Tag: poetry

uneven by design


Visited the Writers’ Museum just off the Royal Mile in Edinburgh today. The museum is dedicated to Robbie Burns, Walter Scott and Robert Louis Stevenson, and sits to one side of Makars’ Court, which is itself paved with stones that have been engraved with quotes by many Scottish writers and poets.

But the thing that caught my imagination in the museum was this pink stairwell, with its white painted step. There was a warning sign that read: Beware the 11th step onwards...

Apparently the steps are uneven by design, so that an intruder might stumble and betray their presence. For some reason this made me think about metrical regularity versus open form. And from there it was but a short stumble to the kinetic pleasure of walking outdoors on an uneven floor.

It seems to me that the two have more than a little in common.



And Muich Dui’s summit,  /  Rock defiant against frost and the old grinding of ice

(Nan Shepherd ‘The Hill Burns’)

‘some broken bit of flotsam for other men to find’ – Vagaland (1909-73)


Passing through Walls, or more correctly Waas (see note*) I popped into the local shop on the off chance someone might be able to direct me to a monument or plaque to the poet Vagaland who’d lived here for most of his life. Several people came in while we were chatting and offered theories for the location of his house, and it became quite the conversation, with one man quoting in dialect a fragment of his verse. In the end it was decided that the proprietor should phone another member of the village who in turn suggested I came over. And so it was I found myself on Sheila’s couch leafing through these lovely first editions, while she chatted about Vagaland’s life.

T.A. Robertson, who would go on to adopt the local name Vagaland for his poetry (it being the old Norse for Waas) was a keen walker and was instrumental in the formation of the Shetland Folk Society. Many of his poems are in dialect, with several later set to music. Sheila said that there would always be someone reciting or singing something of his at community events. Her own favourite was ‘Da Otter an da Hedgehug’ which I love for introducing me to the Shetlandic spelling of ‘hedgehog’ and for the lines –

…an da Hedgehug answered him, / ‘Der mony a shange in a Simmer Dim, / Lat alane in a Winter’s nicht. / Some day de world will be pitten richt.’

I thought it curious at first that a shy and softly spoken man would adopt what would seem to be a rather flamboyant pseudonym. But I wonder now if he simply saw himself only as a conduit for the land around him and its life, and therefore didn’t feel he could claim it as his own. So in fact to use ‘Vagaland’ was the very opposite of flamboyance, and a simple way of returning his poems to their source.

Many thanks to T.A. Robertson, and to Sheila and to everyone at the excellently stocked Waas village shop!

T. A. Robertson

[*Note: Walls is a good example of the cheeky fallibility of the OS, who added the ‘ll’ to Waas thinking it was a corruption of Walls, which it wasn’t.]

‘a work for poets’


Between ferries on my way to the Shetlands I made a quick detour to the Warbeth churchyard in Stromness to pay my respects to George Mackay Brown (1921-1996) He took a little while to find, depsite a noisy oyster catcher’s best efforts to squawk me the way, but I got there. My picture’s not that clear, but the stone reads: Carve the runes then be content with silence.

Rob Donn Country – Strathnaver Museum



(a selection of tiles inspired by the illiterate, Scottish Gaelic poet Rob Donn (1714-78), made by students of Kinlochbervie and Farr High Schools, with ceramicist, Lottie Globb)

Fair Duncan of the Songs



(Duncan Ban MacIntyre (1724–1812) best known for his poem about Beinn Dorain,  ‘Moladh Beinn Dòbhrain’)


Dalmally Station