Me and Katie Morrison, The Watergaw

Josie Neill

1 October 2020

Eleven Poets for Eleven Days

Wigtown Book Festival has asked Hugh McMillan, one of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Champions and a nationally respected poet from Dumfries & Galloway, to curate ‘Eleven Poets for Eleven Days’ for our 2020 festival. 

A poet from the region will be introduced daily, here on our website, along with a video reading of their specially commissioned poem.

Josie Neill is the eighth poet in the series, and for National Poetry Day we have two of her pieces.

Me and Katie Morrison

Whan the norlan win wis blaain
An sna poudert aa the dykes
I gaed wi Katy Morrison
Tae veesit her aald-Mither
On oor rickety big bikes.
Whan we cam tae Katy’s granny’s
An fund the door steikt ticht
We sclimmt up on the windae-sole
An keekt in et the licht.
We chappit on the windae, an
The aald wife cam a-rinnin
She brocht us ben tae the roarin fire
Whaur a pot on the swee wis hingin,
She gied us broth an buttert breid
For fear that we were boss
An row’d oor haunds wi her peenie roun
Till they were waarm as toast.

Afore we gaed she gied tae me
A tottie siller tassie
An said it wis a myndin
For a bonnie wee bit lassie.

She’s deid an gane nou
Mony a year
But aye I keep yon fairin
An whan ah haud it in ma neive
Yince mair I’m just a bairn,
Rinnin barefuit on the hill
Amang the springy flooers;
Me an Katy Morrison
Black-heidit Katy Morrison
Up an ower the heathery knowes
Thro simmer’s gowden oors.

The Watergaw

The rain cam ver near flat across the muir.
The burns were gurly wi broon watter.
Rash busses were drookit tae their ritts.
The kye stood huddl’t in the glabber.

Hill burns in spate were reamin Dou.
The Garpel boomed alang wi michty clatter
Past free, wat sheep lik ancient staunin stanes
Till the hale warld ran wi watter.

Wee chitterin chuckies cairriet in the burn
Were washed up on the bankin, taen aback
Lik weans cast oot the wey while big folk bickert
While the storm gurled on an never seemt tae slack.

Then a watergaw can oot like an emissary
Ca’in a truce an bearin in its bou
The colours o the muir in aa it’s glory,
Purple an violet, reid, an orange an blue.

The win deid Doon, gey sair forfochan.
The squally shooers gied ower an stoppt at last.
The rain-washed hills held up their heids an winkit,
An tosst their purple shooders wi a lauch!

Josie Neill

Josie Neill is from Muirkirk in Ayrshire but has lived and worked in Dumfries for many years. At a time when few woman poets were being heard and when Scots was not generally considered a language for poetry, Josie produced a stunning body of work which is now recognised as nationally, internationally, important. 

She has published extensively across a range of literary magazines and featured prominently in the three great anthologies to emerge from Dumfries and Galloway poetry, ‘Both Feet off the Ground’, edited by Pete Fortune and Liz Niven, ‘Mr Burns for Supper’, edited by Pete Fortune and Brent Hodgson, and ‘Chuckies Fae the Cairn’, edited by Rab Wilson. Her poetry has featured on national radio and she was a winner in the Scottish National Open Poetry Competition.

She writes in beautiful, elegant, rooted language. One of the tasks a poet has is to bear witness to the land and its people. Gaelic and Scots poets do this very well and Josie’s poetry often evokes a bygone way of life, and the folk who once inhabited it in a way that isn’t mawkish, but engages, elevates and pierces us.

Huge thanks are due to Stuart Paterson, another great Muirkirk poet, who went to Josie’s house to get these videos recorded just a few days ago. Wigtown was meant to be celebrating the legacy of Josie Neill at an event this week, but these videos are a brilliant stop-gap till we can meet again and do that.

Did I forget to say? Josie Neill is 85.