|The poetry of the Solway Coast|
Dealing with the subject of borders, you would have to think there would be an overt political sensibility in Stuart A. Paterson’s collection Border Lines, especially given his own clear passion for Scottish independence, expressed elsewhere in his output, but it ain’t necessarily so.
The poem At Douglas Hall takes place on the tide, the border between the land and the sea, which is constantly shifting and carries with it ‘beginnings & endings’ as well as borderline ballads.
The poem Crossing the Border is one of the highlights of the collection and indicates the heart of the subject, and comes closest to the political, neatly summing up that post-Referendum low with its own tidal gloom:
Scotland long gone in the rear-view-mirror,
the heavy traffic north, lost round that
corner, the other side of yon
unsignposted junction we passed
40 mintes & a Referendum ago.
In fact, the capital R on Referendum seems to place it all in a context of muted hope, and possibly the exhaustion of the great event itself.
I feel that some of the areas of Dumfries and Galloway discussed, such as Barnhourie, Sandyhills and Kirkgunzeon are presented sadly, almost in an effort to ignore their touristic potential — for it is tourists that are generally the ones that will encounter these places. Scots rarely go there.
Often these villages are entirely inconsiderable, consisting of a few houses and a post office, creating what feels like a mild elemental confusion of places, borders, and landscapes — because Border Lines is not a collection that focuses on people, so much as places.
Passing Through demonstrates this:
Scanning barcodes of Galloway evening sky,
last minutes of pink light limping weakly out
unanswering westward, in reply
I hear the oystercatchers shout
their mad fast movements down the coast.
Across these Border Lines a search for people is taking place. On coasts and borders people are less comfortable, instead preferring the certainty and security of definition.
Criffel and Barnhourie are likewise treated, as Paterson passes through these two communities also, still looking for people but finding only landscapes in which roads and coastlines struggle for definition, and where ‘weary troupes of weans’ are the closest human life available.
What’s new here for anyone who knows Stuart A. Paterson’s work is the use of English.
Could be that he has spent too much time on the Dumfries and Galloway coast, looking over to the island of England and the West Cumbrian coastal plain, where the Derwent meets the Solway Firth?
Could it be that for the serious business of nature poetry and the intimate feelings associated with many bus journeys around the lowland hills and small mountains of the Tràchd Romhra, English is more suited?
From Dundrennan, Auchencairn, Kippford and Sandyhills ... one looks over to Workington, Maryport and Allenby. The names are Scots and English to the core, it feels, causing the poetry to bring up its own borders, those that are natural to the words themselves. Post Referendum also, it may be that borders are a touchier subject than ever.
Stuart A. Paterson places an ampersand through Border Lines, instead of using the word ‘and’. It’s his choice and it doesn’t distract from things most of the time, but it is hard to fathom if there is a political or textual point to it.
He’s not alone here. Another recent example of ampersandisation would be George Gunn’s A Northerly Land (Braevella Press, 2013) which not unlike Border Lines, is a continued meditation on one area of Scotland, mediated by various themes, such as seasonal change.
That sound outside, near Sandyhills bridge,
along Barnhourie Burn, a high wild wailing
winding down to a long low growl of echo,
has me up in my chair, neck hairs tight.
You'd tell me it's a heron out on the scope
for sprats, perhaps a dog fox losing its head
to the vast dark freedoms of a Galloway night.
Borders is the poem within this collection which plays with the line between belief in the supernatural, as conjured up by nature, and the 'urban logic' (not urbane) which most of us are guided by. So as another border is discovered and explored, this is perhaps how Paterson, living in the wilds of Sandyhills, sees the world, a succession of borders.
Border Lines is introduced with a Foreward written by the late Tessa Ransford.