Book Review: Aibisidh by Angus Peter Campbell
Aug 5 2011 by Gregor White, Stirling Observer Friday
ANGUS Peter Campbell is one of today's best known Gaelic writers.
He has been around long enough for Sorley Maclean, who taught him in Edinburgh, to have given his poetry a useful word of praise.
Also a novelist, APC has always been of the “Write it in Gaelic” school that does not rely on parallel translations into English.
Gaelic is written for Gaelic readers, of which there are encouragingly more than a generation ago.
For decades a Gaelic poetry book has been only half a book, the other half being the obligatory English translations, on the basis that there are plenty of readers of English who might be interested in what the Gaelic is saying.
You'll note my phrase “what the Gaelic is saying”, because poetry, where thought grows from words, cannot be translated.
Translations are of course done, but if they are poems they are different poems from the originals.
APC has taken this point to heart, and his English poems vary culturally from their Gaelic versions.
Title poem Aibisidh is a list of titles of songs and music.
In the English version they are English, American and European snatches.
In the Gaelic version they are Celtic music.
So the concept led to a separate poem in each language.
The book is titled to draw attention to the method of translating, the philosophy of translating, if you like.
Thus you do get poetry if you only read English, which is rather surprisingly placed on the right-hand, the more prominent pages of the book.
You can always use the left-hand, Gaelic pages to improve your understanding of Scotland's oldest language.
If you are lucky enough to be able to read the Gaelic, you will hardly need me to tell you about APC's poetry.
The book is in three parts, Geamachan (Games), Aibisidh (which of course means ABC), and An Turas Ud (That Time), each prefaced with black and white family snapshots, which give the book an old-fashioned and very personal feel.
There are poems on transport -a car, a cart, and a bicycle ride (which is not translated into English at all), thoughtful, clever poems: The Horse and the Computer, Language (“There is no poem without its language”), and a moving poem in memory of our last subject, Iain Crichton Smith.
APC can be spare or expansive, can catch poetry in a few words: “I will promise you / only the things / I can't give” - or take us on a very international tour-de-force with the 70-line Wave of Change (Stuagh-nara).
A few poems work better in Gaelic, for example Mis' is Tusa, a staccato fable of animals - which just shows English can't do everything Gaelic does.
A refreshing character in the Gaelic movement Angus Peter Campbell is a striking contemporary poet for us all.