Ken Cockburn is a poet, translator, editor and writing tutor based in Edinburgh.
He studied French and German at Aberdeen University, and Theatre Studies at University College Cardiff, before working in theatre and gallery administration in Cardiff and Edinburgh. After several years at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh, since 2004 he has freelanced, working in schools, colleges and community settings, undertaking writing commissions, and collaborating with visual artists.
His first collection, Souvenirs and Homelands, was shortlisted for a Saltire Award in 1998. On the Flyleaf was published in 2007, and a third collection, Floating the Woods, appeared in March 2018. His other books and pamphlets include Ink, with artists ~in the fields (2011); Overheard Overlooked: Found Poems (2012); and Silence Before Speech, with Jane MacKie and Dina Campbell (2016). His poems have appeared in anthologies including 100 Favourite Scottish Love Poems (2008), Into the Forest: Tree Poems (2013), and Scotia Nova: poems for the early days of a better nation (2014). He has read at venues and festivals across the UK and abroad, including Ars Poetica, Bratislava, Slovakia; Edinburgh International Book Festival; Poetry International, Royal Festival Hall, London; planten un blomen, Hamburg, Germany; StAnza, St Andrews Poetry Festival; The Wordsworth Trust, Dove Cottage, Grasmere; and the Festival International de Poésie Trois-Rivières, Canada.
His translations of contemporary German poetry include work by Christine Marendon, Arne Rautenberg and Thomas Rosenlöcher, some of which were collected in the book Feathers & Lime (2007). His translations of Rautenberg’s poems were collected in Snapdragon (2012), and Heroines from Abroad, a book of Marendon translations, appeared from Carcanet in 2018. He was awarded the Arts Foundation Fellowship for Literary Translation 2008, and has twice received commendations in the Stephen Spender Prize for poetry in translation. Other published translations include poems by Thomas Brasch, Heinz Czechowski, Günter Eich, Adel Karasholi and Ulf Stolterfoht, as well as fiction by Christopher Ecker and Sasa Stanasic.
Ken has collaborated with Alec Finlay for many years. Together they established and ran pocketbooks, an award-winning series of books of poetry and visual art. A Creative Scotland ‘Vital Spark’ Award in 2010 enabled them to undertake The Road North, a journey around Scotland guided by the 17th-century Japanese poet Basho, which led an extensive blog, an exhibition, and a jointly-composed long poem which was published in book form in autumn 2014. In 2013 and 2016 they made another Scottish journey, Out of Books, when they visited sites associated with Boswell and Johnson’s 1773 tour to the Hebrides. there were our own there were the others (2014), which marked the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, was realised as a series of installations and walks at National Trust properties, and a publication.
Collaborations with visual artists on book, exhibition and public art projects include Veined with Shadow-branches, an exploration of the Ettrick Valley with painter Andrew Mackenzie; Ness with sculptor Mary Bourne, for the redeveloped Inverness riverside; MINE with Susheila Jamieson for a Melville Housing development in Mayfield, Midlothian; and Yen to See Distant Places with ~in the fields.
Ken has wide experience of running poetry sessions and writing workshops for children and adults in a range of indoor and outdoor settings including schools, libraries, prisons, hospices and care homes, as well as gardens, beaches and woodland. He has worked with organisations including National Trust for Scotland, National Galleries of Scotland, Trees for Life, Scottish Care, Historic Environment Scotland, Edinburgh College of Art and Artlink Edinburgh and Lothians, as well as many local authorities, library services and individual schools. For several years he worked as a Living Voices facilitator, running sessions in care homes in Perth & Kinross.
He has written resources for teachers for the Scottish Poetry Library, including Poems United (P4–S2), The Written World (P5–S6), Ghosts of War (P5–S6) and the Edwin Morgan Archive (P4–S6). Other resources include ‘Moving Stories’, considering children’s experiences of travel and migration; ‘Exploring Sonnets Interactively’, written for the National Library of Scotland; and a lesson plan for secondary schools for Poppy Scotland’s annual poetry competition.
After running occasional poetry walks in the city’s Old Town from 2007, in 2015 he established Edinburgh Poetry Tours, and has since organised walks for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Tradfest and the Scottish Storytelling Festival, as well as for organisations including Edinburgh College of Art, Society of Authors in Scotland and the Palace of Holyroodhouse.