The words Moder Dy come from the Shetland dialect referring to the mother wave, an underswell which local fishermen steer by, supposedly always leading them home. And home is a major theme of this slim volume of poetry by Roseanne Watt, poet, musician and filmmaker. Born on the furthest shores of Scotland, this is Watt’s debut collection and the deserved winner of the Edwin Morgan Poetry Award 2018.
This collection is a ‘moder dy’ itself, an undercurrent drifting the reader northwards. Divided into three sections, these poems have a weightlessness about them, like an Icelandic gull landing on spindly legs. The first section, Stoal meaning an old story, elucidates details: patterns of lichen on rock in Lichen Leid; the “unfolding into air” of the heron and “slud-light, the space between rain showers” in Haegri.
In the second section, Sjusamillabakka meaning between the sea and the shore, the choice mix of English and Shetlandic pearls continues. At first it’s a mild nuisance having to look up words in the glossary at the back but the reader is rewarded with the richness of translation. Take Akker, for example, about objects which no longer have life in them: “I thieve such pieces on slockit days when words leave me at a loss”. Slockit means ‘extinguished, as of a light’, and on returning from the back of the book to reread the verse at hand, an immediate visual image appears of Watt sitting at her desk searching for verbal illumination on a dull day.
Not only are wildlife and landscape, weather and ocean treated with a buoyant sensibility, but there is an emotional sensitivity too. In Fledgling Watt hangs back and watches as another stoops and cups a sparrow in hand: “a windswept heart made manifest; feather light and hollow…”. There is a palpable grief in Migration Day: “opening again, like skin remembering wounds”, and The Diagnosis is heartbreaking.
In the third and final chapter, Kokkel, the compass, the reader is guided along the coast of this lingering melancholy and steered to a safe passage home to the essence of things.