Happy Burns night! I thought I would share a few words today since I grew up in Rabbie’s hometown – kind of, I went to school there and lived rurally.
Robert Burns was a prolific writer. Often unnecessarily compared to William Shakespeare, you will have heard his songs without realising it : Ode to a Haggis quoted below, Auld Lang syne, or My Love Is Like A Red Red Rose for the sappy poetry lovers. I’d describe his work as sassy, poignant, fun, and rebellious yet palatable.
Burns Night (or week) was both wonderful and also a massive pain in my neck. As a kid with a welsh name no one could pronounce, an English mother, and a Northern Irish dad my accent had no idea what was going on. Most of the time, it was subject to light teasing, but then, as it did every year, came the Burns preparations.
We’d spent months learning the Gay Gordans for Ceilidhs and now we were back after Christmas break and it was Scottish Poetry time. In many ways, it was wonderful. In the majority of ways, it was traumatising. We would be sent home with a poem to memorise and perfect, and then we would compete against each other. The best readers from the school would go on to the Burns night at Burns Cottage and perform.
This beautiful celebration of Scottish literature made me hyperaware of how much my voice stuck out. Even my best friend’s mum sitting down with me and helping me through my poems was no hope. When I moved to England I practiced and practiced until my mutated Scottish accent totally disappeared. I regret that now, but at the time I was just happy to fit in!
Robert Burns is the poet I return to most – he reminds me of a part of me that feels totally invisible. Although this year we can’t share a haggis or dance at a ceilidh (not that there is much of that down here anyway!), maybe take a couple minutes to watch this performance of poetry from the man who embedded himself into English Literature without even writing in English.