Thursday, April 23, 2009

23rd April

A dear friend read from his new collection of poetry tonight.

I know him as Christopher Whyte; but his name on the title page is Crìsdean MacIlleBhàin. The title of the collection is "Dealbh Athar". The poems are written in Scots Gaelic, and translated into Irish Gaelic, in a parallel text, by Gréagóir Ó Dúill.

The title of the collection means, I believe, "Portrait of a Father", and I hope I don't betray a confidence if I say his father called Christopher much suffering.

An incredibly important part of the process of writing this collection was to write the poems in Gaelic. In fact, if I understand right, they could not even have been conceived in English. The strictness of the verse forms enable him to shape his feelings; and the fact that no-one else in the family would be able to read them gave him a certain freedom.

Which had led me to believe that they would be filled with bitterness. Yet the ones Christopher chose to read were filled with a beautiful and profoundly moving spirit of gratitude and reconciliation.

That feeling expressed totally in the melody of the Gaelic as he read.

There was a different spirit in the Irish. Someone in the audience put it beautifully when they said that the Scots sounded like singing; and the irish like a conversation.

The translator explained that the Irish has been codified much earlier than the Scots; and used as a language of administration and government.

And it is that, centuries and centuries of it, that has hardened English and flattened its expressiveness. (It was still comparatively absent in the time of Shakespeare: which is partly, I think, what accounts for its beauty and expressiveness. Why we still thirst for it, without fully understanding it).

And that is why, in his poetry, Christopher will not use it.

And there is a total integrity in that: a faith and a respect for the power of poetry which I totally admire.

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