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Environmental and ecological readings

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Philippe Laplace

Part II. Nature, the Environment and the Posthuman: Twentieth and Twenty-First Centuries

‘Hoping No-One Will See the Difference’: an Ecocritical Reading of Recent Poems by Meg Bateman (1959 -)

William Welstead

Texte intégral

  • 1 Roderick Watson, ‘Living with the Double Tongue: Modern Poetry in Scots’, in The Edinburgh History (...)
  • 2 Eleanor Bell, ‘Scottish Poetry since the 1970s’, in The Edinburgh History of Modern Scottish Litera (...)

1This paper is an ecocritical reading of a selection of recent poems by Scottish poet Meg Bateman. Born in Edinburgh of English parents, Bateman studied Celtic Studies at Aberdeen and went on to write a PhD in Classical Gaelic religious poetry. She began to write poetry at about the same time. Bateman’s decision to write in Gaelic, in which she is from a new generation of learners, is seen by some critics as a political act. For example, Roderick Watson suggests that ‘to commit to a form of expression that speaks on behalf of all cultural minorities [is] an act of resistance to the increasingly global domination of English’.1 However, it will be argued that it is Bateman’s deep love of the language and musicality of traditional Gaelic literature, informed by decades of study, which has led her to choose this language for her own poetic output. Bateman currently teaches at Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, the Gaelic medium college within the University of the Highlands and Islands, where she is actively involved in raising the profile of the language.2

  • 3 Meg Bateman, Transparencies (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2013), back cover.

2This poet has now published four collections of poetry of which the first three were written in Scottish Gaelic. Her latest collection Transparencies (2013) is a new departure in that most of the poems are in English, although the blurb on the back cover does suggest that the collection is ‘still perhaps shaped by a Gaelic aesthetic’.3 This paper draws on a selection of English language poems from Transparencies. A reading only in English of this important poet will inevitably be incomplete, but the aim here is to open up issues relating to the way language transmits aesthetics, particularly where these could influence the way we see the natural environment. It is hoped that the paper will open the way for Gaelic scholars to explore these issues further, particularly as many species now rare across the rest of Britain are holding on against extinction in Gaelic speaking communities.

  • 4 Meg Bateman, Òran Ghaoil/Amhráin Ghrá (Dublin: Coisceim, 1989).
  • 5 Gréagoir Ó’Dúill, ‘Mother-tongue, father-tongue’, Lainir a’ Bhiurn – Gleaming Water: Essays in Mode (...)

3Her first collection Òran Ghaoil / Amhráin Ghrá was written in Gaelic with facing page translations into Irish by Alex Osborne.4 Translated literally as ‘Love Songs’, these poems established her reputation as a fine Gaelic language poet. Irish language poet Gréagóir Ó Dúill discusses why a Scottish Gaelic poet would want her work translated into Irish which has such a small readership and is unlikely to attract the support of arts funding bodies. This poet concludes that where translations in English are given there is a risk that the English version will come to dominate discussions of the poet.5

  • 6 <http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/meg-bateman> [accessed 3 March 2015].
  • 7 Meg Bateman, Aotromachd agus Dàin Eile/Lightness and Other Poems (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1997).
  • 8 <http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/meg-bateman> [accessed 3 March 2015].
  • 9 Robert Davidson, ‘Lightness in the Highlands’, Textualities, 2005. <http://textualities.net/tag/meg-bateman/> [accessed 3 March 2015].
  • 10 Meg Bateman, sleeve note on CD by Joy Dunlop and Twelfth Day, Fiere, (Sradag Music and Orange Feath (...)

4The anonymous biographer on the Scottish Poetry Library website notes that Bateman has a ‘strict, even ruthless sense of form’.6 For this biographer when some of these early poems were reprinted with English language translations, in Aotromachd agus Dàin Eile / Lightness and Other Poems, there was a loss of the musicality that was present in the Gaelic versions.7 Bateman’s use of rhyme linked her to the tradition of popular Gaelic song.8 One poem ‘Fhir lurach ‘s fhir àlainn / O bonnie man, lovely man’ is arranged in couplets to a traditional rhyme scheme. Bateman has confided in an interview that this poem was written with a traditional tune in mind.9 Recently the same song has been included in a CD of poems by Scottish women writers set to music by Joy Dunlop and Scottish fiddle and harp duo Twelfth Day. In her sleeve note on this CD, Bateman writes that ‘It is an honour and a treat that Joy Dunlop and Twelfth Day have taken up our poems. It will be an even greater honour if they slip into the tradition to be sung for years to come’.10

  • 11 Corinna Krause, ‘Self-translation: in dialogue with the outside world’ in Lainnir a’ Bhùirn – The G (...)

5Her third collection Soirbheas / Fair Wind (2007) was in Gaelic with facing page translations into English by the author. Poems from this collection would merit an ecological reading, but given the risk that meaning is lost in translation, such a reading is not attempted in this paper. In discussing Bateman’s poems written in English it is important to acknowledge the formative influence of Gaelic poetry. For Corinna Krause, ‘Bateman’s personal poetry of profound emotional depth owes some of its richness to a rich past of Gaelic poetry.’11 Bateman herself explores these issues in ‘Envoi’ the poem that concludes this third collection. The poem records her reaction to seeing a translation of one of her poems:

  • 12 Meg Bateman, Soirbheas / Fair Wind (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2007), p. 175.

It was strange yet to see the images –
some born of Gaelic songs,
some brought down by the arrow of rhyme –
standing naked and incongruous in English,12

6Although she generously offers to ‘let the changeling make its way’ (‘Envoi’, line 13), any discussion of Bateman’s work, even those poems written in English that are discussed in this paper, must accept that there is much more to this poet that is hidden from non-Gaelic readers.

  • 13 Niall O’ Gallagher, ‘Contemporary Gaelic poetry’ in The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottis (...)
  • 14 Donny O’Rourke, Dream State: The New Scottish Poets (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2002), p. 108.

7In her early collections Bateman established a reputation for her intensely intimate poems on matters of love and relationships. Niall O’ Gallagher suggests that publishing without English translations is a less public act and that ‘something of the sense of Gaelic as a private language, of Gaelic poetry as intimate or even conspiratorial, survives in her debut collection’.13 However, it may be that these poems are not as intimate as they seem. In her statement in the second edition of the anthology Dream State, Bateman refutes suggestions that these poems are personal: ‘While I shudder if someone read the raw feelings of my diary, I never release a poem until I have reached a level of abstraction that takes it beyond the embarrassingly confessional.’14 This anthology included three poems from Aotromachd agus Dàin Eile/Lightness and Other Poems, including the title poem ‘Aotromachd / Lightness’, and three from Soirbheas / Fair Wind.

  • 15 Jason Cowley, ‘Editor’s Letter: The New Nature Writing’, in Granta: The New Nature Writing 102, (20 (...)
  • 16 Louisa Gairn, Ecology and Modern Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), (...)

8Five poems from her latest collection Transparencies are considered in this paper, of which three were previously published in journals or anthologies that are at the centre of the ‘New Nature Writing’ as defined in the special edition of Granta: The New Nature Writing, in which the editor differentiates the new writing from ‘the lyrical pastoral tradition of the romantic wanderer’ in favour of ‘contributions [that are] voice driven, narratives told in the first person’.15 These poems meet these criteria, but as with her poems on love and relationships, her presence in the poem achieves a level of abstraction that comes from the careful reworking of a relatively small number of poems each year. Louisa Gairn argues that for younger Scottish writers ‘contemporary poetry, and lyricism more generally, constitute an ecological “line of defence”, providing space in which reader and author can examine the world around them’.16 These ideas will be examined in this paper, but it is also important to remember that Bateman is a Gaelic scholar who has published anthologies and papers about Gaelic literature back to the time of Saint Columba. I will also examine the influence that Gaelic ways of thinking have on Bateman’s own ecological line of defence.

  • 17 For an explanation of this national scheme for recording habitats see <http://jncc.defra.gov.org/page-4259> [accessed 7 October 2013].
  • 18 See for example James L. Reveal, ‘The Evolution and Fate of Botanical Field Books’ in Michael R. Ca (...)

9Transparencies is organised into six numbered sections. Most poems are in English, but a minority are in Gaelic with facing page translations by the author into English. The first poem in Section I, ‘From Ben Aslaig’, was previously published in Earthlines (May 2012). The poem in free verse has two stanzas, one of twelve lines and the second of six lines. From the beginning, the poem establishes its credentials as ecopoetry by describing the moorland in terms of the species present, ‘bright with tormentil, bedstraw, milkwort, | yellow, white and blue, magenta orchids, | butterwort nodding, cotton-grass streaming’. In doing so Bateman provides enough signs for a first guess at assigning this habitat to a code in the National Vegetation Classification.17 But this is not just a list for there is evidence of a painterly appreciation of colours and shapes. Close attention to the detail of the natural world has a long tradition in both natural history and poetry, but with the rapid evolution of ecological methods to include DNA analysis, remote sensing and geographical information systems, some field workers have become remote from the experience of wild nature. Some authors now feel that there is a need to revive both identification skills and the maintenance of botanical field books.18 There is still room for poets to exercise their powers of observation and to make room in literary culture for an affective relationship with wild nature.

  • 19 Kathleen Jamie, Findings (London: Sort of Books, 2005), p. 33.

10As the narrator takes in the intimate experience of the wild at her feet, she can also see the ‘roads [she] takes every day’ (‘From Ben Aslaig’, line 8) that link her to her academic and teaching responsibilities. There is some parallel here with the way that Kathleen Jamie, experiences the wild from her window as she looks out over the peregrine nest on a nearby cliff.19 Both authors are placing wild nature within the context of every day civilisation and by so doing are erasing the boundary between nature and culture. Bateman has drawn attention to the early Gaelic distinction between cultivated land ‘am baile’ and everywhere else that was wilderness ‘am fàsach’. She concludes that:

  • 20 Meg Bateman, ‘The landscape of the Gaelic Imagination’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, (...)

The two worlds, the world known to man and the otherworld glimpsed in the wilderness, are two ways of seeing our world, the one from our socio-historical perspective, the other mythopoetically, from the timeless perspective of the natural forces of death and regeneration.20

11In this poem these two ways of seeing the world are held in balance, the wilderness is not experienced as sublime rather it is a familiar sight from her drive to work, just as the road that leads to her office can be seen from the mountain. Sorley Maclean in an essay on realism in Gaelic poetry remarked that:

  • 21 Sorley Maclean, ‘Realism in Gaelic poetry’, in Ris a’ Bhruthaich: The Criticism and Prose Writings (...)

When the matter is transfigured by strong emotion alone such transfiguration may be called romantic, but it is not of necessity unrealistic; but romantic poetry is unrealistic when the transfiguration is wrought not by passion or strong emotion but fancifulness, or daydreaming, or by the introduction of extraneous decoration.21

12We can see in this poem how the experience of the wilderness is rooted in reality. There is a complete absence of fancifulness or daydreaming. In the second six line stanza she meditates on what it is that makes this place familiar:

What has this over any other place
of peak and moorland, sea and shoreline?
Only that I know it, by foot and car and name,
have seen it from every side, in all its moods – and mine,
my eye sweeping flank and groin and shoulder,
lingering like a hand on every mound and hollow.

13The question posed in the first two lines is one that ecocritics and poets return to over and over again. For Welsh poet Owen Sheers, for whom an interest in geography preceded his interest in poetry, there is a subtle and enduring relationship between poetry and place:

  • 22 Owen Sheers, ‘Poetry and Place: some personal reflections’, Geography, 93: 3, (Autumn 2008), pp. 17 (...)

[…] a relationship based not only on what informs the place and the poem in terms of their linguistic or cultural context (often created originally by the geography of the area) but also upon how the place and poem work upon us as their respective witnesses and readers.22

14Bateman has come to know this landscape both physically and through the cultural associations that name its features. This interlayering of culture, geomorphology and biodiversity is what makes a cultural landscape rather than a sublime wilderness. The sensual nature of the last two lines reflects the use in Celtic languages of anatomical terms for natural features. Welsh poet Gwyneth Lewis in her poem ‘A Past’ addresses these issues head-on with an explicit declaration in the first stanza:

  • 23 Gwyneth Lewis, Keeping Mum (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2003), p. 20.

Don’t look. But see that mountain there?
I’ve had sex with her often.
Now we’re just good friends
But, God I was very fond of her,
spent many an active afternoon
in her secret crannies23

  • 24 See for example Ian Gregson, The New Poetry in Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007), pp (...)

15The idea that it is possible to have an intimate relationship with a mountain whose features have been named for parts of the body writes against the notions of ‘blood and soil’ that so troubles some critics when poems about place can be read as an essentialist relationship between a place and a person.24 It is familiarity that builds love of place and the link to the past is through the cultural overlay on the land in terms of place names or signs of previous occupation. That Celtic poets give such attention to what makes a place familiar is evidence of them reaching out towards an understanding of what makes a bro (in Welsh) or dùthchas (in Gaelic).

16The second poem considered here is the last in this collection. ‘The Year’s Flowers’ was first published in the magazine Archipelago edited by Andrew MacNeillie. Since its first issue in Summer 2007, this magazine has been at the forefront of the ‘new nature writing’, but there are also links back to the old nature writing for which McNeillie’s father, writing as Ian Niall, was an important author. The poem has eleven stanzas of eight lines and two of four lines. Each month is not allocated equal space. The poem starts with the first appearance of the celandine in spring and allows six stanzas for the productive period from May to June. The first stanza is given in full below:

The first sign, a starry celandine,
shining through a lattice of broken stalks,
then my favourite, winy-heady primroses,
and anemones in quivering clumps by the burn
where violets flicker, and naked coltsfoot
stare unblinkingly at the watery sun,
and dandelions and marigolds blaze lusty
as Van Gogh’s sunflowers in craggy paint.

  • 25 <http://www.naturescalendar.org.uk> [accessed 3 March 2015].

17This stanza introduces the rich associations that Bateman brings to her experience of nature. That the first ‘sign’ is a starry celandine seems to be employing a semiotic model in which the observer reads the signs, in this case for the onset of Spring, but although this is the language of nature the date when this easily identified ‘indicator’ species is first seen, has been employed in the science of phenology as a means of measuring climate change. That the sign is evident to poets and ramblers as well as botanists, has made possible the development of ‘citizen science’ in which people are encouraged to report such events to the UK Phenology Network.25

18The stanza develops through her favourite, ‘the winey-headed primroses’, to a very visual description that ends with a reference to Van Gogh’s iconic painting. The poem continues in this visual frame and in this way establishes a link with the ten poem ekphrastic sequence elsewhere in the collection with the title ‘Light, Line and Shade: Ten More Poems on Scotland’s Favourite Paintings from the Herald’ (pp. 91-95). Bateman’s sensitivity to visual signs is evident in the first four lines of the seventh stanza:

Ox-eye daisies sway by the roadside,
purple clover cushions the verge,
walls sprout waxy saxifrage and stonecrop,
and butterfly orchids gleam candle-white.
St John’s wort, St Columba’s armpit,
opens its yellow flowers amid red buds,
and the umbelliferae, like nests in the ditches,
too numerous to learn, spread out like lace.

  • 26 Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996), pp. 114-15.
  • 27 William Milliken and Sam Bridgewater, Flora Celtica: Plants and People in Scotland (Edinburgh: Birl (...)

19In the fifth line, the poet introduces two names for the same plant, St John’s wort is the English name for this attractive yellow grassland flower, the ‘wort’ in the name is evidence of this plant’s long history as a herbal remedy. The plant played an important part in pagan festivals celebrating midsummer and was reinterpreted for Christianity to mark the Feast of Saint John on 24 June where a certain insect was thought to resemble drops of blood from the martyr.26 We are left to form our own opinion about whether the poet is here seeing the Saint’s blood in the red buds of this flower, rather than an insect suggested by Richard Mabey. The alternative name, ‘Saint Columba’s armpit’, refers instead to Gaelic mythology in which Saint Columba is reputed to have given a young shepherd a bunch of this herb to hold under his armpit to help him overcome his fear of long dark nights on the hill. Bateman has here made a direct translation from the Gaelic ‘Achlasan Chaluimchille’.27 In this way she fuses English and Celtic mythologies and provides a link to the Gaelic aesthetic suggested on the book’s blurb.

  • 28 Sarah Raven, Wild Flowers (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. 424.

20In the last two lines she satisfies herself with a visual description of the umbelliferae, ‘too numerous to learn’. These plants with numerous small yellow or white flowers held in umbrella shaped umbels are confusing, but a country person or farmer would need to be more specific for some are poisonous, some provoke allergic reactions to touch while others are edible. The vernacular English name of the wild carrot is ‘the bird’s nest’ (Flora Britannica, p. 297) and it is this species that in full flower bears a marked visual appearance of fine white lace with a blood-red flower at the centre of the umbel. This speck of blood gives rise to another of this plant’s common names of ‘Queen Anne’s lace’ for it was believed that this queen pricked her finger while she was sowing lace.28 Although the narrator seems to draw the line at engaging with the identification of difficult species, we can see in this poem an extremely rich amalgam of cultural, linguistic, visual and botanical references that provide depth to her poetry on the natural world.

  • 29 Knowles, David and Blackie, Sharon, Entanglements: New Ecopoetry (Uig, Isle of Lewis: Two Ravens Pr (...)

21The third poem considered here is ‘Touched’ from the first section of the collection. This poem echoes some of the themes in ‘From Beinn Aslaig’ in that the dog is present and there is a sharp contrast between the experience of being in the wild country and climbing back into the car ‘with radio and heating on’. The poem which is in two stanzas, the first of sixteen lines and the second of five, was included in Entanglements: an anthology of ecopoetry published by Two Ravens Press.29 This young independent press located on the Isle of Lewis also publishes Earthlines and specialises in publishing poetry and non-fiction writing about the natural world. The poem begins:

I come on crooked-fingered trees,
on lichens and ferns upheld on decay,
each brittle branch on its green muff of moss.

  • 30 Meg Bateman, ‘Ìomhaigh Bhuan na Craoibhe ann àn Dualchas nan Gàidheal/The Abiding Image of the Tree (...)
  • 31 <http://windowtothewest.weebly.com/index.html> [accessed 3 March 2015].

22There are two important points about these lines, firstly the description would seem to fit an Atlantic oak-wood with its distorted trees and humid atmosphere enabling the growth of mosses and secondly it concentrates on the recycling of fallen leaves and dead wood that is necessary to return nutrients and humus. This cycle of growth and decay is referenced again in the poem in the alliterative line ‘I startle at the sockets in a gleaming skull’. In a paper on ‘The abiding image of the tree in Gaelic culture’ Bateman explores how the image of the tree informs poetry and song.30 The paper flowed from her involvement in a five-year AHRC funded project (2005- 2010) ‘Window to the West’.31 The tree has the power ‘to comfort through representing growth from decay, and resurrection from death’ (‘The Abiding Image of the Tree in Gaelic Culture’, p. 10). Ecologists share this perspective of deciduous woodland, both for its propensity to form the fertile brown earths and for the underground activities of beetles, springtails, bacteria and mycorrhyza that provide nutrients to the living trees.

23The whole effect is otherworldly. Further into the poem (lines 12-15) the wood becomes more impenetrable and contact with the narrator is physical as well as visual:

Brambles snatch at my sleeves, my hair.
In the undergrowth deer crash. On their trail
I glimpse a hound bounding white, its ears
aglow. […]

24David Borthwick in his introduction to Entanglements, the anthology where ‘Touched’ was first published, feels that ‘ [e]ntanglement suggests ensnarement in briars, or brambles; but equally barbed wire’ (p. xv). Bateman’s poem certainly suggests ensnarement to the point where the narrator experiences the sensory nature of the forest with its half-perceived sounds. This experience calls to mind the Gaelic legend of king Suibhne who is banished by St Rónán for abusing his monks and lives in the woods where he ‘is celebrated in poetry as a man in special communion with nature, who is comforted by the speech of the river and the company of trees and animals’ (‘The Abiding Image of the Tree in Gaelic Culture’, pp. 6-7). There is a turn as the poet leaves the first stanza where nightmarish confusion becomes relief, a hound reverts to being the dog and the narrator ‘drive[s] back to concrete and glass, | hoping no-one will see the difference’ (lines 20-21). The experience of the wild has changed her as it did for Suibhne, but she has to put that aside to enter the structured world of work and academia.

25In ‘Honeysuckle’, also from Transparencies (p. 58), the poet explores how sense can trigger feeling. This short poem of seven lines in free verse is again of experience in wild nature where ‘A fragrance stopped me in the woods.’ From its scent she identifies it as honeysuckle, but despite looking she is unable to locate the plant itself. We see here the poet alive to nature with all her senses, but still driven to get visual assurance of her identification. Such frustration is not unusual in a woodland walk where this creeper, often found in the Atlantic oak woods of western Britain, can be lost in the dense foliage where the trees are covered in mosses, ferns and lichens. Even a few flowers can give an overwhelming scent to attract the pollinators, including nocturnal moths, through the confusion of these Atlantic temperate rainforests. Even without visual confirmation she is left with an emotional response although even here she could not ‘recall | why its scent made me sad’. The reason for an emotional response is just as elusive as the sight of the plant itself. In wild nature the moth is drawn to the flower by an instinctive drive towards a source of nectar. The poet is just as alive to the physical presence of the flower, but it is the association of this scent with a previous emotional experience, since forgotten, that seems to trigger a Pavlovian response. Unlike the moth’s instinctive drive, the poet’s emotional response has been learned so that it is now triggered by the scent of honeysuckle rather than the emotional experience with which it has become associated.

  • 32 Jamie Lorimer, ‘Counting Corncrakes: The Affective Science of the UK Corncrake Census’, Social Stud (...)

26In the drive to eliminate emotion from scientific enquiry, ecologists too often erase all affective responses to wild nature. Much is lost in this binary distinction between mind and emotion. Lorimer has shown that, for surveyors carrying out fieldwork and for farmers engaged in managing habitats of high nature value, how they feel about the experience is a prime motivational factor. The data collected in the field is stripped of emotion so that they can be subjected to statistical analysis by a remote and desk-bound survey administrator.32 In this poem, Bateman is frustrated in her data collection and lives between her senses and an emotional response that will not submit to rational analysis. This short poem is an important reminder of the role of affect in our experience of wild nature and of the role of poetry in giving voice to how nature is both a sensual and emotional experience.

27In ‘Among Trees’ Bateman takes what could be a love poem about a shared experience but then lets her poetic imagination run free to explore inter-textual references to two poems by Norman MacCaig and draw out similarities between her own experience and that of this well-loved poet. The poem, with five stanzas each of six lines has some rhyme but without a formal rhyme scheme. It begins with ‘I went with my love to the woods | to choose a tree for Christmas’. The first stanza explores the way the lover chose a sapling that had been knocked sideways by a lorry and would by implication be no loss to the forest. This stanza ends with the lines ‘and it bounced and swung on his back as we walked along the shoreline’. Once more we see Bateman taking in the detail of the experience which is heightened in the second stanza where:

He pointed to buoys in the kyle,
luminous in the twilight,
and I ducked left and right
till they hung red and green in our pine tree,
as MacCaig had hung a rose in Orion
    by looking through a thorn bush.

  • 33 The Poems of Norman MacCaig, ed. by Ewen MacCaig (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2009), p. 313.

28In this stanza as Bateman looks out at the navigation buoys in the kyle, which is perhaps the Kyle of Lochalsh that separates the Isle of Skye from the mainland, she sees the possibility of replicating an experience that MacCaig has written about in his poem ‘Praise of a Thorn Bush’.33 In MacCaig’s poem written in 1974 he starts by praising the thorn bush, in this case a rose bush, where:

At night you trap the stars and the moon
fills you with distances.
I arrange myself to put
one rose in the belt of Orion.

  • 34 The Poems of Norman MacCaig, ed. by Ewen MacCaig, p. 500.
  • 35 Dorothy McMillan and Michel Byrne, Modern Scottish Women Poets (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2003), p. xxv (...)

29In the third stanza Bateman records when she remembered seeing Norman MacCaig by chance when she stopped ‘in the street in wonder | at a pear-tree ablaze with bloom | and loud with drunken humming’. Looking up from the tree she met the gaze of the older poet at an upstairs window and found herself once more in one of his poems, ‘Five minutes at the Window’ in which he finds solace in the same tree which brings nature right into his living space.34 In MacCaig’s version, written in 1991, the tree ‘shivers in a maidenly breeze’ as the poet takes in all the life that inhabits the street. There is a solemn end to Bateman’s poem for ‘with MacCaig gone some years now, | it was things coming to an end | we thought of as night fell’. The wind in the trees becomes for Bateman ‘like the murmur of the generations’. As an anthologist and researcher, Bateman has done so much to keep alive the Scottish literary tradition. It therefore seems appropriate that she should make this inter-textual reference in her poem in the same way that her Gaelic poems reflect the form and musicality of the tradition in that language. In her introduction to Modern Scottish Women Poets, Dorothy McMillan notes that several poets celebrate their admiration for male poets, citing in particular Bateman’s tributes to Sorley Maclean and Seamus Heaney.35 This inter-textual reference to works by MacCaig can be seen in the same light.

30With these poems Meg Bateman has made an impressive entry into the mainstream of the New Nature Writing. She has shown that a Gaelic sensibility can enable us to connect with nature in a way that is entirely in tune with ecological thinking, in particular the recycling of nutrients from detritus to support new life. The Gaelic definition of wilderness as somewhere, not to be avoided but to be the source of spiritual renewal is also important for those who wish to see the cultural importance of wild places being given precedence over those who regard it as a wasteland that can only be improved by intrusive development. There is now a need for a Gaelic scholar to explore these ideas in Meg Bateman’s writing in that language so that a common approach can be taken to the conservation of both linguistic and biological diversity.

Notes

1 Roderick Watson, ‘Living with the Double Tongue: Modern Poetry in Scots’, in The Edinburgh History of Scottish Literature – vol. 3: Modern Transformations New identities (from 1918), ed. by Ian Brown (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 164.

2 Eleanor Bell, ‘Scottish Poetry since the 1970s’, in The Edinburgh History of Modern Scottish Literature – vol. 3, ed. by I. Brown, p. 189.

3 Meg Bateman, Transparencies (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2013), back cover.

4 Meg Bateman, Òran Ghaoil/Amhráin Ghrá (Dublin: Coisceim, 1989).

5 Gréagoir Ó’Dúill, ‘Mother-tongue, father-tongue’, Lainir a’ Bhiurn – Gleaming Water: Essays in Modern Gaelic Literature, ed. by Emma Dymock & Wilson McLeod (Edinburgh: Dundedin, 2011), p. 172.

6 <http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/meg-bateman> [accessed 3 March 2015].

7 Meg Bateman, Aotromachd agus Dàin Eile/Lightness and Other Poems (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1997).

8 <http://www.scottishpoetrylibrary.org.uk/poetry/poets/meg-bateman> [accessed 3 March 2015].

9 Robert Davidson, ‘Lightness in the Highlands’, Textualities, 2005. <http://textualities.net/tag/meg-bateman/> [accessed 3 March 2015].

10 Meg Bateman, sleeve note on CD by Joy Dunlop and Twelfth Day, Fiere, (Sradag Music and Orange Feather Records, 2012).

11 Corinna Krause, ‘Self-translation: in dialogue with the outside world’ in Lainnir a’ Bhùirn – The Gleaming Water: Essays on Modern Gaelic Literature, ed. by Emma Dymock and Wilson McLeod (Edinburgh: Dunedin, 2011), p. 128.

12 Meg Bateman, Soirbheas / Fair Wind (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2007), p. 175.

13 Niall O’ Gallagher, ‘Contemporary Gaelic poetry’ in The Edinburgh Companion to Contemporary Scottish Poetry, ed. by Matt McGuire and Colin Nicholson (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2007), p. 56.

14 Donny O’Rourke, Dream State: The New Scottish Poets (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2002), p. 108.

15 Jason Cowley, ‘Editor’s Letter: The New Nature Writing’, in Granta: The New Nature Writing 102, (2008), p. 10.

16 Louisa Gairn, Ecology and Modern Scottish Literature (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2008), p. 156.

17 For an explanation of this national scheme for recording habitats see <http://jncc.defra.gov.org/page-4259> [accessed 7 October 2013].

18 See for example James L. Reveal, ‘The Evolution and Fate of Botanical Field Books’ in Michael R. Canfield, Field Notes on Science & Nature (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2011), pp. 187-200.

19 Kathleen Jamie, Findings (London: Sort of Books, 2005), p. 33.

20 Meg Bateman, ‘The landscape of the Gaelic Imagination’, International Journal of Heritage Studies, 15 (2) (2009), p. 143.

21 Sorley Maclean, ‘Realism in Gaelic poetry’, in Ris a’ Bhruthaich: The Criticism and Prose Writings of Sorley Maclean (Stornaway, Isle of Lewis: Acair, 1985).

22 Owen Sheers, ‘Poetry and Place: some personal reflections’, Geography, 93: 3, (Autumn 2008), pp. 172-73. His italics.

23 Gwyneth Lewis, Keeping Mum (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2003), p. 20.

24 See for example Ian Gregson, The New Poetry in Wales (Cardiff: University of Wales Press, 2007), pp. 12-13.

25 <http://www.naturescalendar.org.uk> [accessed 3 March 2015].

26 Richard Mabey, Flora Britannica (London: Sinclair-Stevenson, 1996), pp. 114-15.

27 William Milliken and Sam Bridgewater, Flora Celtica: Plants and People in Scotland (Edinburgh: Birlinn, 2004), p. 150.

28 Sarah Raven, Wild Flowers (London: Bloomsbury, 2011), p. 424.

29 Knowles, David and Blackie, Sharon, Entanglements: New Ecopoetry (Uig, Isle of Lewis: Two Ravens Press, 2012), p. 11.

30 Meg Bateman, ‘Ìomhaigh Bhuan na Craoibhe ann àn Dualchas nan Gàidheal/The Abiding Image of the Tree in Gaelic Culture’, English translation of a paper given in Gaelic at the conference State of the Art: Visual Tradition and Innovation in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, 26 June 2010.

31 <http://windowtothewest.weebly.com/index.html> [accessed 3 March 2015].

32 Jamie Lorimer, ‘Counting Corncrakes: The Affective Science of the UK Corncrake Census’, Social Studies of Science 38 (3), 2008, pp. 377-405.

33 The Poems of Norman MacCaig, ed. by Ewen MacCaig (Edinburgh: Polygon, 2009), p. 313.

34 The Poems of Norman MacCaig, ed. by Ewen MacCaig, p. 500.

35 Dorothy McMillan and Michel Byrne, Modern Scottish Women Poets (Edinburgh: Canongate, 2003), p. xxviii.

Auteur

Has been variously a steelworks metallurgist, teacher, management consultant and Welsh hill farmer. In parallel with his formal career, he has followed academic interests in ecology, environmental justice, social science and literature. He gained a PhD in 2012 with a thesis on ‘Braided Narratives’: an Ecocritical Reading of Contemporary Welsh poetry in English and now researches independently on the interplay between culture, ecology and literature. His publications include ‘The role of culture in the sustainable use of a “cultural landscape”: a case study from the Hebridean machair’, Green Letters – Studies in Ecocriticism, 19: 1, 2015, 75-88.

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