On Saturday, Shetlandic poet Roseanne Watt (Moder Dy, 2019) was joined by Pàdraig MacAoidh and Donald S. Murray, both from Lewis, to give readings from their work which consider the continued challenges encountered by archipelagic communities in the face of ecological change and climate destruction. The event was chaired by Drew McNaughton, poet and former events coordinator for the Scottish Poetry Library and committee member of Seachdain na Gàidhlig.
The indigenous dialects and languages of the Scottish islands have an exceptional relationship with resilience, having persisted at the periphery of Scotland’s linguistic traditions despite decades of adversity. For Roseanne Watt, this periphery space is reflected in the liminal, shifting language of Shetland which negotiates English, lowland Scots and Norse. She describes finding a peace amongst these linguistic influences, an equilibrium of shared existence that does not pose one presence against another.
She speaks of an estrangement from both the indigenous language of Shetland and the landscape it articulates, an estrangement not uncommon for her generation whose relationship with the natural world is fraught and unsettled. Through her poetry, Roseanne rediscovers a vocabulary that connects her with Shetland and its dialect. Roseanne shares indigenous words that hold uncanny bonds with their native landscape, words that are not simply translatable into English. In these instances, language and poetry present new aspects from which to understand the environment and offer alternative ways of considering our place within the natural world. She believes that closing the gap between indigenous dialect and our estrangement from it would promote a better relationship with the natural world, a relationship that views it has a part of us rather than a resource to be exploited.
Roseanne, like Pàdraig and Donald, speak of a fear of losing indigenous language and the landscape it articulates. The climate crisis poses new threats to the island communities and their language, so much so that Roseanne describes writing in her native tongue as a haunting experience, where feelings of things lost and a life still under threat permeate the linguistic traditions of the islands. For all three poets, there is a parallel to be drawn between preserving linguistic heritage and conserving the environment. Appreciating indigenous language as a storehouse of knowledge which increases our attentiveness to the world around us is but one of many pragmatic solutions literary works can offer in opposition to climate change. All three poets are striving to find new metaphors that encourage us to reconsider the world we live in and the people we share it with, where indigenous language serves not just to promote local connections but also allows us to think globally about our future.
You can catch up on the full discussion on the COP26 YouTube, linked here: