Alexander Wilson (1766 - 1813) was a self taught poet and working class radical from Paisley in the West of Scotland who emigrated to America and became the author of the nine volume American Ornithology. Some of the illustrations from that work are reproduced here with new poems from Hamish MacDonald, written in the Scots that Wilson himself would have spoken.
The book opens with a brief overview of Wilson's life and work by Paul Walton, Head of Species and Habitats at RSPB Scotland.
The Scots language in MacDonald's poetry is often jaunty
The illustrations of American birds are matched with poems about (mostly) Scottish birds. Mostly the matching seems to be quite close, the poem Waxwings (about the Bohemian Waxwing (Bombycilla garrulus) found in Scotland, though here just generally known as the Waxwing) is paired with a painting that includes a bird labelled by Wilson as a Cedar Bird - now known as the Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrurum). Sometimes the pairing is less obvious, which can be slightly disconcerting.
Overall, this is a beautiful book for anyone who loves birds, particularly those who speak or at least understand Scots.
A note on Scottish languages: the three languages usually considered to be the languages of Scotland are: English; Scots (which is closely related to English in some ways, but very different in others) and Scottish Gaelic, a Celtic language very different from English or Scots. Of course, many other languages are spoken in Scotland, including Italian, Punjabi, Polish and Chinese.
Learn more about the Scots language here.
Learn more about Scottish Gaelic here.
Meanwhile, three of my haiku are included in the latest issue of HaikuNetra.