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Wilson’s Ornithology and Burds in Scots

A Review on the Times Literary Supplement, March 13th

Name four eminent Scots who emigrated to America in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries and found fame. Andrew Carnegie, of course. Alexander Graham Bell and John Muir are two others. For a fourth, we propose Alexander Wilson, the ornithologist, poet and artist who left Paisley for Philadelphia in 1794 and never returned.

Wilson’s renown as a portrait painter of birds does not match that of John James Audubon, but his studies were made with skill and love for his subjects. Now Hamish MacDonald has brought together a selection in an attractive book published by Scotland Street Press in Edinburgh. The poems are in Scots and the birds are American, many of them unrecognizable to the average Pentlands or Chilterns birder.

A bridge between Wilson’s native and adopted lands is the crossbill. One of its subspecies is the chunky Scottish crossbill, which is said to be the only endemic bird species in Britain (found nowhere else in the world). It resembles the American crossbill, seen here on the left. Next to our rusty friend is the white-winged crossbill and, perched below, the white-crowned bunting.

As an accompanying poem, Mr MacDonald offers three crossbill stanzas, all beginning with a variation on the line “The crossbill is a brawlike bird”. Other Scots objects of praise in Wilson’s Ornithology & Burds in Scots include the corbie (crow), the brongie (cormorant), peewhit (lapwing) and the mavis (song thrush). It is available from Scotland Street at £9.99.

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Wilson’s Ornitholgy and Burds in Scots Beautifully featured in the Sunday Post (16.02.20)

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Aspects of Edinburgh featured in the Scottish Field (Nov 2019)

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Review of MacSonnetries by Jameela Muneer

MacSonnetries: The Buds of May be by Petra Reid | Scotland Street Press, 2018 (2017)
— chosen by Jameela Muneer, teacher, solicitor, writer, and would-be ukulele player

I loved Petra Reid’s MacSonnetries: The Buds of May be, a witty sequence of 154 sonnets, with a contemporary postmodern twist. Each sonnet stands alone: the May be after the Buds suggests a joyful irreverence. Each poem is a response to Shakespeare’s original. It employs the Golden Shovel method, maintaining the Bard’s line endings in every sonnet. I did not immediately notice this at first reading: the structure is unobtrusive. Reid glides effortlessly over the social, political, cultural, and ideological mores of our times. The imagery of social media, computers and artificial intelligence, is juxtaposed humorously with Shakespeare’s concerns over procreation, jealousy and mutability. One of my favourite lines from Sonnet 65 becomes ‘Since jobs, nor shifts, nor hours, nor rising sea’ — I laughed out loud, not resenting the liberty taken by Reid. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 2 provokes the nonchalant feminist response that fillers can produce ‘baby bum smooth skin’; seventy-year olds can look like twenty somethings nowadays. Elsewhere there are references to Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall: ‘she will make him last for ever’. Madonna, Nigella, and domestic goddesses also get a mention. I relished the online dating advice: ‘only post your happy’ bits because ‘bingo wings selfies so cruelly show’, as well as ‘how to drop that sinful extra stone’. Subprime mortgages, non-Doms in London, Kim Kardashian and Tinder with Toy-boys are all covered. Finally, Shakespeare’s Sonnets104, 105, rendered into Scots, reveal Reid’s skill in this medium too. This erudite versatile collection offers the double pleasure of rereading Shakespeare, and Reid’s responses, separately, or side by side.