Wednesday, April 08, 2009

NaPoWriMo #8: Nicknames

When I was at primary school I had several nicknames, none of them meant in the least kindly. I don't intend to immortalise any of them in poetry. At high school, on the other hand, I was never known by anything but my unabbreviated given name. So when I saw the prompt for the day at Readwritepoem was "nicknames", I wondered what to write about - until I remembered an article in my family history files concerning the coal mining cousins of my greatgrandmother. In Scotland the eldest son was almost always named for his paternal grandfather, second son for his maternal grandfather, third son for his father and later sons for various uncles - this inevitably led in large families to numbers of cousins all with the same names.

The Nicknames

At the pithead all the cousins line up
to collect their pay. They share
the family names and faces.
There’s Robert’s Bob and Hugh’s Bob,
Robert’s Hugh and James’s Hugh,
three Williams, Andrew, Charles.
“Whose son are you?” asks the colliery clerk
before he’ll pass over the silver. Bynames,
then, to untangle the knots – the Bum,
the Pig, the Fudder, Dandy Jim,
Swearing Hughie, Gurning Wullie.
On Sunday come to kirk they fill
three long rows. Outside in the kirkyard
the graves of those who died too small
to wwear a nickname, buried with no covering
except a simple shroud.

6 comments:

Jenn Jilks said...

That is wonderful! Great insight, too, into life in another culture.

My brother is a gold miner in N. Ontario.

I'm with you on the 'flames' - although I married early,divorced, dated in my 40s, and wouldn't have called them flames.

angie said...

I love this, seeing all these names and wondering about their stories, but I like especially the turn at the end..."those who died too small/to wear a nickname."

Nice place, your blog!

Elizabeth said...

What poetic names. I like how you string them together to push the reader towards some deeper truths.

Gavin said...

This is beautiful. I love the Bobs and Hughs and the kirkyard.

jopre said...

Lovely. Again! I particularly like the cross-rhyme you've got going between the "Hugh"s and "Andrew".

Sigh! I can see I'm going to have to extract digit and try this one too.

Kay said...

A great poem (again.) Informative and humorous and with a bitter little twist (or reminder) at the end. You are producing tight, strong, accomplished works. Very Cantabrian-like of you I must say!