This is a beautiful book of poetry in Sheltandic Scots (or Sandness dialect, to be precise), with English prose translations and commentary, and accompanying black and white photographs of Shetland land- and seascapes. As Jamieson explains in his introductory note, he has developed his own orthography to capture the particular dialect, with its own dipthongs and cadences, of the part of western Shetland where he grew up.
There are poems of life in a remote seafaring community, about the power of the sea, the forging of language and culture, and about identity at home and abroad. The opening poem, “Da Boat Biggir’s Nefjoo”, evokes the mystery, fragility and otherness of childhood, the poet remembering his own wonder at a ship in a bottle,
He tinks – Foo dæs’ it kum t’gjing insyd?
No a trikk, bit maachikk.
Dønna shaa me, I waant it ta happin.
Although written in Sandness dialect, it’s really not too difficult to start hearing the sounds of Jamieson’s poetry and any difficulties with understanding unfamiliar words are taken care of by the English translations. The latter are not exactly poems – they are direct prose translations and Jamieson has not set out to achieve the rhythms, rhymes or sounds of the originals. So the above is rendered as:
He thinks –How does it come to go inside? Not a trick, but magic.
Don’t show me, I want it to happen.
Little commentaries add further context to the poems. For example, “Frisk Waatir Troot” is introduced by a brief consideration of the etymology of “frisk”,
..with comparatives in Old English ‘fersc’, meaning ‘the opposite to salt’; Old French ‘frisque’ and Middle English ‘fressche’, ‘freche’,’fressche’ meaning ‘full of life and spirit’; Old Teutonic and Modern Norwegian share the word ‘frisk’ meaning ‘fresh’ and ‘healthy’.
There are flashes of humour along the way. In “Bottilt”, a boy throws a Hay’s ginger cordial bottle with a message inside into the sea and imagines its discovery in Reykjavik, Heligoland or Tromsø,
Dan dir kamma lettir bakk. A man’d fun it,
ati’da shoormil, an wret, wie fotoos,
fæ dat ungkin laand akross da sie –
Its translation is,
Then a letter came. A man had found it, in the shallows, and wrote,
with photos, from that foreign land across the sea –
Eshaness is, of course, a neighbouring district of Shetland.
Concerned with language and identity Nort Atlantik Drift, in many ways, prefigures Jamieson’s novel, Da Happie Laand in the range of its undercurrents and concerns. In “Vestenfraa”, a Shetland trader sails to Norway and recognises some of the words he hears there. He tells the Norwegians that he’s from Shetland,
An dæ nod dir heds,
da Norskies, an wie a’kynd
a’Sjaetlin soond, sæ ‘Ja.’
He tinks –
Jeg kjenner min fokk –
Wir æin fokk.
Given the Norse lineage of many Shetlanders and their dialects, it’s significant that the Shetland man in “Vestenfraa” thinks in both Norwegian with “Jeg kjenner min fokk”, claiming his own origins, and in Shetlandic, “Wir æin fokk”, recognising the shared Norse heritage and diaspora across national and language boundaries.
In addition to the poems and the little commentaries, the black and white photographs of landscape, seascape, buildings and boats are intrinsic. There’s something about their tones of grey, their simplicity, their haziness, which adds a beautifully complementary layer to the whole monologue of the book. The overall effect is indeed that of a “Nort Atlantik Drift”. This is a lovely, languorous book which provides more than a mere glimpse into a way of life and living which few of us can directly experience.