Mick Paynter is left-handed, has always had “a Cornish orientation,” used to be a bolshie trade unionist, doesn’t drive a car and still hitch-hikes occasionally.
These facts illuminate and inform a great deal of the content of this bilingual collection by a rebel poet of many causes.
His introduction displays the zealousness characteristic of many learners of lesser-used languages: “I love it… it carries in it the soul of Cornwall,” he writes.
For Welsh speakers, as Mererid Hopwood notes in her preface, it is possible to imagine the “sounds of the sister language” when reading the Cornish version.
She’s surely right to hope that the collection will inspire other writers to express their life experiences through the medium of their grandmother’s – or ancestors’ – tongue.
Second or third language speakers find it easier to express their innermost feelings through the medium of their newly-acquired language because their mother tongue has ingrained in them a more school-orientated, formal outlet for their experiences.
As Paynter says, “I only write letters in English.”
Many of these poems have the characteristics of the single-stanza englynion – a kind of haiku – of the Brythonic branch of the Celtic tree.
The pithinnes and the strong consonant-based element that characterise these short poems in Cornish present a challenge to any translator.
An example is a depiction of one of Britain’s most well-known landmarks, which resonates with a far deeper meaning in the context of the Cornish language – its fate in the past and its uncertain future. “War Benn agan gwlas,/Right at the Land’s End/Norvys a dhelerg dhynni,/Behind us the complete world,/dhe’n mor mar dhifen./So forbidding is the sea.”
These poems certainly deserve a wide readership, not least because of the apparent ease with which Paynter combines age-long and contemporary themes.
His “warm feeling” whenever he crosses the Tamar into Cornwall could become the experience of all readers who are willing to read and embark on these poems’ westward journey.