November 26, 2009
Latest podcast is out! Bumper-er than usual, it features Ryan chewing the fat with actors and orators Gilchrist Muir and Jamie Gordon, and an eloquent, pensive and thoroughly fab discussion with one part of the Chemical Poets, Alasdair Maloney. Is Bob Dylan a poet? When does hip hop become poetry, and poetry hip hop? Hurrah for birdsong and down with buses… This, and more!
Best of all, it’s free and easy to subscribe, and would do wonders for our stat-tracking: do one good thing today…
Happy thanksgiving to one and all!
November 26, 2009
Last night, tag-teamed with the Poetry Association of Scotland, we played venue for the launch of John Glenday’s Grain (Picador). ‘Fourteen years in utero‘, teased chairman of both the PAS and the SPL Joyce Caplan in her welcome, it seems like it was well worth the wait, as all the books sold out.
An introduction from Andrew Greig and one of John’s poems set to music and sung by Kim Edgar bookended a fine reading. Foodies down the close supplied the wine. The place was packed. Hurray for our poet of the month and long-serving board member, John!
November 25, 2009
And the poetry shortlist is…
Clive James for Angels Over Elsinore (Picador)
and the judges said: “Beautifully written, intelligent, full of ideas clearly communicated and feelings perfectly encapsulated – these are proper poems with musical structure that are clever, moving and memorable.”
Katharine Kilalea for One Eye’d Leigh (Carcanet)
and the judges said: “A humorous, unpredictable and imaginative debut. Kilalea makes deceptively well-crafted poems that are like sculptures.”
Ruth Padel for Darwin: A Life in Poems (Chatto & Windus)
and the judges said: “A fascinating and original work that recreates the life of its subject in rich, diverse language.”
Christopher Reid for A Scattering (Arete Books)
and the judges said: “A life-affirming collection, full of urgency and feeling.”
November 24, 2009
News just in! We’re delighted to be joining forces with the UNESCO City of Literature team on our Carry a Poem campaign! In February 2010 Edinburgh’s residents will be challenged to carry a poem as thousands of free Carry A Poem books and pocket poetry cards are handed out across the city as part of its fourth citywide reading campaign.
The free Carry a Poem book shows how Scots from all walks of life carry poems with them, and reveals the stories behind the poetry choices. The book will be distributed all across the city, through arts and leisure centres, libraries, cafes, and primary and secondary schools, with residents being called on to catch poetry fever this February, when a dazzling array of events will descend upon the city.
What poems do you carry with you? And how do you carry them?
November 20, 2009
We hosted 2 launch events, one for Silver: An Aberdeen Anthology (Polygon) on Wednesday night, and one for Ruth Thomas’s new collection of short stories, Super Girl (Faber) last night. Both excellent and well-attended nights, you can read more about our Silver event here, and a review of Ruth’s book here.
Next week, we’ve got two more! We look forward to Tuesday 24 November, 6.30pm, and helping Thomas A Clark with the Edinburgh launch of his new collection, The Hundred Thousand Places (Carcanet), an evening which will include a rare reading. Then on Wednesday at 7.30pm, we will be joining forces with the Poetry Association of Scotland and raising our glasses to John Glenday and his long awaited new collection, Grain (Picador).
Our latest podcast is alive! Emily Ballou, author of The Darwin Poems, and Ryan discuss poems of childhood and what home means, and then Ryan reads one of his own poems, ‘Bluegrass’, with acoustic accompaniment from Jed Milroy.
Francis Bickmore of Canongate Books and Kin fame wrote us a nice big piece upon his favourite classic poem, ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’. You can read about it, that “psychedelic sea voyage, tale of the unexpected and playground of sight, sound and uncertain mysticism” in our Reading Room…
…and Kona Macphee wrote us another encouraging column.
Just out of interest, what’s your favourite classic poem?
We enjoyed reading to the elderly residents of the Bonnington Care Centre on Tuesday and look forward to more such sessions soon…
We like the idea of the taste of Guinness and Chocolate cake…
We’re gearing up for more workshops with school groups, a Polish poetry group coming in tomorrow for a Nothing But the Poem session, Christmas card lists and spring events planning…
Till next week!
November 19, 2009
So it was we were pleased last night to host an event in Edinburgh to toast the book from which the above text wends, Silver: An Aberdeen Anthology (Polygon), edited by Alan Spence and Hazel Hutchison. And despite about 50 other events being on at the same time (well, ok, maybe just the three that we knew of: the Golden Hour at the Forest, Canongate Books‘ IRREGULAR at the Voodoo Rooms, and the Genomics Forum Social Session – “Dr Jekyll’s DNA found – is Hyde in the clear?” the topic of discussion) there was a pleasing throng to greet our evening’s readers. Alan Spence read with fellow editor Hazel Hutchison, Rory Watson, Wayne Price and Kevin Macneil. David Bruce also read, for the first time, a poem by his father, the late George Bruce.
Afterwards, over at the star-spangly Voodoo Rooms, Don Paterson brought poetry to an evening bedecked with the northern prose of Chris Killen, Helen Walsh and Kevin Samson. Reading from his Forward Prize-winning latest collection ‘Rain’, he was amusingly dry as he contemplated the collection’s dearth of cheer. Three cheers for ‘Two Trees’ and ‘Why Do You Stay Up So Late?’ from me – come on down and burrow in if you’d like to read them.
To end, that wonderful song… with male chorus!
November 18, 2009
On the homepage of our current podcast, we were thrilled to be able to use a photograph by the wonderfully multi-talented Alastair Cook, documenting a piece of found poetry for the Global Poetry System project. It features a marker pen scrawl, bearing the wisdom ‘Nobody Knows Anybody …Not That Well’ against a blue wall. It was additionally fab to find that someone has responded to the grafitto, and that Alastair has documented that too: the respondent replies ‘Aye they do’.
It’s lovely when poetry becomes a conversation. Just yesterday our Ryan and I converged at the Bonnington Care Centre near Newhaven to read poetry and chat with the elderly residents there. It was a treat to escape the desk and take poetry out into the town, and to receive such a lovely response too: we heard their memories of real lamplighters, as featured in Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, and some hadn’t heard Burns or Belloc or ‘The Sair Finger’ read aloud since they were at school many years ago, and joined in with a gusto I hope I’ll have at 97!
November 16, 2009
A while ago, I found myself acting as a marshal at the 9km mark of a local 10km running race. Less than half an hour after the starting gun fired, the front-runners came through, leading a pack of lycra-wrapped humanity that variously pounded, loped and finally plodded past me during the next forty-five minutes.
My marshalling station was at the top of the course’s final hill, and the last few runners were clearly having a hard time of it. A knot of spectators had built up, and applauded each runner as he or she passed, shouting encouragements: “Well done!” “Nearly there now.” “Fantastic effort!” “Keep it up!” The last runner was an exhausted lady who was only just managing to stagger along, and I’m almost certain I heard the distant cheering when she finally crossed the finish line a few minutes later.
Of course, none of this is at all unusual. Spectators at this kind of event are generally very even-handed, and celebrate the efforts of the speedy and the straggler with equal enthusiasm. This seems only fair – after all, it isn’t that the people at the back are necessarily trying any less hard. Furthermore, as a society, we generally congratulate people who get off the sofa, turn off the TV and make the effort to do some exercise. We think it positive, even admirable, that people should go out and run in a race that will take them three times as long as the winners to complete. We applaud them for their effort and determination, not their velocity.
I came away from the race feeling inspired, but wondering – not for the first time – why our attitude to the arts can be so different. I once played violin in a run of shows put on by an amateur light opera company, where the company’s director had cast himself as the young-and-handsome male lead. He was stumpy and middle-aged, and – to be honest – a somewhat idiosyncratic singer, with a vibrato wider than the M8 and a face that explored progressively deeper shades of beetroot as he sang. Nonetheless, it was clear that he was giving it his all, night after night. It was equally clear that some of the audience had come along chiefly to laugh at him, which they did, unrestrainedly and sometimes to the point of tears, during his impassioned solos.
Certainly, the man’s mis-casting of himself in the lead role was a little vain, and his overblown delivery did have a certain inadvertent comedy. Nonetheless, I was progressively more offended by the audience reaction as the performances went on. Here was a man so passionate about his artform that he’d brought together a group of ordinary people and put on a successful show. Why was that any less of a “fantastic effort” than the challenge of running a 10k race? He was no Placido Domingo, but should that really make him the butt of mass ridicule?
Whether it’s mocking sniggers at a local art show or knowingly raised eyebrows at an open mic poetry event, the put-downs applied to “amateur” creative output do nothing but harm. Contrary to stereotype, not every weekend painter riles about her masterpieces being neglected by the Tate, and not every unpublished poet wages hate mail campaigns against the editors who’ve rejected his work; in other words, putting people down for their heartfelt and determined creative effort can’t always be justified as the rightful swatting of hubris. On the contrary, it’s frequently an attack on something precious – namely, the vibrant but eminently crushable bloom of genuine enthusiasm.
Let’s be blunt: plenty of amateur creative output can be assessed, not unreasonably, as “not very good”. Poor technique, imitative execution and inadequate self-editing are genuine faults that cause real flaws. Fair and cogent criticism of poorly-done work is not fundamentally objectionable, and can be both helpful and positively received. Scoffing at such work, however, is not criticism; rather, it is the dismissal of the creative act behind the work as having been not worth doing. That worth – the intrinsic worth of the creative activity – is rightfully assessed only by the person who bothered to get off the sofa, or out of the shopping mall, and do it.
We live in a culture that floods us with passive entertainment opportunities, from the asinine titillations of reality TV to the fat Sunday broadsheets whose contents are forgotten before we’ve finished that second cup of coffee. In an age where it’s all too easy to spend every hour of leisure being just another consumer, it’s inspiring when anyone bothers to produce: to engage effortfully in an activity that’s creative or expressive, and to do it for no greater gain than the joy of the doing and the satisfaction of the completed artefact. To stand by and mock the fruits of that effort is no less boorish – and certainly no less ignorant – than to jeer at the weary last finishers in a public running race.
By all means, let’s celebrate the Olympian glories of our creative professionals and the celestial work they produce – but let’s not demean the outputs of the rest of us in the process. I certainly know what I’ll say the next time I encounter somebody who’s bothered to get up and have a go at something creative – even if the end result happens to be the artistic equivalent of a twenty minute mile. “Fantastic effort! Keep it up!”
Kona Macphee is a UK-born, Australian-bred poet now living and working in Scotland. This column is the start of a monthly feature. She is facilitating the Poetry Society Poetry Surgeries. There will be a second batch of sessions here in the library on Wednesday 27 January 2010. You can now hear Kona on the SPL podcast ‘Witching Hour’ and follow her on Twitter.
Also! Kona’s Poem of the Week blog at Thingwright is 100 poems old! To celebrate, she is giving away a signed copy of Tails and one other mystery book… Visit Kona’s website and be in it to win it! Closing date: 11 December.
November 13, 2009
As the week draws to a close, with ever darker nights and chillier Edinburgh winds, we doff our caps to this week’s run of Happenings…
Our latest instalment of pure liquid podcast gold is live and aching for your ears. Featuring Salt poets Julia Bird and Andrew Philip chatting about their poetic adventures, and zooming in for a closer look at the Global Poetry System, it’s well worth a listen. We advise you subscribe to be front of the queue, but you can download if you’d rather… Do email Ryan and Colin with your thoughts!
Ryan would additionally like to thank the email correspondent who offered to share their $78,000 wealth with him. He says his bank details are on their way…
Dave brought chocolate donuts!
Julie’s got her Essence Press hat in London, showcasing her wares at the Poetry Library Special Collections and Artists’ Books Open Day.
We were thrilled to find, via our poet pal Aiko, that the latest McDonald’s advert features poetry. Can you help us help Aiko discover the circumstances of the mature cheese advert currently also featuring poetry?
Robyn has spent a goodly part of the day cooking up March plans, and came across this paragraph while reading on the train: “The poets made all the words, and therefore language is the archives of history, and, if we must say it, a sort of tomb of the muses. For though the origin of most of our words is forgotten, each word was at first a stroke of genius, and obtained currency because for the moment it symbolized the world to the first speaker and to the hearer. The etymologist finds the deadest word to have been once a brilliant picture. Language is fossil poetry.” – Lots of people will know this quotation, but some may not, and it stakes a high and beautiful claim for poets and their language – it’s from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, ‘The Poet’.
Lorna completed a very successful session of workshops on war poetry with school children at Edinburgh Castle.
Beanbags, the Moustaches of Poets and fabulous Penguin book cover postcards (sadly out of stock, I spy! Horrors!) received from north-dwelling friends called Timothy have been tilting our windmills. What’s been tilting yours?
Till next week!
November 12, 2009
A week or two ago, a delivery man hoved into view bearing a few big boxes.They were very light, and he was carrying them in a comedy fashion. He said, I don’t think there’s anything in here, I think someone has sent you a box full of air. He was disgruntled. The boxes in fact contained our new bean bags and a little green chair for our children’s section. We were very pleased to be able to purchase these thanks to the generosity of the Brownlee Old Town Trust. Now our children’s section is invitingly brighter than ever, and our little folks can burrow in and read away in comfiest fashion. My grandparents had a velvet beanbag with a swirly pattern; I recall being enveloped in it while tackling my first ever novel (George’s Marvellous Medicine). Hopefully our younger visitors will find similar bookish comforts as I.