wirds for seekin hit whan lost; for
whan horizons mizzle awa, an aathin is
shadit greys. For whan we can scrime
nedder sun trowe ask nor starn trowe
clood. Or, at sea, whan hoops draps
laek a dorro an da haand apön da tiller
trivvels for meanin, an we glinder
for safe haven, relief o kent banks.
Some o da best wirds is for finnin
da gaet: meids to line up Ithaca or
Isbister, hit’s aa da sam; rönnies
apön a steekit kame – laek inuksuit,
gaet-markers o da icy wastes;
blinkies for lichtin trenkies i da mirk;
Polaris, preened tae da heevens,
pin-pointin wis; buoys ta shaa a channel
free o baas; an Möder Dy – inhad,
a readin o undertow ta bring wis haem.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2010. 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 2010 was Jen Hadfield.
I've read a lot of poems about the irresistible 'Edges' this year: the idea of the sea, the idea of the North, the idea of the island, the idea of the coast. I admire De Luca's apparent refusal of the fashionable and commercial concept of Liminality. The 'Edge' is the centre to those who live there, and De Luca's world-view is typically Shetland, expansive and inclusive, looking for likeness before difference. I chose 'Gaet-markers' as an example of what I think De Luca does best: her dialect in poetry has a buoyant rhythmic undertow that carries you through and beyond the poem: 'whan hoop draps/laek a dorro an da haand apön da tiller/trivvels for meanin'…
I met the Québecois artist, Gabriel Lalonde, at a poetry festival in France and we decided to collaborate on the concept of ‘way-markers’ (gaet-markers). He was fascinated by the buoys marking the hidden rocks (baas) and rias of the Breton coastline. Shetland seemed to offer another context for similar ideas – the safe steering of boats by lining up landmarks (meids) or, in storms or mist (ask), the sensing of changes in the underlying swell (möder dy - mother wave). Or the mini-cairns (rönnies) used to find the way through trackless, fog-bound hills (steekit kame), similar in some ways to the evocative inuksuit of northern Canada. The goal in every case is the ultimate ‘safe haven’ – home (haem), real or imaginary.
The poem is divided simply into two ten-line stanzas. There is no regular rhyme scheme, but I hope the poem has shape and rhythm. The dialect has its own onomatopoeia.
ask - mist, haze; baas - submerged rocks; banks - cliffs; blinkies - torches; dorro - weighted handline; gaet - path; glinder - peers; haem - home; inhad - a bare sufficiency; inuksuit - Inuit signposts on a trail, site-markers; kame - ridge of hills; kent - familiar; meids - landmarks to line up when at sea to establish position; mirk - dark; mizzle - disappear; Möder dy - Mother wave; preened - pinned; rönnies - prominent rocks or cairns on a hill; scrime - observe with difficulty; shaa - show; steekit - dense fog; trenkies - narrow paths; trivvels - gropes