This expansive collection by one of Scotland’s outstanding performers is a moving exploration of identity, and how it is warped and changed by our languages, nationalities, and the often inhuman machinations of the State. Tonguit stands as a collage of the early 21st century; of growing intolerance, the rise of ATOS, the bedroom tax, growing protest movements , the homogenisation of politics, and beneath it all humanity, trying to love and laugh and live.
‘Harry Giles’s impressive first collection shows every sign of a particularly Scottish alertness to language, political radicalism, and intellectual play. So particularly Scottish, in fact, as to be specifically Orcadian, his language flickers adroitly between that island’s idioms, the urban and literary Scots of Morgan or Leonard or Kinloch, and expands to take down the discourses of power, infecting and subverting the texts of our political and economic masters. This is a poet who understands from his use of Scots that all language, especially the language we use in a poem, is simultaneously intimate and estranging, and he uses the full palette of substitution, interrogation, translation, and variation, to explore the beautiful and frightening consequences. Most importantly, he does all this with tenderness as well as tenacity, deploying lightness as much as logopoeia. From the song of a fossilised cricket to what will happen geologically when “a’ the seas gang dry” (and in a pantoum too!); from the blue ghosts swimming in a shut pool to a habbie have-at-you aimed at a dull councillor; from reinventing the language of love by deploying the toponyms of fantasy fiction (how often have I read a reference to Clark Ashton Smith’s ‘Zothique’ in a contemporary poem? – mebbe no that often) to a gentle encounter with a formerly pierced partner – this is a considerable lyric and satiric gift wielded in critique of simplistic models of identity or of poetics, and in praise of the utmost imaginative diversity. From its opening salvo, aimed at a nation wha ‘wadna ken hits gowk fae hits gadjie’, through its depiction of the ‘Hairdest Man in Govanhill’ ‘sittin in his airmchair in the mids o the junction’ weeping, to its closing subversion of Alasdair Gray’s famous dictum, ‘lurk as if you live in the early days of a better sedition’, Tonguit shows the sharpest new tongue in Scotland at its most seditious, liveliest, and visionary best.’ WN Herbert
‘Harry Giles’s self-styled “magpie” Scots, with its vibrant vocabulary and speech-rhythms, adroitly and entertainingly brings out the nuances of his subject-matter; while those poems in English, every bit as well crafted, mirror a stimulating range of themes and approaches. With an alert mind, a sharp eye and ear, and a penchant for social comment, as in Tae a Cooncillor, goes an aptitude for wordplay of a kind I like to think Edwin Morgan would have relished.’ Stewart Conn
‘There was a time – a before – when the greatest innovator of Scottish vocabularies took to proposing language as a switch to flick ‘the quickening of a true racial life’. It is a mark of the flowering of Scotland+ that, these days, Ur-languages have been shucked off in favour of flitting – ‘hopscotchin’ – between tongues, chings and tunes, giving full play to their ways of meaning. The long before languages of Pictland have recently been gathered up in the mantle of Atlantean which, the archaeologist says, was a medium rich in ‘maritime connectivity’, extending from the Tagus to Orkney – and that’s not a one way trip, but to and fro, in a trade of mongrel tonguefulness. Here – hear – Harry’s reports from the Atlantean present rest in amongst pieces of shaped language, which model the world, and seem to come closer than we can to a sense of belonging. Hop in’ Alec Finlay
‘Harry Giles is without a doubt one of the most innovative poets working in Scotland today. In both performance and print Harry’s work is playful, powerful and hard-hitting; an excellent combination! This collection is testament to that power, reflecting a talent that should be widely heard and read.’ Jenny Lindsay