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Archipelago Review

If you're interested in landscape writing, perhaps the finest collection can be found in the biannual literary magazine ARCHIPELAGO. It is published by Clutag Press and collects the best of landscape writing and poetry from the likes of Michael Longley, Tim Robinson, Robert Macfarlane and Seamus Heaney.

Issue 7, Winter 2012, contains a section from our very own Rathlin: Nature and Folklore, an extended version of 'Foorins and Cuddens' telling of the isanders' seabird-fowling and natural climbing skills akin to the 'guga' hunters on St Kilda:

'...some descended on homespun ropes from cliff tops, the ropes secured to an iron stake driven into the turf, or, in the case of one famous nineteenth century climmer (island name for a cragsman), from a rope tied to the leg of his horse.'

There is some terrific writing in this 'journal' of poetic landscapes. I liked Katherine Rundell's 'Ghost Storms', describing a Scottish storm ' a German opera, like a drunk with a gun.'

Tim Robinson is typically fractal in his approach to place names in Ireland in his essay 'The Seanachai and the Database', echoing the magic of Scotland's more mysterious Pictish/Brythonic/Gaelic pasts:

'The giving or using or remembering of a placename stands for the primary act of attention - a discrimination, an appreciation of uniqueness - that turns a bare location into a place. Thus a placename is a creative force, a word of power ... it sits at the centre of many webs simultaneously, a hyper-spider.'

Michael Longley never fails to draw emotional blood, his poem on dementia ('Insomnia') being particularly poignant:

'In the asylum
Helen Thomas took Ivor Gurney's hand
When he was miles away from Gloucestershire
And sanity, and on Edward's county map
guided his lonely finger down the lanes...'

This volume also contains Roger Hutchinson's essay in honour of Sorley MacLean's poem Hallaig. Raasay's clearances echo painfully from this poem and it is here translated by Seamus Heaney, for those not lucky enough to 'have the Gaelic':

The road is plush with moss
And the girls in a noiseless procession
going to Clachan as always

And coming back from Clachan
And Suishnish, their land of the living,
Still lightsome and unheartbroken,
their stories only beginning...

back through the gloaming to Hallaig
through the vivid speechless air,
pouring down the steep slopes,
their laughter misting my ear...'


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