Thursday, 21 May 2020

Poems from the Backroom 67: Michael Dempster

Danielle Corkery, in a great rant against the Anglo-Irish authors of his day including Synge and Shaw, declared "when we let go of our language we laid the seeds of our own mental destruction." 
I was watching a program the other day about Gaels who have lost their language, recalling their youth, and not one talked about it without tears in their eyes. Without a doubt, knowledge and use of your native language- whatever it is- provides both comfort and a vital social foothold in life, a fact that centuries of conquerors have grasped very well. In Dumfries and Galloway, a land, as you can clearly see from the map, Gaelic in history and tradition, you only need to read the fuss created by the idea of dual road signing to realise that language is more than a form of communication, it's a potential cultural and political battleground.  

Dr Michael Dempster, in the Backroom today, is a Scots speaker and neuro-scientist who is convinced that speaking our natural language, the language that many of us were brought up with, improves mental well being as well as providing by its links with the past, a cohesive framework of memory that improves mental health and binds folk together socially and culturally.

Like Chris Kelso who's coming up in a day or two, Michael works across a huge spread of art forms, 
including opera, comics, folk and contemporary song, poetry and stage and screenplays. He has recently been working with JOOT theatre bringing the poetry of The Makars to the stage.  Michael is the director of The Scots Language Centre and is the current Scots Scriever at the National Library of Scotland. His job is to promote first speaking of scots across the board.

Here he takes Lord Byron by the lug and returns him to his Scottish roots:

Lines Inscribit Upon a Cup Formt fae a Skull

George Gordon Byron – 1788-1824

Pitten intae the Scots bi Dr Michael Dempster

Stert no—or deem ma spreit fleed:
In me behaud the ainly skull
Fae whaur, no lik a livin heid,
White’er flows isnae e’er dull.

A livit, A luvit, A quafft, lik thee:
I dee’d: let earth ma banes resign;
Full up—thou cannae injure me;
The wurm his fouler lips than thine.

Better tae haud the spairklin grape,
Than nurse the earth-wurm's slimy bruid;
An circle in the goblet's shape
The drink o Gods, than reptiles' fuid.

Where ance ma wit, perchance, haes shone,
In aid o ithers' let me shine;
An when, alace! oor brains is gane,
Whit nobler substitute than wine?

Quaff while thou kin—anither race,
When thou an thine lik me are speed,
Micht rescue thee fae earth's embrace,
An rhyme an revel wi the deid.

Hou no? since throu life's little day
Oor heids sic sad effects produce;
Redeemt fae wurms an wastin cley,
This chance is theirs, tae be o uise.


Whan Nevermass comes
A'll want nae mair,
A'll wheesht ma sangs,
Nae Manes, nae lair;
Whan ilka fash

An fyke an dwag,
Haes taen a tummle
An gied a bang;

A'll drap ma Inglis,
Earse an sic
An ma ain Scots tung
Thir aw juist swick;
Ma lugs, thae bellochs
an blaws juist fyle,
A'll nocht but rest
ma erse an smile!

Some Links

Dido and Aeneas - Scots Opera Project:

'We're needin tae talk aboot wir language': 

Further works can be found on his YouTube channel:


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