nobody remembers the birdman
Editors Rachelle Atalla and Marjorie Lotfi introduce New Writing Scotland 40
Here we are, at the tail end of a global pandemic, wondering, what comes next? How do we return to a world that is utterly changed? What is the role of writing as we emerge into a daily life at once unfamiliar and yet vaguely or (even worse instantly) recognisable? We are forever changed by the events of the past two years — whether it’s the loss of loved ones, illness, or the profound disconnect from the people around us, a real change in the way we live our daily lives. What stories, what images in words, will help us recover and find our rhythm again?
For this issue, we chose from over six hundred submissions, many of them containing more than one piece, and each with a distinct voice and story to tell. As an editor, it’s a real privilege to read the work of so many of your fellow writers, and to carry it in your imagination over time. The stories and poems in this volume are the ones that stayed with us in the weeks between our readings. Our conversations about selection involved laughter, curiosity, and the genuine sense that we’d both been moved by so many of the submissions. The selection in this volume contains storms and satellites, homecomings and memories of home, losses and discoveries, and words that literally break open and then settle across the page.
Though unintentional, the pieces we chose often point out our failings while reminding us that kindness prevails, that despite our enforced disconnect, real human connection is possible: the hand on the back, the first ‘I love you’ years later than expected, the community that finally (too late?) accepts an incomer as their own. Neighbours just out of sight mirror our actions, articulate how we think about and empathise with the people we often can’t even see.
Without setting out to, we chose pieces that suggest how we move forward, how we might already hold in ourselves what we need to begin to repair what we’ve lost in these years. The title poem ‘nobody remembers the birdman’ reminds us both that we carry those we lose with us, and that the man moving forward both brings his whole self to this new life, and simultaneously carries his ‘house on his back / feathers falling from beneath his coat.’ Other pieces suggest we build a new version of ourselves; as Karen Elizabeth Bishop reminds us in ‘cairn’, put simply, ‘we rise.’
The fisherman in the first piece in this New Writing Scotland 40 stands between two nations, two places, focussed on his task despite the water shifting around him. It seems fitting, somehow, that this first poem that places us between things, carrying on, and reminds us the natural world around us continues much as it always has, that as ever, the ‘river braids intae sea’. So many of the poems chosen examine home, and a sense of belonging: Shehzar Doja gives us a language for loss in his ‘A sequence of loss’, while Roshni Gallagher, in ‘My Granny Dreams of Guyana’, tells us that ‘things change’, that we should ‘pull quiet in to cover us.’ Lynn Davidson’s ‘From Scotland to New Zealand’ gives us a vision of arriving back home to the familiar after a long journey ‘recovering from this // long breath-held dive to get here. / The shudder of relief ’.
There is much to interpret from the pieces of prose selected, each in their own way reflecting on the world in which we live. With the current cost-of-living crisis looming, Hannah McDonald’s ‘Jam and Butter’ is a poignant story told from a child’s perspective, contemplating the realities of poverty, while in contrast Callum McSorley’s ‘The Last Good Thing’ is a powerful speculative tale of excessiveness, hinting perhaps at our capitalist appetites never being fully satisfied. Jane Archer’s ‘Phenomenal Waves’ captures a haunting sense of waiting for the inevitable, so much out of our control, while Niki Brennan’s ‘Gather’ aches with loss, grief and disconnection.
The quality of work we receive continues to astound us. It is a joy to edit these anthologies and we’re delighted to be publishing these truly talented writers in our special fortieth issue. Rachelle’s tenure at New Writing Scotland is coming to an end and she will be sad to leave, but it is time to hand over the baton and welcome a new co-editor on board. As always, thank you to all those who submit and trust us with their work; to the tirelessly hardworking team in the ASL office, Duncan Jones and Pip Osmond-Williams; as well as to our very talented cover designer, Mark Mechan.
We hope you enjoy New Writing Scotland 40.
Order your copy of nobody remembers the birdman: New Writing Scotland 40