>> The Forth Bridge
The Bridge Over the Atlantic <<
The pairing we feature this week could hardly be more extreme – east coast/west coast; vastness/compactness; North Sea/Atlantic (well, inlets of those); steel/stone; world fame/local fame – yes, it’s The Forth Bridge meets The Bridge Over the Atlantic; an ‘icon’ of Scotland meets an ironically named ‘attraction’. Constructed in the wake of the Tay Bridge disaster, The Forth Bridge was built to last. Opened in 1890, and at the time the longest cantilever bridge ever, it rapidly came to be seen as one of the wonders of the modern world. The Clachan Bridge (to give it its Sunday name) links, in a single span, the island of Seil to the Argyll mainland. It acquired the appellation of ‘The Bridge Over the Atlantic’ as Clachan Sound, which links to that ocean at either end, can be seen as a small part of the larger whole. And on top of those extremes, the two poems in our pairing contrast hugely in form and construction.
The Bridge Over The Atlantic
by Ian Crockatt
They took our birlinn, stem and stern-posts
High as a Venetian gondola’s, and up-turned it.
Every tide in the bladder-wracked sea-tongue its keel
Bridged, swam the eel-current
Races that tracked South and North
Into and out of the Atlantic. And they
Docked our tongues, every man’s that dared
Give out a taste of his father’s banter,
Effortless sound-shapes an islander’s born to.
One soul this end of the keel-bridge, one the other;
Veritable shape-shifters we were, minds gone
Evasive as mist with keeping speech-thoughts in curb,
Raking the past for the fuelling of anger.
Those that got out, the salmon-stubborn, ran
hard-headed on a spring ebb out to sea;
Everything given up but nothing given over.
And from Mull and Seil, Caithness and Ireland, Sweden and Italy
The disinherited massed in a marvellous Sargasso;
Language, labour, dance of the old worlds gathered
And ransacked the past for ways of living
New. New? For our first night we took a skin canoe,
Tipped its fur-clad family into Scajaquada Creek, then
Inverted it. We wound their heathen souls in a keening
Calliach’s plaid of consonants and vowels .
The 18th century bridge over tidal Clachan Sound, 12 miles south west of Oban, links Seil island to the mainland. It has long been known as The Bridge Over the Atlantic. After Culloden, when the English outlawed the wearing of tartan and speaking in the Gaelic language, those living on Seil island did both at home, but, legend has it, changed out of their kilts into trews in the inn by the bridge before crossing over to the mainland.
Judith Taylor comes from Perthshire and now lives and works in Aberdeen. Her poetry has appeared widely in magazines, including Poetry Scotland, Northwords Now, The Interpreter’s House and The Rialto, and she is the author of two pamphlet collections – Earthlight (Koo Press, 2006) and Local Colour (Calder Wood Press, 2010). Her poem “The Lapland Woman and the Finland Woman”, first published in Northwords Now, was chosen as one of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Best Scottish Poems of 2014.
Ian Crockatt lives with his ceramic artist wife Wenna on a small croft in the North East of Scotland. In addition to several collections of his own poetry, Pure Contradiction, his selection of translations of the poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (Arc Publications, 2012) was awarded the Society of Authors’ Schlegel-Tieck prize in 2013. Crimsoning the Eagle’s Claw: The Viking Poems of Rognvaldr Kali Kollsson, Earl of Orkney was published by Arc Publications in 2014, and was a Poetry Book Society Translation Recommendation. Another collection of translations from Old Norse – The Song Weigher: Complete poems of Egill Skallagrimsson, tenth century Viking and Skald – is due from Arc Publications in the winter of 2016.