Tag Archives: Alec Finlay

Setting out


I recently spent a week in Perthshire with Alec Finlay, the first big trip of our project The Road North. We stayed in Acharn, on the south shore of Loch Tay, and Dunira, between Comrie and St Fillans. From Acharn, guided by Basho (and assisted by amongst others The Modern Antiquarian) we travelled to Aberfeldy, Weem, Fortingall, Glen Lyon and Schiehallion; from Dunira we went to Dalchonzie, Dundurn, Glen Lednock, Dunkeld and Birnam. Alec’s father lived at Dunira in the 1950s, and we found his shepherd’s cottage there, smartened up as a hunting-lodge; his poem ‘Dalchonzie’ features “the railway” and “the mill”, and we found both, and though neither now run, the mill-building has been renovated as a self-catering cottage.

The weather was very kind to us; there was sun and little wind at Schiehallion’s summit, we river-bathed a couple of times, and both came back more tanned than weather-beaten, though did suffer from the midges. My only soaking was at the top of Birnam Hill, after a steep, clammy and midgey climb through the woods, so the rain wasn’t so unwelcome. We’re currently writing up the trip for the blog, and in the longer term will write a renga / word-map / skyline poem for each location.

Next stop is Argyll in a fortnight – Crinan, Dunadd, Kilmartin, Luing, Dunstaffnage – mostly places new to me.

The Road North

A project I’ll run with poet, publisher and artist Alec Finlay has been awarded funding from Creative Scotland’s Vital Spark awards. The Road North is a ‘translation’ of the Japanese classic Oku no Hosomichi by the poet Basho, in which he recounts a journey made in 1689 with his friend and fellow-poet Sora. They travelled north from the capital Edo (now Tokyo), heading into the mountains and across to the west coast. On their way they called on friends and visited sites famous from poetry and history, or for their beauty.

Basho’s book is written in 53 ‘stations’ or chapters, and for each of these we’ll find an equivalent place in Scotland. Basho describes mountains, waterfalls, famous trees, ruined castles, harbour-towns and rural villages, so there are plenty of equivalents for us to choose from! Ben Dorain definitely reminds me of Mount Fuji.

Our road north – with many detours – will take us from Edinburgh to Inverness, west to Skye, and south again to Argyll and Galloway. Unlike Basho, we have modern methods of transport at our disposal, so rather than a single continuous journey we’ll make a series of shorter journeys to our various ‘stations’.

For each ‘station’ we’ll write a ‘renga’, or verse-chain. This Japanese form is usually composed communally, and Basho and Sora wrote renga as they travelled, though these aren’t included in the book. We’ll write together, with writers and others we visit and meet on the way, and we’ll also draw on ‘found’ material we pick up on the way – signs, inscriptions, conversations – as well as drawing on information available on websites such as flickr.

The renga will be made available via a website, each presented visually as a word-map, in the form of a skyline taken from that location, and as an audio file. The audio version will also be available in situ, using QR technology. Working in partnership with local organisations and landowners, we’ll leave a plaque which, when read with a QR reader on a mobile phone, will take you to the relevant webpage. It’s all new to me, but Alec has developed this form of what one might call site-specific publication in the Peak District.

We’re planning to start our journeys in mid-May. Basho and Sora set out on the 16th, so we’ll do likewise, and hope the cold winter means the cherry blossom is still around then.

mesostic interleaved

Last week the book mesostic interleaved was launched at the University of Edinburgh Library and the Ingleby Gallery, Edinburgh. Conceived and co-published by Alec Finlay, it features 100 poems on authors held in the university library. I contributed a number of poems, on favourite authors like James Hogg and Thomas Mann, and on others I had to do a bit of research on before I could start anything, like the pioneering 18th century vet George Stubbs, or the 17th century scientist and Catholic theologian Anastasius Kircher. mesostic interleaved – book & bookmarks
The book is as minimal as a white cube gallery, with its texts carefully placed bottom of each page. At the top the poem is printed again, this time in barcode. The poems have also been published as bookmarks which, so I’m told, will be distributed, or leaked, slowly and randomly, by the university library. They’re also attached to the new, nattily coloured shelf-ends within the library.

Copies are available at Alec’s website.