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Scenes from Stromness

Orkney poet Morag MacInness with library executive manager Karen Fraser.

An enthusiastic group of Orkney refugees made up part of the audience to hear Morag McInness read her poems in the library last Thursday.

They nodded and laughed in recognition of the scenes McInness evoked in poems such as Shopping week, Cookie Castle and in her description of the hierarchy of the town of Stromness in the 1960s.

The poem Middletooners was a great hit, with those from the Attery and the Soothenders too vying for wood for bonfires.

The poet described how tales of the battles were retold next day – “afore the/times tables/wore us aal doon”.

Her readings, and her humorous depiction of the times, both Orcadian and national, were not only of interest to her Orkney fans.

Her recounting of the freedom of play, the strictures of parents and the changes in Stromness, could have been the tale of Lerwick, Scalloway or indeed many other small towns in Britain, where small shops have disappeared and the “pierhead parliament” presides over an influx of supermarkets and holiday homes.

There is a warmth and humanity about the poems, made all the richer by MacInness’ adroit and easy use of Orkney dialect.

The writer’s generous smile reflects a generous, open spirit – she does not condemn the new nor is she sentimental about the past.

She presents to us the characters, colour and images that were important to her as a child, and she delights the reader with beautifully conjured memories of activities in old Stromness – surely a town no longer “in a dwam”.

The book Street Shapes is a commissioned project by Stromness Township Heritage Initiative and features the attractive, sometimes startling, illustrative work of Diana Leslie.

Both colour and black and white versions are available in The Shetland Times bookshop.

Shetland Library staff hosted the evening – one of two book launches last week.

The library runs a busy programme of poetry, dialect and literature events and was delighted to welcome back MacInness, who worked there during the 1970s.