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wuirds/words

January 3, 2011

by Andrew McCallum

efter louis-ferdinand céline, via the Scots

at the stert o it aa there wis feelin
the wuird wis-na there wi aa

when ye kittle an amoeba
it draws back
it feels
it daes-na speik

a bairn greits
a cuddie loups

oorsels juist
we alane hae the wuird
that gies ye the politícian
the makar
the spaeman

the wuird is uggsome
ye can-na snowk it, buit
ti get ti the bit whaur
ye can cairy owre a feelin
— thon’s a sair fecht nane can ettle

ti ventur sic is ill-faurt
it is abuin a body
it is a cantrip that wad fell a man

in the beginning there was sensation
the word was not there at all

when you tickle an amoeba
it flinches
it senses
it does not speak

a baby cries
a horse gallops

only us
we alone have the word
which begets the politician
the poet
the seer

the word is disgusting
you cannot smell it, but
to reach the point where
you can translate a sensation
— that is a difficulty none can imagine

to attempt it is ill-advised
it is beyond a mortal
it is a mischief that would kill a man


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Author’s note: “wuirds/words” is a more or less straightforward found poem, taken from an interview given before his death (1961) by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, the whole of which appeared in another translation several years after the event (1964) in The Paris Review. The poem was originally rendered from the French into Scots, which I’ve subsequently translated into English. The poem itself speaks of the difficulty (impossibility?) of translating the subjective immediacy of phenomena into the social institution of language.

Andrew McCallum is a Scottish poet and scallywag with a distant background in European philosophy.

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  1. Alex Cigale
    January 7, 2011 at 10:31 pm

    Thank you for getting us off to a fine start, Andrew. The poem is even better in the Scots than I could imagine before hearing it. I was particularly interested learning its source, something I don’t believe was mentioned in your original submission, having edited for five years in the 90s a magazine based on found form and called Synaesthetic. I looked forward to part two of your installment. Alex

  2. anna
    January 15, 2011 at 7:40 am

    This is a treat Andrew.

    • January 18, 2011 at 5:26 am

      Thank you, Anna. Hope you are flourishing and that Tom is doing a good job at Tyne and Esk.

  3. June 1, 2011 at 8:43 am

    I listened to the podcast along with reading the words….and the original Scottish itself almost conveys some of the meaning without an additional English translation. Fascinating to read and listen to. Thanks for sharing, Andrew.

    -Nicole

  1. January 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm
  2. May 9, 2011 at 3:28 pm
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