Thursday, March 09, 2006

Reader's Diary #46- Mary Dalton: Merrybegot (Up to Conkerbells)

When I enrolled in my second required English course, back in my first year at MUN, at had no idea I was about to be educated by greatness. At the end of the semester, I still hadn't known.

Greatness in this case, was Mary Dalton. Compared to my very first English prof, Win Mellor who was fun, effervescent and made English exciting, I found Dalton dull, melancholy and tiresome. Now, I'm willing to concede that maybe a lot of this perception was my own teenage shallowness. Still only 18, I looked at her, her long gray hair, and perpetual baggy black sweaters and ankle length skirts as a tired old glump with a depressing syllabus. I had no idea of her accomplishments at the time and at the time I'm not sure if it would have mattered anyway.

But since then I've adapted my view on Dalton, or at least I am open to the idea that I was wrong. I'll tell myself that it's not because I found out she was a "somebody" that I've seen her in a different light. I think it's because I've had a few more glimpses into who Mary Dalton is since then that weren't apparent to me before. A friend and colleague of mine told me how she mentored him and others in the MUN Poetry Society and found her to be approachable and helpful. Hmmm. And then I've checked out some of her poetry I've found online. Not stuffy or depressing. Hmmm again. Plus she's successful (there I said it- I'm such a sycophant).

Anyway, Merrybegot is so far charming and intelligent and most surprising for me- fun. The poems (seemingly compiled by no other system than alphabetical) are heavily salted with old Newfoundland words and idioms. At first I thought this would be off-putting. Like my frequent complaint about Greek mythology references, I was prepared to slam this book for not being accessible to anyone without a Dictionary Of Newfoundland English- but that isn't the case. While my upbringing in an outport gives me some advantage I guess (I do know what "all mops and brooms" means) a lot of these words went out of fashion a while ago (which I imagine is much of the rationale behind the book). However, instead of rushing out and buying the dictionary (which while I'm told is quite good- I just can't afford right now) it's been a pleasure to try and get these words out of context- and when I'm not able to do that, I've actually had some luck through the internet. For example, the title Merrybegot means bastard, "conkerbells" means poop, and "raffish" means characterized by vulgarity or crudeness. As you can tell by these meanings, there's a certain michievious quality about the poems, and this is part of the reason the poems are so fun (especially when you've had the impression of Dalton that I've had). It's the kind of humour I think Newfoundlanders generally do so well, and that I suspect that the Hatching, Matching and Dispatching crowd are trying to capitalize on (poorly). Many of the words also have a fantastic aesthetic quality to them- sort of a lilt that makes me think of a jig. How very Newfoundland.


Robert Hiscock said...

Good news! The Dictionary of Newfoundland English is avaiable online.

John Mutford said...

Awesome, thanks!

John Mutford said...

I just skipped up and read the afterward.In it, Dalton mentions the Dictionary of Newfoundland and how it can be accessed online. Good idea to add this to the book, but why at the end?