‘A Squatter o Bairnrhymes’, by Stuart A. Paterson

This anthology o bairn verse in Scots by Ayrshire-born poet Stuart A Paterson won him the Scots Writer o the Year Award 2020 at the Hands up for Trad Scots Language Awards, an it is a wee treisur o verse for bairns o aw ages in the lang tradeetion o MacDiarmid, Willie Soutar, Jim (JK) Annand an ithers. It is in fact the furst oreeginal collection o bairn rhymes for a guid wheen o year. Ye can fin oot mair aboot Stuart in a biography at the back o the book.

‘A Squatter’ is dividit up intae sections that deal wi various ‘Craturs’, ‘Fowk’, things ‘Oot There’ in the universe, ‘Wirds’, an finally a few ‘Mairrhymes’, while tae complement the poems there are a wheen o braw black an white illustrations by Zack Fummey, wi his animal or space poems especially strikin. At the back o the book there is a helpfu glossary, listit poem by poem.

Mair than hauf o the poems are taen up wi fowk an craturs o aw sizes: beasties totty an muckle, scarey an hairy, frienly an funny, offerin a richt treisur box tae parents an primary teachers, thou there’s plenty that will appeal tae aulder weans tae, lik the michty ‘Snaw-Breaker’. This great beast poem is in a lang tradeetion o Scots monologues or dialogues o beasts commentin on mankind or jist talkin aboot their ain lives, but often implyin a contrast wi or criticism o human life. Like an elemental winter deity or a great Norse winter God, the muckle Snaw-Breaker defies everythin winter can throw at it tae ploo a path throu the snaw for aw the ither sheep tae folla:

Ah’m the michty Ram o Winter
Whae’s neither blate nor nesh,
The Sherpa o the sheep warl,
The snaw-ghaist made o flesh.

At the same time the Snaw-Breaker, wi ‘a dictionary o snaw’ in his heid, teaches the listener a wheen o new words for different kinds o snaw, lik ‘fyoonach’, ‘flindrikin’ or ‘yowdendrift’, a word wi echoes o Hugh MacDiarmid’s great lyric, ‘The Eemis Stane’.

But wha hasnae had nichtmares aboot ettercaps (spiders) in yer bed or in yer haun, efter ye thocht ye’d pit it oot the windae, or the terrors o finin an ugsome slater in yer bath efter ye’d jist squasht it, an wha couldnae help but feel admiration for wee feathery pals lik Shug the speug, while ye wid hae tae be awfae hard-hertit no tae be moved by the fate o the hurcheon (hedgehog) that he laments in ‘Squisht’.

He maks us feel sorry tae for the sad fate o ‘The Tobermory Dodo’ an even a shark in ‘Jaws’ as it never learnt ‘tae chow through net’, while ‘Flittermoose’ shows whit a nuisance humans can be tae bats. In contrast, ‘Bears’ will gie bairns o aw ages a lot o fun recognisin an celebratin various weel-kent an frienly bears that hae buin aroon for ages, but the ane that he gies his award tae is a mair recent ane: ‘the bear whae stauns up fir the weans cos he must dae, the fellae in yellae, the bear wha is Pudsey.’

An jist as various wee beasties are his subjects, various wee miniature verses will appeal tae weans throu their humour, nonsense or their word play as weel as mibbie giein them ideas for their ain creative writin or art work inspirt by the poems or the drawins, like ‘Houlit’, ‘Mice’, ‘Tod’, or ‘Craw.’

The section aboot fowk has only fower poems in it, but there’s several wee crackers in there, stertin wi his eulogy tae ‘Ma Wee Mammy’ who is ‘the very cat’s pajammies’, but remindin us aw in the last line ‘an so is yours!’. At the ither en o the age range, ‘Bobby in the Lobby’ deals in a comic fashion wi the problem faced by mony parents thir days, o their youngsters becoming addictit tae their mobile phones an social media:

He haurdly spoke did Bobby
Aince his fowks bocht him thon mobbi.
It wis mair than jist a hobby,
Luikin at it’s aa he did.

Equally bang up-tae-date are twa poems dealin wi the limitless an timeless universe oot there, firstly, ‘Space’ a wee eicht lined ane askin some simple but wechty questions:

When did it stert?
When will it feenish?
Thinkin o it
Maks me squeamish.

While ‘Space’ is a short an simple wee poem aboot whit’s ‘oot there’, an fine for younger bairns, it raises questions aboot infinity an creation, sae it is mibbie no quite as simple as it seems. ‘Space Stane’, a langer companion piece, is a dramatic monologue fae a maist by-ordnar pynt o view: a meteorite whirlin an birlin throu time an space, ‘a cosmic kinna wham-bam-slam’, a richt wee Scottish hard man that’ll ‘stick the broo on ony planet’ but wha actually prefers bein on his ain, raisin some questions aboot space an time for youngsters tae get their heids roon. Anither companion poem for aulder bairns micht be MacDiarmid’s ‘The Bonnie Broukit Bairn.’

Abuin aw, this wee ‘Squatter’ is a celebration o the Scots tung an that is the subject o his ‘Wirds’ section, stertin wi ‘Mixter-Maxter’ that reminds us hou words common tae Scots an English can mean totally different things, like greetin, mind, messages, tap, burn, press, poke, hen, ginger an mince, the last three bein things a lassie can drink or talk in Scotland. ‘Pairts o the Body’ is a smashin wee series o verses teachin weans tae name bits o the body in Scots, an activity that some primary teachers already yaise in their Scots language work, so this poem will suirly be a real boon tae them.

Finally, ‘The Wey Ye Speak’, written in simple twa-beat lines wi strang iambic repetition, lik a drumbeat or rap, plus the repetition o the title as a refrain, drives hame some key pynts aboot whit Scots is or isnae, i.e. pairt o oor identity, no ‘bad English’, no slang or jist dialect, but ‘braw an fine’:

They’re oors, they’re yours
They’re Scots – respect!

As Billy Kay says in the introduction tae the anthology, ‘this bright, vigorous, humorous series of poems is therefore perfect for drawing in non-native and native speakers alike to the virr and smeddum of the language.’

A Squatter o Bairnrhymes is published by Tippermuir Books Ltd
(ISBN 978-1-9164778-7-2, 2020, available online.)

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John Hodgart

John Hodgart is a retired principal teacher of English and an honorary fellow of the ASL, and was made Scots Champion in the Scots Language Awards 2021.

More articles by John Hodgart


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