Saturday, December 30, 2017

Meg Bateman / Allegory


by Meg Bateman

On the single track roads in the Highlands
we seek each other’s eyes,
giving way to some,
beckoned through by others,
in a slow, supple dance.
But down goes my foot where the double track starts
as I swing away at twice – three times – the speed,
aware of nothing  but my own thoughts,
driving free, without hindrance.
Rarely need I pull in
for another to pass,
rarely does another wave back.
from Transparencies (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2013)
Meg Bateman’s first collection , Aotromachd /Lightness, made a stir when it was published in 1997. Here was a writer in Gaelic, not a native speaker (she  studied Gaelic at Aberdeen University and began to write her own poetry in that language), speaking of intimate subjects in a voice that was full of insecurity and yet boldly challenged the received view of Gaelic poetry – certainly as it was received by an English-speaking audience.
Anyone who has driven in the Highlands knows what Bateman, who lives on Skye, is describing in this poem, the decisions and the courtesies of negotiating a single-track road. But close communities, whether linguistic or physical,  are also confining: we can read the poem as an allegory of island life, even of Scottish life; of  choosing to write in Gaelic (for a community of less than 60,000 readers) or English.
Mostly self-translated, Bateman’s poetry  evokes both the timeless and the contemporary: love and disposable diapers. Carol Rumens has remarked: ‘The poems have the strength and simplicity of art made for a community rather than an elite, though they are far from artless.’

Robyn Marsack

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