“We’ve got Ireland to one side and Norway to the other side, and we have enormous connections there, both historical and cultural.”

Kathleen Jamie was in Norway in January with her Makar bunnet on, leading a Scottish crew in a Burns-inspired evening of poetry and song. They shared the stage with Norwegian poets in a meaningful cultural exchange. 

There was a great emphasis on language and music, as Kathleen points out. “The two Shetland musicians, Roseanne Watt and Jenny Sturgeon, brought so much of their culture to the event. Roseanne for example brought poems in Shetlandic, which is hugely influenced by Norse. 

Shetlanders will know this stuff, but I learned that the Norwegian for a hoover is a stoorsooker, for example, which is great and there’s a lot of that sort of thing.”

The event was organised by the Scottish Government’s Nordic Office, which exists to nurture and in many cases reestablish Scotland’s cultural, business and governmental connections with the entire Nordic region, from its base in Copenhagen. 

And it was a positive experience. “We had an invited Nordic audience, mostly Norwegian,” Kathleen explained. “And we were trying to nudge their impression of Scotland. Progress us a bit from tartran and shortbread, and onto Scotland as a place of living, dynamic culture.” 

“I don’t think we mentioned Burns [despite the event being near Burns night], I think we’re developing this Burns thing into a Scottish cultural week. It’s becoming that organically, and with a bit of steering…well why not?” 

The night had unique creations shared for the first time, including Jenny Sturgeon putting some of Kathleen’s work to music and debuting it for that audience. 

There were no fears of language barrier, either. 

“The Norwegians were all such competent English speakers that it made me feel ridiculously parochial. I may have two languages [English and Scots] but our Norwegian poets and audience had far more, and such fluency!” 

The Makar will continue her work in the Nordic region with a visit this summer to the Faroe Islands, to foster cultural relations between that beautiful place, and this beautiful place. 

Kathleen is always keen to foreground the work of others, so we’ll conclude this blog with work from fellow Norwegian traveller and performer, Roseanne Watt. It is, fittingly, in Shetland Scots which of course has much inheritance from Nordic languages. 


Whan du telt me hoo du thowt o ‘luck’
as nae mair as chance, de happy hubbelskju
o aentropie, I thowt onnly o de ben-end
o my grandmidder’s hoose an aa her talismans
o tat. Inbi, luck wis acht an lenned lik coins,
hot fae de löf. Dere wis wyes aboot it:
a sixpence fir de scratchcairds; tree skoilts
o a gingernut wid gie dee a wish; a dram
onnly ivvir gied sungaets roond de room.
Ee time, ower supper, shö telt me hoo shö won
an aamos fae a haafman; a beaded bag
fir a skurtfoo o her luck at sea. I browt him
tae de dance dat week, but someen took him
fae de cloakroom. Less. Dere’s joost some tings
dat du canna keep a haad o. Dat’s true enoff.
It seems tae me wir luck his aye been wattir
cupped by hands at prayer, in a langwich
at his mair wirds fir ill-luckit tings as fair.
Nivir leet, shö says. De lotto’s demoarn.
Can I git dee a gingernut?


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