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Book Review: POSTCARDS FAE WOODWICK MILL by William Hershaw - Review by Donald Smith

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postcairds-fae.jpgPOSTCAIRDS FAE WOODWICK MILL by William Hershaw

An exuberant delight in Scots runs through this new collection by the Fife poet, William Hershaw, and it finally overflows in the aptly titled ‘Watter Song’.

          on leaf-blade, stem and bole,
                      in hoof hole, filling cupped stane,
jyning as ane,
           eel o bricht licht, torque watter rope
groping amang ruit and rock


a trickling, a pouring
                  intil loch, intil trout-lair,
                              a hirseling heckling the reed bed,
otter-tongued, pike-gilled, tod-lapped
                                threshed by wing-beat
and by webbed guise fuit,
Tae be life,
            tae gie life,
                         sing we.

Here we have a Scots renewal of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ linguistic verve- the ‘haecitas’, or indwelling energy and uniqueness of every part of creation that Hopkins took from the Scots Franciscan philosopher, Duns Scotus. It is ambitious and far ranging poetry determined to break with any notion of Scots as only pawky or couthy.

Appropriately the collection finds explicit inspiration in the Orkney of George Mackay Brown, who equally transmutes the particulars of landscape, season and culture into a universal music. Like Brown, and Donald Campbell another Grace Notes poet, Hershaw is more than ready to submit to the disciplines of form. There is a lovely lyric constraint in ‘Otter’.

Though I waited aa nicht
till the muin had gaun hame,
and lang though the daw
still never he came.
A trummlin whisker,
a tentfou paw,
ma hert wad fair tummle
at ae sign avaa.

The discipline applied here to a natural vigil may also apply to a metaphysical lyric as in ‘The Thrawn Saul’.

I wad be here for aye:
Aa drap in the river,
Skailan owe rock, ablaw sky,
Blythsome forever.

Or with near runic restraint, Hershaw re-scribes the motto on the Scots Parliament’s Mace.


Owreset from ‘Wisdom, Compassion, Justice, Honesty’, this vividly demonstrates Hershaw’s core point that Scots is not to be feared but celebrated as a vivid part of Scotland’s ‘haeccitas’, its pith and smeddum.

There is much to be celebrated in this collection not least the CD with additional songs by the poet’s son, David Hershaw, and the lovely illustrations by Brendan McCluskey. There is also humour, and anyone involved with Scotland’s ‘Curriculum for Excelence’ will laugh out loud at this teacher-poet’s ‘The Dominie’s Annual Improvement Plan’.

Postcairds Fae Woodwick Mill exhibits a renewed confidence as William Hershaw simultaneously stretches his wings with drama and song, In this reach Hershaw resembles his exemplars Joe Corrie and George Mackay Brown, and indeed Donald Campbell.


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