Identity is the starting point for the excellent first pamphlet, This Kilt of Many Colours
, by Scottish poet David Bleiman (published by Dempsey and Windle). Bleiman's inclusive vision of identity is a powerful riposte to the narrow nationalism of Trump or Brexit.
In Bitter Fruit Ripening
, Bleiman identifies the great quality of Cordoba's mosque/cathedral as its diversity of styles... Roman, Visigoth, Islamic, Christian:
where stones converge
in bittersweet embrace
And similarly in Our Chosen Colours
, he emphatically refutes any notion that we can be defined by our origins:
because we are not, we are not,
from where we were born…
but where we are going
However, it is when Bleiman begins to explore his own Scottish-Jewish origins that the theme of identity really catches fire. In half a dozen or so wonderful poems, Bleiman writes about his own Ashkenazi roots: with humour when he remembers, in Reclaim the Name
, his Grandfather in exile in Cape Town in the 1940s:
the only Jewish Adolf
in the Muizenberg Home Guard
He writes with love and respect for his father in Peace Be Upon Him
; with tenderness in his poems for his granddaughter; in deep sorrow at the start of Auf Wiedersehen
The letters from your Litvak cousins lost…
but I remember the postmarks up to 1941
And joy – shadowed by tragedy – in Lacquer Wood Fiddler
in which he imagines the little carving addressing him:
The Klezmer I play for your ten roubles
is singing in your Granny's voice
and 'Ayy' is the cry that falls from
the roof of the burning barn.
These moving poems about his own Jewish identity lead Bleiman to make connections with other peoples and other troubles, particularly Spanish people and their suffering at the hands of fascism. While the multilingual experience of the Ashkenazi:
German at High School…
Hebrew in his Grandpa's Shul…
Yiddish with the girls in momme's kitchen
leads him to the pamphlet's greatest achievement, its celebration of language itself: of half-forgotten Hebrew in the title poem, of acquired Scots in Why Dae A Scrieve in Scots?
, learned Spanish in De dónde Sois?,
and most extraordinarily and successfully in Scots-Yiddish, a language from the 1930s, that Bleiman half re-creates and half re-imagines in his magnificent The Trebbler's Tale
Scots-Yiddisher mish-mosh is whit ye hae got:
misguggled, gemisht wi 'achs' and wi 'ochs',
a crowdy smeered bannock and haimisher lox
A poem of mixter-maxter language, full of Jewish experience – commerce, learning, misfortune and resilience – and animated, perhaps, by Bleiman's beloved Spanish spirit of Duende, a life force that wheels and dances in the face of all the darkness that surrounds it.
'This Kilt of Many Colours' is available to buy from Dempsey and Windle (£8.00 inc P&P).
John Keenan is a London-based poet. He won the Poetic Republic's Poetry Prize in 2014 and was runner up in the 2013 Southbank Poetry Prize