Wordplay kicks off with an inspiring celebration of local writing

James Sinclair of the Lerwick writers' group paying tribute to Wordplay founder Alex Cluness. Photo: Hans J Marter/Shetland News

WORDPLAY 2018 officially began on Thursday evening in Mareel with A Celebration of Shetland Writing where a small, intimate audience gathered to listen to poetry and prose from a variety of local writers. Alex Purbrick was in the audience.

Shetland-born poet and writer Robert Alan Jamieson compered the event and expressed the richness that the Wordplay festival brings to the isles and how the evening was dedicated to the memory of Alex Cluness, former literature development officer at Shetland Arts and founder of Wordplay, who sadly passed away earlier this year.

He read some of the beautiful, haunting poetry of Alex Cluness and shared with the audience memories of a man who was not only an exceptionally talented poet but who also “devoted his time to support and nurture local writers as well as being incredibly supportive of Shetland dialect writing”.

As the evening progressed several writers from writing groups across Shetland shared their poems and prose. Many expressed their fondness of Alex and how inspired they had been by his work, such as Bruce Eunson who dedicated a moving dialect piece Whaar it rains da right wye in his memory.

There were a broad range of poems recited from an array of talented local writers but the dialect poetry evoked a poignant response ranging from amusing to reflective to melancholy and forlorn reminding us of how emotive listening to dialect in poetic form can be.

This was especially evident in the work of two up and coming young Shetland writers, Peter Ratter and Roseanne Watt, who shared a selection of their poems written in Shetland dialect.

Roseanne recently won the 2018 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award (one of the largest literary prizes in the UK) and is due to release her first published collection of work Moder Dy in May 2019.

She expressed how she “grappled with writing Shetland dialect” even though she is a native Shetlander, but her poems are testament to the beautiful, melodic sentiments she carries from her roots within the Shetland landscape and culture.

Peter Ratter was shortlisted for the 2018 Edwin Morgan Poetry Award and is a prominent face in the Scottish youth poetry scene. He eloquently read his poetry which conveyed sensitive, emotional recollections of his childhood as well as his passionate bonds with his Shetland upbringing.

A Celebration of Shetland Writing was certainly an inspiring celebration of words to mark this weekend’s busy schedule of local, national and international writing talent descending upon Shetland’s literary scene.

As Robert Allan Jamieson concluded in his final speech: “It’s been a fruitful gathering and shows that literature is alive and well in Shetland.”

Wordplay is on until Sunday. The full programme can be found here, and tickets are still available at Mareel or online at https://tickets.shetlandarts.org/sales/categories/literature/wordplay-2018 

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