Hamish Whyte is a poet. But he’s also a listener. Long-dead voices call to him urgently and he pays close attention. And so it is that the historic records of the Scottish criminal courts speak to a living, listening wordsmith. He sifts phrases in a careful sieve—things that people under pressure long ago pleaded, blurted, concocted, explained. He adds shape and form. Finally, he offers ‘found poems’ to our twenty-first century ears.
And what do we hear? Ourselves, no less. Because even over the centuries, human beings do not—it quickly becomes clear—change so very much.
GIRVAN, AYRSHIRE, 1854
Alexander Cunninghame, about thirty five,
a strong, resolute-looking scoundrel,
murdered his wife, a well-conditioned,
good woman who, with her four children,
had left him after numerous assaults.
He often said he would like to kill her
and would shoot her as easily as a seagull.
He found out where she was living
and borrowed a gun, powder and shot;
he went into the garden and saw her,
sitting, with a candle, at her loom;
he threw some gravel against the window
and when she looked up he fired.
At the trial he muttered to his counsel,
‘If they hang me, whit’ll they dae wi ma claes?’