Review: Poèmes Écossais, by Paul Malgrati. Paul Malgrati is a French poet and academic who has lived in Scotland since 2016. His work, inspired by French symbolism and Scottish modernism, is a poetic exploration of the ‘Auld Alliance’, blending Franco-Scots languages and traditions. His debut collection, Poèmes Ecossais, was shortlisted for the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award in 2020, is forthcoming with Blue Diode Press (2022).
Sae. Yin o the things we go roond the hooses wi a bit when it comes tae Scots – wan o the status symbols o a ‘real’ language that we signally lack – is the presence o non-native spikkers. Cause if naebody kens Scots that didnae get it at their mither’s knap – if naebody lairns or uises Scots that wisnae born tae the thing – we’re ontae plums when it comes tae claimin real legitimacy for the language quo language, as opposed tae as a localised lexis available for hire for Burns Nichts an the odd funeral.
An ah’m guilty o thon masel, this fetishisin o the norrie o non-native spikkers. In ma mind’s ee, ah tilt them this wey an that, like Tetris bricks, jooglin them doon intae the empty spaces that neglect has pit in oor threidbare leid. An ah’m apt tae forget that whit maks a language distinct – whit maks Scots no English, an Ukrainian no Russian – is the fowk that spik it. Non-native spikkers o a language arenae the inert materials – the cogs, the wheels – that keep the thing spinnin. They’re the divine spark, the first and final cause o a leid. It’s the wirds an notions brocht tae us bi the Dutch and the French and the Flemish that shapit oor Scots oot o the cley o English. An it’s the want o thon noo that leas oor leid a shilpit thing – nae new images but the wans we pauchle frae English, nae new wirds but the wans we smith for oorsels.
Sae if ah talk aboot Paul Malgrati’s Poèmes Écossais– the first Scots poetry collection by a scriever whase mither tongue wis neither Scots nor English – as if it’s sowt a bit mair as a bonnie-braw buik, ye’ll mebbe unnerstaun how. Scrieved bi a native Scots spikker, Poèmes Écossais wad be a colossal achievement. Scrieved by a native Frenchman, it’s somethin else awthegither – a bluid transfusion, a clear fresh flood o the imagery an ideas oor culturally-malnutritioned language needs tae survive.
Aye, there’s cross-pollination in here – o Scots, o French, o English, o a wee touch Gaelic. But whit results frae this is no sae muckle a mixter-maxter as a haw o mirrors: oor couthie, ilkaday Scots infinitely reflectit doon lang corridors o aft-dairk keekin-glesses. These are no, as we Scots scrievers are aye guilty o ettlin at, screivins in a leid like nae ither. They’re scrievins in a leid like ONY ither.
But if the language they’re scrieved in isnae unique, the poems themsels certainly are. Unco, byspiel things, these wirds, ringin notes that jowe in yer kist lang, lang efterhaun, reengin frae Mary Stuart tae munchy-boxes tae – in an astonishin sae-cried ‘concrete’ poem o oxymoronic soupleness an fluidity – the hale scope o Scotland itsel.
Or a Scotland, onygates, syne Malgrati himsel, in a preface, describes the poems tae follae as “a newfound lingua franca – the common tongue of our possible land”. But mebbe it’s jist the lingerin pouer o the aforementioned concrete poem that gars me see Poèmes Écossaisas a kind o map – o baith Malgrati an his Scotland, inside an oot. A layin-oot o kenmairks an cairns an watters, thir things wirth seein, an the braidest o hints on how tae find them.
Chapeaus aff tae Blue Diode Press for this giftie o a collection. Tant crie l’on Noël, qu’il vient. For unprecedentit times, an unprecedentit buik.