Known across Scotland as a champion for new voices in poetry and spoken word, publisher Stewed Rhubarb Press are due to launch a collection of poems in Scottish Gaelic and English this May. Acair san talamh/Anchor in the Land is the debut from US-born, Scotland-based poet Beth Frieden. SNACK spoke with Charlie Roy, Stewed Rhubarb’s Head of Publishing Programme, and Beth about the birth of the collection as a work of language, immigration, and nature, by a female poet exploring relocation, dislocation, and cross-Atlantic perspectives.
What made you mutually decide that Acair san talamh/Anchor in the Land was the right fit for Stewed Rhubarb? Did your individual international backgrounds enable a degree of closer understanding between you as poet and publisher?
Beth: I wanted to submit my work to Stewed Rhubarb because they have published some of my friends’ work, including work in Scots, so I knew they were interested in bilingual writing – I thought they might be up for some Gaelic as well.
Charlie: At Stewed Rhubarb Press, we’re really fortunate that when we open our submissions window, we typically receive a very healthy number of strong submissions that fit the call-out. However, this means that when it comes to choosing which to publish, we can find ourselves with more exciting pamphlets in hand than we could possibly publish.
Duncan Lockerbie – the other half of the Rhubarb team – and I kept circling back to this one. Translated work can be tricky in a pamphlet, due to the constrictions around page numbers, so to find work wherein the translations were as much part of the flow, the English and Gaelic working together so to speak, caught our attention, with some poems standing on their own.
I think the fact that I am multilingual myself meant that I have an openness and interest in work that plays across language. Duncan also has this sensitivity as a publisher having published widely in Scots with [Scottish poetry press] Tapsalteerie; working with Beth felt like a natural step.
Why is Gaelic such an important language for you in your work, Beth? How has it felt to bring a bilingual poetry collection into the world?
Beth: Learning Gaelic enabled me to stay in Scotland: it’s how I met my partner, it’s the language we are raising our children in, so it’s a language that has changed my life and which I have built my life around.
I’ve been writing poetry in English since I was a kid, but I didn’t try writing much in Gaelic until I had been speaking it every day for about ten years. It has been such a pleasure to explore moving between the two languages in poetry!
For me, translating (either way) always brings something new to the work, and I sometimes work back and forth between the two languages, writing the poem in both simultaneously. Although it depends on the poem, some of them only work in one language, so I don’t translate everything. I got loads of support from Meg Bateman as my poetry mentor, as a part of the Scottish Book Trust’s New Writers Award, and it made such a difference to workshop poems in Gaelic. A game changer.
Acair san talamh/Anchor in the Land is hugely thematically rich: family, nostalgia, international travel, hints of existentialism. Were these subjects planned points of focus from the start, or did the poems fi nd their way to you one by one?
Beth: The subjects weren’t planned, not really. I was back in New Hampshire for two months at the start of my New Writers Award period, and I knew that I wanted to gather material during that time, so I put my poetry hat on and made sure to write ideas down. Most of the other ones have been collected over time (a few of them I wrote years ago and always hoped to share someday) when inspiration hit. I keep a list on my phone of ideas for poems.
I did try to write a poem for each month of my first pregnancy, but only the last one has made it here.
The pamphlet focuses heavily on geographic and emotional movement between Scotland and America from Beth’s perspective. Why is it important for Stewed Rhubarb to publish poetry with an international scope?
Charlie: When we put a call out for submissions, we are never looking for particular themes or focus beyond the fact that we want the work to stir an emotive response. At the heart of it all, we are a Scottish spoken word publisher and always will be, but we are outward looking – we like to think of ourselves as progressive and inclusive!
Scotland is part of a wider international conversation, and so many of us think of ourselves as ‘new Scots’. It is exciting to find work that speaks to this experience, and the experience of living elsewhere is one we can all share. I hope that readers will be happy to engage with the pamphlet even if they don’t speak Gaelic themselves.
It is a richly woven piece of work that can be appreciated on multiple levels.
Finally, If you could boil the work down into one word – a difficult feat! – what would it be?
Beth: To sum up the pamphlet in a word…maybe ‘transatlantic’? That seems kind of a cold word though, and I do feel that it’s a warm pamphlet.
Charlie: If I had to boil it down to one word, I’d be stuck! However, I would say that the work ‘transcends the confines of language and culture’.