Putting the Hair on the Heron

(A collaboration with Colin Herd written for Steven J. Fowler’s Enemies project:


The piece was performed in York on Jan 13th, 2017. Footage can be found here.)

1 The Addressing of the Herring/Folkware of the Hare

The hameless man the hare has left
is bauld and cauld and luck-bereft
except he dresses up his herrin
for Hogmanay his year’s ill-farin
sae a bonny frock wi a lacy bow
will tell his erse frae his elbow
and prove he kens oor litanies
sae we can tell his citizenry
wha kens the heron fae the hare
alane shall all oor bounty share.

The her or him hare, 
let’s call us scotart,
candidates for mayor
(maybe not Natacha Bouchart)
O’Hara, the jump-leads, the brushed off,
the depilated, the hair’s breath, 
the hare from Dorothy Molloy’s
Hare soup, souped-up. 


‘The parable is a sort of comfort food. It’s made from a couple of dubious but delicious ingredients: belief in the existence of unproblematically universal values, and acceptance of the capacity of animals to unambiguously embody these. Of course, “belief” in this context, like “value” or “animal”, is slightly too strong a term.’

(From a report on the Synthetic Parables, Proverbs & Apothegms of Nea Pieopolis, Virtual Skye)

2 Minutes from the Meeting of the Proverbs and the Antiverbs

Whit’s it called when it’s cauld?



Sooner scold a skald than scald a scold.


Some are hard o hearin, but aabdy’s heard o herrin.


Ye can aye buy caller herrin but no aabdy can collar a heron.


Whit’s the colour o caller?

S’no yella.


Ye auld yeller.

Eh’d rather hae it cauld n caller than a cold caller. 

Aye but oh.


Dog-owners tae be given a hare tae pal up wi their dog. Legally, tho, a Cooncil employee must ask: ‘Wid you like a herr o the dug?’

that’s just splitting herrs

Wad ye sooner split a herr or a herrin?

is the herring dressed or is it soused?

Whit’s the herring’s address and is it aroused?


Dog-owners will receive a herring in a red dress to pop on their dog’s heid reviving the Hogmanay tradition, ‘the herring o the dug’.

no hare will be greeted or farewelled front-on. all hares will be side-parted.

Nae vennel, pend, or wynd tae be narrower nor a heron’s breadth.

herons will be cut short, if discovered with hares on their chests, or the smalls of their backs

3 The Parable of the Hare and the Heron

Once the hare thought he would race the heron.
The heron, which did not speak Hare, was alarmed
by his jerky twerky warm-ups, and took off,
coincidentally heading for the finishing line.

Considering what had happened that time
with the tortoise, the hare gave paranoid pursuit.
Just then the Great God Pan rolled over in his sleep
and let off an earth-scorcher. Grass was burnt

from the ground, leaves blown from the trees,
and all the fur left the hare’s body. The hare
was passing a tarpit, and the divine fart also lifted
a brimstone meniscus. It then caught the heron

in its noxious blast, and, in succession, stripped
every feather from her body, pelted it in hot tar,
and enveloped it in the hare’s fur. Looking like
an Icarian ventriloquist’s dummy, the heron fell,

landing by chance on the tortoise, which was
sheltering from the fumous storm in his shell,
and her beak skewered him into the burning earth.
The naked hare limped past both to victory.

4 A Questionnaire Regarding the Hare

How was the hare?


How was the way?

The way that can be spoken of is not the fair way. 

How was the park?


How was the lark?





How was the sark? 


How was the chip?


How was the otter?

Hotter or Notter!

How were the banks?

In hot water

How was the beaver?

An Unbeliever!

How was the Salmon?

Not in the Canon!

How was the goat?

On a banknote!

Wiz it wearing shorts?

I think nort.

But how was the hare again?

Daycare again!

How was the park again?

Funded by an Oligarch again!

How was the lark again?

Sanctioned by a Monarch of the Glen!

5 The Parable of the Shames of the Hare

Once, the hare held the hare and ran with the hounds.
The hare snogged the hare and married the hounds.
The hare stood on the hare and made a documentary on the hounds
The hare took the hare to one side and sided with the hounds
The heron hadn’t seen hide nor hare nor hound
The hare put in a funding application with the hare and had it rejected by the hounds
The hare married the hare and snogged the hounds
The hare undercooked the hare and served it to the hounds
The heron was a bitter’n
The hare imac’d the hare and waxed the hounds lyrical
The hare bodypainted the hare and smudged the hounds
The hare internally examined the hare and agreed with the hounds
And so it happened that there are 2 national hares in Scotland; 10 in England and 3 in Wales.
They are not our hares, but our hares to look after.

6 A Questionnaire Regarding the Heron

How was the heron?


How was the herring?

We already said

BOTH: Let’s hope it was dead.

How was the Eagle?


How was the egret?

I don’t get it!

But how was the hare again?

Sold its shares again!

How was the cock?


How was the lock?


How was the sock?


How was the match?


How was the finch?


How was the wren?


(Pause: they shrug)

How was the wench?


How was the mensch?


How was the mention?

The mention? 

How was the mention?

BOTH: Despatched!!

(They throw their papers in the air)

About Bill Herbert

Poet and pseudo-scholar W.N. Herbert was born in Dundee in 1961, educated there and at Oxford, where he completed his DPhil thesis on Scottish poet Hugh MacDiarmid, and now lives and works in Newcastle. He is Professor of Poetry and Creative Writing at Newcastle University, and his books are published by, among others, northern publisher Bloodaxe Books. He is also the Dundee Makar, or city laureate.
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