Moder Dy (Mother Wave) by Roseanne Watt
Moder Dy is from the Shetland dialect referring to the mother wave, an underswell which local fishermen steer by, supposedly always leading them home. And home is a major theme of this slim volume of poetry by Roseanne Watt, poet, musician and filmmaker. Born on the furthest shores of Scotland, this is Watt’s debut collection and the deserved winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2018. After studying far away at the University of Stirling for her PhD where she was supervised by Kathleen Jamie, whose own evocative essays in Findings have a similar air of quiet watching, Watt’s poems are like droplets of her homeland.
This collection is a moder dy itself, an undercurrent drifting the reader northwards to unknown lands. Divided into three sections, these poems have a weightlessness about them, like an Iceland Gull landing on spindly legs in a high wind. The first section, Stoal an old story, elucidates details: patterns of lichen on rock in Lichen Leid; the “unfolding into air” of the heron and “slud-light, the space between rain showers” in Haegri.
In the second, Sjusamillabakka between the sea and the shore, the choice mix of English and Shetlandic pearls continues. Listen to the lovely lilt of Christine De Luca, an established Shetland poet, before reading, so as to have the accent in mind. At first it’s a mild nuisance having to look up words in the glossary at the back. That is, until you are rewarded with the richness of translation. Take Akker for example, about objects which no longer have life in them: “I thieve such pieces on slockit days when words leave me at a loss”. Slockit means ‘extinguished, as of a light’, and on returning from the back of the book to reread the verse at hand, an immediate visual image appeared of Watt sitting at her desk searching for verbal illumination on a dull day.
Throughout, pools of white page-space balance the sparse lines, reminiscent of Watt’s native scenery of rolling turf and mirror-surfaced lagoons. In Paddock Stöls, the rightset third line has a gap at the beginning where the reader’s ears strain before “listening-in”, the fourth and fifth lines have blanks for searching before “Look” and again “there!” Blinnd-moorie (an extreme snowstorm) starts in black ink-type, but fades to the faintest grey of winter breath dissolving into a paper whiteout.
Not only are wildlife and landscape, weather and sea treated with a buoyant sensibility, but there is an emotional consciousness too. In Fledgling Watt hangs back and watches as another stoops and cups a sparrow in hand: “a windswept heart made manifest; feather light and hollow…”. There is a palpable grief in Migration Day: “opening again, like skin remembering wounds”, and real heartbreak in The Diagnosis, but there is also the third and final chapter, Kokkel the compass, which guides one along the coast of this lingering melancholy and steers a safe passage home to the heart of things.
Other beautiful words: lomm – the change in colour of the sea when fish swim underneath; skerries rocks
Marjolein is a Shetlandic comedian and she shares some of her favourite words from the dialect on youtube – both enjoyable and informative.
Featured landscape photos by Isobel Cockburn. Title image Uyeasound, Shetland