Translating Mountains

Yvonne Reddick
Publication Date: 
Thursday, March 2, 2017
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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 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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