All posts by Ken Cockburn

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

The Fourth Wound in Fras 16


My translation of the opening of Christopher Ecker‘s compelling novella The Fourth Wound (Die vierte Kränkung is the original German title) has just appeared in the magazine Fras, no. 16.

Set in Brittany during World War Two, it tells the unsettling tale of a non-combattant German living there in a state of increasing uncertainty – emotional, psychological, social and moral – and of the shadowy local figures he must reluctantly engage with. Its thriller elements remind me of John Buchan, and it draws eloquently on Breton myth, history and landscape.

Christopher – who I met through the poet Arne Rautenberg, who I’ve also translated – lives in Kiel. His novel Madonna won the Book of the Year (Rheinland-Pflaz) in 2007, and his new novel, Fahlmann, has just been published.

Copies of Fras 16 are available for £4 each from FRAS Publications, 10 Croft Place, Dunning PH2 0SB, Scotland, UK.

Bydand


I ran some workshops for P7 classes at the Gordon Highlanders Museum in Aberdeen last month. We gave the kids a tour of the museum, then I set them to writing about artefacts they’d been struck by. The Riverbank PS poem is a collective effort by the pupils of said school. ‘Bydand’ – staying or remaining, or ‘Perseverance’ as they have it in Leith – was the regimental motto, hence the evergreen ivy around the stag.

Seven Hills, Seven Questions

I walked Edinburgh’s Seven Hills as planned at the end of last month, mainly in warm unseasonal sunshine, though the day we walked to the Castle Rock was gothically haar-shrouded. [January 2017 – the various blogs about the walks (on another website) are sadly no longer available.)

The project culminated with an event at Fingerpost (formerly Croy Miners’ Welfare) last Wednesday (18 April), which is World Heritage Day – an exhibition / installation space animated by film, theatre, choral singing, my reading of ‘Seven Questions’.

I managed a walk on Croy Hill, where the Antonine Wall ran – the ditch (right) is the most obvious extant feature. The view above (centre) is looking north, barbarianwards.

The Road North at StAnza 2012

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'there go the geese / and the foxgloves / not yet over (Slioch)'

The ‘sampler‘ of The Road North which was shown at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh last summer can be seen in St Andrews as part of this year’s StAnza poetry festival.

1.00pm – 5.00pm
Thursday 15th – Saturday 17th March
Public Library Meeting Room, Church Square, St Andrews
Free

 

Details here

Seven Hills: Poetry Walks in Edinburgh, 22-24 March 2012

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The lower summit at Blackford Hill

Edinburgh, like Rome, is a city built on seven hills. I’m running three poetry walks later this month to some of those hills, as part of the preparations for World Heritage Day 2012 on 18 April.

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Below Calton Hill

Here are the details:
Calton Hill
Thursday 22 March, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet at Scottish Poetry Library, 5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT, where we’ll return after the walk

Arthur’s Seat
Friday 23 March, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet at Scottish Poetry Library, where we’ll return after the walk

Castlehill
Saturday 24, 1.30pm–5.00pm, meet outside the Scottish Parliament visitors’ entrance (opposite the Queen’s Gallery); the walk will finish at Edinburgh Castle

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Arthur's Seat seen from the David Hume Tower

All the walks are free, but please book via e-mail as numbers are limited: kencockburn@blueyonder.co.uk

On the day please bring waterproofs and a notebook, and wear footwear suitable for rough underfoot conditions.

At the end of each walk we will spend some time discussing the walk, and reading what we’ve written; on Thursday and Friday at the Scottish Poetry Library, and on Saturday at the Education Room in Edinburgh Castle.

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Salisbury Crags and Arthur's Seat, seen from Blackford Hill

A bit of background:

‘Seven Hills’ is part of Shadows of our Ancestors, supported by Historic Scotland and UNESCO, which promotes and celebrates Scotland’s five World Heritage sites – Edinburgh Old and New Towns, New Lanark, the Antonine Wall, St Kilda and The Heart of Neolithic Orkney. A group of five artists – a poet, a sculptor, a performance artist, a photographer and a composer – will each work at one of these sites, developing work for the public celebration of World Heritage Day on Wednesday 18 April, which will take place at Croy Miners’ Welfare, North Lanarkshire, next to the line of the Antonine Wall.

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Brigid Collins's artwork for Shadows of our Ancestors 2012

All the artists are working loosely to the theme of ‘AD 142’, the year the Antonine Wall was begun. ‘Seven Hills’ will link to the theme by considering aspects of the land that broadly haven’t changed since Roman times – uplands and lowlands, coast and sea, the Scottish weather – as well as referring to the history of the Roman presence in the area, and considering the changes over time.

I’ll blog the walks to Calton Hill, Arthur’s Seat and Castlehill (as well as further walks I’ll make to Edinburgh’s other hills) and gather texts for the April  event. All those coming on the walks will be also invited to contribute work they make up on the hills  – poems, photos, recordings – to the project blog, and to the event at Croy.

From the German

I’ve had translations of German-language poems published in several magazines this autumn.


Banipal describes itself as a ‘magazine of modern Arabic literature’. Some years ago I translated for it poems by Adel Karasholi, a Syrian Kurd long exiled in Germany, who now writes in German. The magazine has now started to feature a ‘Guest Literature’ in each issue, and Banipal 42 features Germany. The editors asked me to translate six poems by Ulf Stolterfoht. He’s not an easy writer to translate – he himself has translated J.H. Prynne and Tom Raworth into German, and his work is similar to theirs in its slipperiness. I approached task with some trepidation, but was helped by Ulf’s patient responses to my questions, and I came to enjoy their unexpected twists and turns, their extravagant playfulness. There’s a good interview with him (in English) here.


Modern Poetry in Translation has published a poem each by Thomas Brasch, Thomas Rosenlöcher and Heiner Müller. It’s taken my translations of poems by Brasch and Rosenlöcher previously (issues 3/6 and 3/11 respectively). Heiner Müller I knew of as a playwright, until I discovered a volume of his poems when visiting Berlin in 2009. ’Napoleon at Wagram’ uses the dialectical method – like musical counterpoint – two very different narratives, about Napoleon and Lenin, are juxtaposed, and the reader is invited to make the connection.


Poems by Christine Marendon are in Feathers & Lime (2007); earlier this year I began working on her poems again, and four have just been published in Shearsman 89/90, and another two in the on-line journal no man’s land. I like the enigmatic imagery of her work: tantalising hints and glimpses of characters, situations and narratives.

ink

ink will be launched at 7pm on Tuesday 22 November at The Fruitmarket Gallery, 45 Market Street, Edinburgh EH1 1DF. The book will be for sale at the special price of £18.00. Dr. Anette Hagan from the National Library of Scotland will speak about book inscriptions, and Pfaelzer Wein (red and white wine from the Palatinate region of Germany) will be served. ink is a beautiful new artist book, featuring full-colour images of the prize-winning sculptural work ink by ~in the fields, and specially written texts by myself – poems, circle poems, ‘Reflections on the writing of marginalia’, and a hidden alphabet poem offering twenty-six imaginary shades of blue. In addition, the contributors present their ‘blueographies’. ~ in the fields are artists Nicole Heidtke and Stefan Baumberger. In 2010 they won the Berlin University of the Arts Award for Interdisciplinary Art and Science for their sculptural work ink. Their visual art practice draws on archival material, environmental topics and ephemeral artefacts, such as lost forms of cinema. ink was developed from inscriptions found in five printed books from five centuries – a Bible, a copy of the Arabian Nights, a songbook, and books about natural history and botany. ink consists of five colourless clear glass bulbs – each partly filled with blue ink. When the visitor approaches, the bulbs begin to rotate, causing a layer of ink to coat the inside surface. Through the ink, illuminated handwritten inscriptions become visible on a spinning armature, thanks to the phenomenon of persistence of vision. The inscriptions are given to the visitor individually. The visitor’s presence initiates the offering of the inscription once again.

Details 208 x 198 mm Hard covers 52 pages Full colour French folds Edition: 500 Publisher: Abertay University Press, July 2011 ISBN 978 1 899796 25 0 Recommended Retail Price: £24.95 If you would like to receive more information about the book, please write to me, or to studio@in-the-fields.org

Overheard Overlooked

This simple little book has been a while in the making. Its contents are taken from notebooks and photos from the past ten years, and its first draft was considerably longer, including short poems, mesostics, prose extracts, lists and made-up definitions. I whittled it down, removing the longer and ‘composed’ texts, and re-sequenced everything, before sending it to Barrie Tullett at The Caseroom Press. He made a couple of dummies – first a Z-book with two front covers, then one the same size as the finished book, but portrait-format. We flipped that to landscape so all the texts worked as single-line pieces, and finally we had this simple little book.

“The poems were found as graffiti, signage, inscriptions, printed matters and utterances.”

Rather than equivocating about their status, debatable though it is, I decided to call all the texts simply ‘found poems’.

The book opens and closes with sentences (three at the start and three at the end), each given a double-page spread.

The main part of the book consists of short texts of between one and seven words long, each given its own page, and sequenced first by number of words, and then alphabetically.

There are some nicer photos of the book here; and some of the material in its original settings below.

I like the way the poems rub up against each other: formal signage and graffiti, newspaper headlines and children’s speech, aspiration and deflation. For me, each one of them has a particular context, calls up a memory, but I’ve tried to make these irrelevant to the reader, so the poems spark off against each other, and shine with whatever associative light switches on in the reader’s mind.

You can order the book for £2.50 (inc. P&P) from The Caseroom Press, or by e-mailing me via the ‘Contact’ page.

149 x 104 mm
Soft covers
72 pages
Edition: 500

Pandora’s Light Box

Lorna listening, White Gallery

Pandora’s Light Box is a collaborative project I worked on for over a year, from June 2010 through to September 2011. My brief, from Artlink, was to write a descriptive poem about the University of Edinburgh’s Talbot Rice Gallery, to be recorded and presented in the gallery as an audio work for visitors both visually impaired and sighted.
Georgian Gallery, reading

Access to visual art for individuals with a visual impairment relies on verbal description, and Pandora’s Light Box takes that ‘practical’ form and extends it into an artwork in its own right.
Listening post, Round Room

I wrote the poem for two voices, and a recording of myself and Lorna Irvine reading it has been installed in the gallery at three specially designed listening stations, downstairs in the contemporary White Gallery and the historical Georgian Gallery, and upstairs in the Round Room. You can listen to the poem here.

These were designed by Frances Priest and made by Ronnie Watt; the recordings and sound design were made by Martin Parker and Jung In Jung.

A friend of a friend sent these photos of some lines from the poem which seem to have escaped from the gallery; based on this blog, we think it was Dora, one of the project volunteers, but she’s not owned up yet! And this blog describes the project from the perspective of one of the visually impaired participants.