A Shetland poet originally from Yell has achieved national success with his dialect work.
Christie Williamson, 33, who now lives and works in Glasgow, has produced a pamphlet of poetry called Arc o Möns, which comprises translations of a selection of Spanish writer Lorca’s poems into Shetland dialect.
Williamson’s work was published by Hansel Cooperative Press, whose aim is to promote literary and artistic works in Shetland and Orkney, and was joint winner of this year’s Callum Macdonald Memorial Award (CMMA). The other winner was Borders poet Leonard McDermid.
This is the 10th year of this annual competition for the publishers of poetry pamphlets.
Williamson, whose day job is with a firm of stockbrokers, chose to write in Shetland dialect as he missed his native tongue. He said winning the award was “absolutely brilliant”.
Williamson studied Spanish as one of his subjects at Stirling University, where he took a film and media studies degreee. He related to the rural themes in Lorca’s work, and said: “Arc o Möns was one of the first Lorca poems I translated. I was captivated by the dream-like imagery of the moon and the sea, two motifs which come up again and again throughout Lorca’s writing.
“One of the challenges of translation is achieving the right sound and rhythm in the second language. I have been very lucky, both in the vivid symbolism of Lorca’s Spanish originals, but also in having grown up with the Shetland dialect, which is very close to my heart and is made up of rich, full sounds.”
Federico Garcia Lorca, one of Spain’s most famous writers, who perished in the Spanish Civil War, was an early collector of Andalusian traditional lyrics and is credited with keeping the rustic ballad alive.
In his A5 pamphlet, Williamson has kept the translations true to the spirit of the original. There are similarities in the Shetland and Andalusian cultures – both are geographically marginalised and both are influenced by other cultures, Viking and Arab respectively. Williamson said that one of Lorca’s most popular poetry collections, Gypsy Ballads, reminded him of the Yell he grew up in.
Drawings by the Orkney artist Diana Leslie complement the text. The editor is Shetland poet Christine De Luca, who has greatly encouraged Williamson in his work.
The ceremony took place in the National Library of Scotland last night, where Williamson read the title poem both in the original Spanish and in Shetland dialect. “It went well,” he said. “I’m fairly battle-hardened.”
Williamson’s poems have appeared in magazines – his first published poem was in the New Shetlander in 2003, having started writing that year after his cousin gave him a notebook – and anthologies across Scotland. He has read at the Wigtown Book Festival, StAnza and Aye Write and been commended in competitions, and has just sent a collection of 21 original love poems to his publisher.
The Hansel Cooperative Press also shortlisted Treeds by Laureen Johnson in 2008. It sold out quickly and is currently being reprinted. The two other poets in the series are Stella Sutherland (with Joy o Creation) and Orkney writer Morag MacInnes (with Alias Isobel).
The most recent Hansel publication is White Below, an anthology of prose and poetry about the fishing industry by local writers, launched at the Shetland Museum in Lerwick earlier this month.