Gin there’s onythin mair difficult in this day an age than tae live as a poet, it’s tae live as a poet wha wirks in Scots – an sae it wis nae surprise tae read the day that Kathleen Jamie, yin o the kintrae’s finest scrievers in the tongue, has gien up writin poetry in her ain leid.
She’s got her reasons, like, an ye cannae argue wi maist o thaim. She talks aboot the problems o legitimacy, an readability, an rammies aboot “synthetic Scots”, an aw the ither pantomime villains that hiv been scoukin aroond the ootskirts o the leid this mony a lang year. Tae maist fowk wi an interest in the leid, it’s aw weel-kent grund, an ah dinnae say that dismissively. Ah say it wi weariness that, even efter eight hunner-odd years, we ayeweys seem tae be stairtin aff fae scratch.
An it’s difficult no tae cam tae the conclusion, as Kathleen seems tae, that the real enemies o Scots arenae an indifferent government an a semi-hostile media. That whit’s haudin us back isnae wha’s in front o us, but wha maks oot tae be ahint us. The purists, the grammar polis, the fowk wha care mair aboot the deid wirds than the spikkers wha gie thaim life – the leidbangers. These are the yins wha hiv decidit that – as a freend said tae me the ither day – the language o 1.6 million people is their baw, an naebody else is tae play wi it.
Weel – aye. Scrievin in Scots is aboot the maist solipsistic business ye can get intae, nouadays. The cardinal crime o “makkin is up as ye gan alang” is, like original sin, jist somethin ye’re born tae. Naebody ever taucht ye Scots – ye lairt it, as ye lairt maist important things, bi gaun oot intae the warld an makkin a richt erse o yersel. Ye did, richt fae the stairt, whit maist scrievers anely manage efter years o strauchle. Ye teuk the things that were in yer hert, an ye tried tae find weys tae tell fowk aboot thaim, in wirds that were baith true tae the thing ye were sayin an honest tae the person ye were sayin thaim tae. An ower an ower again, ye did it wrang, but aw the same ye keepit on gaun.
Kathleen is jist bein straicht-up aboot somethin that aw Scots spikkers ken but dinnae like tae admit, which is that the thing that hauds us thegither – oor language – is forby the thing that keeps us apairt. We’re aw jist floatin aroond in the vacuum o silence, thrawin oot this auld washin line o a leid that oor mithers left us, an howpin that it cleeks ontae somebody afore it snaps in twa. Anely connect. A brief tether o unnerstaunin an then we’re aff again, driftin awa.
Which is true o aw people speakin aw leids, o coorse… But it feels mair true o Scots richt noo, in a wey that maks yon bonnie broukit bairn seem tae me like the optimal language for oor acceleratit cultur. It’s aw or naethin, nouadays, gang big or gang hame – an Scots spikkers are gan big aw doon the line. Hiv tae. Cannae no. Tae write in Scots isnae quite, quo Dylan, tae staun naked – but it’s at least, quo McIlvanney, tae staun in yer underwear.
Which is whit maks the thing wirth stickin in wi, at least tae ma mind… But it’s no easy, an God kens hou mony times ony Scots spikker ye ken has had tae talk themsels doon aff the ledge. A uiser o Scots growin up in this kintrae the day has got twa choices – find a wey tae be yersel ‘ithin Scots, or find a wey tae be yersel wioot it. Maist o us hiv tried baith, an a hard road tho the first yin is, the toll tae the second isnae wirth the peyin.
There’s ayeweys been loads o argiments for giein up on Scots. But tak a leuk throu the archive o Bella Caledonia alane an ye’ll find a thoosand reasons mair tae keep this hauf-daft show on its rammlin road. Like aw the Scots spikkers ah ken, ah howp Kathleen Jamie finds a reason o her ain tae keep on gaun. It’s hard eneuch for fowk tae scrieve in Scots. It’d be that much harder wioot her.