Translating Mountains

Yvonne Reddick
Publication Date: 
Thursday, March 2, 2017
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‘It’s impossible to read this collection without being moved’ – New Welsh Review

‘This is a beautifully structured pamphlet that offers the reader a deeply felt sufficiency’ – WriteOutLoud

‘Reddick sets a sombre music behind the rawness of loss, like a glimpse of her mountains in the distance’ – PN Review


Translating Mountains is the Mslexia prize-winning pamphlet from Yvonne Reddick. The poems are multi-layered compositions. They tell of grief for a beloved father as well as a close friend, who both died in mountain-climbing accidents. The author’s own love of mountaineering comes through with her vividly described sections of action: grappling with tie-lines, slopes and ravines, of aspiring to glorious heights while coping with treacherous and changeable weathers.

These poems are also hymns to stunning landscapes, with mountains and place names often in a craggy, atmospheric Gaelic. Full of tension, emotion and action, this writing grips our attention. The author searches for ways to grieve and come to terms with the trauma of her father’s death. She can understand his love of the sport, as she shares this. But bravado and needless risk-taking also rankle with the telling and her devastation is deepened with the death of her friend in the High Andes, perhaps even more tragic as this person was only twenty-two.

The author’s background as an exponent and practitioner of ‘eco-poetry’ gives us a further dimension: we are always aware of the wild landscapes under threat from human action. The mountaineer’s love of risk has its parallels with the perilous risks we are taking with the natural world. Translating Mountains introduces us to a striking new voice in British poetry, with a distinctive Scottish focus.


Review by Elizabeth Sennitt Clough, The North

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Yvonne Reddick’s pamphlet Translating Mountains, won the Mslexia Pamphlet Competition 2017. It is a sequence of skilfully restrained elegies dedicated to the poet’s father who died in the Scottish Highlands: ‘a smirr of rain / stains the afternoon / as we commit him to fire, to air’, while also remembering a mountaineer friend who died in the Andes: his ‘breath, becoming cloud’. Other poems follow the poet’s ancestor, Resteau, an Alpine crystal-hunter ‘lured’ to ‘the reeking crater’ in his high-altitude search for gems.
The opening lines of the book invite the reader into the poet’s most vulnerable moment: ‘two figures emerge from lightless spruces, / one wraps a delicate arm around the other’. This is a dark landscape, where two figures ‘scan a map of densely-contoured crags / for a chance that is becoming remote’. Here, Reddick’s geological formations are menacing ‘rock-fortress[es]’. Already, the reader is aware that this space is not inert, but complicit, comprised of ‘crows circling’, a rock that ‘teeters’ and ‘the noise a limb makes, on impact / with granite’.
The title poem, ‘Translating Mountains from the Gaelic’ not only corresponds to the idea of space as a relational entity, but more specifically the idea of simultaneously grief-mapping a topographical and bodily landscape. When speaking about the Highlands, the site of her father’s death, the poet describes having ‘a pebble on the tongue’. She finds herself ‘stammer[ing]’, ‘my throat a steam-gorge’. Her ‘voice’ is ‘a trespasser’ and her ‘clumsy mouth stumbles their meanings’: ‘Beinn Laoghail to Ben Loyal, / Beinn Uais to Ben Wyvis’.
In the second half of the poem, the poet describes a physical trek up ‘Schiehallion’ in the Highlands, with ‘a vial of Dad’s ash’. The penultimate stanza suggests a sacred journey and transformation (of both the poet and her father’s body), hinting at Genesis 3:19, ‘for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return’:

Dad, I’ll pour your English dust
for the hungry roots of the hill’s oldest pine –
a spexk of you will lodge in a walker’s boot-tread,
the breeze catching a mote of your collarbone

with the final two lines shifting the emphasis away from the sublime, rooting the poem firmly in the everyday.
The final poem, ‘Ascent’, develops the idea present at the end of the title poem – ‘the rain will seep through you, / mingle you with Aonach Bàn ...’ – beginning, ‘all the dead come striding / from Steall Falls’. Reddick has taken the reader on a journey from the ‘lightless’ opening of her pamphlet to demonstrate that grief is a continual shifting of states, from the early menacing space, through to the transcendent ‘whiteout’ that ‘lifts into light’.

Review by Leaf Arbuthnot, The TLS

Thursday, December 7, 2017


Linguistic difference is more accessibly cultivated by the Glasgow-born poet Yvonne Reddick. The crisp poems in her pamphlet Translating Mountains map the disappearance and death of her father in the Scottish Highlands. Place names are often in Gaelic – “Sexton Beetle, Glen Feshie” recalls the final summit that father and daughter tackled together, he wearing the red rucksack that later identified his body to a searching helicopter.
The title poem stands out for its description of the discomfort the speaker feels, as if there is a pebble on her tongue, when forced onto unfamiliar linguistic ground: “I mumble Beinn Laoghail to Ben Loyal, / Beinn Uais to Ben Wyvis”. Reddick is no better orientated in the metropolis: “Between Arnos Grove and Gospel Oak / I’m haplessly lost”. Her disorientation palpitates as she is shunted “through the airlessness of London Bridge” – not the grand structure above ground but the clutch of ignominious tunnels beneath. In the coils of the capital’s digestive tract, however, Reddick is saved by her late father – his compass and its trembling needle awaken even ‘a hundred metres below pavements”.



[Taken from ‘In the unpoliced playground’, written by Leaf Arbuthnot]


Review by Jenny Hockey, WriteOutLoud

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

This pamphlet by Yvonne Reddick was the winner of the 2016 Mslexia poetry pamphlet competition. Born in Glasgow, Reddick won a Northern Writers’ award for poetry in 2016 and is currently an academic researcher and lecturer at the University of Central Lancashire. Her poems have appeared in Stand and Shearsman and Palgrave Macmillan are about to publish her book, Ted Hughes: Environmentalist and Ecopoet.

The 16 poems that make up her pamphlet lead the reader into a persuasive emotional geography, almost entirely by way of the landscape of mountains.

We follow a shapely journey, first by collaborating in a search for a missing climber and eventually by witnessing “[all] the dead come striding/from Steall Falls//and Coire Eòghainn,/up Jacob’s Ladder”. The dead assemble “with spindrift hair”, “on a single peak” and the pamphlet’s final words – “and the whiteout//lifts into light”, conjure a vision of them ascending together into heaven – but without saying anything so explicit.

These are elegiac poems, many written in response to the death of Yvonne Reddick’s father in a climbing accident in Scotland. There is also the death of a mountaineer friend in the Andes, plus the adventures of another family member, several generations back, a crystal hunter who “shins down to the blind-end fissure” in the Alps.

These poems make no easy sense of either the risks involved in climbing, or the impossibility of her father’s changed state, “from solid to intangible”. Instead the pamphlet’s first person voice draws us into emotional and materially-grounded journeys; some are undertaken with her father prior to his death, some during its immediate aftermath, others in dreams and in memory. In the process we learn how risk averse her father was, in a poem saturated with an entirely unspoken ‘Why!’ (‘Risk’). Indeed, the dead themselves, at times, actively beckon both reader and poet “along the path I can’t follow” (‘On the Alaskan Peak We’ve Never Climbed’). Similarly,   “the careful hand” of her grandmother’s grandfather “beckons/in sepia ink, to the keyhole pass” (‘Alexandre Resteau, Geologist Manqué’).

What will remain with me from these poems, whose language manages to be both delicate and robust, are Reddick’s descriptions of grief - for example, in ‘Sorrows of the Deer’, lines such as “I need to weather brunt winds,/ stolid as a tor/where mizzle pools and trickles − /I am hornless,/the wind stings through my fur”, and a stanza later, “I want to endure”. These images evoke a pain that only more pain can equal, a reaching out for sensory substance when substance – her father’s remains – is about to be committed “to fire, to air”.

Embodied grief is brought vividly to life: reliving her father’s accident in a dream, the speaker wakes “heart a trapped finch at my ribcage”; her mother’s hand is “weightless as the quills of a wing” as she “pads across the floor above”. This consistency of imagery – as here, in ‘At the Corrie of the Birds’, makes for profoundly satisfying poems.  The fragile lives of human beings, animals and the environment itself are repeatedly intertwined, each lending resonance to the particularities of the other’s strengths and losses.

I loved Reddick’s use of language.  She takes her time, doesn’t clip her words or dump articles unnecessarily.  Lines such as “Monte Somma’s rugged mezzaluna” in ‘Vesuve, 1857’, a poem that ends with “that hellmouth whiff of sulphur’, are a delight; similarly, “my clumsy mouth stumbles their meanings” in ‘Translating Mountains from the Gaelic’.  Sometimes I felt that the present tense was over-used to give actions and emotions immediacy – but overall, this is a beautifully structured pamphlet that offers the reader a deeply felt sufficiency. Its poems are moving, yet never once shift into despondency or melancholy.

Review by Vicky MacKenzie, New Welsh Review

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Yvonne Reddick won the 2016 Mslexia Poetry Pamphlet Competition which was judged by Seren editor Amy Wack; part of the prize is publication by Seren. Translating Mountains focuses on hillwalking, mostly in Scotland, and the pamphlet is dedicated to the memory of the poet’s father, an experienced hillwalker who died in the Scottish mountains in 2015. The poet’s grief is palpable and it’s impossible to read this collection without being moved, particularly when Reddick lists the items returned to the family after his death:

…a map, still legible
despite the bleeding ink.

A sealed survival bag.
His damp wool hat and gloves.

The collection is peppered with the Gaelic names for the hills which for the poet seem to form a litany, particularly in the title poem where she scatters her father’s ashes in the hills:

the rain will seep through you,
mingle you with Aonach Bàn,
Loch Teimheil, Sìdh Chailleann.

Birds feature here too. In the poem ‘Howlet’ (a Scottish word for owl or owlet) the narrator’s father has nailed an owl box to a chestnut tree, but after his death the owl abandons it, preferring ‘a twiggy mess / on the chimney pot over the cold hearth.’ Life goes on around the family, indifferent to their anguish.


Read the full three-book review on the New Welsh Review website.

Review by Alison Brackenbury, PN Review

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Yvonne Reddick’s high landscapes of grief in Translating Mountains are carefully explained by the cover note’s allusions to two deaths: that of Reddick’s ‘beloved father’, in the Scottish Highlands, and that of ‘a mountaineer friend’. From Gaelic place names and their translations, Reddick sets a sombre music behind the rawness of loss, like a glimpse of her mountains in the distance:


The duty sergeant creaks up our staircase,

to tell us –

                 an animal cry

breaks from my lungs.

                                          Core nam Eun – Corrie of the Birds


Reddick writes strongly of mundane details, often with one suggestive adjective: ‘his damp wool hat and gloves’. Her poems travel deep into the past in accounts of Resteau, her geologist ancestor. They link, wonderfully, the living details of her present and Resteau’s frozen stones: ‘an iron rose(…) the blood-lustre garnet/ a dark vein between us’. the gravity of her rhythms carries a sense of her dead father’s return to the elements ‘as we commit him to fire, to air.’ Later in her pamphlet, Reddick describes her friend, killed in the Andes, also joining the landscape he loved: ‘Your breath, becoming cloud’. Her writing shows a remarkable sympathy, without bitterness, for the passions which killed them both.

   In Reddick’s poems, even London acquires mountains. ‘Haplessly lost’, she uses her compass to locate the summit of the Shard/pointing north’. Her final poem, ‘Ascent’, ends on the high ground of vision: ‘All the dead come striding/from Steall Falls (…) the whiteout// lifts into light’.

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