Book Review: Northern Alchemy

“Raised with two languages
is unconscious feasting: two ways of thinking.
One extends the other; can show us another world
yet how all worlds are just the same, but different.”

Northern Alchemy, by Christine De Luca, is a collection of forty poems that are printed in both the original Shetlandic and an English translation. This innovative format works well as readers may challenge themselves to understand the blended dialect of Old Scots and Norse before enjoying the translated version.

The sense of place in each of the poems is strong. There is an appreciation of the beauty and power of the natural world, and man’s place in it. Contemporary references exist but the overall feel is elemental, the language vivid and full-flavoured.

Not all are set on the Shetland Islands. This Material World describes an Icelandic volcano.

“earth rearranging herself, unslept, unsettled;
reminding us of her ways and timelines, our momentariness”

A feeling of timelessness permeates the collection. Beach work sees the narrator shunning the tasks they should be completing to appreciate the moment and treasure it. The importance of such prioritisation comes to the fore when considering the subject of What’s in a name? – the losing of memory when elderly.

“if the name I chose for you eludes me.
I’ll still sense mountain, water, love.”

Although poignant this is a reminder that parents can still exist, and find contentment, beyond their recognition of offspring.

Several of the poems explore the harvesting of nature’s goodness on both land and sea. There is a sense of freedom in walks taken as narrators observe and listen to birds, beasts, fields and streams. Those of different generations are appreciated, their lives leaving an imprint. Births are celebrated.

“The heavens themselves blaze forth nativity,
wrap a blessing round a little one whose first breath
reincarnates the dust of galaxies”

The beauty and pathos within these pages offers a strong evocation of people as just one, transient part of wider nature. Senses are heightened and what is of true value respected. Although never sugar coating, the poems are appreciative of the life and beauty of existence.

An uplifting and powerful collection. Recommended for all, not just those who already enjoy reading poetry.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Patrician Press.