You just canna hae a favourite

22nd February 2008 at 00:00
A new Doric anthology means that teachers need never again be without that Scots poem for Burns Night

Not very many years ago, speaking Doric at school in the north-east of Scotland would have earned you a skelp across the lug or even the scud. You might have spoken Doric at home with your family and friends, but in the classroom English was what was required.

Nowadays, though, the tables have been turned and it's the teachers who don't speak Doric who are having to get up to speed, so that they can use it in the classroom.

This autumn, a new book of poetry is being published to promote Doric after almost 200 people submitted work following a public appeal for "scrievers".

Forty-seven poems have made it into the anthology, which has been assembled by the Reading Bus project - a mobile venture to promote reading among young children and their families.

Teacher-training material is being developed to accompany the book, to help those who don't speak Doric or who come from other parts of the country. Most of the poetry is by previously unpublished writers, aged 16-92.

The project was the brainchild of writer and poet Matthew Fitt who had been on board the bus, reading stories and poems in Scots to pupils.

"Matthew put it to us that there was a gap," explains Moira MacIver, curriculum support teacher for the Reading Bus.

"He felt a lot of Scots was Central Scots and that really we have a lot of talented north-east poets, and we should be tapping into that and trying to promote the Doric up here," she continues.

"As Matthew says, everybody says around Burns time 'write a poem in Scots for me', but they haven't actually learnt what the Scots words are. So you need a basic level of understanding before you can do that.

"As teachers, we are missing that out at the moment; we are just saying at Burns time 'go and learn this poem' or 'go and write a Scots poem'. But children need to learn the basics first."

Matthew Fitt also recommended artist Bob Dewar, who illustrates his books, to do the illustrations. The results are colourful and comical and sure to appeal to all ages. The book is a collaboration between Aberdeen City, Aberdeenshire and Moray councils and Aberdeen University, with funding from the Scottish Arts Council and the Aberdeen Students' Charities Campaign.

Doric writer and poet Sheena Blackhall is a teacher and member of the editorial board, along with poet Les Wheeler and former education officer Bill Burnett.

"It's been incredible. It's heartening that folk are wanting to be involved and they're generous with their time. The remit was it had to be suitable for bairns and that's what we've got," says Ms Blackhall, who is preparing teacher-training material to accompany the poetry.

The book will be published in paperback and, while it has been designed with children in mind, it's likely to appeal to all ages. There are already plans for a second volume of verse geared towards children under eight.

For those who struggle with the language, Ms Blackhall recommends the online Scottish Dictionary: "If you start with a glossary you could end up with more glossary than there is book," she says.

Some of her work and that of Les Wheeler features in the collection, and she explains why it was difficult to pick a personal favourite.

"There's so many of them to like, you canna hae a favourite. It's like walking through a garden, I like herbs, I like roses, I like the odd thistle. A garden wouldna be a garden if you didna hae variety."

The books of poems will be launched in September and will be available through bookshops and online at


A dinosaur! A dinosaur!

We niver saw the like afore!

The beastie maks the bairnies roar

Fae Sumburgh tae Singapore!

A dinosaur! His muckle moo

Has teeth as lang as knives,

An fin he roars, the tabby

Losses a' its seeven lives!

A dinosaur! His ilkie snore

Caas continents ajee.

An fin he piddles lochs arise

As braid's the Irish sea.

A dinosaur! Fit dis he ett?

A herd o coos for tea!

He sweels it doon wi a lagoon

O vats o barley bree.

A dinosaur! His heid's amang

The aeroplanes an stars.

His legs are pylons, tail's as lang's

A traffic jam o cars.

A dinosaur's a fearsome breet

Fin it lies doon tae claw,

Bit fin it dunces, hae a care

Skyscrapers stert tae faa!

Sheena Blackhall.

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