The Book Blog—Roseanne Watt

We’re delighted to welcome Shetland poet, filmmaker and musician Roseanne Watt to The Book Blog. Roseanne’s wonderful poetry collection Moder Dy has been a great favourite of ours, and makes powerful use of Shaetlan dialect. Moder Dy was recognised with the prestigious Edwin Morgan Poetry Award for Scottish poets under 30, an Eric Gregory and a Somerset Maugham Award. Roseanne was also named joint winner of the Highland Book Prize 2019.

We asked about her reading habits and for book recommendations.

Welcome to the blog, Roseanne. What, in your opinion, makes a good bookshop?

Those that are driven by a sense of community spirit, who value and support their staff, and who provide a space where local creative culture can flourish. That was something I loved about a lot of Edinburgh’s independent bookshops, especially Lighthouse Books, Portobello Books and Golden Hare Books.

Lighthouse Books also gets extra props from me for hosting the launch of Moder Dy, for having a poetry section that spans multiple shelves, and—above all—for Artemis, resident shop dog and good girl.

We love a bookshop dog! Joanna has been canine-in-residence at Stromness Books & Prints for many years now. Would you tell us a bit more about your debut book?

Moder Dy is my first collection of poetry, published by Polygon. It contains poems in English and Shaetlan (sometimes both!), and it charts something of a personal quest to return to the language of my home islands, amongst other things. The collection itself is named after a phenomenon that translates to ‘mother wave’ in English, a tidal current said to always travel in the direction of Shetland, and which the deep-sea fishermen would use to find their way home when other means of navigation failed them.

Do you read one-book-at-a-time… or are you a promiscuous reader, leaping from text to text according to whim?

I have ADHD, so my reading style is… quite chaotic. If I’m going through a period of hyper-fixation I can often finish a book in one sitting. Most of the time it’s a start-stop affair. A book that has been lending itself very kindly to this is Alice Tarbuck’s A Spell in the Wild; a magical almanac of a book, which I’ve been reading a chapter of every month. I’m now up to the last month, and I’m so bereft at the thought of finishing it! It’s been such a unique ‘real-time’ reading experience, and has helped me feel a bit more grounded and connected to the passage of seasons this year.

Do you have strong preferences for fiction or non-fiction? Any particular genres that you favour above all else?

I think I go through having moods for certain genres more than I have outright favourites. Anything that has a lyrical eye on the more-than-human is likely to capture my attention. Recently, I’ve been reading quite a lot of essay collections; Strangers: Essays on the Human and Non-Human by Rebecca Tamás and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer are two that have particularly stayed with me. Both should be considered essential reading for the Anthropocene. 

What are the new books out this year that you are particularly excited about?

Deep Wheel Orcadia by Harry Josephine Giles. I actually got to see her perform an excerpt from it a couple of years ago, alongside a live cello accompaniment. It was phenomenal. See if anyone ever asks me that tedious question, the one about whether writing in minority language limits the potential scope of your work, from now on I reckon I’m just going to take out a copy of Deep Wheel Orcadia and say “don’t make me tap the sign.”

Are there authors you think deserve more attention and acclaim than they have received? Who are they?

I’m not sure how well I could speak to attention or acclaim, but here are some new-to-me poets whose work I have really enjoyed recently: Isabelle Baafi’s pamphlet Ripe is astounding, a condensed masterpiece, delving into all the dark dimensions of hunger, satiation and survival. I can’t wait to read more of her stuff. I also had the pleasure of hearing Habiq Osman read her work recently, she was completely mesmerising. I especially love her poem ‘Packing Two Gold Necklaces’. Her work isn’t strictly new to me, but Daisy Lafarge’s Life Without Air is an absolute Aquarian dream of a collection. It contains one of the best moon metaphors I’ve ever read, within a poem that is itself only two lines long. I also recently finished reading Past Lives, Future Bodies by K-Ming Chang, and I’m still reeling from how deftly she wields a line break.

What are your favourite books about Orkney?

Amy Liptrot’s The Outrun. I love her style, the way she sees and connects things in her prose. I particularly love her chapter on connectivity, where she challenges the idea that digital media separates us from the natural world, when in her own experience it can actually bring you closer to it. I also just really admire how the writing in that chapter manages to make digital space seem as tangible and wild as any physical landscape, it’s really beautiful.

I also have a huge soft spot for Beside the Ocean of Time by George Mackay Brown. I’ve always thought it would make an amazing animated film. It’s got some Ghibli vibes about it.

I love that idea. Now: the big questions. Do you keep your books pristine, or do you write on them, fold down pages and otherwise deface them?

In my heart, I am someone who keeps my books pristine and would never dare deface them. Unfortunately, in this endeavour I am betrayed by my own dreadful personality.

What book or books do you press into other people’s hands at any opportunity?

The Great Enigma by Tomas Tranströmer (translated by Robin Fulton), The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd, Your Silence Will Not Protect You by Audre Lorde, The Valley at the Centre of the World by Malachy Tallack. Also, if you have any inclination towards horror at all then you’ll be going away with a copy of The Willows by Algernon Blackwood. Reading ecohorror is the best apocalypse-prep you can do just now, trust me on this.

Roseanne Watt’s dual-language debut collection, Moder Dy, is out now from Polygon.

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