I mind wis lyin aff Burrafirth
waitin fur da tide ta turn, fur da ebb ta come,
so we could shut an tow back oot da voe.
Fur da engine hadna muckle peester,
hit wis ower peerie an you could hear da groon
whin da wiecht cam on.
Staandin i da lee o da wheelhouse
we smokit fags an swappit yarns.
If Johnnie wis I da richt frame o mind
he wid tell wis some o his wartime tales.
Aa dat years itill da convoys, da men an cargoes he sailed wi.
but da most frichtnin, he said, wis da Arctic convoys.
Dey sailed itill yun frozen waaters i da Barents Sea
wi nae hoop o rescue, U boats, aeroplanes an even ee time
da battleship Scharnhorst shaested dem.
Da worst o da lot wis da wadder, graet muckle waves
set ta swally you whole an da snaa an frost bitin itll your banes.
How dey wid tak hit in twa hoor shifts chappin da ice aff
wi shivel an exe fae da handrails an stroods,
onywhaur hit micht gadder an dan sweep hit oot da scuppers.
He minded dem getting torpedoed i da White Sea,
hit blew da boo clean aff.
Da Bulksheid, he held though an dey limpit inta Arcangel,
whaur shu wis lashed ta da peir, an micht still be dere yet.
Lowrie geed a shiver an Geordie baet his airms aboot him.
Da skipper stuck his heid oot da wheelhouse window, sayin
“Enoch o winnin da da war aa be desel Johnnie, baal du da dan ower da side
an let wis get a shott in afore da darkenin comes doon.”
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2019. 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 Scots editor in 2019 was Derek Ross.
Shetlandic is no a dialect a’m over familiar wi. Academics ca it Modern Shetlandic Scots (MSS). A prefer just Shetlandic, if ever thir is a dialect o place, this is it! ‘Murmansk’ by James Sinclair is a fine example o the magic o dialect. It gies us frae mair southern climes,new words an soons tae savour: ‘Fur da engine hadna muckle peester, / Hit wis ower peerie an you could hear da gronn / whin da weicht cam on.’ An wha canna help bit shiver wi the lines: ‘Da worst o da lot wis da wadder, graet muckle waves / set ta swally you whole, an da snaa an frost bitin itae / Yer banes.’ Wha disnae feel the horror o it: ‘He minded dem getting torpedoed i the White Sea, / hit blew da boo clean aff.’ Even the crew felt a deeper cauld: ‘Lowrie geed a shiver an Geordie baet his arms aboot him.’ Then the auld skipper brings us aa doon tae earth, tae reminds us that life gans oan: ‘Enoch o winnin da war aa be desel Jonnie, baal / du da dean ower da side / an let wis get a shott in afore da darkenin comes doon.’ James Sinclair lifts the drama o the Artic Convoys frae the history buiks an pits in man the tongues o those that wir there. A fine poem indeed.
‘Murmansk’ is a poem quite typical of my style. After a number of years writing, I have settled into the dialogue poem, written in Shetland dialect. The Shetland dialect is how I think. I am a born and bred Shetlander. I am maybe not the best at sticking to rules, but one thing I have been told time and time again , write about what you know best. I write best in the morning when the head is less cluttered with all of the rest of the day’s information. ‘Murmansk’ was written on a Sunday morning, and to be honest it just developed on the page over an hour or so. It was like watching a photograph develop in a tray of chemical. The features gradually gaining body then clearing before my eyes. I did do a couple of re-edits. The poem though was pretty much there, first time.