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This review is taken from PN Review 195, Volume 37 Number 1, September - October 2010.

A COSMOPOLITAN STAGE CHRISTOPHER WHYTE, Bho Leabhar-Latha Maria Malibran (Acair) £10

Any writer who chooses to work in a so-called minority language embarks on a difficult path. Be it Welsh, Cornish, Scots (in any of its regional varieties), or Gaelic, the danger is that the writing becomes too narrowly focused on the place that language is wedded to. For many poets concerned with regional languages, the primary aim is often to represent the place and the voice of the community. By using the language of a people ‘Barely tolerated, living on the margin’, to use John Ashbery’s phrase, an unheard voice becomes enfranchised. But, by writing in a language only understood by a relatively small number of people, almost all of whom live in the same place, the poet runs the risk of closing himself off from the tides and currents of the wider world. Whyte, as well as including English translations, by various writers, of his Gaelic originals (thus allowing monoglot readers like me to read his book) offers a straightforward solution to this problem:

My stance at the time [of writing] was to approach Gaelic like any other European language. This meant that it was suitable for dealing with all kinds of subjects, nor matter how unprecedented or unusual, and I was happy to accept the implied challenge.

Whyte is well aware of the difficulties he has taken on: ‘And for my part, I made election of / this Gaelic tongue, also despised, with words / like heavy plates that one time ...


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