Tag Archives: Scottish Poetry Library

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

Advertisements

About Face

These are some images from the recent opening of the exhibition About Face at Hillhead Library, Glasgow, featuring large-scale polaroid photographs of ten Scottish poets made by Maud Sulter in 2002.

The poets are myself, Stewart Conn, Valerie Gillies, Brian Johnstone, Gerry Loose, Edwin Morgan, Liz Niven, Janet Paisley, Don Paterson, and Maud Sulter. Robyn Marsack, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, spoke at the opening; the exhibition runs till 28 June 2015.

Maud Sulter was an artist and writer, whose poems featured in Donny O’Rourke’s seminal Dream State anthology. She died in 2008.

I had slightly hazy memories of the photograph being taken, but found the following diary entry.

Tuesday 29 August 2002: I stood for Maud Sulter this morning, just before Jennie Renton. I thought dreamy, Jennie said enquiring. A flicker of a smile. Smart flat by the parliament. Big camera, flash and it’s done.

She used a large-format camera, which came from Prague with a technician; waited for the right moment, pressed the button, then we watched and waited as the paper emerged and the image formed. Later I wrote, “What strikes me about my own portrait is the asymmetry of the face, the light / dark contrast, what seems to be a mixture of curiosity and reticence, alertness and sleepiness”.

The portraits toured to several venues in 2003 and 2004, but this is the first time they’ve been seen since. The exhibition coincides with Passion, a larger show of Sulter’s work, at Street Level Photoworks in Glasgow.

Orkney

we sail past Stroma’s empty fields
the Maidens grind the sea-gods’ salt
binoculars to scan the scene
the latent power the races hold

the Romans came and saw and left
Vikings named themselves in runes
a hoard of shards the dig unearthed
the sacred grove is made of stone

unfurl your banner to the breeze
starlings wheel across the sky
a spotted orchid in the verge
the wind is in the blades and flags

divers down among the wrecks
I don’t know what it is I’ve found
a haar drifts in across the rocks
the crab’s blue shell fades in the sun

Last autumn I took part in The Written Image, an exhibition organised by Edinburgh Printmakers Workshop and the Scottish Poetry Library. Poets and printmakers were paired, and I worked with Cat Outram. When we met she was just about to visit Orkney for the first time, and I’d visited the previous summer, so that became our theme. We came to settle on four of Cat’s images that seemed to give a good overview of Orkney: FERRY (geography), FARM (economy), BEACH (ecology), and BRODGAR (archaeology). I returned to a notebook I’d kept while there in 2012, and another relating to an unrealised project at John O’Groats; for each image I composed a 4-line stanza, guided by half-rhymes. The order in which the stanzas can be read is interchangeable. ‘The Maidens’ are one of the powerful tidal currents, or ‘races’, in the Pentland Firth.

Orkney print 2

Spring Shoots – Readings in April & May

After a long hibernation, the days are getting longer and several events in the diary are getting closer.

B&J approach Rasaay

First up is a launch event for Out of Books, with Alec Finlay, on Thursday 11 April at 6.30pm, at the Scottish Poetry Library, and a second event as part of the Boswell Book Festival at Auchinleck, Ayrshire, on Sunday 19 May. Out of Books is collaborative project inspired by Boswell and Johnson’s 1773 journey across the Scottish Highlands and Islands. Taking their texts as their guides, we’ll set out to revisit particular landscapes and recover particular views. Over the summer and along the route we will host a series of events inspired by their antecedents’ famous journey, with further events in and around Inverness, on the Isles of Skye, Coll and Mull, and in Inveraray.

snapdragon11-1

Barrie ‘Caseroom’ Tullett is visiting Edinburgh for the Fruitmarket Gallery Book Fair on Saturday 20 April. I’ll do a stint on the table as well, and read something from Snapdragon about 12.30.

Arne Rautenberg

Arne Rautenberg is visiting Scotland later in the month, and we’re doing two readings together – at the Goethe Institut in Glasgow on Tuesday 23 April at 6.30pm, and at the Edinburgh Bookshop the following day at 7.30pm (this is the Facebook page about it).

cherry blossom 2

In May, I’m leading two poetry walks in the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh, on Saturday 11 and Sunday 12, both at 2.00pm. Content still to be decided, but certainly some Chinese classics, haiku, maybe Burns in rural-floral mode, something from The Road North

Apollo shadows

And finally, a reading with Pierre Joris and Lila Matsumoto at Little Sparta on Sunday 26 May at 5.00pm, linked to the University of Glasgow’s Assembling Identities conference. Tickets are available here.

Perhaps the snow will have melted from the Pentlands by then.

Snowy Pentlands, April

Letterpress & Typewriters

I spent Saturday at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh. They were running their annual bookfair, By Leaves We Live, and it must have been one of the best attended ever. I was mostly at The Caseroom Press table with Barrie Tullett, who brought a small selection from his typewriter collection to display, and be used. They were joined by Edwin Morgan’s Blue Bell (part of his archive held by the SPL), and a red Olivetti Valentine, which Angus Reid had bought for his daughter in a Stockbridge charity shop for a tenner, but which drew admiring and even covetous looks from those that know about typewriters.

Barrie recently drew on the old Pepsi advert to write a text about LETTERPRESSIN’, which he letterpressed as a poster, and asked if I’d contribute something similar about POETRY. I obliged, and the result is above. It’s in an edition of 25, at £25.00 each, and copies are still available from the SPL.

A good day of conversations, rounded off with a party for Hamish Whyte’s Mariscat Press, now thirty years young and still going strong.

Miłosz 2011


30 June 2011 was the centenary of the birth of Czesław Miłosz. He’s a poet I’ve begun to read just in the past year, after the Krakow visit. I returned with a copy of his New & Collected Poems, bought on the last morning of the trip with the spare zlotys, and begun on the bus out to the airport.

Thumbing its pages, I made a couple of immediate connections: his appreciation of the Japanese haiku masters – Issa, rather than Basho, perhaps simply because he liked the coincidental link with the Issa Valley in his native Lithuania – and his ‘Notes’, a series of single sentences each under a short heading (‘The Perfect Republic’, ‘Epitaph’, ‘Mountains’), which are reminiscent of Ian Hamilton Finlay’s one-word-poems and monostichs, and Günter Eich’s (even briefer) ’17 Formeln’. Neither ‘Reading the Japanese Poet Issa (1762-1826)’ nor ‘Notes’ are entirely typical of his work, but they were useful landmarks I could start to navigate by.

I read him over the winter (in English, having no Polish). I read him aloud while sitting for my portrait, when Angus and I enjoyed enjoyed the discursive prose of ‘La Belle Epoque’, especially its closing section, ‘The Titanic’. When I proposed running sessions on his work for secondary schools, it became one of those rare and serendipitous projects everyone says ‘yes’ to.

In the summer term I visited schools in Edinburgh, East Lothian, Fife, Highland and South Lanarkshire, and will visit several more schools over the coming weeks. The poem I’ve come to focus on most is ‘The Dining Room’ (‘Jadalnia’) from the sequence ‘The World’ (‘Świat’), a seemingly straightforward description of an interior whose place and date of composition – Warsaw 1943 – soon open up deeper, darker layers of resonance.

The Scottish Poetry Library has produced a Miłosz 2011 poster, featuring the poem ‘Song on the End of the World’ (‘Piosenka o Końcu Świata’) in English and Polish, along with background information, weblinks, and a couple of photos of the poet in later life, craggy and bushy-eyebrowed.

There is also a series of Polish Poems on the Underground at the moment, including Miłosz’s ‘And Yet the Books’ and ‘Blacksmith Shop’, as well as poems by Zbiginiew Herbert, Wisława Symborska and Adam Zagajeweski.
I’m also running an event on Saturday 10 September at Macdonald Road Library, Edinburgh, for the Polish book group Zielony Balonik, focussing on Miłosz’s poems.

The Road North at the Scottish Poetry Library

Friday 5 August – Saturday 3 September

Below are photos of our ‘sampler’ of The Road North at the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh in until 3 September – a display of poems written on the road, written on labels attached to whisky miniatures which we sampled while we travelled. And below the photos is a description of the project and the show. There’s also an article about The Road North in the current issue (no. 9) of Poetry Matters, the biannual newletter sent to all Friends of the SPL.



Bottles & hokku-labels

love is / a bridge // that / lives (Inver, Raasay) Alec Finlay

swallows skim ripples / on mirror-pond stillness / cup-and-ring marked rocks (Luing) Ken Cockburn

Nikka’s part / of our michi no nikki / on Mt. Nikko (Slioch) Ken Cockburn

pulling mussels / from a shell // parting the paired / tea-cups (the hidden gardens) Alec Finlay

 
The Road North is a word-map of Scotland, composed by Alec Finlay & Ken Cockburn as they travelled through their homeland in 2010 and 2011. They were guided on this journey by the Japanese poet Basho, whose Oku-no-hosomichi (Narrow Road to the Deep North) is one of the masterpieces of travel literature.
 
Following Basho and his travelling companion Sora, their journey took in 53 ‘stations’, from Pilrig to Pollokshields via Berneray, Glen Lyon, Achnabreck and Kirkmaiden. At each place they wrote and left poems in situ, as well as drinking a tea and a whisky, and leaving a paper wish. At several they met and wrote with other poets, including Meg Bateman, Gerry Loose and Angus Dunn.
 
This ‘sampler’ features the 53 (miniature) whisky bottles, each with a poem-label attached. These are complemented by a selection of books, word-drawings, texts and objects gathered and made on The Road North.
 
Scottish Poetry Library
5 Crichton’s Close, Canongate, Edinburgh EH8 8DT
t: 0131 557 2876
w: www.spl.org.uk
blog: www.scottishpoetrylibrary.wordpress.com
on twitter: @byleaveswelive
*New opening hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday 10-5; Thursday 10-7; Saturday 10-4; Closed Monday, Sunday

The Road North: a matsuri festival


This May, join Alec and Ken Cockburn for a matsuri festival at the Hidden Gardens, Glasgow. For the past year Alec and Ken have been travelling through Scotland, guided by the Japanese poet Basho. On Sunday 15th May, their year-long journey will come to an end, and to celebrate they have invited some of the people they met along the way to join them for an informal afternoon in the gardens. There will be performances of poetry and song, paper wishes to tie, and teas from Japan and China served by the gardens’ cultural cookery group. The performances are scheduled for 3pm.

The Hidden Gardens, 25 Albert Drive, Glasgow G41 2PE

You can follow Alec and Ken’s journey on their blog, and there’s an e-invitation for you here.

Edinburgh Old Town Walking Tour – 6 Feb

After a morning of drizzle, it was fair at lunchtime, but the weather closed in atmospherically as we walked, all the shades of grey you could ever wish for.

Tweeddale Court, with its publishing connections past and present (Oliver & Boyd, Canongate, The List), and the former home of the Scottish Poetry Library, was very still, bolted doors and no sign of life. As I read my poem ‘Courtyard Reading’, about the open festival events the SPL used to run there, I felt like I was raising a few ghosts. From Jeffrey St the Old Royal High School, mentioned in Robert Garioch’s ‘Embro to the Ploy’, was invisible through the fog.

After a children’s rhyme in the spacious Chessel’s Court, and a tragic ballad in the vennel at John Street, we paid homage to Robert Fergusson at the Canongate Kirk. His sculpted image strides energetically downhill, while his gravestone bears a verse written by his great admirer Robert Burns.

Ken reading by the statue of Robert Fergusson on the Canongate

Sadly Dunbar’s Close was locked, but we were able to glimpse the ornamental hedges through the gate.

We were lucky to have on the tour the poet Angus Reid, who read his sonnet about the Scottish parliament building, and the shapes that pattern its exterior. Inexplicable to many, they are to Reid a clear emblem of democracy:

not the fingers not even the palm but
the power of the right hand the hammer
the sign of assent the vote the demos

(That last word means in Greek ‘the people’, and is where the word ‘democracy’ comes from, government by the people.)

We concluded in Crichton’s Close at the new home of the Scottish Poetry Library, with another sonnet, by Iain Crichton Smith, part of which is inscribed in the fabric of the building: ‘this house, this poem… this fresh hypothesis’.

Outside the Scottish Poetry Library

I’ll be running another poetry tour on 27th February – email events@cityofliterature.com to book.
These events are part of the Carry a Poem programme.