John McDonald - Haiku

hameless  -
nae Yule whigmaleeries
bit the merry dancers

gan dídean -
is gan de mhaisiúcháin Nollag ann
ach na Saighneáin

Yule lichts turnt on  -
yirth yin skinklin
whigmaleerie in space

soilse Nollag ar lasadh
an domhan ina ornáid lonrach
sa spás

licht throuch
the hairst treen
 . . . apenin her keel boax

trí chrainn an fhómhair
osclaíonn sí an bosca crián

daw sinblink
chirtin watter
frae the freestit leaves

ga gréine na maidine
ag fáscadh uisce
as duilleoga sioctha

virus apairtness  -
new peths
throuch the wuids 

scaradh sóisialta -
cosáin nua
tríd an gcoill 

pandemic  -  the day
e'en the craw
muives twa metres awa 

an phaindéim -
an préachán fiú
bogann dhá mhéadar uaim inniu 

John McDonald, Tea wi the Abbot:  Haiku in Scots (Onslaught Press 2016) with transcreations by Gabriel Rosenstock, £10 (pb).

Metre lay at the heart of Gaelic poetry.  Changes in metrical practice were invariably reflective of changes in the structure of feeling and if the modernist poetry which emerged from the mid-twentieth century onwards was less straitjacketed than its antecedents, it was, at its best, conscious of metrical patterns and utilised them pragmatically.

Gabriel Rosenstock’s introduction of the Japanese haiku as a serious literary form in poetry in Irish marked a turning away from the kind of nativism synonymous with, say, Daniel Corkery in favour of the literary cosmopolitanism   advocated by Corkery’s cultural antagonist, Pádraig de Brún, as articulated in a debate between them in the journal, Humanitas (1930-1).  Irish allowed Rosenstock to go beyond the Anglo-centric provincialism of poetry in English to embrace the culture and poetry of Asia and India as well as the work of poets in a variety of endangered languages. 

The book under review is an instance of the latter, a translation of haiku written in Scots or Lallans, the distinctive form taken by English as it developed in Scotland.  (It is not a dialect and is utterly distinct from Scottish Gaelic.)  While the geographical distance between the Scots language and Irish may not be wide, the cultural chasm is considerable, exacerbated by religious difference and long-established antagonisms between Scots and Gaelic poets.  The greatest twentieth-century practitioner of poetry in the language, Hugh MacDiarmid, was neither anti-Irish, anti-Catholic nor anti-Gaelic, but older perceptions have had a long afterlife.

Far from re-running the religious rivalries of the past, McDonald’s collection, including the title, is, in many of the poems, driven by aspects of Catholic devotion:

throu Mass—
the weet's turnt
tae snaw

i lár an Aifrinn—
d’iompaigh an bháisteach
ina sneachta

The poet’s attitude to the Highlands appears less convinced, however:

hielant veesit—
traikit a’ready
o wattergaws

cuairt ar na garbhchríocha—
bréan den bhogha síne
cheana féin

Succinctness and clarity are renowned features of Scots poetry and these make that language and the haiku into suitable partners.  Rosenstock’s translations or ‘transcreations’, as he prefers to call them, will be of the greatest assistance to Irish readers in gaining an appreciation of McDonald’s achievement.

Proinsias Ó Drisceoil