Thursday, 16 October 2008

Tuim Tin Tassie

Zen Speug aficionados, and Poet-in-Residence is one, are delighted that Edinburgh's John McDonald has published a new collection of haiku; but before coming to Tuim Tin Tassie or 'empty tin cup' here are some lines from Louis MacNeice's Bagpipe Music. Why? Just for the hell of it:

John MacDonald found a corpse, put it under the sofa,
Waited till it came to life and hit it with a poker,
Sold its eyes for souvenirs, sold its blood for whisky,
Kept its bones for dumb-bells to use when he was fifty.

It's no go for the Yogi-Man, it's no go Blavatsky,
All we want is a bank balance and a bit of skirt in a taxi.

Tuim Tin Tassie, from the Hub Kaiku Series at Wingland*, is a delight to carry around, to handle, to dip into, to contemplate. It is, as they say, pocket-size. It's a chunky 100 or so unnumbered pages on quality paper with six lines on each side. No distracting drawings of Japanese waterfalls and gourami. Just the empty tin cup and the text.

John McDonald writes haiku that rolls up its sleeves and gets to work. Only rarely does he resort to those worn out traditional images. His stuff must earn its porridge not once but twice; and in two of Scotland's native languages.

a snell wund -
the bodach hunkers
his box souchin

a bitter wind -
the old man sits
his accordion wheezing

There's a deft touch to admire in the writing. Important when the subject is tenderness:

deif tae'm nou
a lou ma guidwife's smile
at bleckie's chirmin

deaf to him now
I love my wife's smile
at blackbird's singing

The haiku may also be dark and sinister:

bawdrons skooks
throuch the sheddaes
bluid on's neb

cat skulks
through the shadows
blood on his nose

And never far away is the crow:

craw's neb
pikes the girse
the hale perk chitters

crow's beak
spikes the grass
the whole field shivers

And there's a dose of topical humour too:

the baunk clark gaes stieve
gies me the siller -
attercap on the wa

the bank clerk goes stiff
gives me the money -
spider on the wall

John McDonald is a retired stone-mason who came to haiku in the mid-nineties. It's clear that the skill and precision with which he persued his workaday craft has been carried over into his haiku:

Highly recommended.

Hub Editions
Sutton Bridge
Spalding PE12 9YS
Lincolnshire, UK


  1. I raced to read this Tassie so I could review it before you did.

    I enjoyed it as much as you!

  2. Yes, I read your review. Let's hope it sells like hot haggis.

  3. I tried haggis in Manchester and didn't like it. I ate two bites so my hosts wouldn't feel badly, but I felt like running out of the restaurant screaming.

    Maybe Manchester haggis is too far south to be any good.

  4. thanks so much for kind words Gwilym generous as usual

  5. Cheers John,
    Mine's a Lagavullin!

  6. Manchester Haggis??? Perhaps it was tripe?


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