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Caledonian Antisyzygy*

Author: Jo Ross-Barrett, LGBTQ+ Creative Writing Group

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


and have done every year


since I left home.

My parents and I are not Welsh,


or Scottish, or from Yorkshire.


We are all and none of these.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


in honour of the two decent teachers


who tried to undo the damage


a decade of poor Welsh teaching


had instilled in me and my friends.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


by telling the story of Santes Dwynwen


(and explaining the different versions)


to anyone who will listen.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


by drawing attention to the ideas


of "love and friendship and people in trouble",


of relationship anarchy and agape.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


with an unexpected bouquet of tiger lilies


and a heart full of queerplatonic love


and fond memories of coming out.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


with eternal gratitude to the teacher


who listened to the pleading email


that my mum convinced me to send,


and who let me study Scottish Literature


even though the course was full up.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


with a bag full of haggis-flavoured crisps


paraded around a shared kitchen


to the sound of bagpipes on YouTube.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


with a Bulgarian, an American and a Korean.


We round off our Burns Supper with poems


from his work and our home cultures.

I celebrate the twenty-fifth of January


without fail every year.


I celebrate these complexities 


that make up just part of who I am.

*The term Caledonian Antisyzygy refers to the "idea of dueling polarities within one entity”. It was coined by G. Gregory Smith, who argued that this ‘union of opposites’ forms the basis of Scottish literature (though embodying multiple, sometimes opposing, concepts simultaneously is not a unique cultural trait).

It’s also a playfully over-academic bit of wording to describe this pretty straightforward idea – which is both amusing and a helpful example, since playfulness and inaccessible-sounding academic jargon don’t usually coexist in the same breath. I hope that this piece manages to capture a bit of that contradiction by having a bizarrely inaccessible title and a (hopefully) straightforward main text. On the other hand, it might just seem really pretentious – which would tie in to a disparaging interpretation of Caledonian Antisyzygy as troubled posturing, so at least that’s on-theme too in a way!