MacSween the corner butcher with confidence displays
for denizens of the city – ‘of toons the a per se‘
a vegetarian haggis, rank specimen of his craft.
Just what the creature might contain defeats surmise:
pinmeal and onions, nuts or beans, some dribs and drabs.
No gristle, no suet, no organ meats: no liver, no tripes
no lights, no heart. Instead of a sheep’s paunch
potato skins with a saddle-stitch fly. Up the Mound
down Candlemaker’s Row the fix is in. The makars jump
the peddlers stump, the market splits wide open.
First from a purely culinary point of view – corned, curried
devilled, smoked and kosher haggis; haggis a la king; wee cocktail
haggis; haggis in a basket; haggis on the half-shell; instant haggis;
English haggis; haggis éclairs; Crimean campaign haggis, conceived
in Sebastopol, consumed in Balaclava; hot-cross haggis; haggis in
plum sauce; desiccated haggis; baked haggis Alaska; chocolate mint-
chip haggis; non-stick convenient haggis; cucumber and haggis
sandwiches; junk haggis; whole-hog haggis.
Next by haggis of a special bent – weight-watcher haggis;
haggis for the moonstruck; haggis nouveau; haggis grand cru; 12 year
old vintage haggis matured in oak casks; 100 year old Kung Po haggis
drawn from the well without obstruction; “Bomber” Haggis; haggis for
lovers; lite, lo-tar, lo-nicotine haggis; Campdown haggis; drive-in
haggis; hand-raised, house-trained haggis, with a pedigree attached;
haggis by special appointment; reconstituted haggis; nuclear-free
haggis; ancient Dynastic haggis sealed in canopic jars; haggis
quickstep; haggis high in fibre; haggis low in the opinion of several
discerning people; a haggis of the Queen’s flight; Nepalese temple
haggis (rich, dark and mildew-free); hard-porn haggis; haggis
built to last.
Finally objects tending to the metaphysical – desolation
haggis; the canny man’s haggis; haggis not so good or bad as
one imagines; haggis made much of caught young; unsung haggis;
haggis not of this fold; haggis dimm’d by superstition; perfectly
intuited haggis; haggis beyond the shadow of a doubt;
bantering haggis; haggis given up for Lent; haggis given up for
lost; haggis so good you think you died and went to heaven;
haggis supreme; haggis unchained.
About this poem
This poem was included in Best Scottish Poems 2008. 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 editors in 2008 were Rosemary Goring and Alan Taylor.
Not enough poems make us laugh. Surprise, Surprise did continuously. Haggis, of course, has a hallowed niche in McParnassus, Burns’ oft-incanted ode being the benchmark. It would be nice, however, next Burns Night if Alexander Hutchison’s tour de force could be heard across the land. But we do hope that he has taken the precaution of patenting many of his inspired suggestions though try as we might we cannot imagine what haggis éclairs could possibly taste like. Or, for that matter, baked haggis Alaska.
‘Surprise, Surprise’ was written in 1984 when I was living in Bruntsfield in Edinburgh after coming back to Scotland from Canada that same year. One sunny morning I passed John MacSween’s butcher shop (it was quite close to the flat I shared) and saw the object in question. I thought: “Anything is possible now,” and the poem was started the same day.
By coincidence, vegetarian haggis had first been concocted to help celebrate the founding of the Scottish Poetry Library – and by double coincidence the original recipe was conceived with the help of my wife-to-be (whom I had yet to meet).
Vegetarian haggis is now liable to feature on menus anywhere: a fact the closing of the corner shop and the opening of a factory may reflect. On the culinary side, life has followed art: “wee cocktail haggis” arrived quickly – along with haggis flavoured crisps, haggis samosas, haggis ice cream, haggis won-tons and so on.
The poem brought me luck too: winning first prize in the SASV Diamond Jubilee competition of 1985, when the judges were Norman MacCaig and Edwin Morgan.
Of course, any combination of butchers, cooks and poets has a fair bit going for it at the outset.