Shetland Writing and Writers: Laureen Johnson
Laureen Johnson co-edits The New Shetlander - Scotland’s longest running literary magazine - and is a writer of poetry and prose, including the poetry collection Treeds and the novel Shetland Black. She has a particular interest in dialect, and is a leading member of Shetland Forwirds.
Laureen wrote a special poem for our lunchtime poetry reading at the library on National Poetry Day 2009: all about the etiquette of lunchtime poetry readings! You can read it here: Poetry for lunch
Laureen in conversation with Bruce Eunson:
Q. Can you tell me about the Shetland poetry collection, The Shetland Anthology?
A. It originated in a collection that was begun by Peter Jamieson and Bertie Deyell in 1942. Then John and Lollie Graham took up that collection, kept a lot of the poems that were already there, and then added in more, taking it up into the mid nineteen-nineties, and it really is a wonderful collection of work.
It goes right back to early poetry, and the remnants of Norn, such as they are. It goes through James Stout Angus, Basil Anderson, Haldane Burgess, takes us forward through Vagaland, Billy Tait, Emily Milne, John Peterson, and then coming on we have Lollie Graham, Stella Sutherland, Jack Renwick, Rhoda Bulter – and plenty of others, I’m just picking out the big names as I go through - and the folk that we know today. Of course, coming to the last page we look and wonder “where’s so and so” but know that they will all be added in the next anthology whenever it comes. It really gives a tremendous flavour and a great range of examples of really good poetry – both in dialect and in English.
And if you’re looking for a well-known poem, you can usually find it in here – I think it’s a book that every Shetland household should have! Even just to take it out of the library every now and again gives you the chance to have a look at somebody’s work and then you can look and see if the individual poets had collections. Very often they did – and of course, they’ll be in the library too.
Q. What about Shetland novels, do you have a favourite?
A. Well there’s not a lot of Shetland novels and I am more acquainted with what’s been written recently; I’ve always wanted to read Haldane Burgess’s Tang which is the one that everybody says is the best. It’s on my list of “to-dos”.
I like John Graham’s novels very much. I notice the way everybody always pays attention to Shadowed Valley but Strife in the Valley is a good novel. It has some excellent characterisation, and John’s great understanding of our history. You’ll notice in Strife in the Valley that John used more dialect. He blended more dialect into the narrative so it wasn’t just in the dialogue and it works fine.
And latterly Robert Alan Jamieson has written novels which I enjoyed; I liked Soor Hearts and I especially enjoyed Thin Wealth. It’s a really vivid picture of the oil construction boom years, and a reflection on that time.