All posts by Ken Cockburn

Ken Cockburn is an Edinburgh-based poet, translator, editor and writing tutor.

Does Poetry Pay?

RBS £1 note

“We are planning to put together a number of case studies on where authors and other creators get their income from and we’re inviting authors to be featured in blogs on the subject. Don’t be shy! These figures really help us in campaigning and negotiating.”

I’m a long-term member of the Society of Authors, which I’ve always found to be a supportive and smart organisation. When I saw this recent call for a blog post I decided to respond, partly to help with the SoA’s campaigning for a better deal for writers, and partly as a way of reflecting on my own situation now and over the past 14 years when I’ve worked freelance.

If you’re interested in how I’ve been making a living as a poet you can read my contribution here. The page gathering all the various authors’ case studies, which will be expanded in the coming weeks and months, is here.

Heroines from Abroad

HfA front hires   HfA back

Heroines from Abroad, newly published by Carcanet, is a bilingual (German / English) edition of poems by Christine Marendon, alongside my translations.

Heroines-from-abroad

Christine will be in Scotland this summer, and we are launching the book on 13 July at 8pm at Lighthouse in Edinburgh.

I discovered Christine’s poems via a mutual friend, the poet Arne Rautenberg. Christine had been invited to a festival in Slovenia, and needed English versions of six poems – could I make the translations? I enjoyed their enigmatic imagery and shifts in tone, and made the translations, helped by a correspondence with her.

Several years elapsed, when I always had in the back of my mind that I’d like to return to her work. I came across poems online, and have been translating her slowly but steadily since 2011; translations have appeared in Shearsman, Modern Poetry in Translation, New Books in German, and online at www.no-mans-land.org.

We met for the first time in March 2014, in Hamburg where she lives; shortly afterwards we were invited to read together in London by Sasha Dugdale, then the editor of Modern Poetry in Translation, and it was a pleasure to hear her measured reading voice.

From Bavaria, she grew up speaking both German and Italian, and only began writing in her poetry in her thirties, after attending a reading by the poet Hilde Domin (1909–2006). In Germany her work is published online, and in magazines and anthologies, but she still awaits a first collection. As a translator, she has made German versions of poems by James Wright.

Marendon’s work may bridge for English-language readers the perceived chasm between avant-garde and mainstream poetry. It’s not obscure, it’s not banally ‘accessible’. The voice and the language of Cockburn’s translations feel freshly rinsed.’ Carol Rumens

Primary Four’s Doors


Over the past few years I’ve been involved with a performance project with Leith Primary School.

Organised by the church of St James the Less, Leith, this year Suzanne Butler, Lorna Irvine and I worked on the theme of ‘building’ with three classes.

Suzanne (of Fischy Music) wrote a song with P4/3, Lorna and P4B made a drama piece, ‘The Three Wee Leithers’ (based on the fable of ‘The Three Little Pigs’), while I helped P4A to write about life in Leith, and also in a realm of the imagination which they named ‘Minecraft Pugs’.

One of the poems I’d read to kick the project off was Holub’s ‘The Door’. During one of our sessions, I asked the pupils to imagine and draw their own door.

The plan was to show these during today’s performance, but we were in the brand new school hall, and no-one knew how to get the brand new projector to talk to a laptop.

I thought the doors deserved some sort of public display, so here they are, in ascending numerical order, from 3 to 1,000,000.

Thanks again to all the pupils for their imagination and enthusiasm!

New from The Caseroom Press

The Caseroom Press recently published two books which I had a hand in.

O | O 3: Word Disco is the third in an unintended trilogy of found poems, and follows Overheard Overlooked (2011) and Overlooked Overheard (2015). Visually it departs from the previous books, with the texts being typeset, distorted on photocopiers and then edited and composed in Photoshop. Barrie Tullett again designed it, and as with Overlooked Overheard his students at the University of Lincoln found the poems it contains. It’s available via The Caseroom Press website.

Woodland Orienteering presents six six-letter word-pairs composed in 2011 for an orienteering circuit in Dufftown, Moray, but never used (a seventh word-pair was, and remains in situ). If you’d like to buy a copy please contact me directly.

DSCF3484DSCF3487

 

DSCF3496DSCF3500

 

Floating the Woods

Floating the Woods 02

Last week I had my first sighting of Floating the Woods, a new collection of poems published by and available from Luath Press, and launched on Thursday 29 March at the Scottish Poetry Library.

The cover blurb reads, “the places in Floating the Woods are mainly Scottish, stretching from the Borders to Orkney, taking in Edinburgh, the Tay estuary and the River Ness. Through these landscapes move figures from the past – real, legendary and imagined – as the routes of Romans, Vikings and Celtic saints are followed by later figures such as Wordsworth, James Hogg and John Muir. Further afield the First World War casts a long, dark shadow over otherwise idyllic English and Belgian scenes. There are alphabet, calendar, list and found poems, dealing with imaginary shades of blue and the imponderables of etiquette.”

Floating the Woods 03

I am grateful to Jen Webb, editor of the Australian journal Meniscus, for her text which also appears on the cover. “List the things that matter, and what is likely to appear are stories, and buildings, the birds that fly between them, the hills and streams and skies that surround them, the ordinary stuff of everyday life lived alongside the felt presence of ancient recent history. Ken Cockburn’s new collection captures all this, in the lyrical lists, shape poems and sound poems filled with sharp yet tender observations of the world through which he moves. In a gloriously demotic voice that remains deeply immersed in the long traditions of poetry, he paints space, and place; and in his hands, language finds a mouth.”

Cockburn FtW 2018 2

Daughters of Penelope

These photos were taken at Edinburgh’s Dovecot Studios on 24 October 2017, during an event I created with Juliana Capes for the exhibition Daughters of Penelope (which runs till 20 January).

You dropped a purple ravelling in,
You dropped an amber thread;
And now you’ve littered all the East
With duds of emerald!

We focused on works by Julie Brook, Caroline Dear, Linder and Sonia Delauney. Juliana read an original text written in response to the artworks, while I read a selection of poems on weaving and colour, including works by Emily Dickinson (above) and verses from the Carmina Gadelica.

Photographs courtesy of Dovecot Studios.

Kurt Schwitters

Schwitters_Collage

A Hanover bourgeois, Kurt Schwitters,
Grew tired of painting his sitters.
In sentences terse
He declared all art Merz
And made poems from sneezes and titters.

A limerick for Kurt Schwitters on 8 January 2018, the 70th anniversary of his death.

Below are some photos from a visit in 2014 to Cylinders in the Lake District, where Schwitters made his last Merzbau in the 1940s (the barn he made it was recently in the news again), and there is a bench with extracts from his ‘Ursonate’ (to hear an extract performed by Florian Kaplick click here).

Cylinders_Merzbarn

Apples and Pears (reprise)

A brief follow-up to last year’s post about Crailing Community Orchard. I wrote short poems about the apple and pear varieties growing there, which were printed onto botanical labels. Earlier this year these were installed by the respective trees in the orchard. Here is a selection. Happy eating!

 

ASHMEADS KERNEL 2Ashmead’s Kernel

BEURRE HARDY 2
Beurré Hardy, raised c.1820, was named after a M. Hardy, then director of the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris.

CATILLAC 2Catillac is an old pear variety which has been given many different names, including Monstreuse de Landes, Grand Monarque and Grand Mogol, though its current English name derives from the place-name Cadillac in the Gironde area of France. CONCORDE 1
The Concorde pear combines the Conference and Comice pear varieties, the former popular in Europe, the latter in the USA. DOYENNE DU COMICE 3Doyenné du Comice

EARLY JULYAN 1
Early Julyan

JARGONELLE 4
Jargonelle

LOUISE BONNE 2
Louise Bonne of Jersey was raised c.1780 in Normandy, and was later introduced to England via the Channel Islands. PEASGOOD 2
Peasgood NonesuchWHITE MELROSE 4White Melrose was probably introduced to Scotland by the monks of Melrose Abbey, who as Cistercians wore white robes, to distinguish themselves from the black-robed Benedictines.

WILLIAMS BC 2
Williams Bon ChrétienYELLOW INGESTRIE 2Yellow Ingestrie

 

 

Festival International de la Poésie, Trois-Rivières, Québec

I recently attended the 33rd Festival International de la Poésie at Trois-Rivières, Québec, Canada – my first time in that country. There were poets from countries around the world, including Mexico, Argentina, USA, France, Belgium, Russia, Morocco, Mauritania and China, as well as from Québec and other parts of Canada. Below are just a few of those I met and heard read; I felt a real sense of community among us.

As for myself, I read in restaurants, cafés, bars, a cinema, a church, a museum and the Maison de la Culture. All the readings were limited to 3 minutes for French-language poems, and 5 minutes for  poem in French translation plus the original; then another poet would do the same, either right away or after a pause of 5 or 10 minutes for conversation and eating. A new format for me, but one I came to appreciate – no-one outstayed their welcome, and there was time to talk and think about what you’d just heard. I liked the equality of the festival too; each reading featured several poets (between three and seven), who’d each read for the same amount of time (usually two ‘rounds’, with sometimes a quick-fire third one at the end, without pauses between the poems).

Trois-Rivières itself is a town about the size of Dundee on the banks of the St Lawrence and St Maurice Rivers, and lies about half-way between Montreal and Québec City. (There are in fact only two rivers; the three rivers of the town’s name come from the ways islands in the St Maurice River mean it has three mouths as it joins the St Lawrence.) It was pleasantly warm throughout the festival – unusually so, I was told – but by the time we left autumn was colouring the trees.

I came back with a selection of books, so this is what I’ll be reading over the next few weeks.

FIPTR_Books

My thanks to Philippe Démeron making French translations of my poems; to the Festival organisers Gaston Bellemare and Maryse Baribeau for the invitation and hospitality, and to them and everyone involved in the festival for making my stay such a pleasant and rewarding one.

 

Haiku in Hamburg

I visited planten un blomen, Hamburg’s botanic gardens, in mid-September, and ran a haiku workshop in the Japanese garden, which has a teahouse beside a pond lined with maples, pines and bamboo.

I’d visited the garden before, in late spring, but it seemed to be more itself in autumn – leaves reddening, a few of which had dropped visible in the clear water; pine needles fallen onto rocks; a more muted light suggesting both distance and enclosure.

For the workshop I selected some lines from German versions of Japanese haiku, and we used these as starting points for our own work. Here are some the poems written on the day, with my English translations.

Teehaus_Gruppe

Bauschen die Wolken
lausche ich dem Herbstwind und
halte die Luft an.
[Christine]

Clouds pile up
I listen to the autumn wind and
hold my breath

*

Der Herbst beginnt schon
noch blühen die Sonnenblumen
welch ein schönes Gelb.
[Petra]

*

Autumn has begun
still the sunflowers bloom
a wonderful yellow

*

Plötzlich donnert es –
das Geräusch des Wassers bleibt
ununterbrochen
[KC]

Sudden thunder –
the sound of water continues
uninterrupted

*

Geräusch des Wassers
taube Ohren des Herbstes
nach dem Sonnenklang
[Simon]

The sound of water
autumn’s deaf ears
after sunchords

*

Zwei Ameisen sah’n
Altona Amerika
Erlangen Weisheit.
[Sidney]

Two ants saw
Altona America
Gained wisdom.

This is a playful take on an already playful poem, ‘Die Ameisen’ (’The Ants’) by Joachim Ringelnatz (1883-1934) known to anyone who lives in or grew up in Hamburg. I append a literal translation below. The district of Altona lies immediately west of central Hamburg.

In Hamburg lebten zwei Ameisen,
die wollten nach Australien reisen.
Bei Altona, auf der Chaussee,
da taten ihnen die Beine weh,
und da verzichteten sie weise
dann auf den letzten Teil der Reise.

In Hamburg there lived two ants,
who wanted to travel to Australia.
In Altona, on the street,
their legs started hurting,
so wisely they gave up
the last part of their journey.

JapaneseGarden13