Category Archives: Travels

Meeting Thomas Rosenlöcher

I met the poet Thomas Rosenlöcher in 2005, when he read at the Goethe Institut Glasgow, and have kept in touch intermittently since. But over the years I have translated a number of his poems – those published in the journal Modern Poetry in Translation can be read here.


He got in touch at the end of last year to let me know of a new collection, Hirngefunkel (Mindspark).

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He also invited me to visit him, and I travelled to Dresden earlier this summer. I met him and his wife Birgit at their house in the countryside nearby.

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I also had a chance to hear him give a reading of his work, in the odd but fitting setting of the Stasi-Behörde, that is, the building where all the Stasi files are kept and where they can be consulted by members of the public. – Fitting in the sense that he had his own problems with the Stasi in the old GDR; at the reading he joked that, at readings back then, he always tried to work out which member of the audience was the informer.

I came away with new insights into his work, and with an appetite to translate more of his work.

With thanks to Creative Scotland for their financial support towards the trip.

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Out of Books

Johnson and Boswell approach Raasay
Johnson and Boswell approach Raasay

Inspired by Boswell & Johnson’s ‘Tour to the Hebrides’, Out of Books is an illustrated guide to my & Alec Finlay’s modern-day interpretation. Reading the text in landscapes our predecessors described, we’ll invite people to join them at readings & guided walks. To date we’ve been to Edinburgh and Auchinleck, where Boswell & Johnson began and ended their journeys: over the summer we’ll visit Nairn, Inverness, Drumnadrochit (Loch Ness), the Isles of Skye and Coll, and Inveraray.

Books fare us onwards… (text & photo: AF)
Books fare us onwards… (text & photo: AF)

We’re especially interested in the books they read, quote from and refer to as they travel, from the Greek and Latin classics to the now obscure works of 18th century divines.

The Out of Books blog is here. You can select a location on the map to read our online journal – as places are visited, new links will be added. Once we’ve completed the journal, we’ll develop the blog by writing ten thematic posts, to be published late 2013.

Boswell at Auchinleck Churchyard
Boswell at Auchinleck Churchyard

As I cam’ in by Auchindoun

Ben Rinnes from Clunymore

I recently spent a week in Moray with Angus Reid, writing and walking. We stayed above the River Fiddich in the house of Mary Bourne, the sculptor who co-ordinated the Mortlach Storywalks project. The house has views west towards Ben Rinnes, the highest top in the area.
Auchindoun Castle

It also looks across the glen to the ruins of Auchindoun Castle, set on a low hillock above the River Fiddich. It was from Auchindoun that Adam Gordon rode out to Corgraff Castle; his burning of the latter is told in the ballad ‘Edom o’ Gordon’. The revenge attack is told in the shorter and less well-known ballad, ‘Burning of Auchindoun’ (Child #183).

As I cam’ in by Fiddichside, on a May morning
I spied Willie MacIntosh an hour before the dawning

Turn agin, turn agin, turn agin, I bid ye
If ye burn Auchindoun, Huntly he will heid ye

Heid me or hang me, that shall never fear me
I’ll burn Auchindoun though the life leaves me

As I cam’ in by Auchindoun, on a May morning
Auchindoun was in a bleeze, an hour before the dawning

Crawing, crawing, for a’ your crouse crawin’
Ye brunt your crop an’ tint your wings an hour before the dawning.

I made a few label-poems there.

last night the castle / drifted in and out of mist / samurai movie-set

above the settled land / we hear gulls and sheep / and gunshot

high summer / the thistles still await / their purple

Near the castle there are some ruined farm buildings – some are being renovated, but we looked round a particularly delapidated house.
delapidated downstairs

delapidated upstairs

We drove a few miles into the Cabrach to Rhinturk Farmhouse, still standing, still productive.
Rhinturk closed

Rhinturk open

Krakow October

View from Hotel Spatz

Planty leaves

I have a couple of friends who are members of Zielony Balonik, a Polish book group who meet in Edinburgh and Glasgow. Not that I’ve been to any of the meetings, but when I met Grazyna and Robin back in July they told me about a exchange visit they’d organised with a book group near Krakow for October. Why didn’t I come? And Lorna as well? We’d never been to Poland, and it seemed like a good reason to go. In the end we couldn’t make the meeting with the other book group, at Limanova, which sounded like a great success.

On Saturday morning we rendezvoused at Camelot on Tomasza, and fortified by good breakfasts walked to the National Museum, to meet Grazyna, Alexander and Larissa. We walked round the 20th century Polish paintings galleries, stopped longest at the Witkacy self- and commercial portraits, though we lacked the code to know which particular high guided them.

The Witkacy portraits in the National Museum

Kantor’s Powrót Odysa (The Return of Ulysses)

I sat a while in the full-size set reconstruction for Kantor’s Powrót Odysa (Return of Ulysses), performed covertly in the Nazi-occupied city in 1944, and which by (apparent) coincidence a friend had mentioned only recently.
Michal, Robin, Grazyna, Larissa at Plac Nowy

On Sunday we enjoyed a tour of Kazimierz, the former Jewish quarter, with the novelists Małgorzata and Michał Kuźmińscy, who’ve written two books set there, one just before World War Two, and one just after, when it was a real centre of the black market.
One highlight of the rest of our stay was our visit to the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology, where we saw still life with a japanese doll, a nicely curated exhibition of early 20th century Polish paintings influenced by Japonisme, and featuring many of the Japanese artefacts (woodblocks, robes, figures) portrayed in the paintings. The café does excellent Japanese tea – I enjoyed the kokeicha, a type new to me – and we’d recommend the sushi set.
Manggha interior

Metal teapot and bowls

One evening I met the poet Wojciech Bonowicz, who introduced me to a group of writers preparing a ‘magazine’, that is a live presentation of selected texts – a throwback to the Communist days, apparently, when publishing was difficult and risky. They invited me to read as well but, having no Polish and other plans for that evening, I made do with their company there and then, against a backdrop of 60s Polish pop they merrily sang and occasionally danced along to.
Disturbed Calm in St Katherine's

We attended the concert Disturbed Calm at St Katherine’s Church, part of the Unsound festival – were lucky to get in, as the 800 tickets were sold out in advance, but did so after a long wait. The venue rather outdid the music during Canadian ‘sound sculptor’ Tim Hecker’s set, but Swedish percussion-and-voice duo wildbirds and peacedrums were more compelling, especially when complemented by a 14-strong choir.
And we were taken with the Schindler Factory, a rich and sobering presentation of Krakow during the dark days of World War Two. There’s a mini-model of the Powrót Odysa set here too, without further explanation.
Padlocks on the bridge

On the way there, we were charmed by these annotated padlocks on a pedestrian bridge over the Vistula – contemporary beechbark lovehearts. Lorna thought the keys would have been thrown in the river.
Underpass whale