September 2, 2011
‘How with this rage shall beauty hold a plea,
Whose action is no stronger than a flower?’
I love these lines from Sonnet 65, but they’re too long for our purposes… we’re turning to you for help! We’re looking for vivid, short quotations – no longer than 12 words – that we can use for a variety of things: downloadable posters, a Scottish Poetry Library bag, a Scottish Poetry Library notebook… They should be about poetry, or lines from a poem. New York’s Poets House has already bagged ‘… dwell in Possibility-;’ Emily Dickinson, of course, provides great lines: ‘There is no frigate like a book…’, or ‘The Brain – is wider than the sky – ’ or ‘Dreams – are well – but Waking’s better’. It would be good to have a Scottish inflection: ‘the Scottish Poetry Library: whaur extremes meet’? We look forward to your suggestions, as brief and inspiring as you can make them.
Please send your ideas on a digital postcard to @ByLeavesWeLive on twitter or email@example.com.
July 12, 2010
We are very pleased to be selected for the official Edinburgh Art Festival again this year. Our main summer exhibition, Plan B, is a special collaboration between the Pulitzer prize-winning Irish poet Paul Muldoon and the highly acclaimed Scottish photographer Norman McBeath. The result is 28 perspectives on 10 poems, loosely gathered around the theme of life’s cock-ups, contingencies and conspiracies. This will be exhibited in the library from Thursday 29 July until Saturday 4 September. Entry is free.
We will also be featuring Animal Vegetable Material, a book of new texts and drawings by David Bellingham, distributed free of charge as a ‘public artwork’ during the Festival. Drop in to pick up your free copy!
May 6, 2010
I am getting on. My table now
Shuffles its papers out of reach
With last year’s letters going yellow
From looking out of the window.
‘Untidy Dreadful Table’, W S Graham
Today we were delighted to take delivery of the table of which Graham writes in the above poem. It is resident in the little retail corner of the SPL, for now adorned with Portraits of Poets (photographs by Christopher Barker, edited by Sebastian Barker, Carcanet, 1986) open at Graham’s page bearing the above poem. The table has been gifted to us by Sylvia Thompson, a close friend of W S Graham’s; we are very grateful to have it. It is delightful – robust, rectangular and quite low, pocked with cigarette burns. We are told it sat beside the window.
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.
July 13, 2009
Today Lizzie started work on curating a mini exhibition of Scottish poetry. A common misapprehension, as per our name, is that we only have Scottish poetry here; while this is certainly not true, we do have a fair bit of it! And Lizzie, having edited Luckenbooth and Handfast, is just the woman for such a job. Tying in with what’s likely to be a busy time ahead, the exhibition celebrates Scottishness and our holdings, old and new. We’re anticipating multitudes descending to seek their poetic forefathers in connection with The Gathering, a two-day Highland Games, set in Holyrood Park on 25 – 26th July. We were recently involved with the Gathering Poetry Competition, which attracted entries from Scots at heart from all round the world. You can find the winners and their winning poems on our website.
In the meantime, Lizzie’s exhibition, showcased against a backdrop of tartan, what else!, features golden oldies, as well as choice titles for purchase in our shop. The latter category includes More Poetic Gems from William McGonagall, An Leabhor Mòr (The Great Book of Gaelic), Sandy Candy & Other Nursery Rhymes, and the bethistled Modern Scot: from 1930, its design is still strikingly, sparsely modern, even if the tract itself is slightly foxed.
June 22, 2009
There’s been a flurry of excited activity down at Crichton’s Close this morning! We’re semi-finalists in the National Lottery Awards for Best Arts Project! This is mega-exciting for us, and we hope for you too, as the prize money of £2000 will really help us to continue our work of bringing people and poetry together.
If you like what we do (and we hope you like what we do!) (we love what you do, you poetry lovers, you) then please vote. Get your colleagues and your mates to vote. Your granny, your other half, get your dog to vote. Every little helps, and we at the SPL will be enormously grateful. It only takes a second to do so. You can call 0844 686 7233. Or you can go to the National Lottery Awards website, scroll down and click the blue button. It’s as easy as that.
In the picture above our accountant Eric Wishart (beside bike) and our architect Malcolm Fraser, both longtime supporters of the SPL, are giving the thumbs up. Please help us win the lottery and make it thumbs up all round!
April 16, 2009
We spoke before about our textwork balustrade, an Elizabeth Ogilvie commission for our new building back in 1999. Well, now the haar has finally lifted and the sun’s shining through, it seemed a good time to photograph another piece of Elizabeth’s handiwork. The camera doesn’t convey the visual loveliness of the hologrammatic effects of the light, and the boxes are not ideal, beauty-wise, but this gives an idea:
Elizabeth explains: ‘By Leaves We Live’, the Patrick Geddes phrase which greets the visitor at the library’s entrance, influenced my thinking when planning the front window art work. Using the library’s often quoted MacEwen poem, ‘Rug Eadrain’, in Gaelic, English and Lowland Scots, I have created a very minimal design with the text running down the tree or book-end shapes. Black, grey and aqua tie in with the greys of Caithness stone. I have evoked and suggested with these restrained forms leaning slightly towards the library entrance. And again, referring to the natural world, I used hologram film set in the glass for one line of the poem. This film uses the ambient light, transforming the text into the changing colours of the spectrum.’
Here are the stripes on a grey day:
April 7, 2009
According to the fount of all knowledge that is Wikipedia, a mondegreen is ‘the mishearing or misinterpretation of a phrase, typically a standardized phrase such as a line in a poem or a lyric in a song, due to near homophony, in a way that yields a new meaning to the phrase’. It was apparently coined by an American writer called Sylvia Wright, who published an essay in Harper’s Magazine in 1954 on mishearing the last line of a 17th century ballad called ‘The Bonnie Earl O’ Murray’:
- Ye Highlands and ye Lowlands,
- Oh, where hae ye been?
- They hae slain the Earl Amurray,
- And Lady Mondegreen.
where the fourth line is supposed to read “And laid him on the green.” A favourite is a radio phone in, in which a lady caller asked for Mulligan’s Tyre by Wings to please be played.
The library has fallen fowl of mondegreenic mishearings too, having been called the Scottish Poultry Library more than once. Taking pastoral poetry to a whole new level, surely? And, when architect Malcolm Fraser was applying for the necessary water allowances for our new building, the man at the water board was concerned by the lowly guesstimate. ‘You’ll need more than that,’ he said, ‘what with all the throwing, not to mention the cleaning up afterwards.’ A perplexed conversation ensued, in which Malcolm vowed no poets or otherwise would be thrown anywhere. The water man had taken us for the Scottish Pottery Library.
Sometimes, we are simply the Scottish Poetry League. The day SPL is football second and poetry first will be a fine one.
April 6, 2009
Some months ago, one of our coveted leather easy chairs developed a hitch in its giddy up. That is, one of its legs became loose and fell off, rendering the chair out of action. In order to prevent disaster, we fashioned a sign, innocently proclaiming the chair legless and not to be sat upon.
We had a not indifferent response. Firstly, the sign was amended in Biro to caution, ‘You too will feel drunk if you try it.’ Then the odes started coming in. Ok, so there were only two of them, but still. One was called ‘Chair of Poetry’, and celebrated the chair, ‘drunk with the weight of words’. The other, simply entitled, ’In the Poetry Library’, lamented a missed opportunity to sit on such a comfortable looking article, ‘well-worn by bibliophile bottoms.’ Quite.
The chair has featured in Issue 4 of our Poetry Reader (’25 things you didn’t know about the SPL’) and its current status well-documented photographically. Robyn remarked, at a staff meeting, that it was ‘an episode in the life of the library which needn’t continue’, and so it is that we turn to a joiner friend, and bid adieu to the curious incident of the legless chair.
April 3, 2009
‘By leaves we live’ is the SPL’s by-line, and we’re always attracted by leafy references. I was surprised to find a quotation from the visionary environmentalist, John Muir, in a recent TLS, that seemed at odds with his dour Scottish upbringing. Muir was born in Dunbar, and in My Boyhood and Youth (1913) he recalled that the Lowland Scots turned every pleasure into a duty, and furthermore made ‘every duty dismal’. But once released into the wild Sierra Nevada, he fell in love with – well, sequoia trees, among others: ‘I wish I was so drunk and sequoical that I could preach the green brown woods to all the juiceless world, descending from this divine wilderness like a John the Baptist eating Douglass squirrels & wild honey or wild anything, crying, Repent for the Kingdom of Sequoia is at hand.’ I’d love to get a letter like that among the bills that arrive in the morning post (although sometimes good poems arrive, too).