Street poetry, as an art form, is certainly nothing new. “Auld Reekie’s” Robert Fergusson was the pioneer of pavement verse and, since then, the trend has developed into the wonderful localised material heard and read today. Gary Robertson is Dundee born and bred, granting him the authority and the credentials to comment (often acerbically) on the city’s people and culture. The collection opens with the vicious “Sehturday Night”, a bitter, brutal, frank and politically incorrect observation of a Saturday evening as “enjoyed” by the average Dundee teenage “NED”. However, the “lunatics (let) loose” are not only those of the opening poem – they are the “lunatics”, or the lunacy underpinning the entire collection. From the participants of gang warfare to the worthiness of local shop keepers, from the angst of a first date to the failure of the social housing schemes, Robertson has something to say on all of these pertinent Dundee issues and more, whether past or present.
Ironically, Robertson dares to send up the very Dundonese in which he so painstaking writes. “A Dihzeez Ca’d Dundonese”, emphasises that the “wurd(s) on the pavey” should not be dismissed flippantly, but should be upheld as an integral part of the city, deep-rooted as they are in its history. According to Robertson, there would be “nuhin worse” should the vernacular all but disappear. Written in mainstream English, this poetry would fail to capture the spirit of the city and its many inhabitants. Their language is “Dundonian, an thatz thi weh it’ll ayewiz be!”
Yet poetry is a universal art form, enjoyed and, probably more importantly, understood by the many. It is not just for the few. Although several of his poems offer commentaries on pertinent national issues, Robertson’s poetry can, alas, never quite compete with the popularity of many of his peers. Consider the unscrupulous manager and factory supervisor in “Jumped up Hitlers”, or the in-vogue political observations of “Gezza Break”. Both inform readers of that bigger contemporary picture. However, drap the book intae the lap o a Doric speaking Aberdonian, and the quintessential essence of Robertson’s poetry is lost somewhere between Kirriemuir and Portlethen.
Robertson’s poetry runs parallel to the gang culture he describes so keenly. Cross the boundaries, away from the safety of its own “patch”, it is in danger of finding itself struggling and out of its depth. It may be misconstrued by the mispronunciation of a glottal-stopped auch, which somehow isn’t a mile away from the risks o’ draping yir keys doon a Hulltoon cundie, chased by a rival Sham. Localised words are simply battering aboot fir ever in the tight-knit vernacular o Dundonese.
Pure Dundee offers the local reader a nostalgic stroll down Peep o’ Day Lane, where the poetry of the street is indeed “smashin doon boundaries”. However, the language barrier for most beyond the Tay may prove impenetrable.