OUR BEAUTIFUL RAGE: Lorna Callery-Sithole reviews Finding Seaglass by Hannah Lavery

Who was he? He was “Jimmy / sometimes, Jock, often / ya black bastard / once, boy”, he “made a curry for the picket line / but found no belonging”. He was a betting man, a ladies’ man, a caring man, a Hibees fan, he was “two-week school holiday dad, my occasional dad, my black dad, my Edinburgh dad, Will-o-the-wisp, Anansi dad”.

Finding Seaglass by Hannah Lavery is a eulogy for her father and a brutally honest portrayal of her experiences growing up mixed-race in Scotland. This is not a sepia snapshot, it is a portrait in technicolour including all the rough edges of a man brutalised by his own experiences and the inheritance of his rage.

Finding Seaglass  held my heart in its hands. It stuck in my throat. It was uncomfortable, raw, emotional, beautiful. Its language concise and unapologetic, scrubbing off the stoor of white colonial narratives. Peeling back layers of history like raw sugarcane, Lavery gets her teeth stuck into the guts of race, racism, slavery, heritage, belonging, and her relationship with her father but always with a lens on the future, through the next generation who have inherited it.

Lavery opens with, “Mixed-race erasure. It feels too provocative, or is it taking up too much space? […] Half-caste Union. Match your shade, leave if you’re the lightest, leave if you’re the darkest. Leave.”

This illustrates the sense of otherness that she feels amidst the tints and shades of race and racism and her constant justification for her skin tone. In ‘Thorntonloch Caravan Park’, Lavery describes a racist incident experienced by her sons, she repeats the refrain, “I was waiting for this. / I was waiting for this.” almost angry with herself to have been expecting it.

As mother to three mixed-race children, one of whom was called a “paki” at the age of two, I understand this perpetual vigilance. No matter what situation you are in, there is always expectation in the air, there is always the “waiting for this”, especially as your children grow older and you are less able to shield them from racist incidents.

Rage is an important fibre weaving its way through this piece, holding the individual parts together like vertebrae. In the poem ‘Unravelling’, Lavery states, “I will record all your scars until / they’re shadows on my own skin. / I will pass her down as you passed / her down / our beautiful rage / A beat beneath / a beat, beneath a beat, / beneath a beat – / a fucking curse.”

Lavery discovers that her Jamaican, great, great, great grandfather, Henry Douglas, was “taken from West Africa”, pointing to Scotland’s involvement in the Transatlantic Slave Trade. She goes on to tell us that, “one in ten of London traders in Africans was a Scot […] Douglas – Scotland – product of enslaver as well as enslaved. […] is this the start of my Scottishness?” She also finds out that she has Euro-Asian and Burmese heritage.

In ‘Questions of Percentage’, she asks, “What side are we falling / down on then? / More than a drop – yes? / Much more than a drop.” Lavery is lost in the seascape of finding her father and finding herself, but she’s always rooted to her father by skin tone, a sense of belonging to him, whilst being an outsider to others. ‘Scotland, You’re No Mine’ sums up beautifully this sense of not belonging, not fitting in, for both Lavery and her dad, a kind of love-hate relationship with their home country.

Scotland, you’re no mine / (you were no his) / and I don’t want you. / So go ahead, say I don’t belong, / wi your sepia-tinged cross eye sweeping / over all that swept-away, blood-stained, sweat- / stained sugar for your tablet.

Despite this battle with her national identity, ‘Finding Seaglass’ is written in Lavery’s own colloquial tongue, affirming her Scottishness and inviting the listener, to coorie in close to this intimate and honest family portrait.

In writing about her father, Lavery is keeping some part of him alive. He is not lost. She is not lost. She has bathed in the vast expanse of ocean bridging the gap between generations and continents, she has weathered the storm and come out the other side holding more parts of herself than she realised were there.

By examining the microcosm of her own family, she has unleashed the macrocosm of her own heritage, as well as global narratives of otherness, loss, and belonging. She emerges holding sea glass. The perfect metaphor for her father who became frosted by collective trauma spanning generations, leaving his family unable to access the real person because he was running from himself.

I feel there’s an acceptance of this by Lavery by the end of her journey, and a newfound empathy for her father. Perhaps it’s this sense of acquiescence and the weight of her heart beneath the presence of his absence that moved me to tears.

Lavery herself admits, “I am still writing for you, still waiting for – / Och! I don’t know what for.” If there’s one thing that this work can achieve, it would be to answer the question that Lavery was asked during a reading of her work, “Can art change the world?” I hope that Finding Seaglass creates enough empathy to stop people asking the question, “Where do you come from?”

Photo credit: Hannah Lavery portrait by Hazel Mirsepasi.

‘Finding Seaglass’ by Hannah Lavery, an Almost Tangible and National Theatre of Scotland debut production for BBC Radio 4 available for a limited period on BBC Sounds.

About our contributor

Lorna Callery-Sithole is a poet from Pollok, and co-founder of Versaye! Spoken Word Cabaret. Collections: ‘Pigeon with Warburtons (Speculative Books, 2019), Colour Theory (Dreich, 2022), and ‘Facing Our Past; Shining the Light’ (National Trust for Scotland, 2022).

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The Glasgow Review of Books (ISSN 2053-0560) is a review journal publishing short and long reviews, review essays and interviews, as well as translations, fiction, poetry, and visual art. We are interested in all forms of cultural practice and seek to incorporate more marginal, peripheral or neglected forms into our debates and discussions. We aim to foster discussion of work from small and specialised publishers and practitioners, and to maintain a focus on issues in and about translation. The review has a determinedly international approach, but is also a proud resident of Glasgow.

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