Ceum Air Cheum (2019)

Ceum air cheum / Step by Step brings together 12 longer poems written between 1989 and 2008 and covering a wide range of subjects, including the difficulties the poet encountered in identifying with a single nation and culture, what it feels like to move between languages, the alienation of growing up gay in a hostile community, the fate of the Transylvanian Saxons, the poet’s complex relationship with a Gaelic poet from a previous generation whose work he edited and translated, Sorley MacLean (Somhairle MacGill-Eain 1911-1996), and an unrealised love with an older Slovenian poet.
At its centre is a powerfully moving address to his mother from a son whose father has abused him, of which Niall O’Gallagher offers a chaste and compelling version in Scots.
The book closes with a tribute one of the two Nicolson sisters who ran a hotel in Skye, a woman who offered the poet crucial insights into the language and the communities where it is spoken.
Christopher’s sixth collection was widely praised when it appeared, and was nominated for two national prizes in Scotland.
Creidear le cuid gum bi na bàird ag obair
an dearbh eitean cànain, mar gum b’ ann
an cridhe nid, ’s e socrach, cofhurtail,
air neo mar dhamhan-allaidh, ’s e ’na shuidhe
am meadhan eig’, ag imleachadh ’s a’ snìomh.
Ach mar as trice, bidh na bàird rim faighinn
aig iomall cànain, far an tèid i thairis
an rudeigin eile, cànain eile, ’s dòcha,
air neo na dh’fhairtlich gus an àm air inntinn
daonn’ a chruthachadh no chur an cèill,
air neo gu simplidh anns an fhalamhachd fhèin,
’s am bàrd mar neach a tha crochte air dèil’,
ro aghaidh togalaich, le clogaid air
a cheann, a’ peantadh gu dìcheallach,
air bhàinidh, aig a chùil an neonitheachd,
nach dùraig e eadhon a smaointinn oirre,
is i cho an-mhòr reòdhta aig a ghuailnean.
from ‘Escaping from one language to another’
Some believe poets work right at the core
of a language, as if at ease in
the heart of a comfortable nest,
or, like a spider sitting in the middle
of a web, licking its lips and spinning.
But more often, poets can be found
at the edge of a language, where it moves
over to something else, another language,
or that which the human mind has so far failed
to conceptualise or articulate,
or simply into emptiness itself.
The poet sits suspended on a plank
before a building’s façade, a helmet
on his head, painting diligently,
furiously, with a void behind him
he doesn’t even dare to think about,
so great and frozen over his shoulder.
translated by Niall O’Gallagher
Cha b’ ann le mi-riarachadh, tha mi ’n dòchas,
no le neo-fhulangas a shealladh tu
air na rinn mi leis na fhuair mi bhuat.
’S tu mothachadh do m’ spòrs is do m’ eas-urram,
dhùisgeadh do ghàir’ is t’ aoibhneas, tha mi smaointinn,
bhiodh tu gam bhrosnachadh, ’s mi dèiligeadh
ri cuspairean nach tric a bhruidhnear air.
Ged nach deach ar n-àrach an aon chànain,
’s e follaiseach a bhiodh mo chòmhradh air
do shon a nis, is tu gam chluinntinn, oir
rinn mi tasgaidh dhe na chruinnich mi
nuair a bha sin còmhl’. A spioraid fhaoilidh,
tha mi dùraigeadh gum bi mo bhriathran
a’ drùidheadh thugad, mas e taibhs’ air faontradh
am measg nan taibhsean eil’ a th’ annad fhathast,
mar ghath dhe leus an t-saoghail seo a th’ againn;
air neo, ma tha thu cheana air do bhreith
às ùr, gu ruig iad thu mar chuimhne aotrom,
’s i tighinn ort gun dùil, gun chèill, gun reusan.
from ‘Remembering Mary Flora’
I hope you wouldn’t look on what I made
of what I got from you intolerantly
or with dissatisfaction. As you observed
my fun as well as my irreverence,
your laughter and delight would be awakened,
encouraging me as I laboured with
subjects that aren’t often spoken of.
Though we were not raised in the same language,
my words for you today would sound clear
were you to hear them, because I made
a store of everything I gathered up
when we were together. Generous spirit,
if you are still a ghost, astray among
the other wandering shades, may these words find
their way to you as a frail ray of light
from this world of ours; or if you have
already been reborn, may they reach
you as a haunting memory that comes
unexpected, unexplained, unreasoned.
translated by Niall O’Gallagher
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‘Whyte is perhaps the most important thinker about poetry in Gaelic’ – Peter Mackay

© 2021 Christopher Whyte. All Rights Reserved | Designed by Jarka Jones

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