City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Books: Postcairds fae Woodwick Mill by William Hershaw

By Irene Brown - Posted on 12 June 2015


The Sheafy is the part of Woodwick Mill in Orkney where poet Willie Hershaw retreats and reflects. As a man who is self- confessedly averse to leaving his hame toun of Lochgelly, he manages to find a welcoming comfort there. Here he has produced, originally in an old school jotter, a collection of gey near 100 poems written in his native Fife Scots. The book’s dark stylised cover and the 13 illustrations that accompany the poems and mark each top right hand page are by Brendan McCluskey.

In this collection, Hershaw stravaigs across a range of topics from ghosts, dreams and the supernatural; myth and legend; God faith and doubt; class and political ideals; nature; philosophy; science; time and change; loss and love. Throughout this personal journey across the pages is the strong sense of thoughtful shrewdness without any cynicism and without the loss of hope.

Always aware of the landscape of Scottish poets who have preceded him in the Scottish canon, as was seen in his 2007 pamphlet, Makars, Hershaw pays tribute in the comic and touching piece Wee Fergie. Orcadian George Mackay Brown, George Philp and, of course, Joe Corrie also get paid their due and Wordsworth gets a mention too!

There’s a fine salute to Lewis Grassic Gibbon in Chris Guthrie’s Stock, a modern take on a part of the Scottish classic, , Sunset Song with the message of plus ça change… and there’s more than a nod to the old 1930’s song of the Depression , Brother Can you spare a dime? in The Reaping and the Gleaning where the repetitive line is replaced with the refrain of “Haw Missus…” by the old tramp begging at the Big Hoose.

Hershaw’s poetry is always concise and never rambling, so haiku is a natural form for him and he writes them with spare wit in The Dominie’s Annual Improvement Plan that brings the work of Alan Spence to mind.

The Curriculum
Aa the stuff
the bairns
hivtae ken

His deep respect for his fellow earthly creatures is evident in Tae a Frichtened Hare on a B Road that ends with the lines,

Hare made mad wi fear, tak tent o ma kittlin guidwill

This animal that manages to feature much in literature appears in the salutary tale of the dangerous control of a father in The Twa Hares on the Hill where the lovers live on beyond the tragedy of a young couple dead for just loving.

Though he fired his gunshots ower an ower
Their love he coudnae sunder.

His gift of seeing a larger world in small things; the universal in the particular is manifest in the two stanzaed poem Mousie whose lines end respectively with,

neist nicht he comes back…undeid, aye the same.

Postcairds fae Woodwick Mill comes with some well- respected credentials from the Herald’s Poetry Editor Lesley Duncan; Orkney historian Dr Simon W Hall; poet and translator Tessa Ransford and author and historian James Robertson. But it is Hershaw’s personal dedications to his mother and his wife that are the real testaments to the man taking the form of a stanza from a Joe Corrie poem The Lea Licht o the Moon and the eponymous poem Postcairds fae Woodwick Mill.

Hershaw writes with a quiet positivity that holds none of that brash, false, rictus grin optimism that is blind to life’s realities. Instead the text is infused with Hershaw’s trademark grace, kindness and generosity, characteristics his words indicate he is too modest to be aware of!

The final poem in the book is the very lovely A Leid Caaed Love that sums up much of Hershaw’s personal philosophy. In 2007 to chime with the 10th anniversary of Scotland’s Poetry Festival, Stanza, Hershaw gave out matchbook-sized edition to folk at the reading by 100 poets.

“A leid for aa mankind, a leid caaed Love”

Three other poems appeared originally in Hershaw’s 2002 pamphlet, Winter Song.

The only poem without a glossary is the onomatopoeic piece about rain, Onding , and indeed the reading of this gale of wonderful Scots words is vibrant enough to make you look out your sou’wester! For the rest, a selective glossary is provided with all but one poem but as Hershaw reminds the reader, “…dinnae be feart. …try reading the poems out loud…it’s mainly the unfamiliar look to it…that’s haudin ye back.”

Sae tak tent, be prepared tae let a tear drap an dinnae haud back fae this braw collection!

Postcairds fae Woodwick Mill is published by Grace Note Publications ISBN 978-907676-62-8 price £7.50

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