Stuart A Paterson’s Aye, reviewed by Tom Hubbard
Reviewing the Glasgow-born Irishman Pearse Hutchinson’s Collected Poems, Harry Clifton quoted Alexander Blok’s remark that a poet ‘is a human being by profession.’ The reviewer continued: ‘In the present climate, when poetry is less a fate and more a career-choice, the imperative is to professionalise first and be human second.’ (Metre 12, Autumn 2012). Clifton argued that Hutchinson (1927-2012) exemplified Blok’s statement; as indeed, in my view, does Stuart Paterson. I have to declare an interest: I’ve befriended both Pearse and Stuart, and my knowledge of the men and their art leads me to the view that they’re both human and professional in their poetry, that these two qualities are fused, as ‘a thing inseparate’ (to quote Shakespeare’s Troilus out of context).
When Stuart Paterson was emerging as a poet from the early 1990s, still in his mid-twenties, it was clear he wasn’t going for the easy ‘career-choice’; eschewing what was then fashionable, he resorted to rhyme, metre and musicality, like a true makar. So it was fated that he’d find his native voice in the Scots leid. This came about partly through his growing friendship with the great Scottish Esperanto poet William Auld (1924-2006): Stuart was prompted to consider the very nature of language and languages, as well as the visionary quality of Auld’s work.
Sparkily introduced by Joy Hendry, Aye is the long-awaited culmination of Stuart Paterson’s work in Scots. The title-poem has an incantatory quality, with deft, darkly ironic use of point and counterpoint. In this collection there’s a welcome interlacing of love and politics, of private and public passions. Stuart Paterson is the master of the lyrical breenge.
As I read and re-read, certain lines lowped oot: ‘Dumfries toits roon / it ain coupit windmills.’ (‘The Toon’); the hilarious ‘Ettercap’, with its warsles against the eponymous pest – ‘It’s muckle, terrible an affy – / the ettercap-destroyin baffy.’ The Scots language itself is the matter of ‘Leid’: ‘Eneuch we ken, wi ilk howpfu braith / the daith o ony leid’s a kintra’s daith.’ For me, this echoes Pearse Hutchinson, a poet at ease in leids as diverse as Galician, Irish, and Scots: ‘Ghosts are cruel, / and ghosts of suicides more cruel still. / To kill a language is to kill one’s self.’
Stuart possesses the intellect, the imagination, the virr of his Scots, to follow Bill Auld in attempting the long poem in the leid. Bill lived in Dollar; at the other end of Glendevon, T.S. Law (1916-97) was as ambitious in Scots as was Bill in Esperanto. Stuart bydes by the Solway. Epics can grow in quiet corners: go for it, Stuart.
He concludes his pamphlet with lines that pose both artistic and political challenge: ‘things we thocht had come tae pass / hae only noo jist stertit.’ Aye, indeed.
Note – this review was originally commissioned by Bella Caledonia