Review: Nae Flooers by Ann MacKinnon

Granite of the Soul

Stones, structures, communities and things that are, or could be, solid; Ann MacKinnon’s collection grounds the reader to these fundamental elements to preserve the granite/smeddum of the Scots. It is stories and the telling of them within family and community that keep this metanarrative alive, as in the fireside “craic” in ‘Chaff’, for example:

“We hunker roon the brace’,

‘they’d get a blaze

gawn in the hearth an craic aboot work.”

And yet, places, language and memories are shaded in a deep-wrung regret for the loss that time brings, such as the way The Mistress Stane of St Kilda “lowers ower us / Fu o fulmars and their bairns.” In ‘Fulmars’ Land – St Kilda’ only birds remain, “The folk hid tae gan awa” and “stane dykes run intae naithin.”

However, in ‘Fund a Faimilie on Muck’ where the narrator is “Seekin Kin” on the isle of Muck, there’s less romantic nostalgia and more a clear recognition of the impact of poverty and hardship.

“we stravaiged aboot,

taken in the dreichness

fell gled oor kin had lowped awa.

They spend aw thir time in the fields rakin

a raw livin fae saund and barren stane”

In the end it’s their own “kin” that keeps them going, keeps “them fae takin a scunner.” Even when the mud “is slurpin, squelchin” or when “the rain is beatin doon”, the sun can shudder “intae view”, “mindin me o why I’m here, / comin haim tae ye’ as in the case of ‘The Walk’. Through all, the language must hold; there is a determination, a “gowpin” for “the words o ma bairnhood” to aid the poet’s “screivin at stanes.”

This makes for a deeply personal collection. MacKinnon’s father; the “Staunin Stane”, “aye minded” her about the “wirds”. And she writes of a gathering when “it wis John wha insisted / We spak the gather in Scots.” In ‘The Grundstane’, McKinnon invites the reader to celebrate the tenacity of these men, to “fill up a tassie / And drink tae John / The grundstane to aw oor craic.” Memories of place, people – the structures and ties that bind – abound in Ann McKinnon’s writing: warm and embracing, heartfelt and sad.

‘Mindings’ perfectly captures those moments when we take comfort in those “jewels…in the pooch” of the mind. Here, we “Mind the time”, remember “…yon nicht” and “whit aboot when”; running with the narrator to identify the ways by which we go “seekin solace” in times of loss. The regret that ‘Nae Floors’ were taken to the headland cemetery is offset by the wild “yella clump, grippin the dry stane”, the “richt wraith.” Here, in this titular poem, there is a resolute resilience that will overcome the “daurkness” or “tears in the murkiness”.

Reminiscent of MacCaig, ‘The Lichthoose’ is painted there for the reader to see and is a solid metaphor, a guarantee that “the licht aye comes agin.”

 – Baxter’s Old Ram

(Originally published in Gutter issue 14)

Nae Flooers by Ann MacKinnonTapsalteerie, RRP £5.00, 31 pp

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