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Donald Adamson is a poet and translator. He was born and educated in Dumfries, Scotland, and at Edinburgh University, where he did an M.Litt. in Applied Linguistics. For many years he taught English as a Foreign Language, and later worked for Longman Publishing as an editor and author of EFL textbooks. In 1995 he was awarded a Scottish Arts Council writer’s bursary. He has lived in France, the Middle East, and Finland, and currently divides his time between Finland and Scotland. He has translated Finnish poems for How to address the fog: Finnish poems 1978-2002 (Carcanet/Scottish Poetry Library, 2005); also song texts for the Sibelius Academy, Helsinki, and for the World Music group Värttinä. He has recently published translations of the Finnish poet Eeva Kilpi (A Landscape Blossoms within Me; Arc Publications 2014), and a collection of his own poems in an English-Romanian bilingual edition (Histories and Happenings; Horizont Literar Contemporan 2014)
He has been an adjudicator and organiser of poetry competitions. He co-founded the Scottish arts and literature magazine Markings, and has had two pamphlet collections published (Clearer Water, and The Gift of Imperfect Lives). He has been a prize-winner in several poetry competitions (Glasgow University/Radio Clyde; Northwords; Dumfries and Galloway Survivors Group; McCash Scots Poetry Prize 2014). His poem ‘Fause Prophets’, which in 1999 won the Herald Millennium Poetry Competition, is buried in a time capsule under the walls of the Scottish Poetry Library. He is also a poetry performer, and a member of the Solway Festival Poets. His poems have been broadcast, and have been translated into Finnish and Romanian.
His previous Indigo Dreams collection is From Coiled Roots
Indigo Dreams Publishing
138 x 216mm
£7.99 + P&P UK
PUB: August 2015
Some blessed Hope, whereof he knew
And I was unaware.
(Thomas Hardy, 'The Darkling Thrush', 31 December 1900)
Leanin on a yett
at the stert o the twintieth century,
Hardy heard the blissfu sang o a mavis
an the thocht cam:
'Thon burd kens somethin Ah dinnae.'
But Hardy, ye micht say, hud his heid screwed oan
mair nor the burd,
thinkin o the nixt hunner year.
If Ah lean on the yett o the toon dump
Ah kin hear the hoodies
pickin ower the remnants o the century
(gey few mavises noo) –
burds o dule, o dark doom,
comfortless wi thir creakin-croakin soun.
An yit again
(Ah tell masel)
whithir bard or burd,
makar or mavis, scriever or scaffy-craw –
yi kin aye be wrang.
The Kennin o Burns
They thocht they kent ye, Burns,
in Edinbro, the gentrie -
you were their prodigy,
their ain plooman-poet
and the weemin ye beddit
and the yins ye lusted efter
were shair they kent ye.
Maybe nane o them did
unless the cuddy kent ye,
the yin ye rade
tae the coast, the coves and havens
whaur smugglers were hid oot.
Ye’d be mumblin tae it,
hummin a fiddle-tune,
giein voice tae the shiftin licht
and sheddae o yir thocht
as the sangs hovered aboot ye,
like wreaths o mist,
takin the form o every sonsie lass
ye’d ever kissed,
equippin themsels, listenin tae yir mind
like a doctor listenin wi a stethoscope,
each o them sayin
Ah ken ye, Rab –
this is the real you.
Everything came from somewhere else.
The rocks arrived as lava or by sea,
minches were shaped, tongued, grooved
in the waltz of continents,
words knocked spots off each other,
letters were hacked and notched
by Romans and Vikings,
merchants, monks and scribes.
Tribes travelled, said ‘Ach well’ and stayed.
And here, in a piece of earth
we stumbled on, whose cities, mountains, skies
inhabit us, we are –
a motley crew.
here where the road peters out
in the Irish Sea
breaking through the surface
mine our air.
Our guide, a local lad
in break-time mood
points where they lie:
‘Stanes and banes’ he says
and a skull laughs
with mouth agape.
Yet no sound comes
from it or us, pilgrims
in that century
or this, dumb before
a saint's armbone.
I thought of you that night as I drove
home and saw
Maryport on the far shore,
an amber centipede of light
so near! and yet
on the other side of the firth,
a hundred miles by road,
barely ten for a boat or bird
to a partner once in shipwreck
and contraband. The lights
dipped behind the hill, the tide
of night rolled and I
was almost home, troubled
by an infinite Solway,
and lights no craft of mine would ever reach
by sea or land.
With Scotland as a background, these poems celebrate diversity. Using both English and Scots, they embrace the ‘glamourie’ – enchantment – to be found in ordinary lives and in poetry. They end with wild bagpipe-led devilry, reminiscent of Robert Burns’s Tam o’Shanter, and an urgent plea for tolerance.
‘Donald Adamson's poems are so firmly rooted in The Scottish landscape they appear almost self-seeded. The contours and cadences of language as natural as the distances, tongues and histories he describes. A very fine collection from a poet at the height of his powers.’
‘... explores our several histories and voices with confidence and panache… a poet who, having spent many years away from Scotland, sees its strengths and weaknesses with a clear but affectionate eye.’
Christine de Luca
Kilgramy Colliery speaks to my Great-Grandfather
You think you come for me, James,
as you crawl to the coal-face.
But I came for you
before you were born, I was there
when John and Susan made you.
I watched you grow in the womb
and you can be sure
I’ll still be here, dust-grey
in ruined lungs
at the end of your life’s seam.
When they’ve finished with me,
engines, winding-gear gone for scrap,
shafts flooded, spoil-heaps eroded
to humps of birch and bracken,
my veins will preserve
coal unmined, fires unlit
a sort of in memoriam, the impression
of something that grew once –
no flower, but fernlike,
a carboniferous leaf.