Poet Christie Williamson from Yell and his publisher, the Shetland and Orkney Hansel Cooperative Press, were the joint winners with a Borders poet of the Callum Macdonald Memorial Award for publishing last month. LOUISE THOMASON caught up with a writer who would love to give up the day job to go full-time, but faces some practical obstacles.
Arc o Möns is a chapbook of Shetland translations of the work of the Spanish poet Lorca, featuring artwork from Orkney artist Diana Leslie.
Based in Glasgow, Christie is originally from Yell. He has been writing poetry seriously since 2003, and in 2006 was a runner up in the William Soutar Open Writing Prize 2006.
Readers may be familiar with his work as it has been published in New Shetlander, Shetland Life and Lallans, the Scots Language Society magazine.
Arc o Möns is a collection of Shetland translations of the poetry of Federico García Lorca, an Andalucian poet, dramatist and theatre director who was controversially killed at the time of the Spanish Civil War.
Although at first there may not seem to be many similarities or basis for comparison between Shetland and Spain, the rich imagery of Lorca’s writing fitted well with the Shetland dialect’s wealth of emotive adjectives.
Christie said: “They’re brilliant poems, though they’re not easy to get a hold of, that proved to be a challenge. But I wanted to get them out there.”
Nevertheless while many verses were easily interchangeable, some of the subject matter needed a bit more imagination.
“Well, they’re about Spain, there’s a lot of olives and oranges there … you just have to accept that they’re there!
“It worked well, though, and there are more similarities between the two than you would think. The sounds and rhythms of the languages are kind of similar.”
Christie said that while he had always loved poetry, he didn’t think about doing it seriously until he was encouraged to publish one of his poems by his brother.
“I started writing in a notebook I was given by my cousin, and my brother saw one of them and said they could be published. At school I was always interested; I had a pile of A5 notebooks I would write in.”
He said inspiration came from everything: “Just life really.”
As a youngster, he said the work of classic poets such as Coleridge and Burns inspired him: “One of the first books I read was Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner, I loved that.”
Poets closer to home also had an impact such as George Mackay Brown, and locally, Christine de Luca and Robert Alan Jamieson. “They were Shetland poets who were internationally renowned and from that respect I knew it could happen.”
The poet studied film and media and psychology as well as Spanish at the University of Stirling but it was through theatre that he became aware of Lorca’s work.
He said: “I was doing a play at the Edinburgh Festival based on his life and work, and the director wanted me to do some Shetland translations for the play.”
An invitation to do some readings at the Edinburgh Hispanic Arts Festival then prompted him to look into getting the translations published.
He said: “I’d been working on the Lorca translations for a while; I’d been asked to put on a show at a Hispanic festival and I thought it would be good to have a book to sell at the event, but it was too short notice.
“I eventually sent [the idea] to Christine [De Luca] who put it forward to Hansel and they agreed to go with it. We then sat and decided on which [poems] were to go in.”
The pamphlet was published by Hansel Cooperative Press, a non-profit group of writers and artists which promotes literary works relating to Shetland and Orkney.
HCP has published works by Christine, who is also on the board of the co-operative.
He said he was “absolutely delighted” with the finished product and the art work: “I was thrilled to bits. They’re amazing illustrations and the publishers have done such a lovely job, there’s amazing attention to detail.”
The Callum Macdonald Memorial Award is given in recognition of publishing skill and effort in the field of poetry pamphlets. It was created in memory of Scottish literary publisher Callum Macdonald.
Christie said winning the award was “amazing” but he had purposefully not thought much about winning: “I thought the quality of the printing and artwork put me in with a good chance, but I didn’t really let myself think it would win.”
As he is fully aware, the life of a successful poet can be a difficult one and it is quite an achievement to have work published.
With a full time job in wealth management he said that while he would like to, he has no plans to try and write full time.
He said: “Practically it’s difficult … in an ideal world I could sit around and write poetry. I’m not going to stop but I certainly need the day job for the moment!”
In the meantime he has been busy with his latest project, a work of love poems inspired by another Hispanic writer, Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda.
“I’ve just sent 21 more poems off to another publisher, that are loosely based on Neruda’s Twenty Poems of Love and a Song of Despair, so I’m just waiting to hear back from them.”
Among his other achievements are taking part in St Mungo’s Mirrorball Clydebuilt apprenticeship. St Mungo’s Mirrorball is a network set up to support poets and poetry lovers from Glasgow, and in 2008 he was one of four applicants from 16 selected as a mentee on the scheme.
Christie said the apprenticeship was “very helpful” and opened up a number of opportunities, such as an invite read two poems at Glasgow’s Jazz festival next month.
He will also be making an appearance at Shetland Arts’ Wordplay Festival in September. He will be doing some readings, and said he was “looking forward to that”.
Arc o Möns has been well received by the poetry world, with many reviewers noting how well the Shetland versions convey the music and spirit of the original poems.
Christie said: “One of the good things about the book is that it’s brought [Shetland] to Spanish speaking folk, and the wider world, who maybe haven’t been exposed to it. It’s something you don’t hear every day.”