I'm a native non-speaker of Gaelic: my parents spoke the language to others and to each other, but not to us. Many parents must have done the same, stopping the transmission of the language dead in its tracks. No doubt they had the best of intentions. As I once wrote about the background to all this, the story is peculiar and contorted. That story leaves me with very mixed feelings about attempts to revive the language by such expedients as road-signs. But I love hearing it spoken.
I went along to Thursday's Nothing but the Poem event, chaired by Robyn Marsack, Director of the wonderful Scottish Poetry Library, a great place and (like Robyn herself) a good friend of the Forum, for which it has hosted several successful events. The topic of the day was two poems by Sorley MacLean. The Writers' Retreat tent was packed out with about seventy people. Robyn said she'd only expected the dozen or so who turn up for such events of close reading at the Poetry Library. Sheets were handed out of the two poems: The Cry of Europe and Dogs and Wolves, each with an English rendering by MacLean and a poetic translation by Iain Crichton Smith. We had the privilege of hearing Dr Niall O'Gallagher read the poems in Gaelic. The rhyme and rhythm and associations of these originals came across strongly even to those of us, all but a handful in the room, who didn't understand a word.
Niall and Robyn led the discussion, which was - like the poems themselves - wide-ranging and intense. There's something about the concentration that's quite invigorating. The SPL has two more 'Nothing but the Poem' events at the Book Festival, and yet more in its regular programme. No preparation or previous knowledge is assumed, so the whole atmosphere is open and welcoming, but at the same time you can explore a poem in surprising depth. If you have any interest in poetry you should give them a try.
Born in Stornoway, Isle of Lewis, Ken has been a full time writer since 1997 authoring thirteen novels, including The Star Fraction (1995) and Intrusion (forthcoming, 2012), plus many articles and short stories. His novels and stories have received three BSFA awards and three Prometheus Awards, and several have been short-listed for the Clarke and Hugo Awards. In 2009 he was a Writer in Residence at the ESRC Genomics Policy and Research Forum. Learn more from Ken’s blog The Early Days of a Better Nation